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Why It’s a Touching Annual Tradition to Pour Bourbon at the USS Arizona Memorial

The annual pouring of whiskey from a canteen found in the wreckage of a bomb raid in Japan 71 years ago brought together both cultures in a show of peace and humanitarianism.


Shiro Wakita, former WWII Imperial Japanese Navy pilot; Dr. Hiroya Sugano, director general of the Zero Fighter Admirers Club; Jack Detour, former colonel and WWII Army Air Force B-25 pilot; Jerry Yellin, former captain and WWII Army Air Force P-51 pilot, pour bourbon whiskey at the 6th annual Blackened Canteen ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial during the 75th Commemoration of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. 
Photo: Somers Steelman/U.S. Navy


On Tuesday morning, Dec. 6, Dr. Hiroya Sugano solemnly poured whiskey from a canteen over the edge of the USS Arizona Memorial into the waters of Pearl Harbor as the Dartmouth College Choir sang a hymn behind him. A salute to the Japanese and American men and women killed during a bombing raid over the city of Shizuoka in 1945, Sugano has carried out this tradition here since 2010.


Sugano, now 83, was just a boy when Shizuoka was bombed. He and his family were lucky to survive—2,000 Japanese citizens were killed that day, June 19, along with 23 American airmen who perished in a midair collision. In the wreckage, a farmer named Fukumatsu Itoh found a canteen, blackened from the fires and bearing a handprint. After the war ended, Itoh built monuments for both the Japanese victims and the American ones, despite the disapproval from his fellow Japanese citizens, and poured bourbon from the canteen onto the crash site every year in a memorial.


The blackened canteen is a relic of an air raid over Shizauoka, Japan, in 1945, and is used for pouring bourbon whiskey as an offering to the fallen in the hallowed waters of Pearl Harbor. Dec. 7, 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Oahu.



Sugano has participated in the blackened canteen ceremony in Japan since 1972 and has attended the events commemorating Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor since 1991. Combining the two in 2010 has brought the cultures together with a message of peace. “The blackened canteen has become a symbol of the horrors of war,” said Ken DeHoff, executive director of the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, which co-hosted the event with the National Park Service. “For these past years, it represents the humanitarianism that resides in the hearts of the Japanese people.”


NPS superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Jacqueline Ashwell, continued that sentiment: “The loss of life, all life, is tragic,” she said. “It is out of this tragedy that we celebrate and commemorate life, all life, by observing this ceremony.”


Pearl Harbor Blackened Canteen Ceremony.



DeHoff, Ashwell, Japanese Consul General Yasushi Misawa and others took turns holding the canteen as Sugano poured, their hands all touching the only relic recovered from the crash 71 years ago. When they finished, Sugano placed his hand in the impression left by the airman to whom it once belonged. 




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Honolulu Magazine November 2018
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