Richard Fiske was standing on the deck of his battleship, bugle in hand, ready to sound the 8 a.m. flag raising on Dec. 7, 1941, when the first Japanese torpedo struck.
Nowadays, the 69-year-old survivor guides tourists, many of them Japanese, through the Pearl Harbor memorial where his mates lie in watery graves.
As the 50th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor approaches, emotions are running high, and some observers fear that bitter memories will touch off a backlash in U.S.-Japanese relations, which already are strained by trade and defense differences.
So, when a Japanese man approached Fiske after a tour, thumping his chest and saying: "I Japanese, I Japanese," Fiske backed off a little.
But the gray-haired man laid his hand on Fiske's shoulder and said: "I am so sorry." Then he pulled Fiske into a bearhug, broke down and cried. "Tears were running down my cheeks too," the retired U.S. Marine acknowledged.
For Fiske and the Japanese man, the golden anniversary of the attack that catapulted the United States into World War II is a time of reconciliation. But for many other survivors the event holds such painful memories that a proposal to include Japanese officials in the commemoration sparked anger.
"We don't think there's any need for it," said Gerald Glaubitz, national president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn. "As some of our members said, we didn't invite them 50 years ago and we aren't going to invite them now."
In an effort to head off trouble, the State Department bowed to the veterans' wishes and declared that no foreign guests will be invited to the official commemoration on Dec. 7. But a State Department advisory pointedly noted that this "will not be an anti-Japan event." President Bush is expected to be the featured speaker.
The diplomatic decision on the guest list for Pearl Harbor Day has not quelled debate locally. Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi wrote to Bush and asked him to urge the Japanese government to apologize for Pearl Harbor and attend the ceremony.
Letters to the editor, pro and con, pepper Honolulu's newspapers.
Fearful that anti-Japanese sentiment will spin out of control, the Japanese American Citizens League is launching a public education campaign.
"It's really an Asian-American issue because anyone who appears to look like someone from Japan may be subject to abuse or harassment," said William Kaneko, president of the Hawaii chapter of the civil rights group.
Japanese Consul General Masaji Takahashi says he senses some "uncertainty and uneasiness" about the coming anniversary among Japanese nationals in Hawaii. "I hope this will not be an occasion for another round of Japan bashing," he said. The two nations have cooperated since the end of the war, and "I am confident the relationship will not be damaged," Takahashi said.
At the sleek white memorial that spans the sunken battleship Arizona, a never-ending stream of visitors silently snaps pictures. On some previous Pearl Harbor days, Japanese ministers and veterans have paid tribute at the memorial. The State Department says foreigners are welcome to visit Dec. 7 as members of the public, but given limited space, few are expected.
As many as 25,000 people may travel here from the mainland for the week's events, including 4,000 members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn. Among the more poignant moments will be an appearance Dec. 5 by Franklin Van Valkenburgh, 74, the son and namesake of the Arizona's commanding officer. It will be his first visit to the memorial that is his father's grave.
A historical symposium Dec. 9-11 in downtown Honolulu will reunite former enemies. Two Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor will join U.S. Medal of Honor recipients in discussing the raid and its consequences. The attack killed 2,400 people, crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet and altered the course of world history.
Fiske, the survivor-turned-tour guide, hopes to have his photo taken with the Japanese pilots. He would like to add it to a scrapbook he plans to pass on to his children. His daughter married a Japanese-American, and Fiske is pleased that his 6-year-old granddaughter is learning Japanese.
"The war is over," he said. "But we should never forget Pearl Harbor."