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50 Years of Infamy : Pearl Harbor Day Called Time to Remember, Forgive

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emmett Davis was only a junior U.S. Army Corps pilot 50 years ago when he woke up to the sound of Japanese guns strafing a line of warplanes at Wheeler Field, just north of Pearl Harbor.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Davis rushed to the window in his underwear, only to witness a Japanese bomber gunning at a line of planes on the runway. A fellow pilot stumbled into his room with the news.

“You could see all the fire and smoke going up from those battleships,” said Davis, now 72, and living in Thousand Oaks. “We were at war. I just knew we were at war.”

The memories of that day are especially strong for Davis this year--and just as strong for a group of Ventura County Japanese-Americans, some of whom are concerned that the 50th anniversary may serve to stir up racial prejudice against Asians.

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Davis is one of four Pearl Harbor survivors who today will mark the anniversary at a private lunch in Thousand Oaks. Many survivors, including other World War II veterans, say they are adamant that Pearl Harbor be remembered as a dastardly act.

They say U.S. history books have let the Japanese off the hook for the sneak attack that killed 2,403 Americans.

Fred Sheridan, a retired U.S. Army colonel who heads the Conejo Valley chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars, said he organized today’s lunch so that Pearl Harbor would be remembered.

“We do not have any problems with the Japan of today,” he said. “But we do not want history to be rewritten.”

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Telling his own history at the lunch will be Frank Hogya, 69, of Newbury Park. Hogya was a 19-year-old sailor aboard the battleship Nevada the morning of Dec. 7.

Hogya was polishing off a breakfast of French toast when a shipmate ran into the mess hall with news of the attack. Hogya quickly manned his battle station by running below deck to load ammunition.

After the first wave ended, he went to the deck to survey the damage. What he saw has been seared forever in his memory, he said.

Bodies were slumped over machine guns. Of his 1,500 shipmates aboard the Nevada, 60 died that day at Pearl Harbor. Hogya volunteered to move some of the bodies.

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Fifty years later, Hogya said, the memory of his anger and distrust of the Japanese has never faded. He is still unable to discard his distrust of second-generation Japanese-Americans.

“Every Dec. 7 is 1941 to me,” he said. “This was a sneak attack in an undeclared war. And it bothers me a hell of a lot to remember what they did.”

Commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor have also bothered Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Stan Mukai, an Oxnard resident who is president of the Japanese American Citizens League of Ventura County, said he understands the emotion that Pearl Harbor survivors feel.

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But he worries that the anniversary will only serve to turn Americans against people of Japanese ancestry who had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor.

“I see nothing wrong with commemorating the bombing. It was a tragic period in world history,” Mukai said. “And I can understand their hurt and their hatred, but I don’t think they should direct it towards Japanese-Americans.”

Mukai pointed out that Dec. 7 is a day that many Americans of Japanese ancestry also dread. It reminds them of the reason why they were sent to internment camps, he said. During the war, Mukai’s parents were sent away from California and incarcerated at camps in Arizona. They were also victims of the war, he said.

“I think the reason why they were interned was not because of the bombing at Pearl Harbor,” he said. “It was because of the way they looked. The color of their skin.”

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Anti-Japanese sentiments triggered by Pearl Harbor are still alive in Ventura County today, he said.

Last July, members of a Japanese Buddhist congregation in Oxnard were surprised to find flyers planted on their cars that cited the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II, Mukai said.

It also criticized Japanese-Americans for seeking U.S. government reparations for their internment.

“I think they should let go of their hatred,” Mukai said. “If it was me, I would try to forgive.”

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