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US, Japanese Leaders Pay Tribute to Americans Killed in Pearl Harbor Attack

By VOA News December 27, 2016

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed "sincere and everlasting condolences" to the families of the more than 2,400 Americans killed in Japan's World War II attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 75 years ago.

"We must never repeat the horrors of war," Abe said Tuesday, paying tribute to the "brave men and women" who were killed in the surprise attack on December 7, 1941, that triggered America's entry into the war.

He stood alongside U.S. President Barack Obama during a ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu.

Earlier, the two leaders laid wreaths at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. They closed their eyes and stood silently for a few moments after tossing flower petals into the water near the sunken battleship, whose rusting hull can still be seen just below the surface of the water.

In his remarks at the base, Obama called the U.S.-Japan alliance the cornerstone of peace in the Asia-Pacific region and a force for progress around the world. He said Abe's presence at Pearl Harbor was a reminder of what's possible between nations and peoples, adding that it showed that wars could end and enemies could become allies.

Abe was the first Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial. He also was the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor with an American president.

The prime minister's staff made clear the purpose of Abe's trip was not to apologize for the attack. Instead, they said Abe wanted to show how U.S.-Japan relations had evolved since then.

The last Japanese prime minister to visit Pearl Harbor was Shigeru Yoshida, who made a brief stop there in 1951. That was before the USS Arizona Memorial was built to honor those who died on the battleship during the Japanese attack. The memorial is accessible only by boat.

In May, Obama became the first sitting U.S. leader to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where in 1945 U.S. forces dropped the world's first atomic bomb, killing an estimated 140,000 people. Obama gave a speech that also was not an apology, instead honoring the dead and noting the legacy of what he called the "terrible force unleashed in the not so distant past."

"We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again," Obama said.

The president added, "And perhaps, above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race."

"We must never repeat the devastation of war," Abe told reporters before leaving Japan. "Together with President Obama, I want to tell the world of this pledge for the future and of the value of reconciliation."

On Monday, Abe laid a wreath and stood in silence at Honolulu's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which holds the remains of military members, including many who served in the war.

Among those buried there is former Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, who fought in the war and whose parents were Japanese immigrants. Abe laid a separate wreath at Inouye's gravesite.

The prime minister also laid a wreath at the nearby Ehime Maru Memorial for nine people who died in 2001 when a U.S. Navy submarine collided with their Japanese fishing vessel.

Jeffrey Hornung, research fellow at the Washington-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation, a U.S./Japan think tank, says Abe's visit is intended to send a message. The recipients, he said, are President-elect Donald Trump, who has been critical of Japan's financial support for the U.S. military presence in Japan, and Japan's Asian neighbors.

"It sends a symbolic message to, not only the incoming president-elect, but also to the region, that the U.S.-Japan alliance is stronger than ever, that we are able to confront past problems between us and still be stronger as allies," said Hornung.

Hornung said that, more than 75 years after the sneak attack that brought the United States into World War II, the bitter feelings created by the war have faded on both sides.

"And of course a lot of the younger generation don't know the significance of Pearl Harbor, but given that these two countries were bitter rivals and enemies just two or three generations ago, it's amazing that they have been able to come this far and reconcile their past histories," he said.

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