Veteran of Imperial Japanese Navy shares life experiences with Okinawa Marines

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U.S. Navy Lt. Andrew W. Burns, standing, introduces Paul Saneaki Nakamura, right, and his translator Chiyomi Sumida Dec. 9 at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Giguere)
U.S. Navy Lt. Andrew W. Burns, standing, introduces Paul Saneaki Nakamura, right, and his translator Chiyomi Sumida Dec. 9 at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Giguere)

Veteran of Imperial Japanese Navy shares life experiences with Okinawa Marines

by: Lance Cpl. Tyler S. Giguere, III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office | .
U.S. Marine Corps | .
published: December 22, 2014

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --  A crowd sat in complete silence Dec. 9 at the Hansen Theater as one of the few remaining Imperial Japanese Navy veterans of World War II entered the room. Slowly, he made his way toward the stage. Although the beginning focus of his life was in a time of war, he quickly changed his view of the world. Rather than losing faith in the chaos, he found it.

“The ultimate message I wanted everyone to leave here with is that arms will never achieve peace,” said Paul Saneaki Nakamura, a retired Anglican Church bishop and a veteran with Special Missions Unit, Japanese Imperial Navy Air Corps, Imperial Japanese Navy. “Peace only comes through discussion, dialogue and an understanding of each other.”

Nakamura, from Naha, Okinawa, was trained as a pilot with the special mission designation of kamikaze pilot. Kamikaze pilots were trained specifically to crash their planes into American naval vessels in an effort to maximize American casualties and halt their advance in the Pacific.

“One of my desires with (this talk) was to help the Marines understand the mindset of an individual willing to give up their life, tying back into the conflicts of today with Afghanistan and Iraq,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Andrew W. Burns, a chaplain with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. “It has to do with the beliefs and the faith the individual has, whether in a divine being or an emperor. We can compare and contrast what causes these decisions.”

With the high casualty rates suffered by both sides during the war, the chance to speak with veterans is a unique occasion.

“I really wanted to see this. This (was) a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear someone’s story from a different perspective, and I gained a lot of insight from it,” said Lance Cpl. Max A. Arias, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist with the battalion. “I feel really appreciative that he for one wanted to come and talk to us about this tough experience in his life, and I thank him for that.”

Although Nakamura started his speech with the tales of his wartime experiences and tragedies, he also tied in his life as an active member of the Anglican Church.

“I am very appreciative of the opportunity today to share my experience through war and to share how I found true freedom and peace through God,” said Nakamura. “Despite the hardships I endured, becoming a Christian has given me faith, joy and hope again.”

Nakamura lost friends, family and even lost his faith in a man he had regarded as a god during the war, the emperor of Imperial Japan.

“Mainland Japan severed Okinawa at the (27th parallel north) and separated Okinawa from the rest of Japan,” said Nakamura. “We gave our lives and placed our loyalty wholeheartedly to the emperor, and he betrayed and severed Okinawa. And that is the time I decided to stop worshipping the emperor.”

At the close of the presentation many attendees left with a new perspective on the war from the Japanese side that they never had before.
 
“We are all driven by something, whether that is a faith in a higher power, faith in an emperor, or faith in God,” said Burns, from Mount Desert, Maine. “We are ultimately spiritual beings. It is all something that drives us. Whether we were created by a god or evolution or something, we all put our faith into believing something that allows us to live our lives.”