In a joint appearance deep with cultural and historic significance, the leaders of Japan and the United States placed flowers at the USS Arizona Memorial on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama walked into the memorial’s shrine room, which displays the names of American service members killed in Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
After pausing in front of two wreaths made of peace lilies, they exited the room and walked out onto the well area of the memorial and dropped purple flowers into the water.
They then sailed back to a Pearl Harbor pier to deliver remarks stressing cooperation between the two allies.
The prime minister spoke first, and at length. Here is an excerpt from Abe’s remarks, which were delivered in Japanese and later provided in English translation:
As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place, and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became victims of the war.
While Abe stopped short of offering an apology for the Pearl Harbor attack — just as Obama did not apologize for the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima when he visited the Japanese city in May — the prime minister’s words resonated with many.
He said this about the Americans who died at Pearl Harbor:
Abe even quoted Abraham Lincoln, who led a divided United States through a bloody Civil War: “With malice toward none, with charity for all … let us strive on … to do all which may achieve and cherish a … lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Obama, in his remarks that followed, thanked Abe for his “gracious words” and his “historic gesture” that he said made evident the power of reconciliation.
He too quoted Lincoln (saying that those who served and died in World War II gave “the last full measure of devotion”) and said that Abe’s visit was a reminder that “the deepest wounds of war” can give way to a lasting friendship between the two nations.
The alliance, said the president, “has never been stronger.”
Obama spent much of his address retelling stories of bravery and sacrifice from the attack. He was by turns nostalgic and poetic.
“As dawn broke that December day, paradise never seemed so sweet,” he said. “The water was warm and impossibly blue. … On the deck of the Arizona, the Navy band was tuning up.“
The president said the Pearl Harbor attack forever changed Hawaii, the nation and the world, something that should never be forgotten:
To Americans — especially to those of us who call Hawaii home — this harbor is a sacred place. As we lay a wreath or toss flowers into waters that still weep, we think of the more than 2,400 American patriots — fathers and husbands, wives and daughters — manning heaven’s rails for all eternity. We salute the defenders of Oahu who pull themselves a little straighter every December 7th, and we reflect on the heroism that shone here 75 years ago.
Obama asked all Pearl Harbor and World War II veterans in the audience to either raise a hand or stand to be recognized “because a grateful nation thanks you.” The applause that followed was sustained.
Tuesday’s events came 75 years after Imperial Japan bombed the harbor, which was then part of the Territory of Hawaii. The surprise attacked prompted the U.S. to enter World War II.
Earlier Tuesday, the two leaders held a meeting to discuss security and economic and global challenges.
Abe is only the second top Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor and the first to pay respects at the Arizona.
More than 1,100 American sailors and Marines killed during the attack are interred in the sunken battleship. Nearby is the USS Missouri, on the deck of which Japan officially signed surrender papers in Tokyo Harbor on Sept. 2, 1945.
The Pearl Harbor visit was heavily attended by local, national and international media, especially from Japan. Navy patrol boats cruised the waters, and many military personnel watched or participated in the ceremony.
The black-hulled vessel transporting Abe and Obama to and from the Arizona flew the flags of the U.S. and Japan, as did the podium where the two leaders later spoke. Abe and Obama read from teleprompters while electronic translators were provided to guests and the media.
Dignitaries on hand in the VIP viewing section at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam’s Kilo Pier included Caroline Kennedy, the U.S ambassador to Japan, and Admiral Harry Harris Jr., commander of the United States Pacific Command. The president called out Harris by name from the podium, noting that the admiral is half-Japanese.
Also in attendance for Tuesday’s ceremony were Hawaii Gov. David Ige and all four members of the state’s congressional delegation: Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa.
“I do believe it’s the perfect example of when you have two of the most powerful nations in the world committed to peace and reconciliation that great things can happen,” said Ige.
Schatz described the ceremony as “beautiful” and said he was moved when he saw Abe interact with several veterans after the ceremony.
“He got all the way to his knees,” the senator said, referring to how Abe moved in closely to hear the veterans. “That was the moment for me.”
Hirono, who was born in Japan and is the only immigrant serving in the U.S. Senate, said both speeches illustrated how strong and “meaningful” the U.S.-Japan relationship is.
“We salute the defenders of Oahu who pull themselves a little straighter every December 7th.” — President Obama
Hanabusa said she was struck by how America helped Japan rebuild after the war to help it rise “like a phoenix from the ashes.” Abe’s speech struck just the right tone, she said.
“You almost have to be Japanese to appreciate that symbolism, because it is the loser acknowledging more than the fact that (America) won but that they then helped (Japan) rebuild,” said the congresswoman, who is Japanese-American.
Other guests included state Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Joe Souki, as well as several veterans in wheelchairs.
On Monday, Abe and his entourage also paid respects at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as Punchbowl, and the Ehime Maru Memorial at Kakaako Waterfront Park.
This report includes information provided by the traveling White House press pool.