Why the last WWII combat pilot dumps bourbon in Pearl Harbor with the Japanese

Captain Jerry Yellin (right) pours bourbon whiskey into Pearl Harbor's hallowed waters during the Blackened Canteen ceremony

World War II veterans from the United States and Japan joined in silent prayer and poured bourbon whiskey into Pearl Harbor’s hallowed waters during the Blackened Canteen ceremony in observation of Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 6.

The annual commemoration provided a moment for attendees to observe continued peace and reconciliation the two nations share and remember those who lost their lives during the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack and during World War II.

The canteen used was recovered from a B-29 bomber that was destroyed after colliding with another B-29 bomber over Shizuoka, Japan, in 1945.

Daniel Martinez, USS Arizona Memorial chief historian, explained the bourbon whiskey’s significance as a peace offering.

“The whiskey is really the water of life,” Martinez said. “For the Japanese, the highest honor is to pour whiskey, American whiskey, as a part of home. To pour it on the stone that’s in Shizuoka and here at the USS Arizona Memorial, as it falls into the water it’s a way of extending the hand of friendship, forgiveness and peace.”

For the last 20 years, Hiroya Sugano, M.D., director general of the Zero Fighter Admirers Club, has been conducting this act of reconciliation with the National Park Service at the USS Arizona Memorial.

Jack Detour, U.S. Air Force retired Colonel and World War II veteran, poured an offering to the fallen alongside Japanese veterans. He believes that Sugano’s efforts in continuing these ceremonies is a great way to respect those who lost their lives in World War II.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Detour said. “I think that what the gentleman has done to keep this going is great because one of the main things that they did is they took care of burying our 23 B-29 pilots that crashed in Japan. After the war now we have a very close relation with Japan and a friendly relation with them and it’s great. Anything I can do to further that relationship with Japan I’ll be happy to do.”

At the side of Detour during the ceremony was Capt. Jerry Yellin, an Army Air Corps pilot who flew the first mission escorting B-29s and the last combat mission of WWII.

Captain Jerry Yellin (right) pours bourbon whiskey into Pearl Harbor’s hallowed waters during the Blackened Canteen ceremony.

On August 14, 1945, Iwo Jima-based P-51 Mustang pilot Jerry Yellin of the 78th Fighter Squadron “Bushmasters,” was tasked with strafing Japanese airfields near Tokyo.  During the mission, Japan had officially surrendered but the men of the 78th Fighter Squadron had not received word and carried out their mission as ordered.

Despite the war being over for hours, Yellin’s wingman, 19-year-old 2nd Lt. Philip Schlamberg, was shot down and killed during the mission, making him the last man killed during combat during WWII.

In 1988, Yellin’s youngest son married the daughter of a Japanese Kamakaze pilot, which he says has taken him “from hatred to love of family.”

At the 7oth anniversary ceremony of the end of WWII, at Iwo Jima, Yellin said:

“I have three Japanese grandchildren. I’d like their contemporaries to know that my grandchildren’s grandparents served their countries with honor no matter what we learned about about the Japanese and what they learned about us, that war is an atrocity but evil has to be wiped out. We are not what we believe. We are all exactly the same.”

The ceremony is co-hosted by the National Park Service and Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor and is one event taking place leading up to the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day to pay tribute to the nation’s military while enlightening Americans about veterans and service.

By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal

Popular Military’s Michael Swaney contributed to this report

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