PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Kunio Iwashita, a Zero fighter pilot during World War II, says it was only on Sept. 11 — six decades after the attack on Pearl Harbor — that he realized how Americans must have felt back then.
“I was very impressed with all the flags on buildings and cars, with the patriotism Americans showed after Sept. 11,” said Iwashita, who was visiting relatives in Boston that day. “I realized what a big, strong country America is. I had no idea about that” in 1941.
Iwashita, who heads a group of Japanese World War II fighter pilots and himself flew against Americans in the Pacific, was among veterans from both sides gathered for Friday’s 60th anniversary of the most infamous sneak attack of the 20th century.
This year, the gathering takes place in the shadow of another war, triggered by a surprise attack that has been likened to Pearl Harbor.
At a Pearl Harbor event on Wednesday, fellow veterans applauded as Iwashita embraced one of his former enemies, Jim Daniels, 86, of Kailua, Hawaii. They all shook hands and stood at attention as a bugler played taps at the close of a three-day seminar on war issues.
Dozens of survivors will gather Friday for a Navy service aboard the USS Arizona Memorial, held each year at 7:50 a.m., the time the Dec. 7, 1941, attack began. Later in the morning, about 3,000 people — including an estimated 800 Pearl Harbor survivors — will attend a service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
President Bush will mark the anniversary across the country with a speech aboard an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,390 Americans and plunged the United States into World War II.
On that day of infamy, Douglas G. Phillips, 84, watched from the USS Ramsay on Dec. 7 as the torpedoed USS Utah capsized and sank.
“The whole world changed for us,” said Phillips, who is from Easton, Md.
The world changed again for Americans after terrorists attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11. And among this week’s visitors to Pearl Harbor were people connected to that 21st-century day of infamy.
Emergency workers from New York, here as guests of the state and merchants, met Pearl Harbor survivors at a reception on Monday.
“To me, it was like a dream come true,” said firefighter Bruce Vannosdall, 46, whose squadron lost six members at the World Trade Center and whose father fought in World War II. “It’s a total honor.”
This anniversary is probably the last that will be attended by a large number of survivors, said Harry Butowsky, a historian for the National Park Service in Washington.
“They just took life and they lived it to its fullest,” Butowsky said. “They had terrible memories, but they got over it. They didn’t live their lives with hate.”
Even today, Hank Freitas, who was on the USS Tangier, a seaplane tender tied up next to the USS Utah, gets emotional being near the scene of the attack.
“I cry,” said Freitas, 80, of Walnut Creek, Calif. “I was out at Pearl Harbor yesterday and I cried from the time I got there to the time I left.”