The Japanese dive bombers still fall from the skies over Pearl Harbor each time visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial see the film that shows the surprise attack of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.
Veterans who can remember the attack first-hand visit the memorial and tell stories or volunteer their time there as tour guides to relate the events that have been encased in history for almost 50 years.And not all of the veterans telling stories at the memorial are Americans. Older Japanese visitors to Pearl Harbor talk of Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto's war plans and strategies in much the same way coaches in a post-game interview talk about a football game, said Harvey Gray Jr., executive director of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association that operates the visitors center for the American submarine USS Bowfin, which is beached near the Arizona's visitors center.
The Japanese veterans' comments are pragmatic and academic for the most part - not boastful because of the Japanese's success in the attack or remorseful because of the casualties or final outcome of the war between Japan and the United States, Gray said.
It is not unusual for the number of Japanese visitors to outnumber others at the memorial at a given time - all of Hawaii is popular with vacationers from Japan. But the language and cultural barriers leave the memorial's superintendent, Donald Magee, wondering what the Japanese visitors think when they visit.
Are the feelings the same as an American would have while visiting Hiroshima? And what about the scores of high school groups from Japan who may have a very limited understanding of the attack?
"I've met a couple of Japanese veterans who were here (during the attack)," he said. "They talk about it much as though they weren't personally involved. They're very respectful. They're very quiet. But the same thing keeps coming to my mind: `What are they thinking while they're here?' "
Perhaps opportunities to collect new historical information are missed because the memorial's presentations are in English only. And it is no secret that the recording of war history changes depending on whether it is being written by the winner or the loser.
Magee said many of the Japanese guides have little background about Pearl Harbor and most likely synopsize information on the displays around the memorial and translate it for their tour members.
"Their guides don't know what happened. The Japanese see a sunken ship and they see a sunken ship. They don't know there are people entombed in there.
"There's nothing in any other language, even in Japanese, here at the visitors center. Many people come from Japan and don't really know about Pearl Harbor. It's not taught in their schools, and it's really played down," Magee said.
Yet even the smallest efforts to make the visitors center multilingual have been met with resistance. "We've gotten letters from people complaining about Oriental characters on restroom signs. They said they didn't like that. But we'd like to have signs in Japanese," Magee said.
He'd also like to see the film about the attack that is shown to visitors have narration in other languages.
"We talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and feel a little guilty. But it's hard for (the Japanese) to understand what happened here," he said. "They need to know more than anybody else what happened here."