SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Security guards at San Francisco International Airport have come under severe criticism after an elderly Pearl Harbor survivor complained that they confiscated one of his war mementos as a “perceived security threat.”
"They were just passing it around, like it was dangerous or something," complained Hachiro Takuma. "But I tried telling them, it's purely ceremonial: a samurai sword is only used to execute prisoners of war and Chinese girls, and I didn't see any of them on my flight."
Takuma survived the raid on Pearl Harbor, including the explosion of the battleship Arizona which nearly knocked his Zero fighter plane out of the sky. The 96-year old veteran of the Imperial Japanese Navy was visiting San Francisco as a tourist when the incident occurred.
While Takuma said he was upset about his treatment, he understood the basic underlying need for security. "I know we have to be vigilant these days against surprise attacks," he chuckled.
However, Takuma added the sword has special meaning for him. It was given to him by his commanding officer Prince Asaka, a member of the Imperial family, following Takuma's victory in a 1937 Nanking beheading contest. He also carried it with him when he was sent to fight in the South Pacific in 1943.
"That sword is the only memory I have of the men I was stranded with on some god-forsaken island for several years," Takuma said. "It helps me remember how they fought, how they died, and how delicious they were."
The American Civil Liberties Union has already announced its intention to file a lawsuit on behalf of Takuma to have his sword returned to him.
"We deeply respect Hachiro Takuma's service to his country, including his fifteen years of pro bono soldiering before he surrendered in 1960," said ACLU spokesman Jeb Pierce. "We call on all Americans to help recognize the veterans from victory-challenged countries, who have been historically shunned and prosecuted for their actions, even when they were just following orders."
This is not the first time the airport has faced controversy over its security procedures. It is currently facing a lawsuit by former German soldier Heinrich Wunsch after confiscating his Monet painting, a memento from his service in France during the Second World War, which he carried around for good luck.
Takuma has said the incident won't deter him from any future visits to San Francisco airport, which he claims bring back all kinds of fond memories of his Zero bursting into flames and cartwheeling off the runway. He also hopes the publicity highlights the sometimes shabby treatment veterans can receive.
"Sometimes I'm treated like the hero that bombed Pearl Harbor and others like the villains who firebombed Tokyo," he observed.