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 who gathered for the 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 today 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.
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.
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.