Serial number cut off attack plane is donated to Pearl Harbor museum
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: June 24, 2014
A part of Japanese navy pilot Takeshi Hirano's Zero fighter returned to Pearl Harbor on Monday — this time with a lot less violence and much better intentions than on Dec. 7, 1941.
On the day of the attack, Hirano's Zero careened into palm trees and a group of coast artillerymen at the entrance of an ordnance machine shop on Fort Kamehameha, which later became part of Hickam Air Force Base, killing four men. Hirano also was killed.
The plane's serial number was crudely cut out of the aluminum-skinned fuselage, likely as a souvenir, was hidden away for decades in an envelope, ended up in a box of knickknacks in California and was auctioned off in March on eBay.
On Monday, Honolulu attorney Damon Senaha, who bought the "5289" data plate for $12,225, turned it over to the National Park Service and the USS Arizona Memorial museum for display.
"I believe this belongs to the American people," Senaha said. "This was an attack on this country, (and for it to remain in that envelope), where it's hidden and people cannot appreciate just the profoundness of what happened in history and what really shaped Hawaii, would be unfortunate."
Senaha read a story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about the relic's sale and bought it to donate it to the museum. Park officials called the Hirano serial number significant and very rare.
"I think that's the coolest piece of airplane wreckage I've seen that we have, and I would love to have it publicly displayed," said Scott Pawlowski, chief of cultural and natural resources for the Park Service.
Pawlowski called the donation "very generous."
The greenish-hued Mitsubishi fuselage number represents not only a lot of military history, but also a lot of conflicting emotions for Japanese who lived in Hawaii during and after Dec. 7.
Senaha's grandfather Kako Senaha, a Japanese immigrant and plantation worker, witnessed the attack on Ewa Field.
He was hauled off for questioning and spent about 11/2 weeks at the Honouliuli Internment Camp before being released.
"When that attack occurred, my grandfather (realized), wow, the country he had come from is now attacking the country he loved," Senaha said.
There was loyalty to both countries for Kako Senaha, but for his sons there could only be loyalty to the United States, Damon Senaha's grandfather decided.
He felt that for the second generation born here, "this is the only country and they need to serve," Damon Senaha said.
One son fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and two others fought in the Korean War, where one was killed in action. Another was in the Coast Guard.
His family's heritage and history played a role in Senaha's decision to purchase the Dec. 7 relic.
"I wanted to honor them," said Senaha, a retired Navy lieutenant commander.
Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial, said those of Japanese origin faced a historical paradox here.
"I've often likened this Pacific war to the civil war that no one talks about — the civil war for Japanese-Americans who had relatives in Japan," Martinez said. "It was brother against brother, family against family (as part of that) historical paradox, especially here in the islands where Japanese-Americans were tied even closer to Japan. Dec. 7 was a cruel day for them."
After the attack on Oahu, souvenir hunting off downed Japanese planes was common.
Hirano's Zero was relatively intact after the crash.
"They had about three aircraft they pieced together:?One was (Hirano's) Zero, one was a partial Kate (torpedo bomber) and the other was a Val dive bomber," Martinez said.
What happened to the plane later is unclear, he said.
Because the plane was almost new, the serial number likely was cut out very soon after the crash, and it apparently was stored away. Its paint colors are of particular interest to experts.
Beneath the greenish exterior is a reddish primer. The fuselage piece is backed by a metallic blue.
"That subtlety of this kind of greenish-gray is something that had been debated for many, many years by a lot of the (airplane) buffs as to what the real colors were like," Martinez said.
Pawlowski said the museum will research the serial provenance, determine whether it needs conservation to protect the paint, and make it available to researchers before it ever goes on public display.
"That piece of fuselage probably has many, many different edges to it in telling the story of Dec. 7, 1941," Martinez said.