Academics News

Scanning the Blackened Canteen

The annual Blackened Canteen ceremony is held each year as part of the U.S. Navy's remembrance of the attacks.

Posted on December 19, 2016 by Scot Allen

Students in Kaile Berlenbach's Museum Studies class had a once-in-a-lifetime experience during the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. The students were able to scan a priceless World War II artifact that is also a symbol of world peace: the Blackened Canteen, which was brought to Hawaii by Dr Hiroya Sugano.

The annual Blackened Canteen ceremony is held each year as part of the U.S. Navy's remembrance of the attacks. The students used Artec 3D scanners to record every detail of the canteen and preserve the historic artifact for posterity.

The "Blackened Canteen," annually used to pour whiskey into the waters of Pearl Harbor as an international symbol of peace, courage, and reconciliation, is said to bear the imprint of a soldier's hand. It was salvaged by a farmer named Fukumatsu Itoh from the collision crash of two B-29 bombers during a raid over Shizuoka, Japan, in 1945.

Mid-Pacific students have been scanning significant artifacts since the school formed an alliance with CyArk, digital archivist of major historical sites and artifacts around the world. Among the school's projects in recent years was the Iolani Palace coronation pavilion.

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Gary Meyers accompanied the current caretaker of the canteen, Dr. Hiroya Sugano, to the scanning at Atherton Hall.

"It's been used in every ceremony since 1972 when Dr. Sugano assumed the tradition from Mr. Itoh," said Meyers. "What he does is fill it up with American whiskey and then uses it to pour into the waters of Pearl Harbor as a tribute to the fallen Americans as well as the Japanese who died in the war."

Historical Context (below) courtesy of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

On the night of June 20th, 1945 while on a bombing raid over Shizuoka, Japan, two U.S. Army Air Forces' B-29s from the 314th Bomb Wing collided and crashed killing 23 crewmen. In the same raid, over 2000 Shizuoka citizens also died.

Dr. Hiroya Sugano, a child at the time, and his family lived through the raid. He visited the crash site the next morning but found no crewmen alive. He has never forgotten the death and destruction that surrounded him.

Another person at the scene was Mr. Fukumatsu Itoh. Mr. Itoh pulled two American airmen from the wreckage. They were still alive but died shortly thereafter. Mr. Itoh also retrieved a mangled, blackened canteen from the wreckage, which appeared to bear the handprint of its former owner.

Being a devout Buddhist, Mr. Itoh gave the American crewmen a proper burial alongside the local residents who had also died. For his selfless act of compassion, Mr. Itoh was roundly condemned by people in his community. He bore the hatred silently.

Instead, Mr. Itoh began conducting a modest annual ceremony to honor those who had paid the ultimate price that war often exacts. A silent prayer was offered and bourbon whiskey was poured from the blackened canteen onto the crash site memorial as an offering to the spirits of the fallen, both Japanese and American. Eventually, he erected two monuments in their memory and the annual ceremonies continued. Dr. Sugano witnessed Mr. Itoh's display of courage and benevolence, which affected him deeply.

Before his death, Mr. Itoh passed the blackened canteen to Dr. Sugano, who promised to carry on the tradition. Since 1972, he has personally funded and hosted the annual ceremony at the monuments, which are attended by many Japanese and American dignitaries, both civilian and military. He has also conducted similar ceremonies at other locations both in Japan and the United States.

2016 marks the 16th year that Dr. Sugano has attended the December 7th commemoration at Pearl Harbor. When the occasion has permitted, he has sometimes conducted an unobtrusive, semi-private ceremony at the Memorial in the company of close friends.