Japanese peace museum honors Albion man killed in World War II

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 April 2016 at 12:00 am

Documentarians visit Pat Aina’s family in Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers – Kay DiLaura displays a photo on Friday of her brother, Pasquale “Pat” Aina, who was killed in Japan by a suicide pilot on Aprl 18, 1945.

ALBION – Kay DiLaura still remembers the profound sadness when her brother, Pat Aina, died in Japan during World War II on April 18, 1945.

Aina was 26, a gunner on a plane who also worked radar and the radio. He and 10 other Americans were on a B-29 that was struck by a Japanese suicide pilot. The American plane spun out of control and came down near a Japanese air strip in Tachiarai. Aina’s family was notified of the crash, but he would be listed as missing for a year before his death was confirmed.

This photo, included in a booklet at the Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum, shows Aina’s crashed plane in Japan.

Aina had three grown brothers and a sister. Another sister died as an infant. DiLaura said her brother had a great sense of humor and loved his Italian roots. He taught himself Italian and wrote many letters to older people in Albion when he was at war. He wrote those notes in Italian and the people from Sicily loved that.

In December 2009, a package from Japan arrived in Albion for the family of Sgt. Pasquale Aina. The parcel was sent to 129 West Academy St., Aina’s home. The Aina family had moved from there more than 50 years previously.

But one of his cousins happened to be at the Post Office when the package arrived, and he directed Postal Service employees to DiLaura, who lives on Meadowbrook Drive.

Akio Tokunaga, an art constructor, sent the package to Aina’s family. Tokunaga requested a photo of Aina for a museum in Tachiarai, a museum dedicated to peace. Tokunaga said the museum would display the photos of the Americans “equally” as victims of war.

DiLaura agreed to send a picture of her brother, and a group photo of the 11 crew members from the downed plane. In November 2010, DiLaura’s daughter Suzanne Wells went to visit the museum. Her son Christopher lives in Japan.

“The museum is very well done,” she said.

She stood on the spot where her uncle’s plane crashed.

She said the museum includes moving displays about the loss of life from war. Wells has been the contact for Tokunaga. He visited Albion last Thursday and Friday with a documentary filmmaker. Wells helped get them in touch with family of two other crew members who died in the plane crash. Tokunaga and filmmaker Shinsuke Ogata also are going to Kansas City and Utah.

Akio Tokunaga meets with Suzanne Wells, left, and her mother Kay DiLaura.

Tokunaga said the peace museum has proven popular wit the public and sends an important message.

“I don’t want to see another war,” he said. “I don’t want it anymore.”

He said the museum wanted the recognize the loss of life, including the Americans.

“It’s quite unusual to have pictures of American soldiers ina  Japanese museum,” he said at DiLaura’s home on Friday. “But they are victims of the war, too.”

Pat Aina, far right, is pictured with his brothers, from left: Peter, Sam and James.

Wells said she had luck connecting with two of Aina’s crewmates through Facebook. She wants to keep reaching out to other families of the crew.

She appreciates Tokunaga’s efforts to recognize the 11 Americans who died in Tachiarai. (Aina was exhumed from a Japanese farm field in 1948. He was buried in the Punch Bowl in Hawaii, a national memorial cemetery.

DiLaura enjoyed talking about her brother with Tokunaga and Ogata.

“He was a great guy,” she said about Aina. “If he was here, he’d have something to say. He had a keen sense of humor.”

Akio Tokunaga is pictured next to Kay DiLaura during a visit to her home last week with Suzanne Wells and her husband Bob. Filmmaker Shinsuke Ogata, right, is making a documentary to be shown in Japan about Pat Aina and 10 other Americans who died after a suicide pilot crashed into their plane on April 18, 1945.