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Pearl Harbor survivor: What Shinzo Abe did ‘was a big, big deal’

Gerard Barbosa, 93, of East Meadow, served in World War II and was at Pearl Harbor the morning the Japanese attacked. On Nov. 21, 2016, Barbosa told the story of how he kept his cool while under attack and shot down enemy aircraft. (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa; News 12 Long Island)

An East Meadow survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the USS Arizona Memorial on Tuesday was a heartfelt tribute and a needed endorsement of an important alliance.

And a West Islip woman who was among thousands of Japanese-Americans who were rounded up and imprisoned during the months after the attack said the gesture could help bring closure to Americans still conflicted by the war that began 75 years ago this month.

Gerard Barbosa, who was a 17-year-old gunner’s mate during the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise raid that drew the United States into World War II, said Abe showed courage and compassion during Tuesday’s ceremonial visit when he joined President Barack Obama in placing flowers at the memorial. The gesture was a commemoration of the 2,403 Americans killed there.

“We didn’t hear an apology, but what he did was a big, big deal,” said Barbosa, 93, of East Meadow. “I could tell by the way he was acting that he meant it. He was wiping his eyes.”

“This should have been done a long time ago,” Barbosa said. “It’s been 75 years.”

Mitsue Salador, 92, of West Islip, characterized the visit by the leaders of two nations that once were locked in all-out war as “significant.”

Salador was an 18-year-old college freshman when the U.S. government, spurred by anti-Japanese sentiment after Pearl Harbor, began rounding up Japanese-American citizens living on the West Coast in the spring of 1942. After Salador’s family spent months in a prison camp, they were forced to move to Montana, even though her brother was a soldier in the U.S. Army.

“After 75 years, at a time when we are friends, this can bring closure,” said Salador, a former reading teacher who retired from the West Islip district in 1984.

“It seems that is long enough for us to view those things as part of history, and we can continue now as friends,” she said of U.S.-Japan relations. “As an American of Japanese ancestry, I’m pleased.”

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