Eight decades after the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor that forced the U.S. into World War II, the Army, Marine Corps, and units from Japan’s military are conducting exercises together across the Pacific, including in the state of Washington and mainland Japan.
The drills, which involve more than 5,000 U.S. and Japanese troops combined, symbolize just how far U.S.-Japan relations — and strategic competition in the Pacific — have come.
The 7th Infantry Division’s deputy commander, Col. Leo Wyszynski, said the anniversary of the attacks falling during Rising Thunder 21 at Yakima Training Center, Washington, was “purely coincidental” in a phone interview with Army Times, though he still reflected on the occasion.
“Eighty years after there was conflict, the world has changed — but now we have a common vision that’s centered on peace and security,” Wyszynski said. “It’s a joy to be able to train alongside our Japanese counterparts.”
This year’s version of the annual Rising Thunder exercise includes 600 soldiers and Japanese troops, according to spokesperson Staff Sgt. Joseph Tolliver. A joint Apache helicopter gunnery took place Tuesday, with American and Japanese crews competing to see who could post the highest score.
A larger exercise that began Sunday at multiple sites across Japan and the Pacific region — Yama Sakura 81 — includes a combined 4,500 U.S. and Japanese troops. They will conduct a command post exercise that simulates defending Japan during large-scale multidomain operations. A small contingent from Australia will also observe the exercise, according to Stars and Stripes.
Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade are also participating in Yama Sakura, according to a Marine Corps release.
The 3rd MEB noted the historical anniversary in a Facebook post to its official page.
“[Today,] we mark 80 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor,” the post read. “We understand the shared legacy of our past, remembering who we are and where we came from, in order to highlight the importance of peace, reconciliation, and the strength of the alliance that exists today.”
Ultimately, said the 7th ID’s Wyszynski, the exercises are about “having that that shared common vision for peace and stability” across the Pacific.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.