AFA Repatriates 600-Year-Old Japanese Sword, Reinforces U.S.-Japan Alliance

September 28, 2022   |   By Patrick Reardon

A 600-year-old Japanese sword that had been in American possession since World War II was returned to the Japanese in a private ceremony Sept. 19 at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

The momentous ceremony was attended by prominent U.S. Air and Space Force leaders including Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, in addition to a Japan-America Air Force Goodwill Association (JAAGA) delegation representing the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and AFA’s Chairman of the Board, CMSAF #14 Gerald R. Murray (Ret.). During the ceremony, the sword passed from AFA President Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, USAF (Ret.), to the President of JAAGA, Gen. Sugiyama, JASDF (Ret.).

While the origins of the sword and how it came to the United States are uncertain, the story of how it came to AFA is clearer. Lt. Col. Bob “Buck” Kershaw, USAF (Ret.), an AFA member, received the sword from his father who served in Japan during the U.S.’s post-war occupation of the country in 1945.

Kershaw had been trying to ensure the sword to Japan for years before his passing. His wife, Jenny, and AFA President Wright worked closely with JAAGA leadership for the last three years to find a way to transport the ancient weapon safely back to Japan. As of Sept. 19, after decades of being away from its homeland, it is finally on its way to the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum in Okayama.

The ceremony reinforced a profound friendship that has flourished between the two nations since their bitter rivalry some 75 years ago.

“In the wake of that war, our countries did something almost unheard of in human history. We laid aside our differences. We helped each other rebuild. We forged a new and enduring partnership. More than that, we became enduring friends,” Wright said to the delegation. “Today we repatriate this sword to the land where it was forged some six centuries ago. And in doing so, we turn this instrument of war into a lasting symbol of friendship.”

JAAGA ceremony.

“The Japan-U.S. alliance is now one of the oldest—and also the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. This is because U.S. and Japan have been working hard to overcome a sad history of war. Returning the sword is not only a symbol of our friendship, but also the proof of strong allies,” said Sugiyama. “The spirit of the samurai warrior in this Japanese sword is finally going back to its home by the hands of Air and Space warriors of both the United States and Japan.”

The collaboration to secure the sword’s changing of hands also represents a steadfast friendship and synergy between AFA and JAAGA, two associations that promote dominant air and space power in their respective nations while fostering a powerful alliance with one another.

“This is also the proof of a great relationship between AFA and JAAGA,” Sugiyama said. “We are very proud [to be part] of the U.S.-Japan alliance and always pleased to support Active-duty members of both the U.S. Air and Space Forces and [the Japan Air Self-Defense Force].”