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Veterans from St. Petersburg head to Japan for senior softball rematch

ST. PETERSBURG — The Kids & Kubs are once again joining hands with Japan in the name of peace and reconciliation through softball.

Five members from St. Petersburg's longtime senior softball team — four World War II Pacific theater veterans and one from the Korean War — left for Japan on Wednesday and will play in a pair of games today in Hiroshima with a blended team of U.S. veterans.

The first meeting between World War II enemies took place in Hawaii, not far from Pearl Harbor, in December 2007, and featured a U.S. team composed solely of Kids & Kubs members.

They defeated the less experienced Japanese squad 14-2. But the outcome was far less important than the friendship and understanding that flourished between players on each side. Members of the Japanese contingent came away from the game determined to stage a followup event on their own soil, paving the way to this week's trip.

"Since the last game was held in Hawaii and we were invited by the U.S., this is the time to reciprocate and to show our sense of gratitude by inviting Americans to Japan," reads a prospectus distributed by the Japanese host committee.

Navy veteran Andy Devine, 84, and former Coast Guard man Irv Abelson, 83, made the trip to Hawaii and left for Japan on April 1 along with Maynard Saugstad, 83 (Army), Cliff Zalay, 84 (Army) and David Collins, 77 (an Air Force mechanic in the Korean War). They will join a group of senior softball players from other parts of the country to round out the squad.

"They're going to take us all over the place, you can't believe it," said Devine, the Kids & Kubs president-elect who also fought in Korea and Vietnam. "There will be dinners here and there. They're taking us on the bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima and to different events. We're going to the Atomic Bomb Museum and we're going to offer flowers, like we did in Hawaii at their memorial service. Then come the games, and more sightseeing at different shrines."

The first game will pit Pacific theater vets (rounded out by some Korean War veterans) against a similar team from Japan; the second will be a mixed game featuring six U.S. and six Japanese players on each side.

The game has been supported by the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, and a pair of former prime ministers — Yasuhiro Nakasone and Tomiichi Murayama — have served as honorary chairmen of the event's executive committee.

"Through the softball play, we wish to reaffirm peace and prosperity of both nations and reiterate sympathy to the war victims," reads the prospectus. "Putting down a gun, we pick up a bat and enjoy playing together."

Dave Scheiber can be reached at scheiber@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8541.

Veterans from St. Petersburg head to Japan for senior softball rematch 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 4:31am]
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