GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It was an experience four WWII veterans never thought they would have. The four, all of whom live at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, just returned home from a trip to Japan. They were there to promote peace and friendship with a country they went to war against so many decades ago.
The group had a chance to see much of the country and it was all paid for by the Japanese government. Their flight was paid for by the U.S. Government.
"Saw the cherry blossoms. Went down by the Imperial Palace. It was open. It was open for the first day ever because of the emperor's 80th birthday on April 4," said Susan Bergman, a chaperone and music therapist at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
World War II veterans Byron and his wife, Bettylu Dennis, say they have a whole new perspective on Japan.
"During the war, I wanted to see them all killed. But now I would like to live over there," said Byron Dennis.
"I'll tell you, it was an experience of a lifetime. The people were so cordial, accommodating. I can't say enough about it," said Bettylu Dennis.
The trip also included stops at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities the U.S. bombed during World War II.
Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of their trip was a friendly softball tournament with Japanese World War II veterans and school kids.
"Oh, that was great. It was just younger children from the younger grades. And we were rained out, so they did it in the gymnasium and they had a big wiffle ball," said World War II veteran Ernest Pain.
"Very nice to us. They appreciated us and we appreciated them. It's just such a change, you know? From what it was back in the day when we were fighting them," said World War II veteran Paul Hoffer.
One thing all these veterans agree on is how far Japan has come since the war.
"I knew they had recovered, but I had no idea of all they have accomplished. It's just amazing," said Byron Dennis.