Japanese World War II fighter ace Saburo Sakai, who downed 64 enemy planes and then went on to reconcile with his former foes and urge his nation to face its wartime past, has died. He was 84.

Sakai had a heart attack Friday while reaching out to those who had once been bitter adversaries -- at a dinner at the Atsugi U.S. naval base with American military officers, his daughter Michiko Smart said. He was taken to a hospital, but died two hours later, she said.

While Sakai gained fame as a young man for his aviation exploits, he later became known as a symbol of reconciliation and an advocate of confronting Japan's war guilt head-on.

''Who gave the orders for that stupid war,'' he said last month. ''The closer you get to the emperor, the fuzzier it gets.''

He sent his daughter Michiko to study at a university in the United States ''to learn English and democracy.'' She married an American.


Late in life, Sakai said he felt no bitterness toward his former enemies, even though he was wounded four times and blinded in one eye.

''Glorifying death was a mistake,'' he said last month. ''Because I survived, I was able to move on and make friends in the U.S. and other countries.''

He is survived by his wife, Haruko, two daughters, a son, and two U.S.-born grandchildren. . A memorial service was set for Oct. 14 in Tokyo.

Shown at right with Hap Halloran - Hap says this about Saburo:

"I have known Saburo Sakai well for 16 years -- been to his home in Tokyo and played golf with him in the Tokyo area. He has been to my home and we played golf at my Club (Palo Alto Hills CC). He is an avid golfer - shot 85 that day - wanted handicap strokes as he spoke and pointed to his lost eye.(Happened on a mission out of Rabaul). Our golf game ended in a tie -- a nice day and peaceful ending.

Hap has been a mentor to Saburo's daughter, Michiko, since she married Captain Terence Smart of the US Army and relocated to California with their two sons.

"Saburo Sakai was a genuine class gentleman and friend. He had a sense of humor and was a pleasure to be with. He presented me with an elegant Zero lapel pin . I wear it regularly, and will continue to do so."