TOKYO — The Olympics allow countries to set aside grievances and prove we are more alike than different.

Over half a century ago with feelings still mixed between Japan and America, a group of Iowa farmers provided relief filled with Olympic spirit that is still felt today.

State Historical Society of Iowa curator Leo Landis says decades ago a helping hand from American farmers picked up Japan during a time of need, “One of the most just marvelous stories of friendship between Iowans and Japanese people.” 

In 1959 two typhoons decimated Yamanashi Prefecture’s agriculture. Major Sergeant Richard Thomas, an Iowan Air Force officer stationed in Tokyo, and Iowa farmers stepped up by loading pigs into an airplane in 1960.

Landis says, “Thirty-eight young females and eight boars and so it was outfitted to hold those pigs with aluminum pens inside of it.”
It may seem far-fetched but this time pigs did fly, making a statement heard around the world.

“The type of world we are living in was going to be helped if we could be friendly with other nations and that was a critical part of living in a global world,” says Landis.
The move was controversial as American and Japanese relations were still tense following World War II. “The fact both nations had been at war with each other just 15 years before that had affected both nations,” says Landis.

The impact continues to be felt today. The majority of pigs raised in Japan can trace their DNA to the same Iowa-raised hogs that made the trip to Japan 60 years ago.

Landis says, “Look at that, we’ve got the basis of Japanese pork production comes out of Iowa. The number one hog producer in the United States.”

The Iowa Hog Lift proved despite our differences there can be understanding and compassion. 

Japan would go on to host its first Olympics and first in an Asian country in 1964.