I Was a Kamikaze Pilot
by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred
Cavalier, January 1957, pp. 6-9, 95-100
This condensed version of Yasuo Kuwahara's story in
the January 1957 issue of Cavalier magazine became the basis for a
full-length book entitled Kamikaze that was published later in 1957
(Kuwahara 2007, ix). Over the years Kamikaze sold over 500,000 copies and
greatly influenced American views of kamikaze pilots who carried out suicide
attacks against Allied ships from October 1944 to the end of World War II in
For several decades almost all Americans considered Kuwahara's book to be
true, but research published in 2006 showed historical inaccuracies of many
details (see Ten
Historical Discrepancies). The book and this magazine story contain several
far-fetched incidents such as pilots who drink the blood of other pilots and a
departing kamikaze pilot who cuts off his entire little finger so its ashes can
be sent to his family. Gordon T. Allred explains in "A Vital Explanation" in the
2007 version of Kamikaze that "in the year 2000, a Kamikaze movie
promoter, then researching related material in Kuwahara's home town of Onomichi,
encountered two men who said that his account was a fabrication. Both said they
had been his high school acquaintances and contended that he had never won a
national glider championship or been in the Japanese Army Air Force. Instead,
they maintained, Kuwahara was merely one of many students drafted by their
government to support the war effort on that country's military bases."
This magazine story and the book Kamikaze have the same basic plot with very
few inconsistencies. Some discrepancies between the two most likely came about
from having to cut certain episodes and characters for the much shorter
magazine article. Other differences may be due to changes made by the magazine's
editor. The book presents Kuwahara's life chronologically, whereas the magazine
starts with Kuwahara's escorting 12 aircraft in a kamikaze squadron that attacks
the American fleet near Okinawa, and then the storyline returns to Kuwahara's
days as a high school student and proceeds chronologically after that.
A supposed photograph of Yasuo Kuwahara (included below on this web page) is shown on the first
page of the magazine story. The next three pages in the magazine have
kamikaze-related photographs including a Zero fighter about ready to crash into
battleship Missouri, an ohka (called "baka" by Allies) rocket-powered
glider bomb, and a series of three images of an LSM that sank after being hit by
a kamikaze aircraft.
Notes have been added to the story in order to provide
comments on a few of the inaccuracies and implausible incidents. Click on the note number to go to the
note at the bottom of the web page, and then click on the note number to return
to the same place in the story. The notes for this story do not repeat the
book's historical inaccuracies already described in Ten
Historical Discrepancies such as no Army base in Hiro, no record that
Kuwahara's friend Tatsuno ever died in a kamikaze attack, and the incorrect
month for the American bombing of Hiro Air Base.
Here for the first time anywhere is the brutal inside story of the last
desperate days of the Jap Air Force—as told by one of the
doomed men whose country turned him into a human bomb
Mid-June, in Japan, 1945 . I am a Kamikaze, a
Japanese suicide pilot. My own death orders have not yet arrived but I am
expecting them–any week, any day, any hour. In the meantime, until my orders
arrive, I have been assigned to escort my friends–Kamikazes like myself–on their
doomed missions against the mighty American task force at Okinawa. I am to
furnish fighter protection to the group, and on my return to the base I am to
report how successfully they died.
My friend Tatsuno is among them. Before takeoff, he comes up to me. A strange
smile is carved on his waxen face. He shakes my hand in a cold grip and gives me
"It's not very much to send," he says. I sense his embarrassment.
I look away quickly. Tatsuno has just given me his little finger .
Our doomed men customarily leave something of themselves behind–a lock of hair,
fingernails or an entire finger–for cremation. The ashes are sent home to repose
in the family shrine. I promise numbly that the ashes of Tatsuno's finger will
rest with his ancestors.
It is almost time to go now and Kagoshima Air Base is vibrating with final
preparations. Mechanics have come to say good-by to the ships they have nursed
so long and tenderly. The planes are almost all obsolete, but it doesn't matter.
They are going on a one-way trip.
Twelve men have just received their last briefing from the commanding officer
and they stand on the runway in their flight suits, respectfully listening to
his parting words. Around the shaven skull of each is bound the Japanese flag,
with the crimson rising sun over his forehead. These flags, which their comrades
have signed in blood, symbolize the noble spirit of Nippon, as the Samurai sword
has done for our ancestors. Nearby, a knot of girls, with whom the Kamikazes
have had their last affairs, are starting to cry .
The Commanding Officer concludes with the words we have heard so often on
this runway in the past few months: "And so, valiant comrades, there is a place
prepared for you in the esteemed presence of your worthy ancestors." We bow.
We sing the battle song:
The Airman's color is the color of the cherry blossom.
Look, the cherry
blossoms fall on the hills of Yoshino.
If we are born proud sons of the Yamato
Let us die fighting in the skies.
And drink the final toast. The sake glasses are raised and we cry "Tenoheika
Banzai!" (Long live the Emperor.) Some suicide pilots laugh and joke as they
climb into their planes; others are inscrutable. Most of them are afraid, but no
one wishes to show it.
It is perfect flying weather. The seasonal rains have subsided, leaving a
clear dome of blue. We take off and circle over the velvet mountains before
pointing out to sea. For the 12 Kamikazes, it is their last look at their
homeland and the three hour flight to Okinawa will be their last hours on earth.
My mouth feels like dry plaster as the minutes speed by and we draw closer to
our target. Planes are all about me, in tight formation, lethal arrows winging
at the American ships. I am beginning to tremble and I feel cold. My eyes are
unblinking balls of glass, my head throbs painfully. Far off, I see the swaths
of the first American ships. I count 25 of them.
Our lead suicide pilot waggles his wings, signaling the others and I wonder
what they are thinking. All 12 pilots open their cockpits and flutter silk
scarves. The hunters have spotted their quarry.
The moments glide by. The ships have sighted us now and they are beginning to
open up. We draw closer and I'm sweating. Now our leader is diving, dropping
vertically into a barbed wire entanglement of flak. He is aimed at a cruiser,
and for a moment I think he will make it. But no–he is hit and it is all over.
His plane is now a bright red flare that quickly fades and drops from sight.
Two more go exactly in the same way, exploding in mid-air. The fourth is
luckier. He dives unhit through the barrage. He's inside the flak umbrella near
the water. A hit! He's struck a destroyer just at the waterline. There is a
terrific explosion and then another and a third. The ship can't stay afloat. It
upends and is gone.
Things are happening now with incredible speed and confusion. One of our
planes is skimming low across the water while gunfire throws thousands of spouts
in the water around him. He is aiming at a carrier and will score a direct hit.
No, they get him. He bashes against the stern, inflicting little damage.
There are four big carriers in this striking force, well protected by
battleships and an outer perimeter of destroyers. The defense is almost
impregnable. Only a gnat could penetrate their fire screen. Two more suicides
try for the carrier and disintegrate near the water. Others have already dropped
into the sea. So far, I can be certain that we have sunk only one ship.
We have but one plane left. I try to make out who it is–the last plane in
formation. Of course, it's Tatsuno, and he's already diving. Fire spouts from
his tail section but he keeps going. His plane is a moving sheet of flame but
they can't stop him. A tanker looms below. A hit! An enormous explosion rocks
the atmosphere and the tanker goes down, leaving no trace except a widening
shroud of oil.
We had sunk a destroyer and a tanker, wounded a carrier, and (though I didn't
learn it till later) severely damaged a battleship. But I have no time to think
of our successes. The Hayabusa ahead of me waggles its wings to warn of danger,
and almost instantly a flock of Grummans pounces on us. Two of them are on my
tail, firing short bursts. Bullets tear at my stabilizer and one pierces my
windshield, inches above my head.
I try to escape by diving, only to find that I am a clay pigeon for the
convoy below. Miraculously, I streak through the flak and level out just above
the waves. One pursuing Grumman is not so lucky. He is blasted by his own ships
and hurtles into the sea. A geyser is his burial marker.
I climb for safety in my staggering ship, making for the black clouds on the
horizon. Now, tossed by the winds, I limp back to base .
I think that death–in the shape of an American plane–was on my tail, but as a
fighter pilot I was able to escape. But I am only a fighter pilot temporarily. I
too am a Kamikaze. Soon my turn will come.
Thirteen years have not dulled these memories. Today they are as vivid as
ever–tragic, fantastic experiences which few men will understand. This is the
story of my life as a Kamikaze pilot and the role that I played in the strangest
war ever known to man.
It would be difficult to say where the idea of a Japanese suicide warrior
began. Perhaps it was born with the country over 2,600 years ago when Zinmu,
First Emperor, descendant of the Sun Goddess, came to power. It has, at any
rate, been carried on for twenty centuries by the Samurai warrior who is willing
to die by his own sword.
My own experience as a Kamikaze began when I was only 15 and a high school
boy. I enrolled in a glider training course sponsored by the Hiroshima district,
of which my home town was a part. Throughout Japan students were being urged to
join programs that would prepare them for war. For me, the glider school was
perfect, something I'd been waiting for all my life–a chance to get into the
Late that year I competed in the National Meet at Mt. Ikoma near Nara. Of the
600 qualifying glider pilots from different districts, six of us from my high
school captured the group championship. Immediately afterward I won first place
in individual competition. I was hailed as the best glider pilot in Japan.
As a result I was asked to enlist in the Imperial Army Air Force, and only a
few months later I began basic training at Hiro Air Base, about 30 miles from
Hiroshima. I wanted to enlist, but even if I hadn't, I had no recourse. It was a
matter of honor. Men who entered Japanese military life were expected to say, "I
go to die for my Emperor and my country." It wasn't an easy decision for a
15-year-old boy. I had no desire to die.
And so, I said a sad good-by to my family and went to Hiro where I found
another world. Sixty of us were assigned to four barracks and given an
orientation by one of the sergeants or "hanchos." He showed us how to make beds,
display our clothes, and polish our boots. Shoto Rappa (Taps) would be played at
9 p.m. If we were not perfectly neat and clean at all times, we would pay for
Regulations like these were not much different than those in any military
unit. The great difference was how they were enforced. So strict was the
discipline, so fierce the punishment that many men did not survive. American
prisoners of war, victims of Japanese atrocities, often received no worse
punishment than we. Punishment served two purposes–it created discipline and it
developed courage. Anyone who could withstand the hanchos could stand up to the
We got a taste of it the first night. I lay awake like a rabbit in a trap,
thinking of the tough training. Most of the boys were a year or two older than
myself and I wondered if I'd be able to bear up.
Suddenly the door burst open. The hanchos were making their first inspection.
Tense, I watched the yellow play of their flashlights and listened to their
Moments later we were driven from our beds with slaps, kicks and commands.
"Outside, mamas' boys," a hancho shouted.
A hand cuffed me. "Hey bozu (baldy)" someone said, referring to my shorn
head, "move out!" I was booted soundly out the door.
We were lined up, facing the barracks. A fat hancho began cursing us. He told
us that we could live like sloppy pigs if we wanted to. "Of course," said he,
"we wish to acquaint you with some of the consequences beforehand."
He made a motion and was handed a ball bat. "Do you know what this is for?"
he shouted. We knew the meaning all right. The bat was traditionally used to
instill men with the Japanese fighting spirit.
"Yes, Sir." The response was weak.
"Oh, come now. I couldn't hear you." This time we answered a little louder.
"Too feeble. When did you stop sucking milk from your mothers? I'm afraid
we'll have to punish you."
A metal bar, waist high, ran the length of the barracks. We were ordered to
bend over it and grasp it with both hands. "Now," said the hancho, "We shall put
some spirit into you!"
There was a smack and the first man in line grabbed his rear. Two assistant
hanchos had moved in with bats. The sound of hard wood striking flesh came
nearer. There were gasps of pain. Those who protested too audibly got additional
blows. My body jolted and fire shot though my buttocks. Gritting my teeth, I
grabbed myself and danced.
Later as we groaned in our beds, the hancho lounged in the doorway, the light
cutting across his puffy face. Removing the limp cigarette from his sneer he
called, "Hey, ojosan (girls). Do you know what the bats are for now?"
"Yes, Sir!" We bellowed. He chuckled and bade us a tender goodnight.
"The Pig," as we called the fat hancho, gave us a talk the next day. He said,
"The time has come for you to become men. As men, you will carry the weight of
Japan–and soon the rest of the world–on your shoulders. You must learn to follow
every instruction perfectly. Yesterday you failed to comply with instructions
regarding neatness in the barracks. In one barracks a shoe brush was missing. In
two others, ash trays were not placed properly on the tables. Next time I shall
be forced to put some real spirit into you. By the time you finish training
under Hancho Noguchi, you will truly be able to withstand pain. You will be able
to laugh at a little thing like the ball bat. I will make men of you."
Certainly he did his best. On our second night at Hiro he showed us a game
called "Taiko Binta." According to the Pig, we had been sloppy in ranks and had
not recited correctly the five main articles of military conduct in the Imperial
"All right, playboys." The Pig leered, "we shall now play a game. Make two
ranks!" We lined up facing each other. Approaching one man, the Pig said, "I
will demonstrate. Now we are adversaries. The object of the game is
simply–this!" He struck with his fist and the boy toppled over.
Then he commanded men in one rank to strike the men across from them in the
faces. When they hesitated he said, "Perhaps you need another demonstration."
Again he struck. A man staggered and held his face. Blood oozed through his
"Now, on the count of three, first rank!" I heard the count. We began
striking. "Harder! Harder!" The blows were beginning to hurt. I backed away
until a hancho began whacking my thighs with a bat. Instinctively, I threw one
arm across my legs and got a numbing blow on the elbow. He then grabbed me,
sinking his fingernails into my neck.
"Draw blood!" he shouted.
The eyes across from me were those of a scared animal. I wanted to quit but
the bat was searing pain across my back. I whirled and for an instant would have
killed the hancho, but he drove me back with stinging blows. "Next time, your
head will roll on the ground!" he bellowed.
"Come on, hit me!" the boy across from me was urging. My knuckles met his
cheek. "Harder!" the assistant screeched. I hit again and again until my
knuckles were raw and bleeding.
That night I was too swollen to sit and it was painful to lie down. I was
quietly groaning in the dark, when Nakamura, the boy with whom I'd exchanged
blows, limped over to talk. We apologized for having hit each other and talked
quietly for a while. Eventually I fell asleep, feeling better because I had
found a friend.
In the morning after a painful night we were all covered with bruises. We
limped along to the first formation grunting with soreness. The Pig's gaze was
almost benign as he inquired about our health. "You are still soft, like girls,"
he said and suggested that a few minutes of running would limber us up. It was a
fast three-mile run and many of us passed out. The Pig wheeled about on his
bicycle, thrashing at us with a sturdy length of bamboo, alternately cursing and
That day they put us through a dozen forms of torture. The worst was reserved
for the evening. We were lined up six inches from the barrack wall. Methodically,
the hanchos passed down the line and slammed our faces against the wood. One man
had his nose broken, another lost some teeth.
Always the Pig dinned into our ears that we must forget the past and think
only of dying for the Emperor. We were Japan's expendable men. Through our
deaths would come victory.
Because of this ordeal, my entire conception of life began to change. I was
sure that my family, my carefree school days, were only an illusion. To expect
to ever be out from the shadow of death was unthinkable. In one short week I'd
Late at night when the punishment had stopped was the worst. In the dark we
lay thinking of our families, especially our mothers. After all, as the
Americans put it, we were "kids," scared kids, some of us only 15. It was then
that we shed our tears where no one could see and few could hear.
Some of the boys still had young voices and called aloud for their mothers in
their sleep. For such weakness, we were all punished severely. And the most
immature, including myself, were often embarrassed in various ways.
For example a hancho would eye one of us and say, "Hey Shinpei (recruit), are
you a man yet?"
Regardless of the reply, a demand would come to prove it. "Take down your
pants!" The hapless trainee would comply, standing shame-faced while the hanchos
made cracks about his endowment.
After two weeks, our families were allowed to visit us. A counter separated
the trainees from the visitors, convict style. We were forbidden to accept food
or presents, but my mother slipped some cakes under the counter. Almost every
boy had presents hidden under his mattress that afternoon. We decided to have a
It was not the sort of party we expected. That night our beds were ransacked.
Our faces were bashed against the barracks walls. Then, with our boots tied
around our necks, we were forced to crawl, one by one, along the barracks hall
to the Pig's room to apologize. As we crawled to the side of his desk, he kicked
us in the faces.
Instead of getting better, the punishment got worse. As we got tougher, they
began running us five miles every day instead of two or three and those who fell
out were bludgeoned with rifle butts. Instead of exchanging blows with fists, we
used shoes with nails in them. There was not a man whose face was not shredded,
particularly around the corners of the mouth.
The torment never ceased. We became quivering things, frayed of body and
nerve. Men jumped in their sleep and moaned incessantly. Bitterness grew and
more than one of us spoke of killing the Pig.
Several deserted, but they were all captured and thrown in the army stockade.
Most of them were hanged from the ceiling by their wrists with iron weights
attached to their ankles and their naked backs were beaten with belts. Deserters
from all branches of the military were sent to army stockades where MPs did
anything they pleased with them. Often prisoners were tortured to death and
nothing was ever said.
My feelings at this stage were indescribable. None of it seemed real. So much
had happened so suddenly. A severely wounded man does not feel the raw pain at
first. The real suffering comes later. My nerves were deadened.
One evening I tried to enter the latrine but found it locked. After waiting,
I called and received no answer. A few of us, becoming suspicious, pried the
door open. As we entered, something swayed. The feet dangled inches above the
floor. I stared at the bulging eyes and lolling tongue. Mucous was oozing from
We tried artificial respiration, unsuccessfully, "He's happy now," someone
Later, a letter was found addressed to the dead man's family. He apologized
for "Dying ahead of you, before it was my rightful time."
The time crawled on. As the agony continued, nine more of the group followed
the first suicide. I too was tormented by the thoughts of death. I felt I could
not live another day under the Pig.
But–the three months of basic ended. With flying school ahead, we were
granted a two day pass. My sojourn at home was a strange one. My wounds and
bruises caused Mother and my sister Tomika anguish. I was washing, just after my
arrival, when Tomika saw the lash marks on my back. Bursting into hysterical
cries, she repeated, "What have they done to my little brother?"
But most people considered me a hero. I said the patriotic things that I was
supposed to. One morning I went to my old high school and was greeted as though
I had already performed valiant deeds. I made a speech to the school, "I hope
that many of you will follow me." I said, forcing a smile.
Hours later the train was clicking toward Hiro Air Base and I was thinking of
my father's last admonition: ". . . . and if you should ever gain dishonor, do
not return to bring unhappiness and shame upon us. Live honorably and fight
gloriously for the Emperor. Should you die, I have a grave of honor prepared."
Yasuo Kuwahara. At 15, he had joined
the Jap Air Force. At 16, he was a Kamikaze.
(caption and photo from original article)
Flying school was better than basic, even though the punishment continued. We
had formed friendships and were becoming hardened–both physically and mentally.
We studied aeronautics and learned how to parachute. Within three months we
began flying the Akatombo (Red Dragonfly)–a small biplane with a forward cockpit
for the instructor and rear one for the student.
The new hanchos treated us no better than the Pig had. The worst was our
flight instructor, Namoto, whom we dubbed "Praying Mantis," because of his
gangly, insect-like appearance. He had an utterly vicious nature.
In basic we had been bewildered and terrified. During flying school, we
gained a spirit of defiance and began looking for revenge. Once we put dandruff
in Namoto's rice. Another time a wire tripped him so that he fell down a flight
of stairs, and still later we embedded 60 needles in his mattress.
For the wire trick he retaliated by running us six miles on a hot afternoon
in our feather-lined flying suits. For the needles he did stunts with us at high
altitudes–this time minus the flying suits and safety belts with the cockpit
open. The dandruff he ate, unknowingly, with gusto.
It was shortly after my solo flight that an inexplicable thing happened. We
were flying in formation when the Mantis commanded us to play follow the leader
with him. I was first in line close behind as he slipped into a bank, an easy
dive and began to loop. Pulling out of my own loop I came up almost on his tail.
For some reason, instead of slowing, I speeded up.
Namoto veered to the left and climbed into the sun. I followed, precariously
near. I was an automaton, obeying an outside force. The Mantis was screaming.
"Get off my tail, you madman! Drop back!"
He went into a steep dive and I followed as though attached by a cable.
Vainly he tried to escape, twisting, turning, climbing and diving. He could not
shake me. It was as though I wanted to strike him and crush him from the air.
We cut a tight left circle and the Mantis screamed. "Turn right! Turn right!"
I turned left and we missed colliding by a sliver.
Desperately the Mantis headed full speed for the mountains and soon we were
roaring between their shoulders, low along the valleys. His wing nicked off the
tip of a tall pine. Still I followed and we climbed, barely apart, till we were
above the first peak, circling.
Seconds later, the Mantis uttered a final, frantic oath and bailed out. I
watched the silken mushroom billow, snapping a doll-sized figure. Before it
reached the earth there was a flash a mile off. His trainer had crashed.
My brain was in a complete turmoil. I probably would have crashed somewhere,
had not a voice come over the phones: "Come back! Turn back! Don't do anything
you'll regret. Remember your family! Remember the Emperor!" It was an assistant
flight instructor, circling above me.
The episode, like a dream, had only lasted a few minutes, and I somehow
rejoined the main formation.
Later I was taken before the Commanding Officer, who questioned me.
I had nothing to say except that the Mantis had told us to follow him. I had
followed. The Commander was reasonable and only sent me to the guardhouse for a
few days, "to think things over."
It was not long before the Mantis visited my cell and beat me senseless with
a club. When I came to, I found myself covered with blood. The Mantis had used
his feet, too.
For four days he saw to it that I had nothing but pickles and cold rice. I
slept on the cement floor with one thin blanket.
On the second night I was wakened by a voice calling softly from outside.
"Are you all right? Put your head out. Let me see your face."
Thinking that a friend had come from the barrack, I pressed my swollen visage
partially through the bars and hissed, "Who is it?"
"It is I!" Something cracked, searing my face like a torch. Screaming, I
staggered back, throwing my hands up to my face. The Mantis had crouched there
with a whip. He leered from the shadows.
Before my release I was beaten on 15 separate occasions with a heavy, wet
rope, one lash of which usually knocked me out. With each beating he called me
names and said, "This is to teach you the value of a good airplane," or, "This
is to teach you that my life is valuable."
A day longer in the guard house and I definitely would have taken my life. I
knew how to do it. I would simply kneel, clamp my tongue between my teeth,
locking my hands on top of my head. Then I would slam my chin against the wooden
bench, bite my tongue off and bleed to death. More than one man died that way at
Hiro. But, somehow, the day of release came.
I was placed on latrine duty that week, and struggled along gritting my teeth
at every motion. I was afraid that I would be hospitalized, eliminating my
chances for fighter school. Graduation was near and we would be assigned
according to our aptitudes–fighter, bomber, signal or mechanic school. We all
wanted desperately to be fighter pilots.
Four fighter pilots were picked from my barracks. Luckily, I was one of them.
Tatsuno was another. I remember the Commanding Officer's graduation speech
vividly, because it was the first time I'd heard anyone in authority admit the
seriousness of Japan's situation. "Our future grows darker," he said in
conclusion. "It is for you, Nippon's Sons, to dedicate your lives and to die
During the next two months we flew training planes similar to our regular
fighters, though less powerful. This was our preparation for the Hayabusa 2, the
best army fighter then under production, outclassing the famous Zero.
The course was stringent, involving gunnery, formation flying, air maneuvers
and suicide practice . The latter entailed diving
at the control tower from specified heights. This was the most difficult part of
flying because of the psychological effect–the idea that we were practicing to
die. The natural tendency was to complete the dive hundreds of feet above the
target. Eventually we developed a sixth sense which enabled us to feel the
ground coming up, and pulled out with less than 20 yards to spare at times. We
began to get an idea of what the real thing would be like.
And for the real thing we had not long to wait. Though the first air raid on
Tokyo had occurred over two years before, it was not until I started fighter
school that concentrated attacks on Hiro began. Even before we had finished our
training, we were sent up to defend the base.
Japan's fuel shortage prevented us from engaging the enemy in long battles,
even with our best fighters. Radar stations on our main island tips warned of
enemy approach. If their course was toward Nagoya to the east or Oita, the
opposite direction, we relaxed. If they headed for Osaka, between, we took to
the sky, fearing they might veer toward Hiro.
My first air battle occurred west of Hiro when five of us, flying Hayabusas,
were attacked by Grummans. A determined snout came at me from the rear, its guns
flashing. Instantly my heart jolted and my head and upper body seemed to run
empty, leaving my arms numb.
Whining, shredding noises. Magic holes appeared in my windshield and I cut a
sharp arc as he powered by. Seconds later I was on his tail firing, seeing the
burst go home. I was amazed that my body would even function and somehow felt
detached as though I were witnessing everything from another sphere. The lethal
buzz of motors, the staccato of machine guns and the blue white of the day sky
all had a dreamlike quality.
Mildly surprised, I watched the Grumman lose altitude, trailing a thin wisp
of smoke. Ramming my plane into a steep climb, I glanced back to see the pilot
Just then a nasal voice said, "I am going to crash! The rest of you save
yourselves!" The voice was Lt. Shimada's, our leader. Just after he spoke, I saw
a flare of dazzling light and realized what had happened. Two planes, an
American and a Japanese, were falling as though they were toys cemented
together. I watched the crinkling water rise to meet the blackened fragments.
No more fighting for me. Wind whistled through the bullet holes in my plane
and with scant fuel I limped back for a landing. I had shot down an American
plane that day, but I had seen hundreds of others, and like other Japanese, I
knew that we must take desperate measures to survive.
Already, the Japanese had been pushed back all along the Pacific, and had
been almost eliminated as a strong naval power. We were losing confidence. An
indication of the changing attitude, men began surrendering more readily. At
first it had been only one Japanese captive to every hundred killed. Eventually,
however, small groups and finally whole battalions gave up.
Very gradually these facts were seeping through to the people. The scene was
swiftly being prepared when men like myself would appear–men who lived for the
single purpose of dying. This indeed was a telling indication of Japan's
Plans were already afoot for the use of Kamikaze pilots. A Col. Motoharu
Okamura of the Air Force had first suggested the idea to the Daihonei, the
Japanese high command in Tokyo, which had agreed. Okamura believed that 300
suicide pilots–each sinking a large American ship–could fan the winds in Japan's
favor. "I have personally talked to the pilots under my command," he stated,
"and I am convinced that there will be as many volunteers as necessary."
Officially, the suicide pilots went under the name of Tokkotai (Special
Attack Group), but "Kamikaze," named after the Divine Storm which swamped
Genghis Kahn's invading fleet in the 13th century, was more popular. Now, the
divine storm would have wings and the invader to be destroyed was America.
In October, 1944, the first Kamikaze pilot left his new bride to become the
world's first human bomb at Leyte Gulf. Within the next ten months, over 5,000
planes containing one and sometimes two men followed his lead .
The Kamikazes inflicted the heaviest losses in the history of the United States
Navy, scoring more than 2,000 direct hits on her vessels .
This figure included hits by the Baka bombs–low-winged monoplane gliders,
released from mother planes, which came into use toward the end of the war.
As the Japanese resorted more heavily to Kamikazes, the fighter pilots at
Hiro grew apprehensive. Kamikaze pilots were not born–they were selected from
our ranks. And as it became clear that the Kamikazes were devastatingly
effective, more valuable than fighter planes could ever be, we knew that we were
the next to be tapped.
It happened on New Year's Day, 1945, at Hiro. The Commander of the Fourth
Fighter Squadron called a special meeting. Solemnly he said, "The time has come.
We are faced with a great decision."
I felt it coming–the cold fear of imminent death. I recall his words vividly:
"Any of you unwilling to give your lives as Divine Sons of the Great Nippon
Empire will not be required to. Those incapable of making the sacrifice will
raise their hands."
Silence settled. Then, hesitantly, timidly, a hand went up, then another and
another . . . six in all. It was up to me. I could live! The Captain had just
said so. My hands remained at my sides, trembling. I could not raise them.
"So!" Captain Tsubaki eyed those who had responded. "It is good to know
exactly where we stand. Here are six men who have openly admitted their
disloyalty. Since they are completely devoid of honor, it becomes our duty to
afford them some. These men shall be Hiro's first attack group!"
So it happened that the first men from my squadron were picked for death. The
time was gone when men volunteered for such an "honor." They were picked and
Captain Tsubaki had gone about it in his own interesting way. The six who had
chosen life had been handed death.
How long, I wondered, would the Japanese people be able to hide behind their
immobile fašade? How many were true to themselves? Six had been true. They had
paid the price.
From that time on men were selected periodically from our squadron and
transferred to Kyushu for special suicide training. Most of us felt doomed. We
had only one straw to grasp. Perhaps the war would end. I think that more than
one man was guilty of praying that Japan would surrender. Many of the civilians
still had faith, but we who knew the facts had to be either na´ve or fanatic to
expect triumph. By February the enemy was attacking Iwo Jima, 750 miles from our
Some of us had a little greater hope for survival than the rest, for we had
been rated as top pilots. The better pilots were saved as long as possible to
provide base protection. They also escorted other suicide missions, affording
defense and making reports.
Consequently, our poorest pilots died first, causing the Americans to
conclude, initially at least, that there were no skilled Kamikaze pilots. (The
American Admiral Mitscher put it differently. He said: "One thing is certain:
there are no experienced Kamikaze pilots.")
Orders from the Daihonei in Tokyo were sent regularly to air installations
throughout the four main islands, stipulating how many pilots each base would
contribute. Then men were committed to main suicide bases such as Kagoshima, the
largest, on the southern inlet of Kyushu, for final training .
Others, like myself, were trained at Hiro.
No one will ever comprehend the feelings of those men who made a covenant
with death. Condemned convicts don't even know the feeling. The convict is
paying for misdeeds and justice is meted out. The suicide pilot had done no
wrong. The philosophy that he was a "Son of Heaven," destined to be a guardian
warrior after death in the spiritual realms, didn't always provide solace.
Of course, there were fanatical Japanese fighters. Some wanted nothing but to
die gloriously. Generally, we pilots moved along two paths. The "Kichigai"
(Madmen) were fierce in their hatred, seeking honor and immortality. They lived
to die. Many of this type came from the Navy Air Force, which contributed a far
greater number of Tokkotai.
I belonged to another group, whose sentiments were frequently opposite,
though rarely expressed openly. Its members, mainly the better educated, were
referred to as "Sukebei" (Lotharios or Lovers) by the Kichigai.
Naturally, everyone's attitudes fluctuated. There were many times when I
wanted revenge. When I considered that by destroying an American ship I might
save many of my people, my own life seemed insignificant. But this was a feeling
I had to cultivate.
As the months faded, Japan began to stagger, losing her hold on eastern
China. The heart of Tokyo had been demolished and the entire homeland was being
laid waste. Millions of tons of our merchant shipping had been sunk and by April
'45, the enemy was assaulting Okinawa, Japan's very doorway. The island toppled
after 81 days of fierce battle.
By June '45, Hiro's airfield, hangars and assembly plant were being strafed
and dive bombed relentlessly by Grummans, Mustangs and light bombers. The time
came when 150 B-29's pulverized Hiro and nearby Kure Navy Port.
The warning had sounded 30 minutes beforehand and all pilots had taken off to
escape. After the bombing, there was no base to return to. I went to Oita on
north-eastern Kyushu. It was at Oita that I became a suicide escort.
Despite life's grimness, it was interesting to note individual reactions. The
physical torment of earlier days was gone. Tested and proved, we were the cream
of Japan's fighting airmen. We were given extra money and told to have a good
time during off hours. Men who had rarely touched liquor became drunkards.
Others, who had never even kissed a woman, joined the long lines before the
prostitute's door–10 minutes to a turn.
Several times a day I planned how I would make my death attack. I had it well
memorized. I knew the best way from having watched innumerable others succeed
To a novice it might seem a simple matter to dive onto a ship. However, there
were factors which made it extremely difficult. There were the ever vigilant
enemy fighters. In addition, each vessel threw up an unbelievable barrage. The
combined output of anti-aircraft cannons, rockets and heavy caliber machine guns
created a lead wall. In addition, the ships always zig-zagged, so that a plane
coming straight down often found only a patch of water awaiting him.
The best procedure was to attack in waves of 15 planes at 30 minute
intervals. We would descend at anywhere from 10,000 to 5,000 feet, the sun at
our backs. The dive varied from between 45 and 60 degrees, leveling out at about
500 yards from the target, as close to the water as possible.
Thus, an approach was effected below the angle of the bigger guns. This low
attack was advantageous for another reason, for ships were frequently in danger
of hitting each other with their own ammunition.
Following the deaths of my twelve friends over Okinawa, and Tatsuno's
spectacular sinking of the tanker, I was ordered to report to the commanding
officer at Oita. He was obviously depressed. He had learned that, just after a
disastrous American air attack on an air field on Formosa, a Kamikaze pilot had
crashed his plane against one of the few remaining hangars, destroying 25 planes
. At first it was thought to be an accident. Then
a note was discovered among the pilot's effects. He had deliberately destroyed
the hangar to prevent other pilots from dying!
"You see, Kuwahara, how conditions are . . . The time has come to put our
best pilots into the battle," he said, "Are you prepared?"
How long had I waited for this? At last it was coming. Strange relief and
emptiness. My voice seemed to come from afar. "Yes, Sir. I am honored to be
deemed worthy." I listened to what seemed a phonograph record of my own words:
"I wish to go as soon as possible."
"Your orders will come within the next week or two," he informed me.
"Meanwhile, you will return to Hiro."
The B-29s hadn't left much, but some effort had been made to restore Hiro's
life. Daily I waited for my orders, but time dragged by agonizingly–days, weeks,
an entire month. Still I hadn't heard, or seen anything in writing. August came
and I was still flying escort missions.
Early that month, we learned that some B-29s were flying southwest of Osaka.
They were expected to pommel Osaka, then split, striking Matsue and Okayama .
It was an indication of our fading strength that only four of us were picked
to lock with them over Kayama, approximately 30 minutes flight from Hiro. Having
calculated the time of contact with the enemy, I did some additional planning.
Our flight would carry us over Onomichi High School and near my home. This in
mind, I wrote a brief message to my family including my regards to the school.
Then I placed it in a metal tube with a white streamer attached. I had no idea
how many of my letters had been censored or had failed to arrive. At least I
could get them some sort of word before it was too late. I told them that I had
been picked as a Kamikaze. Over the school–near the familiar bay, shipyards, and
buildings–I dropped the message and saw the curious crowds waiting below to
Then we flew on to Okayama. Right on schedule, the B-29s were moving
in–heading eastward at about 20,000 feet. There were only six of them, but they
were flanked by 12 Grummans.
I began breathing hard, feeling the wheel hard and cold in my clenched hands.
Our leader, a lieutenant, signaled and we began climbing. They weren't aware of
us until we had circled and dropped from the sun. As we began firing, the
Superfortresses cut loose with a vicious barrage and the Grummans swarmed into
I followed the lieutenant, slicing down vertically–blazing at the second '29
while he concentrated on the first. Just before I completed my pass, I saw the
lieutenant's plane shudder. An instant later, he plowed straight into his target
and the two ships were instantly reduced to a yellow-orange burst.
Without thinking, I pulled out and for a second felt the blood leave my head.
When I came out of my daze, the remaining bombers had fanned and were swerving,
fearing the same fate as their leader.
During my second run, I dived at the trailing '29, saw my tracers arching,
appearing to curve–making contact I saw the big giant cough smoke and it was
then that a surge of elation swept through me like strong hands lifting me up.
I never did see the '29's actual death, however. She was losing altitude, but
still game. As I screamed past her massive rudder a third time, intent on the
kill, I got a terrific ripping from her tail guns. Several angry Grummans buzzed
after me. Pulling out, I circled, climbing. After completing a full 360 degrees,
I glanced up and back over my shoulder. A Grumman above me was banking so close
that I could distinctly see the pilot. The sun glinted on his goggles and his
white teeth flashed in a determined grin. A confident American. I'll never
forget that look, because it scared me, filled my veins with water. Somehow that
expression symbolized something with which Japan could no longer cope.
Outnumbered, I ran for it, diving for the ocean and pulling out precariously
near the surface. My pursuers didn't follow with their faster but less
maneuverable craft. By then, though, the remaining fortresses were laying their
bombs on Okayama and my fighting was over for the day.
Despite my morbid feelings, our luck had been outstanding. In addition to the
'29 destroyed by our suicide, two more were damaged. My victim had apparently
gone down, its crew bailing out over the inland sea.
My escort missions continued and toward mid-August 
I returned from a flight to learn that my sister, Tomika, had paid a visit to
the Base. She had read my message and tried her best to see me. I was grieved
that she had not been permitted to stay, but thought, "Maybe it's best this way.
Better that all relations be severed." Tomika had left me a remembrance–a lock
of her hair. For a long time I sat, just holding it in my palm.
The next day I learned that my mission would fall within the next week. The
time had come but now it seemed almost anticlimactic. In a way I almost looked
forward to it. Death at last. Someone would be escorting me for a change. Still,
I held to those last days as a man clings to a slippery ledge.
August 6, I received a two-day pass–the final and sure sign that my death
date was close. A two-day pass. Such was the Japanese Military's kindness and
magnanimity to its fated sons.
At first I decided not to take the pass at all, thinking it would be better
not to see family or friends. But the pull of home was too great. An
overwhelming urge to return filled me, and I started out for Onomichi.
I would be with the people I loved. There would be no talk of the future.
Suddenly I felt that for two days I could find a peaceful island in life, a
final one, but a good one. Two golden days. Perhaps when it ended, I would
accept death. Perhaps death, as the poets had said, would be sweet. Maybe if
there were a God, He would make it easy for me.
Before returning home, I stopped in Hiroshima to visit a friend stationed at
the Second General Army Headquarters . I left
the army truck at approximately 7:30 a.m. and several minutes later boarded a
street car. I left it and began walking along Shiratori Street. The sky was
slightly overcast and it was already growing sultry. Several people said good
morning and an old woman stopped me to ask why our fighters were no longer
appearing in the skies.
Moments later, I heard the air raid sirens. A small concern to me since two
planes had already passed over while I was on the street car. The lone '29 above
scarcely seemed worth considering at first. Several times, though, I glanced up.
There was something a little too placid about the slow droning. Something . . .
When I was approximately 2,000 yards from the General Headquarters, a tiny
object fell from the silver belly above. No bigger than a softball, it gradually
materialized into a parachute. Speculations were being made:
"What are they up to now?"
"Yes, more propaganda–more of the same old thing."
All other mutterings were cut off. Suddenly a monstrous multicolored flash
bulb went off directly in my face. Something like concentrated heat lightning
stopped my breath. A blinding flicker–blue, white and yellow. I threw up my
hands against the fierce flood of heat. A mighty blast furnace had opened from
Then came a cataclysm which no man will ever describe. It was neither a roar,
a boom or a blast. It was a combination of those things with something else
added–the fantastic power of earthquakes, avalanches and floods. For a moment
nature had focused her wrath on the land and the crust of the earth shuddered.
I remember being thrown to the earth near the side of the house. Darkness,
pressure, choking and the clutches of pain. At last, a relief as though my body
were drifting upward. Then nothing.
When I woke, I had no idea how long I had been unconscious. As my senses
began functioning I found myself under a mass of debris. My legs were pinned but
I worked my arms to clear some of the litter from my face. My eyes, nose and
ears were clogged with dirt. For several moments I choked and spat. Searing
pains traveled through my body and my skin felt badly scorched.
I opened my eyes and it was some time before they cleared enough for me to
see the tiny spot of daylight overhead. I could hear more rumbling noises and
footsteps. "Help me!" I forced the words with all my strength. They were like
the croak of a frog. Again and again I called only to end gasping in despair.
The pressure was becoming unbearable.
Hours seemed to elapse. I called again. Gradually a numbness settled and I
began trying to visualize what had happened. A big bomb. The Americans had
dropped a new bomb. Was it the atom bomb? While flying I had received repeated
radio warnings from the enemy in Saipan. They had told us to surrender, stating
that the greatest power the earth had ever known was to soon be unleashed on
How ironical the situation seemed! I could die where I was and no one would
ever know exactly what had become of me. A suicide pilot dying on the ground
only minutes from home. Such an ignoble way to die! I almost laughed.
Perhaps no one would ever dare approach Hiroshima. Maybe all of Japan was
gone. What a thought–no more Japan! No, of course not, I was dreaming. Suddenly
I gave a start.
Dust had sifted through the hole and there were sounds. I yelled with all my
strength. No answer. I yelled again.
"Be patient," a voice came. "I'm removing the boards!" Wonderful words. As I
waited, the thought came that perhaps I'd been there for days.
Sounds increased–more voices. Finally the weight was lifting, darkness
changing to light.
"Are you all right?" voices came. "Easy, easy–better not move!" But I began
to get up while the whole world teetered. What a weird, swirling vision–I fell.
Arms caught my body and lowered it to the earth.
"What happened?" I rasped.
"We don't know. A new enemy weapon. Maybe it was an atomic bomb."
"You'll be all right," another intoned. "Just stay here until you regain your
strength. No broken bones. You'll be all right."
They were soldiers from the army hospital, and they started to go. "Wait!" I
became frightened. "Don't go!"
"We must," came the reply. "Hiroshima is in ruins. Everyone is dead or
I learned that I had been buried for nearly six hours, from 8:15 a.m. until
2:00 p.m. It was impossible to determine the extent of my injuries, but after
thirty minutes in the open air I felt better. As I stood swaying, my vision
improved, opening a nightmarish spectacle.
People have attempted to describe Hiroshima after the atomic blast on that
fateful August 6, 1945. No one has completely succeeded. What happened was too
far beyond human experience.
Certain broad pictures burn as vividly in my mind today as they did
then–scenes of a great metropolis reduced to a fiery rubble pit while 129,558
human beings were killed, crippled or missing, all within the few ticks of a
An odd black rain was settling and I realized that my directions were gone.
About me, the land was leveled. Cries, groans and wails emanated from
everywhere. Unbelievable! My vision was still too blurred to discern people
Shiratori Street was buried with houses, folded and strewn like trampled
strawberry boxes. Bodies were all about. In the distance, the stronger buildings
still stood, charred and skeletal, some of them listing, ready to topple. Fires
Groggily, I gazed through the filter of grey at a sick sun, then at the
ground where I'd been buried. Vaguely I realized that fate had taken a turn in
my favor. A cement water trough used in case of fire, about the size of an
office desk, had stood against the house opposite the blast. Falling directly at
its base, I had lain in a pocket that formed a right triangle, partially
protected from the collapsing walls. Simultaneously, the walls had shielded me
from the explosion, heat wave and radiation which had turned grass nearby to
ashes. Some of the concrete had actually melted. Sand and mortar had settled in
the trough, forcing it to overflow. The remaining water had utterly evaporated.
A quick personal examination indicated eyes badly swollen, skin on my hands
and arms baked, a bruised right calf, cuts and contusions.
I hobbled slowly off and within a short distance found a pile of bodies. One
or two people were alive, struggling to get free. A body rolled from the heap
and a head emerged. The face was covered with cuts and its single eye blinked at
me. The nose was gone and the mouth writhed soundlessly.
"Here, here, I'll help you," I said and began removing the cadavers. I tugged
at a dead arm and fell backward. The flesh from the elbow down had sloughed off
like a baked potato peeling in my hands, leaving the glistening bone.
Battling nausea, I continued my task, freeing the prisoner. A few people
assisted but others merely looked on futilely. The moaning about me increased
and I moved on.
Within a few seconds I saw a man whose lower half was pinned beneath a beam.
Half a dozen people were grunting, and prying with levers. As they dragged him
free, blood gushed from his bowels and he died. His hips to his ankles had been
mangled, but the beam's pressure had prevented external bleeding.
Dazed, I continued. People were moving like half frozen insects, holding
their bodies or clasping their heads. An extraordinary number were naked. Some,
mostly the women, tried to cover themselves. Others were totally oblivious. I
realized that my own clothes were in tatters.
Once a woman called me. She lay on the ground, unable to rise. Attempts to
help her were useless, for my very touch caused agony. Her body was blistered
past recognition. Her hair had been burned to charcoal and not only the skin,
but layers of flesh were peeling from her like old wallpaper. One side of her
throat was scathed and laid open so that I could see the delicate filament blood
vessels pulsating with tortured blue life.
I stumbled on–lost. Innumerable forms appeared, all suffering from the same
hideous skin condition. Leper-like, they were falling apart.
Eventually I found myself before the remains of the Yamanaka Girls' High
School. At 8:15 about 400 girls had assembled in rows on the school grounds to
receive the daily announcements prior to beginning classes. Like a sickle in a
flower bed, the blast had laid them out, stripping off everything but their
belts. Watches, rings and buckles, the heat had embedded into their flesh. The
school medals worn about their necks were burned in between the breasts.
Many parents were examining the bodies. I watched a mother bury her face
against a father's chest, watched as her body racked with sobbing.
I saw expressions beyond grief and despair, heard the hysterical wails, saw
Efforts at identification were futile, for the young bodies were utterly
charred. Teeth projected–macabre grins in flattened featureless faces. Four
hundred girls, seared like hogs. The burned odor, like the combined smell of
fertilizer and fish, cloyed in my nostrils and I held my stomach.
Later, exhausted and in a state of shock, I was picked up by one of the
trucks from Hiro and transported to the base. As we neared the Ota River, I saw
people in throbbing blotches along the shores. Thousands sprawled along the
banks, their groans blending in an ominous dirge.
Countless numbers lay half in the water, trying to cool themselves. Some had
died that way, face down. The Ota was filled with living and dead. Many had
drowned. Corpses bobbed near the shore or washed along with the current.
Mothers, fathers, aged and infant–the bomb had used no discrimination.
During the following 36 hours I stayed at the Base. My skin had turned red
and smarted terribly. My eyes hurt and my body ached–a prelude to a lengthy
illness which left me bald for months and a radiation sickness which still
At that time, more than any other, I felt a hatred for the Americans. Had I
been flying and spotted an American plane I would have done my utmost to crash
it. My life seemed of no importance.
When I returned to my barracks, several Kichigai were arguing with Sukebei
about the status of the war. Russia had declared war on Japan.
Since the bomb, all Tokkotai missions had been temporarily cancelled by the
Daihonei . We were to do nothing until further
orders and each man felt a growing tension .
On August 14, a friend rushed into the barracks. He'd just returned from a
reconnaissance. "Kuwahara," he whispered. They say that Japan will surrender
tomorrow. The Emperor will announce Japan's surrender! The air is full of it."
At noon the next day officers and men were assembled in the Mess Hall before
the radio, mute as stones. Part of the delivery was static, but the rest was
audible enough for us to determine what was happening. The Emperor was
officially announcing the surrender of Japan!
His proclamation, like the atom bomb flash, left everyone stunned, and it was
an instant until the explosion occurred. I looked at the stricken faces, watched
the expressions alter. Suddenly a cry went up and one of the Kichigai leaped to
his feet. "Those American chikusyo (beasts)! May God condemn them! Revenge!
Revenge! What are we waiting for? Are we babies? Let us strike before it is too
late! We are expendable!" His gesture knocked cups crashing from the table.
"We are expendable!" rose the cry. A core of men sprang up and would have
rushed to their planes if the Commander had not intervened.
After we had returned to our barracks, motors groaned overhead–the screech of
diving planes, followed by two sharp explosions. We rushed forth to see flames
crackling on the airstrip. Sergeants Kashiwabara and Kinoshita had quietly
sneaked to their planes following the furor and became some of the first
Japanese to suffer death rather than the humiliation of surrender.
Other suicides followed. Several officers placed pistols in their mouths and
squeezed the triggers. Men committed harakiri, bit off their own tongues and
That same day, Admiral Matoi  Ugaki,
Commander of the Navy's Fifth Air Fleet, and a group of his officers became the
war's final Tokkotai. In a calm, fixed manner they taxied their Suisei bombers
down the strip at Oita and were last seen heading into the clouds for Okinawa.
The deaths at Hiro precipitated bitter arguing. Men of the Sukebei faction
contended that it was stupid to fight longer, that there was nothing to be
gained by dying. The Kichigai maintained that life would not be worth living,
that the Americans would torture and kill us anyway. The least we could do, they
said, would be to avenge the terrible crimes at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On the morning of the 18th, Hiro's Commanding Officer announced that the
propellers were being removed from our airplanes. All arms and ammunition except
enough for the guards were placed under lock and key.
The ensuring days were some of the strangest in Japan's military history. The
disparity which had so long existed between officers and men began to disappear.
Officers who had dealt unjustly with their men fled by night and were never
heard of again. Several of them were killed trying to escape.
Heavy guard was posted around warehouses and installations to prevent robbery
by military personnel and even civilians who ferreted through the fences.
Violence flared through the base. Kichigai and Sukebei bickered and carried on
It was on the 21st that I read the bulletin board near the mess hall: "The
following named men to be discharged, effective 23 August." Part way down the
list was, "Cpl. Yasuo Kuwahara."
It was as if someone had knocked the breath from me. Somehow I felt that it
was a mistake. But it was true–my discharge was soon confirmed on freshly cut
orders. It was true!
In two days I would be a free man. I couldn't believe it–that it would be
over. I still feared death. Wasn't it true that at Kochi and Oita airfield, they
had not yet taken propellers from their planes? And weren't efforts being made
by certain of the military to continue the war? The danger would increase if the
Kichigai elements became dominant. Secret meetings were held by both groups. I
was still awaiting a set of death orders.
More than ten years later I learned that on August 8, 1945, I was to have
been part of a final desperation attack, involving thousands of men and planes .
The great bomb which had killed so many of countrymen had saved me.
Despite my doubts and fears, the remaining days passed more calmly than I'd
anticipated. Early on the 23rd of August, I donned a new uniform. For a long
time I looked at myself in the mirror–at the golden eagle patches on my
shoulders. I was somehow looking into an unfamiliar face. It was the face of a
boy sixteen years old. I had grown young again. It was all over. All over! I
repeated the words endlessly.
The night before I left the base, a dozen of us–and close friends–dined on
sukiyaki in the billet of a Lt. Kurotsuka. There had been toasting with the sake
and each man had cut his own hand and drunk the blood of his comrade's in a
token of brotherhood .
Kurotsuka, an assistant commander for the Second Squadron, had been a peace
lover, but a valiant and beloved leader by all the men.
His final words to us were: "We have lost a material war–but spiritually we
are not vanquished. Let us not lose our spirit of brotherhood and let us never
lose the spirit of Japan.
"We are aged men in one sense. And yet we are very young and the future
stretches before us. It is for us now to dedicate ourselves not to death but to
life–to the re-building of Japan, that she may one day be a great power, yet
stand respected as a power for good by every nation.
"For what men, my comrades, in all this world, will ever know war as we have
known it? Or what men will ever cherish peace as we shall cherish it?"
The sake glasses were raised high.
1. The book indicates the date of the kamikaze
attack of Kuwahara's squadron as June 10, 1945 (Kuwahara 1957, 162).
2. A kamikaze pilot did not cut off an entire
little finger before his final mission, since this obviously would have made
piloting the plane much more difficult. There is no other published account of
such a practice. Often a Japanese pilot would send a lock of hair or fingernails to his
3. The book does not indicate that kamikaze pilots
"had their last affairs" with these girls who gathered to see them off.
The book indicates that the girls gathered at Oita Air Base (Kuwahara 1957,
147-9), not Kagoshima Air
Base as described in the magazine story.
4. The book describes Kuwahara's improbable escape
to Taihoku Air Base in Formosa (Kuwahara 1957, 157), but this article only
states he limped back to base, which most likely means Oita Air Base from where
he originally left to accompany the 12 men in the kamikaze squadron.
5. Air groups did not practice suicide dives even
before the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps was formed in October 1944. The first
kamikaze attack, which took place in the Philippines,
is not mentioned until later in the story.
6. The figure of 5,000 total kamikaze planes
between October 1944 and August 1945 is overstated. Yasunobu (1972, 171) puts
the total of Navy and Army special attack planes at 2,503. Some kamikaze planes
had three crewmen such as the Ginga bomber (Allied code name of Frances).
7. The figure of 2,000 direct hits by kamikaze
aircraft on US ships is overstated, but sources vary on the number of ships hit.
Rielly (2010, 324) states 407 ships were hit. Inoguchi (1958, 234) states that
kamikaze aircraft sunk or damaged 322 ships.
8. Neither the Army nor the Navy sent special
attack (suicide) squadrons to the southern island of Kyushu for final training.
Instead, the squadrons were sent to these forward bases after they had trained
at air bases north of Kyushu, primarily on the main island of Honshu. Kagoshima
was not the largest suicide base. Actually, only 12 men in special attack
squadrons sortied from Kagoshima Air Base during the entire war. On March 11, 1945,
the 12-man crew of a Type 2 Flying Boat sortied from Kagoshima as one of the
lead planes in the kamikaze attack by Ginga bombers on American ships
anchored at Ulithi Atoll. An American patrol bomber shot down the flying boat.
9. The book has a slightly different version of
the kamikaze pilot who crashed his plane into a hangar at a Formosa air base. In
the book, Kuwahara escapes to Taihoku Air Base in Formosa, and he witnesses this
incident (Kuwahara 1957, 160-1). In the story from Cavalier magazine,
Kuwahara returns to Oita Air Base, and the base commander finds out from some
type of communication about this incident.
10.The Cavalier magazine story mentions a
B-29 bombing of Okayama in early August 1945, but such an attack did not occur
in this time period. The B-29 bombing of Okayama took place on June 28-29, 1945
(Bradley 1999, 88-91).
11. The time of "mid-August" in the magazine
story is inconsistent with the book's chronology, which mentions August 1 as the
date of his last reconnaissance flight and his sister's visiting the base.
12. It is implausible that Kuwahara could stop
by unannounced to have a social visit with a friend who worked at the Army
Headquarters in Hiroshima.
13. In contrast to the story's statement that
all Tokkotai (Special Attack Corps) missions were temporarily cancelled, they
continued after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
Special attack planes that sortied and did not return to base totaled 14 on
August 9, 14 on August 13, and 9 on August 15, mainly from Navy air bases at
Hyakurihara in Ibaraki Prefecture and Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture (Hara 2004,
14. When Kuwahara returned to Hiro Air Base
after the bombing of Hiroshima, the magazine story says that he and others on
the base were to do nothing until further orders, but the book states that he
made an unlikely two-hour reconnaissance flight over Hiroshima on August 8 to
survey the damage caused by the atomic bomb (Kuwahara 1957, 180-2).
15. Matoi is the incorrect given name for Vice
Admiral Ugaki. It should be Matome.
16. There is no evidence from other sources that
Japan planned a final desperation attack with thousands of men and planes to
take place on August 8, 1945.
17. Japanese people do not have any such custom
of drinking blood of another person in token of brotherhood. There is no other
published account of such a practice among Japanese airmen in WWII.
Bradley, F.J. 1999. No Strategic Targets Left.
Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company.
Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsou kamikaze tokkou: Hisshi
hitchuu no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit
attacks). Tokyo: KK Bestsellers.
Inoguchi, Rikihei, and Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau.
1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II.
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Kuwahara, Yasuo, and Gordon T. Allred. 1957. Kamikaze.
New York: Ballantine Books.
________. 2007. Kamikaze: A Japanese pilot's own
spectacular story of the famous suicide squadrons. Clearfield, UT:
American Legacy Media.
Rielly, Robin L. 2010. Kamikaze Attacks of World War II: A
Complete History of Japanese Suicide Strikes on American Ships, by Aircraft
and Other Means. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Yasunobu, Takeo. 1972.
Kamikaze tokkoutai (Kamikaze
special attack corps). Edited by Kengo Tominaga. Tokyo: Akita Shoten.