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The Final Flight
by Romain Hugault
Paquet, 2007, 55 pages

This richly illustrated comic book presents moving stories of four WWII pilots from different nations who make their final flights into battle. The drawings of the first story, "The Cherry Blossom," depict a Zero pilot on a kamikaze mission. The narrative that accompanies the drawings comes directly from a letter written by the kamikaze pilot to his widowed father. Romain Hugault, a French comic artist, respectfully portrays each of the four pilots as brave heroes willing to sacrifice their lives for others, and the stories' plots have a depth not found in most comics.

The English translation of the final letter in "The Cherry Blossom" was first published in The Divine Wind by former Japanese Navy officers Captain Rikihei Inoguchi and Commander Tadashi Nakajima (1958, 198-200). However, Hugault only mentions that he found the letter on the Internet without providing the specific source. The comic includes Ensign Teruo Yamaguchi's touching letter almost word for word from the translation in The Divine Wind with only a few minor changes. The story only uses his name Teruo without any mention of his family name Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi in his last letter expresses his regret for not sufficiently honoring his father during his life but promises to say his name (chichiue, honored father) during his final plunge. He also writes of his being able to see his deceased mother and grandmother again after going to his grave in the sea around Okinawa, and he explains his strong attachment to the splendor and beauty of the Japanese land, people, and way of life. In the following excerpt from the letter, Yamaguchi states his dissatisfaction with the political leadership but also pledges his loyalty to Japan (p. 8):

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I think of the lies being foisted on innocent citizens by some of our wily politicians. But I am willing to take orders from the high command, and even from the politicians, because I believe in the empire of Japan.

Teruo as presented in this comic story differs quite a bit from the historical Ensign Teruo Yamaguchi. In contrast to the comic's Zero pilot who crashed into an aircraft carrier in April 1945, the real Teruo Yamaguchi flew his Kamikaze Special Attack Corps mission in a Mitsubishi F1M Type 0 Observation Seaplane [1] as a navigator [2]. He was a member of the Amakusa Air Group in Kumamoto Prefecture and was assigned to the 12th Air Flotilla to carry out his suicide attack [3]. He took off from Ibusuki Air Base in southern Kyushu on June 21, 1945 [4], the first day of the tenth and last Kikusui mass kamikaze attack during the Battle of Okinawa. Although the comic shows Teruo's crash into an American aircraft carrier, US Navy records make no mention of any aircraft carrier being hit on that date [5]. Since Teruo Yamaguchi's letter included in The Divine Wind and as copied on the Internet does not mention his aircraft type or date of death, most likely Hugault depicted Teruo as a Zero pilot in April 1945 since Zero fighters carried out the most kamikaze attacks and since April 1945 was the month when the most kamikaze pilots died.

In the book's second story, "Reprieve," an American fighter pilot named Tom gets shot down in June 1944 behind enemy lines while attacking a German supply train. A young French girl saves him by crossing the lines to notify American troops of his location. The girl gives him a small handmade doll to watch over him as he returns to the US to recover from the large piece of flak in his leg. In the third story, "Iron Cross," a German ace named GŁnther (nicknamed "The Expert") leads his squadron in March 1944 against some 1,000 American bombers and 500 escort fighters, but he gets killed in action after destroying several enemy fighters. In the fourth story, "Angel Drop," a French fighter pilot named Alain flies for the Russian air force. In November 1943, he encounters "The Expert" introduced in the previous story. Alain rams into the German fighter and dies as his aircraft crashes to the ground, but "The Expert" somehow survives. The two-page Epilogue goes back to Tom's story, who had returned back to the US and recovered from his battle wounds. He gets assigned as a flight instructor aboard an aircraft carrier approaching Japan. As he writes a letter of thanks to the French girl who helped save his life, the final comic frame shows Teruo's Zero fighter about ready to crash into Tom's carrier [6].

The Final Flight presents not only thought-provoking stories but also well-drawn WWII aircraft in battle. Having a kamikaze pilot's last letter as the complete narration of a comic story effectively illustrates the Japanese pilot's bravery and tragedy even if only in a fictional manner.


Teruo piloting Zero toward Okinawa

Notes

1. From information booklet available at Ibusuki Naval Air Base Remembrance Monument. Entitled Ibusuki Kaigun Koukuu Kichi o shinobite (Remembering Ibusuki Naval Air Base).

2. Osuo 2005, 240.

3. Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 198.

4. Tokkotai Senbotsusha 1990, 209.

5. Hara 2004, 237; Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 230.

6. One of the crewmen in the final frame has on a jacket with CV-56 on the back. In actual history, the construction of aircraft carrier CV-56 was cancelled in March 1945 before any construction work had been carried out.

Sources Cited

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.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai.