Sara no hana: "Tokkō" Okinawa no
umi ni chiru, Nakajima Hidehiko no kiroku (Sal flower: Dying in special
attack in Sea of Okinawa, record of Hidehiko Nakajima)
by Eiko Shirakawa
Bungeisha, 2002, 119 pages
Second Lieutenant Hidehiko Nakajima, a 57th Class graduate of the Army Air
Corps Academy, died at the age of 23 in a suicide attack in the Sea of Okinawa
on June 8, 1945. He served as squadron leader of the 144th Shinbu Special Attack Squadron, also
known as the 4th Tsurugi (Sword) Squadron . This Japanese book contains about
80 letters and postcards primarily written by Hidehiko Nakajima with most
from the period after his entrance into the Army Air Corps Academy on
April 1, 1941. Almost all of Hidehiko's letters and postcards published in this
book are addressed to his mother, father, and younger sister.
The author Eiko Shirakawa never makes very clear her interest in putting
a book containing writings of a special (suicide) attack pilot (known as a
kamikaze pilot outside Japan) and her connection to the pilot or his family. She
was born in 1931 and grew up in the same prefecture as Hidehiko (i.e., Ōita
Prefecture). In the Afterword, she writes that she and her husband frequently
visited Yasukuni Shrine, Chiran (location of largest Army air base from where
special attack pilots took off), and Kaseda (location of former Bansei Army Air
Base from where Hidehiko took off on his final mission). At some point
in time, they became aware of over 100 letters either written by Hidehiko or
written in reply to his letters, and Eiko Shirakawa became interested in putting
together a book with these letters.
Hidehiko Nakajima grew up in Nakatsu City in Ōita Prefecture on Japan's
southern main island of Kyūshū. The author provides some background and stories
about his early life as he grew up with his parents, two grandparents, and four
younger brothers and sisters. The book contains nine photographs including ones
from his childhood. Although his letters contain a few interesting parts, many
of them cover rather mundane matters such as sending items by mail to and from his home.
In his letters he provides very few details about his activities at the Army Air
Corps Academy, during flight training, and after being assigned to a Army
Special Attack Corps squadron designated to carry out a suicide attack.
The lack of a biographical chronology makes it difficult to piece together
the exact dates of Hidehiko's different assignments after he entered the Army, since the author
provides little background information after his childhood, and the letters
contain only a few details about his activities. He became a Second Lieutenant on July 1,
1944. In a December 1944 letter to his mother, he mentions that he had been
selected to pilot a Hayabusa Type 1 Fighter (Allied code name of Oscar).
His parents came to visit him in January 1945 at Sano Airfield in Ōsaka, and
they also had an opportunity to visit him in April 1945 at Miyakonojō Airfield
in Miyazaki Prefecture prior to his final mission. However, the book without
explanation has no letters from him for over three months between January and
April 1945. Although not mentioned in any letters, Hidehiko's 144th Shinbu Special Attack Squadron was formed in March 1945 at Akeno
Airfield in Mie Prefecture .
The last three postcards from Hidehiko arrived together in June at his home without
his writing any date on them. They each had a postmark from Kaseda Town in Kagoshima
Prefecture, which was where Bansei Air Base was located, but the date could not be made out. They had no return address.
These three postcards have been translated below:
Dear Father, now I am here. In a few hours will be the sortie, and I will
show you a splendid sinking with an explosion. I have arranged my personal
items and sent them. From here I will take only my military sword. Sincerest
Thank you for everything you have done. It will be a fine sortie a few
hours later. Take care of yourself. Pardon me for leaving a step
before you. Farewell.
To Younger Sister:
Your older brother goes bravely to the Sea of OO . Now I have few words to
say. Just weep your eyes out at the complete destruction of the arrogant
enemy. Take care of yourself.
Hidehiko Nakajima's most interesting letters contain references to the
Special Attack Corps. He seems to have no fear although he does not write
much about his feelings toward making a suicide attack. In a long letter to his
mother dated October 31, 1944, he writes the following final paragraph (p. 79),
"Off the eastern coast of the Philippines, there was the Navy's Kamikaze Special
Attack Corps. We also perhaps will go. My aide is my plane, a pretty aide. Shall
I give you some money? If you do not need it, I will buy an accordion costing
about 300 yen."
In a letter to his mother dated December 30, 1944, he writes (p. 83), "The
other day I wrote in a letter to Father that we pilots all expressed our ardent
desire to volunteer for the Special Attack Corps, but all pilots throughout the
country have that type of feeling. Actually, everyone throughout the country on
the industrial front and production increase front equally will overcome this
war situation with a taiatari (body-crashing) attack spirit. As for me, it has
not yet been decided. It is strictly prohibited to disclose anything to others."
Hidehiko writes to his mother on January 4, 1945, about how she can visit
Sano Airfield in Ōsaka while he is stationed there (pp. 85-6), "Regarding the
day of your visit, there is no need to be in such a rush since I will be here
until March and special attack squadrons are not determined. It was good that
the whole family quietly celebrated the New Year with my letter along with local
Shintō gods and a rice-cake offering (osonaemochi). I will notify you
again when they decide on special attack squadrons or when the time comes for me
to go to the front. Please keep a calm feeling like you have had until now."
In a letter dated May 17, 1945, Hidehiko's mother Taka writes with high
praise for a suicide ramming attack against a B-29 bomber squadron that took
place near their home. The Japanese Army honored suicide ramming attacks as
tokkō (special attacks) in the same way as aerial suicide attacks against
ships. By the time of this letter his mother surely knew about Hidehiko's
assignment to a special attack squadron, which she most likely found out about
when she and her husband visited him at Miyakonojō Airfield in April. She
writes, "On May 7, a splendid taiatari (body-crashing) attack against a
B-29 (American military plane) took place in the skies above Hokinoue (above
Idoda Hokinoue, Ōaza, Nakatsu City, Ōita Prefecture). Soon after Japanese
aircraft flying south passed over Hokinoue, a squadron of 11 B-29s came roaring
over. Our aircraft quickly turned around and skillfully made body-crashing
attacks on the B-29 bombers. Three B-29s burst into flames and fell on Mt.
Hachimen. The villagers hurried to the scene and put out the mountain fire. They
picked up the torn-apart remains with due ceremony, offered incense, held a
memorial service, and turned them over to the military. Sergeant Major Murata,
the leader of our aircraft squadron, is truly a fortunate person. Flying alone
in a two-man fighter, he deliberately made a body-crashing attack and achieved a
noble death in battle. He was respectfully mourned and praised by the villagers,
which must have been his long-cherished desire."
Although this book has some slow parts, the letters taken as a whole
demonstrate the strong bonds between Hidehiko Nakajima and his family. His
letters that mention the Special Attack Corps seem to show a matter-of-fact
approach and silent courage as he faces his impending suicide mission. His
mother's praise for the Army pilot who carried out a suicide ramming attack
against a B-29 indicates her support for her son and his responsibilities as a
squadron commander of special attack pilots.
1. Naemura 1993, 491.
2. Osuo 2005, .206.
3. The word "Okinawa" appears to have been
censored here in the postcard.
Naemura, Hichirō. 1993. Rikugun saigo no tokkō kichi: Bansei tokkōtaiin no isho to isatsu (Army's last special attack base: Last
letters and photographs of Bansei special attack corps members). Ōsaka: Tōhō
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen)
(Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.