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Sara no hana: "Tokkou" 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 [1]. 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 together such 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., Oita 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 Oita Prefecture on Japan's southern main island of Kyushu. 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 Osaka, and they also had an opportunity to visit him in April 1945 at Miyakonojo 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 [2].

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 in Kagoshima Prefecture, but the date could not be made out. They had no return address. These three postcards have been translated below:

To father:

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 regards.

To mother:

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. Goodbye.

To younger sister:

Your older brother goes bravely to the Sea of OO [3]. 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 Osaka 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 Shinto 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 tokko (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 Miyakonojo 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, Oaza, Nakatsu City, Oita 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. Master Sergeant 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.

Notes

1. Naemura 1993, 491.

2. Osuo 2005, .206.

3. The word "Okinawa" appears to have been censored here in the postcard.

Sources Cited

Naemura, Hichiro. 1993. Rikugun saigo no tokkou kichi: Bansei tokkoutaiin no isho to isatsu (Army's last special attack base: Last letters and photographs of Bansei special attack corps members). Osaka: Toho Shuppan.

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