The family of Shunsuke Tomiyasu, born in 1922 in Nagasaki Prefecture, moved
to Tōkyō when he was six years old. As a young boy he was skilled at all
sports, and he was a member of the judo team as a student at Waseda University
in Tōkyō. He also enjoyed music, and he organized a harmonica band that
performed concerts. His eyes were very large, and he had the nickname of
"Eyeballs" in elementary school.
In September 1942, Tomiyasu graduated with a degree in political science and
economics from Waseda University, and he started work at the South Manchurian
On September 18, 1943, he entered the Navy in the 13th Class of Reserve
Students. After basic training, he was assigned to the Tsukuba Naval Air Group
in Ibaraki Prefecture.
On April 22, 1945, Lieutenant Junior Grade Tomiyasu went to Kanoya Air Base in
southern Kyushu to wait for the date that his kamikaze squadron would make a sortie.
Tomiyasu wrote the following final letter to his family:
Dear Father, Mother, and Sister,
I was suddenly ordered to make a sortie to a certain area, and I must depart
now. Since from the beginning I gave my life for our country, I do not
expect to return alive. I surely am determined to achieve excellent battle
Today the fate and existence of our country are at hand. We leave as
defenders of our country. You may miss me when I am not here, but please
live with great enthusiasm and cheerfulness. Worries will cause everyone to
When I entered the Navy, I naturally was prepared for death, so I think
everyone also should not feel lonely. I plan to send a letter to Hideo, but
please give him greetings also from our home.
Since Lieutenant Junior Grade Kondo plans to go visit you, please meet
with him. I will do my very best, so please rest assured about that.
At 5:30 in the morning of May 14, 1945, Lieutenant Junior Grade Tomiyasu
sortied from Kanoya Air Base as leader of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 6th
Tsukuba Squadron, which consisted of 14 Zero fighters each carrying a 500-kg
bomb. He evaded heavy
antiaircraft fire and crashed into the forward elevator of the aircraft carrier
Enterprise (CV-6), the US Navy's most decorated ship in World War II with
20 battle stars. Damage control put out the fires in 30 minutes, but the damage
caused by Tomiyasu's plane and its bomb put Enterprise out of the rest of the war as
she had to return to the States for repairs. The kamikaze attack killed 13 and
wounded 68. The explosion also blew eight crewmen over the side of the carrier,
but the destroyer Waldron (DD-699) quickly picked them up.
After the burial at sea for the Enterprise crewmen killed in the attack, there was also a
burial at sea for Tomiyasu off the ship's stern. His rank of Lieutenant Junior
Grade was discovered from the insignia on his flight suit, and there were also
name cards in one of his pockets. The name of these cards was translated
incorrectly as Tomi
Zai, so this was the name used by Americans for almost 50 years to refer to the
kamikaze pilot who hit Enterprise. The following poem by Arlond "Jack"
Banks, who served aboard Enterprise from 1943 to 1946, describes the
attack that knocked the carrier out of the war :
The Last Attack
'Twas Fourteen May, the year '45
Ragged few of her crew remain alive
Witness to that deadly cruise
Off Japanese islands - Okinawa and Kyushu
A fateful day for Tomi Zai,
Kamikaze pilot with death wish to die.
Granted his wish by "Son of Heaven"
Plunging to Enterprise - was morning after 7.
Steadfast its course quick and true,
Straight as an arrow his Zeke flew.
Through walls of fire impossible to survive,
That suicide plane kept its fatal dive.
Striking our Queen on her number one,
Lit off like a rocket, to the sky it spun.
Big E wounded, shook, rattled and rolled,
To rid the evil taking its toll -
Crushing our ship, killing our mates,
That last attack sealed our fate.
'Twas our ticket home, Stateside alive,
Aboard our Queen Good Enterprise.
Kan Sugahara, a graduate in the 77th class at the Japanese Naval Academy at
Etajima, was instrumental in the determination of the correct identity of the
kamikaze pilot who hit the carrier Enterprise. He examined Japanese records of
Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade kamikaze pilots who died on May 14, 1945, and
concluded that Tomiyasu had to be the same person named Tomi Zai by the
Americans based on the similarity of the kanji (Chinese characters) in the names
and based on Tomiyasu's sortie time from Kanoya Air Base. Sugahara also
coordinated the return by the USS Enterprise CV-6 Association of a small piece of Tomiyasu's Zero
the Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum for display.
Pieces of Tomiyasu's Zero A6M Fighter retrieved by former
Enterprise crewman when cleaning up wreckage
(not piece displayed at Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum)
The photo of Shunsuke Tomiyasu, his last letter, and information about his
life come from the Kasama Museum of History and Folklore (Kasama City, Ibaraki
Prefecture), which has an exhibit room dedicated to the history of the Tsukuba
Naval Air Group. The description of Tomiyasu's crash into Enterprise comes
from Stafford (1962, 496-9). The photo of the pieces from Tomiyasu's Zero comes
from someone who wishes to remain anonymous.
1. Poems of the Big E <http://www.cv6.org/company/accounts/abanks/>
(December 1, 2007).
Stafford, Edward P. 1962. The Big E: The Story of the USS
Enterprise. New York: Dell.