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Continuation • Ah, Cherry
Blossoms of Same Class
(1995)

 
Last Letters of Ensign Kenjirō Watanabe to His Friend and Parents

At 1136 on April 12, 1945, Ensign Kenjirō Watanabe took off from Kushira Air Base as navigator/observer in a Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber (Allied code name of Kate) carrying an 800-kg bomb and died in a special (suicide) attack off Okinawa at the age of 22. He was a member of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 2nd Hachiman Gokō [1] Squadron from Usa Air Group in Ōita Prefecture. He was from Nagano Prefecture, attended Waseda University in the Faculty of Commerce in Tōkyō, and was a member of the 14th Class of the Navy's Flight Reserve Students (Hikō Yobi Gakusei).

On April 6, 1945, at Usa Base, he wrote the following final letter to a friend:

Dear Takigawa,

I am glad that I heard that you and the others recently have been getting along in high spirits at Tokushima [2]. The topic of our being at Usa is always your rumor. For me, you are especially unforgettable.

Now finally I will start out on my mission as a member of the Usa Hachiman Gokō Squadron. Having received an Imperial command, I am deeply moved with awe. When I think of the importance of this mission, I now regret that I am inadequate. However, I will do it. I will carry it out with fearless courage as much as I am able. While we were coming from Tokushima, it was decided that we will throw the first spears. Even with that honor, I must do it. Now there is nothing for me to say, but when I do say something you already know of my life together with you and your socialization with me. Only please make your utmost efforts in what you do.

Flying over dead bodies of my seniors in the 13th Class, I will leave behind my stamp with a dash in. After us, cherry blossoms of the same class that will be in the same position will stand by one after another ready to go.

Please stack a stone on top of the stone that I erected.

I pray that you prepare for the time that must come and take the best care of yourself.

Watanabe

He wrote the following last letter to his parents:

Dear Parents,

Please celebrate that now I will make a sortie as a member of the Usa Hachiman Gokō Squadron. From the beginning I did not expect to return alive. I intend to be very active. Please look forward to it.

I will not stop praying for your good health.

April 6

Please give my regards to Older Brother, Kōzaburō, and Shirō. Also to all of the relatives.

I have nothing but gratitude for the kindness of the country, kindness of my teachers, kindness of my parents and siblings, kindness of friends, and kindness of other people.

Yesterday there was a letter from Shirō. I was relieved since he is healthy. Since Older Brother and Kōzaburō also are working hard, I am reassured. Smiling, I will leave on my mission.

Before I advance, I will write to you since I was able to get a little free time.

I completed all of my preparations. My hachimaki (headband) with a red circle is shining brilliantly.

The prospects for victory already are in my heart.

Since we met at Tsuchiura last year on May 14, I did not have another opportunity to see you. The next time I will be waiting at Yasukuni Shrine on Kudan Slope [3].

When I think back, I was born in Shinshū [4], and up to the age of twenty I was given more kindness than I deserved. I cannot sincerely thank you enough.

He also wrote the following final letter to his parents on the day that he took off from Kushira Air Base toward Okinawa:

Dear Parents,

The long-awaited sortie day has come at 11 a.m. today. The name is Hachiman Gokō Squadron. It is an important and great responsibility to slaughter American ships that are preying upon Okinawa in the Empire. I certainly expect an instant sinking. This is truly the long-cherished desire of an aviator in this divine country.

The first attack already has achieved brilliant, great battle results. I will live for an eternal cause. I in the upcoming second attack will extend the great achievements of my seniors.

I entrusted my personal items to several friends. I have no last words. Just please rest assured since I will do it in good shape and high spirits. I will do it well.

Farewell.

I believe in the indestructibility of Shinshū, and I will make a sortie to off the coast of Okinawa.

April 12

2nd Hachiman Gokō Squadron
Navy Ensign Kenjirō Watanabe


Letters translated by Bill Gordon
September 2019

The letters come from Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (1995, 146-9). The biographical information in the first paragraph comes from Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (1995, 146) and Osuo (2005, 216).

Notes

1. Hachiman is the Japanese god of military power. Usa City in Ōita Prefecture has the first Hachiman Shrine, which was established in the early 8th century. Gokō means "protecting the Emperor" in Japanese.

2. Tokushima was the location of a Japanese Navy air base.

3. Shinshū refers to Japan and literally means "divine land."

4. Kudan is a hill in Tōkyō where Yasukuni Shrine is located. Yasukuni Shrine is a shrine to honor spirits of Japanese soldiers killed in battle.

Sources Cited

Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (Navy Flight Reserve Students 14th Class Association), ed. 1995. Zoku Ā dōki no sakura (Continuation Ah, cherry blossoms of same class). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.