Trained as a Kamikaze – and lived – Intermission Story (26)

The airbase at Chiran, Minamikyūshū, on the Satsuma Peninsula of Kagoshima, Japan, served as the departure point for hundreds of Special Attack or kamikaze sorties launched in the final months of World War II. A peace museum dedicated to the pilots, the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots (知覧特攻平和会館 Chiran Tokkō-Heiwa-Kaikan), now marks the site.

The pilots filed into the room and were presented with a form that asked if they wanted to be kamikaze. It was multiple-choice, and there were three answers: “I passionately wish to join,” ”I wish to join,” and “I don’t wish to join.”  This was 1945.  Many were university students who had been previously exempt from service, but now Japan was running out of troops.

Hisashi Tezuka recalls that a few of his colleagues quickly wrote their replies and strutted away. But he and most of the others stayed for what felt like hours, unable to decide.

Hisashi Tezuka, trained Zero kamikaze pilot

He did not know then if anyone had dared to refuse. He learned later that the few who did were simply told to pick the right answer.  Tezuka so wanted to be honest to his feelings he crossed out the second choice and wrote his own answer: “I will join.  I did not want to say I wished it. I didn’t wish it,” he told The Associated Press at his apartment in a Tokyo suburb.

They were the kamikaze, “the divine wind,” ordered to fly their planes into certain death. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and data kept at the library at Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo estimate that about 2,500 of them died during the war. Some history books give higher numbers. About one in every five kamikaze planes managed to hit an enemy target.

Books and movies have depicted them as crazed suicide bombers who screamed “Banzai” as they met their end.  But interviews with survivors and families by The Associated Press, as well as letters and documents, offer a different portrait — of men driven by patriotism, self-sacrifice and necessity. The world they lived in was like that multiple-choice form: It contained no real options.

First-born sons weren’t selected, to protect family heirs in feudalistic-minded Japan. Tezuka, then a student at the prestigious University of Tokyo, had six brothers and one sister and wasn’t the eldest.  He was given a five-day leave to visit his parents. He didn’t have the heart to tell them he had been tapped to be a suicide bomber.  There was one absolute about being a kamikaze, he says: “You go, and it’s over.”

He survived only because Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on a radio broadcast, just as he was on a train headed to take off on his kamikaze attack.

 

A burly man with a quick wit, Tezuka hands a reporter a sepia-toned photo of himself as a Zero fighter, grinning in a helmet, the trademark white silk scarf at his neck.  “That’s to keep warm. It gets really cold up there,” he says.

“Do you know what a rainbow looks like when you’re flying?” he asks, his eyes aglow with childlike excitement. “It’s a perfect circle.”

Seventy years after the end of World War II, the runway that once stretched at Tsukuba is long gone. But the rows of cherry blossoms still stand.  In another corner of the Tsukuba grounds, an underground bomb shelter winds in pitch darkness through several chambers. It was designed to serve as an emergency command.  It’s a reminder of the illusory determination that gripped the imperialist forces, to keep fighting, no matter what.

In training, the pilots repeatedly zoomed perilously, heading practically straight down, to practice crashing. They had to reverse course right before hitting the ground and rise back into the sky, a tremendous G-force dragging on their bodies.

When they did it for real, they were instructed to send a final wireless message in Morse code, and keep holding that signal. In the transmission room, they knew the pilot had died when a long beep ended in silence.

Yoshiomi Yanai looks over the Last Will and Testament he wrote out before flying his kamikaze mission.

Yoshiomi Yanai, 93, survived because he could not locate his target — a rare error for a kamikaze operation. He visits the Tsukuba facility often.

“I feel so bad for all the others who died,” he says, bemoaning the fate of comrades who died so young, never having really experienced life.

Yanai still keeps what he had intended to be his last message to his parents. It’s an album that he keeps carefully wrapped in a traditional furoshiki cloth. He plastered the pages with photos of him laughing with colleagues and other happy moments. He got a pilot friend to add ink drawings of the Zero.

“Father, Mother, I’m taking off now. I will die with a smile,” Yanai wrote in big letters on the opening pages. “I was not a filial son but please forgive me. I will go first. And I will be waiting for you.”

Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, who wrote about the kamikaze in his 2008 book, “Danger’s Hour,” says the kamikaze were driven by nothing but self-sacrifice.

When he started his research, he expected to find fanaticism. He was stunned to find they were very much like Americans or young people anywhere else in the world, “who were extraordinarily patriotic but at the same time extraordinarily idealistic.”

Kennedy stressed that kamikaze have little in common with suicide bombers today. Japan was engaged in conventional war, and, above all, kamikaze had no choice, he said. Civilians were not targets.

“They were looking out for each other,” he says, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “If he didn’t get in the plane that morning, his roommate would have to go.”

Yokosuka MXY7 Cherry Blossom suicide aircraft

Though the Zero was used in kamikaze missions, it was not designed for the task. The Ohka was. It was a glider packed with bombs and powered by tiny rockets, built to blow up. They were taken near the targets, hooked on to the bottom of planes, and then let go.  Americans called it the “Baka bomb.” Baka is the Japanese word for idiot. Because their cruise range was so limited, they were easily shot down.

Fujio Hayashi

The job of overseeing and training Ohka pilots, and ultimately sending them to certain death, fell to Fujio Hayashi, then 22.

Hayashi believes Ohka might never have happened if there had been no volunteers when the concept was first suggested.  He was one of the first two volunteers for Ohka. Dozens followed.  But he could never stop blaming himself, wondering whether his early backing helped bring it about. When he finally saw one of the flimsy gliders, he felt duped; many thought it looked like a joke.

Over the decades, Hayashi was tormented by guilt for having sent dozens of young men to their deaths “with my pencil,” as he put it, referring to how he had written the names for Ohka assignments each day. To squelch any suspicion of favoritism, he sent his favorite pilots first.

After the war, Hayashi joined the military, called the Self-Defense Forces, and attended memorials for the dead pilots. He consoled families and told everyone how gentle the men had been. They smiled right up to their deaths, he said, because they didn’t want anyone to mourn or worry.

“Every day, 365 days a year, whenever I remember those who died, tears start coming. I have to run into the bathroom and weep. While I’m there weeping, I feel they’re vibrantly alive within my heart, just the way they were long ago,” he wrote in his essay “The Suicidal Drive.”  “I think of the many men I killed with my pencil, and I apologize for having killed them in vain,” he said.

He often said he wanted his ashes to be scattered into the sea near the southern islands of Okinawa, where his men had died.  Until then, he said, his war would never be over.

He died of pancreatic cancer at age 93 on June 4. His family plans to honor his request.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – The Kunihiko Hisa Cartoon Album

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Farewell Salutes – 

Maynard Ashley – Chicago, IL; US Navy, WWII

Charles banks Jr. – Salem, NJ; US Army, WWII, PTO

William Campbell – Hatfield, AL; US Army, WWII

Chilton Gates – Eminence, MO; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Flight Instructor

Ann Jackson Huckaba – Rockvale, TN; USWMC, control tower

Mickey Kinneary – Broad Channel, NY; US Navy, Korea

Ernest Laws – Columbus, OH; USMC, WWII, PTO

John Logan – brn: Glasgow/Detroit, MI; US Army, Vietnam, Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Joseph Schmitt – O’Fallon, IL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, / NASA

Michael Weber – Toronto, CAN; RC Army, WWII, LT., Corps of Signals

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 26, 2017, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 100 Comments.

  1. Wat een moeilijke opdracht voor die piloten .Eigenlijk mensonterend

    Liked by 1 person

  2. theburningheart

    Giri (義理) is a Japanese value roughly corresponding to “duty”, “obligation”, or even “burden of obligation” in English. It is defined as “to serve one’s superiors, and Country with a self-sacrificing devotion” This value is so integral to Japanese culture that the conflict between giri and ninjō, or “human feeling”, is said to have been the primary topic of Japanese drama since earlier periods in history, like Chūshingura (忠臣蔵 The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, the historical incident involving the Forty-seven Ronin and their mission to avenge the death of their master, Asano Naganori, in 1701, after taking revenge, all of them committed ritual suicide: Seppuku, or what we know as Harakiri. The kamikaze was just another period of time when this conflict come to mark another red page, of Japan’s cultural conflict of conscience, between duty, honor, and self sacrifice.

    Excellent post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to read this and for adding the additional information. Every country has a black mark on their history, I suppose it’s not only human, but a sign of a nation’s ‘growing pains.’

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very sad yet interesting reading gp, the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots indicates the respect held for these warriors, but what a price, 2,500 died and yet one in five managed to hit the target, interesting statistics.
    Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Desperation drives people mysterious ways, I suppose, Ian. Sad for this generation to look back on and know of the lives lost. Thank you for taking the time to read it, my friend.

      Like

  4. This is a very moving post from the viewpoint of the Japanese, GP. Keep these stories coming.

    Like

    • You know me, Lavnia – The stories will continue and I’ll keep trying to look at ALL sides of the conflicts. I feel too many history books just say what happened when – they did this – we did that – time and date – period. I want to know why and what caused it to come to such ends.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating. The three questions, and the fact that a first born could not join- humanizing the story makes it a great read.

    Like

  6. What a moving description of those pilots’ experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for posting this. It’s so important to read the stories of the pilots who trained for kamikaze missions. We all need a complete picture of what happened on both sides of WWII.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. An interesting Post, GP Cox. My question to these Pilots is what would make them do something like this? Unbelievable state of mind for them. They started that War and we finished it!

    Like

    • There are different views as to who started it, Les as well. We taught the Japanese about taking territories and then FDR became angry when they did, shut off their resources, making them desperate – all sorts of issues involved. That’s why it’s important to always look at ALL sides of this or any other conflict.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for helping to dispel this stereotype.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post, GP. An interesting perspective !

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great Thanks for writing about Shinpu(神風)! !
    I would like to go to “知覧”,someday.
    Now, Olders who is over 90 years old, they do not want to talk about war.
    My late father also disliked the story of war because he lost house with air attacked etc.
    The Olders who manufactured “Shi den Kai(紫電改)”, who went to the battlefield of Southeast Asia, who lost her husband by Tokko etc. . . Every one whom thought or feeling or etc were different, and,Each person had a “drama of life”.

    As a Japanese, I am “thankful” to my ancestors risking their life to protect “Japan” .
    And I think that we must protect Japan for own descendants.

    I came to visit this blog by a strange coincidence.
    Come to think of it, here is the gathering place where ‘enemies in the war’ ! !
    I have been writing that i want to write something.
    Dr.GP Cox has been patiently to deepen engagement .
    I am deeply grateful to you for your kindness!!:D

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nasuko, it is easy to be kind to such a nice person as yourself. We have shared information and feelings on many subjects and I hope we continue to do so. One thing that’s great to come out of the Pacific War is the bond of friendship now shared by Japan and the United States.

      Liked by 1 person

      • >…the Pacific War is the bond of friendship now ..
        I agree with you!!
        US Military in Japan are trying to do their best for their home country USA.
        They are doing their best to become familiar with Japan, rescuing Japanese ppl (Thank you !!), volunteering and some events.
        And Japanese self defence and the United States Military are deepening friendship.
        Once, the United States and Japan battled war, but that is the Past.

        All Veterans who fought for the home country America alike Japanese Ancestors are “Heroes”,I think.
        The Veterans Day in the USA on 11th November come soon! ! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • Agreed.
          I will be offline shortly for a few days, i think. I will be posting a notice to the effect that my computer will be gong out for some maintenance. I’ll try to keep in touch by a friend’s laptop.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. This past week, I was half-listening to a local radio talk show while working, and whatever the topic was, it occasioned a call from a man who had served in the Pacific Theater (I’m not sure where). He told the story of he and his fellow soldiers coming in contact with a kamikaze plane that for some reason hadn’t been destroyed. Its pilot hadn’t survived, but what they discovered was that he was chained into the cockpit.

    I have no reason to doubt the truth of his story, but it startled me. I’d never considered the fact that the kamikaze had hesitations. After all, who would do such a thing, unless he was completely convinced of its value? Well — perhaps there were a few who experienced some last minute doubts, and were “persuaded” to carry out their mission.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fascinating! Incredible! One doesn’t realize that any Kamikaze pilots managed to survive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter asked me about it and I knew at least one did, but couldn’t recall the details off-hand – so I went back into research mode!! Glad you found it interesting, Doug!!

      Like

  14. It’s true about the rainbow. I was once driven around Hakodate by a kamikaze pilot taxi driver, who hadn’t been used. I had no Japanese, he had very very little English and we ended up after his shift toasting each other endlessly with sake. A great night …

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you for this story, GP! Kamikaze is the worst thing ever, also for the persons have to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I like the cartoon of the P40 eating the tail of the Zero.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The whole Kamikaze thing continues to amaze me, G. I appreciate the insights. Thanks. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  18. An excellent and timely insight into the reality that most serving men (and women) share the same ideals and humanity the world over.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Very interesting post. I lived in Okinawa and once visited Kagoshima, a beautiful city with a live volcano across a bay! We of course saw the “self defense forces” often. Great cartoons, too, esp. the Flying Tiger eating the Zero. (I named one of my stories Zeroes Over Kansas, a title you’ll appreciate – it’s posted in my blog).

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Excellent, GP. Such a warm view of what had to be difficult choices for these young men. I do feel for Fujio Hayashi. His life must have been a nightmare of regret.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Makes my heart heavy. Have you ever read “I was a Kamikaze” by Ryuji Nagatsuka? I just finished it last week. It’s another deep look into the Kamikaze missions from a surviving participant if you’re ever interested. Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. The ultimate expression of the dark side of Nationalism. A fine intermission story todya, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Wow…GP. Interesting, educational post! Happy Fall. 🍂🍁Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  24. This post sure humanizes the kamikaze phenomenon. Thanks for the education .

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Stunning and powerful! Great post, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I was deeply touched by your post on the kamikaze fighters. The questions I had after reading your previous post regarding any survivors have been answered. Again I would like to praise you for your hard work towards presenting the other side with compassion and understanding. Thank you, GP!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. God definitely had plans for him. And I didn’t know about the rainbow.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Fascinating moving article…it is interesting to learn about this personal aspect to their lives, motivation and how they were chosen.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. What a great story! Of course, wartime portrayal of the Japanese was intended to inflame passion and bring Americans together in the fight. But, the Japanese were just like any other people with the same hopes, fears, and patriotism. It’s good to see stories like this that portray the human side of former enemies, especially a former enemy who became one of America’s strongest allies. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Appreciated Maxwell Taylor Kennedy’s explanation of differences between Kamikaze and current plague of suicide bombers.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. GP – Thank you for this excellent “other side of the coin” post.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I’m glad you added the distinction between these men and today’s suicide bombers. I can’t imagine being asked to serve in this way, but I guess if that kind of patriotic devotion is all you’v ever known, it would be hard to try to avoid it.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. This was a very moving story. One that personalizes the great dangers of fanaticism.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. A fascinating read, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Thanks so much for posting these articles on the war from the Japanese point of view. I am glad that Mr. Yanai lived to tell the story and was able to express remorse for the Japanese pilots. I would hope that he also had remorse for the Allied victims of their attacks.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. A great post, so sad for Mr.Hayashi.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Always good to read of the reality behind the legend. Young men going to their deaths for their belief in tradition, family, and honour. As the article rightly states, they were nothing like the modern-day suicide bombers. They targeted only enemy ships or installations, and died ‘in combat’. They also delivered an effective psychological blow to the allies, just as powerful as the physical damage they managed to inflict.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. An interesting, and valuable, perspective on one of the many madnesses of that time

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Wow! What a very powerful and “prideful” story. Thank you for sharing, Sir!

    Liked by 1 person

  40. On my way to bed, the notice of a new Intermission Story popped up on the tab I was just about to close before I shut down my computer. So, of course, I decided to read ONE more post, since I know that yours are always worth my time.

    I appreciate having a more human reframe of these Kamikaze pilots, whom I think many of us assume were similar to some of the suicide bombers on the ground these days. It is reassuring to be reminded that not ALL who are at war with America are zealots, that most sent to fight are young and naive, many certain to meet early deaths who will leave behind friends and families who love them and will grieve for them.

    This post underscores that old saw that, regardless of the reasons or rationale for engaging, “War is hell.” We must NEVER enter into any war until *all* other means of coming to a diplomatic agreement have been exhausted and America’s very safety and freedoms are at stake.

    I pray that the majority of our current administration agrees and will stay hastier hands.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!

    Liked by 5 people

  41. Thank you very much.

    Liked by 1 person

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