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Okinawa Kamikaze story

This is an odd story that involves a flight instructor, his family, and a single-minded request. The whole thing was so strange, in fact, that the Japanese government censored it at the time.

Hajime Fujii was born on August 30, 1915, in Ibaraki Prefecture as the oldest of seven children. He joined the army and proved to be such a skilled machine gunner that they sent him to China.

Hajime Fujii

The Chinese weren’t too happy about that, which is why Fujii got hit by a mortar shell that wounded his left hand. Sent to the hospital, he was tended to by Fukuko – a beautiful field nurse from Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture.

It was love at first sight. Back then, arranged marriages were the norm, but the two were having none of it. So they returned to Japan, got married, and had two adorable daughters – Kazuko and Chieko.

Instead of sending him back to China, the Army kept Fujii in Japan and sent him to the Army Air Corps Academy where he graduated in 1943. Becoming a company commander with the Kumagaya Army Aviation School in Kaitama, Fujii was tasked with teaching his students character and mental discipline.

This included inculcating them with a deep sense of loyalty and patriotism and the value of crashing one’s plane into enemy ships and camps. According to his few surviving students, he frequently told them that he would die with them if he could.

But he couldn’t. The mortar shell didn’t take out his left hand, but it left him unable to grip a plane’s control stick. So the more he expressed his desire to die with his students (many of whom went on to do just that), the more the whole thing bothered him.

Kamikaze pilot

Japan didn’t enter WWII with any intention of creating kamikaze pilots and sending them on suicide missions. But it had expected a quick victory.  By 1944, Japan knew it was in serious trouble. Many of its veterans were gone, and many of those sent out never made it back. Desperate, the Army created Special Attack Force Units called tokkōtai or shimbu-tai – suicide squads made up of the Army and Navy.

Fujii’s favorite motto was: “words and deeds should be consistent.” So after months of telling his students to kill themselves by crashing into the enemy, he wanted to do the same by joining the kamikaze.  Unfortunately for him, he was a victim of his own success. Popular with his students and staff, and having proven his worth in China, the Army refused his request. They also cited the fact that he was a family man, while most of those they sent on one-way missions were single.

Kamikaze

Fukuko also pleaded with him to stay out of the war. He had two young daughters, after all. If he died, what would happen to them?  But as more and more of his students left on suicide missions never to return, Fujii couldn’t shake off the idea that he was betraying his wards. He felt like a hypocrite, which is why he again appealed to the Army to let him die. They refused his second request.

So now Fukuko was trapped. If Fujii stayed in Japan, she’d have her husband, while her daughters would have a father. But he would forever be haunted by his self-perceived betrayal of his students and his country.  He would become a ghost (“dim spirit” in Japanese), only half alive. At best, he’d just fade away. At worst, he’d eventually blame his wife and children for his dishonor.

So on the morning of December 14, 1944, while her husband was away at Kumagaya, Fukuko dressed herself up in her finest kimono. She did the same with three-year-old Kazuko and one-year-old Chieko. Finally, she wrote her husband a letter, urging him to do his duty to the country and not to worry about his family. They’d wait for him.


Then she wrapped Chieko up in a cloth backpack and strapped the baby to her back. Taking Kazuko by the hand, she walked toward the Arakawa River near the school where her husband taught. Taking a rope, she tied Kazuko’s wrist to her own and jumped into the freezing waters.

The police found the bodies later that morning, and Fujii was brought to the spot as they were being laid out. The following evening, he painted a letter to his oldest daughter, begging her to take care of her mother and younger sister till he could join them.

Then he performed yubitsume (cut off his pinky finger). With his own blood, he painted his third appeal to the Army.
On February 8, 1945, Fujii became the commander of the 45th Shinbu Squadron – which he named Kaishin (cheerful spirit). Just before dawn on May 28, the nine planes headed to Okinawa, each carrying a pilot and gunner. To their delight, they came upon the USS Drexler and USS Lowry.

USS Drexler

Two slammed into the Drexler, sinking her within minutes and taking out 158 of its crew. Fuji was in one of them. He was reunited with his family.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Helen Boling – KS & CO; US Army nurse, WWII

Donald Goodbrand – W.Palm Beach, FL; USMC

Wayne ‘Bubba’ Harland – Washington, DC; USMC, Korea & Vietnam

Richard ‘Old Man’ Harrison – Danville, VA; US Navy, Petty Officer 1st Class, USS Chowanoc (Ret. 20 y.) /  “Pawn Stars”

Charlene Kvapil – Middletown, OH; civilian employee US Navy Bureau of Ships, WWII

Stanley Maizey – Cornubia, AUS; Australian Army

Robert Sykes – Rochester, NY; US Navy, WWII / Korea, Chief Engineer, USS Ingraham

Newton Sloat – Concho, OK; US Army, 503rd/11th Airborne Division

Leo ‘Fox’ Stewart – Menagha, MN; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Jane Tomala – Toronto, CAN; RC Navy WREN, WWII

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Col. Hiromishi Yahara on Okinawa

Lines of defense on Okinawa. Top Japanese officers were in the bottom line of bunkers.

Colonel Hiromishi Yahara was third in command of the Japanese defenses on Okinawa. Read all about his story below.

It was Colonel Hiromishi Yahara who designed and implemented the jiykusen, or the yard-by-yard battle of attrition that cost the American forces so many casualties in the three-month battle, and he was the highest ranking officer to survive the battle and make it back to Tokyo. Before the overall commander on the island, Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, committed ritual suicide in the battle’s final days, he instructed Yahara to escape to Tokyo to make a final report to the emperor.

Yahara was captured by the Americans, which bothered him immensely—to be captured or to surrender was considered a disgrace to one’s family—but eventually he did return to Japan.  In 1973, Yahara still felt strongly that the garrison at Okinawa, as well as the people of Okinawa themselves, had been betrayed by Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo.  Because he faced personal attacks for surviving the battle, Yahara decided to write a book to set the record straight.


The result is a fascinating and unique look at the last, decisive battle of the Pacific War, written by a surviving member of the defeated Japanese command on Okinawa.  Yahara was a gifted and meticulous strategist, highly respected by his peers. Because he had spent two years in the United States as an exchange officer prior to World War II, he knew his enemy better than did his superiors at Okinawa, Ushijima and Maj. Gen. Isamu Cho.

Yahara makes a startling revelation in the book regarding the events surrounding the American landing on Okinawa on April 1, 1945.  According to Yahara, the plans drawn up in Tokyo called for Japanese air power to play the decisive role in the battle for Okinawa prior to the actual landing.  Japanese planes flying from the mainland along with aircraft launched by the Japanese Combined Fleet—conventional fighters and kamikaze suicide attackers—were supposed to strike the U.S. Fifth Fleet offshore prior to the landing and annihilate the American landing forces while they were still in their ships.  The 32nd Imperial Army entrenched on Okinawa was to play a minor role, mopping up the survivors of the American landing forces as they struggled ashore.

Giretsu Commandos on Okinawa

To Yahara, the failure to launch the promised air attack on April 1 sealed the fate of the island’s garrison—it never had a chance for victory. Hundreds of thousands of Okinawan citizens had been betrayed as well, Yahara believed, sacrificed to the whims of the Japanese high command.

Although his love for his country never wavered, Yahara was unique among his peers.  He fully recognized the flaws in traditional Japanese military thinking—the Bushido code, or way of the warrior—and he was disgusted as he watched his superiors repeat the errors of previous eras.  The Imperial Army had a “blood and guts” mentality; it had been undefeated since winning the Sino-Japanese War in 1895.  To the Japanese militarists’ way of thinking, the combination of Japanese spirit and the willingness to die for the emperor would overcome any material advantage enjoyed by an enemy.

Japanese bunker

Yahara was convinced that the initial Japanese strategy for Okinawa—depending on air power—would fail.  Japan’s air forces were seriously degraded by early 1945, and it had lost many experienced pilots. American aircraft were now technically superior, and Japan’s Navy was down to just a few surviving carriers.  Yahara believed that the only chance for his country’s survival lay in the proper use of its remaining ground forces.

After the promised air assault did not materialize, he went ahead with his planned defenses on the ground.  He would fight for time, making the invaders pay dearly for every inch of ground, to allow Japan to prepare its defenses on the main islands for the Allied invasion that was sure to come.  Yahara’s tactics on Okinawa would utilize the island’s terrain, which was perfectly suited for defense, to wage an ugly war of attrition. His soldiers would go underground in caves and concrete bunkers to survive air, artillery, and naval gunfire, and then battle American ground forces for every inch of island real estate. His intricate, multi-layered defensive positions and the tenacity of the 110,000-man 32nd Army combined to prolong the battle for three long and exceedingly bloody months.

Col. Hiromishi Yahara

In his book, Yahara admits that he despised both the self-delusion practiced by his superiors and the false propaganda foisted upon the Okinawan people, who were told that capture by American troops would result in rape, torture, and death, to which suicide was preferable.

Condensed from an article by John Walker.

Click on images to enlarge.

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 Military Humor – BOOT CAMP 

‘Sign me up for swing shift basic training! I don’t think I could handle early morning hours.’

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Bathurst – Madison, WI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Frank Conger – Poughkeepsie, NY; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Bennington

Missing Man formation

Warren Foss – St. Louis, MO; US Navy, WWII, PTO

James Gavette – Bradford, PA; US Army, WWII

Samuel Tom Holiday – Kayeta, AZ; USMC, WWII, PTO, Navajo Code Talker, Purple Heart

Norman Jackson – Watertown, NY; US merchant Marine, WWII

Francis McCormack – Rutland, VT; USMC

Irving Press – Windsor, CT; US Army, WWII

Raymond Rzepecki Sr. – Central Falls, RI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Pfc, B-24 tail gunner, 370th

Omar Shaffer – Linden, VA; US Navy, WWII, gunner

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Japanese Soldier’s Remembrance of Iwo Jima – conclusion

“Iwo Jima” by: Mark Maritato

Takahashi Toshiharu’s story continues….

I ran towards the sea.  The day got brighter.  When I jumped down, the enemy shot.  I felt as if I burnt a burned hot chopstick in my chest and I could not breathe.  There are plenty of US soldiers, but I was alive.  Blood flows a lot. Both shirts and pants were stained with blood.  I tried to stop blood even a little, but it didn’t work.

The enemy brought a flamethrower to the mouth of the hole.  The fire did not reach me. It was where I had been before.  The bullet was through, but it hurts because my body swells when I breathe.  It is a suffering to die.

I will die soon.  There is no doctor or medicine.  There is no food or water, death is near.  There was nothing I could do.  My eyes dazzle, I’m bleeding a lot. My body is cold.  I gave up, I knew that it was useless.  I visualized Japanese soldiers coming from the back of the cave.  I asked for water, but I only got tears of sorrow.  I rolled on the ground in pain.  The wound has come to suppuration. (infected).  The left hand stopped moving.

SE Asia map w/ Iwo Jima highlighted

The US military is blowing up the entrance to the cave.  A number of places have also blown up today.  It is a strategy to make Japanese soldiers buried in holes.   I do not have any food and I can not move to escape, I will die here, but I would rather die outside.  Now it is dark and I see a human approach.  If he is an enemy, it will lead to death.  My hand moved, but there is no gun.

It was a Japanese soldier.   I went down to the man.  There was a grenade noise.  A gunshot also happened.  I guess he met his enemy.  The area is covered with cannon-fire, but I can’t tell the direction.  The cliff which I’m on is as high as 30 meters is hit and shattered.   With  a slope of about 45 degrees and it becomes rough soil and stone.  I am going downhill.

Iwo JIma

I fell to the sandy beach.  The wound in my back breaks and the pus flows out.   Since no one is here, I can not even be treated.  Still I got up and walked down the sandy beach to the water.  I want to drink, but it is sea water.  Drums were flowing in the vicinity. I thought that it might be the drinking water of the US military, so I tried to hit it with a stone, but it will not open.

I have no guns, only one grenade for suicide but I can not use it.  I ran back in my original direction.  Footprints remain because they are sand.  I follow the enemy footprints. The scratch on the back is broken and it is becoming a null null. The left hand does not move perfectly.  I came where I fell before and try to climb the slope.  The left hand does not move at all.  I lost consciousness on my way.

Japanese POW

I slept in the hole without eating for 4 days.   I had been chased by the enemy, but collapsed among other dead Japanese and the enemy could not tell the difference.  I will die here today.  I think that it is March 18th. My birth is 18th March 18th in Meiji. Today is March 18th in Showa 20.  There is no better way than natural suicide, natural death, shooting out of the hole and being shot dead, or committing suicide with a grenade for suicide.  It is only clear that there is no life.

A US military airplane flew over me.  I want to see my wife, children, mother and brother but I can not even move.  I might as well be a soldier who went to the enemy’s camp and died.  Let’s do so.  All the fellow soldiers are dead.

The US Army soldier swings his head sideways and instructs by hand for me to sit down.  The tall, blue-eyed soldier keeps his gun at me.   The soldier gave me his water bottle.  I drank the water like a drunk.   Now I’m ready to be killed, but they tell me to follow them.

1945, wounded Japanese soldier cared for by U.S. Marines.

I arrived at the curtain where the military doctor was.  The surgeon told me to eat by motioning with his hands.   I understood it.  It was boiled soybeans from a can.  I ate it all.  The military doctor put white medicine on the wound.  I wondered if he was killing me, but a jeep came.  It had a drawer that they put me on and we left.

I arrived at a field hospital and was taken out from the drawer and the military doctor told me, ” I will give something to eat”, I thought this was true.   I thought that I came to the world after death.  I have heard that there are many US soldiers of Nisei so I asked. Iwo Jima occupied March 17th.  They say Japan has lost a useless war.  I do not know why I am alive, when I should have been killed by the US military.  Being a POW is a painful thing.

This is a condensed version of  Imperial Japanese Army Corps of Engineers Corporal, Takahashi Toshiharu’s diary.  To view the entire story, the link is at the top of Part One, posted on Monday.  The Cpl. was sent to Gum Island for 10 days and boarded a hospital ship to Hawaii.  When the war ended, he was returned to Japan.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – Kunihiko Hisa cartoon album “Zero Fighter 1940-1945”

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Lino Agosti – Anchorage, AK; US Army Air Corps, WWII,  HQ/152 Artillery/ 11th Airborne Division

Bob Brown – San Francisco, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, B-26 pilot

Sam Gilman – brn: CAN; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, Korea & Vietnam, (Ret. 26 y.)

James Henderson – Sydney, AUS; Korean War

Ed Kennedy – Ft. Lauderdale, FL; USMC, Korea, one of the “Chosin Few”

Roy Malmassari – Issaquah, WA; US Army, Korea

John Naples – Falmouth, ME; US Army, WWII

John Otten – Sioux Falls, SD; US Navy, WWII, ETO

Paul Smith – Clanton, AL; USMC, WWII, PTO

George Welsh – North Platte, NE; US Army, WWII, Chaplain

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Japanese Soldier’s Remembrance of Iwo Jima – part one

In this painting by an unknown Japanese artist, Japanese soldiers, taking cover behind a wrecked U.S. plane, fire on Marines approaching from the beachhead.

This article from HERE was contributed by Nasuko.

My grandfather passed away in 1986. Since then, nearly 20 years have passed, but my grandfather left a note of “Battle experience record”. My grandfather was born in Meiji 45 (the first year of Taishō), was summoned four times from the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War, and was serving to “Iwo Jima”, one of the greatest fierce battles during the Pacific War. It seems that after the war, I remembered it based on the memories of that time and the records written in my notebook.

In Iwo Jima, about 21 thousand Japanese soldiers fought and crushed and survived by only about 1,000 people. My grandfather belonged to the hybrid First Brigade Engineer Corps and only 13 out of 278 people had survived.

Takahashi Toshiharu (74 years old who died in 1986) from Susaki city, Kochi Prefecture, who was assigned to Iwo Jima as a commander of the Army Engineer at the age of 31.
Being seriously injured while shoulder struck back at Iwo Jima, he was taken prisoner of the US military and returned in February of 1946 (Showa 21).
After that, he worked at the Shimizu station in Tosashimizu City, Kochi Prefecture.

We are engineers, making bombs is an expert. They made 20 km bombs at once. Put this on your back and infiltrate ourselves into enemy tanks. Wait for the night to come, carry the bombs on your own. I gave up my gun. No one says anything. It will not return to this position again. The war situation is a disadvantage, the division headquarters is also in danger. Now we are leaving.

There are many injured soldiers left in the position. Looking at our departure, we want to die together. You must destroy a tank that comes to Tianshan tomorrow morning. I never fail to fulfill my promises though I told my wife when I leave Japan that I should live and return. I was destined to die. Even if I live, there is no rice, there is no water, no bullets, no way I can live. Forgive my wife child I apologized with my heart that I could not return home alive. Now we are going to death with justice.

I know the topography. I enter a sideways hole position. . I will be absent until morning. I swear that our day will be our day. In turn and wait for the enemy’s coming at the exit of the hole. When I moved and looked at the enemy, my eyes flashed sharply. I heard a sound, I was buried in the earth and sand. The shell fell in front of me. It was a misfire. Every time I face death, something happens and helps. It is strange.

The tank that should come is still coming. The most terrible fellow, brown and large M4, came. It is 200 meters away. It protrudes a cannon, puts machine guns on the left and right, and also has a flamethrower. It is time for our eight people to die. There is no prospect of saving any thought. I am prepared for it. There is no fear, but the death is ever closer to us.

Yano, the sergeant watcher, ran to warn the others to prepare for the battle – the tank came. His complexion is pale. The enemy burns off the front with a flamethrower, sweeps with a machine gun, shoots with a cannon with a cannon and just goes on a slurp. This is repeated.

We have decided to jump out as the tank approaches 10 meters.  There are ten tanks and we have eight people, so only eight can be destroyed. The remaining tanks will pour into my army.

to be continued….

Click on images to enlarge.

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Japanese Military Humor – from: Kunihiko Hisa cartoon album “Zero Fighter 1940-1945”

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Richard Bennett – Bartlesville, OK; US Army, WWII, CBI, 2nd LT.

Floyd Carter Sr. – Yorktown, VA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Tuskegee / Korea & Vietnam, Lt. Col. (Ret.)

Frank Forlini – Yonkers, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, HQ/187th/11th Airborne Division

Koso Kanemoto – Chicago, IL & Los Angeles, CA; US Army, Japan Occupation, US 8th Army, G-2 MIS Interpreter

Bill Lundquist – Skagit Valley, WA; US Army, WWII, ATO, radioman

Thomas Martin – Huron, SD; US Army, Iraq, Ranger, West Point graduate, KIA

Austin McAvoy – Detroit, MI; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Intrepid

Bernard “Wallie” Newport – Waikato, NZ; RNZ Navy # 8095, WWII, Sub-Lt.

Rose Puchalla – Minneapolis, MN; US Army Air Corps WAAC, WWII, ETO, 1202nd AAFB (Africa), Pfc., KIA

Robert Wood – Lady Smith, WI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

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The Survivors: Mitsubishi J2M Raiden – The Last Japanese Thunderbolt

This is some of what our airmen were up against in the Pacific.

Aces Flying High

One of the better fighter designs operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War Two but not built in enough numbers, was the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden (“Thunderbolt” – Allied Code Name: Jack) land based interceptor used to attack Allied bombers such as the USAAF Boeing B-29 Superfortress. It was designed to be fast with a top speed 596km/h (370 mph – examples captured and tested by the United States using 92 octane fuel plus methanol, flew at speeds between 655km/h and 671km/h!), with an excellent rate of climb, to quickly reach the enemy bombers at altitude and later variants packed a punch with 4 x 20mm Type 99 wing mounted cannons to bring them down. It was armoured but maneuverability was sacrificed for speed and this pilot protection. Unfortunately performance at high altitude was hampered by the lack of an engine turbocharger on the main production Raiden aircraft.

Mitsubishi J2M1 Raiden prototype - the three J2M1 Raiden prototypes flew for the first time on March 20th, 1942 Mitsubishi…

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Japanese weaponry

Firing a ‘knee’ mortar.

When it came to weapons production, the Imperial Japanese Army’s requirements often came in second to the needs of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Army was an infantry-heavy organization that lacked much in the way of the modern heavy weaponry other armies enjoyed. 

To help compensate for the lack of heavy weapons, the Imperial Japanese Army worked hard to develop large numbers of what were probably the best light infantrymen in the world at the time. Their creed stressed relentless offensive action seeking a quick decision and emphasizing spiritual factors including zealous dedication and fighting spirit. Night attacks were a true specialty, and their weaponry reflected their light and fast doctrine.

To offset their frequent lack of artillery, the Japanese augmented their firepower through the extensive use of mortars, the best and most cost-effective substitute for industry-intensive heavier artillery.  Technically, Japanese light “knee” mortars at first merely bridged the gap between hand grenades and true mortars and were more properly referred to as grenade dischargers.

The Model 89 was by far the most prolific of the grenade dischargers and the weapon most commonly encountered by Allied Marines and soldiers throughout the various theaters of the Pacific War. Technically known as the Hachikyu Shiki Jutekidanto, or 89 Model Heavy Grenade Discharger, the new weapon featured a wide variety of improvements over the old Type 10 and had almost universally replaced the former weapon by 1941. To the frontline Japanese infantryman, the Type 89 was most often referred to as the Juteki.

To fire, the gunner removed the fuse’s safety pin and dropped the bomb tail first down the muzzle of the knee mortar. A pull on the leather lanyard attached to the trigger then fired the weapon. The firing pin struck a percussion cap primer that fired the propelling charge, which also caused a copper driving band on the charge body to push out and engage the rifling of the barrel. The force of discharge also set back and armed the fuse in the nose projectile and re-cocked the mainspring inside the mortar.  This was usually done at a 45-degree angle.

Despite these relatively crude controls, a soldier could quickly and easily be trained to fire the Type 89 knee mortar with impressive accuracy. While it could be fired by one man, a knee mortar with a three-man crew could maintain an effective rate of fire of 25 rounds per minute.

 Lt. Col. Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, leader of the famous Marine Raiders, critically evaluated the knee mortar and insisted American forces badly needed an equivalent. He listed the following reasons:

“1. It is a one man load.

2. A man can carry ten rounds on his person besides his weapon.

3. It has a high rate of fire.

4. It gives to the platoon commander a weapon of this type which is immediately available to him.

5. This mortar uses the Jap all-purpose hand grenade….”

A Marine Corps legend, then-Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller seconded Edson’s opinion. “I consider it imperative that the Army and Marines be equipped with knee mortars and only carry one type grenade.”

Army Sergeant C.W. Arrowood completely agreed: “The Jap knee mortar gives us hell. They come in fast, thick, and accurate. Can’t we have one?”

M79 40mm grenade launcher

The answer to Sergeant Arrowood’s question was a resounding No. United States forces soldiered on with the little loved rifle grenade until the advent of the M79 40mm grenade launcher during the early stages of the Vietnam War.

References: Warfare History Network;

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Military Humor – 

You can always count on your scoped grenade launching silenced pistol bipod w/ attached katana handle crowbar!

Because no Zombie Apocalypse survival kit is truly complete w/out a grenade launcher & a few bandoleers of HE rounds.

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Cecil Akigg (100) – Calgary, CAN; RC Army, WWII, ETO, radar technician

Nicholas Baxter – Harrisburg, PA; US Army, Co. M/187th/11th Airborne Division

Benjamin Bold – Rotorua, NZ; NZ Army # 267128, WWII, Pvt., J Force

Jean Doyle – Tyngsboro, MA; US Army Air Corps WAC, WWII, 1st Lt.

Luther Gordon – San Diego, CA; US Army, WWII, ETO, Purple Heart, Silver Star

Melton ‘Dale’ Hair – Tulsa, OK; US Navy, WWII

Herschell Johnson – Dothan, AL; US Army, WWII, ETO, 8th Armored Division

John Kelly Jr. – Billings, MT; US Navy, WWII

Richard Pettijohn – Naples, FL; US Army, WWII, ATO, radio operator

Gordon Sherwood – Yarmouth, ME; US Army, Korea

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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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Pacific War Museum – Current News

re-enactors

During the re-opening of the Living History Programs in the renovated Pacific Combat Zone in March, the volunteers included two students of Asian descent who came from the Dallas area to play the roles of Japanese soldiers. Robert (“Robbie”) Boucher, who is of Vietnamese descent, is a graduate student in history at Texas Christian University. His close friend, Ryan Itoh, whose father is Japanese, just graduated from TCU and will be entering medical school this fall. Both are experienced in reenacting with U.S. Civil War and Indian War groups and became intrigued with becoming involved in reenactments of Pacific War battles.

re-enactors: Robbie Boucher & Ryan Itoh

In Robbie’s view, our Museum’s programs appealed because they offer one of the most unique experiences possible for people interested in history. They allow visitors the opportunity to glimpse ever so slightly into the realities of 75+ years ago, hear the sounds of combat, and feel its stresses. Ryan elaborated by saying that being half Japanese, he had always been fascinated with the Pacific War and wanted to learn about the daily lives of the Japanese troops.

From past experiences, he knew that when you put on a uniform and enact the lives of soldiers you learn so much more: from the way the uniform fits; how the leg-wrappings cut into your legs, but provide a sturdy support; and how hot the sun becomes when you wear a steel helmet.

You also feel a small portion of their suffering when you jam your finger in the charging bolt or feel the weight of the weapon or the heat from the flame thrower. Yet, it is just a taste — you get to change clothes afterwards and go home. When asked what they hoped to achieve through their roles as Japanese combatants, both Robbie and Ryan stated that their key purpose was to humanize the Japanese soldiers as people with families, hopes and goals. Robbie said this is often forgotten due to propaganda and movies which show them as faceless fanatics charging machine guns for the emperor.

As reenactors, they hoped to dispel stereotypes created of the Japanese. Ryan stated that the Japanese soldiers and airmen were all called upon by their nation to fight for a dogma that they may not even have believed in — yet they answered the call. He believes that at the end of the day, the GIs and Japanese soldiers had more in common than differences. In sum, participating in these reenactments gives both Ryan and Robbie the opportunity to learn more than they ever could from a college textbook or documentary, and their goal is to make the audience realize there was a soul behind the Japanese uniform.

This short video from the museum tries to reenact a battle.  In reality, it did not always end so grand for anyone.

Article is from the National Museum of the Pacific War, in Fredericksburg, Texas w/ the Admiral Nimitz Foundation.

Click on images to enlarge.

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STAND ON THE BEACHHEAD

Feel what it was like to walk the wooden dock alongside a PT Boat, stand in the hangar deck of an aircraft carrier as a torpedo bomber is readied for a strike, and view Japanese battlefield entrenchments.

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Military Museum Humor –

National War Museum: ‘And I say we move this up to the 3rd floor!’

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Farewell Salutes –

Henry Andregg Jr. – Whitewell, TN; USMC, WWII, PTO, Cpl., KIA (Tarawa)

Jack Avery – Lacombe, CAN; RC Army, WWII, ETO, Signal Corps

Norma Duncan – Matariki, NZ; WRNS (WRENS), WWII

Laura Edmonson – Ft. Pierce, FL; US Coast Guard SPAR, WWII

Albert Golden – Katy, TX; USMC, WWII, PTO

Lester Habeggar – Spokane, WA; US Army, WWII, medic

Charles “Red” Jones – Knoxville, TN; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

Rodney Kirkpatrick, NM; US Navy, WWII

Howard Shearer – Fannetsburg, PA; US Army,, 11th Airborne Division

H.Gordon Turner – Troy, NY; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS California

 

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Japanese 私たちは日本人

I am always saying that we need to look at all sides to every story and to do that we need to meet them. Here is Nasuko from Japan who also feels that way. Please give our new Blogger a warm welcome!!

Intermission Story (9) – A Special Woman

Last December the world lost a very special person, Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, (101).

Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, USCGR 

Coast Guard SPAR decorated for combat operations during World War II

By William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian


Of the thousands of women who have served with honor in the United States Coast Guard, one stands out for her bravery and devotion to duty. Florence Smith Finch, the daughter of a U.S. Army veteran and Filipino mother, was born on the island of Luzon, north of Manila, in Santiago City. She married navy PT boat crewman Charles E. Smith while working for an army intelligence unit located in Manila. In 1942, after the Japanese invaded the Philippines, her young husband died trying to re-supply American and Filipino troops trapped by the enemy on Corregidor Island and the Bataan Peninsula.

After the Japanese occupied Manila, Finch avoided internment by claiming her Philippine citizenship. She received a note from her imprisoned army intelligence boss regarding shortages of food and medicine in the POW camps. Finch began assisting with locating and providing smuggled supplies to American POWs and helping provide fuel to Filipino guerrillas. In October 1944, the Japanese arrested Finch, beating, torturing and interrogating her during her initial confinement. Through it all, she never revealed information regarding her underground operations or fellow resisters.

When American forces liberated her prison camp in February 1945, Finch weighed only eighty pounds. She boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport returning to the United States and moved to her late father’s hometown of Buffalo, New York. In July 1945, she enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, eager to continue the struggle against an enemy that had killed her husband. Finch served through the end of the war and was among the first Pacific-Island American women to don a Coast Guard uniform.

After the war, she met U.S. Army veteran Robert Finch. They married and moved to Ithaca, New York, where she lived the remainder of her life. Of the thousands of SPARs serving in World War II, she was the first to be honored with the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon. In November 1947, she received the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian medal awarded to Americans who aided in the war effort. In 1995, the Coast Guard honored her service by naming a facility for her at Coast Guard Base Honolulu.

Ms. Finch crossed the bar on 8 December 2016.

  • Read her written answers to questions submitted to her regarding her remarkable life and career, first as a resistance fighter in the Philippines and then as a SPAR
  • Ms. Finch (c) with her extended family.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Peter Aczel – brn: HUN/ Quakertown, NY; US Army Air Corps

Alfred Biegert Jr. – San Antonio, TX; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Photo Lab technician

Arthur Gosselin Jr. – Springfield, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Douglas Hardy – New Plymouth, NZ; RNZ Army # 64450, Sgt.

Stanley Krumholz – Far Rockaway, NY; US Navy, WWII, PTO, PT-190 Jack’O’Diamonds

Gerald Larson – Red Oak, AR; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Robert Murray Jr. – Pittsburgh, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Sgt., 11th Airborne Division

Donald Perdue – Vancouver, CAN; RC Army, Korea, Queen’s Own Rifles

Hank von der Heyde Jr. – Jacksonville, FL; USMC, WWII (Ret.)

Baxter Webb – Hapeville, GA; US Army, Lt., Tank Platoon/4th Division

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