In October 1944, toward the end of World War II, as it was becoming clear to the Japanese command that American aircraft carriers massing at the mouth of Leyte Gulf represented a serious threat, the new commander of Japanese naval air forces in the Philippines, Vice-Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi, arrived in Luzon. Knowing that the Japanese air forces in the entire Philippines area had fewer than 100 planes still in operational condition and that naval forces were not adequate to resist the invasion, Admiral Ohnishi recognized that loss to the Americans would mean loss of the Philippines altogether and with it the end of any real possibility of defending Japan. “In my opinion,” one of his senior staff officers later quoted him as saying, “there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-drive into an enemy carrier. . . . What do you think?”
This moment saw the birth of the Japan Naval Special Attack Force, the tokkotai, known as the Thunder Gods or Kamikaze Corps. “Body-crashing” (tai-atari) tactics had been used in air-to-air combat against enemy bombers, and many pilots had urged the use of the same tactics against enemy carriers, but it was at this moment that the idea of the suicide attack, a strategy devised by Sub-lieutenant Shoichi Ota, began its official translation into reality. The idea was presented to the remaining 23 young men of the 201st Air Group, already reduced to a third of its original size, by the officer who had been their commander during training and who, it was said, “was as deeply attached to these men as a father to his children.” The young pilots embraced Admiral Ohnishi’s idea of crash-dive missions “in a frenzy of emotion and joy.” The operation, shortly to be called kamikaze or “divine wind,” began within days.
As time went on, more planes were added and more pilots trained. Training lasted seven days: two days of take-off practice, two days of formation flying, and three days of approaching and attacking a target. Morale was said to be high in the kamikaze units, and pilots were said to have prayed for a direct hit. Within half a year, kamikaze tactics had proved so effective in damaging enemy surface forces that the Japanese high command grew convinced that kamikaze strategies were the only way to halt the American advance. Midget submarines with one or two pilots were also used in kamikaze naval attacks beginning with Pearl Harbor, and kamikaze strikes eventually became the primary strategy for all the armed forces. The attacks continued even after it became evident that Japan could not win; Admiral Ohnishi insisted that his men would be doomed in conventional combat, and argued that “[i]t is important to a commander, as it is to his men, that death be not in vain. I believe that a broad perspective indicates the wisdom of crash-diving” and ordered the suicide operations to continue.
There was both loyal support and intense criticism of kamikaze tactics in Japan and abroad. Although it is often assumed that the pilots were willing volunteers, many critics have claimed that the young recruits were pressured into service, that they were threatened with being sent to the front if they refused, and that coercion was heightened by the use of alcohol and amphetamines. Most navy pilots were between 18 and 20 years of age and most army pilots between 18 and 24. There were about 3,000 “boy pilots”; many of these student soldiers were drawn from the cream of young intellectuals. They left diaries (an important cultural practice in Japan), essays, poems, and letters expressing their true feelings of anguish about the war and their role in it.
Some scholars of Japanese culture claim that the Bushido tradition of samurai military culture [q.v., under Daidoji Yuzan] had always stressed readiness to die at any moment, and the kamikaze strategy would not have been seen as problematic. Further, these young men had been taught to believe that if they died heroically in battle, they would become gods, joining the guardian spirits of the nation at Yasukuni Shrine on Kudan Hill. One of the few kamikaze survivors, Hatsuho Naito, rescued when his final flight ended in a forced landing in a paddy field, wrote: “I do not believe that this so-called suicide mentality is unique to the Japanese. The spirit of self-sacrifice exists in all countries among all people, particularly among the young, who are innocent and free of cynicism when they are in a wartime life-or-death situation.” Many other observers hold that the long Japanese tradition of voluntary death, an honorable act, regarded as owed to one’s lord and preferable to living in shame, was what made the kamikaze program possible.
All in all, some 3,913 Japanese pilots, including both those in kamikaze planes and their escorts, were “expended” in the various theaters of the war, including the Philippine Islands, Formosa, and Okinawa. The “Last Letters Home” presented here, collected by Ichiro Ohmi during a four-and-a-half-year trip after the war to visit the homes of the kamikaze pilots, were the last ones written by these young men, shortly before their final special-attack missions. Among many other concerns, they embody Shinto conceptions of the importance of defending ancestors and family. Ohmi explained, “It must be borne in mind that for many hundreds of years while the code of the warrior (Bushido), which stressed as necessary a willingness to die at any moment, governed the conduct of the samurai, similar principles were concurrently adopted by merchants, farmers, and artisans, stressing the value of unquestioning loyalty to the Emperor, other superiors, and the people of Japan. Thus, the introduction of the kamikaze principle was not so shocking to these Japanese as it would be to their Western enemies. In addition, the belief that one continues to live, in close association with both the living and the dead, after death, generally causes their concept of death to be less final and unpleasant in its implications.”
Other observers saw the situation differently. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney assembled the diaries of tokkøtai pilots from their families after the war; she sees in these writings, far more revealing than the expected “last letters home,” evidence of the kamikaze pilots’ “desperate struggles to find meaning in a fate they could not avoid [and that] bear no resemblance to those of anyone seeking martyrdom. This is so despite the Japanese government’s sustained propaganda campaign to apotheosize those fallen soldiers into symbols of martyrdom for the imperial nation.”
The United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, on Nagasaki three days later, and Japan announced its surrender on Aug. 15. That night, Admiral Ohnishi committed hara-kiri. Alone, he disemboweled himself with a traditional Japanese sword but was unable to slit his own throat, and when he was discovered still conscious by his aide the next morning, he refused both medical aid and the second’s traditional coup de grace. Captain Inoguchi, his senior staff officer who chronicled the history of the Kamikaze Corps and Admiral Ohnishi’s role in developing it, wrote that “[i]t would be wrong to think that his suicide was merely an atonement for sin. I believe that his life was dedicated from the moment he organized the Kamikaze Corps. Thereupon he had resolved to take his own life, and would have carried out that resolve even if Japan had won the war. In imagination he must have ridden with every pilot of his command as each made his final special attack.”
Rikihei Inoguchi, Tadashi Nakajima, and Roger Pineau, The Divine Wind. Japan’s Kamikaze Force in World War II (Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute, 1958; New York: Bantam Books, 1960), Chapter 21, “Last Letters Home,” pp. 175-185. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers (University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. xvii, 10-11, 39, 52, 65-66, 72, 78-79, 84. Quotations and paraphrase in the introductory note are also from this volume, and from Hatsuho Naito, Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Story (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1989), pp. 16, 21. A slightly different account of the origins of the Special Attack Force is to be found in Ryuji Nagatsuka, I Was a Kamikaze, tr. Nin Rootes (New York: Macmillan, 1972).
The following are excerpts from the diary of Sasaki Hachiro, born in 1922, who was drafted as a student soldier from the Imperial University Tokyo in December 1943 and volunteered to be a tokkotai pilot of February 20, 1945. He died on his kamikaze mission less than three months later, April 14, 1945.
We entered Kamikochi and greeted the Hodaka mountain peaks in the morning. Leaves of larch and birch are reflecting the morning sun and it is like looking at a scroll painting. I found my absolute authority here. If man did not posses a political nature, I would not mind sacrificing my life for this absolute authority [beauty and nature]. (April 4, 1940).
I prefer to think that “inevitability” is more important than “necessity.” One must always strive for stirb und werde! [“die and become!” or growth through death]. I am truly grateful for being aliveWe cannot detach ourselves from the present condition. It is in Welt sein [the presence in the universe] of Heidegger The most important thing is the freedom of will, freedom of spirit, amidst the chaos at present Blind obedience without free will is not an answer to our chaos. Chaos is not so simple as to be resolved by a Führer. (November 1, 1940)
Zwei Seelen wohnen ach in mein[em] Herz! (Ah, two soulsreside in my heart!] After all I am just a human being. Sometimes my chest pounds with excitement when I think of the day I will fly into the sky. I trained my mind and body as hard as I could and am anxious for the day I can use them to their full capacity in fighting. I think my life and death belong to the mission. Yet, at other times, I envy those science majors who remain at home [exempt from the draft]. Or, I think of those fellows who did not pass the draft examination as “having managed cleverly.”I feel like a fool to be proud of my fitness as a pilot. Those who skillfully escaped by not qualifying in the examination and took shelter in bookkeeping, engineering, and medical tasks must be the real clever ones. One of my souls looks to heaven, while the other is attracted to the earth. I wish to enter the Navy as soon as possible so that I can devote myself to the task. I hope that the days when I am tormented by stupid thoughts will pass quickly.
* * *
Born in Tokyo in 1922, Hayashi Tadao attended the prestigious Third Higher School in Kyoto and then the Imperial University of Kyoto; he was drafted as a student soldier in 1943. He became a Navy Air Force pilot, but was shot down by an American fighter plane that took off from an aircraft carrier he had sighted, two days after the Allied Forces had delivered the Potsdam Declaration to Japan.
Death is immoral and to live is absolutely moral.
(June 2, 1944)
I feel that I have to accept the fate of my generation to fight in the war and die. I call it “fate,” since we have to go to the battlefield to die without being able to express our opinions, criticize and argue pros and cons of issues, and behave with principles, that is, after being deprived of my own agency.To die in the war, to die at the demand of the nation—I have no intention whatsoever to praise it; it is a great tragedy.
(Oct. 12, 1941)
I do not avoid sacrifice. I do not refuse the sacrifice of my self. However, I cannot tolerate the reduction of the self to nothingness in the process. I cannot approve it. Martyrdom or sacrifice must be done at the height of self-realization. Sacrifice at the end of self-annihilation, the dissolving of the self to nothingness, has no meaning whatsoever.
(Jan. 3, 1944)
* * *
From a description by Kasuga Takeo, who had been drafted and assigned to look after the meals, laundry, room cleaning, and other daily tasks for the tokkotai pilots at the Tsuchiura Naval Air Base, on the night before their final flights. He was 86 years old when he wrote this letter, fifty years after the events.
At the hall where their farewell parties were held, the young student officers drank cold sake the night before their flight. Some gulped the sake in one swallow; others kept gulping down [a large amount]. The whole place turned to mayhem. Some broke hanging light bulbs with their swords. Some lifted chairs to break the windows and tore white tablecloths. A mixture of military songs and curses filled the air. While some shouted in rage, others cried aloud. It was their last night of life. They thought of their parents, their faces and images, lovers’ faces and their smiles, a sad farewell to their fiancées—all went through their mind like a running-horse lantern [a rapidly revolving lantern with many pictures on it]. Although they were supposedly ready to sacrifice their precious youth the next morning for imperial Japan and for the emperor, they were torn beyond what words can express—some putting their heads on the table, some writing their wills, some folding their hands in meditation, some leaving the hall, and some dancing in a frenzy while breaking flower vases. They all took off wearing the rising sun headband the next morning. But this scene of utter desperation has hardly been reported. I observed it with my own eyes, as I took care of their daily life, which consisted of incredibly strenuous training, coupled with cruel and torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine.
from LAST LETTERS HOME
What, then, were the thoughts and feelings of the suicide pilots themselves as they volunteered, waited their turn, and went out on their missions?
Mr. Ichiro Ohmi made a nationwide pilgrimage for four and a half years after the war to visit the homes of kamikaze pilots. The families showed him mementoes and letters of their loved ones. He has kindly provided the authors of the book with copies of these letters, some of which express more clearly than could any other words the thoughts and feelings of the pilots about to die.
In general, what little the enlisted pilots wrote was of a simple, straightforward nature. Academy graduates also wrote very little—perhaps because they were thoroughly indoctrinated in the way of the warrior and thus accepted their fate matter-of-factly. It was the reserve officers from civilian colleges and universities, who had had only a hasty military training before receiving their assignments, who wrote the most. A few typical letters serve to convey the spirit of kamikaze pilots.
The following was written by Ensign Susumu Kaijitsu of the Genzan (Wonsan) Air Group in Korea. Kaijitsu was born in 1923 at Omura City, Nagasaki Prefecture of northern Kyushu. He had graduated from Nagoya Technical College just before entering the naval aviation school.
Dear Father, Mother, brothers Hiroshi and Takeshi, and sister Eiko:
I trust that this spring finds you all in fine health. have never felt better and am now standing by, ready for action.
The other day I flew over our home and bade a last farewell to our neighbors and to you. Thanks to Mr. Yamakawa I had a chance recently to have a last drink with father, and there now remains nothing but to await our call to duty.
My daily activities are quite ordinary. My greatest concern is not about death, but rather of how I can be sure of sinking an enemy carrier. Ensigns Miyazaki, Tanaka, and Kimura, who will sortie as my wingmen, are calm and composed. Their behavior gives no indication that they are momentarily awaiting orders for their final crash-dive sortie. We spend our time in writing letters, playing cards, and reading.
I am confident that my comrades will lead our divine Japan to victory.
Words cannot express my gratitude to the loving parents who reared and tended me to manhood that I might in some small manner reciprocate the grace which His Imperial Majesty has bestowed upon us.
Please watch for the results of my meager effort. If they prove good, think kindly of me and consider it my good fortune to have done something that may be praiseworthy.Most important of all, do not weep for me. Though my body departs, I will return home in spirit and remain with you forever. My thoughts and best regards are with you, our friends, and neighbors. In concluding this letter, I pray for the well-being of my dear family.
* * *
Ensign Teruo Yamaguchi was born in 1923 on Goto Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, in northern Kyushu. Brought up by a stepmother, his youth had not been a particularly happy one. He enlisted upon graduation from Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and was assigned to the Amakusa Air Group, which was based near his home. From there he was transferred to the 12th Air Flotilla for a suicide mission.
As death approaches, my only regret is that I have never been able to do anything good for you in my life.
I was selected quite unexpectedly to be a special attack pilot and will be leaving for Okinawa today. Once the order was given for my one-way mission it became my sincere wish to achieve success in fulfilling this last duty. Even so, I cannot help feeling a strong attachment to this beautiful land of Japan. Is that a weakness on my part?
On learning that my time had come I closed my eyes and saw visions of your face, mother’s, grandmother’s, and the faces of my close friends. It was bracing and heartening to realize that each of you want me to be brave. I will do that! I will!
My life in the service has not been filled with sweet memories. It is a life of resignation and self denial, certainly not comfortable. As a raisond’être for service life, I can see only that it gives me a chance to die for my country. If this seems bitter it probably is because I had experienced the sweetness of life before joining the service.
The other day I received Lieutenant Oixubo’s philosophy on life and death which you so kindly sent. It seems to me that while he appears to have hit on some truth, he was concerned mostly with superficial thoughts on the service. It is of no avail to express it now, but in my 23 years of life I have worked out my own philosophy.
It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I think of the deceits being played on innocent citizens by some of our wily politicians. But I am willing to take orders from the high command, and even from the politicians, because I believe in the polity of Japan.
The Japanese way of life is indeed beautiful, and I am proud of it, as I am of Japanese history and mythology which reflect the purity of our ancestors and their belief in the past—whether or not those beliefs are true. That way of life is the product of all the best things which our ancestors have handed down to us. And the living embodiment of all wonderful things out of our past is the Imperial Family which, too, is the crystallization of the splendor and beauty of Japan and its people. It is an honor to be able to give my life in defense of these beautiful and lofty things.
Okinawa is as much a part of Japan as Goto Island. An inner voice keeps saying that I must smite the foe who violates our homeland. My grave will be the sea around Okinawa, and I will see my mother and grandmother again. I have neither regret nor fear about death. I only pray for the happiness of you and all my fellow-countrymen.
My greatest regret in this life is the failure to call you “chichiue” (revered father). I regret not having given any demonstration of the true respect which I have always had for you. During my final plunge, though you will not hear it, you may be sure that I will be saying “chichiue” to you and thinking of all you have done for me.
I have not asked you to come to see me at the base because I know that you are comfortable at Amakusa. It is a good place to live. The mountains north of the base remind me of Sugiyama and Magarisaka on Goto Island, and I have often thought of the days when you took Akira and me on picnics to Matsuyamanear the powder magazine. I also recall riding with you to the crematorium at Magarisaka as a youngster, without clearly understanding then that mother had died.
I leave everything to you. Please take good care of my sisters.
One setback in its history does not mean the destruction of a nation. I pray that you will live long. I am confident that a new Japan will emerge. Our people must not be rash in their desire for death.
Just before departure,
Without regard for life or name, a samurai will defend his homeland.
* * *
The following letter is by Flying Petty Officer First Class Isao Matsuo of the 701st Air Group. It was written just before he sortied for a kamikaze attack. His home was in Nagasaki Prefecture.
28 October 1944
Please congratulate me. I have been given a splendid opportunity to die. This is my last day. The destiny of our homeland hinges on the decisive battle in the seas to the south where I shall fall like a blossom from a radiant cherry tree. I shall be a shield for His Majesty and die cleanly along with my squadron leader and other friends. I wish that I could be born seven times, each time to smite the enemy.
How I appreciate this chance to die like a man! I am grateful from the depths of my heart to the parents who have reared me with their constant prayers and tender love. And I am grateful as well to my squadron leader and superior officers who have looked after me as if I were their own son and given me such careful training. Thank you, my parents, for the 23 years during which you have cared for me and inspired me. I hope that my present deed will in some small way repay what you have done for me. Think well of me and know that your Isao died for our country. This is my last wish, and there is nothing else that I desire.
I shall return in spirit and look forward to your visit at the Yasukuni Shrine. Please take good care of yourselves.
How glorious is the Special Attack Corps’ Giretsu Unit whose Suisei bombers will attack the enemy. Movie cameramen have been here to take our pictures. It is possible that you may see us in newsreels at the theater.
We are 16 warriors manning the bombers. May our death be as sudden and clean as the shattering of crystal.
Written at Manila on the eve of our sortie.
Soaring into the sky of the southern seas, it is our glorious mission to die as the shields of His Majesty. Cherry blossoms glisten as they open and fall.
* * *
Cadet Jun Nomoto of the Himeji Air Group was born in 1922 in Nagasaki Prefecture. He had graduated from the University of Commerce in Tokyo just before enlisting. Apparently written in great haste, the actual letter printed below is preceded by brief notes and is concluded in a hand other than that of the original writer:
Moved forward to * * * under sudden orders. Determination for success renewed upon learning that we will sortie tomorrow.
Cadet * * * was dropped from the list of those assigned to take part in the sortie, upon my arrival. Cannot help feeling sorry for him. This is a situation of mixed emotions.
Man is only mortal. Death, like life, is a matter of chance. Yet destiny, too, plays a part. I feel confident of my ability in tomorrow’s action. Will do my utmost to dive head-on against an enemy warship to fulfill my destiny in defense of the homeland. The time has come when my friend Nakanishi and I must part. There is no remorse whatsoever. Each man is doomed to go his separate way in time.
Since our unit was organized at the end of February we have undergone the most intensive kind of training. Now, at last, our chance to sortie is at hand. In our last briefing the commanding officer cautioned us, “not to be rash to die.” It seems to me that everything is up to Heaven.
I am resolved to pursue the goal that fate has chosen for me. You have always been good to me and I am grateful. My 15 years of schooling and training are about to bear fruit. I feel great joy at having been born in our glorious country.
It is my firm belief that tomorrow will be successful. It is my hope that you will share this belief. The time for our departure was set so suddenly that I will not have a chance to write last letters to my relatives and friends. I shall appreciate it if you will write to these people on my behalf, at your convenience, and express my sentiments….
Please excuse my dictating these last words to my friend. There is no longer time for me to write more to you.
There is nothing special that I can say, but I want you to know that I am in the best of health at this last moment. It is my great honor to have been selected for this duty. The first planes of my group are already in the air. These words are being written by my friend as he rests the paper on the fuselage of my plane. There are no feelings of remorse or sadness here. My outlook is unchanged. I will perform my duty calmly.
Words cannot express my gratitude to you. It is my hope that this last act of striking a blow at the enemy will serve to repay in small measure the wonderful things you have done for me.
My last wish is that my brothers may have a proper education. It is certain that uneducated men have an empty life. Please see to it that their lives are as full as possible. I know that my sister is well taken care of because you have provided for her as you did for me. I am grateful for a wonderful father and mother.
I shall be satisfied if my final effort serves as recompense for the heritage our ancestors bequeathed.
* * *
Lieutenant (jg) Nobuo Ishibashi, a native of Saga City in northern Kyushu, was born in 1920. He was a member of the Tsukuba Air Group before his assignment to the Special Attack Corps. his is his last letter home.
Spring seems to come early to southernKyushu. Here the blossoms and flowers are all beautiful. There is a peace and tranquillity, and yet this place is really a battleground.
I slept well last night; didn’t even dream. Today my head is clear and I am in excellent health.
It makes me feel good to know that we are on the same island at this time. Please remember me when you go to the temple, and give my regards to all of our friends.
I think of springtime in Japan while soaring to dash against the enemy.
* * *
The following letter was written by Ensign Ichizo Hayashi, born in 1922, in Fukuoka Prefecture of northern Kyushu. He had been reared in the Christian faith. Upon graduation from Imperial University at Kyoto he joined the Genzan (Wonsan) Air Group, from which he was assigned to the Special Attack Corps.
I trust that you are in good health.
I am a member of the Shichisei Unit of the Special Attack Corps. Half of our unit flew to Okinawa today to dive against enemy ships. The rest of us will sortie in two or three days. It may be that our attack will be made on 8 April, the birthday of Buddha.
We are relaxing in an officers’ billet located in a former school building near the Kanoya air base. Because there is no electricity we have built a roaring log fire and I am writing these words by its light.
Morale is high as we hear of the glorious successes achieved by our comrades who have gone before. In the evening I stroll through clover fields, recalling days of the past.
On our arrival here from the northern part of Korea we were surprised to find that cherry blossoms were falling. The warmth of this southern climate is soothing and comforting.
Please do not grieve for me, mother. It will be glorious to die in action. I am grateful to be able to die in a battle to determine the destiny of our country.
As we flew into Kyushu from Korea the route did not pass over our home, but as our planes approached the homeland I sang familiar songs and bade farewell to you. There remains nothing in particular that I wish to do or say, since Umeno will convey my last desires to you. his writing is only to tell you of the things that occur to me here.
Please dispose of my things as you wish after my death.
My correspondence has been neglected recently so I will appreciate it if you remember me to relatives and friends. I regret having to ask this of you, but there is now so little time for me to write.
Many of our boys are taking off today on their one-way mission against the enemy. I wish that you could be here in person to see the wonderful spirit and morale at this base.
Please bum all my personal papers, including my diaries. You may read them, of course, mother, if you wish, but they should not be read by other people. So please be sure to burn them after you have looked at them.
On our last sortie we will wear regular flight uniforms and a headband bearing the rising sun. Snow-white mufflers give a certain dash to our appearance.
I will also carry the rising sun flag which you gave to me. You will remember that it bears the poem, “Even though a thousand men fall to my right and ten thousand fall to my left….” I will keep your picture in my bosom on the sortie, mother, and also the photo of Makio-san.
I am going to score a direct hit on an enemy ship without fail. When war results are announced you may be sure that one of the successes was scored by me. I am determined to keep calm and do a perfect job to the last, knowing that you will be watching over me and praying for my success. There will be no clouds of doubt or fear when I make the final plunge.
On our last sortie we will be given a package of bean curd and rice. It is reassuring to depart with such good luncheon fare. I think I’ll also take along the charm and the dried bonito from Mr. Tateishi. The bonito will help me to rise from the ocean, mother, and swim back to you.
At our next meeting we shall have many things to talk about which are difficult to discuss in writing. But then we have lived together so congenially that many things may now be left unsaid. “I am living in a dream which will transport me from the earth tomorrow.”
Yet with these thoughts I have the feeling that those who went on their missions yesterday are still alive. They could appear again at any moment.
In my case please accept my passing for once and for all. As it is said, “Let the dead past bury its dead.” It is most important that families live for the living.
There was a movie shown recently in which I thought I saw Hakata. It gave me a great desire to see Hakata again just once before going on this last mission.
Mother, I do not want you to grieve over my death. I do not mind if you weep. Go ahead and weep. But please realize that my death is for the best, and do not feel bitter about it.
I have had a happy life, for many people have been good to me. I have often wondered why. It is a real solace to think that I may have some merits which make me worthy of these kindnesses. It would be difficult to die with the thought that one had not been anything in life.
From all reports it is c1ear that we have blunted the actions of the enemy. Victory will be with us. Our sortie will deliver a coup de grâce to the enemy. I am very happy.
We live in the spirit of Jesus Christ, and we die in that spirit. This thought stays with me. It is gratifying to live in this world, but living has a spirit of futility about it now. It is time to die. I do not seek reasons for dying. My only search is for an enemy target against which to dive.
You have been a wonderful mother to me. I only fear that I have not been worthy of the affection you have lavished on me. The circumstances of my life make me happy and proud. I seek to maintain the reason for this pride and joy until the last moment. If I were to be deprived of present surroundings and opportunities my life would be worth nothing. Standing alone, I was good for little. I am grateful, therefore, for the opportunity to serve as a man. If these thoughts sound peculiar, it is probably because I am getting sleepy. But for my drowsiness there are many other things I should like to say.
There is nothing more for me to say, however, by way of farewell. I will precede you now, mother, in the approach to Heaven. Please pray for my admittance. I should regret being barred from the Heaven to which you will surely be admitted. Pray for me, mother.
(When his sortie was delayed, this flier added the following postscript to his letter.)
“Strolling between the paddy fields the night is serene as I listen to the chant of the frogs.” I could not help but think of this during my walk last evening. I lay down in a field of clover and thought of home. Upon my return to the barracks, my friends said that I smelled of clover and it brought them memories of home and mother. Several of them commented that I must have been a mamma’s boy.
This did not disturb me at all; in fact, I was pleased by the remark. It is an index that people like me. When I am disturbed it is good to think of the many people who have been so kind to me, and I am pacified. My efforts will be doubled to prove my appreciation of the kind-hearted people it has been my pleasure to know.
The cherry blossoms have already fallen. I wash my face each morning in a nearby stream. It reminds me of the blossom-filled stream that ran near our home.
It appears that we will go to make our attack tomorrow. Thus the anniversary of my death will be 10 April. If you have a service to commemorate me, I wish you to have a happy family dinner.
Now it is raining, the kind of rain we have in Japan rather than what I experienced in Korea. There is an old organ in our billet and someone is playing childhood songs, including the one about a mother coming to school with an umbrella for her child.
The departure was again postponed for this flier and he had a chance to add yet another bit to the letter, which was finally mailed after he had taken off on his final flight:
I have thought that each day would be the last, but just as with most things in life, one can never be certain. It is the evening of 11 April, and this was not my day.
Do hope that I was photogenic today, for several newsreel cameramen were here, and they singled me out for a special series of pictures. Later the Commander in Chief of Combined Fleet greeted us in our billet and said to me, “Please do your best.” It was a great honor for me that he would speak to so humble a person as myself. He is convinced that the country’s fate rests upon our shoulders.
Today we gathered about the organ and sang hymns.
Tomorrow I will plunge against the enemy without fail.
* * *
Ensign Heiichi Okabe was born in 1923. His home was Fukuoka Prefecture of northern Kyushu. Before enlisting he was graduated from Taihoku Imperial University. His first duty was in the Wonsan Air Group, and he was transferred thence to Shichisei Unit No.2 of the Special Attack Corps. He kept a diary which was sent to his family after his final sortie. The following is an excerpt from one of his last entries in that diary:
22 February 1945
I am actually a member at last of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps.
My life will be rounded out in the next thirty days. My chance will come! Death and I are waiting. The training and practice have been rigorous, but it is worthwhile if we can die beautifully and for a cause.
I shall die watching the pathetic struggle of our nation. My life will gallop in the next few weeks as my youth and life draw to a close….
…The sortie has been scheduled for the next ten days.
I am a human being and hope to be neither saint nor scoundrel, hero nor fool—just a human being. As one who has spent his life in wistful longing and searching, I die resignedly in the hope that my life will serve as a “human document.”
The world in which I live was too full of discord. As a community of rational human beings it should be better composed. Lacking a single great conductor, everyone lets loose with his own sound, creating dissonance where there should be melody and harmony.
We shall serve the nation gladly in its present painful struggle. We shall plunge into enemy ships cherishing the conviction that Japan has been and will be a place where only lovely homes, brave women, and beautiful friendships are allowed to exist.
What is the duty today? It is to fight.
What is the duty tomorrow? It is to win.
What is the daily duty? It is to die.
We die in battle without complaint. I wonder if others, like scientists, who pursue the war effort on their own fronts, would die as we do without complaint. Only then will the unity of Japan be such that she can have any prospect of winning the war.
If, by some strange chance,Japan should suddenly win this war it would be a fatal misfortune for the future of the nation. It will be better for our nation and people if they are tempered through real ordeals which will serve to strengthen.
* * *
Like cherry blossoms
In the spring,
Let us fall
Clean and radiant.