Category KAMIKAZE

The Miracle of Life

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fter that visit I began to view the world, life and death, some­what differently. The temple, and the great, emanating Buddah, the priest. . . and the wind among the lanterns. I had accepted the priest’s philosophy, and although it transcended my sense of reason, it also ap­pealed to it. Even more, it somehow resonated within my being.

Nevertheless, no philosophy, even the most sustaining, could fully vanquish what I experienced during my first escort flight over Okinawa or what I felt in the aftermath. Never before had I seen men, indeed my own companions, plunge to their death in that manner.

After my first escort flight, I tossed in near delirium throughout the night, the images of that mission flashing through my mind in endless and chaotic array. At times I would awaken, wrenched upright into a sitting position, clasping my brow with both hands, hoping to exorcize it all by a concerted act of will. Determination! I told myself, If you have enough determination, you can turn it off and have a little peace. But inevitably, at the first approach of sleep, it returned with diabolical insistence. I could not escape.

Over and over, I was accompanying our fifteen Kamikaze, watching

as the dives commenced, two or three transformed into savage erup­tions of flame and smoke, flames the color of molten lava, smoke black as the fur of a panther. At times I was alone with only the boundless water below. Endless water in endlessly varying tones—indigo blue, darkening gray. . . and subtly glowing pearl. . . turquoise and brilliant, spring-rice green.

And water alone was all right, yet asleep or awake, no matter how tightly I clenched my eyes and willed it otherwise, I could not exclude the vision of that first ship. . . and another, and another.

Then, inevitably, the entire enemy convoy—dozens of battleships, carriers, destroyers, and other vessels, sullenly balanced there upon the face of the sea, methodically—imperceptibly, it seemed, at first view—gliding forward, leaving their widening white wakes. The ships swiftly enlarging, the tracers streaking wildly in straight red lines, and the proliferating death blossoms of the flak.

Always at that point, I would escape the nightmare with a jolt. It was the falling sensation that nearly everyone experiences at times on the threshold of sleep but greatly intensified. Then. . . lying there shud­dering, afraid of wakefulness, yet more afraid of sleep.

During that night and the days to come, I wondered increasingly what might become of my body at the end of my first and final one-way trip. If I accomplished my mission and struck an enemy ship, what would the explosion be like? No doubt, only a shattered second of remaining awareness. . . unless by some fantastic quirk of fate I were to survive. No, no—ridiculous. No one could ever survive such contact.

What, I wondered, would become of my head? Would my head be blasted from my body? I could almost see it at times, a charred and featureless blob sinking to the floor of the ocean. How deep was the ocean, there off Okinawa? A mile? More? I thought of the Mariana Trench therein the West Pacific. Six miles deep, the deepest spot in the entire ocean.

In my mind I saw a leg—my leg, tossed on an immense wave. I saw one of my arms. Would my arms and legs provide food for the sharks? My fingers. . . would my fingers seem strange to some fish? I saw a fish, its round eye staring impassively at fingers lodged in a strand of kelp. The fish was canary yellow with brilliant stripes of blue, its fins gently wavering, almost transparent. I saw it nibble tentatively.

If I struck an American ship, however, I might take many others with me. What wonderful irony, to find my burial in intimate company with the enemy. Ah yes. . . I shook my head, actually feeling the insinuation of a smile. Death, the grand and undeniable equalizer! What remarkable impartiality! What a curious camaraderie it bestows upon us all!

Often on those sultry nights my mattress became so damp from my own sweat, so hot that I arose and walked to the window, hoping for a mere trace of breeze, the faintest whisper. Usually nothing came, but I would stand there long enough immersed in thought to let the mattress cool a bit. Sometimes I would turn it over because the underside was cooler. Having removed the sheet, I would waft it up and down in the humid air hoping to dry it a little.

Over the past few weeks I had acquired a heat rash on my chest and upper arms that sometimes itched insanely. But no matter, I told myself; all such concerns would soon be of no consequence. Often still, I thought poignantly of home. I wrote few letters now, though, because they were being censored, and several of them had apparently never arrived. Therefore, even this final and tenuous link with my past had been reduced to a few trite words, abstract sentiments that could scarcely be conveyed.

Nevertheless, both my mother and Tomika wrote me faithfully. The first bombs had now fallen upon Onomichi, but thus far our immediate neighborhood had been spared, perhaps because of its sparser popula­tion and inconspicuousness upon the verdant mountainside. Happily, none of our family or immediate neighbors had been injured, but now after so many months away it had all become a fond dream, and even the dream was waning, for I would never return.

Now that I was a fighter escort, Nakamura, Tatsuno and I did not see each other as often, and our barracks were some distance apart. At times Nakamura and I flew the same mission, but that provided little opportunity for close association, and Tatsuno, with less experience, was only flying reconnaissance at present.

Throughout it all—the anxiety, fear, frustration, sorrow. . . the fleet­ing hopes, we escort pilots were learning something valuable, learning what was necessary for a Kamikaze to die effectively and with honor. We knew, better than anyone else, what it required to sink an enemy ship. I

personally knew the best strategy, having witnessed some successes and far too many failures.

To the novice, diving into an American ship might seem relatively simple. In reality, however, it had become increasingly difficult. First, there were the ever-vigilant enemy fighters. In addition, each vessel fired off an astounding barrage. The combined output of anti-aircraft, heavy caliber machine guns, and other weaponry, created a virtual lead wall at times.

Moreover, the moment they were under attack, the ships began to zigzag erratically, so that many of our pilots missed their targets com­pletely, plunging into the ocean. Often, as well, it was easy to become confused in pre-dawn attacks or storm. One Kamikaze from another base, in fact, was reported to have mistaken a tiny island for a battleship dur­ing the early hours of morning. A billowing eruption against the gloomy shore had revealed his error.

In my own estimation, the best procedure was to descend from a height of ten to five thousand feet, the sun at our tails. The dive angle would vary from forty-five to sixty degrees, leveling out about five hundred yards from the target and roaring in as low to the water as possible.

Thus an approach would occur below the angle of the bigger guns. That way also the ships were in danger of hitting each other with their own weaponry, and a strike at the waterline greatly increased the likeli­hood of a sunken vessel

Despite our most desperate and ingenious efforts, however, the aver­age number of hits was now only ten to fifteen percent. A sad contrast to those first impressive results at Luzon.

A Vital Explanation

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hyly expectant, typically reserved and polite, Yasuo Ku – wahara was only twenty-six, I myself a year younger, when we met at Camp Kobe where I was stationed with the United States Army. The time was summer, 1955, three years following the Occupation, there between the two great cities of Kobe and Osaka, and Kuwahara was one of many Japanese nationals employed at that base. Except for his eyes, I would have imagined him to be even younger-eyes that smoldered within their depths as though they had absorbed much hardship and violence. The eyes, it seemed, of one who had trained, as he maintained, to become a suicide pilot, a Kamikaze, only to be preserved by an ironic and terrible quirk of fate toward the war’s end.

Following that first encounter involving Kuwahara’s brief and amaz­ing summation of his experiences, we met for an hour each day until my departure ten months later. Our goal was to collaborate on a book in that regard. During the course of those interviews, I asked him thousands of questions, taking copious notes on an ancient upright typewriter, and with each visit his story became more astounding. Simultaneously, we developed a close and highly valued friendship, and I never had the slightest reason to doubt anything he related. Kuwahara answered every question, no matter how difficult or technical, with marked insight and authority, rarely hesitating, and never seemed to contradict himself. Furthermore, everything he related corresponded perfectly with all that I was studying on the subject.

Consequently, I became increasingly confident of his account’s valid­ity as it unfolded. Nevertheless, as the time approached for my departure from Japan and the military, I advised Kuwahara that any prospective publisher might naturally request supportive evidence by way of witnesses to his experiences, and he readily concurred. I then summarized, in a few sentences each, eighteen of the main and most pivotal events from his account which he translated into Japanese. Of special significance among them were the following:

1. His first-place championship as pilot in the National High School Glider Contest

2. Resultant induction at only age fifteen into the Japanese Army Air Force

3. Brutal survival-of-the-fittest basic training during which nine of his squadron committed suicide

4. Qualification for fighter pilot school

5. Ferocious aerial combat

6. Flying of fighter escort missions over Okinawa for his fated Kamikaze comrades

7. Near death in the process from the American enemy and a tremendous thunder storm

8. Receipt of his suicide orders

9. His ultimate, staggeringly ironic, escape from death because of the most horrible destruction ever visited upon mankind.

The entire list of eighteen key events, in both English and Japanese, was then sent to three individuals with whom Kuwahara claimed to have been closely associated during his year and a half in the Air Force. One was Capt. Yoshiro Tsubaki, his base commander at Hiro, and later at Oita, who allegedly issued Kuwahara his suicide orders in person there. The second and third were his fellow pilots and prospective Kamikaze, Seiji Hiroi, and another person whose name I have lost over the years.

About two weeks after their mailing, the lists were signed and re­turned by Tsubaki and Hiroi. Then, after several more days awaiting a reply from the third pilot, Kuwahara asked me if we should move ahead without it. To this I agreed because my time in Japan with the military was nearly over. It should be stressed, however, that Kuwahara knew without question that I might be writing to both Tsubaki and Hiroi before long at the addresses listed under their signatures.

Following my return to Salt Lake City, in 1956, I published a condensed version of Kuwahara’s account in Cavalier, a national men’s magazine, and was contacted soon afterward by Ballantine Books in­quiring whether I had sufficient material for a book-length work on that subject. Fortunately, as explained, that had been my intention from the onset. Neither the magazine’s senior editor James O’Connell nor the book publisher lan Ballantine, however, required more than my word regarding Tsubaki and Hiroi. Therefore, I never attempted to contact them.

The resulting book Kamikaze was finished within the following year and first reached the stands in 1957. Happily, for both me and my friend Yasuo, it did very well, eventually being translated into several languages, and selling over half a million copies.

Ever since then readers have invariably said that they “couldn’t put it down,” or “stayed up all night reading it,” that it is “the most exciting story” they have ever encountered, etc. Throughout its history Kamikaze has been, and still is at times, adopted as assigned reading for various high school and college literary courses in both Utah, my home state, and other parts of the nation.

Often readers have also insisted that Kamikaze would make a splendid movie. Over the years, in fact, I have been contacted by eight prospec­tive movie marketers or producers, all highly enthusiastic about this work’s potential as cinema. Unfortunately, none of them ever realized their objectives mainly because of filming difficulties and production costs. Nevertheless, the interest is still there, and any expenses should be significantly lower because of miraculous advancements in filming techniques including special effects. Surely the Kamikaze war was the strangest and in many ways most dramatic ever waged. One wherein nearly five thousand young men were converted by their leaders into hu­

man bombs as the suicide pilots who lived to die and caused the greatest losses in the history of our United States Navy.

Few people will ever comprehend the feelings of those men who cov­enanted with death. Countless individuals, of course, have entered the inferno of war, knowing that their chances for survival were poor, and throughout time men have sacrificed their lives for others and the causes they have espoused. Never have so many human beings, however, unit­edly and deliberately agreed to die for their country without hope of any alternative. Where, before or since, have so many specifically planned and trained for their own annihilation, mulling over every aspect and minute detail, for weeks, sometimes months, in advance?

There are, of course, certain obvious parallels between the Japanese suicide war and the attacks frequently launched or attempted almost daily at present by individuals and smaller groups of Islamic terrorists. There are also significant differences which can barely be touched upon in this commentary. I will simply stress here, that today’s terrorists are often killing themselves to destroy so-called “infidels” – all those includ­ing innocent women and children—who do not endorse their benighted and despotic view of the world. Conversely, the Kamikaze, however reprehensible their actions to many people, attempted to reverse the misfortunes of war by attacking America’s navy and almost exclusively from the sky.

No one, in any event, except the few vanishing survivors of that experience, can now comprehend the kind of physical and emotional trauma entailed in such preparation. Undoubtedly, religion was a sus­taining force for some, and National Shintoism promised that those who died valiantly in battle would be honored as guardian warriors in the spirit realms. Buddhism, on the other hand (which, strange though it may seem to western minds, was sometimes embraced simultaneously), offered nirvana as the ultimate reward. For many, however, the practi­cal distinction between nirvana and annihilation was uncertain at best. Surely also, that must have held true for the Kamikaze, pawns of an autocratic, militaristic government and often mere school boys who wept at night for the arms of their mothers.

Two or three years after our book was published Kuwahara lost his wife to leukemia in Kobe and moved to Innoshima near Hiroshima with their small son. There he inherited a fine home and orange orchard from his deceased uncle, eventually remarried and fathered three more chil­dren. Sadly, however, having also established a successful photography business, he died unexpectedly in 1980.

Sadly as well, I must explain that in the year 2000, a Kamikaze movie promoter, then researching related material in Kuwahara’s home town of Onomichi, encountered two men who said that his account was a fabrication. Both said they had been his high school acquaintances and contended that he had never won a national glider championship or been in the Japanese Army Air Force. Instead, they maintained, Kuwahara was merely one of many students drafted by their government to support the war effort on that country’s military bases.

The claim is set forth here with considerable misgiving, for it impugns my friend’s integrity, and he is not alive to defend himself. Furthermore, such allegations should be weighed against all the positive evidence de­lineated in his behalf above. I must stress also that the individual who discussed Kuwahara’s story with these alleged acquaintances barely knew them, and had no way of determining their motives or the valid­ity of their own claims. Finally, it should be noted that the experiences, many extremely fascinating and violent, of countless military men throughout history, including from World War II, are not known even to their closest friends and family.

Such may have been the case with Kuwahara. Nevertheless, ethics and honesty dictate the above disclosure. As for myself, I wrote and published this remarkable story fully convinced that it was true, and have yet to find any major discrepancies in terms of all I have studied about the war between America and Japan including the unique role of the Kamikaze pilots. Readers of what follows must reflect upon its authenticity for themselves and in many cases may never feel certain of an answer in this veil of tears.

I must explain, in any event, that like most biographical writers I have utilized what might be termed “creative logic” in rounding out the characters involved, their reported or probable conversations, and in describing from a sensory standpoint what seemed most natural in the

specific situations that my friend Yasuo related. This is especially true of the present revision which entailed much additional effort, hopefully reflecting more understanding on my part and greater literary quality than the original.

Ever since the concerns discussed arose in the year 2000, I have always explained their pros and cons to those interested in movie rights, use of the work in school literature curriculums, or publication of this revision. Almost invariably, however, such individuals have felt that the account should continue to be read and promoted. Regardless of whether Kamikaze is fact or fiction, they argue that it is a great story fraught with immense drama and human interest, one consistent with the historical accounts of its time. They contend also, like numerous others before them, that it will yet succeed in a big way on the big screen. I believe they are correct, and thanks to Gary Toyn of American Legacy Media, the revised book version, with all that promise, is in your hands. Please keep reading.

Gordon T. Allred April 2007.

The Farewell Cup

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radually my feelings of paranoia diminished. Still the sense of disbelief, certainly, still a lingering state of shock—but the remaining days passed more tranquilly than I had dared to hope.

Early on the morning of August 23, I donned a new uniform. Then, for a long time I gazed at myself in the shower room mirror—at the golden eagle patches on my shoulders, glowing faintly in gathering light from the open doorway. I was peering into an unfamiliar face, still swollen and inflamed. One of my eyebrows was all but gone, my hair thinning badly. I was looking at an unfamiliar being, a person I scarcely knew. Only age seventeen, yet older than time.

Now, after the long and irredeemable months, I gazed at the image before me pensively, filled with wonderment beyond calculation, at the hand moving of its own volition to trace its fingertips down the scorched and peeling cheek, across a scar at the comer of my lip. “Yasuo Kuwa – hara,” the image whispered, “who are you? What have you become?” Then I was seeing on through the myself, through the mirror into my past. . . burning cities and dead men, planes, clouds, sky. . . ships

and the infinite sea. Voices were calling faintly but ever more persistently, calling my name. I pressed my forehead against the cold hard surface of the mirror, against the forehead of my other self within it, and we closed our eyes.

Tingling strangely, I left the barracks and, as though compelled by another mind, wandered out onto the empty and forsaken airstrip. From somewhere, near yet far, came the sounds of ancient music—music filled with lamentation, yet somehow, faintly welling traces of hope as well.

Hiro’s once proud fighter planes huddled together along a remote corner of the air field, emasculated now without their propellers. In­stinctively, I began walking toward them, head down, pondering my steps, watching one foot, slowly, persistently succeeding the next like the passage of days.

The nostalgic music continued, flowing with my childhood, my heritage, full of time, tradition, and the land. Yet so very subtly, I could not sense its direction—mere echoes, it seemed, down the corridors of memory. Upon reaching the assembled aircraft, I moved among them slowly, appraisingly, like one who had only observed such things from afar. There, almost in the very center, was my Hayabusa, an old and valiant warrior, now consigned to history.

For a while I merely stood there looking at it, unwilling to say fare­well. Then, on sudden impulse, I placed my hand upon the patched wing, glanced about to insure my solitude, and climbed into the cockpit. There I remained for some time, perhaps ten minutes, and once I laid my hands upon the controls. Cold and hard, unresponsive like the limbs of a corpse in rigor mortis. Closing my eyes, I listened. The music rose then gradually diminished, infused with the fading drone of motors somewhere along the red horizon. . . a muffled then mounting roar that gradually fell away, simmered, lingered ever more faintly. . . and was gone. Only the most miniscule remnant mingled with the vague, persis­tent ringing in my ears, within the chambers of my memory. I glanced about, startled. All sound evaporated now, like the final, diminishing tones of an ancient bell. Nothing left but the brightening day. By ten a. m. I had said my last sayonara, saluted the riffling flag—still the white flag with its red and rising sun—climbed aboard the waiting bus with several others—and passed beyond the portals of Hiro forever.

Going home. Never before had life been so dreamlike. We were passing among a swelling human throng, gradually being absorbed once more into civilian life. Rolling forward, haltingly among a motley herd of vehicles and bicycles, among the bleats and honks of horns, our driver trying his best to avoid pot holes, bomb craters and other obstructions, past neighborhoods in ruin, crews at work among the debris. The task seemed insuperable, yet there they were, scurrying about with endless and ant-like determination.

I was moving among my people, a population strange yet familiar. Thus far, the enemy had apparently taken no unfair advantage of our surrender. And, surprisingly to many of the Americans, Japan at large was already resigned to a new order. Despite our so-called fanaticism on the field of battle, we were also a people of resignation when it was required. We were the three bamboos of legend that could bend with the wind. Our Emperor had spoken.

The people whom I moved among and my comrades in farewell were a laughing people because of our relief, a crying people because of our defeat and the immensity of our sacrifice. . . a bitter people because of our victimization by many of our trusted leaders. . . a smiling people because of our joy in reunion. . . a grieving people because so many would never return. Many awaited the main invasion with trepidation, others mainly with curiosity. Some, with mere apathy, for the entire gamut of emotion, of fear, pain, and suffering, had grown numb.

Come what may, the war had ended.

The bus rumbled forward, and I heaved an immense, quivering sigh. My skin was still peeling, my eyes still smarting, the fever from August sixth still simmering away, diminishing, alternating with erratic currents of coldness. But the farmland was unfolding now, blending its therapeutic greenery with the growing blue of the sky.

My family was still safe and alive, waiting. And Toyoko? God willing, I would be with her soon. What might happen then? I did not know what the future might hold. Who ever, anywhere, truly knows with certainty from one hour to the next? But I hoped that she might still await and welcome me! That was all I could ask for now.

Idly, I traced my fingers over a tiny cut on my hand, remembering the farewell gathering I had attended the night before. A dozen of us had convened for a sukiyaki dinner in the billet of a Lieutenant Kurotsuka. There had been much toasting with sake, and each man had cut his own hand and drunk the blood of his comrade’s in a token of fidelity. It was a strange and ironic brotherhood—we of the smiling blood-traced lip s—yet remarkably real and powerful.

Kurotsuka, an assistant commander for the Second Squadron, had been a man of compassion, one who longed for peace and harmony within the world. He had also been a valiant and exemplary leader, greatly admired by his compatriots and subordinates. I saw now, clearly, his handsome, ruddy visage, highly malleable with its prominent facial muscles. I saw the glow of his dark eyes, caught in the vague incandes­cence of a light bulb. The lingering blush of red upon his mouth. Most of all, I remembered his parting words as he stood there before us:

“It is true my friends—yes undeniable. There is no turning back. We have lost a great war, lost it at a material and physical level.” He paused for some time. “But spiritually. . . we must refuse to be vanquished. Let us therefore covenant together that we shall never lose our spirit of belonging, of brotherhood, the spirit of our heritage and our country.

We are aged men in one sense. We have fought bravely, seen and suffered much. And yet. . . we are very young in years. The future stretches before us, and in time’s own due course perhaps we shall be­come young at heart, in a day to be determined by a power beyond that of our humble mortal reckoning.

“Meanwhile. . . let us dedicate ourselves—not to death, but to life! To life! And to the rebuilding of Nippon, that it may one day attain its former power and greatness, yet also stand respected as a force for good among every nation.” I glanced at the others, at the intensity of their gaze, the glistening of their eyes. Tears trickled down their cheeks, down my own. “For what men, my brothers, in all this world, will ever know war as we have known it? Or cherish peace as we shall cherish it?” Our sake cups were raised high.

The Parting of Miyagame

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evere though it had been, the punishment of the first two weeks was negligible compared to what came later. As our conditioning improved, the daily running regimen increased from two or three to five miles. Eventually we were running over eight miles, and those who fell behind were bludgeoned with rifle butts.

During taiko binta, instead of exchanging fist blows in the face, we now used shoes with hob nails, and the face of every trainee bore lacerations and rips, especially around the comers of the mouth. One man in the adjoining barracks nearly lost an eye. Except for Sundays, the torment was almost incessant.

By the first month’s end many in our group were breaking emotion­ally, beyond remedy. Continual pain, continual humiliation, continual pressure. Endless stress! It could not be endured forever. The two remain­ing months of basic training loomed like centuries. I did not believe it possible that all of us could survive. And I was right.

Early in the second month six men from our original group deserted. They scaled the barbed wire enclosure and fled only to be captured a short while later. One of them remained free for several days, hiding in the mountains, stealing vegetables from the farms by night. Then he was apprehended by the civilian police near his home in Hongo City. In order to verify his identity, they delivered him to his family. What ignominy! “We are sorry,” the police explained, “but this man has betrayed his country, and we have no recourse but to return him to Hiro.” He was then led away in handcuffs.

Deserters from all branches of the military were sent to army stock­ades where they were at the mercy of the vicious MP’s. Reports had reached us, in fact, that prisoners were often tortured to death with no recourse whatever to justice and a fair trial. Stockade authorities simply lied with impunity fabricating reasons for the demise of those they killed. They were rarely questioned.

For all of us, time squirmed by with the speed of an earthworm, but those who didn’t collapse under the ordeal were gradually becoming tougher, hardened in both mind and body. Somehow we made it through the gristmill of the second month. Two thirds of our basic training was behind us now, and that imparted encouragement.

During my weeks at Hiro I had grown a bit and was grimly satisfied, even proud, that I had withstood some of the worst they had to offer. I was one of the best in calisthenics and endurance running, and I con­tinued to excel at glider practice along with my other training classes. I had now acquired several friends who seemed impressed with my former accomplishments as national glider champion, and the news was being spread. No denying, I enjoyed the recognition, and my general outlook was rapidly improving. Then came a shock that left me demoralized for days. One evening, having just polished my boots, I strolled to the latrine. As I approached the door, however, a recruit informed me that it was locked. “Out of order, I guess,” he said and wandered off.

Feeling an urgent need to enter, I seized the door knob, turning it and giving a vigorous shove. “Anybody in there?” I called. No answer. Maybe, I decided, The Snake had locked it simply to create a little more confusion and discomfort. It was definitely the sort of trick he might pull.

I called again. No answer, but the lock was a flimsy one, and my need for relief was quickly increasing. Glancing about to insure that no one was watching, I reared back on one leg and crashed my boot heel against the lock. It creaked and the door shuddered. Once again,

I glanced about, then assaulted the lock even harder. This time it gave, and the door fell open.

I entered hastily, leaving the light off, Almost simultaneously, I col­lided with someone. . . something. “Pardon me,” I mumbled. No answer. Something, a presence, seemed to loom before me in the dark. Backing toward the door, I blurted, “Who is it? What’s wrong?” Someone was there. I had touched someone, felt human flesh. Yet he simply remained there in frozen silence like a madman. Roiling darkness, the stench, the silence. . . all mingled ominously.

Groping for the wall switch, I flipped it on. The light exploded revealing a limp figure, dangling from the rafter by a rope. The rope was knotted around his neck, and he was still swinging slightly from our contact.

This was my first direct encounter with death. The face was purple and bloated, the eyes bulging slightly and egg white with no sign at all of the irises. In my shock I failed to recognize him. Then the realization enveloped me. Miyagame, a recruit I had talked to more than once. Yes, I remembered now. . . always quiet and withdrawn, rather frail. Yes, Miyagame! The one that idiot hancho had cuffed before his family on visitors’ day.

He was still swinging, and I stared in horrified fascination. Stupefied, mesmerized. . . paralyzed in the clutches of a nightmare.

Back and forth. . . back and forth. . . . Then came the panic. Maybe, maybe, by some remote possibility he was still alive. Somewhere in that graying flesh there might be a tiny pulse of life. I was wasting precious time! Stumbling backward, I whirled and rushed into the nearest bar­racks. “Quick, give me your trench knife!” I commanded a startled recruit.

“Nani?” He blinked at me stupidly. “What is it?”

Seizing the knife in its sheath on the pack atop his locker, I shouted, “There’s somebody in the latrine—a dead man! Hanged himself!” The recruit arose from his seat on the cot, looking as though he had accidentally swallowed arsenic. “Come on,” I ordered. “Help me for god’s sake!” Dumbly he followed, and I had the quick impression that he thought I’d gone mad.

Then he saw Miyagame and began to exclaim and mumble inco­herently. “Cut the rope,” I said, and he complied as I hefted the limp body. An instant later the rope was severed, and Miyagame collapsed over my shoulder, staggering me. “Help me lay him down.” The recruit complied.

Feverishly, I turned the body on its stomach, straddled it, and began artificial respiration pressing rhythmically on his back as we had been trained to do. Minutes passed, how long I didn’t know. “You’re wasting your time, Kuwahara—he’s dead and gone,” a voice said. It was The Snake, and a dozen men were clustered about us.

Almost inaudibly someone murmured, “Anyway, he is happy now.”

Swiftly the news spread, and the following day I learned through Nakamura that Miyagame had left a letter addressed to his family, an apology for having dishonored them and begging their forgiveness for “dying ahead of you before my rightful time.” His final words read, “I await you in the next world.”

This was another breaking point for several in our group. Now only the fittest would survive. Miyagame’s suicide had evoked a ter­rible psychological effect. My own special glow of hope, pride, and strength vanished. What good would it do to grow strong, anyway? After basic there would simply be more punishment, more harassment, more humiliation. More and more and more. Then what, provided it ever ended? I would probably die for an Emperor who had never even heard the name Kuwahara, who would never have the faintest inkling of my existence.

My naive conception of heroism soured, putrefied. In its place was the bloated face of Miyagame with its blind, egg-white eyeballs. . . always swinging. Visions began to assert themselves, flashbacks of Miyagama being cuffed before his family, all of them burning with fear and shame. And always, after that, the dark, stinking latrine and the lifeless body. After Shoto Rappa, the inspections and ongoing punishment, I would lie face down on my cot, gripping my mattress, trying to exclude the visions I knew would come.

At times, I would jolt to wakefulness in the night as though falling.

At times I would cry out, bolting upright, staring wildly into the dark. Always the corpse that had once been Miyagame—swinging, swinging. . . always swinging. Tossing, moaning, clutching my mattress as though it were a raft on the waves, I would clamp my eyes desperately, only to embrace the vision more fiercely.

Eventually it began to fade, enshrouded in the mist of time, partly because others had decided to follow our friend. Watanabe, a recruit from my own quarters, went next in the same way. Then others, not only with ropes but also bayonets. One leaped off the water tower, crushing out his life on the asphalt assembly area below. Nine men from our original group of sixty took their own lives during my basic training.

Suicide! It was a way out, perhaps the only answer. Could it hurt any more to hang than to be bludgeoned with a rifle butt? Could it hurt more to impale one’s self on a bayonet than to hug a tree naked, clinging to the cold, rough bark while your back was lashed? Surely the bayo­net, used properly, would be far more swift. Irresistibly, I began to toy with different possibilities, then to plan more seriously. Slashed wrists, I decided, would probably be the best way. Or maybe the jugular vein. Hone my trench knife to a fine razor edge. Then. . . . My obsession with Miyagame was being replaced by an obsession with Kuwahara.

Yet each day I could feel my body toughening, feel the swelling in my biceps, triceps, and deltoids as I performed my push-ups. I could now do one hundred push-ups perfectly. Perfectly, because anything less laid us vulnerable to the whip. I could do twenty perfect pull-ups—sit – ups indefinitely. Each day I felt the growing strength in my legs as we ran. Ten miles a day now, and always I heard my father’s voice calmly commanding me to return a man, a samurai.

No, I could not dishonor my father by taking the easy way out. Not my family, not the illustrious name of Kuwahara. Only two more weeks now, and spring was coming. The sunlight increased, daily, dazzling our eyes as we ran, transforming the distances into tantalizing patches of blue. Tiny lakes and ponds as blue as the sky that evaporated en­chantingly as we drew near. Frustratingly . . . yet I felt that I could run forever. I could keep right on through life, the life that fate or the gods had decreed. Nothing could stop me now until my appointed time.

One week left. The punishment had reached its zenith, but the fittest had survived. We could not be vanquished, and The Pig had attained his grand objective. The end was nigh at hand, and we who had prevailed felt a powerful camaraderie. Nakamura was like a brother—frank, some­times outspoken, courageous, yet also highly empathic. How I admired him. Oka and Yamamoto invariably lifted our spirits. Irrepressible, they always rallied, seeming to take strength from each other, then imparting it to the rest of us, even in the face of disaster. Gokudo—great pranksters, both of them—the ultimate extroverts.

By now, strangely enough, some of the punishment itself had become humorous. Occasionally, when our hancho were in their more mischievous moods, they would put us through routines that were far more ludicrous than painful. One of Sakigawa’s favorites was to have a recruit climb atop his wall locker where he would squat, legs crossed, arms folded like a meditative Buddah. He was then expected to maintain that position while one, sometimes two, hancho shook the locker violently, jarring and teetering it erratically with greater and greater energy. All this to the accompaniment of loud, almost deafening, metallic clanging and rau­cous laughter from everyone present. Sooner or later the hapless recruit would tumble to the floor, and anyone not agile enough by now to light on his feet was offered no pity and spared no scorn.

Occasionally also we were ordered to climb a tree near our barracks. We then had to roost there for ten or fifteen minutes, making high – pitched humming sounds like those of a cicada. This undertaking, like the preceding one was not only amusing to our hancho but also to the rest of us. I remember especially Oka laughing hysterically and slapping his leg while Yamamoto hummed piercingly away in the branches above.

"Ah jo!” The Snake growled, unable to stifle his own laughter, and the cuff was half hearted. “If you like it that much, you’d better try it yourself.” Oka promptly went up the tree like a squirrel, then perched near Yamamoto, wildly trying to out-hum him. It was indeed hilarious, and those unable to contain their laughter were also ordered up the tree. Soon the branches were clustered with recruits, myself included, all emitting the weirdest sound I have ever heard.

And now, as the end drew nigh our punishment diminished. Our initial trial by fire was over, and it was also rumored that the base com­mander wanted us to look hearty and healthy during our coming leave.

Remarkably, The Pig—Hancho Noguchi—whom many of us had sworn to kill, invited the men from the most outstanding barracks to his home in Kure for a sukiyaki dinner! Remarkably also, that barracks was my own! What a weird reversal! The man we had most dreaded, the man who had been largely responsible for our constant fear and misery, for the suicide of nine of our comrades, was now honoring us in his very home. We were respected guests!

Noguchi’s wife was surprisingly young and very lovely—a perfect hostess-and his two children, a boy and girl, ages five and seven, were charming. For nearly two hours we sat there on the tatami around a large, oval table while his wife filled our bowls again and again with her cuisine or replenished our sake cups.

Throughout it all, The Pig chatted pleasantly, occasionally cracking jokes at which we laughed most dutifully. Vainly I strove to comprehend this strange turn of events, the man’s new persona. For once he seemed perfectly genuine, and in none of his conversation could I detect the faintest sarcasm or sinister nuance.

When The Pig spoke of punishment, he addressed us as if we were confidantes who not only empathized but fully concurred. Wiping his mouth politely and sipping his sake, he confided “In one respect it is unfortunate that our trainees must undergo such duress. However—” His sigh seemed one of honest regret. “I myself have no recourse but to obey our commanding officer, while he, in turn, must obey those above him. And so it goes all the way to our Imperial Military Headquarters, to the Daihonei. The very foundation of a successful military operation is obedience, all along the chain of command.”

Pausing, he glanced down obliquely across his cheek bones, thrusting his chin out truculently. “Loyalty! Performance of one’s duty! No matter how formidable the requirement may appear. Even to the forfeiting of life itself. Indeed, the forfeiting of life becomes our grand and ultimate privilege.”

All of us nodded sagely. Then, in a somewhat lighter tone, he re­curred to his earlier reflections regarding chain of command: “The Diahonei becomes unhappy with their commanding officers and rep­rimands them, the commanding officers become unhappy with those under them and do the same. And so it goes, on down to the hancho and non-coms. The hancho take it out on their trainees. . . and what do the poor trainees do, Kuwahara?” Firing an unexpected glance my way, he actually winked! I grinned bemusedly, shaking my head. “The trainee goes home on leave and kicks his dog!” he explained.

The Pig slapped his thigh, laughing uproariously, and the rest of us joined in. His beautiful wife tittered, a sound of enchantment, and glanced down shyly, placing a tiny, exquisite hand to her mouth. “So. . . .” he continued chewing a mouthful of sukiyaki rigorously and swilling in half a cup of sake to wash it down. “So, my friends, obviously punishment is indispensable. Indispensable! It is the oil that makes the machinery work.” Another great mouthful with the chop sticks, another draught of sake. I was beginning to understand, in more ways than one, how The Pig had acquired his name.

“Sad to say, very few are born with the true spirit of Yamato. His eyebrows leapt, eyeballs swelling in mock amazement. “Ah hah! Does that disturb you?” Noguchi continued to devour his food for some time without further comment, and it appeared that he had lost his trend of thought. But not so. “You acquire that spirit! You earn the samurai spirit through much hardship! By responding to that hardship with grand and glorious fortitude, until ultimately you attain. . . .” The dramatic pause this time was most marvelous to behold, extraordinarily impressive.

“Invincibility!”

The word was like a thunder clap, a revelation, and suddenly the blood in my veins had turned to liquid fire. “So now,” he continued very quietly. “Have I been cruel to my shinpei!” Or have I rendered them an inestimable service?” For a long time he stared into the dark, lacquered surface of the table, lips pursed in profound introspection. What he sought there, what he might descry, I did not know.

Then to my utter and ultimate astonishment, I detected a tiny drop of moisture coursing down his cheek. A tear? Could that possibly be so? Or merely a drop of sweat? The night was exceptionally warm and humid. “You must be the judge.” His voice was scarcely audible. “The manner in which you answer that question will determine your future. . . your destiny.”

Noguchi discussed the matter no further that evening. Instead, he spoke of philosophy, poetry, of music. His home was filled with books, also what appeared to be costly paintings, and he expatiated upon a wide variety of subjects with impressive ease and insight. His wife then graciously played the koto, singing in a quivering, haunting, at times exquisitely lyrical, voice that caused my skin to tingle. First, the popular Kojo-no-tsuki then an ancient song I had never heard before.

There in that dimly lit room, the flowers on her kimono seemed to glow with enchantment and mystery, and the shadows on her face and hands had turned to quiet green. Half closing my lids, I watched the curve of her cheek, the delicate nostrils, how her brow vanished in the ebon flow of her hair. By squinting, I could make her hair blend with the darkness, leaving only the face, the moving lips, and line of her neck.

Glancing at the others, I realized that they too were spellbound. I watched the woman’s graceful fingers moving along the koto strings as it lay on the table before her like the coffin of a young child. And by wishing very hard, I could obliterate everyone else in the room. Nogu­chi, my comrades. . . all gone. Now we were alone together, and soon, I would draw close, looking into those liquid eyes. And when the songs had faded, she would slowly gaze at me, her face full of sorrow and im­mense longing, of tender inquiry. Then. . . then, her lips would flow and arch in welcome, barely exposing the white of her teeth. Her hand, her heavenly hand, would reach out across the still-vibrant strings of the koto to touch my own, and the intonations would blend within us.

But now, the music had ended. It was time to go, and we were bow­ing to The Pig, our gracious host, thanking him profusely. . . bowing, bowing. His wife, in turn, was bowing to us, laughing with the shrill, tinkling notes of a little girl, notes that were also ripe and womanly. Her laughter was not of amusement but rather the laughter of graciousness. Again, she acknowledged each of us with a bow as we filed out—each of us exactly the same.

She was unaware of how close I had sat beside her, how she had reached out to me when no one else was there.

Women of the Shadows

D

uring my months in the air force I had spent little time in the cities. Unlike most of my associates I rarely entered the bars and never once patronized any of the numerous brothels. In conse­quence, I received a lot of teasing. It is difficult to explain why some of us abstained. As I have indicated, however, sexual relations out of wedlock were viewed by my people somewhat differently than they were by those of various other cultures. Despite the Imperial Rescript, the satisfying of physical appetites was not considered immoral in the traditional sense as long as it did not interfere with one’s duties and obligations.

My own attitude was partly the result of pride. Having come from a wealthy family of high social standing, I did not wish to debase myself by association with the lower elements of city life. In addition, I was still very young and shy. Women made me uneasy. It was even hard for me to converse with those outside my own family.

In any event, I did not consider the purchasing of sex, like meat across the counter, especially admirable. Certainly it was no achievement. One man’s money was as good as another’s. Frequently, as I noted with scornful amusement, men whom the average woman would never have offered a second glance in civilian life were coming to view themselves as great and captivating lovers.

On the other hand, I did suffer temptation. Sometimes at night, outside the base, I heard the feminine voices, laughter—occasionally warm and comforting, more often brazen and seductive. And often those sounds filled me with frustration. “The time is late Kuwahara,” I told myself. “Better live life to the full. Go find the best in town. You’ve got the money.”

Occasionally as I strolled through the city with Tatsuno and Na­kamura, the prostitutes who approached us were amazingly aggressive. One in particular—a woman, perhaps in her early thirties, with large, jutting breasts, makeup so heavy her face appeared embalmed, and a lavishly painted mouth. She had actually seized my arm and tugged me toward a shadowed doorway. I could smell the musky odor of her body blending with the cloying scent of tobacco breath and perfume. How well even now I remember the throaty voice: “Come along, young airman, I can make you happy all night long for only a few yen!”

Simultaneously excited and disgusted, I had shaken her off, stam­mering, “No, no thank you.”

How Tatsuno and Nakamura had laughed. Then they had almost roared when in mock anger she shouted, “Oh, so you don’t like a good woman! You are not a man yet, correct? Just a baby. Come back when you are a man, akachan; maybe I will give it to you free!”

Now that we were allowed overnight passes, only a few men slept in the barracks. On those hot nights, sometimes only two or three of us there, I tossed, even talked to myself. Wiping the sweat from my brow and upper lip, I would hear the words: “Come back when you are a man, baby dear.”

Once, about midnight, I sprang from my cot and began yanking on my clothes, nearly tearing them. Damn that leering face! That smug, brazen. . . . Damn that sexy, ogling countenance, that pliant smirking mouth! Damn those large, impertinent breasts! I would show her! She would never call me a baby again—not when I was through with her. She’d moan, weep, plead! That’s what she would do.

I stubbed my toe and swore aloud, then blundered into my open locker door and swore even louder. “What’s the matter, Kuwahara?” a voice drifted from the far end of the barracks.

Stifling a desire to shout, “Shut up and mind your own business!” I stood by the locker, clenching my fists but offering no reply. What was there to say? For a long time I stared into the locker’s confines as though it were the void, letting its darkness fill my head, letting it absorb and dissolve the faces and the voices, allowing its emptiness to enter my soul and blot out everything.

Finally, I lay down again, heaving a sigh. At last a slight breeze was sifting through the barracks. I remembered how I had reacted, seeing girls—some no older than thirteen or fourteen— standing in the shad­ows, along the darkened facades of buildings and the alleys. Many of them were no different outwardly than girls I had known at school.

Then, too, I reminded myself that a visit to one of those places would not be very enjoyable anyway. Nakamura had tried it, just once, and had returned to the base sickened and disillusioned. In the pallid light of morning he had awakened to reality, gazing upon the woman beside him. The paint had worn from her mouth except for a few remaining flakes, and her eye shadow was smudged like ashes. Her hair was di­sheveled and ratty, the breath rasping from her open mouth. Nakamura had retreated swiftly, suddenly aware that he might have contracted gonorrhea, or syphilis.

No, I would never make Nakamura’s mistake. At least, I would go out with my self respect in tact. Then, however, a thought surfaced. There was one thing I could do in the time remaining, something to ease the endless anxiety and frustration, at least make life a little more bearable. There were night clubs in many of the towns run by our military, places, I’d been told, with a rather pleasant, home-like atmosphere, where one could simply order a meal or a drink. And, of course, there were girls,

girls to dance with or merely visit.

What was the name? I wondered. The one nearest our base there in Oita? The Tokiwaya Club—that was it. Yes, I would go to the To – kiwaya just to see what it was like. Perhaps it would help take my mind off Okinawa. Perhaps I would not wonder quite as often when my death orders were coming.

Publisher’s Note

Л

а-mikaze, by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred, was first published in 1957 by Ballantine Books Inc. as part of their classic World War series and was among their first titles to enjoy wide­spread retail success. It was released after more than a decade of post­war recuperation from the economic and emotional toll of World War II when Americans were, at long last, disposed to learn more about their former enemy’s perspective on the war.

After half a century, experts still recognize Kamikaze as one of the most well-written and influential English-language accounts of the infamous suicide squadrons. It remains on the “recommended reading list” for college and high school literature, history, and political science courses world-wide. With over half a million copies to its credit, autho­rized translations of Kamikaze include French, Dutch, and German, but with countless unauthorized translations in circulation, it is impossible to determine how many copies exist. Some have estimated they may be in the millions, with “bootleg” print runs in foreign countries still occurring today.

Because several different parties were interested in making Kami­kaze into a feature-length film, co-author Gordon T. Allred allowed this work to go out of print following its last printing in 1982. Mean­while, as Professor of Creative Writing at Weber State University, he has published ten other books, both fiction and non-fiction, including some award winning titles like Starfire. In addition, Allred has recently re-written and expanded Kamikaze to improve its effectiveness but without changing the basic history or facts. The highly original result is now available in your hands, and its release is most auspicious as we celebrate its 50th anniversary as a literary classic. American Legacy Media is proud to be associated with Kamikaze, and with the advent of digital publishing technology, we are positioned keep it “in print” and available in perpetuity

Since 1982, the digital revolution has not only changed the publishing landscape, it has also changed the field of historical study and research. When Kamikaze was first published, it was difficult for researchers to gain access to many important historical documents. It was only recently that the Japanese government provided their declassified military records to a world-wide audience via the Internet. That availability has since generated a wave of related research.

This new information, however, has led some to question the validity of co-author Yasuo Kuwahara’s account. Researchers have raised ques­tions concerning how Kuwahara was recruited, whether he served in the Army or Navy, if he was attached to a tokkotai* unit, his recollection regarding the type of military planes involved, and the very existence of specific people he mentions throughout the book. Conversely, many other details have similarly been difficult to disprove. Unfortunately, Kuwahara died in 1980, and is unable to defend himself, or to offer any needed clarifications. Consequently, what remains to authenticate the factual elements of this story are an incomplete collection of government documents, second-hand accounts, and hearsay.

Although specific details of the book may not correlate directly to the existing historical documents, it is important to note that a condensed version of this story was translated and widely published throughout Japan in 1957. Interestingly, no known challenges to the story were put forth at that time. One would think that if its basic tenets were untrue, a story of such reputation and magnificent irony would have aroused at least minimal interest among the Japanese military history establish­ment of the time.

* Kamikaze squadrons were identified as “Special Forces Units.” The Japanese term is: tokubetsu ko-geki-tai, which later was abbreviated to tokkotai or tokko.

Superseding all arguments, for or against authenticity, is the nature of this book. Allred’s intention from the outset was to create a literary work, not an academic document for the purposes of historical research. It was written to depict this man’s unique emotional experience during World War II, one of history’s most pivotal events. Although stringent efforts were made to verify Kuwahara’s story, some specific details may ultimately be disproved. Nevertheless, we believe without question Allred’s account of how this story came together, and we contend that the entire work should not be discredited as fiction unless undisputable evidence proves Kuwahara’s intention was to deceive.

If, in the end, Kuwahara’s story is proven to be fraudulent, we can only speculate as to how he could have concocted such a brilliant ruse. He must have possessed incredible good fortune or simple dumb luck to have avoided exposure these many years. He must also have been quite cunning to have taken so many calculated risks by openly offering his co-author countless authoritative particulars of his experiences, most of which were obtained during months and months of detailed daily interviews. Indeed, if Kamikaze is fabricated, it may be Kuwahara’s ultimate revenge against his former American foes.

In any case, whether various elements of this story are proved or disproved, Kamikaze was, and remains, a superbly written literary work that has withstood the test of time. With Allred’s new revisions, its literary quality has been especially enhanced. Consequently, we maintain that placing this title back in print is the right decision, and any arguments questioning specific historical details of Kamikaze are outweighed by its overall literary value.

Reactions and questions may be sent to Gordon T. Allred or Gary W. Toyn at the following e-mail address: info@americanlegacymedia. com

Brief Reunion

S

o now, at last, my basic training was over. On the one hand it seemed that time had evaporated, as though I had only arrived a few days ago. On the other, in light of all that had happened, it seemed that I had been at Hiro for a great while, an entire year at least.

More importantly, one way or another, I had done it. They had not broken me. At times they had come close, admittedly, but somehow I had clung on through worse trials than I could have previously imag­ined. I had prevailed.

On the morning our leave commenced, Hiro’s Commanding Officer assembled us on the parade ground for a brief graduation address. He spoke quite generously of our accomplishments, what we had learned and why. We had been drilled daily in the basics of combat, and we were no longer the timid, whimpering juveniles of the first few weeks. We could withstand pain, and now we could not be defeated in battle without great difficulty. It was, he admitted, unfortunate that some had died, but those deaths had served a good purpose, all been part of the grand design to toughen the rest of us. Those deaths had also helped us to realize that the weakest were always the most expendable.

A light mist was lacing the base that morning, but as our commander spoke, it dispersed, revealing the rising sun. The rising sun! Surely it was an omen. Our commander was a small man, but vigilant and intense, like a finely honed razor, and his entire bearing reflected confidence and power. Each gesture was unique, memorable, emphatic.

We watched as the sun gathered about him, gleaming from the eagle insignias upon the visor of his cap and upon his lapels. When he had finished, fifty basic trainees chanted the main precepts of the Imperial Rescript without error. As our words poured forth I could hear the throb of planes in the distance—the two sounds merging and expanding, a symbol of our new-found strength. Suddenly I was part of something grand, something of immense and indescribable significance. There in the rising sun, I knew that the Imperial Way would not fail. I knew that it was destined to encompass the earth.

So now, it was over. I was returning to Onomichi on my two-day leave before flying school. My family and several friends were gathered at the train station for the long-awaited welcome. “Toshifumi will be here this evening to see you!” Tomika babbled joyfully.

“Toshifumi? All the way from Tokyo, just to see me?” I ex­claimed.

“Well, perhaps your brother will at least say hello to the rest of us,” Father said. That was the closest he ever came to levity, and we all laughed heartily. Life at that moment was too good to be real. Two whole days, blessed days, with my family, my relatives, my friends. And upon my return to Hiro, it would not be as a green and helpless shinpei. I would be prepared.

Our home had never looked so beautiful. It was nearing the end of April, and the cherry trees in our back yard were blossoming—ev – erywhere throughout the entire area, tiny celestial explosions of white blossoms. The garden walls were wreathed in multi-colored azaleas, and the fields were turning bright green. It was difficult to believe that we were at war, under attack, and that soon I would be a participant.

Upon entering the house, I visited briefly with my family, talked in general, rather evasively, about life at Hiro. Then I headed for the bath. Minutes later I was seated on a short-legged stool in theyudono vigorously

soaping myself when Tomika called to me outside the door. “Brother,” her voice chimed, “Do you want to have your back washed?”

“Yes!” I called. It seemed more fitting than ever that a woman should wash my back now. After all, I had become a man. I hunched over, hugging my knees as she entered, exposing only my rounded back. What occurred next was totally unexpected.

Tomika gasped, crying out. “Yasuo, what have they done to your back?” I had momentarily forgotten about the lash marks, but it was good to have her make something of the matter.

“Oh, that’s nothing at all. Those are merely reminders of a little game we learned,” I replied.

Unfortunately, my words were not to be passed off so lightly, and I had not anticipated their full effect. Concern, certainly, but my sister softly traced her fingers over the wounds then burst into tears. “My brother, my own little brother!” she wept.

“Tomika, I’m all right,” I insisted. “Stop crying, it’s all right!” The weeping continued. “Stop, I can barely even feel them. I hardly even flinched when they—” The wrong words, and I had cut them off too late. Tears flowing down her cheeks, Tomika stumbled into the adjoin­ing alcove and cast herself onto the tatami wailing.

Hearing the commotion, Mother rushed into the room with an expression of great alarm. “What’s wrong?” she exclaimed.

“It’s nothing Mother,” I replied, almost angrily. “Just a few sores on my back.” Mother cautioned Tomika to be silent, peered in at me in shocked silence. Upon entering, she began soaping my back very gently. Then she scooped a little water from the steaming bath with the wooden dipper and cautiously poured a small amount on one shoulder.

“Atsui?” she asked.

“Hai” I admitted, “a little hot,” and caught my breath as the water trickled down my back into the drain. The scars were still very new and tender, a blend of pink and gray-blue, the color of earthworms.

Gently mother laid a scented towel over my back, pouring the water through it with even greater care. “All right? Better?”

“Hai!” I nodded, “much better. It was a procedure she had followed many times before when I was a child, and it brought me great comfort.

By now Tomika had regained her composure, but her cheeks still glistened. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “It was just that—”

“I understand,” Mother intoned. “Everything’s going to be all right. Just be very careful, getting into the bath, Yasuo. It may be too much for those tender, sore areas.” A tear sparkled in her own eye. Shortly thereafter they left me to my bath. “Just be very careful getting in,” Mother repeated.

Cleansed and rinsed, restored to complete privacy for the first time since I had departed that winter, I eased into the waiting cauldron. I gasped as the water accosted my first lash mark. The scar seemed to writhe and cry out with a life of its own, almost renewing the pain of its origin. But, after all, I told myself, I had learned to withstand much worse trials, and I refused to be denied my bath. It was something I had dreamed of almost every night after our punishment was over.

Grimacing, and gritting my teeth, I lowered myself with utmost care, inch by inch, lash by lash, feeling the pain renew itself then dissipate. Eventually, after several minutes, I was in up to my neck, the pain ebb­ing, replaced by pleasure. . . bliss, euphoria. Langorous. . . exhausted beyond measure, I entered my own little nirvana.

Half an hour later, I emerged, barely able to drag myself from the water, lying there for a time, half in half out, as the cold floor restored reality. Weakly, I dried myself, donned myyukata and slippers and shuf­fled up the stairs to my room. For a moment I gazed from my window at the mountains. My eyelids closed as I kneeled there, clinging to the window ledge. I blinked, seeing a great gyrating flight of starlings, light glittering along their wings. Or was it merely dancing spots, a visual aberration, or hallucination?

No matter. My family and friends were gathering, and there was so much to say and do. So little time. But not now, for I was barely able to crawl beneath the futon, barely able to feel its caressing warmth, its infinite softness and lightness. Sleep was a dark and slowly whirling vortex that carried me irresistibly downward.

When I revived, the sun was beginning its descent, infusing my room with gold For a while I lay there blinking, yawned and stretched. The gold welled, achingly beautiful, and unexpectedly, without the slightest forewarning, I began to sob.

An instant later I heard my door glide partly open on its rollers. No mistaking Tomika’s excited whispers, but who was with her? Someone. Wiping my eyes against the futon, I bolted upright. And there he was, handsome and smiling, his hand on Tomika’s shoulder, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Toshifumi!” I cried. “You came! All the way from Tokyo!” I greatly hoped that he could not detect the moisture in my eyes.

Grinning more broadly, he squatted beside me and roughed my head. “Hello, hage channuf he said, referring to my ragged, close-cropped hair. “So now. . .” He was eyeing me quizzically, “You’ve changed. You’re almost a man.”

The word “almost” hurt, even made me a trifle angry, but I beamed back. “I hope so,” I said. Toshifumi again, after two whole years. He was not the same person who had so often grappled and cavorted with our brother Shigeru before the war. Now, dignified and handsome with a hawk-like profile, he looked more like father than ever. There was even a faint white streak in his hair—rare for a Japanese his age.

Following a brief visit, he went downstairs, leaving me to dress. An hour or so later my uncle and aunt arrived from Innoshima. My return was becoming quite an event, and despite the scarcity of food, Mother and Tomika had prepared a feast with all my favorite delicacies.

How touched I was by their devotion. Again, I struggled to restrain the tears. Never before had I felt such emotional fragility. In 1944, food was heavily rationed, and Mother and Tomika had walked two or three miles into the country the day before my return to obtain whole, polished rice from a farmer—a precious commodity which he refused to relinquish for mere money. Instead, Tomika had given him one of the beautiful and costly kimono which was to have been a part of her dowry. Then they had trudged all the way home, carrying the bags of rice on their backs.

An exceptional act of devotion, and I thanked them most earnestly. When I mentioned Tomika’s sacrifice she smiled and replied. “It is noth­ing, nothing at all. Anyway, by the time a man takes me for his wife I will have accumulated dozens of kimono”

“Oh come now!” Toshifumi chuckled, trapping a small pickle with his chop sticks and popping it into his mouth. ‘There are plenty of men

who would be elated to have you. Just wait!”

Tomika smiled wistfully, and her gaze fled to her lap. “I am wait­ing,” she said, “and I am already twenty-six years old.”

“Tomika shall have a husband in due course,” Father declared and proceeded with his food. “When we find one worthy—one of proper sta­tion.” He chewed methodically, sipped his tea. “But I refuse to consider that fawning. . . ah, what’s his name? For one thing, his gestures are effeminate in the extreme. I find them highly exasperating. Furthermore, his voice—”

“Must you humiliate your daughter before our relatives?” Mother chided. Her words reflected much courage, but before Father could reply, Tomika arose, hiding her burning face, making swift little steps toward the door.

“Tomika, come back here!” Father commanded. “I merely speak the truth—don’t be so touchy.”

After a moment Tomika returned and sat staring at her plate.

This was hardly the mood I had hoped for, and for the first time I actually felt vexed with my father. It was not my place to speak out, however, so I changed the subject. “By the way, where is Reiko?” I inquired.

“Oh, we had to let her go,” Mother answered quietly. She smiled at my aunt and uncle a bit ruefully. “Well, I mean it just seemed an extravagance with the war going on and on like this. . . and only the three of us at home now.”

“Yasuo,” my uncle said, “why don’t you share some of your experi­ences at Hiro with us? How did you like your training?”

I hesitated. “My training. . . .” I groped for words.

“My training was. . . challenging—highly educational.” Something of an understatement, of course, and everyone laughed as though we all shared an amusing secret.

Afterward, while our women attended to work in the kitchen and their own private concerns, the rest of us talked further of my training, of the war, the military experiences of my father and uncle, of Toshifumi’s dental practice in Tokyo.

That evening when my relatives had departed I received a visit from Tatsuno. During our separation he had sent me two letters, neither of

which I had answered. Obviously, there had been little opportunity for such things, but I certainly could have sent him a brief note. Somehow, though, each time I considered doing so something had stopped me. Probably it stemmed from my feeling that Tatsuno, despite his courage, was too sensitive for such an environment. He seemed too much like poor Miyagame, the recruit who had hanged himself in the latrine.

Nevertheless, he would soon be there and would have already arrived had he not torn the ligaments in his arm during a glider training mishap at school. Consequently, I felt obliged to offer him some advice. “It will be very hard,” I confessed, but remember that the first two months are the toughest, so start getting in condition right now. The stronger you are the easier it will be.”

“Hai!” he exclaimed and nodded vigorously.

“Seriously,” I said, “it will make a big difference. As soon as your arm’s better, start doing push-ups. Do them about five times a day and build up to at least fifty each set. And how’s your endurance? If you can double-time three or four miles when you go in, that will help a lot too.” I then stressed the importance of being respectful to his hancho and avoiding actions that would attract unnecessary attention.

“Remember not to make any noise no matter what when they hit you in the rear with a ball bat, or you’ll just get more. And don’t move. Just cling onto the rail and grit your teeth. And when they start to slam your face against the wall, just tilt your head forward a little. Not so it’s noticeable, though, or they’ll do it again twice as hard. “Just do it a little,” I persisted. That way you’ll get a bump on your forehead, but it won’t mangle your nose and mouth very much. And another thing. . . tell everybody in your barracks to write home and warn their families not to bring them special treats when they come to visit. If even one recruit gets something and tries to hide it, believe me, your hancho will find out, and there will be serious trouble.”

I decided to avoid the details, for suddenly Tatsuno’s face was gray. “I’m sorry,” I said, and felt guilty. On the other hand, I’d have felt far more guilty had I failed to prepare him in some measure. “You’ll get through it all right,” I assured him, trying hard to believe my own words. “Just take it one day at a time.” I shrugged. “After all, what about me? Don’t I look all right?”

“You look terrific,” he said. His tone sounded slightly envious. “But your face has quite a few sores and scars.”

“A few,” I admitted, “but I’m perfectly all right, and if I can make it through and come out this well, so can you. Besides, when we’re flying those fighter planes we’ll be tough as sumo wrestlers.”

Tatsuno laughed. “But not as big and fat.”

“Right—lean and hard, muscles from our toes to our nose! Seriously, we’ll be ready for anything.”

Tatsuno’s smile became mournful, the expression in his eyes un­certain. “Yasuo,” he said, “remember how we used to dream of flying together—fighter pilots, in the same squadron?”

“Of course,” I said, “and we will.”

Tatsuno shook his head. “I doubt it. You’re already too far ahead of me.”

“Well, we might not end up in the same squadron,” I admitted, “but we’ll both be flying—that’s what matters most.”

Again he shook his head. “Yasuo,” he said, “I’m afraid. I really wonder whether I can make it through that first three months.”

“You’ll make it,” I insisted. “Don’t you think I was afraid at first. Everybody is; I don’t care who. And three months seems like a long time in the beginning, but now I can’t believe where it’s gone. “You’ll make it through as well or better than I did. Then before you know it, you’ll be in fighter school.”

“It sounds good,” he said.

“It is good,” I persisted. “Besides, we’ve always been a winning team, haven’t we? We’ll be flying together yet, Tatsu-kun, I can feel it.”

“I hope so,” he said. “Well, I’d better let you get back to your family.” He gave me a pat on the shoulder and I clasped his forearm. “Thanks for coming, tomodachi.” I said. “You’re my best friend ever.”

“Arigato,” he said, “the same to you,” and started down the stairs. “See you later.”

“Right,” I nodded. “In the morning. I’ll be coming by the school.”

The sudden attention of family, relatives and friends was most grati­fying, and I was fast becoming a hero. During my first day at home I had uttered all the patriotic platitudes that were expected. I had felt a powerful surge of determination and courage, and I was viewing the hell of basic in a different light.

Later that night, having talked again at length with Father and To- shifumi, I went to my room tingling with pride and elation. From my open window, I gazed at the rising moon. It hung there in the sky as it had the night of my first departure—evanescent and faintly glowing like a thin, silver bracelet. As I lay back and drifted off to sleep, Hiro seemed very remote, strangely unreal. For the moment I was totally at peace.

The following morning my school friends greeted me as though I had already performed deeds of great valor. Daily before classes a general assembly was held in the auditorium. During my visit, however, the announcements were dispensed with, and I was asked to address the students. The thought of speaking extemporaneously was frighten­ing, but several insistent teachers ushered me forward amid much loud cheering and laughter.

To my surprise, I spoke rather easily for about ten minutes. I never mentioned The Pig, taiko binta, the deserters, or suicides. One simply did not refer to such things in public. Instead, I described the rigors of combat training, of the great conditioning, and talked of the classwork. I spoke of our divine heritage as sons and daughters of Nippon, of our future, and of the obligation of all able-bodied young men to serve their country. Closing, I bowed to a rousing ovation.

Our weathered old principal Hori-kacho then addressed us briefly in his familiar, quavering voice as follows: “This school is honored and proud to have helped mold such outstanding citizens. We will follow Yasuo Kuwahara’s future accomplishments with constant interest, and we will all rejoice as he continues to discharge his sacred obligation to our Emperor and to the glorious nation of Nippon. May all of you here today note with care his stellar example and follow in his path.”

I left Onomichi High School unaware that my next and only return would be under very different circumstances.

The remainder of that day I visited a few friends, one of whom was soon to enter the marines. Then I spent the final hours with my family, and we spoke for some time about my brother Shigeru. No word from him for weeks, and our concern was increasing. As a captain in the counter-intelligence in Java, he could reveal little regarding his work. A few months earlier, however, one of his rare messages indicated that he was well but also concluded as follows: “If you should not hear from me again, I will await your visit to the Yasukuni Jinja”—the national shrine for Japan’s military dead.

Shortly after supper we saw Toshifumi off on his train for Tokyo. My leave had vanished with inconceivable speed. I had barely found time to relax and breathe normally, and now it was over. Just before midnight I bid Tomika and Mother sayonara—for the third time in three months. Even though I was returning with greater confidence, the anxiety was mounting again, and I concluded that farewells never become much easier.

Father accompanied me to the station where, to my amazement, a crowd of some two hundred and fifty students were awaiting me, a brass band playing. Shouts arose at our approach, and a cordon of friends pressed in to clasp my hand and offer their best wishes. Father had never looked more proud.

I was also presented with gifts including the school pendant and sev­eral autographed flags of Japan. Some of those students had actually cut their own fingers and signed their names with blood in a token of eternal friendship. I was to wear these mementos as scarves into battle, and now only minutes remained.

“Well,” I said and glanced at the train nervously. “Maybe I’d better. .

“Yasuo!” someone called. It was Tatsuno, there on the crowd’s fringe, wriggling toward me. In a moment we were clasping each other like brothers. “I’ll be seeing you soon, Tatsuno-kun,” I said. “Don’t forget what I told you.”

“Speech, Kuwahara, speech!” someone bellowed, and several oth­ers chimed in.

“I gave my speech already,” I told them. “This morning!”

“Yes, but we need one now!” The band was playing “Light of The Firefly”—a bit blatantly and off key, but it brought back a tide of memories, and my eyes began to smart. Watching their smiling faces, I mumbled, “I hope many of you will follow me. Until then—sayonara”

The conductor’s voice was a plaintive, nasal twang, sounding de­parture amid the flurry of goodbyes from my friends. Moments later the train was click-clacking toward Hiro, gaining momentum, and I was still hearing my father’s parting admonition: “In all things be sure to conduct yourself with honor, my son. Remember now that your life is no longer your own. If you should ever fall into dishonor, do not return to bring unhappiness and shame upon us. Live proudly, fight gloriously. Should you die. . . I will have a grave prepared.” Gripping my hand fiercely and gazing into my eyes, he inquired, “Do you know my heart?”

As the train tunneled onward into the night I watched my own re­flection in the window— a transparent ghost of myself through which I could see the receding lights of town. Suddenly I felt a profound need to remember everything, to lodge somewhere in my mind and heart a picture of the past. Family, friends, places. . . the ocean on a wintry day, fishermen with their nets, the sunlight and lofting winds of Mt. Ikoma, greening rice fields, the moon balanced upon our trellis, and the smell of azaleas. All that and much more—a poignant need to store it all away in some special place, safe from the ravages of war and the erosion of time.

Toyoko

A

n evening in June found me sitting at a table in secluded corner of the Tokiwaya. My friends had gone elsewhere, and I was there alone, idly contemplating the froth in my glass of beer. Other men were on hand from the base—too many, laughing boisterously at times, dancing spastically, even idiotically in some cases. Or so it seemed to me.

This was definitely not what I had hoped for. Such frivolity only depressed me. Sitting there, staring into that glass of beer, I decided that it looked, even smelled, like urine. How long had it been now since I had visited my family? I was struck more forcibly than ever that it had been more than a year. Now it would take a miracle, the miracle of miracles, for me ever to see them again.

Why had I come here in the first place? Pushing the glass of beer aside, I leaned on the table with my face cradled in my arms. Yet where else could I go? Where lay escape? Only in that final, fatal dive. The rest was simply a matter of waiting. . . waiting. . . agonized waiting.

Several minutes had passed, and I was actually almost asleep when a hand touched my shoulder, very gently. “Are you ill?” the words came. Startled, I glanced up. The voice was incredibly soft, the face, heart shaped with high, gleaming cheek bones, the eyes dark and fathomless. Her expression? It reminded me remarkably of my own sister’s in times of greatest concern. Inquisitive, yet gentle and compassionate, not the expression of that woman of the streets.

“Is everything all right?” she inquired. What fantastic sweetness! There is no other word. “You don’t look very well.”

Momentarily it occurred to me that she couldn’t really be interested, not in my personal problems. After all, she was being paid to be nice; it was simply part of her job. Yet there was something about her eyes now, a kind of wistful light that belied such explanations. Her gaze had captured my own almost hypnotically, but suddenly, highly embar­rassed, I glanced down at the table. “No, not. . . I’m not sick. Just. . . well, thinking.”

“Ah so,” she said, softly yet with strange wonderment, as though my thoughts must have been quite profound, eminently worthy of her at­tention. The smile flowed, this time with a tinge of mischief, but again the ineffable sweetness. “Would you care to dance?”

Forcing a twitching smile, I shook my head. “I’m afraid I’m not very good.” Then I was stammering again, terribly humiliated. “I don’t even know how, in fact.”

“That’s all right,” she replied and hesitated. For one desperate mo­ment I feared that she would leave, vanish from my life forever. “Would you mind if I sat down for a while? Here with you?”

I glanced at her again and reddened. Still the same expression. She had never once averted her gaze from my face. “Yes,” I said, “I mean, no. I’d be happy to. . . have you sit down. I mean, if you aren’t too busy. If you really want to.”

‘Thank you,” she said.

We sat in silence for a moment, her eyes still upon me while I stared at my hands, gaze flicking up once or twice to meet her own but unable to maintain contact. “Could I buy you a beer?” I asked, “some dinner?” She shook her head. “No, but that’s surely nice of you. Thank you

very, very much.” Yes, she was like Tomika, not so much physically as the expression, her entire demeanor. I cast furtive glances at the intri­cate flowered designs on her kimono—silver and gold—and let my gaze descend to the soft white tabi, stockings with a separate sleeve for the big toe. Everything about her was neat and delicate, her hands like those of a ceramic geisha as were her feet in their woven zori. Yet she possessed those feminine fluid contours that any normal man would regard with fascination.

Vainly I struggled for something to say. Conversation with my friends had never been difficult, but now with this woman simply sitting there, steadily watching me. . . it was a strange situation indeed. “Well. . .” I managed at last, “I supposed I should be getting back to the base.” Intending to sip my beer, I began to stand, lifted the glass, and acciden­tally took too large a gulp, half choking.

Her eyes were full of amusement, the mischief increasing, and her hand reached out to touch, even press, my own. “Wait, please!” Mysti­fied, I sat down again, this time finally staring at her directly. Could it possibly be that she was infatuated with me, maybe—for some weird rea­son—even in love? Vain, foolish idea, but what was the answer? “Would you mind greatly if I asked you a personal question?” she inquired.

“Ah. . . yes, I guess so.” The imbecilic stammering again. “I mean— no, I don’t mind!” I blurted, wondering why I had said the simple word “no” so loudly. People were even looking at us. “It’s all right.”

“Good,” she said, “and please don’t be offended, but I can’t help wondering how old you are.”

So that was it. I felt myself becoming angry. Almost gruffly, I replied, “I—I’m twenty, twenty years old. Why? Why do you ask?”

“Ah so desuka!” She sounded as if that were a marvelous achievement, very respectful. “Is that true? Twenty?”

“Hai” I replied even more abruptly. “Why do you want to know?” “Oh, you really are angry, aren’t you?” For the first time, she glanced down. “Please excuse me for my extreme presumption.” For a few seconds I thought that she was going to cry. “The reason I asked. . . I just had to because. . . you remind me so much of my younger

brother, so very much I can hardly believe this is happening.” Again, Tomika—especially that unique pleading quality in her eyes the night she had learned of my enlistment. The tear falling on my photograph. “He was killed in Burma.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly feeling sick—sorrow for her, but also a sense of dread as though it were an omen. “I am terribly sorry.”

For a time we simply looked at each other, immersed in a great sense of pathos, of tragedy—in a strange kind of rapport that I had never experienced before. “I am so sorry,” I said. “You must miss him very greatly.”

She barely nodded. For a minute or two we remained there in silence. Then at length she reached out, pressing her hand against my own again, and I could feel the emanations of life. Somehow it all seemed very natural.

By now, however, it was closing time, and we were saying farewell. Beginning to leave, I paused, glancing back at her. They were turning out the lights, and her face in the gathering darkness was remarkably luminous and phantom-like. “I’m so very sorry about your brother,” I repeated and hesitated. “I lied to you about my age, because I was ashamed. I am only sixteen too. Well, almost seventeen,” I added.

‘Thank you,” she said, “for your compassion, and for your honesty. A tear glistened in the corner of her eye, and she barely touched it with the tip of one finger. “Will you be coming back?”

“I hope so,” I replied. “I want to.”

The following evening, having flown another escort mission, I re­turned promptly to the Tokiwaya, ordered a second noxious beer and sat down at the same table. Minutes crawled by during which time I feigned interest in my drink, once even raising the glass and sighting at the colored lights though its contents. A blue light turned it green, red light a dull orange. At least that was an improvement, but in reality, of course, I was only looking for one thing: that remarkable young woman from the night before.

Eventually, I arose and crossed the fringe of the dance floor, greeting a few friends along the way, to obtain some peanuts and packet of fried squid. That too, however, was only a pretense. For perhaps twenty minutes I had

been looking everywhere, covertly but also obsessively, to no avail. Then I returned, and sat there absorbed in the dark surface of the table with its slurred and amorphous motions of people dancing. Perhaps the idea was not to look for her at all. Maybe then she would materialize magically as on the night before and lay her hand upon my shoulder.

Another fifteen minutes elapsed, and I was rapidly becoming more restless, even irritated. Each time some girl passed by, I angled a glance, but never a sign of the right person. Once I thought I saw her dancing with an airman I knew, and my heart squirmed. But wrong again. She was not there.

Dismayed, I stood, ready to leave, offering the Tokiwaya one final, panoramic overview. Gone. . . non existent. A mere dream. So now, another hot, nightmarish siege in the barracks. A girl passed by carrying bowls of soba noodles, sloshing the contents of one in her haste. Surpris­ing myself, I called out to her, but she continued with her tray, barely casting me a glance and murmuring something I didn’t catch.

Then she returned. “What would you like?”

Suddenly I realized that I didn’t even know the other girl’s name. “That person I was with last—” I was almost stammering. “The one sitting here with me last night for quite a while. At this table. Do you know which one I mean?” She merely looked confused and shook her head. “The girl with the long hair,” I persisted. “Very pretty.” My face was flushing absurdly. “Long hair, tied in back.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I just started working here.”

“All right, thank you,” I said dejectedly, got up and walked toward the exit.

I closed the door behind me hard, shutting out the music and the laughter, then wandered slowly down the street, hands in my pockets, watching my feet move steadily with a life of their own. Maybe a little walk around town. Maybe I would go see a prostitute, after all. That would serve her right—asking me to come back, then not even being there! I spat in the gutter, and my mouth felt dry. Simultaneously I heard the clop-clop of wooden geta approaching rapidly behind me.

“Ano!” It was the same girl I had just queried. Breathlessly she ac­costed me. “That girl you were asking for—it’s her night off.” I offered my thanks profusely, even bowing, and she giggled, clearly embarrassed. “You’re welcome.” Then she was clattering off again.

“Wait!” I called. “Normally I would never have asked the next ques­tion, but now it seemed imperative. “What’s her name?”

She hesitated. “Her name? I don’t. . . .” More hesitation. “Maybe it’s Toyoko. I think it’s Toyoko.”

“Do you happen to know where she lives? I’m supposed to give her an important message,” I added lamely.

“I don’t really know. I couldn’t say for sure.” Clattering off into the dark again. “I have to get back.”

“All right! But just tell me where you think she lives. It’s very im­portant that I talk to her.”

I jerked a ten yen note from my pocket, running after her. “Wait!”

Again she paused, casting a quick backward, almost frightened, glance. “No, I don’t want any money.”

“Take it,” I insisted, now face to face. “I know you can use it. Just say where you think she might be. That’s all you have to do, and I won’t tell anybody.”

“All right!” she said looking distressed, and took the note. “I think she lives down by the beach in the Miyazaki Apartments, but I don’t have the exact address. Don’t blame me if that isn’t—”

“Thank you very much,” I interjected and was on my way.

“I’m not sure, remember!” her voice trailed, sounding like that of a grade school girl. I made no reply.

It took me several minutes to find the place, but at last I was stand­ing before the Miyazaki Apartments, squinting to read the sign in the blackness. Fortunately the place was not very large, probably only a dozen units, located behind a white and slightly crumbling stucco wall covered with vines and fragrant flowers.

The time was only ten o’clock, and some of the windows were dimly lighted. Moments later I entered the gloomy alcove of the first and peered at the mailboxes. Six of them—two without names. The last one, how­ever, read, “Toyoko Akimoto,” and my heart skipped a beat. Yes, that had to be it! Slipping off my shoes, I mounted the stairs swiftly, almost stealthily, and paused before the door of room six.

A soft light gleamed beneath the entrance, and my pulse quickened.

Taking a deep breath, I knocked and waited, fairly burning inside. No answer. I hesitated then knocked louder. Perhaps Toyoko Akimoto was asleep. Or maybe someone was there with her. The very thought dismayed me greatly.

I waited uncertainly for some time, then on impulse tried the panel. Ever so cautiously, I felt it catch, then glide open an inch, squeaking softly. Two small rooms, the second raised slightly above the first, opening onto a tiny balcony. “Toyoko?” I called softly, surprised at the sound of my own voice. “Miss Akimoto?” All a dream. Crazy. Suddenly a panel opened noisily below giving me a start, but it was only someone leaving. Again I hesitated, then slid the door open a bit farther. Definitely a woman’s residence. It smelled faintly of perfume, and several kimono hung on the wall. One was pink, another violet. Yes, the very atmosphere seemed to emanate femininity. The only furnishings in the main room were a round, lacquered tea table the color of molasses, a charcoal burner and two dark red cushions with gold brocade. In the raised room beyond, a single futon was laid out for sleeping. Another folded on top with two sheets and a white nightgown.

Entranced, I slid the door even wider, I could see a child-sized dresser on one side of that room near an open window. Across its top was draped a pair of silk hose—a real rarity. A faint, tentative breeze was filtering through the window, lilting the tips of the stockings and billowing the curtains off an open balcony.

I knew that I should leave, felt the guiltiness of a thief in the night. What if this belonged to a different Toyoko? Or what if that wasn’t her name at all? The girl who had given me the information merely supposed she was called that, hadn’t even known her last name. What excuse could I give if the person who lived there should suddenly appear?

Uncertainly, I had turned, on the verge of leaving, unmindful that I had left her door half open. Simultaneously, I heard a faint tinkling sound. I turned back listening. Yes, coming from the balcony. . . a soft, silvery, clinking—a sound that made the hot night a little cooler. It was a sound from my past—glass chimes, suspended from the overhang there on the balcony, the breeze running its fingers through them. I craned my neck, peering, saw fragments of glass barely trembling and oscillating,

reflecting vagrant gleams of light like miniature stars.

Enchanted, I lingered, listening then gave a start at the sound of a door opening below. Geta clapped against the concrete floor of the alcove, one after another, echoing. Then someone was padding rapidly up the stairs toward me. No escape now! What would I do? What could I say?

Wearing ayukata of midnight blue, bent low over the stairs, she failed to notice me before we nearly collided, then glanced up with a gasp of astonishment, placing a hand to her mouth. I struggled to speak, but my vocal cords seemed shriveled and parched. For a moment we sim­ply stared at each other. She had a large white towel over one arm and looked different enough without her make-up that I was badly confused. Her luxuriant hair was not tied. It flared down her back, still slightly rumpled and damp, smelling of scented soap.

“Oh,” she murmured, “It’s you! You frightened me.”

I opened my mouth, gagging the words out by sheer force of will. “I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I was just leaving.” Making no sense whatever. “I mean I only wanted to—”

“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s just that I wasn’t expecting you.” This followed by a little rill of laughter that tinkled like the chimes. “I just got back from the bath.”

“Yes, I can tell,” I said, all the more embarrassed. “I can see that this is a bad time, though, so I’d better be leaving. It’s just that we’re flying a lot of missions now, and. . . .” Again the groping.

“Oh, no!” She shook her head, and her eyes met mine as on the night before. Her hand reached out, the fingers barely tracing my arm. “You aren’t. . . Aren’t going for good?”

“No,” I replied with greater confidence, “not for good—not for a while yet.”

“I’m so glad” she sighed, “please wait just a minute, please.” She slipped inside, closing the door, then immediately opened it again for an instant. “Don’t go away,” her voice came, “I’ll be right back!”

Minutes later the door opened all the way, and Toyoko was standing there in her pink kimono, wearing lipstick and rouge as she had the night before. “Please come in,” she said.

“Are you sure it’s all right for me to be here?” I mumbled, feeling more foolish than ever.

“Of course it is,” she replied and her tone was quite motherly. Then she handed me a cushion. “It’s much nicer out on the balcony, Yasuo. A breeze is coming in off the sea.” The chimes were more insistent now, more melodious. “And we can look out upon the water.”

A wide, tiled overhang slanted downward beneath the balcony, below which lay a courtyard, and beyond that over darkened alleys, roof tops and trees rolled the ocean. Its surge and roar was gentle but insistent, gradually increasing, and we could see the ragged fringe of white surf welling inward along the beach then subsiding, reviving again with the next breaker in a long and crashing sigh.

“Do you like the sound of the ocean?” Toyoko inquired.

“Yes, very much,” I replied.

Tilting her head back and closing her eyes, she murmured, “Hmmm, I love it. It smells so wonderful. And the sound. No matter what the problem. . . well, it somehow helps.”

“Very true,” I said, “no matter what the problem.” For a moment I reflected upon the fact that soon the ocean would solve all my problems, felt the simmering of soul. Then it subsided with the next dying wave, and for a time I was at peace.

“I like those chimes,” I said. “They remind me of the ones in our garden at home. Where did you get them?”

She smiled, a fleeting expression of fond reminiscence. “They were given to me, by a friend. By the way, why don’t you take your socks off and dangle your feet over the edge the way I’m doing.”

“That’s all right,” I replied nervously. “This way is fine.”

“Oh, come on,” she said and actually began tugging at my toes, pulling the socks off. Meanwhile, I found myself laughing nervously but also feeling grateful that I had showered using lavish amounts of soap before leaving the base, donning fresh underwear and stockings. At least, I didn’t smell bad, and Toyoko smelled wonderful.

Then she was rolling my trouser cuffs up slightly as well. “There now, doesn’t that feel a hundred times better?”

“Hai,” I laughed, “it really does.” In some ways she was like a little girl, amazingly natural and unaffected. Yes, I was beginning to feel at ease. My instincts had been right after all. Either that, or I had been extraordinarily lucky.

“Last night,” I said, “you asked me a question—remember?” Toyoko looked uncertain. “About my age. I told you that I was only sixteen.” She nodded, watching me. “Is it all right if I ask you the same question?”

“Oh, that! Why not? I’m almost twenty-four. I’m an old, old woman,” she said, and we laughed together.

“You told me I reminded you of your brother,” I continued. That was interesting. I mean, I was surprised to hear you say that because you remind me of my sister, Tomika.”

After that we visited for nearly two hours, talking about our pasts. Toyoko had left a large family in Nagasaki when she was eighteen and supported herself ever since, working in bars and restaurants, once as a maid in a mansion. She had even traveled for several months with a troop of dancers and modeled for large department stores occasionally. For the past year she had been a hostess at the Tokiwaya.

“It’s been good, Yasuo—talking to you,” she said as I left. “This is the first night that I haven’t been lonely in months. Will you come back soon?”

“Yes, yes, any time,” I replied, “if you really want me to.”

Her smile was utterly enchanting. “Are you free tomorrow night?” she inquired. “I’ll be off at ten, and I was thinking we might go for a walk along the beach.”

That night I returned to the base happier than I had been for many months. Even the flights loomed less sinister, the entire future. Maybe, I told myself, the war would end soon—soon enough to save me. For the first time in my life I was actually feeling a close kinship with a woman outside my own family. I decided, in fact, that living with men only, year in, year out, could be terribly deadening.

Almost every night the following week I met Toyoko at her apart­ment, and as the days passed I began taking her rations from the base. Food of almost any kind was hard to obtain now, and it made me very happy to help her a little. When no onions were available for our suki – yaki, Toyoko used cabbage. Even cabbage was rationed but usually still available at some of the markets.

Occasionally also I brought clothes for her to wash. Despite my reluctance, she had insisted and clearly took delight in doing things for

me, watching with an almost maternal expression as I consumed great quantities of her cooking.

Late one Saturday night as I prepared to leave for the base, Toyoko eyed me inquisitively. “Yasuo. . . .” she said and hesitated.

“What is it?” I asked.

Reaching out, she placed her hand on my arm. “Do you really have to go?”

“Well,” I replied uncertainly, “it’s getting late; I can’t keep you up all night.”

Her glance softened. “Why not stay here? It wouldn’t be any problem at all.” Excited but also confused, I merely mumbled incoherently, and she continued. “I have two futon—and two sheets; we could both have one.” Again, the humiliating embarrassment, the fumbling for words. “Oh, why not, Yasuo? I’ll sleep here and you can sleep in the other room by the balcony—in where it’s cool. Look, we can even draw the curtains for complete privacy.” She gestured gracefully at the diaphanous, white veil next to her, barely tracing it with the backs of her finger nails.

Toyoko’s so-called curtains would obviously afford little privacy, but I decided not to argue the point. By now I was her most willing captive. “All right,” I said, “that is very kind of you.” It took only a moment to unroll the futon, and I stretched out upon it in the dark, my forearm across my brow, hearing the whisper of cloth as Toyoko undressed in the adjoining room. The chimes tinkled entrancingly almost over my head, and in one of the distant lanes an itinerant noodle vendor tweedled his flute.

Prologue

I

t is New Year’s Day 1945 at Hiro Air Base in western Honshu, and Captain Yoshiro Tsubaki, Commander of the Fourth Fighter Squadron, has just called a special meeting. We have assembled in a mood of intense expectation. . . somberly, even furtively. Silence settles profoundly, accentuated by sporadic gusts of rain against the roof and windows.

We are called to swift, rigid attention as the Captain enters and commands us to be seated. For several seconds he stands before us, arms folded, eyes dark and glittering—unblinking, spearing each man to the heart. Then he speaks, sonorously: “The time, young airmen, has at last arrived. We are faced with a momentous decision.”

Again he pauses, but I feel it coming—the fear, beyond anything I have yet known. Momentarily the rain subsides, then returns with in­creased intensity as he continues. Death is there with us, gray tentacles, sinuous and inexorable, clasping at our throats. “Any of you unwilling to offer your lives as divine sons of the glorious Nippon Empire will not be required to do so.” I hold my breath, feeling my temples throb. “Those incapable of accepting this great honor will raise their hands.”

Once more, the silence is palpable, but the tentacles relax slightly. The rain subsides in a soft drizzle. Then, hesitantly, timorously, a hand goes up. Then another and another. . . five, six in all. Six members of

the Fourth Fighter Squadron have chosen to live. Our captain waits, one eyebrow arched eloquently. The decision is mine: I can choose to live or to die. Has not our captain just said so? Yet somehow. . . of course, of course, I want to live! But my hands remain at my sides trembling. I want to raise them, desperately want to raise them. Even my soul would have me do so, yet they remain at my sides.

“Ah so desu ka1” Captain Tsubaki transfixes those who have responded in his stare. “Most enlightening.” His eyes are devouring. “It is good to know in advance exactly where we stand.” He glances at the floor, nods, purses his lips. Slowly his gaze ascends as though evaluating the structure of the ceiling then returns to the gathering before him. Never, perhaps anywhere, has there been a more attentive audience. “Here, gentlemen,” he continues, appraising those who have responded, “are six men who have openly admitted their disloyalty.” Their faces blanch, turning ashen. For an instant his tone is ironically complacent. “Since they are completely devoid of courage and honor. . . .” He even shrugs but suddenly becomes menacing. “Since they are completely devoid of courage and honor. . . . it becomes my obligation to provide them with some. These men shall become Hiro’s first attack group!”

The breath, held so long within me, escapes almost audibly. I want to inhale, expel more air, obtain relief. But my innards clench, and something sears the inside of my chest like a hot, electric wire. Six of my friends have just been selected as Hiro’s first human bombs.

The Praying Mantis

F

lying school, as I had anticipated, was much better than basic training, although the punishment and arduous conditioning continued. We had formed friendships and were hardened both physi­cally and mentally. I was elated to discover that all the survivors from our original group were assigned to another four-section barracks together. Each section housed fifteen men as before, but our quarters were somewhat better, and we lived on a separate part of the base near the pilots.

Although most of our airmen were not much older than the rest of us, we regarded them as a proud, audacious lot and with a certain awe. Daily we watched their flight performances with excitement and admiration. They were the ultimate warriors, the eagles who, above all others, would lead us to victory.

We were now designated the Fourth Squadron, and the first stage of our six-month course involved an intensive study of aeronautics. We also began learning to parachute. We did not begin flying, however, for three months, and then only in a small biplane called the Akatombo (Red Dragonfly) with cockpits for both the instructor and student.

Unfortunately our new hancho were just as harsh and cruel as The Pig and his cohorts had been. Rentaro Namoto, our first sergeant and flight instructor, was called The Praying Mantis because of his lean, insectivorous appearance and vicious nature. Unlike that of The Pig, his personality had few dimensions. He rarely joked or laughed and was by very nature, it seemed, unlikable. Nevertheless, he possessed remarkable skill and cunning. Nearly six feet tall, with a supple whip­like body, Sergeant Namoto was the coldest, most calculating man I had ever encountered. When he inflicted punishment it was devoid of all outward emotion, every movement methodical and precise like that of a robot.

During most of our basic training we had been utterly bewildered and terrified. The sudden insecurity of being wrenched from our fami­lies, the fear of the unknown, the softness of our minds and bodies, the constant pain, anxiety, and humiliation had made life an almost-inces – sant nightmare.

Now, however, we were undergoing a metamorphosis. Very sur­reptitiously at first, we began striking back at our tyrants. Few crimes are greater in the military, especially the Japanese military, than dis­obedience, or outright defiance in particular. Such things automatically incurred severe retribution if not destruction. Open disobedience or defiance, in fact, had terrible implications and not only meant that one was insulting his immediate superiors but also his commanding officer, the Diahonei in Tokyo—indeed, ultimately even the Emperor himself.

Subtle misdeeds, on the other hand, were viewed somewhat differ­ently, perhaps because they were more consistent with the covert and cunning elements of our general makeup. Although never acknowledged openly, our chicanery with The Mantis developed into a kind of game which ultimately he always managed to win.

Our first efforts in that regard occurred one day before evening chow, just after we had been required to perform the “low crawl”, wriggling along on our bellies, across three hundred yards of hot airstrip. As the KP was carrying Namoto’s evening meal to his quarters, Oka called out softly, “yai, Furuhashi, wait up! We have some special seasoning for our leader’s rice!”

“What?” Furuhashi glanced back nervously. “Hey, you’d better not do anything,” he protested as we approached. “Look now, don’t do that. Hey, don’t—don’t”! Do you want to get us all killed?”

“He’ll never know a thing,” Nakamura insisted, “if you’d just stop squealing like a stuck pig for a minute.” By now, all of us were taking turns vigorously massaging and scratching our scalps over the steaming bowl of rice. Despite the KP’s terrified protests we managed to deposit a large quantity of dandruff in the bowl. “Now,” Nakamura patted his forlorn shoulder, “mix the seasoning in well. This is our special gift to The Mantis because we all love him so dearly.” Reluctantly, the KP went on his way, shaking his head and muttering a few appropriate curses.

Secluding ourselves, we watched him enter The Mantis’ room. A few seconds later he returned empty handed. “Is he eating his rice like a good boy?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, yes!” the KP muttered and stalked back toward the chow

hall.

“Hey, does he really like it?” Oka called from the barracks doorway. “Did he kiss your lovely little hand?”

“Go screw yourself!” the KP growled.

Truly, this was a splendid way of retaliating. It didn’t matter to us that The Mantis was unaware of his humiliation. The important fact existed that he was being humiliated. His ignorance of such indignity only made it better. That way also there would be no reprisal, or so we hoped.

Our first rice seasoning escapade had been so successful, in fact, that we determined to follow the same procedure regularly. Almost every evening we seasoned Namoto’s supper in like manner, and before long Oka ingeniously suggested that we mix in a little of our excrement for variety. Yamamoto agreed but maintained that we try urine first since, presumably, it would be less detectable. We were seriously considering those recommendations when something unexpected happened.

Moriyama, another KP, became especially nervous one evening when nearly a dozen of us approached him for the standard dandruff application. “All of you can’t put your dandruff in the rice,” he moaned.

“The Mantis will notice it. Why don’t we forget about the whole thing for a while? This is really getting dangerous, and you’re pressing your luck.”

“Oh yes,” Nakamura said, “since it’s your turn at KP, why don’t we just forget about it for a while. We’ll all be taking our turn, so don’t be a spineless jelly fish.”

“I’m no more jelly fish than you are,” Moriyama countered angrily. “I’m just not as stupid.” Eventually, however, after much cajolery, he capitulated. “But come on now,” he whined, “not all of you—you’ll flood the bowl over.”

“No, no, we need everybody,” Oka declared. “Some of us are running low on dandruff.” This to the accompaniment of much half-smothered laughter, and the first man proceeded to make his offering. “Next!” he said briskly, and I stepped forward, each of the others following suit.

“Now mix it in, Moriyama,” I advised, “if you don’t our friend will know.”

“Mix it with what?” he asked. “I’ve got to hurry or he’ll be coming out here to see what’s happening.”

“Use your fingers, naturally,” someone said.

Reluctantly, Moriyama began to probe with his fingers. “God, this is hot!” he complained.

“Brave samurai,” Yamamoto said, “be a brave, brave samurai.”

Again Moriyama complied. “Now, what do I wipe them with?”

“Just lick them off,” Yamamoto said, “That’s the quickest way.”

Again, he complied, or at least began to. Suddenly, he stopped, fingers only an inch from his extended tongue as though frozen, and again we shook with strangled laughter. Moriyama appeared to be on the verge of vomiting. “Bakayaro!” he cursed then went his way like a man expecting the firing squad.

With the door to Namoto’s room slightly ajar, we listened intently, pressing close to the wall just outside. Moriyama had apparently turned to leave when The Mantis spoke, his words resonating harshly. “Kindly wait one minute, my friend.”

“Yes, honorable honcho-donO’ Moriyama quavered.

A long silence then ensued, but finally the dreaded voice spoke again: “This rice—it stinks. What makes it so putrid and oily? It stinks like hell! Where did you get it, from the latrine?”

“Let’s get out of here!” someone warned, “before it’s too late.” A mo­ment later we heard a crash and then what sounded like a blow, perhaps a terrific boot in the rear.

“Quick, outside!” I hissed as Moriyama stumbled out the door, the remains of Namoto’s feast plastering the back of his head, dribbling down his neck and face.

“We’re in for it now!” Moriyama gasped. “He’ll skin us all alive.”

This time no one argued. Instead, we fled to our barracks and waited out the night in great anxiety. To our growing astonishment, however, nothing happened until the following morning. Namoto’s response, in fact, was far less virulent than we had anticipated though certainly more ingenious.

It was reveille formation, and we stood stiffly at attention, perhaps even holding our breath, as The Mantis surveyed us all thoughtfully. A flight of fighter planes was circling overhead, coming in to land a short distance off. “It appears. . . .” He spoke in loud, high-pitched tones, penetrating the sound of their motors. “It appears. . . .” Again his words were obliterated as the first fighter arched by with a ferocious roar and began its final descent. “Eyes straight ahead!” The plane landed with a lurch and screech of rubber. “Doesn’t know how to handle it very well, does he?”

For a moment it seemed as though he were simply talking to himself. “As I was saying,” he continued, “it appears that some of you men have become concerned about my health.” Another pause while the next plane headed in. “You have been supplementing my diet. Maybe you think I too skinny—na?” He paused, eyeing us calculatingly. “In any case, even though I am doing well, I want you to know that I appreciate your kindness. Of course, it is only natural to love your instructors. When I was a trainee, we loved our instructors. We were concerned about their health just as you are “

Oka made a strange little noise like a spurt of air from a valve. “Shhh!” I hissed.

The Mantis appeared to take no notice. “However, you may put your minds at ease. We instructors are well fed, and there is no need for concern. As a matter of fact last night, when our KP brought my dinner, I wasn’t even hungry. I actually gave it all back to him.” I glanced at Oka and Yamamoto from the corners of my eyes and realized that they were struggling desperately to avoid laughing. “Terribly sloppy eater, though.” They both wheezed, and I began to pray that they would be able to contain themselves. “So!” He raised a rapier-like forefinger. To demonstrate my appreciation for your kindness, I wish to propose a toast, Hancho Kitamura! Hancho Mukai!” Two hancho hastened among us distributing sake cups, and we watched in growing amazement as they proceeded to fill them from a gigantic blue bottle. “Be at ease!” Namoto instructed. “Wonderful Awamore sake all the way from Okinawa!”

We were all dumbfounded. Could this possibly be an actual salute to our cleverness? Our ingenuity? “Dozo, fine,” The Mantis observed. “So now I propose a toast to all of you, to the men of the Fourth Squadron. Kampai!”

“Kampai—bottoms up!” we cried in unison. “To the men of the Fourth Squadron!” We downed our drinks as one, and it took a few moments for us to realize what had happened. Each man’s mouth had turned dark blue. The awful-tasting elixir was ink.

For a while we played no more tricks. Tatsuno had arrived at Hiro and was undergoing the hell of early basic, living in the same barracks that I had. Fortunately, he had known quite clearly what to expect and had prepared himself as well as possible, but on our rare encounters I continued to offer advice.

One night I was quietly conversing with Tatsuno outside his quarters when The Pig passed us carrying two of his beloved ball bats. For a mo­ment I didn’t think he had noticed me, but upon leaning his bats against the wall, he turned back and remarked, “Ah so?” The mighty Kuwahara has returned.” Then he glanced at Tatsuno. “You see how attached these men become to their first home away from home? They can’t stay away—right, Kuwahara?” He actually gave my shoulder a friendly pat as he entered the barracks.

“Hai, honorable hancho-dono!” I called. I no longer hated The Pig and even felt a minor thrill at being recognized and worthy of his attention.

“Looks as if we’re going to get some more of the fighting spirit,” Tatsuno observed wryly. “I’d better go in.”

“No, stay outside a minute,” I said. “If he herds them out now there won’t even be a roll call. It’s not even eight o’clock, and he won’t notice whether you’re missing.” Tatsuno was understandably fearful, but I sug­gested that he follow me behind some shrubbery a short distance away. “If they start calling the roll,” I advised, “we can hear them. You can just walk up and get into the rear of the formation.”

Still dubious, he relaxed a bit, and we strolled back to sit down behind the bushes. Moments later, to our surprise, The Pig emerged from the barracks and headed for his quarters. “There goes the strangest man I have ever known,” I said. We remained there conversing until nearly time for Shoto Rappa, then parted. “Maybe they won’t even harass you tonight,” I added.

“I hope so,” Tatsuno replied. “I hope The Mantas and his friends won’t harass you.” That was the last we saw of each other for some time.

My first three months of flight school raced by far more rapidly than basic training, largely because I was learning to fly. At last, at last, I was actually training in a power-driven aircraft. I will never forget those first days in the Akatombo, and I took to the new trainers as readily as I had to the gliders. I had studied aeronautics zealously, and at times The Mantis or one of the other instructors warned me against being too eager. So thoroughly had I familiarized myself with the instrument panel, the entire flight operation, I secretly felt that I could take off and land unassisted my first time in the cockpit.

During my hours in the air, watching the earth transform volup­tuously beneath me, I felt an exhilaration and power that dispelled all the unpleasant and painful associations of the past. Fear, unhappiness, and frustration all receded earthward as I became at one with the sky. Nothing could harm me in that new and magic domain. It was mine, and I belonged there.

Our hours on the ground were a vivid contrast. Steadily, relent­lessly, The Mantis and his cohorts poured on the punishment. Because it took more to break us, he gave more, and the anger and bitterness were mounting. Several men threatened to kill him, and someone even managed to procure poison, planning to place it in his food. Nakamura considered the idea quite amusing, insisting that since our dandruff had failed to kill him, nothing could. Fortunately for all of us, those in favor of it were finally dissuaded after much heated argument.

The Mantis had a large whip which he cracked at the slightest provocation. He handled it with admirable finesse, and with little exer­tion often inflicted excruciating pain. One day after several of us had received a lashing we gathered behind an empty warehouse to concoct more retaliation. Everyone knew by now that The Mantis went to town each night where he drank heavily and often caroused with prostitutes. It was said that he could consume alcohol endlessly and still only become mildly intoxicated. Furthermore, according to one of the fighter pilots, he was a satyr supreme who performed incredible sexual feats, whose fire was never quenched. All this, of course, seemed to contradict our image of that fish-cold, metal-eyed individual with whom we had to cope each day.

Every evening Namoto left for town at seven or eight o’clock. Then, about midnight he returned, weaving his way along the hall and crunching on down the short flight of stairs to his room at the end of the barracks.

Thus originated our plan, and we awaited its realization one night with much interest. As midnight approached we were poised tensely in our own quarters listening for the sound of his arrival. An hour passed, and we drifted in and out of sleep, assuming at last that he would not return until morning.

Eventually, though, the door banged, and footsteps echoed down the hall followed shortly by a resounding crash. Every man in the bar­racks was undoubtedly wide awake, tense and listening but also highly gratified. The taut rope we had stretched across the stairway only a few inches above the floor had done its job.

The next morning The Mantis appeared at formation with a ban­dage across his nose. Never cracking a smile as usual, he paced back and forth before us, hands clasped behind his back, trailing his whip like a great rat tail. At length he faced the formation and spoke. “I am pleased to note that some of you are such practical jokers. A good sense of humor is often very refreshing.” All of the Fourth Squadron knew by then what had happened.

“So today,” he continued, and the words were rather adenoidal be­cause of his swollen nose, “I have prepared a little joke of my own—just to show you I am not thoughtless and unappreciative. This afternoon when the day is pleasant and warm you will wear your flying suits.” He paused for a moment, allowing the prospect to register. “Quite humor – ous—wouldn’t you agree?”

We awaited the afternoon with mounting apprehension, but dur­ing the morning Namoto and his assistants scarcely laid a hand on us. Clearly, it was the lull before the storm. Then, at last, the fated time arrived, and, true to his word, The Mantis had us don all of our fly­ing accoutrements: our feather-lined suits, boots, leather helmets and scarves-even our parachute packs!

Heat waves were shimmering on the airstrip as we commenced our usual hour of calisthenics, the weather extremely hot and humid. For the first few minutes our flying suits served as protection from the sun. One or two of the men even suggested that we should always wear fly­ing suits, but I was highly skeptical. Already the first few drops of sweat had formed under my arms and begun trickling down my side. The heat was building from within and had no means of escape. “In about five minutes you’ll find out how crazy you are,” I informed one of the more optimistic.

“Oh come on now, Kuwahara,” he retorted, “don’t always be such a pessimist.”

We were doing push ups side by side, and I grunted, “You’ll be changing your mind before its over, my friend.”

“No I won’t!”

“Fool!”

“Boob!”

Never before had anyone intimated that I was a boob. Unreason­ably furious, I got to my feet. “Stand up, shinpei!” I said, “and we’ll see who the boob is.”

Obligingly, he arose, grinning impudently, and I struck with all my strength, staggering him, but also losing my balance. We fell in a tangle among the other men, grappling awkwardly. There were curses, our comrades grabbing and separating us. Nakamura had hold of my arms. “Ease up!” he urged. “Do you want to get killed?”

By then, however, The Mantis was lashing away at us, though with only moderate effect because of our thick flying suits. As we stood, pant­ing, I was still seething with anger, literally trembling, but I also realized my stupidity. Already burning inside, I continued to pant, my throat dust-dry. Sweat was seeping from my forehead into my eyes, blurring the backs of the men before me. I was quivering uncontrollably now and my legs felt hollow. I refused to look at Tanaka, the man I had fought.

At the conclusion of our calisthenics fifteen minutes later we were virtually broiling in our suits, and that was only the beginning. Now it was time for our daily running.

We moved out like elephants in our heavy clothing under a blazing sun, and once I removed one of my gloves to test the heat of my flying suit. Its hot leather almost scorched my hand, and we lumbered steadily forward down the vast concrete expanse of our air field. Meanwhile, The Mantis pedaled comfortably along beside us on his bicycle dressed in nothing but his light-weight fatigues. The land of concrete seemed to stretch interminably, and at length I began to reflect upon the declaration of our commanding officer at the end of basic training: “The Imperial Way is a long way, never-ending. The Imperial Way will never end.”

“Long,” the words came, “long. . . long. . . .” repeating themselves regularly with every other stride. Yet now I could see only a short distance through my sweat-filled eyes. The Japanese way of life was destined to fill the earth as we were often told. Perhaps that was why it had to be such a long, hard way. Minute after minute our boots clumped rhythmically forward. Long. . . long. . . long. . . .

Intermittently my vision cleared, but why had I ever imagined that there was an end to the air field? And what direction were we going? I had no idea. On and on we went, boots clumping steadily, and gradu­ally it seemed that there were fewer men behind me. Ahead someone staggered and hit the concrete rolling. The runway was rocking now. Thirty seconds later another man grabbed his stomach, staggered and went down. As I passed his inert form, it seemed a bit as though he were sinking, sinking like a leaky boat into a flat gray sea.

Another man was going down now, tripping the one behind him. They too seemed to be vanishing, sinking inexorably into the concrete. Their bodies, I told myself, would become a part of it, and years hence when men broke up this strip to build a new one they would find the remnants, mere hollow statues. But even then I would still be running beneath the inferno of the sun, onward and onward into infinity.

On the other hand, perhaps I too would ultimately become a statue. If I were a statue with the rest I could be at peace. There in our family shrine I would know the inestimable bliss of nothingness. There in the cool of evening under the trees among the flowers, the cicadas singing, and Tomika would come quietly each day to cool the hard stone of my being with her tears. She would whisper, “My brother, my dearest brother.”

I never felt the airstrip rising to meet me. Tepid liquid from a can­teen sloshed against my face, and I saw the spokes of a bicycle wheel whirling by.