Brief Reunion


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.

Lighter than a Feather


t was the last of June, 1945, when I landed again at Oita. I had flown back through China, crossing over the East China Sea to avoid American fighters.

Frantic to see Toyoko, I rushed to the orderly room to report in. How would she react upon seeing me? Had she discovered that I was still alive? Perhaps, but Oita had merely received an official communication regarding my survival, one that might not be revealed to anyone outside the base. Furthermore, as I had discovered a day or two earlier, none of my personal letters to her or to my family had ever left Formosa. The mail in that area was largely inoperative.

The desk sergeant glanced up indifferently when I entered as though I had never left the base. “You’re to report to the commanding officer immediately, Kuwahara,” he said.

I stared at him. “Immediately?”

“Yes, immediately!”

Dumbfounded, I turned and shuffled out the door. My excitement had changed to dread, but there was nothing to do except clean up and change as quickly as possible.

There in the barracks countless thoughts surged through my mind. I had supposed that Uno’s report two weeks ago was sufficient. What more could I tell Captain Tsubaki than he had already learned? Soon I was striding across the base at an ever increasing pace. What could he want? Not even giving me time to catch my breath? Didn’t the man have any idea what I’d been through? That I had just flown all the way from Formosa?

Upon entering Tsubaki’s office, I found him deeply preoccupied with a great pile of paper work, and for a moment he failed to acknowledge my presence. Nevertheless, I reported crisply in the prescribed manner and held my salute.

Seconds later the Captain looked up, gazing at me a bit oddly as though we had never met before. Then, peremptorily, he returned my salute, barely fanning his eyebrow and turned back his papers. “Be seated, Kuwahara,” he said. Eventually he regarded me again, and this time his expression was somewhat different, intensely searching, unnerving. Where, I wondered, had I seen that look before?

“How are conditions in Formosa?” he inquired. Momentarily I was tongue tied, wondering what he expected.

“You mean, Honorable Captain. . .” I mumbled.

“Planes, ammunition, fuel. . . morale! What’s going on there?”

For a second or two I struggled with the urge to be evasive, then decided on bluntness. ‘There is little left of anything,” I said. “Anywhere. Kochi, the base where I was stationed this past two weeks, is dying. Day before yesterday, in fact. . . .” I hesitated.

“What? In fact, what?”

“One of our Kamikaze turned back and dived into the main hangar. The one next to it was full of fuel, and both of them went up along with about twenty fighters.”

“Remarkable,” Tsubaki mused. “But why? Did anyone ever find out?”

“Yes, Honorable Captain. He left a message insisting that we had already lost the war and that he hoped his death would save the lives of others.”

“Remarkable,” Tsubaki repeated, “quite remarkable.” Leaning back, arms folded, he perused the upper walls and part of the ceiling as though searching for an answer. “Rather ironic as well, wouldn’t you say?” I stared at him uncertainly, and he shrugged, holding out his hands. “A Kamikaze, attacking his own military. Isn’t that a bit ironic?”

“Yes, Honorable Captain,” I answered. “I understand what you are saying.”

“So what is your view of the situation?” he asked. “Of the war itself.”

The question shocked me, and for a second or two, I merely looked at him, feeling my throat working. “I am a mere corporal, Honorable Captain,” I finally replied.

“That does not matter!” he insisted, almost angrily. “You have been there at the heart of it. What is your honest, objective view of the war?”

For a moment I faltered, groping for words. “The enemy is triumph­ing, honorable Captain,” I said, and for an awful moment feared I might actually begin crying. Crying in the presence of my commanding officer! Literally a humiliation worse than death. “Everywhere.” I stared hard at the floor, feeling my eyes sting. “Okinawa. . . Formosa. . . everywhere! Soon the enemy will be at our shores, fire bombs from the B-29’s descend­ing upon every city, as they have before upon Tokyo and other places.” I felt the swelling in my throat, the choking sensation. “Nothing remains but the dying.”

The captain made no reply. No sound but the distant droning of mo­tors—omnipresent yet steadily fading, fading more each day it seemed. Etherizing.

“So what is it like out there over Okinawa?” I glanced up. Tsubaki was gazing through the window toward the ocean. Again, I struggled for a reply. “Indescribable I suppose,” he said quietly.

“Yes, Honorable Captain—indescribable.”

“You lost your best friend in that last attack,” Tsubaki observed, and again I felt surprise. Until then I had no idea that he was even aware of my relationship with Tatsuno.

“Yes, honorable Captain. Two of my best friends—Nakamura also I’m afraid.”

Yoshiro Tsubaki nodded, pursing his lips, inhaling deeply. Still the distant gaze, his eyes reflecting the afternoon light, filled with a faint but steady burn­ing. “Mere boys.” He shook his head. “Out there in the sky. . . planes falling apart, and all that fire coming up.”

I waited, merely waited. What was there to say?

“And the enemy? Do you hate the enemy with a burning passion? Long for his annihilation?”

“Sometimes I hate the enemy, Captain,” I replied cautiously. “Some­times. . . .”

“Yes?” Tsubaki’s face welled with perception.

“Sometimes I hate—”

“Our leaders in Tokyo?”

I took a deep breath, feeling my entire body quiver. “Yes!” My voice cracked. “I hate them for what they have done to this nation, for their eternal lies to our people! The Daihonei! Even after the bombs have fallen upon their very heads, their voices will swell up from the ground like sewer gas. ‘All is well, oh people of Japan! Fear not, gullible, stupid people ofJapan! This is all a part of the glorious plan!’” I buried my face in my hands, forcing back the sobs. “Whose plan?” Simultaneously, I was dimly aware that I had spoken rank heresy, words that might well justify a general court martial, even execution. But what did it matter?

At last I glanced up, biting my lower lip. I could feel my own face hardening with hopeless anger. But Tsubaki was again gazing out the window, and his countenance seemed to have aged, grown more haggard with each passing minute. “Mere boys and all that fire coming up,” he repeated. “And I have to send them.”

I waited, felt the growing sense of expectation, inevitability. “Cor­poral Kuwahara. . . .”

“Yes, Honorable Captain.”

“You have seen a lot of war this past year. Much sorrow, much death and destruction. Experienced more than a million other men will experience, in a million years.” I waited. Tsubaki sighed. “Of course, we could have sent you long ago, but you have an excellent record. You have been of great value to your country.”

“Thank you, Honorable Captain,” I said, scarcely able to hear my own words. “It is only a small and humble effort.”

“No!” Tsubaki insisted. “It is far more than that.” The sound of motors was expanding now. “But, at last the time has come.” I nodded, head bowed. The motors ever louder, the locust-like ringing in my ears suddenly exploding in volume. “I would change it, if I could, Corporal Kuwahara. Believe me, I would change the entire world. But I am only the commander of a doomed squadron—what little remains. Now, however, the end has come. For everyone left.”

My hands were shaking. The muscles were twitching in my arms and legs, my heart lurching. I closed my eyes, waiting, and the words came. “Are you prepared?”

As though listening to a recording, I heard my own reply, virtually inaudible through all the roaring and ringing. “Yes, honorable Captain. I am honored to be deemed worthy. I wish to go as soon as possible.” Again Tsubaki sighed. “That is commendable. You will return to Hiro within the hour.” Within the hour! Incredible! “Your orders will come within a week or two.”

“Hiro?” I glanced at him in surprise.

“Yes. Part of it has been restored.” Tsubaki stood, unwilling now to look at me, and I also arose. The room was slowly churning. I was very dizzy. “Sayonara, Corporal Kuwahara.”

“Sayonara, Honorable Captain.”

Seconds later I was headed for my quarters to pack my belongings. The military never allowed a man to stay in one spot very long; never a place he could call home. Always juggling men around like spare parts. I passed the barracks where Nakamura had lived, then further on, the one for Tatsuno. Stayed but not stayed, lived but not lived, gone yet not gone. They could not be gone; they had to be somewhere, like the wind. Yet only their belongings remained and had probably been sent to their families by now.

Then a disconcerting thought struck me. What had become of Tatsuno’s little finger? He had entrusted it to my care, and somehow amid all the chaos I had almost forgotten about it. Dismayed, I altered my course, heading for my Hayabusa. Simultaneously, visions of Toyoko surfaced in my mind for the hundredth time—alternately bright and vibrant, then like wraiths fading within the mist. My eyes blurred, and I clenched my teeth. All these stupid tears, this craven bawling. I was compromising myself badly, failing to be a man. My time had come at last, only a matter of days. Then no more worries.” I trudged blindly on­ward, my soul grayer than the concrete. But why should I be any different than the rest? I wondered. Why should Kuwahara be exempted when thousands of others were called upon to make the great sacrifice? Why Tatsuno and Nakamura. . . Oka and Yamamoto, but not Kuwahara? I was expendable like all the rest. In the end, were we not all expendable? All of mankind? It was only a matter of time for everyone.

“Be resolved that honor is heavier than the mountains, while death is lighter than a feather.” Yes, lighter than a feather, and that I would cling to. Ahead was my Hayabusa, waiting stoically. My salvation, my companion in death. Waiting so steadfastly, so patiently. . . so faithfully. In moments, we would ascend skyward together once more and return to Hiro, our source of origin. Because aircraft were now so scarce, we would probably remain together as always. Companions unto the end. The thought gave me a little comfort.

Upon nearing my plane, I encountered a bomber pilot named Taka- hashi whom I had known casually at Hiro. He had just finished going over his aircraft with two of our mechanics. I waved and he grinned. “Checking it out?” I called.

An elaborate shrug. “Right! But who knows why? Haven’t dropped a bomb in the past month.” Then he regarded me more seriously. “Tak­ing off?”

I nodded. “Hai, in about an hour—back to Hiro.” For a second I paused, reflecting. “Still going to the Tokiwaya?”

“Right!” He held up his thumb, grinning. “Good duty!”

“You remember that girl I’ve been going with? Toyoko Akimoto?”

The grin widened. “Hai! Who doesn’t?”

I hesitated. “Well, she thinks I’m. . . .” Suddenly I was feeling foolish, humiliated. “She probably doesn’t know I made it back from Okinawa.

He watched me expectantly. “You want me to tell her anything?”

For a moment I wavered, riddled with indecision. What could he tell her? That I was scheduled to die? No, I’d have to decide what to do once I was back at Hiro. Maybe get her a message some way, or maybe just. . .

. He was watching me curiously, waiting. “Tell her I’m still alive—that they shipped me back to Hiro the minute I got here.” Again, I hesitated. “Tell her I’ll contact her before long, if they’ll let me.”

Takahashi nodded, his face turning sober, and tossed me a half wave, half salute. “All right, Yasbei! Good luck!”

I smiled. He had called me “Yasbei”—probably the only person left who would ever honor me that way. “Thanks, Takahashi,” I answered. “Same to you. Be sure to tell her.”

“Right—definitely. I’ll be sure to.”

What I wanted to say was, “Tell her that I miss her desperately, that I love her beyond belief.” But that would have to come later if it ever came at all.

A minute or two afterward I climbed into my fighter. Yes, to my relief, Tatsuno’s finger was still there wrapped in a handkerchief beneath the control panel, blackened and shriveled, beginning to smell of decay, but I would see at all costs that it reached his family.

Slowly I left the cockpit, sliding languidly off the wing, and planted my feet on the concrete runway. Simultaneously, a strange thing hap­pened. A tiny gray feather came lilting and tumbling toward me across the concrete, probably from one of the numerous pigeons that frequented the area. It caught in a rough spot almost at my feet, quivering impulsively in the breeze as though blessed with a life of its own.

For a time I watched, wondering how far it might journey. To what distant place? Suddenly, on impulse, I stooped and picked it up. Ah, Yasbei, Yasbei! How crazy you are! Crazy, yes, but I put the feather in my pocket.

The Praying Mantis


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


“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!”



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.

Battle with the Giants


iro! Hiro again. I had been away only two months, but it might as well have been two years. What was time? Something I would never comprehend. I merely knew that nothing was more relent­less. Nothing was as relentless as time or as constant as change. And Hiro had indeed changed drastically.

Despite efforts at reconstruction, the base was badly ravaged. The main hangar and several of the barracks were charred ruins. Part of the airfield had been bombed so heavily, it was for the present beyond repair. Tumbled patches of concrete, craters six to eight feet deep. Even the water tower was gone, the tower from which one of our trainees had leapt to his death in days gone by. Where Hiro obtained its water now I did not know.

The barracks from my fighter training was gone, burned to ashes, but the one from basic remained, and after reporting to the orderly room

I paid it a visit. Empty now. Wandering its length, I realized that time was relative, even to the dust. The dust of centuries lay upon the empty bed springs, upon the lockers, and across the floor.

Few things are more empty, more lonely than a moribund military installation. Yet now, ironically, I felt twinges of nostalgia. Nostalgia for the trials of basic training? Ridiculous, yet in a way I even missed The Pig and his henchman The Snake. Standing there alone, I wondered what had become of them.

No signs of basic training whatever now, so perhaps they had been assigned elsewhere. Perhaps they had been killed in the bombing. The thought afforded no satisfaction, only more emptiness.

I walked the length of the barracks very slowly, staring down at my feet, each step leaving its imprint in the dust. Where had all that dust come from? Glancing about, I saw a dozen shattered windows and im­mediately had my answer. Great clouds of it from all the bombing. The entire base was covered with it.

Approaching the rear door, I spotted two ball bats leaning there to my left in the corner of the room. I shook my head, felt my lips forming a wan smile. Of course, of course! The wonderful ball bats! Hefting one, I felt its smoothness, blew away the dust and gave a violent, echo­ing sneeze. But no one was there to hear, only the pervasive quality of absence. Through watering eyes I read the familiar inscription: “Yamato damashii Seishinbo”—a ball bat for instilling the fighting spirit, the spirit of Yamato.

So there was little to do now but wait, merely exist while the days expired. A few of our fighter pilots were filtering back to the base now, most of whom I had known in passing at Oita, all like myself awaiting the final word. In consequence, we were placed on alert, restricted to the base, and time languished in the mounting heat of July, stifling us in its vapor.

In the midst of it all, I returned to the abandoned barracks, sat down on the back steps, and wrote a letter.

“Dear Toyoko: . . .”

For a long time, I sat there, my pen suspended as though the very ink were full of indecision.

“I am still among the living, waiting for my orders—orders that may come any day, any hour. Yet even so. . . .” Again I hesitated fraught with uncertainty. “I still cling to your words the last time we were together. Remember? You said that the war would end in time. You said that something strange and unexpected would happen. What that might be, I have no idea and don’t suppose you do either. Perhaps no one does.

“In any event, it must come soon or I will be gone along with nearly everyone remaining here.” My hand began to tremble, the words be­coming wavery. “But always remember, Toyoko. . . .” My throat was tightening badly as though I had swallowed a handful of the dust all around me. My eyes watered, and my body shook with a strange, shud­dering gasp.

“That whatever happens, I will always love you. I will always be here somewhere, like the wind among the lanterns.” For a long time I wept silently, making no effort to control my shaking. The final words were badly scrawled, and the page was becoming damp.

“Perhaps some night I will come to ring the chimes on your balcony. I pray that you will remember me when you hear them ringing, and when you hear waves along the shore. Most of all, I pray that you are safe and well. I pray for your eternal happiness.”

That afternoon, I mailed the letter, not knowing whether it would ever leave the base post office—or if so, whether mail was even being delivered at Oita. Yet somehow, in some slight way, putting those words on paper helped.

And somehow, also, those final days squirmed by. Each bleak hour expired, leaving its faint and fetid aftermath, dissolving at times in the fiery breath of an occasional air battle.

We almost welcomed them now—anything to relieve the curse of waiting, and we fought with great abandon, caring little whether we lived or died. Life assumes a different perspective when only a little remains, yet ironically, our very daring seemed to preserve us. Two of us downed an enemy fighter in a surprise attack near Kure one day, then fled almost before the Americans knew what had happened. As our victim plummeted toward the bay, I decided that my only answer was to hurl fear to the winds.

Do not be afraid—there is nothing to lose! It gave one a special magic. Strike the enemy hard and fast before he strikes you. Then van­ish. Yes, now that there was no hope, it was easy to attack fearlessly. I knew how to use the clouds and the sun; they were my friends. The enemy could send a thousand planes—no matter. We would somehow be there, a dwindling few, to slash at their tails and send them on their way to hell.

A week passed. . . two weeks. . . incredibly, nearly a month. It was now almost August, and I was still awaiting my summons—day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. How does one exist under such circum­stances? He exists because he exists. There is no alternative but death, by one’s own hand or otherwise. Throughout it all, however, was the faint, pale hope that the war would end. It seemed increasingly obvious that the sun was setting. No longer was the Nippon Empire The Land of The Rising Sun. And still, as well, I clung to Toyoko’s promise: “The war will end! The war will end in time!”

What a bizarre kind of race, my own doom running neck and neck with the doom of my country. What endless feelings of ambivalence. And yet. . . again increasingly I reflected upon the words of Namoto’s mother: “Listen to me, my sons. . . there is no honor in dying for a lost cause.” Nor was there any advantage. What, in practical reality, could be accomplished now, even if every last remaining one of us, by some absurd quirk of fate, sank an enemy ship? They were limitless, impla­cable. More and more now, my bitterness toward our obstinate, idiotic leaders in Tokyo transcended my hatred for the enemy.

Nevertheless, we fought on.

Near the end of July we learned that a force of B-29’s was flying southwest of Osaka, probably slated to pummel that city, then split, striking Matsue and Okayama. Only four of us—a Lieutenant Shoji Mattu, sergeant, another corporal and I—were sent forth to meet them above Okayama. A pitiful few, another telling evidence that Japan was breathing her death rattles. Even so, we had covenanted together just before takeoff. Today we would send one of those thunderous Super­fortresses to its death.

Having calculated the time of our encounter with the 29’s, I did some additional planning. Our flight would carry us over Onomichi, my very home. Why not stage a brief aerobatic performance for the students at Onomichi High School—perhaps even for my own family and neighbors? It seemed a fine idea, and my three companions were all enthusiastic.

Shortly before take-off I sat down to write a brief message, merely a few words of devotion to my family. Merely a few words, because I had only seconds and didn’t know what to say. What could I tell them? That I would soon be receiving my final orders? No, no sense in it. None at all. They would find out soon enough. Still, I had to leave them something. It was apparent from their letters, that most of my own were not being delivered, nor had I received much word from them in some time.

After pondering the matter briefly, I scribbled down a few words, telling them that I was again at Hiro, that I was “well”, that I hoped and prayed they were. Simultaneously I almost wondered whether my family still existed, whether they ever had. The aura of unreality was steadily growing more powerful. Lately, in fact, there had been disqui­eting moments when I could no longer conjure up their images. I was literally forgetting what they looked like.

I rolled the message up and placed it in a metal tube to which I had attached a long white streamer. It was essential that the descent be clearly visible, that someone find it and make the delivery according to the enclosed instructions.

Minutes after leaving the landing field, I was gazing down upon familiar territory—the shipyards, the shore line where the fishermen dwelt, the main buildings of town, those that remained. Many of them had been demolished, but the radio station was still standing along, as I had devoutly hoped, with my high school. My own home neighbor­hood, secluded within the Senkoji Mountains, still appeared to be in tact as well.

A group of students on the school athletic field gazed up as we began our descent. Plummeting down, my companions close behind, I could see their upturned faces. Seconds later, however, I glanced back, steeply climbing, and was astonished to see them scattering for cover.

Shaking my head, I grinned, even laughed. Green kids!

The lieutenant’s voice crackled over my intercom. “Don’t even know their own planes!”

“Act like they’ve never even seen them before,” I fired back, then grew more serious. Very probably they had not seen any, not for a long time. Soon, though, they emerged from hiding and were beginning to wave. I could see their faces clearly, practically hear their cries. With only seconds to spare, we plunged at them, spiraling crazily, pulling out at treetop level, rocking the buildings with our thunder. On our third and final pass we arched over the field, banking hard to avoid the encircling mountains. Students had flooded from every exit and were waving joyfully. Angling, low I released my message, saw it fluttering earthward.

People were even appearing from some of the houses now, but as I passed over my own there was no sign of life, and in seconds the city was falling behind. . . fading. . . gone. What a peculiar sensation. Everything, my home included, had looked so different from the air. Once more Onomichi was only a fond illusion. I had not returned home after all.

Soaring onward toward our special rendezvous, I wondered what would become of my people, those innocent young girls? How many of them, of our women, would the enemy use according to its whims? A vanquished nation is a plundered nation, spared no cruelty or humilia­tion. Well, regardless of what might come, today the enemy would feel our sting.

Not long afterward we neared Okayama, and soon, exactly as calcu­lated, the B-29’s appeared—only six of them, but ominous nonetheless, forging their way eastward at fifteen thousand feet, flanked by a dozen Hellcats. The 29’s were indeed awesome, considerably larger and more formidable than the 17’s we had encountered earlier in the war. Six of them, lethal leviathans trailing vapor against a purple sky.

Our lieutenant signaled, and I felt my mouth tighten, the upper lip puffing with air, as we climbed and circled to their rear. At the moment our enemy was apparently unaware of us. The Japanese Army Air Force, once a formidable power, was now only a mockery, and the 29’s lumbered ponderously onward. Relentlessly! Utterly remorseless. The Americans simply kept coming and coming, more and more and more, ever growing in numbers and size.

Only when we plummeted downward from the sun were they aware of us. Lining up the rear Fortress in my range finder, I began firing, and it swiftly retaliated with a vicious barrage of its own. Others were opening fire as well, and the Hellcats swarmed into action, intent on living up to their name.

Roaring downward behind our lieutenant, I saw the tracers racing toward and past us, all in an instant, all very near. . . saw them strik­ing home. The lieutenant’s plane seemed to shudder momentarily like someone taking a savage body blow. Then, casting off streamers of smoke and flame, it persisted. Portions of the fuselage were ripping apart, but miraculously he continued, slicing directly through the tail section of the lead bomber and exploding.

Helplessly maimed, the B-29 spiraled downward in monstrous and moaning, ever-widening gyrations, its severed tail dropping vertically after the blackened and fading remains of Shoji Matta.

Almost simultaneously, I levered back on the stick, pulling out of my dive at more than five G’s, wavering, nearly tearing my wings off. For several seconds the blood drained from my head, and by the time I had recovered, the remaining bombers had surged onward, fanning and swerving to avoid the fate of their leader.

So suddenly, both our lieutenant and the B-29—gone! Incredulous, I followed the rapidly vanishing enemy, gradually climbing as I gained on them. The huge bombers were remarkably swift, and it required two or three minutes for me to close the gap. As I moved in on the trailing bomber it began to zigzag erratically, opening up with its tail guns, and the Hellcats were circling ravenously, coming at me from almost every direction.

I was only two hundred yards above the elusive 29 now and about that far behind. Time for the attack, and I angled into a steep dive, charging at him full bore, pivoting on my axis, aileron rolling down at well over four hundred miles an hour. The 29’s turret guns, both front and rear, were opening up now. I had completed my final roll—too late to worry about being elusive—air speed approaching five hundred, fir­ing attenuated bursts directly at its nose area.

Now the enemy was looming, larger than life, disgorging a withering barrage, graphing the air all about me with the sinister red lines. But I was flying as never before, undeterred, and the monster veered off even more sharply, undoubtedly expecting to be rammed. I watched my own tracers arch, seeming to curve, stitching their seam backward along his wing and fuselage. Making contact! The B-29 was coughing smoke, and I felt a diabolical surge of elation. Triumph! Revenge!

Now it was rapidly losing altitude, but still deadly. As I screamed past its massive rudder, the tail guns were ripping away without compromise, the hot lead ravaging my wings and fuselage. Yes, the familiar, ominous sledge hammer sounds, and a Hellcat was firing away at me from the rear. Two others were charging in from the side.

Pulling out radically, I hit the stick and rudder pedal, swerving left and climbing. Only one of the Grummans was still with me at this point. Trail­ing the others, he had anticipated me. I was circling hard, still bidding for altitude, and upon completing a full 360 degrees, I glanced back over my shoulder. The enemy was still there, slightly above, determined to cut inside my arc. . . banking so closely that I could distinctly see the pilot. The sun was glinting on his goggles, his white teeth bared in a triumphant grin.

A confident American, an expression I will never forget, for suddenly I was terribly afraid, afraid as never before, my veins filling with ice crystals. Not so much fear for myself actually as for another reason. Somehow that expression, that mere single glimpse, symbolized the hopelessness of our plight as nothing else ever had.

The contest was over, and I dropped away radically, barrel rolling. . . plunging straight downward for thousands of feet as I had done the month before over Okinawa. Two of the enemy, apparently pursuing my comrades, fanned off startled as I thundered by, missing one of them by only a few yards.

Down, down, down, spinning. . . at last dropping straight. Pulling out perilously near the earth, fighting off the blackness. Escape once more, and I was gunning homeward at full throttle. Momentarily, despite all, I rejoiced in our good fortune. In addition to the 29 destroyed by our lieutenant, a second had also gone down. How I wanted to claim that monster for my own, to see it hit the water! Undoubtedly, it was the bomber with which I had done battle. I had not witnessed its actual de­mise, however, nor had others been on hand to verify what occurred.

Later I learned that a B-29 had crashed near Okayama, its crew bailing out over the inland sea.

Full Reparation


e devised no further schemes for some time. Namoto’s practi­cal joke had left an impressive impact. Several men had been hospitalized afterward, in fact, from heat prostration. Nevertheless, his savagery continued almost unabated, and again someone managed to obtain poison. Again heated arguments. “I don’t care what they do to me,” the would-be assassin had muttered. “At least that rotten devil will get what’s coming to him. And he’ll never hurt anyone again.”

“Yes, but what will happen then?” someone else challenged. “Not just to you but to all of us—the whole squadron?” After a day or two the poison was poured down the toilet.

Barely a week later I underwent my first unpleasant experience in the air because of a far less deadly alternative. Our rancor against The Mantis had reached another crest, and we were contemplating more games. Certainly our relationship with that strange person was bizarre, to say the least—indeed, even incredible. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to explain the perverse spirit that enticed us to continue in the face of such retaliation. The term “sado-masochism” seems most appropriate here, however, for in striking back against Rentaro Namoto we inevitably emerged on the losing end.

That latter in mind, we decided our next attack should at least be more subtle than, say, tripping him down the stairs. “How about a good, strong laxative in his food?” Nakamura said, “enough to make him shit his pants, shit enough to fertilize a whole rice paddy?”

“He already does that with his mouth,” Moriyama said.

“Sleeping pills!” Oka exclaimed. “Why not sleeping pills? He’d never make morning formation. Then he’d be in big trouble—they might even demote him to private, even throw him out.”

Tanaka, the man with whom I had fought earlier, laughed boister­ously. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Rentaro Namoto a shinpei. We’d give him such a bad time he’d go over the fence the first week.”

I shook my head. “No. No matter what else you say about him, The Mantis is tough. He would never break.”

“Aaa,” Tanaka sneered, “he’d bawl for his mother the first day. He’d go hang himself.” I stared at him in disbelief, fighting down the anger. The feeling had been festering ever since our scrap on the airstrip. One thing I could always count on with Tanaka—we would rarely agree on anything. And always, that impudent grin. I could imagine smashing his stupid face in, changing it so that even his mother wouldn’t recognize him—except for one thing. The grin would still be there.

“All right, shinpei” I said, “go ahead and get the sleeping pills. We’ll see who’s right.”

“All right, shinpei’ He gave an exaggerated bow. “I will since every­body knows you don’t have the guts for it.”

“Oh, really?” I snapped. “Well, at least I’ve got enough to take you on. That doesn’t call for any guts at all, in fact.” At that point we would have come to blows a second time if our friends had not prevailed upon us to calm down.

Despite our animosity, I found myself eagerly awaiting the results of Tanaka’s efforts. Unfortunately, he was never able to procure the neces­sary pills. How anybody had managed to obtain poison, in fact, was a mystery most of us never unraveled.

Gradually another plan took form which everyone involved re­sponded to with enthusiasm, and it also included the men from another barracks. “We’ll fix your hancho if you’ll help us fix ours,” Nakamura advised them. “What we need right now are the needles from every man’s sewing kit in your barracks. We’ll trade you our own in a day or two.” At first there was great reluctance, but eventually we prevailed because of the plan’s uniqueness and apparently minimal risk.

Shortly after ten one night while The Mantis was enjoying himself in town, four of us sneaked into his room and turned down the covers on his bed. Next we inserted the needles heads downward into his mattress so that the points barely projected above the surface. Then we carefully re-made the bed, having stretched the undersheet so taut that nothing was visible beneath it, and returned to our quarters.

There we sat on our cots in the dark, whispering and laughing. “I hope he has sweet dreams,” someone said.

“Their holy men sleep that way in India,” Yamamoto said. “We can’t have them outdoing us.” We were all brimming with mirth and hilarity, partly, no doubt, because of our anxiety.

“Hey, hey, look at me,” Oka called. “I’m Namoto—I’m lover boy!” Staggering down the dark aisle, he yawned and stretched blissfully. “Good night, my children. Pleasant dreams,” he murmured and slowly lay back on his cot. We watched closely in the dim light as Oka’s eyes closed then suddenly popped open, his mouth forming a silent, agonized scream. Legs and arms flailing, he catapulted to his feet and began leap­ing about wildly, yelping and clutching at his rear.

An amusing performance, one that nearly broke us into convulsions. Then Yamamoto and Nakamura launched their own versions, and by now everyone in our section was awake, listening. “What this time?” someone groaned.

“Oh, Oka and Kuwahara and those othergokudo,” Moriyama replied. “More of their stupid tricks, getting the whole squadron into trouble again.” It was now after eleven, and eventually we went to sleep.

Following morning chow all the men from our barracks were sum­moned to Namoto’s office in the orderly room. For a moment he sat there, contemplating the ceiling, idly drumming his fingers on the chair arms and trying to decide, it appeared, whether we were actually worthy of his attention. Projecting from the top of the table in front of him in four neat, silver rows were sixty needles.

Eventually he plucked one of them up and sighted at a spot on the wall with it, closing one eye. “Well?” he said. No reply. “We never thought of this one when I was in pilot school. Very clever. Yes in­deed—very clever!” Suddenly his chair slammed upright. Regarding us balefully and shaking his head, he said, “And, of course, you don’t know a thing about these, do you?” Stiffening, he pointed at Nakamura. “You, pimple face!” Nakamura’s acne had worsened considerably of late for some reason. “Let’s have an answer!”

Nakamura swallowed, struggled to reply, and failed.

“Splendid! A nice, direct answer. It seems rather strange, though, my fine pimple face, that you manifest no surprise, no lack of understanding. Apparently you know what I’m referring to—correct?”

Nakamura swallowed again. “No,” he managed at last. “I mean, no honorable hancho-dono.”

“Hmmm. . . .” The Mantis mused. “Not a very convincing liar, is he?” He plucked another needle from table. “So all right!” Rising abruptly, he commenced pacing the room. Once he paused before Moriyama, staring at him through cold, remorseless eyes. Even his eyes were mantis-like. “No, no. . . you wouldn’t know, would you? Too stupid.” Casually he flipped Moriyama’s nose so hard his eyes watered. Then we were dismissed.

As we filed out, however, he called, “Just one minor detail, friends. Every single man in this squadron will bring his sewing kit to morning formation. See that the other sections are informed.”

Upon discovering that all our kits contained the requisite needle, The Mantis appeared impassive. He merely complimented us upon our strategy, adding that he had prepared a special token of appreciation. Then we were dismissed.

The morning passed rather tranquilly. Even our physical training was uneventful. Then came our flying lessons, and The Mantis unveiled his plan. “A short time ago,” he observed, “some of you apparently became rather warm while wearing your flying suits. Worked up a slight sweat. Even became a bit weary—correct?” He nodded slowly, steadily, confirming his own words. “Well, that may have been somewhat unkind, now that I think about it. So today, just to show you what a grand fellow I am, we will forego the hot suits during flying practice. How does that strike you?”

Minutes later as I climbed into the rear cockpit of an Akatombo, the instructor before me turned, and I realized that it was our old nemesis from basic training. Sakigawa, alias The Snake. “Greetings, Kuwahara.” His grin was both mischievous and empathic. As I began to fasten my safety belt, he shook his head. “No safety belts allowed, Kuwahara—Namoto’s orders.”

“No seat belt?” I was shocked.

“Afraid not,” he replied, “sorry.” Another surprise. The Snake actu­ally sounded as if he meant it, as if perhaps he even liked me!

We took off, climbing rapidly. At about five thousand feet The Snake glanced back at me. The sunlight glinted on his goggles, and his eyes appeared to be mere slits. “Hang on tight!”

Already the chill air was buffeting me through the open cockpit.

“Don’t let go!” Seizing the dead controls, I watched and felt the world turn upside down-felt it rushing toward us. We were forming a lazy loop, and I pulled my chin against my chest, thrusting my knees upward beneath the control panel. Black spots clotted my vision, and we began our first descent, pulling out, slicing into a cloud bank. I had almost tumbled from the cockpit!

The spots faded slightly, but already we were heading into another loop. Terrified, I grasped my seat straps, and felt the sky wrench at me like the hands of a giant, tearing at the corners of my mouth, at my clenched eyelids, roaring ferociously within my ears. Desperately, I tightened every muscle, grimacing, striving to resist the tearing, freezing wind.

For a time, I did not know whether we had leveled out or not, liter­ally which side was up. As I struggled to regain my breath, we nosed over into sharp, downward spiral By now my forehead was freezing, my stomach churning savagely. I had never known such overwhelming nausea. The vomit erupted from my throat, even my nostrils, spraying about the cockpit, sheening off into the air.

My vision blurred, and I struggled desperately to keep from faint­ing. At last, though, we were preparing to land. The black spots were slowly fading, but I was so numb from the cold Sakigawa had to assist me from the cockpit.

All of the men in our squadron underwent the same experience that day, and for several minutes afterward most of us were unable to stand.

Our facial muscles were so cold it was impossible to speak. We were so devastated, in fact, that The Mantis half apologized. “After all, men,” he piously intoned, “this is the Imperial Army Air Force. You must ac­custom yourselves to things like this or end up as miserable failures. The mind and spirit must learn to prevail over the body!”

Unfortunately, that was not the only unpleasant occurrence in the Akatombo, not by any means. Only a week or so later, I underwent a far worse one, something so amazing that to this day I cannot fully explain it. Moreover, the consequences were far more traumatic than any I had yet encountered.

Six of us were flying formation at about ten thousand feet, The Mantis in the lead, when his voice buzzed over the intercom,

“Today we will find out just how well you have learned your ma­neuvers. We will now play follow the leader.” Second in formation, I followed behind as he made a wide bank right, angled into a dive and began to loop up and back the opposite direction. I followed him all the way with relative ease, pulling out close on his tail. Then, for some strange reason, instead of slowing, I accelerated.

Sensing our proximity, The Mantis veered and began climbing, but I followed precariously near. It was an odd sensation, one wherein I seemed to be under the control of some perverse force beyond myself, as though suddenly I had been hypnotized. The Mantis performed a half loop, righting himself at the apex, and by now he was ranting into my ear phones. “Get off my tail, you madman! You stupid idiot! Drop back!”

Already the rest of our flight was trailing at some distance. The Mantis angled into a steep dive, and I followed as though attached by a cable. Had he been piloting a faster, more maneuverable craft I could not have stayed with him. But his attempts to escape in the trainer were futile. Twisting, rolling, climbing, circling. . . all to no avail. It was impossible to shake me, and with each passing second the thought of crashing into him, snuffing out his miserable life in mid-air, became more appealing—overwhelmingly. Simultaneously, I was terrified be­yond measure.

Cutting in a tight left circle, The Mantis bawled, “Turn right! Turn right!” The order, meant nothing. It had no more meaning than the quacking of a duck or the braying of a jackass. Instead, I turned left, cutting inside his arc, and we missed colliding by only a few feet.

Desperately, The Mantis headed full throttle for the mountains above Fukugawa, and soon we were roaring between their shoulders, winnowing insanely down a long ragged valley. A bearded ridge loomed before us, and I pulled back on the stick as The Mantis climbed fran­tically— almost too late! His wing nicked off the tip of a pine. Still I followed, the victim of a terrifying yet relentless compulsion, and we continued to climb as one. Now we were ascending above the first peak, circling. Some extraordinary power beyond comprehension seemed to have virtually fused our two aircraft together.

Seconds later, something utterly unexpected happened, something incredible. Uttering a final, frantic oath, The Mantis bailed out! I watched in wonderment as his parachute billowed like a huge silken mushroom, snapping the plummeting figure beneath it into slow motion. Angling gently away on the morning breeze, it gradually grew smaller, and soon the figure beneath it was no larger than a doll. Then it was gone, vanishing into the folds of a distant valley. Moments after that, something flashed against the mountainside beyond. Namoto’s Akatombo had come to rest.

By now my head was roaring, my body like a swarm of bees. Perhaps I would have simply crashed somewhere, resolving it all forever, except for the warning voice buzzing against my ear drums. “Kuwahara! Go back, go back! Remember your family, remember the Emperor! You have an obligation!” It was The Snake, circling just above.

The entire episode, like the fragments of a bad dream, had lasted only a few minutes. Somehow I joined the main formation as sanity re­turned along with feelings of terrible dread. Minutes later I was landing with the others at Hiro, and approximately two hours after that I was summoned before the Commanding Officer. By now our frolic over the mountains of Fukugawa had attracted much attention.

The Mantis was already there, having been retrieved by one of our military vehicles soon after his parachute landing. He appeared to be uninjured except for a two or three scratches on his face and neck, ap­parently the result of tree branches. His eyes stared through me, bleak and frozen with hatred as I entered the office of our commanding officer, Captain Yoshiro Tsubaki.

“Be seated, Kuwahara,” the Captain said courteously. I sat, feeling a bit like someone on the electric chair, but our commander seemed completely unperturbed. “Now. . . .” he began, closing a large, black loose-leaf binder and pushing it to one side of his desk. “I wish to de­termine as precisely as possible what actually happened out there over Fukugawa this afternoon.” He frowned slightly and pursed his lips. “And above all, why. We will hear from you first, Namoto.”

The Mantis shot me an oblique glare. “Honorable Commanding Officer, I must tell you that this man is completely insane!” Tsubaki’s eyebrows arched quizzically. “An absolute lunatic.” The eyebrows arched still more. “During a routine flight practice, he disobeyed every order he was given and did everything in his power to ram me. Had I not bailed out, we would both be dead. He—”

“Exactly how long did he pursue you?” Tsubaki interjected. Did I detect I faint purr of irony? It was impossible to be certain.

“For several minutes, Honorable Commanding Officer. In fact, he—”

“An inexperienced trainee, and you were unable to elude him? Namoto’s features constricted. “The Akatombo does not possess the requisite speed and maneuverability, Honorable—”

“Yes, but even so. . . .” Namoto glowered, anger and humiliation seeming to exude from his very pores. The Captain stroked his jaw, frowning thoughtfully. “Curious. . . very curious. Many strange things have occurred since I arrived at Hiro, but never, never anything like this.”

Opening the drawer to his left, he extracted a pad of lined, yellow paper then plucked up a pencil as though to take some notes. Instead, however, he merely twirled it a time or two between his fingers and began tapping it on the desk top. “Of course, we have lost a hancho or two from time to time.” The Mantis stiffened, staring into the wall.

Still tapping the pencil, Mikami shot me a searching glance. “So what do you have to say about this, Kuwahara?”

I struggled to speak yet hadn’t the slightest idea how to reply. The words stuck in my throat, and after a moment the Captain merely gave a slight nod as though seeking to liberate them. “I do not know, Honorable Commanding Officer,” I stammered. My throat was painfully dry like that of someone languishing in a wasteland, my voice an embarrassing croak. “I. . . I, cannot explain.”

“Was it your intention to kill this man?”

I swallowed. “No, Honorable Commanding Officer. I just—”

“So what possessed you?” Tsubaki leaned forward on his elbows exploring my eyes intently with his own as though, perhaps, that would permit him to examine my brain. “Were you trying to retaliate in that manner?”

“No, Honorable Commanding Officer.” That was my second lie. “So desu ka!” The words hissed softly between his teeth.

“Were you. . . .” He bobbed his head a little from side to side, cast­ing a reflective glance about the ceiling. “Were you trying to show off for the others? Impress your fellow trainees?”

“No, I—”

“Honorable Commanding Officer!” The Mantis snapped, correcting me, but our inquisitor silenced him with an impatient wave of the hand. “So. . . hmmm, and when did you decide to do this thing?”

I swallowed again. My throat was dryer than ever. “I didn’t. I mean, I don’t know, Honorable Commanding Officer. I just followed—as he instructed us to. I—I just followed him.”

“So des. But weren’t you following a little too close for comfort? Ob­viously Sergeant Namoto thought so. He was so uncomfortable that he promptly bailed out permitting one of our perfectly good training planes to crash and burn.” Namoto’s jaw muscles tightened. His nostrils nar­rowed.

“I am extremely sorry, Honorable Commanding Officer,” I said and realized how foolish I sounded, how utterly senseless the entire absurd episode must seem to anyone of sound mind. Yet there was nothing more to say. The Mantis had commanded us to play follow the leader. I had followed.

For some time Tsubaki sat there, fingers locked, absorbed in thought. Once he massaged his brow. Once he shook his head and swore softly. Our commanding officer was a small man, one who would pass unnoticed even on the streets of Onomichi. But the military environment seemed to draw forth the largeness of his personality, his spirit. As on the day of his oration at the end of basic training, I could sense the big man dominating a smaller man’s body.

“Do you know what I wanted to be back in my college days?” he said suddenly. We both glanced at him startled. “I wanted to be. . . as a mat­ter of fact, I was determined to be. . . a psychiatrist. However. . . .” He reached in his shirt pocket for a cigarette, struck a match on the sole of his shoe, and lighted up. For a moment he puffed introspectively, squinting and expelling the smoke in rich blue swirls. “You know how these things go. Costs a lot of okane to become a doctor.”

Another puff, exhaling and jetting the smoke through his nostrils. Squinting almost painfully now. “Perhaps, private, you are like I was. My mother was a widow, and she worked like a slave to buy me a bicycle.” His expression was nostalgic. “I was—oh, not more than ten. Never even knew my father. But anyway, my older brother taught me how to ride.” He smiled faintly. “At least, he tried. Let’s put it that way.”

He shifted, leaning back in his chair, arms folded. “My brother already had a bicycle; Stole it, as I recall.” For some reason the thought struck us all as quite humorous, and Tsubaki even laughed a little. “Any­way, he was going to teach me the right way. ‘Follow me!’ That’s what he kept saying. ‘Just do what I do.’ I hardly even knew how to balance the damn thing, but that didn’t matter. I had to follow him.”

Another puff. “So. . .” He pursed his lips, frowning pleasantly, ab­sorbed in the distant past. “We were going along this narrow, little road out in the country, and I was beginning to get the hang of it. But every time I’d ask a question, my brother would just repeat himself. ‘Follow me—do everything I do.’ Before long, though, I started following too closely, and my front wheel must have hit a rock, because it rammed me into his rear wheel, and we both went down. Right into a newly dunged rice paddy!”

Suddenly all three of us were laughing—three comrades. That was the only time I ever heard The Mantis laugh, and it was like the caw­ing of a raven.

“Just do everything I do”! We were about ostracized from the com­munity for a while after that.” Our captain shook his head and wiped his eyes, but it was impossible to tell whether the tears were from laugh­ter or cigarette smoke. Perhaps both. “Silly damned brother. ‘Just do everything I do!’” Then he grew more serious. “Dead and gone now. Killed a long time ago during the war in China.”

There the conversation ended, and I was sent to the guardhouse to “reflect upon the consequences of your actions” or words to that effect. Certainly the commanding officer had treated me with astonishing consideration, but The Mantis wasted no time in seeking to balance the scales. Quietly he ushered me into my private prison, closing the door behind him.

“Maybe that stupid commander doesn’t intend that you should pay for this,” he muttered. For an instant my shock at his disrespect to Captain Tsubaki outweighed my fear regarding what lay ahead. Then I saw the club. “But believe me, you shall. For this indignity, you shall be repaid in full!” Reflexively, I ducked and flung up my arm to ward off the blow, but it came too fast, too hard. There was an explosion in my brain, and I seemed to hear the sound of wood against my skull—hear it with my entire body. Then I was swallowed into a great, swirling, black hole. No pain. Nothing.

Gradually I became aware of sensations, but for a time I was no particular person, merely a glimmer of something in an area of unfeel­ing. No sensation, except for the cold and dampness. Eventually words formed in my mind. “What am I doing in the ocean?” It occurred to me that I was dead. When you are dead they bury you beneath the earth, but somehow you keep sinking, sinking until you reach the ocean. You lie there quietly at the bottom of the ocean where it doesn’t hurt, beneath all harm. None, if you lie quietly with serenity and acceptance. But, of course, it is dark there and cold, very cold.

Yet something puzzled me. . . the sense of hardness. I was lying face down, carefully working my hands and fingers outward across the surface maintaining me. A floor—concrete. A concrete floor. Then, vaguely I began to remember. For a time I could not recall who I was, but I had angered someone, humiliated someone, incurred his animosity. I could feel the mounting hatred, growing powerful and virulent like the stench of a rotting carcass.

Who or what was the source, and how did it happen? Slowly my brain began to clear, echoing the last words I had heard: “For this indignity you shall be repaid in full.” The floor was not only cold and hard, it was also damp, and the taste of sea water lay on my tongue, sea water with a faint coppery flavor. Then I touched my face, feeling a sticky oozing sensation. It was beginning to throb, and the throbbing was expanding into my head. Above my left ear was a large swelling, half welt, half lump. My face was also very bruised and sore. It was impossible to determine how long I had lain there. Minutes or hours, I could not tell.

I touched my face again, felt the stickiness, and looked at my finger tips. They were smeared with blood, blood that looked as black as tar in the dim light. Now I remembered almost everything, but Namoto had struck me on the side of my head. Why the blood on my face? Perhaps I had scraped it as my body hit the concrete.

Painfully, I sat up, staring at an oblong square of light on the floor at my feet. The light was sectioned, and my gaze ascended slowly toward its source, the barred window. Struggling to arise, I hobbled to it and peered out.

Hiro was quiet, except for the remote, faintly strident voice of a han – cho marching recruits in the distance. Evening now. Again, I explored my face and decided from its extreme tenderness and the extent of the bruising that The Mantis had also used his feet. The guardhouse was merely a small empty room—no table, no cot, no chair, not even a straw tatami to lie upon.

For several minutes I simply stood there, gripping the bars, and looking out as the shadows of night extended. Not much to see except for an expanse of hard, yellow clay and an unlighted barracks. Soon my legs began to sag, and I eased myself to the floor, back scraping down the wall to keep from falling. Then I worked my way into the corner, drawing my knees up to rest my head and arms on them.

A clicking at the door startled me. It opened slightly as a guard leaned inside to place something on the floor. “Here’s your chow and a blanket,” he said. The door clanged shut. Suddenly I was very hungry, ravenous. Only rice, pickles, and water, but I gulped it all down in seconds like an animal, smearing my nose and chin. My face throbbed savagely, yet it didn’t matter. Some rice had fallen on the floor, but I pinched it up,

devouring it to the last kernel. Then I licked the bowl and my fingers.

The light pattern was brightening on the floor now, extending. Spreading my thin blanket, I lay on its outer edge and slowly, in great pain, rolled up in it. By rolling tight I could have two layers over and under me. A cold fall night was filtering through the bars, and for a time I shivered helplessly. Gradually, though, I became warmer and lay there, feeling the breath ease in and out of my mouth and nostrils. Somehow, by concentrating on each soft inhalation and exhalation, I could ease my misery.

Anyway, I had humiliated The Mantis irreparably I told myself. I had not only stayed with him but out flown him. Ironically, although I had insisted earlier that it could never be done, I myself had broken his steel nerve and vindicated the entire squadron. In a way, I was glad that he had treated me so viciously. Maybe he would consider that enough, and possibly the morrow would set me free. Eventually, I fell asleep.

My hopes, however, were in vain. My sojourn in the guard house proved to be the worst experience of my entire training. All the next day I waited, longing for release, but only two incidents lessened the emptiness of those hours. Once I was permitted to visit the latrine in the building nearby, and that evening I received another bowl of rice and pickles. This time I ate more slowly, carefully savoring each morsel. I tried to remind myself that food was unimportant, that one’s attitude was actually what counted. After all, hadn’t the early samurai been able to forego any food for days? When food was unavailable, they would sit calmly, picking their teeth, pretending to have just completed a sumptu­ous repast.

Completing my own sumptuous repast, I rolled up once more in my blanket, hoping to sleep until the morning. Hoping, in fact, that perhaps I could sleep most of the remaining time away. After about two hours of fitful dozing, though, I arose and began pacing about my cell. The floor had not grown any softer, nor had my special rolling-up technique kept the cold from gradually penetrating.

My shoulder blades and hip bones were becoming sore. One can only relax on concrete for so long. The left side of my head continued to ache viciously from the club blow, and my eyes were still black from The Mantis’ feet. Even though I could not see myself, I could tell from the painfully swollen tissue that he had kicked my face more than once. I decided that at least the punishment was probably over, that release would come soon.

The afternoon had vanished, and evening was thickening when someone called my name. “Kuwahara!” I awakened, startled, wondering if I had merely been dreaming. Several times during the day, words had sounded in my own mind. “Kuwahara! Hey, come over to the window!” No mistake this time. Undoubtedly, I decided, my friends were concerned about me. Maybe they had even brought some food.

“Gripping the bars, I peered out into the gathering darkness. A crick­et was chanting faintly, muted by the cold. “I’m here—who is it?”

“Are you all right? Let’s see your face. Is it getting any better?” The words filled me with hope.

Pressing my swollen visage part way through the bars, I whispered, “Nakamura? Who is it?”

“It is I!” a fiendish voice snarled, and something cracked, searing my face like a blow torch. Screaming, I staggered back against the wall. The Mantis had been crouching there with his whip. As I slumped to the floor, he hissed, “Why carry on so, young bastard? I was only checking to make sure that your face is all right.”

The lash mark traveled from my mouth upward across my cheek and the lower corner of one eye. The eye was watering profusely, and after several long minutes of agony I worked my way back to my blanket and draped it about my shoulders. Awkwardly, I rolled back up in it once more, leaving one hand free to gently stroke and pat the injured area. Each time I stopped it began to smart and burn insanely.

Thus I continued, deep into the night, dozing fitfully, trying over and over to will away the pain. At about four a. m. it began to dimin­ish a bit, and at last I slept more peacefully. Eventually I awakened to discover that the window had turned from gray to blue, and I arose to begin pacing about my cell. Off on the air strip motors were revving—a wonderful sound that made my skin tingle. Then a dismaying thought struck me. If I remained in the guardhouse much longer, my chances for making fighter school would be eliminated. My head began to teem with sickening possibilities, and at that moment the door grated open.

It was my friend, The Mantis. “Come over here!” he ordered. “Turn around!” So, another whipping. Well, I had received plenty of those before. Bitterly, I complied, telling myself that it was at least a break in the monotony, but I was no more prepared for what followed than I had been for my lash to the face that previous evening.

The first blow slammed me to my hands and knees. The second flattened me on the floor. The Mantis was using a length of wet rope about an inch and a half in diameter.

Time and again that day the same punishment was repeated. Heavy, braided rope with harsh, prickly strands, freshly soaked in water to in­crease its weight and solidity. One lash usually flung me down, and if it failed to knock me unconscious, I fainted from pain anyway. Again and again and again. . . waiting from one lashing to the next, quivering and moaning, swearing, pleading to the god who had forgotten me. When the guard opened the door for my daily trip to the latrine, I smothered a cry. When my supper came, I cowered in the corner, trembling. For several minutes after the guard’s departure I continued to shake, gnaw­ing on my knuckles. The rope treatment had been coming about every two hours.

Somehow the third day blurred into the fourth, and early that morn­ing rational thought returned. I began to wonder how The Mantis would react if the tables were turned. Could I make him cringe, and grovel, plead for mercy? Well, I had accomplished the unimaginable only a short time earlier, forcing him to abandon his plane.

Nevertheless, his reaction seemed exceptionally atypical. To my knowledge that was the only time anyone had shattered his cold and calculating demeanor, his unyielding self control. Even my current punishment, though fraught with vengeance, was administered with machine-like aloofness.

Once I recalled our survival training in the mountains near Hiro. The Mantis had kept us without sleep for nearly four days, without food for two. I remembered the picture vividly: grim recruits surrounding him with loaded pistols, determined to take his life regardless of the cost. But the man had displayed no emotion whatsoever, not even the faint­est trace of uneasiness. He had merely eyed them coldly and remarked, “Why do that? You’ll only get into serious trouble—trouble that will make this seem like a school picnic.” Gradually they had wavered and

backed down. “After all,” he had added, “you have been learning how to eat and sleep ever since you were born. Now you must learn how not to eat and sleep.”

And this was the man I had managed to humiliate! Namoto not only hated me but, as I was beginning to realize, he felt morally obligated to “repay me in full.” True, he was a sadist of the first order, but my punishment would have been severe regardless. It is the moral duty of a Japanese to repay an injustice as well as a favor.

Eventually my thoughts returned to fighter school. It was still my grandest goal. Indeed, it mattered more than ever now. For a while I could not recall how many days had passed. Maybe I could still qualify. That was all that mattered. I scarcely even thought of home.

Then the flash of optimism was gone. The door lurched open with an ominous clank, but by now I had lost all control. “Kill me!” I shouted. My voice was like the sound of a wood rasp. “Kill me and get it over with!”

Slowly he approached, rope in hand. “Get up, Kuwahara!”

“No!” I shouted, “No-you can’t make me!”

“Get up!”

Instead, I cursed him: “Konchikusyo! Bakayaro! Gaki!”

He loomed over me, cobra-like, rope readied. “All right, if you want it on the floor—” I thrashed out, kicking his shins, and The Mantis staggered backward, cursing me with every foul word he could think of, and he knew more than I did.

So again! Again, I had shattered his calm, and he hated me more than ever for it. I tried to roll away as the rope lashed across my neck, nearly breaking it. Then it came again and again, like repeated strikes of lightning. I could even feel its livid yellow color. Again the black hole yawned, consuming me.

Some time later the door opened once more. I stared vacantly.

“Get up!”

“No,” I barely croaked. The arm raised, the rope descending rav­enously, and there it was once more—the black hole. The wonderful, blessed, great, dark hole. Oblivion.

By afternoon I lay thinking about the hole. It was very good, my only hope now, yet it could hold me only so long. Inevitably, I would drift to

the surface. Occasionally, when the light began to expand I would swim back down toward the depths, but each time my stay was shorter. That hole and the dark corner of the cell shared a mutual relationship. Why did I always have to return? Why couldn’t I stay down? Why? Why?

Then it came to me with exciting certainty: I could stay down forever!

A sense of triumph, near elation, filled my soul. Idly I began drag­ging myself about the room, feeble and crippled like an old man, but that didn’t matter. I was looking for something that would work—my metal rice bowl perhaps. Possibly I could crush it to create a jagged edge. I bent down, groaning, and picked it up. Or grind it on the cement floor until the edge was knife sharp.

Propping the bowl sidewise against the wall, I tried several times to stomp on it without success. Plane motors were grumbling in the sky now, a continual crisscross of sound. Glancing at the barred window, I saw a dragonfly. Slowly, miserably, I limped my way toward it, toward the light. The insect’s wings shimmered silver, making a strange brittle sound as it danced off into the day.

Gripping the bars, I peered out, hoping to trace its flight but to no avail. It had vanished. The window ledge was shoulder high, indented about six inches to the bars, and suddenly I had my answer. Yes, a perfect ledge! Men had done it that way before —a bench, table, a railing. . . a ledge” A ledge like this one would be ideal. Simply thrust my tongue out, clamp it between my teeth, lock my hands atop my head. . . then slam my chin against the ledge—hard, with all my strength. That way my tongue would be bitten off and I would bleed to death. Yes, more than one man had died that way at Hiro. How simple! How wonderful!

Fingers interlaced, I locked my hands upon my head, testing the idea carefully, very slowly, to determine the exact angle of impact between my chin and the ledge. It would be absolutely essential to do it correctly, not botch the job and simply mangle my tongue. Otherwise, I might survive to speak nothing but gibberish. Definitely not the time for a mistake. Thrusting my tongue out still further, I clamped it tighter attempting to assess the level of pain. No doubt it would be very painful, agonizingly so. That was the only problem. Nevertheless, I would bleed copiously, and it probably wouldn’t last long.

Again, I performed my special test, chewing tentatively. A tongue was a strange thing, really, a highly incongruous organ. For some reason it didn’t seem consistent in any way with the rest of my anatomy. Strangely, as well, I was not especially afraid, not nearly as much as I might have imagined. Instead, my body was slowly burning, simmering in a kind of sympathetic vibration to the fading drone of motors.

Then the dragonfly returned and balanced delicately upon the outer ledge as though bearing a message. What was it I had learned in school biology? Something about how a caged dragonfly, without food, would eventually begin eating its tail, never ceasing until it had devoured nearly half its own body. Surely, therefore, I could do a small thing like biting off the tip of my tongue.

What immense, almond-shaped eyes it had! I had never realized that eyes could look like that. I stared in fascination at the shimmering, blue body—at the transparent filament wings. Why did it have four instead of two? I pushed my finger toward it and the dragonfly flared upward and sidewise, balanced upon the air and vanished.

Blankly I stared into space. Then I glanced down at my hands, watched them open and close of their own accord. My hands were shaped like my mother’s; that was what she had always said. The nails had those same half-moons. Once more, this time with a devout sense of finality, I locked my hands over my head, and felt my hair. It was dirty hair, matted with blood, sweat, and grime. But it was mine. It was important, my own special hair. I held a palm against my forehead and stroked my fingers down very carefully over my nose and mouth. They were battered and swollen, but they were mine, my own nose and mouth, and they were unique. The plane motors were suddenly growing louder, louder than I had ever heard them.

Well, I would wait for just a little while. Yes, I would kill myself, but I would wait for just a little while. Slowly, agonizingly, knees sagging, I slumped to the floor and began to cry.



t was August 1, 1945, and I had returned from a reconnais­sance flight near Matsue to learn that someone had paid me a visit. “Some woman was here to see you, Kuwahara,” the desk sergeant said.

My heart surged, beating rapidly. Toyoko?

“Your sister,” the clerk added. Well then, my sister. Wonderful! Surely I wanted to see her as well.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t allow her to stay,” the desk sergeant continued, “As you know, we can’t have any civilians on the base now.” I barely nodded. “She left you these,” he said.

Thanking him, I hurried to my barracks, carrying the envelope and tiny parcel. Sitting on my cot, I opened the note and began reading: “Yasuo-chan, we received your message and were overjoyed to hear from you—the first word in many weeks. We did not know what had become of you. But now, to learn that you are near us once more—that

makes us feel so much better, even though we cannot see you.

“How proud we are, Yasuo! We know that you are bringing great honor to the Emperor, your country, and your family. I love you for this, my brother, for your courage, but always, even more for what you have been to me, what we have been to each other. I speak now, as well, for our entire family. Wherever you may go, whatever you may be doing, our love journeys with you.

“Each day I pray for you at our shrine and always in my heart. Your Sister, Tomika.”

Over and over, I read those words, consumed by emotion. An im­mense longing swept over me like a tide. If only I could have seen her—for a single, fleeting second! Just one more time! Then the tide ebbed. No, better not to have seen her at all, not to see any of them. Better that way. At last I opened the little parcel. For a long time I sat there bowed, star­ing at her gift, feeling its softness against my palm, gazing at its lustrous darkness. Tomika had left me a lock of her hair.

A torpid August first merged with August second. Over a month since my meeting with Captain Tsubaki. A month, and still waiting! Incredible! Why didn’t the word come? Why? What were they waiting for? And now the paradox loomed even more strangely. As each day brought me closer to death it might also draw me farther away. It was a race between the death of our nation and the death of Yasuo Kuwahara.

The night of August third, I tossed feverishly, beset by endless night­mares. Death was no longer my greatest fear. Waiting itself was worse. No hope now. Desperate though our country had become, I decided that its surrender might still take months. The waiting, waiting, the abominable waiting! The strangling noose of uncertainty, growing ever tighter!

Once I awakened, muttering incoherently, my entire body slick with sweat, my hair not only damp but even wet with it. If my orders didn’t come soon, I might take the easy way out after all. A sharp knife, a quick slice across the jugular vein. “There is nothing honorable in dying for a lost cause,” the words came. “There is nothing. . . .” I almost choked.

I was ensnared in the great net from which there was no escape. One way or another, I would die. But die the easy way to escape the hard way? After all the struggle, end my life through cowardice? Humiliation and dishonor? Yes, humiliation and dishonor, to myself and to my family, if not for our government for which I had now lost all respect. I shook my head, sighing, moaning. No, not the easy way—not the coward’s way.

Wait, Kuwahara. Wait, barely existing from one moment to the next. Grit your teeth. Clench your fists. Swear. . . Pray to God. Curse him if you have to, but wait. Do not bring dishonor. Keep me sane, keep me in the skies, striking at the enemy. . . until the word comes! Yes, fighting is the best solution now—my only salvation.

August fourth, I found myself praying many times that day, much of it virtually senseless, often utterly contradictory. I knew where a sharp knife was, waiting patiently without compromise. God send me an enemy plane. Don ‘t make me wait. Do not leave me here!

At four in the morning, August fifth, I sat bolt upright, tearing myself from the ragged fracture of another nightmare. My mattress was again saturated with sweat, and I arose shakily to begin pacing the floor. I was seeing it all from a different perspective again. What did it matter how I died, just so I got it over with? My family? I didn’t have a family. My entire past was a dream. Life itself the constant nightmare, inescapable, awake or asleep.

The wooden floor was hard and a bit slivery as I crossed it and exited through the back door. Cooler outside, the base silent and corpse like, slowly wreathing in darkness and the first bilious gleams of dawn. In a few minutes I would go get the knife, kneel there beside the barracks—dark and cool. Enter the waning darkness, the coolness, before they escaped, flee with them forever. No, no ridiculous. Not after so long a struggle. For a moment I cursed the entire world, but nothing would send me out a coward. I would have that one, cold triumph.

Now… go back in and lie down on your soggy mattress. Got to sleep before the feel­ing changes again. You’ll make it to the end, Yasbei… somehow. Think about anything else. . . about Toyoko. No, no, better not. Toyoko makes you remember that final night together. Then think of Tatsuno—Nakamura too. You were not a true friend, Kuwahara. Yes, guilt, a rancid taste on the tongue—that only one thing can dispel. Think of someone else. Tyyoko. No, not Toyoko, not.. . Think of your sister, your mother. Ah, ah yes.. . you can see their faces once more, hear their blessed voices.

An hour before reveille, I sank into a feverish sleep, a state of near coma.

And that day. . . I received my written orders. On August eighth, I would take off for the final time. At last, at last, I truly knew! A great and leaden door had swung open revealing my destiny. Okinawa. . . waiting there amid the endless waters and the swirling vapors of time. Three days. Somehow, some way, I would cling to the melting rim of existence three more days.

The following morning I would be granted a two-day pass. Such was the Japanese Military’s magnanimity to its fated sons. At first I had decided not to use that pass. I had reflected upon the matter lengthily, well beforehand, in fact, convinced that it would be better never to see my family or friends again, told myself that in effect I had died already. I had banished the idea from my mind.


Early that next morning, August sixth, I burst into the orderly room with a frantic change of heart. “My pass! Do you have a two-day pass for me?”

The desk sergeant was owlish, slightly grizzled, wearing thick-lensed reading glasses. For a moment he regarded me strangely. “You were supposed to have signed for it last night, Corporal.”

“I couldn’t last night,” I said struggling hard to contain myself, “Just give me the pass—I’ll sign for it now.”

“Well. . . all right,” he replied, still stupidly reluctant. “Ummm, let’s see. . . .” Fumbling his way through the file with infuriating clumsiness. “Ummmm. . . let’s see: Ito. . . Kimura. . . Hai, Kuwahara! Go ahead, but date it August fifth, or, it will be my ass! No, not there, damn it! Right here, under Kimura’s.”

For a moment I had scarcely known what I was doing. It was almost as if I had never learned to write. “Arigato, Sergeant—thank you.” With trembling hands I scrawled my signature, destination, time of departure, time of return, then fled.

Minutes later I had obtained a ride in the back of an army truck headed for Hiroshima. It would not take long to reach my home from there. Home, my place of origin, the people to whom I belonged. I should have known the pull would be too great, inexorable, like the gravitational force of the moon upon the tides. How foolish I had been.

The truck rumbled erratically forward, jolting and clattering over the pitted road, nearly jarring my teeth loose at times, but I didn’t mind. I was gazing at the darkening green of the rice fields, the narrow canals, the lush, green vegetation of the mountains, the interplay of sunlight and retreating shadow, and the burgeoning blue of the sky. Suddenly there was a remarkable enchantment about my entire surroundings—a beauty I had almost forgotten.

Nostalgia welled with the advancing light, and now I was remember­ing experiences from my boyhood: a family visit to the shrines of Kyoto, a secluded lake miraculously high in the mountains somewhere, taking turns with my brothers looking through a pay telescope at scenes far distant. . . two fishermen in a row boat a mile away, unaware of our gaze as they baited their hooks then commenced eating their lunch. A bright river of memory flowing through my mind with scenes of enchantment at every turn, but most of all home.

Unexpectedly I was strangely happy. Miraculously, it suddenly seemed that the next two days would somehow be exempt from the manacles of fate just ahead. A golden island that would glow through­out the expanses of eternity. The forty-eight hours would pass, but the island would remain, and death would merely be a transition, a process of purification wherein the good, the just, the truly happy would abide. Yes in the last analysis, death would indeed be lighter than a feather.

Perhaps God, or Buddah, or fate. . . someone or something. . . who or whatever placed us in this strange estate called mortality would accomplish it. “Make it acceptable to me,” I murmured, “please make it all right.” The words repeated themselves over and over, resonating throughout my being, and I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, hands clasping my head.

That way I could feel every rock and depression in the road, but it was working. Someone or something was listening. I continued to repeat the words but more calmly now, and my soul was relaxing as though a clean breeze were drifting through. I glanced up. Yes, a cleansing breeze, literally. The rice was billowing in soft green waves. And yes, the happi­ness had not deserted me. Two golden days, and that was everything.

I left the truck on the outskirts of Hiroshima at about 7:30 a. m., and a few minutes later boarded a streetcar. Impulsively, only moments earlier, I had decided to visit briefly with a friend there in the Second General Army Hospital before going on to Onomichi. Leaving the streetcar, I heard it move off along the tracks, emitting a lonely tootle in the distance. For an instant I gazed about, filled with a sudden need to consume, somehow digest and metabolize my entire surroundings.

The sky was still clear except for a muted overcast in the west as I walked along Shiratori Street toward the hospital. Already it was growing sultry, and even at that hour small bands of children were skittering about the streets, blessedly unaware that their world was falling apart. “Ohayo gozaimasu!” A man passed by, carrying a briefcase, and I returned his good morning. Grocers and magazine vendors had opened the shutters to their flimsy huts, but there was little within them of interest.

Once, on impulse, though, I stopped to purchase an orange. I could feel its roundness as I continued along the street, the gratifying texture of its skin, even the pores, in my hand. What a marvelous creation, how remarkably designed! By chance alone? If so, why the consistency in oranges everywhere, the order of their growth? The pliable, rubbery skin, so easily removable yet so remarkably protective? Why the delight­ful, incredibly sweet, easily separable sections, perfectly constituted to delight the palate and enhance one’s health? The skin glowed entranc­ingly, joyfully. My mouth watered, but I would wait, cherishing it until the proper time. A reward, a gift to myself. For what, I did not know. Perhaps for having simply survived so long, so miraculously.

Along my way, an old woman called to me. Her face was a mosaic of wrinkles and lines as though it had been frozen and shattered. Eyeing her curiously, I turned back, and she reached for me with a trembling hand. For a moment I gazed into her withered face, into eyes still bright and alert. “I want to know the truth, young man,” she rasped. “What has become of our aircraft? Why are they no longer up there?” She hunched before me, shriveled, blinking and stoic, probably anticipating the worst, even wanting it.

Gently I laid my hand upon her shoulder, and gazed at the pavement. I wished greatly that I could go somewhere with that ancient obasan. Conversation would be unnecessary, only her presence. That, perhaps, and a cup of tea. “Old mother,” I said, “there are few planes left. Before long it will all be over, and we won’t have to hide from the bombs any more.” Her claw closed upon my hand almost painfully, and I began to leave. Then I turned back for a moment. “Here, take this,” I said and handed her the orange.

Minutes later I heard air raid sirens—a small concern, since two American planes had already passed over while I was on the street car. The lone B-29 above did not seem threatening for some reason, merely patronizing. If I were up there now in my Hayabusa I would dive at it from the eye of the sun, all guns blazing, pumping them out from my cannons. But the old woman was right. No Japanese planes in sight. The sky was empty except for that single, stolid, lumbering monster, coursing the heavens with total impunity.

I continued to watch it occasionally, however, as I went along my way. There was something disconcerting in its very placidness, about the persistent smugness of its droning. So casual, so presumptuous. Soon a tiny white speck separated from its silver belly, and the plane moved off, picking up speed. No larger than a marble at first, the object increased to the size of a baseball, then seemed to change in form, becoming a large mushroom. A parachute, carrying a strange, dark object, tapered like a shark but blunt at one end as though the head had been chopped off. Yes. I heard the speculations of others watching with me.

“What are they up to now?”

“More of their stupid pamphlets?”

“Yes, more propaganda-more of the same old thing. Don’t pay it any—”

All other mutterings were obliterated, along with everything else. Suddenly a monstrous multi-colored flash bulb went off directly in my face. Something like concentrated heat lightning stifled me, transform­ing my lungs into vacuums. So fast, it might have been a mere figment of the imagination.

Yet simultaneously I threw up my hands, vainly striving to protect my face from the ferocious burning. A mighty blast furnace had just been opened upon the world.

Within the next moment there came a cataclysm which no one will ever describe adequately. It was neither a roar, a boom, nor a blast. Rather, it was a combination of all those qualities with something else added—the fantastic power of earthquakes, avalanches, and erupting volcanoes. For one fantastic, overwhelming moment nature had un­leashed its wrath, and the world had ruptured in a mighty convulsion.

All this within only seconds, and I was slammed to the earth as though struck by a charging rhino. Sudden darkness, all light extinguished like the flicking of a switch. . . pressure, an agonized, choking gasp. . . my body seared with pain. Then relief, utter vacancy. I did not exist. Never had.

Minutes. . . hours. . . days? Impossible to tell, but somewhere within the depths of nothingness, there came a sound. A rumbling that somehow, in defiance of natural law, restored my spirit in the depths of the void. At the time, however, these things were only dim awareness—the aware­ness perhaps of a worm stirring in the winter soil or an insect within its cocoon.

Another rumbling. . . then another, and the sense of awareness expanded. Carts. . . the rumbling of carts! But why? What had hap­pened? Where was I? Gradually my sense of personality acquired clearer dimension. I was Yasuo Kuwahara, Corporal. Kuwahara. . . on my way somewhere. On my way home?

Going home to say goodbye.

Yes, recollection returning. But what had happened? An earthquake? No, a strange and impossible explosion. A bomb perhaps, a bomb of colossal force utterly beyond the realm of experience. There within the darkness I saw again the white and welling mushroom—drifting on the retina of memory, steadily transforming now, becoming a gigantic jel­lyfish—something dark and sullen, inexpressibly grotesque, attached to its tendrils.

But I was Yasuo—Yasuo Kuwahara, still alive, though helpless, scarcely able to move. Buried alive! The realization riddled me with horror, greater fear than I had yet known, but eventually I worked one arm free from the rubble embracing it, feeling the skin of my hand rip on something jagged. My eyes, nose, ears, even my mouth, were clogged with dirt, and for several minutes I choked and spat, blinking frantically, then stopped suddenly from pain as the grit rasped my eyeballs.

For a long time I simply lay there, gasping and groaning. My eyes were watering copiously, but eventually they cleared enough that I could detect a tiny scratch of light overhead. It seemed now that I could hear more sounds above as well, people treading about—once another rumbling noise.

Again, it died, and I was filled with terror. Buried alive. I began to writhe, groping about with my free hand and encountering the jagged board that had ripped it earlier. “Help! Help me!” I forced out the words with all my strength, but they sounded like the croaks of a frog. Again and again I called out, gradually with greater volume, also growing pain in my throat and chest.

The pressure from my waist down was also increasing, becoming unbearable. The numbness was creeping upward, entering my torso. Hours seemed to elapse, and occasionally there were more noises over­head. At times I would call out, then go down in a swoon. It was that whirlpool again that I had discovered months before during my beatings from the Mantis.

Once I surfaced, and for the moment my thoughts were lucid. A huge and terrible bomb, yes. The Americans had dropped a new bomb unlike any the world had ever known. Yes, that had to be it.

During my flights to Okinawa some weeks earlier I had heard occa­sional radio messages from the enemy in Saipan, warning us to surrender or suffer catastrophic consequences. Was this the ultimate realization?

What an ironic situation in any event. A suicide pilot, a noble, glori­ous Kamikaze, dying inside the earth only a short distance from his home! For an instant I almost laughed. What an ignominious way to die! On the other hand. . . why did it matter? Perhaps all of Japan was gone. Had a B-29 circled over every major city, releasing a parachute with a bomb? What a thought. No more Japan! Everything gone, in ruins. No, no, impossible.

More noise above, giving me a start. Dust had sifted through the scratch of light overhead. For a moment it widened then shrank to a mere bird’s eye. More dust. The eye closed, and I yelled. Feeling as though my lungs might tear loose, I shouted again and again. No answer. Sobbing for air and groaning, I made a last feeble bid for help.

Seconds later the eye blinked once more and became a yawning mouth. “I hear you,” a voice came. “Be patient—we’re removing the rubble.” Wonderful words, yet there in my helplessness, I wondered again whether I was now a complete cripple. The numbness in my body was increasing. How long had I been there? Days? Would I be liberated only to die moments later? Or to be hopelessly paralyzed?

The sounds above increased. At length, unbelievably, the weight was lifting, darkness changed to a blinding light. “Are you all right?” a voice inquired. “Easy, easy—better not move. Better not. . . .” But I was moving, getting to my hands and knees. Moving! Struggling to rise. . . somehow regaining my feet! But dizzy, overwhelmingly dizzy.

The world teetered in a blur. What a weird, swirling vision! Voices, insistently, warning, comforting, making no sense, and I toppled back­ward, the blood draining from my head, much as though I were com­pleting a power dive in my fighter plane. Legs collapsing. “Easy—easy!” Hands and arms, capturing me, breaking my fall. “We’ve got you. . . it’s all right. Just lie back for a minute.” I gazed up at them in vacuous wonderment. My benefactors were all clad in white!

“You’ll be all right,” a voice said. “Just stay right here until you regain your strength. We have to go now.”

The thought filled me with panic. “No, wait! Don’t go!”

“We must,” the voice drifted. “Hiroshima is in ruins—everyone dead or dying.” The figures were dissolving like ghosts.

“No, don’t leave me!” I pleaded and broke into a strange, dry crying, but the crying hurt so much I ceased, groping for rationality. Eventually I got to my hands and knees and struggled to my feet again, still so dizzy I wondered if my ear canals had ruptured.

Days later I learned that my benefactors, the figures in white, were patients from the army hospital who had dived beneath their beds when the explosion occurred, barely escaping destruction themselves. I also learned that I had been buried for approximately six hours.

Gradually, my vision cleared, revealing a spectacle exceeding my most horrifying nightmares—so hideous, my already queasy stomach erupted, and I fell to my knees, retching. Minutes later I was still on all fours, hoping that I had merely been the victim of some gargantuan hallucination. But no, it was all there, far more horrible, in fact, than I had initially realized.

Many have sought to describe Hiroshima following the nuclear holocaust on that fateful day, August 6, 1945, an immense wound in the heart of history that has never fully healed, merely become a throbbing mass of scar tissue. No one has ever succeeded nor will they, for what occurred there was beyond the realm of human experience.

Certain broad pictures remain, however, scorched forever within my memory. . . pictures of a great city reduced to a fiery rubble pit in which approximately 140,000 people had died with an equal number wounded. Some of the former had literally been vaporized or burned to a crisp, and all of it within a few ticks of a watch.

Again, I stood, still swaying, staring dementedly, and now I felt moisture. A black rain was settling from a black sky. Again, lapses of memory. Again, for a time, I could not recall when I had come to this place or why. All about me for miles, the landscape had been virtually leveled, yet it was steadily astir with life and death, like the amorphous agitations in a swamp, steadily becoming more appalling as my vision cleared.

Shiratori Street, I gradually realized, was buried under houses and buildings, folded and smashed like trampled boxes—much of it charred and blackened, portions aflame, periodically flaring up savagely. Bodies were scattered everywhere, some charred and inert, some barely mobile. In the distance, a few of the sturdiest buildings still stood, gray-black and skeletal, a number listing precariously, ready to collapse. Fire and smoke everywhere, rapidly expanding, and at times the smoke drifted my way, blindingly, chokingly.

Groggily I gazed skyward. The sun had been annihilated along with everything else. Despite the hour, night was closing in. I glanced down at the debris nearby and realized that fate had actually worked in my favor. The house under which I was buried had also partially shielded me from the blast. In addition, I had apparently fallen at the base of a large watering trough located against the back wall of the house. The trough, in turn, had helped protect me from the collapsing debris.

Sand, mortar, and litter had nearly filled the trough, forcing it to overflow, and apparently the remaining water had completely evapo­rated. The awful heat wave had turned nearby grass and other vegetation to ashes, actually melted much of it.

Examining myself more thoroughly now, I discovered a large bruise on the back of my head, lacerations across the side of my face and neck. Both eyes were badly swollen, flowing with tears, and still smarted. My clothing was torn and filthy, with a large rip over my knee. The knee throbbed, sticky with blood and dirt.

Eventually I hobbled away aimlessly, reeling at times like a drunk and within a short distance encountered a pile of bodies, possibly ten or twelve of them. Several were still alive, struggling feebly to extricate themselves. A blackened form rolled from the heap, and a head emerged. The face was singed beef, and its single bloodshot eye blinked at me. The nose was gone, the mouth a lopsided hole.

“Here, here—let me help you,” I said, and began dragging free some of the corpses. Tugging at a charred arm, I fell backward. The flesh from the elbow down had sloughed off in my hands like that of a roasted goose. Gorge rising, I continued my task, freeing a man already more dead than alive. One or two people assisted, but others merely stared as though stupefied.

The entire landscape seemed to wreathe with moans and wails, mounting at times to a kind of bedlam. I limped onward, still direction­less, and within seconds I chanced upon a man pinned beneath a beam. Several people were grunting and prying with timbers, struggling to extricate him. Then, as they dragged him free, he emitted an agonized scream and died, blood gushing from his bowels. Hip to ankle, he had been mangled, but the beam’s pressure had prevented external bleed­ing.

Bewildered, I wandered on while all about me people were dying, moving aimlessly like half-frozen insects, some clasping their heads other parts of their bodies. Many were naked, and a few—mostly women – sought vainly to cover themselves. Others seemed totally oblivious to their personal nudity. My own clothes were, in fact, more tattered than I had originally realized. One sleeve was missing from my jacket, and one trouser leg, a mere scorched crust, virtually crumbled apart as I brushed against pile ofjagged boards.

I reeled onward, a wild, staring animal, bereft of my sanity. Oddly, however, a second part of me, a kind of alter ego, seemed to be monitor­ing my responses, somehow detached, from a different perspective. At times, it seemed, that I could actually stand back a bit to observe the strange, haggard creature that I had become, that others were observ­ing. Observing, however, with utter indifference for the great majority were in far worse condition than I.

A short distance ahead someone called feebly, a woman sprawled upon the pavement as though hurled from the sky. Her body was roasted, blackened, and blistered beyond recognition. Her hair had been reduced to charcoal, and patches of her skin and flesh were peeling off.

One side of her throat was scathed and laid open, yet cauterized by the blast, and I could actually see the blood vessels, weakly pulsating with tortured life. Her lips writhed, struggling to form words, but her vocal cords were also dying. Kneeling beside her, I bent low, listening, heard only the dry, hissing buzz of her breath. Then I understood. “Kill me. Please kill me.”

Transfixed, I stared at her, my own mouth gaping. The light in those eyes was fading, and suddenly my entire body racked with an immense moan. Clasping my hands to my face, I arose and stumbled off. Innumerable forms lay all about me, some writhing and in their death throes, many afflicted with that same hideous skin condition. Like blackened lepers, they were falling apart. Others, simply wandered in collective confusion.

Slowly, feeble as an old man, I struggled on throughout the rubble pit that was once Hiroshima for an hour or more, trying at times to be of aid to the wounded and dying but usually with complete futility. Eventually I found myself before the remains of the Yamanaka Girls’ High School. Before classwork that morning approximately four hun­dred girls had assembled in rows on the outer grounds to receive their daily announcements. The blast had cut them down like an enormous scythe, stripping off everything but their belts. Watches, rings and buckles had been embedded in their blackened flesh by the fearsome heat. The school pendants worn about their necks were burned into the sternums between their breasts.

Parents and other family members were examining the bodies. Mothers and sisters were moaning and wailing unlike anything I have ever heard. Some had apparently identified their own, but the efforts in general were futile because most of the girls’ faces had been charred beyond recognition. Teeth projected in ghastly grins, and the odor of their bodies cloyed in my nostrils like the reek of manure and decaying fish. Again, I doubled over, holding my stomach and retching, but noth­ing emerged except for streamers of mucous and saliva flowing from my nostrils and lips, dripping from my chin.

As I turned to leave, a man and woman were huddled before a body, peering into the remains of its face with awful intensity. Many were clinging to each other and weeping as though nothing was left in the universe.

Eventually I spotted an army truck ahead winnowing its way through an expanse of smoldering rubble. “Wait!” I shouted, “wait!” but my voice was the cawing of a crow. The truck lumbered onward, two or three men in the back gaping at me stupidly. “Wait!” The cry tore at my lungs agonizingly, and I stumbled, falling. They could not distinguish me from a civilian, and for a moment I simply sprawled there, face down in the dirt and ashes.

Soon, another truck came grinding my way, and for a time I thought it might run over me. No matter—a blessing, in fact. Nevertheless, by mere instinct, I raised my hand feebly as it rumbled past. Then, a short distance beyond, it halted and began to back up. For the third time that day, I rose from the earth and, surprised at my own strength, began to run. My energy deserted me as I reached the tail gate, however, and I was dragged aboard like the survivor of a ship wreck.

Beyond all feeling now, I stared vacantly at the landscape as it fell behind. Fires still rampaged in many places, smoke stifling the entire area and menacing the sky. We crossed the Ota River upon a bridge mi­raculously still in tact though precariously near collapse. A human carpet thronged those shores in throbbing blotches. Thousands were sprawled and slowly convulsing along the banks like poisoned lemmings.

Countless numbers wallowed in the shallows, trying to cool them­selves. Many had died that way, some from their wounds, others from drowning—bobbing corpses, dozens washing down stream on the current. Mothers, fathers, aged and infant. . . the bomb had not been guilty of discrimination.

Gradually the city fell behind in a ruddy, grit-filled haze, abrading the eyes and nostrils at times like tear gas. Eventually we were passing fields, still green, relatively unchanged, except that the shadows were now lengthening from the west instead of the east.

Fighter Pilot


n the evening of the fourth day I was released and placed on latrine duty for an entire week. During that week I found that by simply groaning quietly to myself I could ease the pain consid­erably. There wasn’t much work involved, but it was humiliating and intentionally so.

The Mantis had beaten me more times than I could remember, at least a dozen, and I hobbled and limped about, more bruised and sore than ever before. Nevertheless, I mopped the floor, cleaned the toilets and urinals frequently. I also kept the mirrors spotless, not wishing to provide my friend excuse for further penalties.

Indeed, my week of latrine duty was crucial. If I had succumbed to the pain, I would have been hospitalized and probably lost any chance for fighter school. Flight training was proceeding rapidly, and at gradu­ation we would all be assigned according to our aptitudes and level of performance: fighter, bomber, signal, or mechanic school.

Most of us, of course, aspired to the first. In my own case, in fact, failure to qualify for fighter school would prove devastating. After all the pain, the struggle, the heartache—consignment to mechanic or signal

school would be intolerable. Becoming a bomber pilot would certainly have been better, but still unacceptable.

Had it not been for my friends, I surely would have gone to the hospital. Each night Nakamura and Yamamoto massaged my wounds and bruises with oil. Several times they even helped me clean the la­trine—true acts of devotion. I was something of a hero in the Fourth Squadron now, and twice during the week Tatsuno visited me because news regarding my whole experience with The Mantis had apparently spread throughout the entire air base. Fortunately, Tatsuno was faring well, considering his circumstances, and would soon be training in the Akatombo.

Eleven days after the fateful air chase I was again in the skies. During the interim my comrades had progressed considerably, but I was still numbered among the better fliers, and curiously enough, our esteemed mentor The Mantis no longer indulged in follow-the-leader games. Undoubtedly the training had progressed too far by then for such childish pursuits.

Each day I took to the sky more elated. I was a natural when it came to flying, and everyone knew it. The bird instinct I had felt over Mt. Ikoma was growing ever more powerful. By now, however, there were no further attempts—certainly not from me—to humiliate Namoto or the rest of our hancho. The reprisals would be too great, the price too high. Furthermore, the end of our training was near, and the punish­ment had abated. Even our worst task masters apparently wearied from time to time.

As graduation approached, I became increasingly excited and also more anxious. True, I was flying with the best in the squadron, mak­ing few mistakes. Nevertheless, doubt and fear constantly battled with my sense of confidence. Despite frequent rumors, none of us knew how many would be selected for fighter school. Some maintained that only two or three top flyers would qualify. Others estimated that there might be as many as twenty. No matter the time or the country, rumors run rampant in the military.

Added to these doubts was the possibility that my conduct toward The Mantis might be held against me. On the other hand, I reminded myself that the commanding officer himself hadn’t seemed angry with me. He had merely displayed great curiosity. And wasn’t it true that very few men, certainly none of my fellow trainees, could have followed a skilled instructor through his most desperate maneuvers as I had? Op­timism and pessimism were constantly grappling inside me. With only a week remaining, the pressure became so great that I was in mental agony. If I failed. . . well, suicide would be the only possible way to atone. No backing out this time.

Some of the others may not have felt as strongly about it as I, but the tension was mounting throughout our entire squadron. Close friends often flared at each other, sometimes fighting with little provocation. Twice Oka and Yamamoto nearly came to blows, and it was all I could do to refrain from battling Tanaka each time we drew near. Always the sarcastic grin, always the belittling comments, and I promptly responded in kind. It was something, I suppose that neither of us could understand, for we both had the same circle of associates.

Somehow, despite all, we survived the tension of those final days, and suddenly graduation was upon us. The assignments had been posted! It was an autumn afternoon as I shouldered my way through a throng of nervous companions. They were clustered about the orderly room bul­letin board, peering, jabbering, exclaiming. Upon reading their orders, many of them turned and walked away, countenances empty, shoulders slumped, entire bodies conveying dejection.

I strained forward, stood tip toe, craning my neck to read the words spelling life or death, but shoulders and heads kept getting in the way. My face was flushed, and I was becoming impatient beyond all reason. “Bomber school!” someone exclaimed upon reading his name. “Well, that’s not so bad. I was afraid I’d be a mechanic.” Steadily, men read their assignments then turned, wandering off silent and crestfallen, or noisy and jubilant.

“0i—Kuwahara!” Oka bellowed, “I made it!” Someone got in his way as he hastened toward me, but Oka shoved him aside. “Kuwahara, I made it!”

“Good,” I said, “that’s wonderful,” but my voice was hollow. I was ready to explode.

“I looked for your name,” he explained, “but they wouldn’t give me time—just kept shoving like a bunch of stupid goats. Hey, there’s Sakamoto up there. Quick, ask him to check your name. Hey, Saka­moto—check Yasuo’s name!”

Sakamoto turned back to the board reluctantly but was crowded away. “I think it’s signal,” he said dubiously, “same as me.”

“What?” I gasped. Never, not even in the guardhouse, had I expe­rienced such coldness. Nearly choking, I lunged forward, crashing into the back before me.

“Take it easy, Kuwahara. You made fighter pilot all right. Just don’t knock everybody down.” It was Tanaka, and for the first time his grin was gone. He turned away and wandered off.

For an instant I actually pitied him, yet I was too concerned with myself, still uncertain. Hadn’t Sakamoto said. . . ? Then I was standing directly in front of the bulletin board. Feverishly I went down the list of names. Where was it? My name wasn’t even. . . . No, wait. There it was! “Kuwahara-Fighter School!” I stared, turned to go, started back again to make absolutely certain. I was still in a state of joyous shock, disbelief. Yes, fighter school—Sakamoto, the idiot! He had been wrong. “Oka!” My voice was hoarse, and I held up my thumb.

“Oi, Kuwahara!” he beamed. “Good man! Yamamoto’s in too!”

Moments later we spotted Nakamura, thrusting forward on the fringe of the crowd, neck extended, eyes full of worry. “Hey, fighter pilot!” Yamamoto yelled. “What are you doing over there with the foot soldiers?”

Nakamura turned, smiling uncertainly. “Honto? You read my name?”

“Hai—sure! Get over here. You’re a fighter pilot along with the rest of us, you and Yasbei!”

Yasbei was the name of a famed and ancient samurai, and I beamed at the spontaneous compliment. We tendered our congratulations by slapping Nakamura so violently on the back that he staggered. None of us had ever been so elated—not in our entire lives. For me, this was even better than winning the national glider championship.

Approximately one fourth of the men from our squadron had been picked for fighter school—far more than we had anticipated. We four,

however, were the only ones chosen from our section of the barracks, and our exuberance was dampened when we realized what a trying time most of the others were having.

That night, the night before graduation, many of them sat forlornly in the barracks, brooding and staring emptily, but strangely enough, I felt especially sorry for Tanaka. At last the insolent grin had been destroyed. A number of us had expected him to become a fighter pilot, and we were all mystified as to why he had failed. I honestly wanted to comfort him—at least some small word of consolation—but I feared that he might take offense. He had, at least, made bomber pilot which, I now assured myself, was no cause for shame.

Moriyama and Furuhashi sat together on Furuhashi’s cot, and Moriyama was leaning on his knees, pondering the drab, unpainted floorboards. Clapping my hands on their shoulders, I said, “Don’t feel sad, my friends. From what I’ve been hearing, mechanic school is not bad at all. As a matter of fact, it’s supposed to be quite interesting. They made no reply, barely glanced at me. “Anyway,” I continued, “you might have a chance for fighter school later on.” I was amazed at the stupid­ity of my own words; they merely seemed to have exuded without the slightest rationality.

Moriyama shrugged and actually sneered. With each remark I was getting in deeper, growing more offensive. “Well. . . .” I mumbled, gave them both a feeble pat on the back, and wandered off feeling more foolish than ever.

For the rest of that evening I stayed away from them, and when Oka became boisterous I cautioned him to use restraint. The four of us as­signed to fighter school left the barracks quietly and sat together staring at a distant red light on the control tower. Gradually, however, we forgot the plight of our comrades and began to discuss the future.

I remember well our commanding officer’s graduation speech the following day. I had good reason to like the man and was prepared to feel another glow of patriotism and dedication similar to what I had experienced at the end of basic training. This time, however, his tone and demeanor were not the same, and I recall his speech for a very dif­ferent reason, especially his conclusion. “Our future continually grows

more serious,” he informed us, adding solemnly, “In consequence, it is for you, Nippon’s valiant sons, to dedicate your lives—to die courageously for the great cause.”

I felt the wave of concern, surprise. For the past half year we had all been so engrossed in our training, often in the mere process of survival, that we had lost touch with the world around us. It struck me person­ally like a bucket of cold water in the face, that we were not only at war, but that for the first time anyone in authority at Hiro had admitted the gravity of our situation.

It was October of 1944, and much had happened since I’d left home in February. Kwajalein, the first Japanese territory, had been invaded that same month, and the Marianas had fallen in June. By July, Tojo had openly admitted our loss in the “great disaster” of Saipan and had been relieved as chief of the general staff. His entire cabinet had resigned simultaneously. Still, at graduation time, most of our citizens were oblivious to the rapid turn of the war.

For some of us, however, it was taking on grave substance as was my prospective role as fighter pilot.

The Voice of the Emperor


uring the following two days I was restricted to my quarters, exhausted and bedfast. Yet despite my misery and enervation I could find no rest. My body was on fire, my eyes constantly smarting and watering. On August 8, having scarcely slept or eaten, I was de­tailed to fly a Shinshitei, a swift, two-engine reconnaissance plane, over Hiroshima and surrounding area.

From 7,000 feet I peered through my binoculars, down into the city’s ravaged heart. Much of it was still burning, and smoke drifted in heavy layers, obscuring large expanses of the area. Everywhere the earth ap­peared, though, lay havoc, and it was impossible to tell where most of the buildings, even the best known, had stood. Periodically, I detected the bodies of cows and horses, cattle, and dogs along with the mass of human dead. Street cars had been tossed from their tracks, trains flung from their rails like toys.

Flooding the roads in muddy currents were human beings, steadily fleeing toward the mountains and outlying cities: Kaitaichi, Miyajima and Ujina. Occasionally those rivers formed tributaries as military ve­hicles forded through—truckloads of soldiers, snaking slowly back and forth, evacuating military personnel, fighting fires. What an absurd

undertaking it all seemed. The great bomb had utterly demolished the Second General Army Headquarters along with Hiroshima’s military supply buildings. Our troops would quickly feel the loss.

Periodically my radio crackled with static, voices, and once for a minute or two, the words whined distinctly: “. . . as yet, authorities have not determined the exact nature of the weapon which . . . new bomb of some kind. . . doctors analyzing the effects but still uncertain.”

Then an ongoing blare of static that hurt my ears, and I switched to another station. Strains coming from Light of The Firefly (the melody of Auld Lang Syne). Moments and a familiar voice interrupted: “My dear and esteemed Japanese pilots,” it droned, ‘This is Saipan, and I am Japanese as you are. At this very moment I am safe from the horror of war—comfortable and well cared for. Are you also?” This was followed by a lengthy pause, so long that I assumed the message had ended.

Then suddenly it continued : “. . . and why, my friends, must you remain the helpless pawns of a senseless war? You gallant and noble Kamikaze who daily sacrifice your lives, though now to what avail? Why must you be victimized? Why must you die when those deaths will ac­complish no good whatever? When the war is all but over?”

America, the voice continued, would offer but one alternative—sur­render or annihilation. “Do you know that your mothers, your wives, your brothers and sisters, your children, are dying by the thousands? That those who survive will soon be starving? Indeed, many are already starving. And why? Because of the enemy—most certainly. But also because of the arrogance and selfishness of your leaders, a comparative few in Tokyo, who insist that their alleged sacred honor is more precious than the suffering and destruction of countless thousands. Ere long, perhaps, millions, of their people. Of you yourselves!”

The voice persisted with painful and relentless logic, much like a surgical procedure without anesthetic. Surrender for our remaining pilots would be relatively easy it promised. We would merely need to waggle our wings upon approaching an American landing field, and the guns would remain silent. We would be given safe haven and good treatment.

“I will be back on the air in two hours,” the voice concluded. “My only concern and that of many others who have nowjoined in our cause is your welfare and happiness. The welfare and happiness of our country.” Then silence, a bit of static and more music. This time, ironically, to the tune of My Old Kentucky Home involving the early American Southland yet also very popular throughout Japan in my own time.

Listening now, I was bathed in an immense wave of nostalgia— longing for my own home, for the happy days of childhood. And I felt more powerfully than ever the struggle between hope and fear. It was abundantly clear now that Japan must choose between surrender and destruction. Conceivably surrender could come any day, perhaps any hour. On the other hand, I might yet be flying that mission. My orders were still in force.

Circling over the remains of Hiroshima, I reflected upon the enemy’s offer of sanctuary. More than ever, I was thinking of peace. Peace under almost any conditions seemed preferable to my fate at Okinawa. Re­cently, in fact, I had even pondered the prospect of desertion, heading for Saipan, but limited fuel presented the main problem. As one option, however, I had contemplated sneaking up on the guard by night and knocking him unconscious with one of the ball bats, even rationalizing that it would not be the first time he had felt their hardness. I would then transfer gasoline from the drums to my fighter with buckets. If anyone were to accost me during the process, I would simply explain that a drum was leaking, that I had been ordered to transfer some of the fuel to my Hayabusa. Once I was tanked up and heading for Saipan no one could stop me. I was confident of that.

But now. . . staring down into the devastation that had been Hi­roshima. . . I was filled with hatred toward the traitor in Saipan. Even though he had spoken the truth, I wanted to lay hold of his throat. Ha­tred welled also toward the enemy. Had an American plane appeared at that moment, I would have done all within my power to ram it. My own life was of no consequence at the moment.

Two hours of flying had dulled my sight, all my senses, and sleep enveloped me irresistibly. My stomach was queasy, my skin beginning to peel, my hands and face inflamed and puffy. The combination was simply too much; the weariness would drag me under. I radioed in and was granted permission to return.

Upon landing I made my report and sagged off to the barracks feeling as though I had just lost a quart of blood. Inside, several of the radical Kichigai flyers were arguing with the Sukebei about the status of the war. Russia’s belated decision to take up arms against us was creat­ing consternation for some. In my own opinion, it made little difference. Russia had played a cunning and avaricious game, like the vulture who arrives to satisfy his gluttony once the eagle has made its kill. Now Russia could share in the spoils of war without the effort and without being hated as the Americans would. Few Japanese a decade or more hence would recall that Soviet boots had helped to trample out our death rattles.

Too enervated to join in the argument, I crumpled onto my cot, oblivious to virtually everything for nearly fifteen hours.

During the next few days my skin grew far worse. The epidermis on all my exposed areas was sloughing off while parts of the remaining layer actually decayed, smelling so bad that people began to avoid me. My face had broken into a rash and was covered with boils, prelude to a lengthy illness that later left me bald for months, and radiation ailments that will linger throughout the rest of my days.

At the medical dispensary, doctors eyed me nervously as though I were afflicted with bubonic plague and offered little help. One of them suggested that my skin condition was simply the result of extreme heat, that my fever was aggravated by a cold. “Just soak your face in a pail of water every hour or so,” he advised. “You’ll recover soon.”

All suicide missions had been temporarily cancelled by the Daihonei and, despite the good doctor’s unconcern, my condition was now seri­ous enough to prevent me from even flying reconnaissance. Nothing remained but the waiting and wondering. Throughout the base tension was growing. The combination of hope and fear produced a new kind of stress. Our nerves were like fine crystal in a bouncing truck bed, our actions and reflexes spastic. Day and night my body tingled. Whenever I lay down, my muscles twitched, and at times I trembled uncontrol­lably.

On August 14, a friend rushed into the barracks having just returned from a reconnaissance flight. “Kuwahara!” he exclaimed. “They’re saying we’ll surrender tomorrow! The Emperor will announce Japan’s surrender!

The air is full of it!” I stared at him vacantly and offered no reply. The news was utterly mind boggling, momentarily beyond all comprehension.

Swiftly the rumor spread like an invasion of locusts. The tension mounted along with the joy and sorrow, the dejection and euphoria, the incredulity and the inevitability.

At noon the following day all of us, officers and men alike, were assembled in the main mess hall, attention focused upon a large and antiquated radio in front near the serving area. An officer was adjusting the dials, initially generating only squeaks, occasional gibberish, and static. Then came silence except for a faint persistent humming, and at length a voice that none of us, none of our population in general, had ever heard before. High, nasal. . . somewhat eerie. . . almost indecipher­able. We listened as though fighting off deafness, cast occasional startled glances at each other, stared at the radio transfixed.

The Emperor, yes! Who else could it be? But the Emperor was speak­ing in formal Court Japanese, and an officer nearest the front sprang to his feet spontaneously, providing a partial translation as the message quavered onward.

And now the words were taking hold, the incredible yet certain, realization that Japan had accepted the Allied Ultimatum of uncondi­tional surrender.

It was over. Finished. Ended.

For a moment we sat there in silence. The proclamation, like the atomic flash, left everyone stunned. Even though we had sought to condi­tion ourselves mentally, we were still unprepared emotionally. Glancing slowly about, I saw the stricken faces, expressions of growing relief on some, of anger on others. Then, suddenly, one of the Kichigai leaped to his feet with a strangled cry. “Those rotten Americans! May God destroy them! Revenge! Revenge! Are we mere feeble women? Let us strike now, this very moment—before it’s too late! We are expendable!”

“We are expendable!” rose the cry. A score of men arose and would have rushed to their planes had not the commander intervened.

“You men will return to your seats immediately,” he roared, “or face general court martial!” Short, but broad and powerful, with a stern and noble countenance, he was new at Hiro but obviously a man to be reckoned with. “You will obey your Emperor in all things!” He wore a

bristling moustache, and his eyes glittered imposingly.

After we had returned to our barracks, however, two aircraft left the runway unexpectedly and circled, passing low overhead with a long, defiant roar. Rushing to the windows and out the doors, we stared as they banked and climbed steeply, heading south. Minutes later, both were circling back at about two thousand feet, and to our amazement, diving vertically at full speed only a hundred yards or so distant. They struck the runway simultaneously in huge, billowing explosions, and the smoke began to rise. Sergeants Hashimoto and Kinoshita had quietly sneaked to their planes and taken off, and become some of the first Japanese to suffer death rather than surrender.

Their demise precipitated additional, even more bitter, arguments. Men of my own persuasion contended, naturally enough, that it was not only foolish but treasonable—indeed, sacrilegious, to fight on in defiance of our Emperor’s Declaration. Extremists among the Kichigai, on the other hand, insisted that life would be hell under the Americans, that they would torture and kill most of us anyway. Furthermore, they argued passionately that we had a moral obligation to avenge the hor­rible massacre of Hiroshima, and now Nagasaki as well.

A Corporal Yoshida whom I had met only a day or two earlier was among the most bitter and adamant in that regard. After a fiery argument and shoving contest with several others, he rushed from our barracks weeping and cursing. “You filthy, cowardly bastards!” he ranted. Pistol shots ripped through the walls, and we promptly dropped to the floor. Then silence, and before long we peered furtively out the windows to see him sprawled face down on the concrete in a widening pool of blood. His pistol lay only inches beyond one outflung hand. He had used the final bullet upon himself.

A wave of additional suicides followed. Several officers placed loaded pistols in their mouths as Yoshida had done and squeezed the triggers. Men committed harakiri, bit off their own tongues and bled to death, a procedure I myself had nearly followed back during those dark times with the Praying Mantis. Others slit their throats or hanged themselves.

That same day Admiral Matome Ugaki, Commander of the Navy’s Fifth Air Fleet, and several of his echelon, become some of the war’s final Kamikaze. Calmly, matter of factly, they taxied their Suisei bombers down

the strip at Oita and were last sighted heading into the clouds for Okinawa. Vice-Admiral Takijiro Onishi, “Father of the Tokkotai,” having confessed to an overwhelming sense of guilt, committed harakiri. Other high-ranking officials followed his lead.

On the morning of August 18, Hiro’s commanding officer announced that the propellers were being removed from our aircraft. All arms and ammunition, except enough for the guards, had been locked away. His face was weary, the lines flanking his mouth deeper, the eyes less glittering.

“You are all aware by now that we have been commanded to refrain from further aggression,” he said. “Yet some, to our great sorrow and humili­ation, have chosen to disregard that command, thereby heaping dishonor upon themselves, their families, our country, and our esteemed Emperor. Those of you who have accepted his words are to be commended for your faithfulness and loyalty. . . for your courage. As he once commanded you to fight, so now, he has commanded you to cease. As he once commanded you to die, so now, he has commanded you to live. You have obeyed in all these things and shall be crowned with honor.”

There followed a lengthy pause wherein his countenance became both fierce and very sorrowful. “Regardless of personal feelings, the time has come for us to accept reality. The war is over.” His entire face was atremble, and he bit his lips struggling for control. “Our leaders in Tokyo have accepted the inevitable and rendered their decision. And the Emperor has spoken.” The tears were flowing unashamedly down his cheeks. In a moment two hundred broken men were crying.

The ensuing days were among the strangest yet, however. The inequality which had existed so long between officers and enlisted men evaporated. Officers who had dealt unjustly with their subordinates fled and were never heard from again. Others were killed by those same subordinates in their attempts to flee. Anarchy was ripening, and many simply deserted, hoping to gain anonymity among our civilians before the Americans took over. Records, documents, names of air force personnel—all were being destroyed to prevent identification by the enemy.

Heavy guard was posted around warehouses and other installations to avert looting by military personnel and even civilians who ferreted through the barbed-wire fences by night. Violence flared, the Kichigai and Sukebei bickering and carrying on gang warfare. I refrained from all such

involvement, secluding myself for hours in a deserted war-torn barracks, biding my time, wondering. I had seen sufficient conflict to last throughout the eternities.

On August 21, as always, several times each day, since the surrender, I read the reports on our bulletin board near base headquarters. And there, prominently displayed in the very center was a new roster containing a lengthy list of names. My heart lurched. For a moment, I couldn’t make sense of the message. Then it took form as though scales were falling from my eyes:

“The following men are to receive full and honorable discharge, ef­fective 23 August 1945.” I was breathing fast, heart rate increasing to near fibrillation as my eyes raced down the list of names. And there it was! There it was “Cpl. Kuwahara, Yasuo!”

Again the welling of tears as I struggled to catch my breath. It was as though a great and swirling wind had created a vacuum, sucking the air from my lungs.

I wandered back to the deserted barracks, still riddled with wonderment, light as driftwood. For an hour or more I simply sat there at the remote end of the building, there on the back steps, breathing deeply, still cautiously nurturing that curious sense of wonderment, fearful that it might expand too quickly, that it might explode and vanish like shimmering rainbow colors against the horizon.

Fearful, as well, that it was all a mistake. Wasn’t it true that at Kochi and Oita they had yet to remove the propellers from their aircraft? And were not efforts still underway by some of our military fanatics to continue the war? Rumor had it that certain factions were propagating the idea that Japan had not actually surrendered, merely reached a tentative standoff with the Allies. Stupid, blind, abysmal fools! Undoubtedly such individuals had not witnessed the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unlike myself, they had not been immersed in the stench that neither time nor place would ever fully eradicate. Part of me was still awaiting my death orders.

More than ten years later I learned that on August 8, 1945, I was to have been part of a final desperation assault, involving thousands of men and planes—all that remained. The great besom of destruction that had swept away so many of my countrymen at Hiroshima had saved me.

A Vital Explanation


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 First Human Bombs


gain, life had changed abruptly. With fighter training before us, we were accorded far greater courtesy. The tremendous load of punishment had been lifted, and now our lives were dedicated to the air. During the first two months we flew training planes similar to regular fighters, though not nearly as powerful and maneuverable, with only one small-caliber gun on each wing. This was our preparation for the advanced Hayabusa the best army fighter then in production.

The course was stringent involving gunnery, formation flying, basic aerial maneuvers, and suicide practice. The latter entailed diving from specified heights at a large oval painted on the airstrip and about twenty feet in diameter. This was the most difficult part of flying because of the psychological effect—the idea that we were practicing to die. It was taken for granted that any pilot with a disabled plane would do his best to die in true samurai tradition provided he couldn’t make it back to home territory. Given the opportunity, he would dive into an enemy ship or plane, taking as many of his adversaries with him as possible.

These thoughts were disturbingly in mind the day I made my first

death-enhancing plunge toward the tower. From two thousand feet I gazed down at Hiro and the surrounding landscape-ridges and dales a darkening green—farm land stretching out to where the sea sparkled. Beneath me lay the airstrip, an ugly concrete scar on the earth’s face, planes and hangars lining one end. Our trainers were droning above in a series of three-man V’s, separated in tiers and slowly rising in a wide circle, the tower gradually diminishing below to our left.

Seconds later our instructor, in the lead, peeled off and began his dive. The man just behind him angled slightly, winging over in like manner, and the third followed, all three fast fading toward the earth. Then the next formation was descending, and now, as the lead pilot in our own, it was my turn.

Easing the stick over left, I saw and felt the earth tilt toward me. The first formation was already pulling out, then the second, and I was descending fast on their tail—the airstrip rushing toward me as though that part of the world were suddenly inflating. The buildings were grow­ing magically. For an instant I was almost hypnotized. Larger and closer. . . larger and closer still— everything. There was the control tower, starkly looming, the deadly black circle only a short way off.

Terrifyingly near now, and I was astounded at my own daring. Now! Stick back, and my plane commenced its groaning pull out, the blood in my head straining, determined to continue its straight downward course.

Black splotches were surging at me through the cockpit, and I real­ized that I was suddenly on the level, still a good two hundred feet above my target. Dismayed and chagrined, I followed the formation ahead. Seconds earlier it had seemed that I was pulling out with only a few yards to spare. One does not pause in mid air, however, to contemplate his mistakes. Once again we were climbing, but I had apparently done no worse than most of the others. That was my only comfort, and with little chance for reflection, I was into my next dive. Thundering downward once more, and this time, this time, I would amaze everyone on the field. I would not allow the rising earth to hypnotize me—not this time.

Concentrating on the flight ahead, I watched it level and felt a slight disdain. They were pulling out far too high above the target, but for some reason also, I seemed to be seeing a second, duplicate wave, slightly

transparent, continuing straight on to its destruction, fourth dimensional versions of the impact, the explosions, erupting smoke and flame.

Unnerved, I actually pulled out higher than before. Disillusionment! Vexation! Humiliation! All of that and more. For a brief instant, however, it was as if I had actually known what it would be like to see others die, and to be drawn relentlessly after them. To keep right on going to the devastating point of impact. Decimation! Annihilation!

Again and again we repeated our suicide runs, but that day no one except our instructor pulled out with less than one hundred feet to spare. Gradually as the days passed, however, our confidence increased, and we began diving at the outlines of ships and carriers, painted on one end of the strip. After a few weeks we were pulling out with only fifty or sixty feet remaining.

Steadily we became more confident, and after three weeks we were given an added challenge. We were to complete every dive with our eyes closed. Dropping from approximately six thousand feet initially, we would count to ten before pulling back on the stick. Later, from half that height, we would count to six, coming even closer to destruction.

The tendency initially, of course, was to count very rapidly, and also either to peek or merely squint hard, eyes only partially closed. In time, though, we conquered this challenge as well. Although no one else would ever actually know whether we cheated or not, it became a matter of personal pride for many of us. We became masters at “blind diving”, and in time even dispensed with the counting entirely. We could actually feel our proximity to the earth, just as sightless people can sometimes sense the wall before them.

Daily now, also, we engaged in mock air battles with blank ammuni­tion, perfecting our skill at cutting tight circles, barrel and aileron rolling, leaf-dropping, performing loops and other more complicated maneuvers. And each day my confidence increased, for at this point I was completing each practice session with precision, making few mistakes.

My three companions were also proving themselves very capable. While Oka and Yamamoto flew with bold abandon, N akamura was more conservative and precise. Even so, there was no doubting his courage or determination. His suicide dives were executed to near perfection, and each time he pulled out at the same level with only slight variation.

By now, as well, our dives had become less disturbing because we

were far more confident regarding our reflexes and ability to judge dis­tance. In addition, they were now more of a game than preparation for death. Yes, I still understood their purpose, but their full significance was a growing abstraction, something that only happened to people in a novel or on the movie screen.

Consequently, we received a traumatic awakening a short while later in October. That month our first Tokkotai (special attack group) struck the enemy—Japan’s first actual suicide pilots. Within the next ten months five thousand more pilots would follow in their wake.

“A samurai lives in such a way that he will always be prepared to die.” Every Japanese fighting man knew these words. “We are expendable.” “Be resolved that honor is heavier than the mountains and death lighter than a feather.” This was all part of the timeless pattern, an ancient and revered religious philosophy, national Shintoism.

Its modern outgrowth involving the purposeful destruction of thousands of our pilots, however, originated in the mind of one Colo­nel Motoharu Okamura of Tateyama Air Base. His plan was covertly presented to Vice-Admiral Takijiro Onishi, Father of the Tokkotai, as he became known, and later approved by the Daihonei. Okamura believed that suicide pilots could fan the winds of battle in Japan’s favor. “I have personally talked to the pilots under my command,” he stated, “and I am convinced that there will be as many volunteers as are necessary.” After some deliberation his proposal was accepted.

In the latter part of October, shortly after American troops had launched their assault to take back the Philippines, the Daihonei released the following memorable communique:

“The Shikishima Unit of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps, at 1045 hours on 25 October 1944, succeeded in a surprise attack against the enemy task force, including four aircraft carriers, thirty nautical miles northeast of Sulan, Philippine Islands. Two Special Attack planes plunged together into an enemy carrier, causing great fires and explosions, and probably sinking the war­ship. A third plane dove into another carrier, setting additional fires. A fourth plane plunged into a cruiser, causing a tremendous explosion which sank the vessel immediately afterward.”

It was a young lieutenant Yukio Seki who became the world’s first

official human bomb when he led that famed Kamikaze attack on Leyte Bay. Seki, only married a short time, was approached by his superiors and asked whether he would accept the honor. For a moment he had hesitated, just long enough to glance down and run a hand through his hair. Then, slowly he looked up into the eyes of his inquisitors, and gave a quick nod. “Hai!” he said abruptly, “I am profoundly honored to be considered worthy.”

The attack, as indicated, was an astonishing success. The pilots had all been relatively inexperienced, but four of the five Zero fighters, each carrying a 550 pound bomb, had struck their targets according to escort observers.

Although Tokkotai was the designation for all suicide fighters, each group went under a different name. Kamikaze, however, the first attack corps, named after the “Divine Wind” that swamped Genghis Khan’s invading fleet in the Thirteenth Century, became the popular term. The name Kamikaze, therefore came to represent our entire suicide onslaught, one inflicting the heaviest losses in the history of the United States Navy, scoring hundreds of direct hits on its vessels.

Thus it was that by the end of October 1944, Kamikaze had become a rallying cry. Whereas the God of Heaven had once hurled the raging elements at our enemies, he would now hurl bomb-laden planes, piloted by living human beings. There was no denying our new-found power. Under the continual bombardment of Japanese propaganda agencies, optimism was kindled. Only a minority, an objective few, permitted themselves to suspect that Kamikaze was a telling indication of Japan’s desperate status.