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.

The Farewell Cup


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come what may, the war had ended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher’s Note


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High Rendezvous


he first American air raid on Tokyo had occurred more than two years before, and attacks against keyJapanese strongholds had increased ever since, but it was not until my fighter training that the bombs hit Hiro.

By now the loss of such vital bases as Indonesia, Burma, and Sumatra had greatly reduced our fuel supply. Already, in fact, the shortage was severe enough to prohibit engaging the enemy in lengthy air battles, even with our best fighter planes. Radar stations on our main islands warned of enemy approach. If their course was from Nagoya to the east or Oita the opposite direction, we relaxed. If they headed for Osaka between the two, we took to the sky, fearing that they might veer toward Hiro. Already it was mainly a matter of preserving our aircraft in virtually any manner possible.

It was just before noon one day in November that Hiro’s air raid sirens shrieked for the first time in earnest. Rushing to our trainers, we scrambled in, thundered down the runway, and headed for the clouds. Upon our return a short while later, the base was still in tact. A flight of

fighter-escorted B-29’s had bypassed Hiro and assaulted nearby Kure. For several days afterward the situation was repeated. Sirens keening, our scramble for the frantic take off, and cautious return. Each time Hiro remained unharmed.

Before long our training increased, and I graduated from my trainer to the Hayabusa 2, becoming a full-fledged fighter pilot, something I had dreamed about much of my life. Our furtive hide-and-seek tactics with the enemy, however, had disillusioned me terribly. Yasuo Kuwahara was not the invincible samurai of the skies, not the noble and glorious fighter pilot who would perform stunts over Tokyo on the Emperor’s birthday or on National Foundation Day. Instead, I was compelled to flee at the first sign of danger, to hide like a coward.

The situation filled us all with disgust and humiliation. Simultane­ously, it was depressing and alarming to realize that our country was in such dire straits. True, we were assured by our leaders that our elusive tactics were only temporary, that Japan was prepared for continual en­emy encroachments, that at the right moment it would counter attack with overwhelming savagery. But such propaganda had acquired the odor of decay for many of us. True, Kamikaze had taken its toll on our enemies, but it had not turned them back.

One day we returned from the clouds to discover that the games of our recent past were over. Hiro was belching smoke, one of its hangars enveloped in flame. Several Liberator bombers had appeared with scant warning and assaulted us, tearing up part of the airstrip, destroying much of the fighter assembly plant.

Fire fighters were battling frantically while a repair crew hastily struggled to fill in craters along the runways. It was more than two hours before, fuel running low, we were able to make a precarious landing. Having given our reports in the orderly room, we wandered aimlessly about the base, surveying the destruction. A bitter and dejected group of young fighter pilots.

Nakamura and I plodded slowly along the gray-white runway, hands in our pockets, heads down, except for an occasional glance about to assess the damage. So this was what bombs could do to a base, and it was only a small taste of things to come. We both knew that, and stared for a time at the charred hangar with its ruined aircraft. “Fighter pilots that can’t fight,” Nakamura sneered. “Ha!”

Later that day I visited Tatsuno. He had made his solo flight in the Akatombo and was doing well thus far. With the bombs now striking Hiro, it was unlikely that he and his companions would undergo a full apprenticeship. “You might be flying the Hayabusa before you know it,” I said, “maybe any day now.”

For a while Tatsuno offered no reply. We were seated together on the tail section of a badly damaged bomber near one of the hangars watching the repair work still underway along parts of the air field. Eventually, he turned and eyed me searchingly. “Maybe it will be the way we always hoped, Yasuo. It seems too good to be true, and yet. . . .” He hesitated, frowning. I watched him, sensing that he was about to say something I didn’t want to hear. “Well, I never expected things were going to be like this.”

“Like what?” I asked, feeling a bit angry for some reason.

He shrugged. “I don’t know, but if we’re really going to win? When do we start? The attacks are getting worse all the time. And if we can’t stop them now, how can we expect to stop them a month from now, or a half year from now? What’s the secret? What are we waiting for?” Tatsuno’s voice was quiet and strained.

“Things usually get bad for both sides before a war is over,” I said. “Yes, but what are we doing? Are we really hurting the Americans? Are we bombing California, New York, and Washington?”

“Those places are too far away right now,” I countered.

“Of course,” Tatsuno said, “and we’re too close. That’s the whole problem. They’re too far and we’re too close; they’re too big, and we’re too small! Do you realize that California alone—just one of their forty – eight states—is the size of our entire country?”

“Aw, that can’t be right,” I mumbled..

“It is right!” he insisted. “Don’t you remember our geography class? California is as big as our four main islands combined.”

“Maybe,” I admitted, “but it’s not just size that wins wars. It’s the spirit. It’s determination and courage.”

Tatsuno angled me a glance that seemed a bit scornful. “So aren’t

they determined and courageous too? They’ve got to be to have us tak­ing it on the chin like this. When are we going to strike back and make the Americans retreat? Once they’ve dumped their bombs on every city in Japan and taken over the Emperor’s Palace?”

I offered no answer. There was none. Eventually, I arose. “I’d better get back to the barracks,” I said.

“Already?” He looked rather sorrowful. “You’ve only been here a few minutes.”

“I know “ I replied uncertainly, and began to walk away. “But I’ve got a lot to do. I haven’t finished studying for my test on navigation.” Once I glanced back. Tatsuno was still sitting there, leaning forward on his knees, gazing out across the runway. I waved, but he barely lifted his hand.

That afternoon I was in the air again—five of us flying above the Inland Sea at twelve thousand feet somewhere between Kure and Iwakuni. Clouds were forming rapidly below us, literally before our eyes, and falling steadily behind like shredding cotton. Far off, beyond the mountains, a spectral moon hung faint and gray, and occasionally I glanced downward at the sea, its endless, undulating surface, wrinkled, patched with shadow and alternating expanses that dazzled the eye.

At the moment it again seemed very strange to think that throughout the world men were caught up in a cataclysmic struggle of death and hatred. Slightly ahead and above me was Lieutenant Shimada, a veteran combat fighter whom we all greatly respected. Shimada had fought in many a battle going back to the early days when our planes had so badly outclassed the American P-39’s and P-40’s. He had known the taste of victory, and more than one enemy had fallen victim to his guns.

Sunlight gleamed on his cockpit, revealing at times the man within. I could see his leather helmet, the goggles resting upon his forehead, and my heart brimmed with admiration. Slender and unassuming, he spoke very little, but he fought with great talent and valor. Occasionally Shimada’s head tilted slightly from side to side as he surveyed the wait­ing sky. But even those motions, the very line of his shoulders, conveyed precision and vigilance.

The vast reaches of the sky, the water and receding landscape and the waning moon all imparted serenity. I shifted in my seat, glancing back and downward over my left wing at the ocean. Winter would soon be upon us, and once more, gazing toward the distant shores of Honshu, I recalled my walks with Tomika, the fishermen at their nets—bare toes in the sand and the sense of its fading warmth, the sound of their voices and occasional laughter. The laughter of fishermen and their wives was not that of the bars or the crowded streets. It was a part of nature itself, mingling with the sigh and rush of the waves and the cries of sea birds.

Had the war changed all this? Erased it forever? Suddenly I wanted desperately to turn toward Onomichi. I would land on some empty stretch of shore, taking comfort in my very aloneness. The fish shacks would be vacant now, even the nets gone, but I would pause and listen, listen for the last faint strains of haunting laughter.

My earphones crackled, snapping me back to reality. “Enemy, two o’clock low!” I peered anxiously, saw nothing, then shot a glance at our leader. He nodded, pointing downward at an angle with his finger, and my eyes followed. This time I saw them—formation after formation—a tremendous swarm of Grumman Hellcats, and they were headed di­rectly for Hiro!

For a moment I lost my breath. No, this could not be happening; it was an optical allusion, a fantasy. I checked my oxygen mask nervously, and all was in order. But the enemy was still there. Still afar off, though increasingly substantial—an immense swarm, too numerous to count.

Of course, I told myself, we wouldn’t attack, not with only five air­craft. No, that would be sheer lunacy, and fortunately they were appar­ently unaware of us. It would be better, regardless, to perfect our flying skills. Air fights? Later, when we were more experienced. I glanced back off my right wing at Shiro Hashimoto, a recently acquired comrade, caught his eye, and pointed toward the enemy below. Then I opened and closed my hand rapidly. Hashimoto nodded, actually grinned.

And now, to my surprise, Shimada was turning, angling toward them. Automatically, the rest of us responded, following close behind. He was definitely tracking the Hellcats. Could this be possible? Attack? No, I told myself. We were merely observing to determine their intentions.

Nevertheless, I checked my guns. It was always good to check, because one of these days when the odds were better, we’d be using them.

My ears buzzed, and I flinched. Incredible! We were going to attack! What should I do? Already I was forgetting everything I had learned. My mind had gone blank. I was on the verge of panic! Release auxiliary gas tank! Yes, that came first. Otherwise a single bullet could blow me into the next world. Tanks from our four other planes were already tumbling downward, and we were closing fast. Again I adjusted my mask. Again I checked my guns.

What now? Just follow Shimada—no other choice. Yes, just follow Shimada. Do everything he does and it will be all right. Remember how you followed The Mantis? Follow Shimada, only not so close, not so close! Don’t tense up! Don’t freeze. Relax, Kuwahara, relax. Your back is like a gate post. All right. . . better now. Breathe calmly. You can’t fight the enemy if you’re fighting yourself. Shimada’s beginning his dive, so follow. Over you go, Kuwahara, over you go.

Shimada has peeled off, seeming to lift slightly, balancing it seems for a full second on his wing tip, then dropping away with increasing speed, his nose angling toward the enemy. I am following his swiftly vanishing tail, and the Hellcats are in full view, growing larger at every second. At first, just minutes earlier, only toy planes, but now they are actual aircraft, formidable looking fighters, with men inside. Americans!

It is absolutely clear now. We will strike at their rear then fan off rap­idly, hit and run. Too many for anything else. The enemy is still unaware of us. Should I begin firing? No, wait for our leader. Do everything he does. But why doesn’t he shoot? We can shoot now, spray them en masse and drop a dozen or more. Yes, yes! I’m sure we can Nearer. . . nearer. . . rapidly closing. Shimada is opening up! Ripping off short, deadly bursts. . . swift red trails from the tracers, fleeting away with diabolical speed, seeming to arch and curve, heading for the enemy.

The Hellcats are aware of us now. Rolling off, no doubt in their minds. Fire, Kuwahara— fire! I haven’t even squeezed the trigger. Wildly I blaze away. Compulsive, attenuated blasts. . . all consumed by the sky. Then a Hellcat flips crazily, rotating belly up, veering off, angling downward. A remarkable maneuver, but no—he’s hit. I hit him. . . got him!

No, no. . . Shimada has done it. My own tracers are swallowed again and again into an endless void of deepening blue. We flash on past the stricken aircraft, banking and climbing, eager for altitude.

The entire tail of the Hellcat formation has scattered, the rest far ahead. Half a mile or so below, Shimada’s victim is spiraling downward in its death throes, vomiting black smoke, smoke as black as tar. Flames lapping savagely with a kind of awful glee all along the fuselage.

Fascinated, I watched its waning death plunge, gripped simultane­ously by exultation and frustration. I had never known it would be so gratifying to see an enemy destroyed. But why couldn’t I have been the one to do it? Just that one Hellcat when the chance was so perfect. But perfect opportunities, I soon discovered, are rare and very brief, usually only seconds, even for the most skilled. At the time, though, I didn’t even remember having him in my sights. I had just fired away compulsively hoping to score a hit by spraying enough sky.

By now we were fleeing for home, and I caught a gleam of silver from the corner of my eye, above and off my right wing tip about four hundred yards away. Then another and another, flashing and vanish­ing, flashing and vanishing, among the wisps of cloud. Once I glanced down and caught my breath. A short distance below and to my right three Hellcats were keeping pace. I had always supposed that the Haya- busa 2 could outdistance most other aircraft including the enemy’s, but the American fighters were keeping up, and we were going all out, full throttle. Maybe, I thought, they have better fuel, higher octane.

No time then for further reflection. Three more Hellcats—apparent­ly the glints of silver I spotted seconds earlier—had materialized, diving at us head on from a thousand yards above, descending with terrifying speed. Strange ripping sounds within the top of my cockpit, but I failed to comprehend the cause. Holes appearing strangely along the trailing edge of my right wing. Instinctively I glanced to the rear and glimpsed a single enemy plane, closing at three hundred yards—sporadic red lines, tracing the space that separated us, and fleeting past my cockpit.

“Cut right, cut right!” The voice of Shimada just ahead, as he performed a tight, rolling bank. The rest of us followed, and shortly thereafter I was on the tail of an enemy. Another chance, and this time I wouldn’t betray it. I had him in my range finder now and fired off a calculated burst. A bit too high. Two more. . . lengthier but more precise.

The bullets were going home!

It all had a dream-like quality. . . the roaring of my motor, the fierce, staccato thumping of my guns, the whitening sky. . . . But the Grumman was wounded, trailing wisps of smoke. Ramming my plane into a steep climb, I glanced down, following its path, saw the pilot bail out. The chute trailed him, and for an instant I thought it had malfunctioned. Then it popped open, bringing with it recollections of the Mantis that day over the mountains of Fukugawa.

Suddenly I realized that I was no longer with our leader. There was nothing left of our formation, nothing but Americans and a few badly outnumbered Japanese scrambled throughout the clouds. Then, without the slightest warning, I heard the voice of Lieutenant Shimada. “I’m wounded. . . burning. . . going to crash. Save yourselves! Return and report!” Simultaneously, I spotted his plane. It curved across my line of vision just ahead, caught in flame, a virtual fire ball. Then a wild explo­sion as he struck the American Hellcat broadside, and the two planes were plummeting downward in flame and smoke, disintegrating.

Now my own craft was vibrating strangely, coughing and trembling, the prop roar becoming hoarse and gravelly. My head felt light. I was not getting enough oxygen. Tearing off my mask, I dived steeply, saw the ocean’s approach, and glanced at my air speed indicator. It didn’t register, and the wind was screeching through my new bullet holes. I stared at the fuel gauge, and my fears were confirmed. Little left. I’d never make it to Hiro.

For now, however, there was no sign of the enemy. It was as if the destruction had spawned a wind to sweep the heavens clean. Gradu­ally, nervously alert, I gained my bearings and limped onward toward Kyushu. The enemy’s 50-caliber machine guns had created more havoc than I’d realized earlier. Even my compass was gone, but it was impossible to miss Kyushu, one of our four main islands there below the southwestern tip of Honshu.

Twenty minutes or so later, my motor still sputtering at times, gas tank nearly empty, I was nearing the air base at Oita. Still no sign of my companions, and it was impossible to believe that Shimada was gone. I had observed his fiery death close hand, perhaps the only living witness, yet I could not make it register. My mind was numb.

Now the landing strip was in sight, rapidly growing, and I circled, calling in for authorization to land. Moments later, as I made my ap­proach, a warning sounded from below. “This is the control tower: Do not land—your landing gear is not down!” My pulse rate surged. “Repeat—do not land! Your landing gear is not down!

Pulling back on the stick, I began my ascent, circling, I pushed the button again and again. “Your landing gear is not down!” Frantically I searched my instrument panel, knowing that only minutes remained, if that long, until my fuel was gone. Then, groping about beneath the panel, I discovered that the landing gear connecting wires had become separated, perhaps severed by a bullet. Fortunately, it was a simple mat­ter to rejoin the ends, and this time as I pushed the button, my wheels lowered into position.

Within a few seconds I was again making my approach, landing with a slight jolt and screech of rubber, taxiing slowly toward the main hangar. My first air battle was over.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honor and a Lost Cause


pon returning to Hiro, I learned that two others of our group had made it to safety. My friend Shiro Hashimoto had been shot down but had survived with a badly shattered leg, A few days later, Oka, Yamamoto, Nakamura, and I visited him at a hospital in Hiroshima and were depressed at what we found. Hashimoto’s leg had been amputated and he had attempted suicide.

Antiseptic odors assailed my nostrils as we entered the room, and I began to wish we had never come. What could we possibly do, even say that would help? Simultaneously, I was strangely fascinated by the scene.

Hashimoto seemed to be a different person, wraith-like there in his white bed. His skin was ashen. Only the burning eyes revealed what was happening inside. The cotton blanket dropped away starkly where his leg should have been. Our greetings were uncertain, trite, somewhat embarrassed. “We brought you some magazines,” I said, humiliated at the triviality of such a gesture.

“Thanks, Kuwahara,” he said,” but I don’t feel like reading anything right now.”

“Well. . .” I replied hesitantly, “maybe we can just leave them for you. . . until you’re feeling better. I mean. . .” I persisted, “I’m sure you’ll be improving in a few days.”

Hashimoto shook his head, gasping a dry laugh. “How do you im­prove when a leg’s been blasted off? Grow a new one?”

I made no reply, and we all simply stood there, wordless and stupid. Yet something had to be said. Why were they leaving it all to me? I was becoming irritated and eventually blundered onward. “We know it’s very hard for you right now,” I said and patted his hand, groping for an intel­ligent thought. “But you have fulfilled your obligation to the Emperor. You are a true samurai, far more than the rest of us. And, from now on you will be able to do as you please, even find a wife and get married.” I knew that last was a mistake even before I said it, but the words had simply tumbled out.

“Oh yes!” Hashimoto rasped. “Wonderful! Maybe I can find a good strong one—one like an ox who can carry a cripple on her back.”

Still, I kept talking. “I know how you feel, but lots of people are be­ing wounded in this great war, and that doesn’t mean they can’t marry. Think of Lieutenant Shimada. He’ll never—”

“Would to God, that I had followed Shimada!” Hashimoto croaked, actually struggling to sit up as if he might attack me. Then he fell back with a moan, closing his eyes, barely breathing, it seemed. “What good am I?” he sighed. I could scarcely hear him. “To anybody?”

Silently cursing myself, I glanced at the others. There was no accu­sation in their own countenances, merely vacuity. Yamamoto shook his head and stared at the floor. Then Oka, with a slight toss of his head, indicated the door. Reluctantly, I started to leave, but turned back for an instant, patting his shoulder. “We’ll see you again soon,” I said, knowing that we might never see him at all. It was too painful.

Just then footsteps sounded in the hallway. A man and a woman entered, obviously Hashimoto’s parents. After we had exchanged intro­ductions, the woman turned to her son without speaking and laid her hand upon his brow. Long delicate fingers, slightly tremulous. “Here,”

Oka volunteered and slid the room’s only chair her way. Thanking him, she sat down and continued to stroke Hashimoto’s forehead.

Again there was silence, and again we were ready to leave, but now the woman was speaking. “Why must people fight? Why must they hate and destroy each other? Why?” Her voice was surprisingly rich and low, filled with incredulity. She was shaking her head now, eyes half closed. “Oh, the senselessness of it all! The stupidity! Why can’t. . . ?” She hesitated, eyes closed for an instant, collecting herself. “Shiro’s father and I did not rear him so that he could lose his leg. Nor did we rear his brother Joji to die in some awful jungle on Guadalcanal.”

Hesitantly I informed her that I had recommended her son for the medal of valor, but that too was a mistake. Obviously the only way to avoid further idiocy was to keep my mouth shut.

For a moment I gazed out the window across Hiroshima. Little did I comprehend how ironic her comments about death and destruction would become in the days ahead and how applicable with respect to that city. At the moment, I devoutly wished that we had never come there, that I could simply vanish.

“I did not mean to hurt your feelings,” she said, “or to appear un­grateful, but there is something I must tell you all before you go. Look at me all of you,” she commanded, and we glanced at her in surprise. “Listen to me carefully, my sons.” Our astonishment increased. Her voice was harsh and dry, almost guttural, yet somehow very appealing, and her eyes possessed a kind of passionate fluidity.

“Your minds are filled with strange ideas,” she continued, “much that is false and malevolent. Ideas about honor and glory, dying with valor. These and many related matters.” Her face was solemn, remark­ably commanding, etched with many lines but also beautiful. Her hair contained a startling streak of white as though it might have been splashed with acid.

“But I advise you to forget such things. Seek only to preserve life— your own and those of others. Life alone is sacred.” Her eyes held us hypnotically. “There is no honor, my sons, in dying for a lost cause.”

I stared at her in disbelief, shot a glance at her husband, expect­ing him to rebuke her. As though reading my thoughts, she eyed him sharply, but he remained silent. “Fathers feel no differently about this than mothers do,” she persisted, “not deep inside.”

Suddenly I recalled with great poignancy how my own father had looked into my eyes months earlier and inquired, “Do you know my heart?”

Shortly afterward we said goodbye, but all the way back to Hiro I kept hearing the words of Hashimoto’s mother: “There is no honor in dying for a lost cause.” A lost cause? An indescribable feeling was set­tling, infusing the very pores of my skin with hopelessness. Throughout the following days those words persisted. The feeling increased, and gradually I became indignant. Who was that woman that she could presume to speak such heresy? A mere woman! And her husband—he must have been a small man. Indeed, a very small man! Obviously, she was in command of that household. She controlled him! Heresy in and of itself.

But my indignation often left me as rapidly as it had come. Always the cold and frightened feeling returned, increasing. I had not seen much of Tatsuno the past few weeks. Both of us, of course, were heavily involved in our military duties, but gradually I came to realize that he made me uncomfortable in much the same way Hashimoto’s mother had. What had he said during our last actual visit? Something about the secret. Yes, what was the secret? What were we waiting for?

I had no answer, none at least that I could accept emotionally. Surely the words of Hashimoto’s mother and Tatsuno did not reflect the attitude of our people in general. And yet. . . I could not deny it. The disillusion­ment was growing, and at last I began to face the facts.

Japan had been driven back three thousand miles across the Pacific. MacArthur had returned to the Philippines, entering Luzon and van­quishing our forces at Leyte Gulf. This I had learned through the winds of military rumor, but the winds had now attained gale force. Although I did not realize it initially, that loss had virtually eliminated Japan as a naval power. Even then, however, I knew that it had exerted a serious impact on troop morale. For many months the Americans had taken very few captives, but now we were surrendering in substantial numbers.

Of course, there was Kamikaze. The suicide attacks had increased on a grand scale, and from all that we could learn they had been highly ef­fective. For a time, in fact, they had fanned the flames of hope, yet still. .

. would Kamikaze actually stop the enemy? If so, it would require far more human bombs. Colonel Okamura’s estimate that three hundred suicide planes could alter the war in our favor was obviously much too small.

Nevertheless, a part of me clung to the fraying branches of hope. If a “Divine Wind” had saved our country once when her plight was just as desperate, why not again? Was not the Imperial Way the right way after all? The best way, ultimately, for the world? Was not Japan divinely destined for leadership? If indeed there were a God—one of truth, reason, and justice—was it not only right, but also eminently logical that he should come to our rescue? Possibly our present trials were the final test, one of our courage and worthiness. So maybe, just when our plight looked the most bleak, as night was closing in, our circumstances would improve.

But how many human bombs would it require? Many of our men were still willing to lay down their lives. To many, in fact, it was no sacrifice. To some, honor and duty were, in very deed, heavier than the mountains, death lighter than a feather.

In any event, the Divine Wind was steadily mounting, and as it increased more and more of us would be drawn into it. Only a matter of time, only a matter of time. The clouds were darkening above Hiro. The first gusts were coming.

National Glider Champion


t is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine where the forces eventuating inJapan’s Kamikaze offensive, the strangest warfare in history, began. Ask the old man, the venerable ojiisan, with his flowing beard—the man who still wears kimono and clattering wooden geta on the streets—for he is a creature of the past. Perhaps he will tell you that these mysterious forces were born with his country over two and a half millennia ago, with Jimmu Tenno, first emperor, descendant of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami. Or, he may contend that their real birth came twenty centuries later, reflected in the proud spirit and tradition of the samurai, the famed and valiant warriors of feudal times.

Whatever their beginnings, these forces focused upon me during 1943, in the midst of World War II, when I was a mere boy of only fifteen. It was then that I won the Japanese National Glider Championship.

Back where memory blurs into veils of forgetfulness I can vaguely discern a small boy watching hawks circle above the velvet mountains of Honshu—watching enviously each afternoon. I remember how he even envied the sparrows as they chittered and flitted through the shrubbery and arched across the roofs. To fly—transcend the bondage of gravity! What incomparable freedom! What exhilaration! What joy!

Strangely, even then, I sensed that my future lay somewhere in the skies. At fourteen, attending Onomichi High School, I was old enough to participate in a glider training course sponsored by the Osaka Prefecture, a training that had two advantages. First, it was the chance I had waited for all my life—a chance to be in the air. Secondly, war was reverberating throughout the world, and while many students were required to spend part of their regular school time working in the factories, I was permit­ted to learn glider flying for two hours every day. All students, in fact, were either directly engaged in producing war materials or preparing themselves as future defenders of their country though such programs as judo, sword fighting, or marksmanship. Even grade school children were taught to self defense with sharpened bamboo shafts.

Our glider training was conducted on a grassy field near the school, and the first three months were often frustrating since we never once moved off the ground. Fellow trainees merely took turns towing each other across the lawn, getting plenty of exercise, while the would-be pilot vigorously manipulated the wing and tail flaps with hand and foot controls, pretending that he was soaring at some awesome height in com­pany with the eagles. Much of our time was also devoted to calisthenics, and it was apparent even then that all of our training was calculated to prepare us for great challenges and trials.

Gradually we began taking to the air, only a few feet above the ground initially, but what excitement! Eventually, thanks to the exer­tions of a dozen or so young comrades, we were towed rapidly enough to ascend some sixty feet, the maximum height for a primary glider.

Having mastered the fundamentals, we were transferred to the secondary glider, which was car-towed for the take-off and capable of remaining aloft for several minutes. It had a semi-enclosed cockpit and a control stick with a butterfly-shaped steering device for added maneuverability.

Aside from understanding the basic mechanical requirements of glider flying, it was necessary to sense the air currents, feel them out, automatically judging their direction and intensity, like the hawks above the mountains.

How far should I travel into the wind? Often I could determine this only by thrusting my head from the cockpit and letting the drafts cascade against my face. And at times of descent just before I had circled to soar once more upon the thermals the onrushing air tide seemed to have acquired a kind of solidity becoming almost stifling. Moments before take-off, in fact, the air impact was tremendous, nearly overwhelming, requiring all my strength to work the controls.

How far to travel in one direction before circling, precisely how much to elevate the wing flaps to avoid stalling and still maintain maximum height. . . these things were not charted beforehand. But the bird instinct was within me, and I was able to pilot my glider successfully, qualifying for national competition the following year.

Approximately six hundred glider pilots throughout Japan, mainly high school students, had qualified for the big event at Mt. Ikoma near Nara and the great city of Osaka. The competition was divided into two phases: group and individual. Contenders could participate in either or both events and were judged on such points as time in the air, distance traveled at a specific altitude, ability to turn within a prescribed space, and angle of descent.

Perhaps it was our intensive training, perhaps destiny, that led six of us from Onomichi High School in western Honshu to the group championship. What glee and wild rejoicing! In addition, two of us were selected from that number for individual competition against about fifty others. I was one of them.

Every contestant was to fly four times, and points accumulated dur­ing each flight would be totaled to determine the winner. At the onset I was exceptionally tense and nervous, but such feelings soon faded, and to my immense delight my first three flights seemed almost perfect. Vic­tory was actually in sight!

Sunlight was warming the mountain summit when my final flight commenced. A hundred yards below on the spacious glider field, I steadied myself in the cockpit, feeling a tremor in the fragile structure that held me—delicate wood framework, curved and fastened with light aluminum and covered with silk the color of butter cups. The tow rope had been attached to a car ahead, a hook in the other end fastened to a metal ring just beneath the glider’s nose. Opening and closing my hand on the control stick, I breathed deeply and concentrated on vic­tory. “You can do it, Kuwahara,” I told myself, “you can do it. You’re invincible—you’re going to win.”

Simultaneously my veins, even the tiniest capillaries in my skin, be­gan to tingle. This was the biggest test of my life, a chance to be crowned the greatest high school glider pilot in the Nippon Empire.

My craft lurched and began sliding irresistibly across the turf, and my heart rate increased along with the acceleration. Then I was lifting, confronting the air mass which suddenly seemed immensely heavy and resistant, almost like water. Lifting, lifting. . . straining with the con­trols, feeling disconcerting vibrations. Almost as suddenly, the pressure relaxed, and the bright day itself was bearing me upward. I was above Ikoma’s calm, green summit, angled sunlight turning the leaves along its western perimeter the colors of polished brass and chrome.

I continued to climb, confident with the controls, now buoyed sky­ward on a powerful updraft. Soon I was beginning my first circle, work­ing the flaps carefully to maximize my advantage, and now the glider was responding to my touch with great empathy, with a life of its own. Simultaneously, the two of us were becoming one, soaring exultantly, carried ever higher upon the mounting currents.

Then we were making our first, broad gyration. I gazed over my shoulder at the landing strip, the upturned faces and waving hands. Three times I circled, lofting and descending, sweeping far out beyond expectation on the final one as the glider field and its throng faded. Then I became one with a flight of gulls, entranced by their whiteness against the blue of the sky. It was a good omen. Kobe Bay rejoiced in the sunlight a short distance to the east, Lake Biwa a bit farther, to the north. Thirty-eight minutes after take-off I settled to the patient earth amid a chorus of cheers.

It took nearly half an hour for the judges to finish tallying our point totals and compare scores—one of the longest waits of my life, and my ears hummed with increasing volume as I listened for the results. I knew that I had done well, that my chances for the prize were good, but at that point nothing seemed real. Then. . . then, suddenly! My name was being announced, blaring stridently over the loud speaker: “Kuwahara-

Yasuo, 340 points—first place, individual competition!” Vaguely I heard the next name being announced for second place as friends slapped my back, shouted my name and cheered. I saw the faces of my family, beaming and radiant as they pushed through the throng. I was glider champion of the Nippon Empire.

At that moment I had no idea how such a distinction would drasti­cally alter my entire existence.

Death Greets the New Year


n New Year’s day 1945, fighter pilots from Hiro’s Fourth Squadron held a testimonial ceremony for those of our number who had died. Captain Yoshiro Tusbaki, the squadron commander, de­livered an impassioned speech declaring our moral obligation to avenge those deaths. And later we visited Hiro’s military shrine. Not many had died yet from Hiro. In fact, all my close friends were still with me. There was one name, however, that I will never forget, that of Lieutenant Jiro Shimada who had died and taken an enemy with him in my first air battle. For a long time I gazed at his name plate there on the base of the shrine. One of the fallen valiant.

Again I saw his plane like a flaming meteor, the crashing and bil­lowing explosion. . . the two aircraft, fused as one then decimated. . . the blackened, smoking fragments dropping toward the water. Japanese and American, united even in the midst of their disintegration. Falling, falling, falling down and away. “No more New Years for you, Lieuten­ant Shimada.” The words were not spoken, mere pulsations in my mind. “You have fulfilled your obligation to the Emperor.” Then, very slowly, I turned and walked away.

What sad attempts we made, our words of “Happy New Year” fall­ing like frozen clods to the earth. No doubt all of us were thinking of New Year’s Day at home somewhere in the dreamscape of the past. I recalled with a sudden twinge of nostalgia how Tomika and I had run through out home on that same day years before, jubilantly scattering beans about to drive out the evil spirits.

The spirit that entered Hiro that New Years afternoon in 1945, however, could not be driven out by scattering beans, even by the shed­ding of blood. It was then that Captain Tusbaki called a meeting unlike anything I had experienced before or since.

It was then that Hiro’s first Kamikaze were appointed. “Those of you unwilling to lay down your lives as divine sons of the great Nippon Empire will not be required to do so.” Such had been his words, his promise. Then. . . the ultimate, dramatic pause. His eyes like burning cinders. “Those incapable of accepting this honor will raise their hands now!”

Ah yes, to be a suicide pilot, a Kamikaze. That would be the honor of honors. Had not everyone said so? But six men had raised their hands during that meeting in response to the Captain’s promise of exemption, men I knew well. Afraid enough, or perhaps brave enough, to admit what most of us secretly felt.

They had chosen life and been given death, a dubious honor.

A few months earlier, men at other bases had volunteered with ap­parent alacrity. Now, it would seem, many had to be compelled, even tricked! Stern evidence that Kamikaze was already considered a failure, a futile death, by ever-growing numbers. Daily the Allies were becoming stronger. There was no denying it now. Moving ever closer, with more men, more ships, more aircraft. The B-29 Superfortresses, ominous grumbling monstrosities that they were, had begun to clot the heavens, leaving swaths of fire and destruction. The American naval forces were closing in a terrible juggernaut.

How I hated to admit it, fought against the very idea, but it would not be denied. Japan was losing fast. How long, I wondered, would our people be able to hide behind a crumbling facade of propaganda? How much longer could anyone remain in denial? Six at Hiro had refused to, and now, ironically, would forfeit their lives in consequence. Early in January, only days after our meeting, they left Hiro for suicide training.

Periodically from then on, men were selected from my squadron and trans­ferred to Kyushu for their final preparations, never to be heard of again.

For nearly a year now we had been carefully conditioned to accept the inevitability and glory of death in battle. For thousands, actually; it was a part of our historic philosophy. But now, suddenly, the tentacles were reaching out, relentlessly taking and taking. With each departure our sense of doom expanded. Sometimes it was a leaden feeling in the gut, sometimes a clotting in the throat. Increasingly it was both, often accompanied by waves of sadness, nascent tears and a kind of crying of the heart.

On the other hand, I had come through several air battles now with a second enemy plane to my credit, and that had at least increased my confidence as a fighter pilot. Flying over the inlet between Kure and Tokuyama, six of us had jumped two American fighters, and it had been surprisingly easy. Approximately one thousand feet above them, we veered off, diving at terrific speed and struck from the rear, almost before they were aware of our existence. All six of us opening up simul­taneously with cannons and machine guns.

The nearest American virtually disintegrated under our combined onslaught and went down in a sheet of flame. The second attempted to escape, performing a sharp bank to throw us off, but two of us had anticipated the move, and within seconds I had him in my range finder. It was almost that simple. Three or four fierce bursts, and he folded, plummeting downward in a smoking tail spin. How different from my first encounter with the enemy. I almost felt cheated.

So, I was becoming a capable pilot rather quickly, as also was Na­kamura with one plane to his own credit. Yet no matter how skilled we might be, no matter how many adversaries we might vanquish, the sup­ply seemed unlimited. Indeed, relentlessly, growing, almost fiendishly. Doom was omnipresent like an oncoming tidal wave. Only one hope for survival now, a tenuous wisp which I scarcely dared contemplate. The merest acknowledgement, in fact, spelled disloyalty if not cowardice. It was February 1945, and the enemy was attacking Iwo Jima, just over 650 miles from our capital, so perhaps the war would end before long. Most of us, I suspect, prayed for this. N ot directly, perhaps, for the defeat of our country but rather for a cessation to hostilities. Truly a strange

and paradoxical form of denial. Many of our civilians still had faith that Japan would prevail, but we who lived within the inferno had to be either naive, fanatical, or both to expect triumph now.

Within only a few weeks my conviction regarding Japan’s impend­ing fate had become a kind of groundswell. And gradually, my fears of compromising myself began to evaporate. Now that surrender was only a matter of time, irrevocable, I was praying for it with increasing fervor and frequency. It had become the classic race against the calendar, perhaps even the clock, and ironically only the enemy could save us.

Some of us at least had greater hope than others. Most of our fliers at Hiro were inexperienced, and already I was among those ranked as top pilots. Such men would be preserved as long as possible to provide base protection and fighter escort for suicide missions into the Pacific. We would return and report in detail upon their success.

Consequently, our poorest pilots died first, causing the enemy to conclude, initially at least, that there were no skillful Kamikaze. In the words of American Admiral Marc Mitscher: “One thing is certain: there are no experienced Kamikaze pilots.”

Regularly at this point, orders from the Daihonei in Tokyo were sent to key air installations throughout the four main islands, specifying how many pilots each base would contribute at any given time. These larger installations, in turn, drew men from bases within their jurisdic­tion. The one at Hiroshima, for example, drew from nearby Hiro, our own base, also from Kure, and Yokoshima—all on the main Island of Honshu. Men were then committed to special suicide bases including Kagoshima, the largest, on the southern inlet of Kyushu.

In general Kamikaze attacks were mounted in waves of fifteen or twenty planes at thirty-minute intervals. Some of those pilots were al­legedly sealed or locked into their cockpits, but I never witnessed such things. Nor, in my opinion, was there any reason for it. Once it all began, there was no turning back except for a rare few who returned, having been unable to find the enemy. Frequently, in fact, our Kamikaze actually opened their cockpits and signaled with flags or scarves upon sighting the first American ships—a final show of bravado, a last gesture to boost one’s courage before the plunge into oblivion.

No one living will ever comprehend the feelings of those men who covenanted with death. Not even condemned murders, not fully. The murderer is atoning for the ultimate crime against god and humanity; justice is meted out. Of course, men throughout the world have died for their countries, sometimes knowing in advance that death was inevi­table. But where, before or since, has there ever been such massive and premeditated self destruction as occurred with the Kamikaze? Where have thousands of men diligently set about their own annihilation, training methodically, relentlessly, mulling over all the details for weeks, sometimes months?

Neither the Shintoistic concept of a post-mortal existence as a guard­ian warrior in the spirit realms nor the Buddhistic doctrine of nirvana has always provided solace. The “mad, fanatic Jap” was often a mere school boy, snared in the great skein of fate, not above weeping for the arms of his mother in many cases.

Not that there weren’t fanatical Japanese fighters. Some wanted nothing but to die gloriously, to honor the Emperor, to gain revenge. Even the subdued, bespectacled student, browsing through some Tokyo library, might be molded by circumstances into a flaming soul dedicated to death. And there were some who seemed to approach the end as though it were only a morning stroll.

In general, however, we pilots moved along two broad paths. The Kichigai (madmen) were fierce in their hatred, seeking honor and im­mortality, living for only one purpose—to die. Many of these came from the navy air force which contributed a far greater number of Kamikaze.

As time passed, I personally allied myself more closely with a sec­ond group whose sentiments were basically the opposite though rarely expressed openly. These men, mainly the better educated, were referred to as Sukebei (libertines) by the Kichigai. I should stress, however, that the Sukebei were not unpatriotic, not, at least, in their own view. I would die for my country today if necessary, as I would have died then. But life was decidedly dearer to us. We saw no purpose in death for death’s sake alone, and at times now our country’s fate welled ominously like the seething crater of a volcano as viewed through endlessly shifting vapors.

Certainly, also, there was a middle ground, and each man’s at­titude fluctuated to some extent from hour to hour. There were times when I longed for revenge. Or when I considered that by destroying an

American ship I might save many of my people. . . then my own life seemed insignificant.

How often I had struggled for a certain attitude toward death—a special, indescribable feeling of acceptance. What was it that made men unafraid? Was it courage? What was courage? “We are expendable!” That was the cry. “Be resolved that honor is heavier than the mountains and death lighter than a feather.” Countless times I had repeated those words, repeated them obsessively. With some men that conviction seems to have been innate. With me it was ephemeral; I was always fighting to re-kindle the flame.

All of my friends were still with me, Tatsuno now a fighter pilot. Ah, to be a fighter pilot, to be with my friends against the enemy. That had always been my dream. But it was a tattered and fading dream already. Some of us were bound to make our final, one-way trip soon, no matter how good we were. Who would be first?

Daily I went through our routine suicide practice. Methodically I performed each dive— with absolute precision now, near perfection, but little satisfaction. Mechanically I performed the exercise, begin­ning with a leaden feeling in the stomach that swelled throughout my throat, expanding into dread. More than once the words came: “Go on, go on! Don’t stop! Crash! It will all be over in an instant. No more fear, no more waiting, no more sorrow.” And always I would pull out, calling myself a coward.

In addition, there were the occasional air battles, most of them only quick scraps or sorties, in which we struck swiftly and fled. Invariably, the enemy outnumbered us, and our lives were now dedicated to some­thing more vital than a mere air skirmish. Japan was like a man dying in the desert with little water left. The remaining drops had to be used sparingly, saved for the hours when the sun would burn its fiercest.

As the months faded, Japan began to reel, losing her grip on eastern China. The heart of Tokyo had been demolished, and our entire home­land was being ravaged. Millions of tons of our merchant shipping had been sunk, and by the Emperor’s birthday in April of 1945, the enemy was assaulting Okinawa, Japan’s very doorway.

It was a crucial time. Premier Suzuki had told the Japanese cabinet, “Our hopes to win the war are anchored solely in the fighting on Oki­nawa. The fate of the nation and its people depends on the outcome.” Okinawa fell. Eighty-one days of violent battle.

The months squirmed by, and one day in May it happened—Oka and Yamamoto. I had returned from a flight over Shikoku and heard the news. I hadn’t seen either of them for two or three days because we had been flying different shifts on reconnaissance. And now it had come, what I had been fearing all along but never fully accepted. The orders had been issued suddenly, and my friends and been transferred within the hour to Kagoshima. Oka and Yamamoto, gone! I could not believe it and rushed to their barracks. Surely they could not have been swept away so quickly!

The door creaked as I entered, and I gazed down the long line of cots. The bedding was gone from two of them, the thin, worn mattresses rolled, leaving only the barren springs. There was something ghastly about those beds; the naked springs cried out. I opened their empty lockers and heard their hollow clang, a death knell.

Dazed, I slumped down on one of the empty cots, feeling it sag. It was as if Oka and Yamamoto had been carried off by a sudden gale. How could such a thing have happened? No time, no notice, but of course it was probably best that way. I sat there alone, and for a while there was nothing but silence, not even the sound of motors. For several minutes I stared at the floor, on through it. Saw nothing, felt nothing. It was too much to comprehend. The place was a void.

No telling how long I sat there, insensible. Eventually I actually dozed for a moment then startled awake as a hand rested on my shoul­der. Nakamura. I hadn’t even heard him enter. Without speaking, we looked at each other. Someone was with him. Tatsuno. I extended my own hand uncertainly, and he gripped it.

“You know,” I managed at last, my throat parched. “I had the strangest feeling sitting here. It was as if. . .” My voice cracked. “It was just as if everybody had left. This whole base empty—nobody, nobody anywhere. It was crazy! Have you ever had that kind of feeling?”

“They said to tell you sayonara, Yasbei,” Nakamura said. (My friends were often calling me after the samurai now.) “Still joking, even when they got into the truck.” Nakamura gave a strange laugh. “You know

what Oka said—his last words? He said, ‘You and Yasbei take good care of all our girls in Hiro!’”

I also laughed if only because of the release it provided. Neither of us, or Tatsuno for that matter, ever went to Hiro or the nearby cities. We rarely drank and knew little of the city women with whom our ex – trovertish friends had consorted.

For an instant I recalled my times with our two departed, remem­bering how we became well acquainted that winter night so long ago when I’d found the warm shower. They had been joking then and never stopped. Even in combat they joked, two of a kind, always together. Ironically they would die together, perhaps already had.

“But why did they go so soon? Good pilots, both of them!” I asked.

“Yes, pretty good,” Nakamura replied, “but lone wolves, maybe a little erratic. The days of the lone wolves are gone.”

“I know, Nakamura,” I said, “but look at some of the other pilots in this squadron—not half as good, not half as good!”

“Maybe they’re putting the names in a hat now,” Tatsuno suggested. “That way it’s more entertaining. That way, you don’t know whether it will come in five minutes or five months.”

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “Take a walk—anything.”

Predestined Decision


pon my return there was much festivity at the Onomichi Train Station. Teachers, students, close friends—all were there to congratulate the new champion. In addition, my family held a celebration and sumptuous dinner in my honor.

A few days later, however, my achievement was almost forgotten. Glider training continued, but for the first time in many months life had lost its vitality. I drifted rudderless upon aimless waters, steadily growing more restless.

In the evenings after training I wandered home with my friends, watching the sun settle beyond the mountains, a red cauldron turning the ocean westward to molten steel. Sunset was a special time—a time to have finished the hot bath, to have donned theyukata, a light-weight, casual kimono, to slide the windows open and gaze meditatively, or to sit in one’s garden contemplating the filigreed silhouette of a mulberry tree against the horizon, to savor introspection in the steam rising from a cup of ocha.

Such traditions afforded a tentative kind of relaxation and comfort, but they did not relieve my lethargy. Nor did they assuage our growing

uneasiness regarding the war. By now Guadalcanal had been lost to the Americans, and doubts had begun to form. Very subtly at first like early winter mists among the pines on our hillside, but gradually they swirled and swelled till even the rising sun could not dispel them.

We who were young spoke of the war more enthusiastically than many of our elders. My friend Tatsuno’s brother in the Navy Air Force had shot down an American plane, and many evenings such matters dominated our conversation as we strolled the road from school.

Young though he was, small and almost frail, Tatsuno Uchida re­flected a special intensity in the way he observed the sky and spoke of his brother. At times, when planes passed over, he shook his head saying, fervently, “I know Kenji will become an ace. He will bring honor to our country and to the Emperor.” And of course, I always agreed. It was comforting to realize that our pilots were innately superior to the enemy, more courageous, bearers of a proud tradition, that they flew better aircraft. Did not our teachers and parents, our radios and newspapers assure us of these facts each day?

One of those evenings shortly after my return from school, a stranger appeared at our front door, and I heard his introduction clearly: “I am Captain Hiroyoshi Mikami of the Imperial Army Air Force.” Moments later he had removed his shoes and crossed our threshold. Having es­corted him to our western-style reception room, our maid Reiko padded quickly off to inform my father.

My father, a well-known contractor and most affluent man in On- omichi, continued his leisurely bath and directed my mother to entertain our new visitor. Later he emerged to extend the formalities of introduc­tion while mother retired to supervise the maid’s preparation of ban no

shokuji, our evening meal.

Meanwhile, I hovered furtively outside the guest room, certain that the visit signalled something highly portentous, listening nervously while my father and the captain exchanged the customary pleasantries, politely discussing the irrelevant, punctuating their sentences with a soft and courteous sibilance.

“Winter is at last upon us,” the captain observed.

“Indeed, that is so,” my father replied and slurped his ocha in a well bred manner.

After they had conversed at length on matters of little significance, it was time for our meal. Mother had planned sukiyaki, and the captain had, of course, been invited to dine with us.

As we sat upon our cushions surrounding the low, circular dinner table, the maid bustled attentively back and forth while Tomika, my sister, probed at the glowing coals with a slender pair of prongs. Mother, arranging and sugaring the beef slices with great care, half whispered, “Where is the shoyu” and Reiko hastened to the kitchen conveying much humility and murmuring plaintive, little apologies for her dereliction.

At times I peered at Captain Mikami, very covertly, always avert­ing my gaze whenever his eyes fell upon me, eyes that reminded me of chipped obsidian. Penetrating, unnerving.

Throughout our meal only the two men conversed, the rest of us merely conveying our existence by faint, careful smiles and slight, courteous head bows whenever their remarks drifted our direction. In addition, however, I sensed an unusual atmosphere of restraint, of ap­prehension—especially on the part of my mother and sister Tomika. All of which only magnified my own.

Father and the captain spoke tediously about many things, and little of what was said held my attention excepting their comments upon the war, especially regarding the condition of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other key islands. Speaking of Guadalcanal. My father reiterated the firmly entrenched conviction of many others at the time: that the departure of our troops from that area had not been a retreat but rather a “strategic withdrawal.” Most assuredly, it was not an enemy triumph!

Mikami strongly confirmed this view, discussing the great valor of our military men and their leaders at some length. As for the increased bombing of our homeland, he emphasized another common belief: our noble militarists had actually known from the onset that this would hap­pen. Consequently, there was no need for dismay. Such an eventuality had been taken into account long before our assault on Pearl Harbor. Inevitable, yes, but we were prepared materially, in mind and spirit as well, for any form of retaliation to which the enemy might resort. Ulti­mately, unquestionably, our divinely ordained empire would triumph. The only alternative was unthinkable.

At last our dinner was over and I was invited to join the two men in our guest room. There, at last, our visitor’s courteous evasion yielded to military directness. For a moment his dark eyes searched mine. Then, turning to my father, he said, “Kuwahara-san, you have an honorable son.” I felt a sudden surge of pride. “Your son has already gained acclaim that few people his age, if any, have ever achieved.”

Father bowed slightly in humility and assent. “Domo arigato.”

“He is one of whom his esteemed father and our noble empire can be proud.” Again, I received his glance. “Indeed, he can bring great honor to the family of Kuwahara.” Something began to ferment inside me, a sensation much like that which I had felt at the onset of my national glider competition. I gazed at the tatami in great humility.

“So desu ka,” my father replied, attenuating the first word gutturally, feigning profound wonderment and modesty. Again the bow, one more pronounced than the first. “Domo arigato gozai mashita” he added quietly, expressing his thanks and acknowledgement in the fullest, most formal fashion.

“Our gracious and esteemed Emperor and our honorable leaders at the Daihonei,” Captain Mikami continued, referring to the Imperial Military Headquarters in Tokyo, “are seeking such young men, as you must know, young men with allegiance to His Imperial Majesty, with talent and devotion to their country. . . men who will fly like avenging eagles against the enemy.”

For an instant my glance flicked from the straw tatami at my feet to my father. His eyes contained a gleam I had never seen before, and he nodded. “Indeed that is so. It is good that we have such men, and the time has arrived for us to strike with our might—with great power like the winds from heaven.”

“Hai!” The captain concurred with marked force and abruptness then paused solemnly. “As you may have supposed, I am here at your most gracious and hospitable domicile as a special representative of The Imperial Army Air Force.”

Beaming once more with carefully calculated surprise, my father again replied, “Ah so desu ka!”

Throughout the conversation, Captain Mikami directed very few remarks at me personally, but I felt my insides begin to burn as he spoke of enlistment requirements for the Air Force and the various schools available depending upon one’s performance and qualifications.

During those moments, it was impossible to assess my own feelings. Ever since the war’s onset I had contemplated joining the Air Force. How many hours, days and nights, had I dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, one of consummate skill and daring who knew no equal! How often had I envisioned myself plummeting from a golden sky to destroy and demoralize our hated American enemies! How many heroic air battles had Tatsuno and I conjured up together, battles wherein we inevitably sent our adversaries to a fiery death in the ocean! The sky, the water, the land—all waiting beneficently to help assure triumph.

But here now was reality, and in its abruptness my heart faltered. I had sensed my mother’s growing uneasiness all during our dinner, Tomika’s as well, and now I felt a great foreboding. It flowed over me like an icy wind.

Suddenly I realized that the captain was addressing me personally. My heart jolted. “So now, what are your feelings regarding this mat­ter?” He waited, and I struggled to speak, faltered. . . and failed. For a moment I nearly gagged. Both men watched me intently, but I could not force out a single word.

“Take a few minutes to consider” Captain Mikami said at last. “I will wait.” His tone was stern.

A few minutes! Suddenly I felt ill. Running my hands over my face and hair, I felt the sweat on my palms, felt more strongly my father’s vexation and humiliation. The room had become stifling. Smiling wanly, I mumbled, “Please excuse me. I will go get a drink of water.” It was a feeble response, and my face was burning as I left the room. A part of me had wanted to assure the captain that I needed no time to consider such a request. No real man would waver, feel his throat freeze and experience such coldness of soul. In the tradition of bushido, the samurai code of valor and chivalry, he would celebrate the glory of death, say­ing, “I rejoice in the opportunity to die for my country. It fills me with intense humility to have been so honored by my Emperor.” But I was more boy than man. I wanted my mother.

Swiftly I went to her room only to find it empty. Softly I called her name but received no answer. Thinking that perhaps she was sitting out­side in the cold by our garden, I slipped into the night and called again. A full moon was rising above the bearded hillside, its light flooding over the top of our garden wall in a silvery glow. Beyond, through the trellised gateway, the road was still in shadow, stretching away in darkness and mystery, flecked by the distant orange glow of a lantern. The night was cold and expectant as though awaiting snow, utterly silent.

Glancing upward, I saw a light in an upstairs window and quickly entered the house, ascending the steep stairway. There in my room, seated cross-legged on the futon, was Tomika. My photo album was opened in her lap, and she was examining it with marked intensity. “Where is Mother?” I asked.

She glanced up, eyes glistening. “Mother has gone out,” she replied, “for a walk.”

Curiously I gazed at her, momentarily forgetting the urgency of my situation. “Tomika, what’s the matter?” Gently I reached down and touched her lustrous, black hair. “Is something wrong?” Simultaneously I realized that she had opened my album to the photo taken when I won the glider championship—my own face warmed in a smile of triumph. Then a tiny tear drop spattered directly across that smile.

Whenever my sister cried, her round, rather moon-like countenance was transformed into something ethereal. “Tomika,” I half whispered. “What’s the matter? Why are you crying?” I sat down beside her, awk­wardly placing my arm around her shoulders.


Thrusting the album aside, she seized my free hand, squeezing it almost painfully. Her gaze gradually lifted to meet my own, and she began shaking her head. “My little brother. . . my little brother.”

Something in my throat pained sharply, becoming very dry and large. It was as if a thumb were pressing against my windpipe. “Tomika,” I choked, “what can I do?” Suddenly I clapped my hands over my face, inhaling deeply. That way the tears wouldn’t come so easily.

Then her arms were around me, her cheek against mine. “No, no, no,” she repeated. “Not my little brother. They can’t have you—you’re only a baby!”

The final words jolted me, and I thought of my friends, especially Tatsuno. What would they think of me? Such a craven, maudlin dis­play! Worse still, I thought of the captain and my father downstairs, waiting—most impatiently, my father suffering much loss of face. Both doubtless convinced by now that I was a sniveling coward.

“I’m hardly a baby Tomika” I replied angrily.

She sought to pull me closer, but I thrust myself free. A baby! For an instant I hated her. “I’m not a baby, Tomika—I’m a man! I’m fifteen years old! How can you call me a baby when I am the greatest glider pilot in Japan?”

“I. . . I didn’t mean it that way,” she murmured.

“Don’t you realize, Tomika, that tonight I am being greatly hon­ored—by the Emperor himself?”

“Yes,” she replied softly, “I know that very well. You will even die for the Emperor.” Then we were weeping together.

Moments later I broke free, totally demoralized. Scarcely realizing what I was doing, I stumbled downstairs to the bathroom sink and began dousing my face and neck in cold water. When I looked at my eyes in the mirror they were bloodshot, my entire countenance weak and distressed. Horrified, I doused my face again, then gently patted it dry with a towel.

In a near agony of embarrassment, I returned to my father and the captain. As I entered the room, their gazes seemed to combine, apprais­ing me sternly, fixedly, in utter silence. I forced a frozen smile, struggling to speak. Captain Mikami’s stare was unwavering.

Again, I struggled, faltering. It was as if I were on the brink of an abyss, hemmed in by countless enemies, knowing that there was no alternative but to jump or be hurled head-long.

“Well, my son?” Father said.

Bowing to the captain, I stammered. “I must apologize for. . . for such extreme inconvenience. I wanted to inform my mother of this extraordinary honor.” I groped for the words. “But, apparently she has gone somewhere.” No response from either of them, merely their combined, unrelenting stare.

“Please forgive me for this extreme inconvenience. . .” I struggled onward, ashamed that I was repeating myself, but finally the words came with more fluency and conviction. “I am greatly honored to accept your splendid and generous offer in behalf of our glorious Emperor.”

A muscle to one side of my father’s mouth twitched slightly, but I could see the relief in his eyes, in the very expansion and coloration of his pupils.

The captain gave a quick nod, face still expressionless. “That is good,” he said.

Immediately I felt a profound sense of relief. I had not betrayed my fa­ther, after all. Nor had I betrayed my country. Without further comment, Captain Mikami opened a leather case, producing the enlistment forms. “Please read these,” he said and laid them before us on the table.

“Hai!” Father spoke quietly, expelling the word in an abrupt little explosion, and began to scrutinize the document with great care. I tried to do so as well, but for some reason the words would not focus.

At length Father glanced up. “Do you find the terms satisfactory?” the captain inquired.

“Hai!” Father nodded.

“Very good,” the captain said. “So you will kindly sign here.” He pointed with a slender, tan finger. “Your son will sign there.” Father arose to obtain his personal, wooden stamp, returned and pressed it against his ink pad, then firmly in the spot designated, an indelible, orange oval with its special markings against the stark white of the document: “Kuwahara, Zenji.” Then I signed my own beneath it: Kuwahara, Ya – suo. And there they were—our signatures—indelible and irrevocable. The formalities were over, and there was no turning back, nor in reality had there been from the moment Captain Mikami appeared some two hours earlier.

“Hiro Air Base—desu ka?” Father noted.

Captain Mikami gave a single downward nod. “Hiro, yes.” For an instant he actually smiled. “He will be close to home—only fifty miles away. He will enjoy his days at Hiro immensely and receive a splendid education.” I had not even comprehended enough of the document to note my place of assignment, but it was comforting to realize that throughout my training I would be close to my family.

Now, however, it was time for the Captain to leave. “You have made a wise decision,” he said as we accompanied him to the door. Seconds later

we were bowing, exchanging sayonara, and he vanished into the night.

For some time afterward my father and I sat together, gazing out our window at the surrounding hills and moon-washed sky. Father had been a lieutenant in the army years before and related some experiences from his days in China that I had never heard before.

Shigeru, one of my older brothers, was with the Army Counter Intel­ligence in Java, while the other, Toshifumi, was a dentist in Tokyo and had not yet been inducted. “It is very good to have worthy sons in the service of their nation and family,” Father told me. “And you, Yasuo, will bring the greatest honor of all.”

“Domo arigato,” I replied, feeling very humble and surprised. A trans­port plane was crossing the sky, lights blinking from its wing tips, the alternations of red and green making it appear to move strangely along its course in immense skating motions. We continued to watch, listening, as its light and sound gradually faded into the distance. “A few months from now you will undoubtedly be flying a plane of your own,” my father observed and actually placed his hand on my shoulder.

“I hope so,” I replied.

“But not one like that.” His tone was commanding.

“No, not one like that. I have always wanted to become a fighter pilot.”

Father nodded vigorously. His hand gripped my shoulder. “Most defi­nitely!” He squinted one eye as though sighting in on a star and continued to nod his affirmation. “Yes, a fighter pilot. . . .” he mused at length. “I always wanted to be one myself, even though that form of warfare was very primitive back then. “There is something unique about a fighter pilot. Even the pilots of our fine new bombers—like the Suesei—cannot compare. A fighter pilot is the samurai of modern times. His aircraft is his sword; it ultimately becomes his soul.” The very thought made my scalp tingle.

“The fighter pilot must work with others as part of a team,” Father continued, “but he also has the best chance of becoming an individualist. He can do more for our Emperor than a thousand foot soldiers. With cour­age he can gain great honor, perhaps more than anyone in the military. And you do have courage, Yasuo, my son.” Again his hand gripped my shoulder.

“I hope so,” I replied.

“You do have courage! You have courage!” This time his hand liter­ally hurt. “The family of Kuwahara has always had courage. No one has more noble ancestors!”

“That is so,” I acknowledged, and glanced at his profile from the corner of my eye: a strong chin tilting slightly upward, a nose a bit like the beak of a falcon, eyes that seemed to glow from the moon.

“You will defend your home and country,” he assured me, “and you will see the day when the Western Powers are driven back in great ignominy across the Pacific. In time The Imperial Way will sweep like a mighty tide across that land. They will suffer a resounding defeat, and you will play your part in that defeat.” An inspiring thought, but one that also taxed my faith. I was, after all, only fifteen, a boy who an hour earlier had wept like a girl in the arms of his sister. The thought made me cringe.

“It may take many months,” I said hesitantly. “The West has large armies and navies, many aircraft.”

“That is true,” Father admitted a bit irritably. It will not be accom­plished overnight, but you must always remember, Yasuo, that physical size and material might are secondary. It is the great determination and valor of Yamato damashii, the spirit of the samurai, that will prevail in the end.” I nodded, buoyed up by the power of his conviction.

“Consider, for example, the thousands of Americans we have already taken prisoner,” he persisted. “Thousands of them!” Turning, he stared directly into my eyes. “But how many of our men have surrendered to the Americans?”

How proud I was to have my father converse with me in this man­ner. How honored! Almost as though we were equals. “Very few,” I replied.

“That is correct. A mere handful! You see?” His chin jutted imperi­ously, lips forming a sneer. “The Americans lose a few men and they become terrified, utterly demoralized and surrender. Our prison camps are fairly bursting with cowardly, pitiful Americans.” He shrugged. “Of course, a few of them are brave. It is foolish to underestimate the enemy.” I nodded, attending to his every word, the slightest nuance. “But look at it this way. Suppose for a moment that one hundred American infantry men were pitted against a much larger force of our own men on a small island. How many of those Americans would have to be killed before the rest would surrender?”

“Not more than ten, I would guess.”

Father shook his head reluctantly. “Well, it would probably take more than that in most cases—possibly twenty-five or even thirty.” He paused, squinted, angling a reflective glance at the moon. It had risen considerably, changing from celestial white to a faint yellow. “On the other hand, supposing the situation were reversed. . . . How many of our own men would have to die before the rest surrendered?”

“They would never surrender!” I exclaimed, surprised at my on certitude.

“So you see?” Father replied triumphantly. Our only men ever taken captive are those who have been wounded so severely they cannot defend themselves—or those unconscious from loss of blood. Therefore, as I have explained, it is not merely a matter of physical and material strength. It is a matter of courage, determination, of spiritual strength! It is for this reason thatJapan will prevail, thatJapan will triumph.” Again the pause. Again, his gaze absorbed my own. “Do you understand, my son?”

In response, I nodded, half bowed. “Yes, my father, I understand.”