Monday, August 31, 2009

Who Is Shig Imamura? - Part II

The naval battles of Midway Atoll and Guadalcanal, often seen as a turning point, reversed the balance of power in the war in the pacific. In l942: U.S. had one and half a million soldiers versus over 2 million for Japan. In l943, the Allied Forces had over 3 million versus 2.4 million for Japan. The Japanese loss of pilots and sailors from the above naval battles needed immediate reinforcements, particularly to replenish vulnerable pilots. Students from colleges and universities were recruited and mobilized.

In October, 1943, the deferred conscription allowed for college students suddenly ended. The semesters were shortened for immediate graduation and enrollment into the army and the navy. Choices were given, but those who passed physical and eye exams were to join the airmen corps. The navy was regarded as more refined than the army and was considered free of bullying. However, in reality, the navy had more rampant bullying in the name of reformative baptism.

About 99,000 young men, not only from Japan but also from colonial Korea and Taiwan, were drafted (first time for Koreans and Taiwanese), of which 81,000 went to the army and 18,000 to the navy. Finally, 5,000 were sent to the naval air corps - about half to Tsuchiura Naval Air Station, northeast of Tokyo and the other half to Mie Naval Air Station on Ise Bay. The assignments were probably made based on their places of birth.

Two pilots-to-be Shig Imamura (1922-1981) of Matsuyama, and Norimitsu Takushima (1922-1945) of Fukuoka, reported to Mie. After finishing training, they were both sent to Izumi Naval Air Corps in Kagoshima according to their respective records. Shig was dispatched to Wonsan, (North) Korea and Takushima to Matsuura. I carefully read their April journals. Takushima took a vacation trip to Kagoshima on Sunday, April 23, 1944. Shig wrote that he went to Amakusa one Sunday in the same month to sightsee. It seems they were not in the same group. Why so much detail for these two? The information came from (1) Shig's autobiography - Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze, and (2) from the book Kuchinashi-no-Hana** - The Diary of a Young Japanese Man Caught in World War II, and edited letters by Takushima's brother-in-law translated by Kichiyo Ishigaki and Paul Whitney (2002).

Takushima (Keio University graduate) did not return from his reconnaissance flight in early 1945, while Shig survived the war. They were both born in 1922, and might have met each other, but no mention was made in their respective memoirs. Takushima wrote an inspirational poem which touched readers' hearts and inspired the popular song "Kuchinashi-no-Hana." Sung by a professional singer, it took post-war Japan by storm along with the book.

These young men were not Kamikaze pilots right from the beginning. Suicidal methods were not originally permitted under Admiral Yamamoto. The midget submarines used in the Pearl Harbor attack were definitely not for suicide attacks. They were supposed to return and were promised rescue. However, after following several fatal defeats and retreats, Japan lost command both in air and sea. As it became clear that the resources to wage war were diminishing, a predicament prevailed in all aspects of war. The Japanese Imperial Navy kicked off their offenses in the Philippines with l) the piloted rocket powered gliders (O-ka), 2) manned torpedoes (Kaiten submarines), 3) explosive motorboats (Shinyo), ...etc. The development of these weapons, however, were slow and the delays ended up saving many lives.

Kamikaze Squadron (Tokkotai) was said to have begun on October 25, 1944 with Captain Tsurao Seki, the first pilot, based at Mabarakat Air Base. The practice ended with Captain Tatsuo Nakatsuru, the last pilot who left Oita Air Base in the late afternoon of August l5, l945. These two captains were classmates coincidentally at the Edajima Naval Academy. (It was said that the two names were chosen to glorify the Academy.)

Captain Seki's true feelings was confided to his friend prior to the mission.

"I could drop a 500kg bomb on the flight deck of a carrier without going in for body-crashing and still make my way back. Japan's future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire... I am going because I was ordered to. It is better to die, rather than to live as a coward!"

His mission was to deter landing of the U.S. forces at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Shig Imamura wrote about Captain Seki in his autobiography.

Captain Nakatsuru became the last Kamikaze pilot on a controversial mission, personally requested by Admiral Ugaki, once Chief-of-Staff under Admiral Yamamoto. Nakatsuru was not promoted posthumously because the flight was unauthorized. His departure, along with others, from Oita Air Base was late in the afternoon of August 15. The surrender and cease fire announcement had already been made at noon, but Admiral Ugaki insisted he had not received an official order. There were two dozen pilots who volunteered to die for the Admiral.

After many years of silence, Captain Nakatsuru's father, spoke up during a local memorial day. "Why did the Admiral have to take young lives including my son?" Two-thirds of those student-turned pilots died as Kamikazes.

Upon learning their fate, the young pilots, as well as other soldiers who were asked to sacrifice themselves, made heart-rending groans and expressed grief for unacceptable death in the name of war. Writings of those who lost their lives were published after the war. The "spiritual road" of student soldiers became quite a sensation, and became the target of studies by researchers both at home and abroad. The above mentioned "Kuchinashi" was quoted in many war books, including Kike Watatsumi no Koe, translated as Listen to the Voices from The Sea - Writings of the Fallen Japanese Students by Midori Yamanouchi and Joseph L. Quinn is available from the University of Scranton Press (2000).

On February 11, l944, Japanese Empire Day, Shig Imamura, his colleagues and subordinates, all stepped forward and asked their superiors if they could accept a Kamikaze mission. Shig disregarded possible exemptions given to eldest sons. As Captain, he was put in charge of one of two Kamikaze squadrons. On July 29, he was set to fly a mission to attack an invasion fleet off Tokyo Coast. His mission was canceled when radar reports of the invasion fleet proved inaccurate. He was stationed in Chitose, Hokkaido when the the news of surrender reached him.

Here's Lieutenant Takushima's poem that brought river of tears among the Japanese.

There is only one who sheds tears at my words
There is only one who thinks so ill of me
And through all of this, there is only one
who will always love me, never forget me.
After I'm dead, there is only one
who will bring gardenia flowers.
Amongst them all, there is only just one.

Kamikaze pilots were not fanatics as was generally thought. They had no desire for glory or fame. Pure as the arctic snow in heart, they were human. They moped, cried, and ranted. However, they accepted and faced death courageously for loved ones and country, believing their actions would bring a conclusion to the war in a better way. Let their deaths not be wasted. The mission, our mission is clear: to have peace prevail with no more wars and no more nuclear bombs.


** Kuchinashi-no-Hana are gardenias. The Japanese word literally means "flowers without mouths."

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