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Fightin' Air Force - Kamikaze Pilot
January 1958, Vo. 1, No. 10, 36 pages

"I Was a Kamikaze Pilot," the story's name shown on the comic's cover, probably comes from an article about Yasuo Kuwahara published a year earlier in the January 1957 issue of the men's magazine Cavalier [1]. The story's title inside the comic book gets shortened to "Kamikaze Pilot." This issue of Fightin' Air Force has three other stories, all about US Air Force battles against Nazi Germany. "Kamikaze Pilot" portrays a young man named Yatsuka Togoru who is totally dedicated to the Emperor. Togoru bravely attacks an American aircraft carrier but at the last moment gets shot down by an equally courageous American fighter pilot.

Yatsuka Togoru joins the Japanese air force in 1941 and receives his commission in early 1942. He stoically endures pain and punishment inflicted on him during rigorous training, and he obeys without question commands from his superior officers. Prior to his selection as a kamikaze pilot, he shoots down four enemy planes during dogfights. In April 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa, he gets orders to sink a carrier but ultimately fails in his mission.

An American sailor in the six-page comic's last frame says, "That Jap really had guts, didn't he?" Although the author depicts Togoru as possessing great courage, other aspects of his character and personality do not get positively portrayed. He behaves like an automaton as he immediately obeys a baffling command from a flight instructor to crash his plane during training. He never mentions his family but rather displays complete and unnatural reverence to the Emperor with statements like these:

  • "It is a privilege to die for the Emperor, honored Commander!" (when departs on kamikaze mission)
  • "There is my target! I give my life for the Emperor!" (when spots target)
  • "I die for the Emperor! Banzai!" (when about to crash into carrier)

Historical kamikaze pilots frequently mentioned their parents and other family members, and many kamikaze survivors state that the Emperor did not provide motivation for their suicide attacks [2].

This comic has some unrealistic and incorrect elements. Almost all Japanese pilots who started flying in early 1942 or before had died in battle prior to 1945 kamikaze attacks during the Battle of Okinawa, and the very few survivors most likely would have flown conventional aircraft or would have served as instructors or operations officers. The comic states the first "American" (should be "Japanese") kamikaze pilot in October 1944 sank an American destroyer, but the sinking by a kamikaze attack of the first destroyer, USS Abner Read (DD-526), did not happen until November 1, 1944. The story mentions "thousands of kamikaze planes went down" prior to April 1945, but actually Japan lost 677 kamikaze aircraft prior to attacks at Okinawa [3]. Togoru, the name of the story's pilot, does not exist as a family name in Japanese. The comic book cover shows the pilot in an unrealistic red and white Rising Sun helmet, but the comic itself has Togoru dressed in a typical flight helmet used by Japanese pilots.

Notes

[1] This same magazine story in an expanded version was published later in 1957 as a book entitled Kamikaze. Although published as a true memoir of a kamikaze pilot, this book turned out to be fiction. See Ten Historical Discrepancies for detailed discussion.

[2] For examples, see Nagatsuka 1973, 157-9, 197-8; Naito 1989, 209; Nihon Senbotsu 2000, 8, 228.

[3] Yasunobu 1972, 171.

Sources Cited

Kuwahara, Yasuo, and Gordon T. Allred. 1957. I Was a Kamikaze Pilot. Cavalier, January, 6-9, 95-100.

Nagatsuka, Ryuji. 1973. I Was a Kamikaze. Translated from the French by Nina Rootes. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Nihon Senbotsu Gakusei Kinen-Kai (Japan Memorial Society for the Students Killed in the War—Wadatsumi Society), comp. 2000. Listen to the Voices from the Sea: Writings of the Fallen Japanese Students (Kike Wadatsumi no Koe). Translated by Midori Yamanouchi and Joseph L. Quinn.  Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press.

Yasunobu, Takeo. 1972. Kamikaze tokkoutai (Kamikaze special attack corps). Edited by Kengo Tominaga. Tokyo: Akita Shoten.