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Kamikaze Terror: Sailors Who Battled the Divine Wind
by Jeffrey R. Veesenmeyer
Jeffrey Marketing & Publishing, 2017, 278 pages

Louis Veesenmeyer, the author's great uncle, lost his life during the kamikaze attack on the destroyer Hadley (DD-774) on May 11, 1945. Jeffrey Veesenmeyer's interest in his great uncle's story led him to contact many Hadley survivors and to write a book published in 2014 on the ship's history entitled Kamikaze Destroyer: USS Hugh W. Hadley (DD774). His second book titled Kamikaze Terror: Sailors Who Battled the Divine Wind expands the scope of his first book to include stories of veterans on several destroyers and other ships that faced Japanese kamikazes during the Battle of Okinawa.

The book's 21 chapters generally flow chronologically from the beginning of the Battle of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, to the end of World War II on August 15, 1945, but sometimes the stories jump forward or back. A typical chapter focuses on the kamikaze attack made on a specific ship such as the chapters about the destroyers Drexler (DD-721), which sank on May 28 with 158 killed and 51 wounded, and Callaghan (DD-792), which sank on July 29 with 47 killed and 73 wounded. Two survivors from each of these two ships provide comments on the attack and aftermath. When writing this history book, Veesenmeyer used 17 oral histories (many at National Museum of the Pacific War) and personal interviews with 13 Hadley (DD-774) shipmates, 6 Bache (DD-470) veterans, and 7 other WWII veterans. Short quotations from these veterans are spread throughout the history. The book includes over 30 photographs, an extensive bibliography, and several appendixes with reference information. The lack of a key word index makes it challenging to find specific topics quickly.

Kamikaze Terror's greatest strength lies in stories from veterans of certain destroyers and other ships that have not been published elsewhere. For example, several survivors of the sinking of the destroyer Bush (DD-529) with 94 killed and 34 wounded on April 6, 1945, describe the three kamikaze planes that hit their ship, the sinking, and the time in the water before being rescued. The descriptions of kamikaze attacks against the destroyer Bache (DD-470), the high speed transport Barry (APD-29), and the LST-534 (Landing Ship, Tank) also include quotations from several veterans and have limited exposure in other publications.

The kamikaze attack stories for some ships included in this book have been covered in a much more comprehensive way in other books, which also include many survivor stories. These ships that were sunk or severely damaged during the Battle of Okinawa include the following (other books about the kamikaze attacks on these ships listed in parentheses): Laffey (DD-724) (The Ship That Would Not Die and Hell from the Heavens), Aaron Ward (DM-34) (Brave Ship Brave Men), Bunker Hill (CV-17) (Danger's Hour), Mannert L. Abele (DD-733) (Three Minutes Off Okinawa), and Hadley (DD-774) (Kamikaze Destroyer).

Unfortunately, several destroyers sunk by kamikaze attacks at radar picket stations during the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945 get very little or no mention in the book, probably due to the lack of available oral histories or survivors who are still living and well enough to be interviewed. These destroyers include Pringle (DD-477) sunk on April 16 with 65 killed and 110 wounded, Little (DD-803) sunk on May 3 with 30 killed and 79 wounded, Luce (DD-552) sunk on May 4 with 149 killed and 94 wounded, Morrison (DD-560) sunk on May 4 with 152 killed, William D. Porter (DD-579) sunk on June 10 with no casualties, and Twiggs (DD-591) sunk on June 16 with 152 killed. Some of these destroyers such as Luce and Morrison receive a brief description of how they sank after being hit by kamikaze planes and the bombs they carried, but the book has no quotations from survivors of these ships.

Some stories stray from the book's stated purpose to present "the sailors who faced kamikazes at Okinawa." Chapter 19 covers the service of Jeffrey Veesenmeyer's father aboard the LSM(R)-411 (Landing Ship Medium (Rocket)), which never reached the area of battle to confront any kamikazes as the ship was on her way to Hawaii from the west coast when the war's end was announced. Chapter 18 talks about the photograph of the sailor from the destroyer The Sullivans (DD-537) who kissed a nurse at Times Square in New York City when the war's end was announced. The destroyer The Sullivans gets a lot of coverage even though her role related to Japan's kamikazes consisted of the rescue from the water of 166 sailors from the aircraft carrier Bunker Hill sailors after the ship got hit and severely damaged by two kamikaze aircraft carrying bombs. Chapter 21, Scuttlebutt and Salty Tales, contains a variety of stories from sailors introduced earlier in the book, but the topics of most of these have nothing to do with Japan's kamikazes.

The information presented about the Japanese side contains several errors. Tameichi Hara did not serve as captain of battleship Yamato on her suicide mission toward Okinawa on April 6-7, 1945. Instead, Hara was captain of the light cruiser Yahagi as an escort ship for Yamato. In another inaccuracy, no ohka (or ōka) rocket-powered glider attack took place on April 6, 1945, despite the author's statement of this [1]. Also, ohka does not mean "exploding cherry blossom" but rather simply "cherry blossom." Akita is not an island at the northern tip of Japan but instead a prefecture at the northern tip of the main island of Honshū. Vice Admiral Ugaki did not plan from the beginning that Japan's Navy and Army air forces would carry out ten mass kamikaze attacks in the Okinawa campaign. On the contrary, he planned each subsequent attack based on an overall assessment of the results of the prior attack and other factors such as available aircraft, weather, and observations of reconnaissance planes. The book also has several misspellings of Japanese names and mix-ups between the months of April and May in 1945.

In the last paragraph of the Epilogue, Veesenmeyer summarizes the effectiveness of Japan's kamikaze attacks (p. 227):

General George Patton once said, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country." The kamikazes couldn't win the war or even end it with their sacrifice. But they did create terror. A much greater terror [dropping two atomic bombs on Japan] was required to bring it to an end.

In the book's last paragraph, Veesenmeyer explains the significance of WWII veteran stories, which make up a key component of Kamikaze Terror (p. 244):

It was decades later before some of the stories started to come out. Ship's crews started to have reunions. They were meeting up with buddies they hadn't seen in over 20 years. One guy would bring up a shocking memory and that would lead to another. It felt okay to tell these stories with men who had shared the same experience. They understood, because they were there. The reunions have served as therapy for some. These men gather, not just to tell stories, but to be with comrades. These are people who acted their best while suffering and sacrificing together. Fortunately, WWII veterans are finally talking. Many museums have started oral history collections. Through books, films and historical projects, the worst event in human history is now being archived. Hopefully the knowledge from these efforts will keep it from ever happening again.

Even though the veteran stories included in this book are somewhat random at times with a few of them not directly related to Japan's kamikaze, these personal stories provide readers with thought-provoking eyewitness accounts about what really happened during WWII.

Note

1. Katō 2009, 490-9.

Source Cited

Katō, Hiroshi. 2009. Jinrai butai shimatsu ki: Ningen bakudan "ōka" tokkō zen kiroku (Thunder gods unit record of events: Complete history of "ōka" human bomb special attacks). Tōkyō: Gakken Publishing.