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Last Letters and Diary Entry of Ensign Haruhiko Kawa

On June 22, 1945, Ensign Haruhiko Kawa took off from Kanoya Air Base as pilot in a Zero fighter carrying a 500-kg bomb and died in a special (suicide) attack off Okinawa at the age of 22. He was a member of the Jinrai Butai (Thunder Gods Corps) 1st Bakusen (Bomber Fighter) Squadron. After his death in a special attack, he received a promotion to Lieutenant. He was from Fukui Prefecture, attended Hokkaidō Imperial University to study entomology in the Agriculture Department, and was a member of the 14th Class of the Navy's Flight Reserve Students (Hikō Yobi Gakusei).

On April 20, 1945, he wrote the following letter to the father of Ensign Kōji Yamagata, a pilot in the 3rd Tsukuba Squadron who died in a special attack on April 16, 1945:

Dear Risaburō Yamagata,

I trust that everyone is doing well in this spring season. You probably are surprised that I, whose name even you do not know, am suddenly sending you a letter. Please forgive my rudeness. I am Ensign Kōji Yamagata's classmate and his comrade who always in the same manner worked hard together in the same unit since Izumi Air Group. On April 12, Ensign Yamagata made a sortie from the main unit in the 6th Tsukuba Squadron of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps and advanced to a Kyūshū base in order to join the 2nd general attack against enemy ships off Okinawa. This past February our air group formed a special attack unit, and both Ensign Yamagata and I fortunately were selected to be members of this unit. Since then we pledged together to hit targets and worked hard at training, but based on rapid developments in the war situation, the 6th Tsukuba Squadron, which Ensign Yamagata belonged to, received an order to advance. I who am a member of the 13th Tsukuba Squadron will go afterward in sequence. I was thinking that we would go together, and bidding farewell to each other was disappointing, but I also will leave soon afterward. I saw him off while I pledged that I certainly would follow after him.

Ensign Yamagata made a sortie and left his remaining articles and everything else to me. Furthermore, he asked me to record the circumstances of his sortie. This February the 1st to 8th Tsukuba Squadrons of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps were formed. Only student eagles who were Reserve Students of the 13th and 14th Classes were selected. The members of each squadron were us in the 14th Class. Ensign Yamagata was assigned to the 1st Tsukuba Squadron, and I was assigned to the 8th Tsukuba Squadron. However, due to rapid changes in the war situation, they formed anew the 1st to 5th Tsukuba Squadrons with only squadron leaders and shōtai [1] leaders. At once on April 5 they made a sortie from the main unit, joined the 1st general attack on the 6th and 7th, and fell as they made crash dives on enemy ships. It was decided that he would advance to a Kyūshū base on the morning of the 12th. The 6th Tsukuba Squadron immediately did test flights, and we gave our best to have those planes prepared quickly. During the evening before the sortie, the evening of the 11th, we held a hearty farewell party. The squadron members, who were only young pure students, were full of vigor and exhibited a calm attitude waiting for the sortie the next morning. Not grieving their departure in vain, we who were sending them off prayed they would hit their targets and drank toasts to them. I shook his hand and said, "Please do your best." Ensign Yamagata shook my hand very strongly and replied, "I wanted to go together. I will go ahead of you and be waiting." When the party ended, he asked me to handle his remaining articles and to write and send a letter on his behalf. Since tomorrow morning was early, that evening we slept in the same room. For Ensign Yamagata, this really was the last night at fondly-remembered Tsukuba. He probably had many deep emotions, but I was touched that he went to sleep early thinking about the next day's mission.

On this day they appeared in their best for their first battle, and they all in their flight suits wore beautiful green mufflers. They had attached in front branches of cherry blossoms that were in full bloom at that time. On shining planes where beautiful blackish green camouflage had been applied, they were decorated with cherry blossom branches placed there by the kindness of maintenance workers. The sortie was at 9:30, but due to a B-29 attack during that time, there was a postponement to 1 o'clock. Later it was decided that the sortie would be at 2 p.m. During that time the squadron members exhibited an attitude that one would not think that they would be departing from here. They calmly had friendly talks and were fooling around with everyone. At the beautiful airfield in the spring sunshine, the grass already had turned very green. Moreover, the comrades of the men who would make sorties were taking photos of them here and there. There was an order for a line-up. Our commanding officer, lieutenant, and flight operations officer for the day's flight provided detailed words of advice, and the flight officer and Commander gave instructions. A firm determination was hidden in the eyes of the men who would make a sortie as they listened to each word of the Commander. When the Commander's instructions ended, finally they bid everyone farewell and ran to each of their planes. Soon the sound of the engines started to roar thunderously. It had changed little from ordinary training when they were doing test flights calmly and carefully. When the preparations for all planes were complete, the commanding officer waved his hand widely, and the chocks were removed. The planes one by one went slowing on the runway to the take-off line. At the Commander's order to "wave caps," while everyone waved the caps in their hands, now the special attack squadron went taking off one after another. Not responding to us who were waving our hands enthusiastically, they stared straight ahead and carefully took off. Ensign Yamagata was the 3rd plane in the 2nd shōtai. He took off following Yui, who was the shōtai leader. I could see that he bowed his head slightly. Following the special attack squadron, the escort squadron took off. The planes that had taken off made a wide turn, and they all got in formation and flew over the airfield. Now they flew south bidding farewell to fondly-remembered Tsukuba, where they had sweat blood in repeated rigorous training. They went, and the land below with cherry trees blooming was hidden soon in the spring haze hovering above. On the ground we continued to wave our caps until they could not be seen. The above description was the situation at Ensign Yamagata's sortie. I who am poor at writing did nothing more than record in order what happened, but I know that you would be happy to know somewhat the circumstances of that time. Ensign Yamagata, relaxed until the end, went calmly. Please rest assured. He surely must have hit the enemy. Sure enough in the general attack following the one on April 12, almost all of the enemy ships were obliterated. Ensign Yamagata's distinguished service will not be forgotten forever in Japan.

I have great pride in having a splendid comrade like Ensign Yamagata.

April 20

Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 13th Tsukuba Squadron, Haruhiko Kawa

Kawa wrote the following final diary entry on April 25:

On April 12, the 6th Tsukuba Squadron advanced to Kanoya from the main unit. My peerless comrade Ensign Yamagata went.

According to a talk by Lieutenant Yoshimatsu who went in the guide plane, there were radio messages that there would be certain-hit crash dives on enemy ships by the 1st shōtai led by Lieutenant Junior Grade Nakamura and on enemy aircraft carriers by the 2nd shōtai led by Ensign Yui, and they carried these out. Ah, thus at last they are able to live for an eternal cause.

I wrote these poems when I sent off Ensign Yamagata.

Soaring earnestly toward gathering of clouds and hiding at peak
Fighting and attacking to sink ships

Warrior soaring in heavens with steel wings
Defends country with zeal

Young cherry blossom that accepts both life and death
Time will change and I also will follow

Young cherry blossom that reveres Emperor's life
Now will fall sinking enemy ship

My friend on great path to die for country
Goes to battle smiling calmly

Then on the 21st, the 7th Tsukuba Squadron was sent off in the same way to advance to Kanoya Base. I bid farewell to my good friends Ensigns Yamazaki, Katayama, Asou, and others.

Soaring on the great path of a warrior, smiling I must go to fall.

The cherry blossoms that were in full bloom already have fallen. Lamenting that cherry blossoms could not be late in falling, while waiting intently for the day of my sortie to come, in the end heaven has not forsaken me. This evening orders were received for all Tsukuba Squadrons from the 8th to the 13th to go into action.

There is nothing that gives me more joy. Now I will go. Now I have nothing to say. There are no last words. I have no anxieties. I was blessed with a good family. I was able to have good friends. Now I commence a glorious mission. My happiness is for the sole purpose of this.

Now with calmness I go smiling.

April 25, evening before sortie

He wrote the following final letter at Kanoya Air Base on May 18, 1945:

Dear Mother,

Preliminaries omitted.

Now I read your letter dated May 11. I truly am a person overwhelmed with emotion. You also saw my letter that I sent from here, and you probably were surprised that I was still living. I did not imagine that I now would read a reply like this from you.

Merely being able to read the letter that you sent was the happiest thing for me. Even though I understand without your saying anything, by your saying your feelings I truly can die with joy and peace of mind.

Like your words, as for me nothing gives me such happiness in my living 23 years [2] than if could bring happiness to all people and especially to you. And also finally, if I can die splendidly for the Emperor as a military man, it can be said that my 23 years were truly a blessing. Feeling such great happiness, I am happy to die with the firm belief in the absolute indestructibility of Shinshū [3].

However, when I think about it, I know that my having a life that was blessed was due to you and everyone else, and I deeply appreciate the depth and height of that kindness. Thank you very much.

I read your letter written when I left Tsukuba, and it seems that you have various concerns. However, do not worry at all, and there is nothing better than your being strong for me. I read your letter along with the postcard from Mr. Tadaumi and the letter from Toi. Together they touched my heart. Please give my regards to them.

Also, I have neglected completely writing letters to persons connected with school, and I would be glad if you could notify them for me when you have free time.

I think that my comrades sent to you the wicker suitcase, trunk, and other things that I left behind at Tsukuba, but have they arrived?

In any event, like the words say, nowadays we are cherishing each day like a jewel and are living generously. It seems that the sortie also is getting closer and closer. Mother, we truly will die for the country. You also please live for the country thereafter and forever. Also, please pray for Japan's victory and enjoy only that. I have done nothing more than follow the path as merely one young person of Japan. Also, my comrades also are like that. Standing out separately is not great and beautiful. However, if everyone is like that, Japan is strong. Japan absolutely will win. Please believe this.

Atsushi spent fondly-remembered days while hearing of his comrade's activities who left before him. Thinking that both Father and Atsushi are happy with my long life gave me strength more than anything.

This season has become completely like summer. I always am recalling the roses at our home. I am flying above the immense Kuroshio Current (also known as Black Current) and sometimes climbing the hills and getting close to the cicadas and butterflies.

My older brothers also must be fighting in high spirits. It is encouraging. In addition, please take care of your health. Give my regards to everyone.

Evening of May 18

Haruhiko

Postscript - Until now the sortie sequence has not been announced, but the enemy task force is moving actively. The day of my sortie also has drawn near. I will fly the latest Zero fighter model, and I will go carrying a 500-kg bomb.

He wrote the following last letter on June 1, 1945:

Dear Mother,

Preliminaries omitted. Have you got the letter about my leaving Tomitaka and events after I got here. Also, did the wicker suitcase, trunk, and other things from Tsukuba arrive?

Today is June 1, and today also I could not make a sortie because of bad weather. Since there has been bad weather for several days, it truly has been painful for me to have survived until now.

My current unit is the Jinrai Butai (Thunder Gods Corps), which was announced on May 29. In addition to the Jinrai Butai's exploits published in newspapers, the special attack bomb-laden fighter squadrons also joined the unit. Now I am no longer in the Tsukuba Unit.

Lieutenant Hayashi and Lieutenant Yunokawa, who have appeared in newspapers, now are leading us in high spirits as our unit commanders. Captain Okamura, who is Commander, is a huge fan of kendō (Japanese-style fencing). On the last Navy Commemoration Day [4], I eagerly participated in an exhibition tournament held for kendō rank holders in the Jinrai Butai. I easily disposed of three men of the 4th rank and won the victory. I was extremely happy and received the honor of two beers that were specially given to the winner.

I never thought that I would be doing kendō at such a time and in such a place, but I was extremely happy. After that the Commander often talked to me about kendō and had matches with me. Among the Jinrai Butai members, we are all student eagles [5]. The current decisive air battle will be carried out entirely by student eagles. A great many announcements about the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps from two or three days ago were those of the Tsukuba Unit. I put inside my trunk some photos of people that were taken at Tsukuba. We Jinrai Special Attack Unit members will go as we sing "cherry blossoms of the same class" and singing loudly "when I go to crash dive, I must achieve eternal victory." I do not have anyone's photo, but I will go while keeping your good-luck charm close to me and happily cherishing everyone's feelings. Until the end I will live purely and properly as you child and as a Special Attack Corps member.

There are search operations in the faraway seas to locate the enemy task force, and once found we will finish it off with one blow. Obama [6] probably has entered the rainy season. Please take sufficient care of yourself.

He wrote the following last letter on June 21, 1945, the day before his sortie to Okinawa:

Dear Mother,

Finally tomorrow I will make the long-awaited sortie.

I will participate in the general attack against warships at Okinawa.

This probably will be the final letter. Now there is nothing more that I want to say. My feelings are in accordance with what you know from before.

The spacious sky
Spans serene and clear
So blue above,
Oh, that our soul could grow
And become so open!

My current feelings are like those expressed in the above poem by the Emperor [7].

With a refreshed feeling, flying my plane I will rush in and attack.

I truly thank you for what you did for me for a long time.

I earnestly pray that you please take good care of yourself.

Farewell.

June 21, Haruhiko


Writings translated by Bill Gordon
Letter dated June 21 - June 2018; other writings - October 2019

The letters dated April 20, May 18, and June 21 and the diary entry dated April 25 come from Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (1995, 35-43). The letter dated written on June 1 comes from Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (1966, 133-4). The letter dated June 21 comes from Katabami (2014, 104-6). The biographical information in the first paragraph comes from Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (1966, 131), Katabami (2014, 104), and Osuo (2005, 197).

Notes

1. A shōtai or "flight" in English is a group of three to six aircraft.

2. The traditional Japanese method of counting age, as in much of East Asia, regards a child as age one at birth and adds an additional year on each New Year's day thereafter. This explains why the letter indicates his age as 23 whereas Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (1966, 131) gives his age as 22 based on his birthdate.

3. Shinshū refers to Japan and literally means "divine land."

4. Navy Commemoration Day was celebrated annually on May 24.

5. The term "student eagles" refers to pilots who were former college students.

6. Obama is a city in Haruhiko Kawa's home prefecture of Fukui.

7. The translation of this poem in tanka form (31-syllable poem with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7) composed by Emperor Meiji comes from the following web page: <http://www.meijijingu.or.jp/english/about/8.html> (May 21, 2018).

Sources Cited

Kaigun Hikō Yobi Gakusei Dai 14 Ki Kai (Navy Flight Reserve Students 14th Class Association), ed. 1966. Ā dōki no sakura: Kaerazaru seishun no shuki (Ah, cherry blossoms of same class: Writings of youth that would not return). Tōkyō: Mainichi Shinbunsha.

________. 1995. Zoku Ā dōki no sakura: Wakaki senbotsu gakusei no shuki (Continuation Ah, cherry blossoms of same class: Writings of young students who died in war). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.

Katabami, Masaaki. 2014. Mō hitotsu no "Eien no Zero": Tsukuba Kaigun Kōkūtai (Another "Eternal Zero": Tsukuba Naval Air Group). Tōkyō: Village Books.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.