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Zerosen ni kaketa otoko: Moto tokkōtaiin - Hamazono Shigeyoshi monogatari (Man who soared in Zero fighter: Story of former special attack corps member - Shigeyoshi Hamazono)
edited by Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha
Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha, 2003, 151 pages

Japanese Navy pilot Shigeyoshi Hamazono narrowly survived several air battles and two kamikaze missions. During the Battle of Truk Lagoon in February 1944, his Zero fighter fought against Grumman F6F Hellcats, and he received burns to his face and was temporarily blinded when his plane caught on fire after being hit. In December 1944 in the Philippines, Hamazono took off in his Zero carrying a 250-kg bomb to crash into an Allied ship. However, oil started spraying from his propeller onto his cockpit window during flight, so his squadron commander signaled for him to abort his mission and fly on to Taiwan. During the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945, he made a sortie on his second kamikaze mission. After 35 minutes of battle with F4U Corsair fighters, he barely managed to fly his plane back to crash land before running out of fuel. This book, in addition to its gripping battle sequences, gives many insights into Hamazono's feelings and opinions about being a kamikaze pilot.

Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha, a Kagoshima-based newspaper company, wrote this book based on Hamazono's wartime memoirs entitled Suiheisen (The horizon). Employees at the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots assisted Hamazono in editing Suiheisen, and the museum also has made it available for sale. Although Zerosen ni kaketa otoko (Man who soared in Zero fighter) has extensive passages quoted from Hamazono's original memoirs, Minaminippon Living Shinbunsha's skillful editing and additional background information make this book more readable. The book's five chapters include maps of areas where Hamazono fought and several wartime and recent photos. The end of the book has a four-page chronological reference table of Pacific War events and Hamazono's wartime record.

Ken Takakura, the famous actor who played a surviving kamikaze pilot named Shūji Yamaoka in the popular 2001 movie Hotaru (Firefly), met Hamazono in Chiran during the filming. Hamazono served as a model for the fictional character of Yamaoka, who in the movie makes a forced landing when shot down and wounded during a kamikaze attack similar to what happened to Hamazono when he made a sortie on a suicide attack mission during the Battle of Okinawa. Both Hamazono and Yamaoka also worked as fishermen after surviving the war. As a thank-you present for the cooperation provided by Hamazono during the making of the movie, Takakura gave him a Longines wristwatch that he wore during the movie. As a return gift, Hamazono sent Takakura his treasured Longines pocket watch that he carried with him during his kamikaze missions. Takakura knew he could not accept such a valuable keepsake, and he returned it to Hamazono after arranging for the pocket watch, which no longer ran, to be sent to the main office of Longines in Switzerland for repair.

"I'm proud that I flew as a kamikaze," Hamazono says in a Los Angeles Times article (Wallace 2004). Although he may be proud, he clearly had his misgivings both then and now. In the book's Postscript, Hamazono explains that he does not want to romanticize tokkō (special suicide attacks) in any way. "Tokkō is the worst type of act in that it treats precious human lives as if they are objects" (p. 145). He explains that, as a member of the Navy's Kamikaze Corps, even though up to the time of his sorties he had a fervent desire of not wanting to die, he faced the fear of death by accepting that he had to die to protect and save Japan with its many memories and natural beauty. He hopes that telling his wartime experiences will be useful so that Japan will never again repeat such a tragic war.

Shigeyoshi Hamazono

Chapter 1 starts in November 1943 with Hamazono's flying a Type 99 carrier dive bomber out of Rabaul Airfield in New Guinea. In late December, he got reassigned to fly a Zero fighter due to the decision to stop daytime flights of Type 99 dive bombers after heavy losses. In February 1944 during the Battle of Truk Lagoon, he encountered a Grumman Hellcat squadron. After three or four minutes of air battle, a Hellcat hit his plane with machine-gun fire. Flames jumped up from under his seat, and he heard the sound of his face burning. He bailed out of his plane, but a third of his parachute was burning with black smoke as he descended. He lost consciousness during the fall, but he was saved as his parachute got caught in a tree on a small island. The islanders recovered him from the tree and nursed him for ten days. He then returned to Japan, where he wore gauze over the lower part of his face for several weeks as blood continued to ooze out from his burns.

In Chapter 2, Hamazono served for several months in 1944 as a flight instructor at Ōita Air Base on Kyūshū Island. On October 10, 1944, Hamazono's squadron flew southeast of Taiwan to attempt a bombing attack on Allied ships, but his squadron leader wisely decided to flee when he spotted over 100 Grumman fighters flying below them. Another squadron from Ōita was not so lucky and lost 70 planes off Taiwan in just a couple of days. Soon after Hamazono returned to Ōita Air Base, he departed on October 20 aboard the aircraft carrier Chitose. After arriving in the Philippines, on October 24 he switched to the carrier Zuikaku, from where he departed the same day on a long reconnaissance mission. Hamazono fought briefly with Grumman fighters, then tried to locate his carrier in worsening weather, and finally made a landing at Manila Airfield when he could not find his carrier.

Chapter 3's title refers to a kamikaze mission as the ultimate death sentence. On December 7, 1944, Hamazono made a sortie from an airbase in the Philippines on his first kamikaze mission, but his propeller developed an oil leak in flight. His squadron leader signaled for him to not return to the Philippines but rather proceed on to Taiwan. Hamazono knew that he would be assigned to the next kamikaze mission if he returned to the Philippines, and his eyes filled with tears when he thought of his squadron leader's kindness. In February 1945, he was transferred to Hyakurihara Air Base about 80 km northeast of Tōkyō to serve again as flight instructor. On April 5, he left Hyakurihara to proceed to Kokubu No. 1 Air Base in southern Japan, where the next day he would sortie with his navigator in a Type 99 carrier dive bomber as part of a mass attack with 355 kamikaze planes called Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemum) Operation No. 1.

The riveting account of Hamazono's Okinawan kamikaze mission is the book's highlight. His flight, expected to take two and a half hours, passed over his hometown of Kiire in Kagoshima Prefecture, and he dropped a hachimaki (headband) with the words "hope you are well, goodbye" from his plane as he flew over. The clouds started to increase, and rain started to appear on the cockpit window, but American radar could detect the incoming Japanese planes even in the clouds. About two hours into the flight, American Corsair fighters intercepted Hamazono's plane. He dropped his 250-kg bomb into the sea to prepare for the attack, and he showed his battle experience by managing to escape after 35 minutes of battling the enemy planes. He thought about making a forced landing on Amami Ōshima, an island about 100 miles north of Okinawa, but he realized that he probably would encounter more enemy planes if he tried. He decided to try to make it back to the mainland since he calculated that he had just enough fuel. He finally made it to Chiran Army Air Base in the evening, but they turned off the runway lights since they do not know whether his plane was friendly or enemy. The plane's engine soon stopped, and Hamazono lost consciousness after crash landing his plane in the middle of a field about six kilometers from Chiran. He awoke with pain during an operation on his lip. A military doctor told him that five or six pieces of shrapnel remained in his right arm and left leg, and he found out later that his plane had holes in it showing that it had been hit by 78 machine gun bullets. After one month in the hospital, Hamazono returned to Hyakurihara Air Base. In the first part of August 1945, he received orders again for a kamikaze attack, but the war ended before he could sortie again.

The two Japanese military leaders most closely associated with kamikaze attacks are Vice Admiral Takijiro Ōnishi, who led attacks in the Philippines in late 1944 and early 1945, and Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, who commanded the Fifth Air Fleet's kamikaze attacks from February to August 1945. Hamazono does not have kind words for either leader. One day in early November 1944, Hamazono spent more than five hours unsuccessfully searching for enemy ships in his Zero fighter, and his plane's 250-kg bomb failed to release after he decided to return to base. Although someone on the ground waved a red flag to indicate not to land at Manila Airfield since he had his bomb still attached and pointed the flag in the direction of Manila Bay to tell him to crash land there, Hamazono decided to try to land at the base anyway even though about 350 people were on the ground. He managed to bring the plane with the attached bomb down safely by landing after men had already fled the area, but Ōnishi scolded him upon landing, "Due to one man's disobeying orders, 350 people could have died" (p. 68). Hamazono strongly felt that Ōnishi showed disregard for the lives of his men. When out of earshot of Ōnishi, he let his true feelings be made known to his squadron leader, "When the 653rd Air Group makes special attacks, let me be the first to go. I'll shoot Ōnishi with my 20-mm and 13-mm machine guns, and if I miss, I'll drop my 250-kg bomb on him" (pp. 68-9).

On April 6, 1945, Vice Admiral Ugaki gave a farewell talk to the Kokubu No. 1 Air Base kamikaze pilots, including Hamazono, and shook their hands saying, "Please die for your country." A veteran pilot, who had the highest respect of Hamazono and who had fought air battles since the Battle of Midway in 1942, said to Ugaki when he asked whether anyone had questions, "I am confident that I can sink two enemy transport ships with just the bombs carried by my plane. If I sink them, may I return?" Ugaki answered, "Please die." Hamazono thought, "You idiot! This is the ultimate death sentence. The high command must be bad off to have been driven to this point and to not be able to do anything but such a tactic" (p.93).

Chapter 4 briefly summarizes Hamazono's return to his home town after the end of the war and his subsequent career. He found much of his hometown of Kiire burned when he returned, and he decided to go into the fishing business. Five years later in 1950, he started a 23-year career in what is now known as the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). After his retirement from the JMSDF, he went back to Kiire and returned to his fishing business. Even today in 2005, Hamazono talks about his wartime experiences with reporters who visit Kagoshima Prefecture.

The life story of Hamazono ends in Chapter 4, and the book's last chapter provides a chronological history of the Japanese Navy's special attacks (tokkō in Japanese). Although many authors attribute Vice Admiral Ōnishi with being the originator of aerial suicide attacks, few sources mention that in June 1943 Ōnishi rejected the idea of special air units that had the objective of carrying out body-crashing attacks. This chapter's history shows that in early 1944, several months prior to the first kamikaze attacks led by Ōnishi in the Philippines in October, the Navy's leaders approved development of suicide weapons. In July 1944, the Chief of the Naval General Staff issued a directive that included a statement indicating approval of special attacks. In September 1944, one month prior to the first kamikaze attacks led by Ōnishi, the Navy even established a Department of Special Attacks (Kaigun Tokkōbu).

The book is silent about Hamazono's family until just before his Okinawan kamikaze mission. When his older brother came to visit him at Kokubu No. 1 Air Base on the morning of the same day as his sortie scheduled for 2 p.m., he brought dango (sweet dumplings) made by his mother. Hamazono wept when he saw his mother's fingerprint on the delicious dango. After the end of the war when Hamazono returns home to Kiire in Kagoshima Prefecture, we find out that he has 6 brothers and 5 sisters and that he lives in a house with 18 people. He heard from his neighbors how his mother reacted when she heard the news that he was going on a special attack suicide mission, "On the day you made a sortie on a special attack, your mother went to the garden in the midst of a drizzle, burned some incense, and sat down without moving for a long time" (p. 118). Hamazono cried when he thought of how his mother must of felt on that day. Even with 12 children, including 7 sons, he was her precious child.

Zerosen ni kaketa otoko (Man who soared in Zero fighter) stands out as one of the most fascinating Japanese books about a kamikaze pilot who survived the war.

Sources Cited

Hamazono, Shigeyoshi. [1998]. Suiheisen (The horizon). No publisher given.

Wallace, Bruce. 2004. They've Outlived the Stigma. Los Angeles Times, September 25. <http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-fg-kamikaze25sep25,1,3835906.story> (September 27, 2004), link no longer available.