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The Last Zero Fighter: Firsthand Accounts from WWII Japanese Naval Pilots
by Dan King
Pacific Press, 2012, 292 pages

Four Zero fighter pilots and one Type 97 Kate torpedo bomber navigator/observer tell their thrilling training and battle stories through interviews in Japanese with author Dan King. They get to tell their personal histories in their own words with minimal interruptions from the author, although some brief diversions by the author have little relationship to the main story. For example, a two-page story about the kamikaze unit that made an attack off Iwo Jima (2nd Mitate Special Attack Squadron) on February 21, 1945, has no relationship at all to Haruo Yoshino's history, but the account gets stuck in apparently only because the author interviewed the sister of one of the pilots who died in the attack. Three Zero pilots covered in the book flew as escorts of kamikaze squadron aircraft, and one of these three also flew as a member of a kamikaze squadron but returned safely to base.

The five chapters cover each pilot's Navy experience in roughly chronological order with helpful section headings. The chapters begin with a description of the contacts that the author had with the veterans. The style is informal with no tendency to overly dramatize battles and other events. However, the book includes many names and details regarding the Navy's organization, which sometimes can bog down a reader, but these features reflect the authenticity of these stories and the immense amount of research performed by the author to add background information and to confirm facts. The book has a few errors with spelling, grammar, and facts that could have been corrected with a better editor, but on the other hand Dan King definitely should be complimented for such a noteworthy accomplishment of communicating effectively these five pilots' gripping and complex histories in English. The middle section has over thirty pages of wartime and current-day photographs plus maps.

Toshimitsu Imaizumi flew as an escort for the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 8th Taigi (Great Justice) Squadron from Ishigakijima toward Okinawa, but no enemy ships could be located so the squadron returned to base. He gave his thoughts about pilots who returned to base when assigned to a special (suicide) attack unit (p. 234)

Imaizumi cracks the image that all Kamikaze pilots were fearless automatons eager to die for the Emperor. He complained that some pilots experienced unexplained "engine failure" or became separated in non-existent clouds. They would return to a different airfield and request maintenance to fix "problems" in order to buy time. On the other hand, there were also honorable men who returned time and time again for legitimate reasons. Most returned because they were unable to find a target. Some commanders understood this, while others were harsh. He said there were times when Kamikaze returned from a mission and were then sent out in a biplane trainer. "Well, that is just a form of execution if you ask me," he said.

On April 14, 1945, Imaizumi got assigned as one of six kamikaze pilots in the 10th Taigi Squadron who flew from Ishigakijima. Two squadron pilots got killed during the mission, but Imaizumi released his fighter's bomb on a cruiser, which missed off the ship's stern, and he recovered near the ocean's surface. He then returned to base with one other pilot. Imaizumi never really explains why he and the other pilot did not try another attack on the American fleet according to their orders, but Lt. Cdr. Tamai said that they did well and transferred them to a base on Taiwan, so they did not participate in any other kamikaze attacks carried out by the Taigi Unit, which in the end lost 50 of its 130 pilots in kamikaze missions. Imaizumi explained why he thought his squadron's mission failed (p. 236):

The whole mission went south when the first escort fighter claimed engine trouble and returned. Lt. Soya [one of two escort fighter pilots] was then shot down above the clouds in a dogfight, unseen by Imaizumi. What made Imaizumi's blood boil was Lt. Kurashige, the leader of the bakusō [bomb-laden] Zeros, claimed engine trouble and returned not to the nearest airfield, which would have been Miyako Jima (only forty miles west of their departure point), but to Saishuto, an island located off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. In Imaizumi's eyes, "This proved he was a damn coward." Imaizumi blamed Kurashige for Miura's ignoble death. "Miura was a good man. He and the others would have stayed with the group if Kurashige hadn't turn tail and run." Long after the war, Lt. (jg) Kurashige changed his last name and his story. He said his engine was fine, but his compass malfunctioned which led him north by mistake. "He was a liar," Imaizumi punched a fist into his hand to make a point.

The chapter on Toshimitsu Imaizumi ends with a comment about reporting of results in air battles including kamikaze missions (p. 241):

The inaccurate recording of success was not only a problem with kill scores. Many of the Tokkō Kamikaze escort pilots also inflated the results of their missions. Imaizumi said it was not unusual for an escort pilot to report hits when there were none. This was done to honor the dead Kamikaze, but it gave false hope to the men in command. Perhaps, this misleading information prompted more men to be sent on Kamikaze missions. He hoped that those who died in the war would not be forgotten. He said, "I don't ask they be glorified, just remembered for their own personal sacrifices."

Zero pilot Kaname Harada comments on the last words of dying Japanese military men, which included kamikaze pilots (p. 68)

He wishes to break the long-held myth that exists in Japan and in other countries that Japanese fighting men shouted out jingoistic military slogans at the time of their death. "In my long experience in the war I have seen many dying men in their last moments. None of them I knew called out for the Emperor, or shouted a patriotic slogan. The last word spoken by many men was the name of a loved one, usually their wives or mothers."

Starting in December 1944, two Zero pilots, Isamu Miyazaki and Tomokazu Kasai, became members of Minoru Genda's famed 343rd Air Group based at Matsuyama Airfield (later at Kanoya, Kokubu, and Ōmura) and later flew the new Shidenkai (Allied code name of George) fighter that could compete more effectively with American aircraft.

In 2014, Dan King published a book about his interviews with Japanese survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima, A Tomb Called Iwo Jima: Firsthand Accounts from Japanese Survivors.