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Kaoru Hasegawa

My Personal History: Two Lives
by Kaoru Hasegawa

Kaoru Hasegawa was the leader of a kamikaze squadron of 12 Ginga twin-engine three-man bombers that took off on May 25, 1945. He survived his kamikaze mission when he crashed into the sea and was picked up by a boat from the destroyer USS Callaghan (DD-792). This web page presents Kaoru Hasegawa's story of his life in the Japanese Navy.

This story comes from the booklet My Personal History: Two Lives, which is made up of a series of translated articles originally published in Japanese in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's leading business newspaper, in November 1998. The articles related to his early life and to his postwar career have been omitted from this web page. The booklet was kindly provided by Bob Cooper, survivor of USS Callaghan's sinking in a kamikaze attack on July 29, 1945.


This booklet contains articles I wrote as president of Rengo Co., Ltd., to produce a record of my past public and private life. The articles were published in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a major Japanese business newspaper, from November 1 to November 30, 1998.

In the articles, I begin with actual accounts of my early days when I was growing up, and then relate valuable lessons it is difficult to forget from my military experience as an airman during the Pacific War. I also discuss my experiences as a manager of Rengo, a company that achieved rapid growth together with the postwar reconstruction and development of Japan.

Toward the closing days of the Pacific War, for example, I flew a kamikaze mission and was shot down while flying above an American fleet off Okinawa. I narrowly escaped death but fortunately was rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer. After the war, that experience led to a deepening of exchanges with American military men, including retirees.

As a manager at Rengo, meanwhile, I continually made efforts in corporate activities related to the issue of the company's globalization. I also discuss my responses to changes in the business environment, such as violent labor disputes in the 1950s and the two oil crises, and the lessons I learned from being involved in those events.

My various experiences have made me keenly aware of the importance of promoting exchanges and fostering relationships of trust among people across national boundaries. And I believe it is important to share the lessons I learned from these and other experiences during the early part of my life with as many people as possible.

It will give me truly great personal pleasure if this booklet helps to promote mutual understanding among the peoples of different nations.

Kaoru Hasegawa

My Personal History (1)
Two Lives
Miraculous Return from Special Attack Mission
Military Life Forms Basis of Later Life

The face of an American Naval officer vaguely came into view. He was looking into my eyes. "He's all right. He's alive." I heard his English words. Later, I learned that I was lying on a stretcher below deck on an American destroyer. Crew members were busily moving back and forth around the area I was in. I asked what happened to my comrade, but nobody said anything.

That was fifty-three years ago. I was attached to the 405th Attack Squadron of the 706th Naval Wing under the command of the Third Fleet Air Force. Early on the morning of May 25, 1945, leading a unit of twelve Ginga (U.S. code name Frances) land-based bombers, I had set off from No. 2 Miho Naval Air Station in Tottori Prefecture on a special mission to attack U.S. ships deployed in the sea area east of Okinawa. Five hours later, we spotted enemy ships through rain clouds. While flying further north in search of an aircraft carrier, my plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire. It was afterward that I was rescued by crew members of the destroyer, thus narrowly escaping death. In fact, I looked into the chasm of death and lived to tell the story.

There were enormous casualties in that war. At the time, those in the military always lived close to death, and I was no exception. The fact of having miraculously survived under the circumstances has always held great personal meaning for me.

From my experience, I came to believe I have led two lives. One is the life I had in the Imperial Navy from when I entered the Naval Academy in December 1941 to when I returned to Japan and was discharged in the fall of 1946. The other is the life I have led as a businessman from when I graduated from Gakushūin University in April 1952 and joined Rengo Shiki K.K. (the current Rengo Co., Ltd.; "Rengo"), a corrugated board manufacturer, to the present day.

If the periods of the two lives I have led are compared, the former lasted only for five years while over 46 years have already passed since the latter started. My second life, as a businessman, has been longer by far.

The corrugated industry achieved rapid growth as it seized the opportunity of Japan's rapid economic growth in postwar Japan and supplied corrugated board to exporters for use as a packaging material. Before I assumed office as president of Rengo in 1984, the company had faced and overcome various adversities, including labor-management disputes, the two oil crises, and structural reform. And in April 1999, Rengo will merge with Settsu Corp., a major paperboard manufacturer. In my business life as well, therefore, I have experienced and surmounted many difficulties.

My youth was filled with a sense of mission in rendering dedicated service to the nation as a member of the military. My education was at the Naval Academy, which carried on the tradition of Great Britain's Royal Navy College of the nineteenth century. Although my days as a young man in the Naval Academy were relatively short, they formed the basis of my entire later life as an adult.

My first life as a Naval officer went beyond simple memories. Many years after the war ended, I decided I wanted to find out the exact details surrounding what happened before and after my plane was shot down and I was rescued. Four years ago, I began searching for documents stored at the Self-Defense Agency and at the same time began searching for materials in the United States. I asked for help from Mr. Hajimu Matsumoto, one of my Naval Academy classmates, a man who later served as Rear Admiral of the Maritime Self-Defense Force. Through his good offices, I was able to discover combat records from among huge amounts of materials stored at the U.S. Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C.

In addition, I was also able to meet surviving crewmembers of the USS Callaghan (sunk later by kamikaze planes), the destroyer that shot my plane down and then rescued me. Since 1995, I have participated in a biennial reunion of the Callaghan Association as an honorary member. In these ways, my war memories have been connected to the present day in very specific form.

In the long course of my second life, meanwhile, I have lived as a member of a peaceful society. But the spirit cultivated in me during my years in the Imperial Navy, of "the commander should be always at the head of the battle line," has let me cope with the many adversities I subsequently faced in business.

I am certain that in the end I will follow Heaven's will after making the maximum personal efforts possible. Human beings have just one life. I do not want to pursue it too far. In fact, I may have dragged something like such resignation along for the past fifty years.

There are fewer persons alive now who remember the war I was in. By describing my experience, I hope that younger persons will come to understand the reality of war. Such thoughts have urged me to write this series of articles.

My Personal History (2)
Attack Flights
Determined Not to Return after Fourth Mission
Finally Find Enemy Ships under Bad Weather Conditions

Early on the morning of May 25, 1945, staff officers and other personnel were hastily coming in and out of the combat command station in No. 2 Miho Naval Air Station in Tottori Prefecture. Before ordering my crewmembers to "Line up in front of the Command Station," I smoked a final cigarette.

The various crews talking beyond the smoke of my cigarette gradually receded from view, making me feel as if I were about to enter a different world. Various thoughts quickly came to mind, and just as quickly receded. Although I did not have a particularly strong resolution to fight for the nation and the Emperor, I reminded myself that I must faithfully perform my duty.

Kaoru Hasegawa as
officer candidate in 1944


At 4:50 a.m., while it was still dark, I lifted my plane off the runway to join 11 others on a kamikaze mission. We steered our course southward in four formations of three planes each. About the time we passed over the Chugoku Mountains in central Japan, the first signs of light appeared in the eastern sky. My parents lived in the general area below me, and I remember thinking, "I wish you a happy life," and "May peace come to Japan."

As we flew southward, skirting Hiroshima, Etajima Island came into view. That was the location of the Naval Academy I had attended. At that moment I said half aloud, "This is the last time I'll see my alma mater." And at the same moment memories of my days at the Academy and afterward crowded into my mind.

We continued flying southwestward, and about the time we could see Tanegashima Island to the right, thick clouds with a low base moved in. Visibility worsened considerably. We made the bold decision to drop down and fly just above the water. At that low altitude, the enemy's radar would not be able to detect us. On the other hand, however, the lower altitude meant increased fuel consumption and lower flying speeds.

As we continued flying southward, the rain became heavier, smacking at the body of the aircraft. There was a clear danger in flying at a very low altitude for a long time under bad weather conditions. And it was especially important not to waste valuable aircraft. Even on kamikaze missions, bombers were allowed to return to base if a situation developed that made flight difficult. Although I didn't know it, the other planes on our mission turned back one after another, due to malfunctioning engines and the adverse weather. Records show that of the twelve bombers in our mission, only my plane continued to fly on. In reflecting on the situation, I later realized that choosing not to turn back under such bad weather conditions was essentially a bad decision. Not only was there a good possibility that we might not find enemy ships, but we might have to ditch the plane if we ran out of fuel.

Nevertheless, I decided not to return to base and stuck to the mission. Actually, prior to that May 25, 1945, mission, I had been in line for three other similar missions.

My first mission had been scheduled for May 1. The target was aircraft carriers and other U.S. ships concentrated in the Ulithi Atoll, located halfway between the Truk Islands and the Philippine Islands. But because Minamitorishima (Marcus Island), a refueling base located halfway to the atoll, was being bombed by the Americans, the mission was canceled shortly before scheduled departure from Kisarazu Naval Air Station in Chiba Prefecture. My second mission had been scheduled for May 7. It was part of a large airborne attack on the same U.S. fleet off the Ulithi Atoll, and I was to fly from Kanoya Naval Air Station in Kagoshima Prefecture. That flight actually took off, and we flew southward for quite a distance. Because of bad weather, however, the mission was aborted and all planes returned home. The leader of those two missions was Lieutenant Katsumi Noguchi, commander of the 405th Attack Squadron. He was known as an expert in long-distance navigation.

The third mission had been scheduled for May 14. We were told that a U.S. task force, including six aircraft carriers, had approached the sea off Tosa Bay, and I was ordered to serve as commander of a mission to attack them. I was prepared to take off from Kanoya Naval Air Station with all the bombers operational on that day — about 17 planes, if I remember correctly. On the scheduled day, however, Kanoya Naval Air Station was attacked by enemy fighters (F6F) and the mission was canceled.

During the same period, many of my fellow pilots died in air operations one after another. I told myself that when my turn finally came, I would not abort my mission just for minor reasons. On what I thought at the time was the last day of my life, Warrant Officer Minato Yoshida, who was flying on the same mission, spoke to me before boarding his plane. "Lieutenant Hasegawa, you have to be at the forefront on this important mission. I will be flying as your pilot, and I'm prepared to do my best. Let's go."

We continued to fly in the rain as the clock approached 10:00 a.m. So five hours had passed since we took off. The navigator said we were approaching Okinawa. Okinawa has many hills about 200 to 300 meters high. Because visibility was still zero and we were flying at a very low altitude, the hills were right in front of us when we finally saw them. I remember thinking. "We're going to crash! What can I do?" Just as I started to sharply increase altitude, a clearing suddenly appeared in the clouds. Through it, I saw what looked like an American battleship and several destroyers.

My Personal History (3)
Shot Down
Shells Everywhere, and Lost Consciousness
Woke Up in Water with Seriously Injured Warrant Officer Yoshida

Even after spotting the enemy ships, I did not try to crash into one of them. I remembered the report from a reconnaissance plane before we left Japan that said a large American fleet, including several aircraft carriers, was deployed around Okinawa. Since I knew there was a battleship and destroyers, there had to be aircraft carriers behind them. Anyway, the battleship started firing. I yelled, "Sharp left bank!" and turned sharply and headed north, looking for the aircraft carriers and ignoring the battleship. All of us had tacitly understood that because Ginga (U.S. code name of Frances) land-based bombers were valuable, we were to aim for an aircraft carrier as much as possible.

Kaoru Hasegawa (center) with
Minato Yoshida (left) and
Shūichi Koyama (right)


As we flew northward, we flew into storm clouds again. I don't remember how long we flew after spotting the first American ships, but suddenly we were hit. Shells penetrated the body of the plane from below in front of me and a smell of burning filled the cockpit. Flight Petty Officer First Class Shūichi Koyama and Warrant Officer Minato Yoshida were in the plane with me, and I switched the intercom quickly to Koyama's position and called him. He didn't answer. Then, as I moved the switch to Yoshida's position, the plane started losing altitude at the same time that its nose inclined to the left. The last thing I dimly remember seeing close off to the right was the mast of what seemed to be a heavy cruiser. Then I blacked out.

Feeling something touching my body, I regained consciousness to find waves pushing me against a wing of the plane. I also clearly saw Yoshida afloat on the other side of the wing. He appeared to be badly injured, but he called my name. I made my way to him and held his hand, yelling to him, "Stay awake. Hang in there." We were in the water in the middle of the fleet of American ships. I felt like I was having a nightmare. As I was about to lose consciousness again, I saw a boat approaching us.

According to combat logs of four ships in the American fleet, which I first discovered four years ago, the USS West Virginia, a battleship, was the first ship to sight our plane in the area just east of Okinawa. That was at 10:00 a.m. on May 25, 1945. The log of the battleship reads, "Two Ginga bombers spotted at 10:02. Began firing at them at 10:04." I also searched military records in Japan and found combat journals, combat action protocols, and other documents. One of them recorded a radio message sent from Warrant Officer Yoshida from our plane. It read, "Enemy ships spotted at 10:00 a.m." So the Japanese records corresponded with the American ones.

The log of the West Virginia also said, "We fired at the two Ginga bombers but did not hit them. Flying at an altitude of 175 feet (about 50 meters) and a distance of 6,500 yards (about six kilometers), they headed northward without decreasing speed and disappeared into storm clouds." I will explain later why there were two Ginga bombers.

It was the USS Callaghan, a destroyer, that shot us down. We were looking for an aircraft carrier while in the clouds, and failed to notice the destroyer.

The log of the Callaghan also cleared up what happened to Yoshida. It read: "Lowered boat to recover two Japanese airmen from plane wreckage." One was me, the other was Yoshida. The log reported that Yoshida died from loss of blood about five hours after being pulled from the sea. They also show that the next morning, while the Callaghan was sailing west of Okinawa toward the Kerama Islands, Yoshida's body was wrapped in canvas, according to Naval Law, and was buried at sea. It made me happy to finally know for certain after so many years of doubt, that he had been provided the courtesies due him.

Many years later, a Navy pharmacist's mate who had been aboard the Callaghan at that time wrote to me and said he was with Yoshida during his last moments. He said, "Yoshida seemed to realize death was approaching. In what I thought was the tradition of Buddhists, he clasped his hands together at the end and seemed to be praying." In 1995, another crewmember of the Callaghan in the U.S. returned three photographs to me that Yoshida had with him when he died. One of them was of a young woman. When I saw it, I recalled an incident with Yoshida. On May 18, 1945, we were flying back to Kisarazu Naval Air Station in Chiba Prefecture from Kanoya Naval Air Station in Kagoshima Prefecture. Knowing that our route would take us over Mie Prefecture, Yoshida asked me if it were possible to lower our altitude when we flew over the home base of the Suzuka Air Wing. "My girlfriend's home is just outside the base and I told her we'd be heading that way." I'm sure I violated military rules in doing that, but when I lowered our plane's altitude, I saw several persons waving to us from the front yard of a large, old farm house.

USS Callaghan (DD-792)

Three years ago, I visited Yoshida's elder brother in Tosu City in Saga Prefecture and returned the photographs to him. When I asked him about the young lady in one of the photos, he explained that, yes, it was his brother's girlfriend, but his parents did not allow his brother to marry the girl. They felt his brother might die at any time and if he married the girl in those circumstances he would only be causing her great pain.

The following chapters in the original booklet My Personal History: Two Lives have not been included on this web page:

  • 4 - Influence of My Modern Father: Grew Up Watching Movies and Reading Novels
  • 5 - Gymnastics Rather Than Study: Tough Commute to School Going Up Rokko Hill
  • 6 - Overcome Difficult Examinations with High Score in Mathematics: Father Uneasy but Uncle Pleased

My Personal History (7)
Life at the Naval Academy
Tight Schedule for Studying General Education and Military Arts
Traditional British-Style Education Despite Wartime

I entered the Naval Academy in Etajima (Hiroshima Prefecture) on December 1, 1941. The Pacific War started one week later. On the morning that the war started, Vice Admiral Jinichi Kusaka, director of the Naval Academy, spoke to the assembled cadets. "You should remain composed and perform your duties as students by studying hard. That is all I have to say." Kusaka was a man of few words.

My first impression after entering the Academy can be summarized in two words — very busy. We got up at 6 a.m. in winter and at about 5 a.m. in summer. In the 15 minutes before we were to line up for roll call, we had to straighten out our bunks, wash, and go to the toilet. Immediately after roll call and a morning pep talk, we exercised. At all times, we followed a schedule so tight it was set in seconds, not minutes. All the new cadets were very nervous until we got accustomed to the tight schedule.

After breakfast, we attended liberal arts classes in the morning, broke for lunch, and attended classes again until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We studied history, English, physics, chemistry, and other subjects much like those given in the old-system high schools at the time. Later in the day we attended physical education classes, and practiced kendo, judo, gymnastics, boating, and swimming. At night, we studied in self-study rooms. Starting in the second year, technical military classes other than general studies — including navigation techniques, military history, and gunnery — were added to the curriculum. The number of classes gradually increased.

As the war intensified, the number of liberal arts classes decreased. After Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue assumed the post of director of the Naval Academy, he began insisting that basic education deserved more emphasis at the Academy. He negotiated with the Naval Department, and subsequently the number of subjects in liberal arts education was increased to what it was before. Later, Inoue would work hard toward ending the war as Deputy Naval Minister under Mitsumasa Yonai, the last Naval Minister in wartime Japan. At the time, some students complained about the increased number of classes in English, but in later years Inoue was praised for his foresight and achievements at the Academy.

Gymnastics was one of my better subjects, especially because I had been a member of the gymnastics club in Kobe First Middle School (the current Kobe High School). In my second year at the Academy, I received a special certification in gymnastics. Although I did not do well in judo, by the time I graduated I managed to reach the lowest level of black belt. I was average in swimming and other athletics.

Everything at the Naval Academy was taught in the British style, including manners and ways of thinking. This tradition dated from when the Academy first opened in the early Meiji period (1868-1912). We were often told that we must be "gentlemen," although the ideas behind the meaning of "gentleman" were not widely appreciated in Japanese society at the time. In the front lobby of the Sankōkan, a museum containing the historical archives of the Imperial Navy, a display showed some hair of Fleet Admiral Tōgō and that of Admiral Nelson, who saved Great Britain by winning the naval battle off Cape Trafalgar in the early 19th century. The display remained in the museum even after Japan went to war with Great Britain.

In August 1943, in my second year at the Naval Academy, I returned home to Ashiya City in Hyōgo Prefecture during the summer. Almost as soon as I saw my oldest brother, Hiroshi, who was attending Dōshisha University in Kyōto, he told me that the younger sister of a friend of his wanted to meet me. The girl was a student in the women's division of Dōshisha (today's Dōshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts). My brother said the girl's parents had agreed to her meeting me.

I went to meet her at her house in Kyōto. After talking for a while with her parents, the two of us went for a walk in the Higashiyama area. We ate yudofu (boiled bean curd) at a restaurant near Nanzenji Temple, and later had dinner at the Alaska Restaurant on Kawaramachi Street. At the time, most men wore what was called the national uniform and women wore monpe (work pants gathered at the ankles). But I was dressed in a white summer Naval Academy uniform made of flax and wore a short sword, and the young lady was dressed as a student. We must have been an unusual sight, for many people stared at us, making me somewhat nervous.

Not long after I returned to the Academy from that vacation, I was called to a confidential meeting by Lieutenant Commander Haruo Shimesawa, who was in charge of my class. Shimesawa held a letter in his hands. It was from the young lady I met in Kyōto. He gave me the letter and told me to be more careful. Although he personally didn't care, some persons criticized cadets who received such letters. Shimesawa was later promoted to navigation officer on an aircraft carrier and I heard that he died during one of the Naval battles in the South Pacific.

As graduation approached, our instructors — all of them senior naval officers — loosened up and interspersed their lectures with jokes about how to act as a Naval officer. One instructor said, "After graduation, you will be a brother among Naval officers. But one thing you must not forget is to avoid talking about the women of your senior officers and colleagues. That is the rule among officers in military society." Today, I understand very well what he meant.

In March 1944, when the war situation was becoming increasingly severe, I graduated from the Naval Academy. The new graduates were divided into groups and sailed aboard training ships from Etajima to Osaka. They were taken from there to the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture as part of the ritual of becoming a Naval officer. We were then granted a one-week leave of absence. After returning home for a week, the same groups met again, in Tokyo. We visited the Imperial Palace, and were received in audience by His Majesty, the Emperor, and then left for our new posts.

My Personal History (8)
Time Off in Midst of Serious War Situation
Thinking about the Last Moments of My Life as Military Officer

After graduating from the Naval Academy in March 1944, I got my wish and was assigned to the Naval Air Corps. I was appointed an officer candidate and for three-and-a-half months received basic flight and observer training at the base of the Kasumigaura Air Wing in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The war situation was becoming increasingly severe day by day. June 1944 saw the Battle of the Philippine Sea and October saw the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Despite the worsening circumstances, the Kasumigaura Air Wing retained an atmosphere in which it valued liberalism unique to the Navy. Every Saturday afternoon, a Western movie was shown at the auditorium on base. To this day I still clearly remember scenes from movies such as Morocco and Un Carnet de Bal. I thought at the time, though, that these are the countries we are at war with.

Probably with the social situation of the time in mind, one of the officers on duty — we alternated duty days — issued an order half jokingly, saying, "If we are to win the war, we must first know our enemy. Today, the movie One Hundred Men and a Girl will be shown. Attack the enemy!'

Around this time, I used to visit Tokyo, staying with the Ishiwata family, the family of a classmate of mine in the Naval Academy. The father, Yoshiharu Ishiwata, was senior managing director of Showa Denko K.K. On my last day in Tokyo, before being transferred to the Usa Air Training Wing in Ōita Prefecture, I visited the family with three or four other classmates from the Academy. As we were leaving, after being treated very hospitably, I said without thinking to Hiroko, a daughter in the family, and a student at the Girls' High School of Japan Women's University (today High School of Japan Women's University), "The next time you see me I may be in an urn." Hiroko got angry, and her mother scolded me, saying, "Don't think now about throwing your life away."

Even as we trained earnestly, the war situation continued to worsen. The general feeling had developed among us that we did not have long to live. Because I had come to think about and accept the fact of dying as a military man, my true feeling may have come out when I spoke to Hiroko Ishiwata. In fact, most of my classmates with me that night in Tokyo later died in battle.

I stayed at Usa Naval Air Station from July 1944 to February 1945. We were trained there using 97-type carrier-based attack planes.

While stationed at Usa, I would usually go with other pilots to the Beppu hot springs on weekends for relaxation. There was a Japanese inn there called Suginoi, for exclusive use by Naval officers. The aircraft carriers of task forces that had returned from the South Pacific usually anchored in Beppu Bay for a while. During that time, the pilots and other Naval officers stayed at the Suginoi for relaxation.

I also remember a restaurant and bar called Senbikiya and a Japanese restaurant called Kairyuso, frequented by geisha girls. A visit to Beppu was expensive, but we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves for a short while.

In the Senbikiya was a young lady named Yasuko, a younger sister of the restaurant and bar's proprietress. She had just graduated from Beppu Girls' High School (today's Beppu Tsurumigaoka High School) and we nicknamed her "Yatchan." She was a favorite of the Naval pilots. At one point, Senbikiya started to refuse to accept payment from me, and also refused payment from fellow pilots who partied with me. I remember paying for part of the bills, but to this day not having paid my full bill at the Senbikiya still bothers me.

As defeat seemed increasingly certain, I graduated from the Usa Air Training Wing. Early in the morning of March 1, 1945, I dropped by Senbikiya to say goodbye, and then I left Beppu on the first train. It was a cold morning, snowing lightly. It was still dark when Yatchan secretly saw me off, standing behind a column on the train station platform.

On February 11, 1945, the Anniversary of Emperor Jimmu's Accession (today's National Founding Day), Captain Toshio Naoi, commander of the Usa Air Training Wing, spoke to the graduating pilots with unforgettable words. He said, "Victory is no longer within our grasp. It is now time to consider carefully about how to act honorably as a military officer."

Although Naoi used indirect expressions, he was telling us to consider what we would do in our last moments as military officers, in the context of defeat being unavoidable.

After the ceremony, the pilots talked among themselves. We all thought Naoi was straightforward in what he said. Although his remarks were bold for an address delivered on such an official occasion, no one was especially upset. Everybody felt once again that the time had come to think about an honorable death as a military officer.

My Personal History (9)
Assigned to Attack Squadron Involved in Action
Enjoyed Each Day As If It Were the Last
Wrote Poem Night Before Final Kamikaze Mission

On the night before my final mission, I wrote the following farewell poem.

Rain in May,
No tears for the trees in bloom,
Think about where the fallen flowers have gone.

I wrote the poem on the back of a photograph at No. 2 Miho Naval Air Station in Tottori Prefecture on May 24, 1945, the night before I set off on my last kamikaze mission. Because I never learned the basics of the 31-syllable waka poem, I don't know whether my poem conforms to waka rules.

During the week previous to arriving at No. 2 Miho Naval Air Station, I had been on call at Kanoya Naval Air Station in Kagoshima Prefecture. There I happened to see beautiful cherry trees in the premises of an elementary school near the Naval Air Station. Actually, the blossoms had already fallen, but the green leaves of the trees were beautiful. So I compared myself to the cherry blossoms.

Before setting off on the kamikaze mission, I asked a military journalist to see that the photograph I wrote the poem on got safely delivered to my family. After the war, he kindly stopped at my family's home in Ashiya City on his way home after being discharged. Later, my mother told me she had asked his name but he left without giving it.

As the war situation worsened, fewer and fewer planes that left on air missions returned to base. All crewmembers took their meals in the same dining hall. At dinner, we talked among ourselves, and asked who was flying that night. Someone would say a couple of names, and we'd all wish the men a safe return. But at breakfast the next morning the plates for the men from the night before invariably were not on the table. When I asked the orderly about the men, he would simply say, "They didn't return." That was how the days passed.

At the end of February 1945, I was promoted to lieutenant junior grade and was assigned to the Ōi Wing in Shizuoka Prefecture. Some time before that, while I was still in training at the Usa Air Training Wing in Ōita Prefecture, my parents visited me unannounced. We went to Beppu to enjoy the hot springs and to talk together at the Suginoi Inn. That turned out to be the last time I saw my father. After the war, my mother told me my father had already been in bad health when they visited me, but that he tried to behave cheerfully. To this day, I am glad I was able to see him that final time in Beppu.

After only two weeks with the Ōi Flying Wing, I was transferred to the 405th Attack Squadron of the 706th Naval Wing under the command of the Third Fleet Air Force. The Third Fleet Air Force had its headquarters at Kisarazu Naval Air Station in Chiba Prefecture. The 405th Attack Squadron was actively flying to the frontlines. Half of the members of the unit were being trained at Kisarazu and other locations and the others were stationed at Miyazaki Naval Air Station and other locations and were attacking U.S. ships deployed around Okinawa.

When I arrived at my new post in Kisarazu, I was surprised to find Teiichi Iwano, one of my classmates at the Naval Academy who also trained with me at Usa Naval Air Station. We went out drinking almost every night. He belonged to the 102nd Reconnaissance Squadron and flew dangerous reconnoitering missions over water every day. Fortunately, he was on Truk Island when the war ended.

Recently, when I was putting my mother's old books in order, I found a letter sent to my mother immediately after the war by Mikihiko Ikeda, another of my classmates at the Naval Academy.

Ikeda had seen me off when I flew on my final mission. In his letter, he described my last moments as follows.

"Before setting off on the mission, Lieutenant Hasegawa gave final orders to the 35 men under him. 'The time has finally come for you to dedicate your life to your country,' he said. 'Perform your duty faithfully. And when you find a target, don't forget to pull the safety lever on the bombs.' (On kamikaze missions, it was necessary to pull the safety lever to arm the bombs.) He shook hands with me before leaving. There were signs of tears in his eyes when he asked me to take care of his affairs after he was gone."

Incidentally, Ikeda also wrote in his letter to my mother, "As Lt. Hasegawa wished, I donated to a charity 300 yen which he asked me to take care of." At that time, 300 yen was a substantial sum of money.

His mention of the money cleared up a thought that had bothered me.

Since I had moved many times while waiting to take off on my final mission, when I returned to Kisarazu for the last time, I was short of money after paying the bills I owed. When I asked the paymaster at Kisarazu for an advance, he authorized payment of a substantial amount of money. It was because I was thinking that the three days in Kisarazu would be the last three days of my life, I wanted to enjoy myself with fellow comrades, both other pilots and the enlisted men taking care of the planes. I remembered later that I had been unable to spend all the money in three days, but I could not recall what I had done with what was left. The letter from Ikeda to my mother finally cleared up what had happened to the money.

My Personal History (10)
Courageous Captain of a U.S. Destroyer
Takes a Risk and Rescues Enemies
Hasegawa Meets Former Crew Members, Filled with Deep Emotion

Captain Charles Bertholf


It was the summer of 1997, in Rochester, Minnesota. As soon as Dr. Romaine J. Buzzetti saw me, he came running toward me and said, "I think I finally found it. Is this it?" He held out an old aviation watch, and I recognized it as my own. Buzzetti is a former crewmember of the USS Callaghan, the destroyer that shot down the bomber I was flying off Okinawa, and, as the crew chief of a lifeboat, he is the man who rescued me. He told me that with the permission of the ship's captain, he had taken possession of the wristwatch I was wearing, and had kept it in his home all those years.

The watch was returned to me at a reunion of former crewmembers of the USS Callaghan and their families. Congressman Gilbert W. Gutnknecht also attended this particular meeting and gave a heartwarming speech. Transcending the distinction between former friends and enemies, I also began attending the biennial reunions in 1995.

As I gazed at the watch, memories of my last kamikaze mission returned to me. I remembered as we were flying toward Okinawa that I was about to wind my watch out of habit, but decided not to. "It only has to work for another two hours," I thought. As I tested the feel of the old watch against the palm of my hand, something hot unexpectedly surged up within me. Accurate time is indispensable to flying, which is why the Imperial Navy provided us with high-precision watches. To an aircraft crewmember, a watch is like a part of himself. Holding the watch in my hand was an unexpected reunion, after 52 long years.

Actually, in what proved to be my last attack mission, an unknown Japanese bomber appeared. I confirmed through government records that 11 of the 12 land-based Ginga (U.S. code name Frances) bombers from our 405th Bomber Squadron returned to our home base. From what I remember, however, as the other bombers were turning back, another Ginga bomber approached from out of nowhere and took a position to our rear. I wondered who the pilot was and what base the plane was from. With that question still unanswered, the two planes attacked.

The log of the battleship USS West Virginia shows that two Ginga bombers were identified as attacking. Also, the USS Callaghan's log showed that one bomber disappeared into the clouds trailing smoke, while another was hit, burst into flames, and crashed. So there was indeed a second bomber.

I finally found details about the other plane when I closely reviewed the Japanese battle records. I discovered that on that same day, bombers of the 406th Bomber Squadron had also departed from the same No. 2 Miho Naval Air station that we had, in Tottori Prefecture, and that a plane piloted by Lieutenant Junior Grade Hirozō Oguchi reached the waters near Okinawa and radioed back to the base, "Enemy found." The other bombers of the unit did not reach the operational waters at the same time. When I contributed an article entitled "The Truth About Kamikaze Bombers 50 Years After the War" to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun in May 1995, relating the circumstances of that final battle, I was immediately contacted by a surviving member of Lt. JG Oguchi's family. I met Lt. JG Oguchi's older brother in Okaya City, Nagano Prefecture, in July 1995. He was happy to meet me, and said, "The only thing I knew of my brother's death was the date. I'm glad I now know the details of his last moments."

Ginga bomber

There was another question I wanted answered. I wondered why the USS Callaghan rescued me. In order to rescue me, the warship had to stop its engines and lower a lifeboat. If the ship had been attacked while stopped, what would they have done? At the time, some of the war's last fierce battles were being fought in the waters around Okinawa. Certainly there was the risk of being attacked by other Japanese bombers. But when the USS Callaghan discovered two Japanese flight crewmembers afloat on the sea, it radioed the group commander reporting two aircraft downed, that one or two pilots were on a wing floating in the water, and that a boat had been put in the water armed to pick up prisoners. Captain Bertholf, captain of the ship, had decided to rescue the two men regardless of the risk involved. I was one of those two men.

Captain Bertholf passed away in 1992, and I did not have the opportunity to thank him personally for rescuing me or to ask him directly about why he did so. Mrs. Bertholf is still in good health, however, and sometimes I visit her.

In 1995, a reunion ceremony for the crewmembers of the USS Callaghan, other persons, and myself was held in Washington, D.C., under the sponsorship of the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation. Captain Jacob Heimark (a lieutenant in 1945) of the U.S. Navy (retired), a former executive officer of the USS Callaghan at the time, gave a speech, saying, "It is a tradition of the U.S. Navy to rescue those who fall into the sea and are helpless, no matter whether they are friends or enemies. Even so, under the circumstances I think that anyone other than Captain Bertholf might not have rescued Mr. Hasegawa."

My Personal History (11)
Transferred to Hawaii
Suicide Attempt Fails
Mixed Feelings about U.S Navy's Response

I want to return my story to the time after my plane was shot down and I was rescued on the morning of May 25, 1945.

I learned later from U.S. Navy records that the USS Callaghan, the destroyer that rescued me, continued operations during that day and then at night transferred me to the USS New Mexico, a battleship. For transfer to the battleship I was placed on a stretcher that was lifted by a crane that carried me above the turret of the battleship's main gun battery and then lowered me onto the deck. It had stopped raining by then and I remember the night sky was filled with stars and the moon was bright.

The USS New Mexico left Okinawan waters and headed for Guam. It was very quiet aboard the battleship. Discipline was strict and the atmosphere was tense. I was attended by a pharmacist's mate and by a sailor who served as a guard. The guard changed every few hours and each time the watch changed the oncoming crewmember saluted me respectfully and gave his name and rank while I lay in a bunk.

I attempted to commit suicide aboard the ship on the way to Guam, but failed. In the process all I did was lose consciousness.

At the time, I felt there was no meaning for me to live any further. Here I was, a graduate of the Naval Academy, seriously injured, and taken as a prisoner of war. Also, I had set off on a kamikaze mission, fully expecting to die, and I knew nothing of what happened to those under my command.

After staying in the hospital on Guam for two weeks, I was transferred to Hawaii on a ship carrying U.S. soldiers home for discharge. The war had not ended, but the U.S. had already started sending soldiers home. There was a cheerful atmosphere on the ship, probably because it was the end of the war for the soldiers.

In Hawaii, I was kept in a Naval hospital for one month. I left the hospital just before the war ended and was transferred to a prison camp. Not long afterward, an American officer approached me and wanted to shake hands. He told me an atomic bomb had been dropped and Japan is likely to surrender. He said the war will end soon, and we are already friends. I was surprised at how quickly he was able to change his attitude and at his frankness, and I had mixed feelings about both.

After staying in Hawaii as a prisoner of war for over one year, a Japanese ship arrived in the fall of 1946 to take us home. It was late November before the ship docked in Uraga and I was able to return to my family's home in Ashiya City.

More than 50 years have passed since that time. But it was not until fairly recently that I felt like talking about my experiences. The motivation was that I came to feel that I wanted to correctly convey the facts of war to future generations even though what I could convey was only a part of the war. I believe that being a witness of historical events and speaking out is one of the responsibilities of my generation.

Here, I would like to think about what the kamikaze attacks were.

The success of the kamikaze missions meant certain death for the pilots and crewmembers involved. Indeed, the tactics were unusual. Since that time, Americans have called the kamikaze missions "suicide attacks." In terms of the moral view of the act of committing suicide, I think there is a substantial difference between the view of Christian society in the West and the Japanese.

In recent years, I have developed friendships with an increasing number of persons in the U.S. Navy. Even they often ask me about the kamikaze attacks. The questions are usually simply asking about what the Japanese people are like, to have been able to issue orders for such operations and to have faithfully carried them out.

At the time of the kamikaze missions, Japan was in the final stage of a terrible war, the outcome of which would determine the fate of the nation. And the country was moving toward defeat. But since we had entered the war, we must not lose. I believe that is what most Japanese were thinking in the gloomy situation.

The kamikaze operations were planned and carried out in that kind of atmosphere. They may indeed have been abnormal operations, but I believe there may have been an Oriental and Bushido (the "way of the warrior") view of life and death behind them.

I considered it my duty to remove the misunderstanding of kamikaze missions held by Americans and in an interview published in the October 1995 issue of Naval History, the bulletin of the United States Naval Institute, I described what I had felt in 1945. "At the time," I said, "the world was caught up in a war fever that cannot be measured by peacetime standards. Obeying orders was the bound duty of persons in the military."

In the closing months of the war, even the return rate of planes flying on regular attack missions became extremely low. I knew I would be flying a kamikaze mission sooner or later, and when the order came I felt only that my turn had finally come.

The following chapters in the original booklet My Personal History: Two Lives have not been included on this web page:

  • 12 - First Learned After War of Father's Death: Start from Zero; Mother and Others Suffered Hardships
  • 13 - Liberal Atmosphere Immediately After Foundation: Tutored Granddaughter of the Yasuda Family
  • 14 - Busy Riding the Tide of Feverish Economic Recovery: Life for Newlyweds Far From Sweet
  • 15 - Unforgettable, Valuable Opinions: Taizo Ishizaka, Man of Great Character and Personality
  • 16 - Invited Top Engineer to Get Production Going Smoothly: Led Life Apart from Family for One Year; Learned to Play Golf
  • 17 - Firsthand Experience of Turmoil of Cultural Revolution: Treated as VIP at Hotel, and Provided Exclusive-Use Car
  • 18 - Promised Self to Reduce Technological Gap: Appointed Director in Charge of Labor Relations
  • 19 - Made No Concessions as Dispute Got Mired in Stalemate: Broke Through Stalemate with Defiant Attitude
  • 20 - Established Relationships of Trust with Western Companies: Technological Capabilities Improved, and Results Achieved through Technical Licensing
  • 21 - Concern about Accepting Excessive Orders: Curtailing Production, and Getting Others to Toe Cartel Line
  • 22 - Breaking from "Dango" System of Price Cartel: Structural Reforms Gradually Introduced
  • 23 - Joint-Ventures Set Up in Promising Markets: Emphasized Close Personal Relations with Important Persons
  • 24 - Hints from Naval Operations: Broadened Scope of Operations for New Age
  • 25 - Promote International Exchanges with My Wife: Happy to See Children Build Their Own Families
  • 26 - Differences in Perceptions Still Exist: Continued to Maintain Buyers' Opinions
  • 27 - Appreciating the Solemnity of History: Promotion of Culture is Important Role of Corporations
  • 28 - Promotes International Friendship with Sea as Theme: International Exchange between Japanese and U.S. High School Students
  • 29 - Be Proud of Your Country: Viewing the World in an Age of Mega-Competition

Kaoru Hasegawa passed away on January 9, 2004. He first spoke of his kamikaze mission 26 years after the end of the war in an article in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on August 9, 1971.

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