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Last Letter of Lieutenant Junior Grade Masaharu Yokoyama to His Family

On December 8, 1941, Lieutenant Junior Grade Masaharu Yokoyama died at the age of 22 during the attack of his two-man midget submarine at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after being released from submarine I-16. He was a member of the 1st Special Attack Flotilla, which included ten crewmen in five midget submarines that attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was from Kagoshima Prefecture and graduated in the 67th Class of the Naval Academy at Etajima. He received a promotion of two ranks to Lieutenant Commander after his death, which was recognized as being in a special (suicide) attack.

He wrote the following final letter to his family:

At this critical time for the Empire, there is nothing that surpasses my honor in obtaining a place to die. I humbly offer my declaration of banzai (long life) to His Majesty the Emperor.

From the heart I offer my thanks for 23 years of kindness from first my deceased Father and my mother and then everyone in the family and for the great kindness shown to me by my teachers in elementary and junior high school and by training officers, superior officers, and seniors who provided guidance to me in the Navy.

I cannot bear the misery for the bereaved family of my fellow crewman Petty Officer Kamita.

Finally, I am deeply ashamed that I will die without repaying even one ten-thousandth of the Emperor's grace.

Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Masaharu Yokoyama

Burlingame (1992, 63-4) describes Yokoyama as follows. Yokoyama's given name of 正治 has two common pronunciations: Masaharu and Masaji. Burlingame uses Masaji, but other English and Japanese sources give the pronunciation as Masaharu, which has been used on this web page [1].

Masaji Yokoyama, pilot of I-16tou, "was the most handsome of the midget submariners," recalled Captain Takayasu Arima, Yamamoto's liaison officer with the midget squad. "When he smiled, he looked like an innocent child. But he was a hard worker and had a lot of raw courage." Yokoyama had a gentle nature that belied a crushing sense of responsibility; his father, a member of the Imperial Guards Cavalry, served in the Russo-Japanese war and died in China when Yokoyama was six. The family, eight brothers and five sisters, was left in Kagoshima to be raised by mother Taka Yokoyama. These circumstances left Masaji both independent and sympathetic. He liked being around people, and doing things for them. Possibly because he didn't want to further strain his mother, he became a stoic, enduring pain without crying. Once, when he was in grade school, he dislocated his shoulder in a fall and insisted on visiting the doctor alone.

As a boy, Yokoyama listened avidly to tales of great military heroes, as he considered his father to be; those who, by stint of bravery and faith, rose above the masses, or at least above the mass of brothers and sisters. At the Naval Academy, Yokoyama developed a fixation on Admiral Heihachiro Togo, hero of the Russo-Japanese conflict, who was also from Kagoshima. Whenever Yokoyama visited home thereafter, he'd spend long hours at Togo's grave, meditating.

In his academy notebook, Yokoyama distilled the four vital attributes of a heroic officer ― vigor, spirit, patience and honesty. These words were written on the cover, so that he would see them every tie he opened the notebook.

During his last visit home, Yokoyama seemed unusually animated about something, but told his family nothing.

Yokoyama was the only crewman of the five midget submarines that attacked Pearl Harbor who sent a message back to the mother submarines that released them (Burlingame 1992, 242):

Into the cusp of Dec. 8, at 41 minutes past midnight, the crew of I-16 was surprised when they received a signal from Ensign Masaji Yokoyama, her midget skipper and the first attacker launched. Successful surprise attack, signaled Yokoyama.

This was the only radio message passed on from any of the midgets, although I-16 said communication with Yokoyama abruptly ceased at 1:11 a.m. It's possible Yokoyama was shooting at Breese, which was in her general area at the time.

Letter translated by Bill Gordon
December 2018

The letter comes from Yasukuni Jinja (2014, 93-4). The biographical information in the first paragraph comes from Tokkōtai Senbotsusha (1990, 220) and Yasukuni Jinja (2014, 93).


1. The following sources give Masaharu as the pronunciation of Yokoyama's given name of 正治: Warner and Seno (1986, 28); Wikipedia article in Japanese on Masaharu Yokoyama <https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/横山正治> (December 1, 2018).

Sources Cited

Burlingame, Burl. 1992. Advance Force Pearl Harbor. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tōkyō: Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai.

Warner, Peggy, and Sadao Seno. 1986. The Coffin Boats: Japanese Midget Submarine Operations in the Second World War. London: Leo Cooper in association with Secker & Warburg.

Yasukuni Jinja, ed. 2014. Eirei no koto no ha (10) (Words of the spirits of war heroes, Volume 10). Tōkyō: Yasukuni Jinja Shamusho.