From Deadly Mission to Peaceful Pursuit
AS TOLD BY TOSHIAKI NIWA
A former Japanese pilot who was trained for a kamikaze attack on an American naval vessel during World War II tells how he felt while awaiting the deadly mission.
WITH a crushing defeat at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, Japanese expansion in the Pacific came to a halt. From that time onward, Japan lost one battle after another against the United States and its allies as they began taking back the territories that Japan had conquered.
In September 1943 the Japanese government announced that university students who had been exempted from military service were now being drafted. In December, at the age of 20, I joined the navy from the campus. A month later I became a naval aviation student. In December 1944, I trained to pilot a type of fighter called a Zero.
Kamikaze Special Attack Corps
Japan was heading toward defeat. By February 1945, air raids on Japan by B-29 bombers had intensified. At the same time, U.S. naval task forces approached the mainland, making it the target of carrier-based bombers.
A few months before, the military leaders of Japan had decided to wage a final battle using suicide tactics. Although by that time it was evident that Japan could not win the war, that decision prolonged the conflict and no doubt cost thousands of additional casualties.
Thus, the Kamikaze Special Attack Force was born. It was named after the divine wind, kamikaze, a typhoon that according to tradition blew away the ships of Mongolian invaders in the 13th century. For the first kamikaze attack, five Zero fighter planes were each equipped with a 550-pound [250 kg] bomb for a suicide plunge into a target vessel.
A command to organize a special suicide squadron was given to the Yatabe Naval Flying Corps, to which I belonged. All of us received a form to fill out, indicating whether we would volunteer to be a member of the suicide attack corps.
I felt that I should sacrifice my life for my country. But even if I offered to give up my life by flying a suicide mission, I could be shot down before hitting the target, dying for nothing. Would my mother be pleased if I ended my life without fulfilling my family duties? I had a hard time convincing myself that volunteering for a suicide mission was the best way to use my life. Yet, I did volunteer.
In March 1945 the first group of the Yatabe Special Attack Corps was formed. Although 29 of my colleagues were selected, I was not. After receiving special training, they were scheduled to take off for the deadly mission from Kanoya air base in Kagoshima prefecture in April. Before their transfer to Kanoya, I visited my friends, hoping to find out their feelings as they faced the suicide mission.
“We shall die,” one of them said calmly, “but don’t you rush to die. If any of us survives, he should tell others about how precious peace is and work to attain it.”
On April 14, 1945, my comrades took off. Hours later, all of us listened to a broadcast to hear what the results were. The announcer said: “The First Showa Unit of the Kamikaze Special Attack Force dived into an enemy task force on the sea, east of Kikai Shima. All died in battle.”
Ohka—A Human Bomb
After two months, I was transferred to Konoike Naval Flying Corps as a member of its Jinrai Special Attack Squadron. Jinrai means “the divine thunder.” The squadron consisted of land-based planes (called Attackers), escorting fighters, and carrier-borne bombers.
From each “mother” plane—that is, the twin-engine Attacker—hung an Ohka, which means “cherry blossom.” It symbolized the young pilots who were willing to sacrifice their lives. The Ohka was a single-seat glider with a wing span of 16.5 feet [5 m], weighing 970 pounds [440 kg]. It was equipped with about a one-ton explosive in its nose.
As the mother plane approached the target, a pilot boarded the Ohka, which was then detached from the mother aircraft. After gliding for a while with the aid of three rockets, each lasting for ten seconds, it plunged into the target. This could well be called a human bomb. Once launched, there was no return!
In practice drills an Ohka pilot would board a Zero fighter and dive toward the target from an altitude of about 20,000 feet [6,000 m]. I saw several pilots lose their lives in these drills.
Before I was attached to the squadron, the first group had taken off. It consisted of 18 Attackers equipped with Ohkas, escorted by 19 fighters. The Attackers were heavy and slow. None of them reached their targets. All the Attackers and their escorts were shot down by U.S. fighters.
Having no escorting fighter planes left, the Jinrai Squadron had to fly its later missions without them. Those who took off afterward never returned. They all died, disappearing in the battleground of Okinawa.
Final Days of the War
In August 1945, I was transferred to the Otsu Naval Flying Corps. The base I was sent to was situated at the foot of Hiei-zan near the city of Kyoto. In anticipation of the landing of U.S. forces on the mainland of Japan, plans were made to launch Ohkas from the mountain to make suicide attacks on U.S. naval vessels. Rails for launching the craft were laid on the top of the mountain.
We waited for the order to take off. But that order never came. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atom bombs on August 6 and 9, Japan surrendered unconditionally to the United States and her allies on August 15. The war finally ended. I had just barely survived.
By the end of August, I returned to my hometown of Yokohama, but my house had been reduced to ashes in air raids by B-29 bombers. My family was in the depths of despair. My sister and nephew had perished in the flames. Nevertheless, we found comfort in my younger brother’s making it home safely.
Amid the ruins and serious food shortages, I returned to the university to complete my education. After studying for a year, I graduated and got a job. In 1953, I married Michiko and in time became the father of two sons.
My Pursuit of Peace
In 1974, Michiko started to study the Bible with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soon she began to attend their meetings and share in their preaching activity. I objected to her going out so often. She explained that the Christian ministry contributes to genuine peace and happiness. If that were the case, I thought, I should not oppose her. I should cooperate instead.
Just about that time, I recruited a few young Witnesses to work as night watchmen. When the young Witnesses came, I asked them about their organization and ministry. I was surprised to find that, unlike other youths their age, they were focused and had a volunteer spirit. They had learned those qualities from the Bible. The Witnesses around the world, they explained, had no racial discrimination and firmly complied with the Bible’s command to love God and their neighbors. (Matthew 22:36-40) They viewed their companions as brothers and sisters, regardless of national boundaries.—John 13:35; 1 Peter 2:17.
‘That’s nothing but idealism,’ I thought. Since the many denominations of Christendom were fighting each other, I could hardly believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses were an exception.
I expressed my doubts to them. Using the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the young Witnesses showed me that the Witnesses in Germany had been imprisoned and even executed for their neutral stand under the Hitler regime. I became convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses are true Christians.
In the meantime, my wife symbolized her dedication to God by water baptism in December 1975. I was offered a Bible study on that occasion. However, when I thought of the financial obligations I had, such as schooling expenses for my sons and mortgage payments on our house, I did not take a step forward. Married men in the congregation were adjusting their secular jobs in order to have more free time. I assumed that the same would be expected of me. But after being shown how the Christian life can be balanced with secular work, I finally decided to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Decision to Serve the God of Peace
After two years of study, my Bible-study conductor asked me if I had given thought to dedicating my life to God. However, I would not take that step, and it bothered me.
One day I was hurrying down the stairs where I worked. I stumbled, fell down, hit the back of my head, and became unconscious. When I regained consciousness, I had a terrible headache and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Although the back of my head was badly swollen, there was no fracture or internal hemorrhage.
How thankful I was to Jehovah for the life I had! From that point on, I was determined to use it to do Jehovah’s will, and I dedicated my life to him. In July 1977, I was baptized at the age of 53. My older son, Yasuyuki, also studied the Bible and was baptized about two years later.
Some ten years after my baptism, I retired from my work. During the intervening years, I pursued a Christian course, balancing it with my secular work. At present, I have the privilege of serving as an elder in Yokohama, spending much time in the Christian ministry. My older son is serving as an elder and a full-time minister in a neighboring congregation.
Having survived the special attack squadron and its deadly mission, I am grateful to be alive and consider it an honor to share in preaching “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) I am fully convinced that the best way of life is to walk as one of God’s people. (Psalm 144:15) In the new world soon to come, humans will never again experience war, since “nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.”—Isaiah 2:4.
If it is God’s will, I would like to meet those I knew who died in the war who will be resurrected. It will be thrilling to talk to them about the peaceful life they can enjoy on a paradise earth under the righteous rulership of God’s heavenly Kingdom!—Matthew 6:9, 10; Acts 24:15; 1 Timothy 6:19.
[Picture on page 19]
When I was in the naval air force
[Picture on page 18, 19]
“Ohka”—A human bomb
[Picture on page 20]
With my comrades before the deadly mission. I am second from the left, the only survivor
[Picture on page 21]
With my wife, Michiko, and my older son, Yasuyuki
[Picture Credit Line on page 18]
U.S. National Archives photo