KOBE – Although the death of his comrades meant little to him at the time, a former World War II reserve kamikaze pilot says a remark by a ranking officer after Japan’s surrender that the country had fought the war in vain troubled him greatly.
Now, Tomokazu Kasai, 89, hopes young people will make efforts to learn about the war and its consequences.
When aerial suicide attacks began in the Philippines in October 1944, Kasai, who was then 18, was assigned the role of reserve pilot. He remembers telling the pilots who left on missions, “Alright, trust me. I will follow you soon.”
Kasai escorted kamikaze Zero fighter planes on four occasions and actually saw three of them fly into a U.S. ship on one occasion. When the fighters burst into flames, he said to himself, “Yes, they did it!”
Most of his fellow pilots were around the same age — 18 to 19 years old. “I didn’t feel sorry for them because I thought my turn could come anytime,” said Kasai. “You cannot fight in war if you are upset about the death of each comrade.”
In November the same year, Kasai was transferred to another unit tasked with homeland defense, although he had applied for suicide missions.
Kasai flew a Shiden Kai fighter plane, bigger than the Zero and Japan’s most advanced fighter at the time, in the new unit. Members ate breakfast together every morning and found out how many of them had died in aerial battles later in the day from the number of untouched lunch plates.
“I had no feelings about it because I firmly believed we could win the war. I only thought of shooting down as many U.S. fighters as possible.”
When Kasai was informed of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers, he could not believe it. “It’s impossible,” he told himself.
About 80 percent of Kasai’s comrades died in the war. “I survived not because of my flying skills or the quality of my aircraft but because I was lucky.”
He recalls having an “absolutely seething” feeling when a ranking officer made comments to the effect that Japan should not have fought the war.
“I was filled with anger when I wondered what we had fought for in that tragic war,” Kasai said.
“We have achieved peace at the sacrifice of millions of lives. I hope young people will learn about the war.”
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