“The spirit of the glorious land shall NEVER be crushed. Like the glowing sunset on a field of cherry blossoms, Japan will rise again. Hail glory to the emperor!” barked Admiral Kuregawa onto his megaphone.
It was a cloudy afternoon in early May 1945. Seventeen year-old Corporal Yuko Akira was lazing about in the grass fields with his fellow airmen.
Morale was low, it had just been radioed that aviator Kenichi Bunta, who had flown his Mitsubishi A6M Zero into the hull of the USS Wasp, didn’t hit the target, as noted by reconnaissance pilot Takumi Fujiwara. The aircraft carrier had managed to escape without lasting damage, and the United States Navy soldiers had hid themselves well in anticipation of the attack.
Another failed Kamikaze.
A shrill-whistle sounded through the air, and all the airmen sprung up, and jogged back to their camps to the tone of the retreating beat. A measly ration of rice and sardine was consumed by the aviators, who were brushing up on the essentials of flying their fighters.
With a constant drone of the loud airplanes just a few yards away, having a good night’s sleep was out of the question.
“This is pathetic. It is almost like he doesn’t care about our lives. We brag of an indomitable courage and an honor code, yet we are asked to sacrifice our lives in an attack strategy that has a one-in-a-hundred chance of success!”, complained Akira.
“SILENCE!”, ordered Major Daisuke. The experienced pilot, 42-years in age, was on rounds, getting increasingly concerned of the newfound morale loss problem. More so now, as soon he wouldn’t be around to monitor the situation anymore.
“I have a wife and three children, one of whom I have not yet seen. Yet, I do not complain.
We carry the spirit of the divine wind. We cannot let the soulless white monsters lay foot on our sacred soil. We have sworn to the code of the Bushido, and we have sworn loyalty towards the empire till our last breath. Your cowardliness has no -”, his voice trailed off.
His face seemed to lack conviction, as though he didn’t really believe in what he preached. He cleared his throat and started again.
“You are all to write a letter home, telling them that you are indeed fine, and proud to be serving the country. Tell your parents not to worry, because your heart is in the right place”. With that, he marched away.
A week later, they powered up their outdated fighters and took flight. It was Major Daisuke’s last flight, as he was to crash into the USS Wolverine that was approaching the Okinawa strait. Corporal Akira was engaging in a sortie along with fellow aviator and best friend, Asakuno Tomei.
He radioed in -“Tomei, you’ve got a Hellcat on your tail, approximately 20 degrees towards your starboard. Engage in evasive maneuvers, NOW!”
The Ki-51 was no match for the much faster and agile Grumman F6F Hellcat. Immediately releasing a rapid burst of .50 caliber shelling, the Ki-51 was struck hard and the engine was riddled with bullets. Unable to recover from the stall, Akira helplessly watched as Tomei spiralled downwards into the ocean, wherein it exploded a few seconds before hitting the water.
Daisuke’s voice crackled over the radio-“LONG LIVE IMPERIAL NIHON!”.
As Akira flanked right, he could see black smoke in a huge cloud billowing from the USS Wolverine. A perfect strike and the Japanese Imperial Air Force just lost its best pilot.
Three planes down, one barely functional. Akira reported the new developments over to the High Command who asked him to fly back. He was greeted with great enthusiasm by his fellow airmen, mainly to not let the loss of his dear friend sink in just yet.
Corporal Yuko Akira did not feel sorrow however. His blood was pumping with rage. The Americans had to go. They took so many innocent lives, and for what? He suddenly realised that he no longer cared about his own welfare. He knew that he would eventually be called for Kamikaze. He volunteered to push his name up the list.
Two weeks passed, and with every passing death of a comrade, Akira’s fury was further fuelled.
He wrote home, “Please find pleasure in your desire for my loyalty to the emperor and devotion to parents. I have no regrets. I just go forward on my path.”
The day had arrived. Akira was off-duty the previous day; he got to have the best share of the meals that the ration offered. Everyone around him told him how proud they were of him. He was relaxed. Focused. Angered.
Akira bid goodbye to the 72nd Shinbu squadron and thanked them for their service. He entered the cockpit of his Ki-51. It was laden with explosives, torpedoes and bombs. Admiral Kuregawa’s voice echoed in- “Stay strong, my shounen. Your target is the USS Braine. Glory to the empire.”
The drone of the engine grew louder as it gained speed. The wheels lifted off the ground, never to land again. Slowly gathering altitude, he closed in until he had a visual confirmation of the destroyer warship. He took a deep breath. It all came down to this.
He disconnected the radio and silently whispered to himself, “Glory to the empire.” The destroyer, upon spotting the incoming plane, opened fire. Akira skillfully evaded any hits and focused on his point of attack. Less than a few hundred feet away, his heart started pounding hard. There was a lump in his throat.
The plane zoomed faster and faster, with less than a hundred feet to go. Corporal Yuko Akira reached the point of no-return. He felt weightless.
And then there was nothing.