The U.S.S. Emmons was one of thirteen naval ships sunk by Japanese aircraft while these ships were stationed as part of an early warning line between Japan and Okinawa during the Battle of Okinawa. This battle was actually the first phase of the Invasion of Japan. Realizing this, the Japanese decided the commit all that remained of their naval and air forces here in an attempt to make the capture of Okinawa so costly in ships and lives that the Americans would agree to a peace on terms acceptable to the Japanese military.
Against this backdrop of a massive commitment of forces including large numbers of suicide weapons and suicide personnel, this true account attempts to tell what the battle actually meant to the crew of the Emmons as well as to their enemies, who were mostly students selected from Japan's finest universities. The Emmons' crew would be facing heroic, well trained and determined opponents who were already resigned to death. On the island itself, American marines and troops faced equally determined forces resigned to fight to their death as many believed surrender to the Americans would bring horrible torture.
The story of the USS EMMONS is but one episode in the last great land, sea and air battle of World War II known as the Battle for Okinawa, code named "Iceberg." The word "doomed" could be applied equally not only to the USS Emmons but to some 34 American ships that would perish here and some 368 that would be damaged in these waters in what was described as the "most audacious and complex amphibious enterprise" ever undertaken by the United States armed forces.
For Okinawa, a country with a long history as an independent kingdom of peaceful traders and a reputation for civility and hospitality, the invasion would introduce them to a new level of horror and suffering. Conquered by Japan in 1609 and only formally absorbed by the Japanese empire in 1869, the Okinawans were considered to be "insufficiently patriotic and loyal to the emperor" and were about to pay dearly for it. The Okinawans would be asked, not only to fight for Japan, but to sacrifice their lives in suicide in order to delay the advance of the Americans toward the home islands of Japan.
For the Japanese War Lords, this would be their most desperate hour as they moved into the final phase of the war with their introduction of "THE DIVINE WIND SPECIAL ATTACK CORPS" known to the Americans and the World as Kamikazes but more widely known in Japan itself as "Tokko." These Tokko included not only the Kamikaze (suicide aircraft) but also the "Oka" (Cherry Blossom) or "flying bomb," the navy's Shinyo (Ocean Shaker) and the "Kaiten" (Turning of the Heavens), which was perhaps the most sinister of the suicide group. These would be Japan's new secret weapons.
Volunteers were requested to man these craft but when the proper numbers were not stepping forward to join, the military high command resorted to using trickery to get young men into this service. When the general population of Japan became aware of this after the war, most would be horror struck on finding out what the military had done not only to the Okinawans but to their own citizens.
For Edwin Hoffman, Okinawa would bring an end to his short naval career. He left his home town of Berwick, Pennsylvania in May of 1943 at age seventeen and joined the United States Navy. Two and a half weeks out of boot camp, he boarded the USS EMMONS and launched his career. After ten months of patrol and training in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, it was off to Operation OVERLORD (the Normandy Invasion). Ed watched from his battle station on D Day as the five inch guns of the EMMONS pounded the mobile shore batteries at Omaha Beach.
After that action, it was off to Southern France and the second part of the invasion (code name DRAGOON). Before Ed came aboard, the ship had been a part of many runs in the cold North Atlantic waters on convoys to England and into Murmansk, Russia and had taken part in the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch). Through it all, the ship and crew had survived these battles without so much as a scratch.
The captain and crew could brag of more battle experience than most ships but were quick to admit that you had to be lucky too. As the ship passed through the Panama Canal and headed out into the Pacific, the crew was no longer the inexperienced young kids that started their voyage some two years earlier in Boston and were now thoroughly seasoned and ready to match their skills with anything that the Japanese could throw at them.
The term "Doomed" could apply also to Miyagi Kikuko, a sixteen year old Okinawan girl. She had joined as a Student Nurse in what was known as the "Lily Corps." These girls, ages fifteen to nineteen, were from the First Prefectural Girl's High School and the Women's Division of the National Okinawa Normal School. Kikuko was in her fourth year and was sixteen years of age. "We were so naive and unrealistic. We had expected that somewhere far in the rear, we'd raise the red cross and then wrap men with bandages, rub on medicine, and give them shots as we had been trained. In a tender voice we'd tell the wounded, Don't give up, please." The reality would be quite different.
For Japanese Kamikaze pilot, Araki Haruo, life would be short, sweet but tragic. He knew of the importance of his assignment and felt the fate of Japan could well be in his and his comrades' hands. In early April, he returned home unexpectedly from the Special Attack Plane training camp after having been given a special permission for an overnight leave. In his first words, "I have one request to make, although it's selfish. I want to marry Shigeko, if possible." For Shigeko, she was stunned. "I knew at that moment he was going to die." Shigeko would live on after the death of Haruo but eventually would make the trip to Okinawa to visit the site where her husband of four hours had perished as he dove his kamikaze into the American fleet.
Tragically affected also was Nishihara Wakana an eleven year old girl living at home with her parents in Numazu City, Japan. When her brother returned home suddenly from the service, her family was elated. We were ready to retire for the night when the entrance bell rang. It was raining hard, close to ten o'clock. We opened the door and there was my brother! "Minoru-chan's home!" We roused the house. We woke up Mother and Father..... This would be his last farewell prior to his departure in a Kaiten.
When Okinawans awoke on April 1st the invasion day, they looked out to see what appeared to be a large city that miraculously had sprung up overnight. They were looking at a fleet of 1,300 ships and transports sitting off shore. This invasion--code named Operation Iceberg,---would see the assembling of the greatest naval armada ever. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance's 5th fleet was to include more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battleships, 200 destroyers and hundreds of assorted support ships. These were the ships that would land over 182,000 Allied troops and would start a ferocious shelling which the Japanese would call the "typhoon of steel." The 100,000 Japanese and Okinawan troops dug in to defend the island were quick to realize that they were doomed, since surrender was out of the question. But, deep in natural and man made caves they would hold out for ninety days and, at the end, would see death and suicide on a massive scale.
The Invasion of Okinawa
The Last Day of the USS EMMONS
(All personal stories are completely true and printed in italics as spoken)
The invasion of Okinawa officially began on April 1, 1945. But for the USS EMMONS and other ships of Minesweep Units THREE and FOUR, their operation was off and running on the 24th of March at sunrise. The minesweepers (using steel cables strung out from the sides of the ship) had the job of clearing all mines in the area around Okinawa.
There were 122 ships in this operation and their importance was contained in their slogan: "No Sweep, No Invasion." These craft would cover some 2,500 square miles of ocean and destroy six Japanese minefields containing 184 mines. Their early arrival on the scene and their exposed positions would cause them to suffer more than 15 percent of all naval casualties during ICEBERG. The mine craft were under the command of Rear Admiral Alexander Sharp.
During the first few days of the sweep operation, no opposition from the air, surface or from under the sea was encountered. Radar contacts were few and the Japanese patrol craft encountered did not attack. Combat Air Patrol planes from American carriers in the vicinity gave the EMMONS crew the feeling of security and a feeling that they were not alone out there.
For the USS EMMONS' crew, so far, so good. Their mine sweeping operation was discovering so few new mines that their duty was changed was from minesweeping to Radar picket duty or early warning. Sweep Units THREE and FOUR were assigned a patrol area in a direct line between Southern Japan and Okinawa.
For Ed and his shipmates, now in the area almost two weeks without a scratch, there seemed good reason for confidence even though the Japanese planes to Okinawa would be flying directly overhead. With troop ships, carriers and battleships not far behind them, why would the Japanese waste time harassing destroyers and minesweepers anyway. This type of thinking seemed logical enough.
So far however, most of the battle action was closer to the Japanese home islands where American Task Force 58, composed of fast carriers under the direction of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, was trying to knock out the Japanese Air Force before the start of the invasion. The Japanese High Command was moving some 4300 aircraft into the invasion area in preparation for a mighty defense of Okinawa. Most aircraft committed to the defense were naval planes under the command of Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki's Fifth Air Fleet based at Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan.
On March 18th, a four day battle between the Japan's Fifth Air Fleet and the American Navy's Task Force 58, had cost the Japanese 161 aircraft. Surviving Japanese planes returned to Kyushu widely scattered and very badly disorganized. Few aircraft had landed at their home fields since their communication network had been disrupted by the attacks of the American carrier planes.
When the Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Navy learned of this setback, he directed Admiral Ugaki to attack with all of the combined naval air forces under his command, about 1,185 planes, including 540 kamikazes. The Sixth Air Army was ordered to add whatever aircraft they could muster. Valuable time had been lost in the confusion of the battle with Task Force 58 and many more days would be needed before a major attack could be launched. But, before the battle for Okinawa was over, the Japanese would manage to commit, and lose, 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships.
Task Force 58 would not escape unscathed however. The new aircraft carrier WASP was hit by a kamikaze which resulted in explosions and fires that killed 101 and wounded 269 crewman. Yet within 15 minutes, fires were put out and the remaining crew began recovering airplanes. Also hit was the carrier FRANKLIN. Damage to the flight deck was extensive, yet the ship got underway within hours and was able to return to New York under her own power. Casualties were 724 killed or missing and 265 wounded. Two Medals of Honor were awarded for heroism aboard the carrier. The thinly armored flight decks of American carriers were unable to take the fury of the Japanese kamikaze attacks and indicated a flaw in American carrier design with serious consequences for any carrier under attack.
The Japanese military, in desperation, was taking drastic steps to derail the invasion of Okinawa knowing that their home island would be next. The DIVINE WIND SPECIAL ATTACK CORPS (Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kogekitai, usually abbreviated in Japanese as TOKKO) is most often associated with the airplane attacks against the American fleets invading Okinawa and the Philippines. But there was a wide range of other "special attack" weapons.
One special aircraft, the Oka (Cherry Blossom) was a rocket-powered flying bomb. It was virtually unstoppable once launched but it had to be delivered to the distant American task force by slow, overburdened, and exceedingly vulnerable twin-engine bombers. In their initial mission, all Okas (eighteen of them) were destroyed when their mother planes were shot down before reaching the launching location. The navy's SHINYO (Ocean Shakers) were powerful motorboats that had a large charge positioned in the bow and were to be driven into American ships at high speed. In the initial attack on Okinawa, almost a hundred "Ocean Shakers" were taken by surprise by and sent to the bottom by Navy aircraft.
Riding a bomb down to its target or guiding an Ocean Shaker to its target seemed to have little appeal even to ardent Japanese patriots. Those who might want to sign up for this type of duty would have little wait at enlistment centers as the line for volunteers was quite short. Because of such a shortage of volunteers and the vulnerability of the delivery system, this type of bomb would not present much of a problem to the Americans.
One of the weapons prepared to strike at the enemy where they could not be reached by conventional tactics was the KAITEN (Turning of the Heavens) Special Attack weapon. The Kaitens were double sized torpedoes with a human employed as its guidance system. When the torpedo was close to the target, the pilot inside would take control.
If the "Oka" bomb or "Ocean Shaker" had little appeal, the fiendish "Kaiten" would not cause crowding in enlistment centers either, but because of the deceitful manner that volunteers were recruited, there would be a sufficient number of Kaitens to be a threat to American naval forces. To encourage recruitment, fancy public ceremonies were given to Kaiten volunteers without mentioning there would be absolutely no chance for survival.
After eight days of heavy naval bombardment against Okinawa, landings were finally underway. The invasion force consisted of Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger's 3rd Amphibious Corps with its three Marine divisions (the 1st, 2nd and 6th) and four infantry divisions of the 24th Army Corps (the 7th, 27th, and 96th). The Navy would be under the command of Admiral Spruance. The Army would be under the command of Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner (10th Army). Landings would take place over five miles of beaches on the west coast of southern Okinawa. Although it was April 1st and Easter Sunday (not to mention, April Fool's Day), Marines and Army troops storming ashore did not expect to find colored Easter eggs nor chocolate bunnies waiting for them. Instead, they found something even better, the beaches and approaches were deserted -- nobody there. An April Fool's Day joke, perhaps? Not likely. Not willing to leave well enough alone, they had to go looking for trouble. They would soon find it.
With no opposition, over 50,000 troops were ashore by late afternoon and were ready to advance. The marines were to head north and west while the army headed south. "Where are the Japanese?" was the question, as if anyone really was hoping for an answer. Soon the answer was apparent. The beaches intentionally had been left undefended. Japanese troops, hidden in caves, cement tombs, and fortifications, were well protected from the pre invasion bombardment.
By following a wall of heavy fire power from off shore and local artillery, defenders, when encountered, were quickly pushed back. By April 8 however, the U.S. forces were stopped cold at the first major Japanese defense line. Pill boxes with steel doors impervious to flame throwers and strongly prepared defensive positions with interlocking fields of fire and interconnected tunnels proved extremely difficult and costly to overrun. Thrown against these fortifications was the firepower of six battleships, six cruisers, nine destroyers and 650 Navy and Marine aircraft in addition to the Marines and soldiers on the ground.
For student nurse Miyagi Kikuko, even at her location far from the shoreline and behind heavy walls, this heavy shelling was making life difficult. She was graduating from the nursing school. We had our graduation ceremony in a crude, triangular barracks on the battlefield. While the bombardment continued, we knelt on a floor lit by two or three candles. It was so dim we could hardly see our classmates' faces. "Work so as not to shame the First Girls' High School" was the theme of the principal's commencement address. We sang a song which went, "Give your life for the sake of the Emperor, wherever you may go." Our music teacher, only twenty-three, had earlier written a song for our graduation. It was called a "A Song of Parting," and was really wonderful. Not a war song at all. We'd memorized it while digging shelters. I especially liked the verse with the refrain "We shall meet again," but there was no time for it at graduation. It was already after ten o'clock at night. Still, with the reverberations of the explosions shaking the ground, we sang it on our way back to our cave. The next morning that triangular building wasn't there anymore.
In no time at all, wounded soldiers were being carried into the caves in large numbers. They petrified us all. Some didn't have faces, some didn't have limbs. Young men in their twenties and thirties screaming like babies. Thousands of them. At first, one of my friends saw a man with his toes missing and swooned. She actually sank to her knees, but soldiers and medics began screaming at her, "You idiot! You think you can act like that on the battlefield?" Every day, we were yelled at: "Fools! Idiots! Dummies!"
Now they (casualties) were being carried in one after another until the dugouts and caves were filled to overflowing, and still they came pouring in. Soon we were laying them out in empty fields, then on cultivated land. Some hemorrhaged to death and others were hit again out there by showers of bombs. So many died so quickly.
For the crew of the USS EMMONS, there was neither terror nor suffering, so far, and as the 6th of April, 1945 dawned, no enemy had yet been sited. The word was that the invasion was progressing according to schedule and there was little reason to believe this day would be any different than the preceding days. In the pilot house, Quartermaster Third Class Ed Hoffman was getting all of the action that he had ever dreamed of as the Captain's Talker to the engine room. The Captain in this case being Lt. Commander Eugene N Foss. From his location, Ed had a good view of all activities and would be in the middle of any action that might be encountered. With him, in the pilot house, was the Chief Quartermaster at the helm and another Quartermaster keeping the log with two more enlisted men acting as talkers, one to the main battery and one to the repair parties. The Officer of the Deck was present but Captain Foss had the con (control of the ship).
What kind of feelings are going through the heads of those on the bridge? In Ed's words: "normal apprehensions when facing combat. And thinking back on it, we didn't know what to expect nor how to react -- this kamikaze thing was all new -- it wasn't like shells coming at you or even bombing threats." Since the ship was part of a enormous task force however, confidence was high.
Traveling along side the EMMONS was another destroyer also converted for high speed mine sweeping operations, the USS RODMAN. These two ships had been operating together for almost two and a half years and had been in a destroyer squadron that been with the British and had the assignment of "bottling" up the German battle squadron in the North Sea. This meant such nasty duties as convoys through the North Sea and up into Russian waters.
After that frigid adventure, both ships took part in operation "Torch," the invasion of North Africa. They were part of a British and American force of 106 ships that put troops ashore at French Morocco and Algiers. This operation was deemed necessary to block any attempt by German forces to move on the Mideast oil fields via Egypt and to forestall any move by the Germans to take over French colonies. It would be a down payment on the second front that the Allies had promised Russia and would provide for an excellent dress rehearsal for the real thing.
In this operation, the Emmons and Rodman were becoming really seasoned and felt they could handle just about anything that came their way. Not so for two of the escort carriers under their protection. On the USS Sangamon, approximately fifty percent of the ship's company were men who had never been to sea and about the same percentage had only been in the Navy a few months. On the USS Santee, the carrier's air group had operated aboard only one and a half days and had only five experienced aviators. Only a bare handful of officers and men had previously seen salt water. Training was from scratch. Nevertheless, Operation Torch was a success and the task force that was assembled to launch it was able to return to other duties.
For the Emmons and Rodman, it was a quick return to the States and Boston only to be in port for one of the worst disasters ever to hit that city. On November the 28th 1942, a flash fire took the lives of 491 patrons of the Coconut Grove night club, many servicemen died and several men from the ship who happened to be nearby when it happened gave what help they could at the hellish scene.
The two ships would remain on stateside convoy duty providing escort service for such ships as the USS South Dakota when it returned from being heavily damaged at Guadalcanal. This duty was not hard to take after the rough seas of the North Atlantic and was more or less routine but with plenty of drills.
The Emmons' next assignment was OPERATION OVERLORD, the invasion of France. The ship's excellent gunnery record got her an invitation to a front row station taking the place of another destroyer that was damaged by a collision. On June 5th, invasion day, the ship supported the mine sweeping operation close to shore and provided cover for assault troops off Omaha beach. For the next four days, it was close-in fire support but on June 22nd, the ship switched to providing antiaircraft screening for the transports.
With the invasion of Northern France well under way, the EMMONS rejoined her squadron joining up with the RODMAN again to proceed to the second part of the invasion, that of Southern France (OPERATION DRAGOON). As part of Destroyer Squadron 10, the ship provided antisubmarine and convoy protection for the the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, and, by the end of September were doing patrol duty at Marseilles. For the Navy, the invasion of France was just about completed so it was back to Boston for their next assignment. By now, the crews and officers of both ships had developed a bond of friendship that would not be easily severed.
At Boston, the two ships were converted into high speed mine sweepers for immediate duty in the Pacific. As large numbers of ships congregate, as with an invasion force, mines present a threat. The Japanese could be expected to seed large areas around Okinawa with mines hoping for a lucky hit on some battleship, carrier or troopship.
Although designated as minesweepers, the EMMONS and RODMAN were still fully operational as destroyers except their torpedoes and one five inch gun had to be removed for the new equipment. Additional anti-aircraft guns had been added but the five inch gun would be sadly missed.
The nature of war is such that hazards may develop that the captain and crew may not be aware of. Today was one of those days. Unknown to those aboard the ships of the sweep force, the Japanese High Command had its deadly retaliation of fighters, bombers and kamikazes ready for a major strike. Up to now the Japanese had been unable to do anything to hinder the buildup on Okinawa except for a few scattered Kamikaze attacks or an occasional attempt to sneak a suicide boat through the protective patrol lines. Today would be different.
On this day, April 6, 1945, the Japanese were finally prepared to launch an attack (code name STRIKE 1) consisting of about 450 planes with 296 of them being suicide bombers. It would be the largest and most successful of the ten attacks mounted before Okinawa surrendered. The attack would be made by the KIKUSUI ("floating chrysanthemums," for the imperial symbol of Japan) and made up of mostly very young and dedicated airmen. Hardly more than a kid and having barely entered adulthood, twenty-one year old Flight Lieutenant Araki Haruo was one of these.
He had been given an overnight leave and hurried home to ask the hand of his sweetheart in marriage. His childhood sweetheart agreed, "I will do as Haruo wishes."
"It's decided, then. Let's arrange for the ceremony!" Everyone seemed to say it at once. My mother was weeping. She was my mother, after all. There was no sake, but we had some potato liquor. Mother brought it from the kitchen, together with some sweet-potato stalks and a little dried squid. It was all we had.
We then performed the nuptial ritual, exchanging toasts three times from a tiny cup. My father started to sing the "Takasagoya" wedding song, but when he got to the part about living forever, he fell totally silent. We couldn't help crying then. We all wept. He knelt in the formal way. I tried to control my tears. My mother ran off to the kitchen. Even now, I can't take that song. I don't like going to weddings. I'm reminded of my wedding, not theirs. I can't seem to keep from crying. At last, my father started again and sang through to the very end.
It was after two o'clock when we finally retired. Dawn came so soon. He didn't say a thing to me, not one word. He probably couldn't say what I should do after his death. I wanted to say something to him, but I couldn't find the words either. At a time like that nothing seems right. I had so many things to say and felt frustrated at my inability to voice my thoughts.
There was the air-raid warning, too. If it had only been a preliminary alert, we could have had some light. Unfortunately, it was a full alert. My mother made some noise in the kitchen. The rain shutters were shut tight. The all-clear probably came about two o'clock. No enemy planes came over, but along the coast the blackout was very strict. Your eyes get used to the dark and you can make things out dimly. I could hear a suppressed sob from my mother.
I sat formally. He did too. I noticed something move and felt his hand grasp mine. I returned his grip. We were so modest. Why were we that bashful in the darkness? We didn't know anything. We rose at four o'clock in the morning. He left home just after five, not telling us where he was going. "When can I see you again?" I asked. He said only, "I'll be back when it rains." He left with those words. We were husband and wife only four hours.
Fate was cruel to the pilots of the Kamikazes (Divine Winds), but even more so pilots of the Kaitens (Turning of the Heavens). A few kamikaze pilots were able to survive their fate, but for Kaiten pilots, none that were launched ever survived.
For eleven year old Nishihara Wakana, she remembered her brother well. When Minoru entered Tokyo Imperial University, it was a matter of great pride for the family that he was able to gain admission to such a fine school. When he was called to the colors, the family was proud. I remember it quite well. I was really proud of his joining the navy. The year I entered elementary school, they had all become "National Schools" so we received a thorough indoctrination in the notion that we were the Emperor's children, "little patriots." It was entirely natural that we would offer our lives to the Emperor.
Besides, we didn't expect Japan to lose. Even if you went into the military, we believed that would bring brilliant results and we were certain a return home was assured. It never occurred to us to oppose this. On the contrary, a little girl, a third-grader, could brag, "My big brother's going to war. He'll be in the navy." I'm sure my parents felt anxious that their precious son was leaving, but I don't believe even they imagined he would really die.
When Minoru returned home on leave before leaving for Okinawa, We asked "How come they let you come back?" He just said, "I've become important so they allowed it." I was a child so it didn't occur to me to doubt the meaning of his words. I took what he said at face value. I clung to him until late into the evening. If I were not careful, I felt, he might disappear, I was so desperately happy! He stayed two nights and returned to the base in Hikari on the third day. This was, according to his diary, his last farewell prior to his departure in a Kaiten.
On his way home to us he wrote in his diary, "I have no confidence in myself. I feel like I may spill it all if I see my parent's faces," but he didn't give us even the slightest inkling of what was ahead. Only my father may have sensed something, because by May 1945 -- this was after the Tokyo air raid -- the word gyokusai (sacrificial battles) was heard everywhere.
Aboard the EMMONS, its crew would have the dubious honor of being the first American warships to come within the sights of Japanese planes approaching from the north on April 6. The ships of the sweep group went to general quarters a little after noon in response to a Flash RED signal indicating enemy planes were in the vicinity. These planes were probably strays from an earlier carrier battle between the Japanese and Task Force 58 somewhere over the horizon. These planes did not bother the ships of the sweep group and an "All Clear" was sounded by 1335. The lull did not last long.
About 1500, the first of several waves of suicide and traditional bombers attack radar picket stations No. 1 and 3 to the north of the location of the EMMONS and RODMAN. Additional Japanese planes were now reported as moving south. Search radar aboard the EMMONS picked up two bogies (unidentified blips) closing in on the port quarter. The RODMAN was on the port quarter some four miles away. The RODMAN now spotted not two, but three planes diving out of the clouds, two on her port bow and one on her starboard.
Now the battle was on. As the planes came in at great speeds, the RODMAN commenced firing and was joined by the EMMONS firing from some distance. In spite of the fire from both ships, one of the planes crashed on the RODMAN'S forecastle, starting huge fires, which shot sheets of flame as high as the director. Another bomb missed but a third bomb dropped close to the starboard side of the ship rupturing the hull and flooding several compartments. Power and steering was temporally lost but quickly restored, allowing the ship to request air support.
Aboard the EMMONS, Captain and crew were quick to respond and prepared to come along side of their sister ship to help fight the fires now raging. As the EMMONS approached, Captain Foss was happy to see the fires were being brought under control. Good news. Bad news, more enemy planes of all types were being spotted in large numbers. The number estimated to be in the immediate area was estimated later to be in the range of from fifty to seventy-five. In view of this threat, plans to go along side were abandoned and, instead, the EMMONS began to circle the RODMAN at twenty-five knots to provide maximum fire support.
Why so many Japanese planes would concentrate their potential against the light weight early warning ships rather than to proceed on to much more desirable targets such as troopships, battleships, carriers, ammunition ships and other such ships a few miles farther, was a puzzle that was never answered. So while these ships were fighting to save themselves, they were absorbing punishment that could have been far more serious if they had not done their jobs so well.
The EMMONS now became a target as well as the RODMAN, although it was nearly an hour before she was attacked directly. The two ships did not have to fight the attackers alone. Shortly after the RODMAN was hit, a combat air patrol of Marine Corsairs came by and pitched into the fight. Around 1600 a patrol of sixteen Hellcats checked in and began to pick off enemy aircraft jockeying for position to get at the minesweepers. To observers on the EMMONS, it appeared that the Japanese pilots were more intent on getting at the ships than they were on engaging the fighters. Dogfights filled the sky on all sides.
The crews of the ships were astounded at the courage and skill of the American carrier pilots who would fly through antiaircraft fire to get at the attackers before they could reach the ships. The EMMONS action report estimates that they accounted for fifty of the suiciders while she herself accounted for six before the action ended. Four more crashed close by after narrowly missing the ship. This air and sea battle would last for nearly four hours.
The first hour of the battle was largely confined to the skies. Those aboard the EMMONS who could see what was going on from their battle stations watched the many dogfights with fascination and cheered whenever an enemy crashed harmlessly into the sea. But superior numbers began to tell. A few of the planes eluded the Corsairs and Hellcats in the clouds then they made their attacks on their primary targets, the destroyer minesweepers.
The attacks first appeared haphazard, as might be expected from pilots on their last mortal mission, but during the progress of the fight the Japanese appeared to get smarter. The attacks became deliberate and well coordinated with many teaming up to come in from different directions and coming in low over the water preventing the ships from concentrating their fire. All the aircraft appeared to be carrying bombs and many would start strafing as soon as they were within machine gun range. The planes themselves became deadly missiles at the hands of desperate men. The ruptured gasoline tanks fed the fires started by the explosion of the bombs.
The first direct attack on the EMMONS came about 1630 when a Betty bomber broke through the clouds and dived toward the ship's port side through a hail of fire. He missed, but pulled up on the starboard side, banked, and headed back toward the ship, only to miss again, probably because the ship was in a tight turn to port. He was smoking as he missed the starboard 40mm gunmount by inches and crashed just yards from the port side. Two other planes followed. One was a Zero which was hit and crashed about 500 yards from the starboard side. The third plane dived out of the clouds to the port side. For a few seconds it seemed that he would hit the gun director, but he missed by about sixteen feet before crashing near the number 1 gun. The pilot must have been dead already as he was seen by the director crew to be slumped forward in his seat as he passed the director.
Following the crash of the last plane, all was quiet. The crew was elated and there was much self-congratulation as the crew relaxed and tidied up around the battle stations. The EMMONS continued to circle to protect their buddies on the RODMAN. Overhead the dogfights continued and more Japanese planes were being shot down. The crews of the two ships watched in fascination hoping that they had seen the last of the attack. More and more enemy planes were being spotted in the sky and apprehension grew.
Now the main gun director spotted six planes coming in low off the starboard bow. The Mark 51 director for the starboard 40mm gun reported at least ten planes coming in from all angles. The RODMAN counted ten planes fast approaching. Every gun on the EMMONS commenced firing and three more enemy planes were downed as other planes crashed around the ship as the Hellcats bore in on the enemy all the way to the ships. The Rodman splashed two more planes bringing her total up to six. Still they came.
The Japanese who missed on their first run either crashed or turned around to try again. A Val bomber that missed the ship flew between the stacks carrying away the radio antennas strung between them. He crashed close to the port side. A Hellcat following closely on his tail was able to pull up in time to avoid the same fate.
There seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of kamikazes to replace those shot down or crashing. They kept coming in spite of their losses. One survivor described watching the planes coming at the ship as like being stranded in the middle of a superhighway with trucks and automobiles bearing down on him from either side -- and wondering how long it would be before one got him.
To their horror the crews of both ships found that they were running out of ammunition. The EMMONS discovered there would only be enough shells left for one more attack. The five inch guns would be out of commission. In the handling rooms, crew members were grabbing anything they could get their hands on: star shells, phosphorous, common, armor piercing, whatever.
Someone on the 40mm gun yelled down to the captain of gun 3 (Donald W. Ayer of Bangor, Maine) that an enemy plane was coming in almost directly astern. Donald immediately instructed his crew to shift to local control and get the new target. When it seemed to him that it was taking too long to fire the gun, he ducked down from the captain's hatch to see what was causing the delay. Just as he ducked, the gun fired. When he looked back out the hatch, he was amazed to see the incoming plane disintegrate in midair as the shell hit it right on the nose. This was remarkable shooting. His evaluation of the shooting was changed from extraordinary to miraculous when he learned that the single shot was an armor piercing projectile.
The crew of gun 3 would have little time for celebration as another plane, a fighter, was coming in fast from dead astern and, with guns blazing, was strafing gun 3 before crashing into the ship's fantail. Fires were started on the fantail but luckily the depth charges were blown clear. More serious though was the destruction of the steering engine room and the loss of the rudder. Also, the port propeller was so badly damaged that the port engine would be of no further use. With no chance for evasive action, the ship would now be at the mercy of the remaining kamikazes. And they were quick in coming.
The next, a Val type aircraft, hit almost immediately slamming into the minesweep gear near gun 3. The destruction of the fantail area of the ship was now complete. All men aft of gun 3 that had not taken cover were either killed or missing. Fragments of steel showered down as far forward as the stacks causing many casualties especially about the 40mm batteries. Gun 3 was out of action and flames momentarily engulfed the gun sending flames even down into the handling room. The Val had put an end to the heroic action of the crew of gun 3. (The crew of gun 3 survived but two men were wounded. Gun Captain Donald W. Ayer was awarded the Bronze Star for his courage and devotion to duty during the battle and for his efforts in trying to save the ship and for rescuing shipmates).
Quartermaster Ed Hoffman had a good view out the starboard hatch of the pilot house and was following the action and, so far, was satisfied that Captain Foss was keeping the ship one step ahead of the kamikazes. When the two planes slammed into the stern, all seemed to be still okay on the bridge and in the pilot house. Captain Foss was now trying to determine if the ship had steerage way and was shifting to aft steering when two more planes were spotted boring in on the bridge.
Ed watched as one of the kamikazes loomed larger and larger as it closed the distance. He was still not too concerned as he felt that it would soon disintegrate under a hail of gunfire from the ship's antiaircraft guns or from one of planes of the combat air patrol. In Ed's words: "the vivid and reassuring pattern of tracers from our guns -- how could they possibly get through it." At the last moment Ed realized he was doomed as he grabbed hold of the pilot house railing (a bad move as it turned out). In a blinding flash the plane he was watching slammed into the bridge superstructure.
The other plane hit almost simultaneously. The first had hit the starboard side in the vicinity of the radio shack, blowing away most of the starboard wing of the bridge and making a shambles of the pilot house. Seconds later, the second plane hit the port side at the combat information center, killing all hands in that location including the executive officer.
Gasoline from both planes ignited, spreading fierce fires throughout the superstructure from the plotting room up to the pilot house. Flames reached as high as the gun director. Ed was knocked to the deck of the pilot house and watched as everything turned to an eerie orange color. Severely burned and with his leg and ankle smashed, he was trying desperately to get out of the pilot house and down from the bridge area. He soon was aware that his leg had been broken and that he could do nothing but hop on one leg or crawl.
Captain Foss had been standing on the port wing of the bridge and later couldn't recall what happened to him but he had been blown from the bridge and landed, badly burned and temporarily blinded, in the water. Near him in the water was Chief Quartermaster Henry O. Thompson also blown into the water and with a bad gash in his throat. The two would be in the water together until taken aboard a life raft and eventually a rescue craft. Thompson would not survive the night but Captain Foss would remain conscious throughout the ordeal.
Gun 2 was knocked out by these explosions and fires started in the upper handling room. Crews of the 20mm guns around the superstructure and on the bridge who survived the immediate blasts were driven from their stations by the intense heat. Many men not otherwise injured had to jump overboard to escape the flames. Others were blown off the ship. The entire superstructure with its vital communication and control equipment was a shambles and the area was ablaze from the main deck to the flying bridge.
After the blasts in the superstructure, the main battery director was without power and had no communication with the guns it was designed to control. The gunnery officer, Lt. Griffin, decided it would serve no purpose to remain in the useless director and carefully led his crew down to the flying bridge. On the way down, Griffin stopped to help Ensign Ross T. Elliot, Jr., the assistant gunnery officer. The ensign had been wounded while shielding his crew with his own body during a strafing attack. But the young officer died before any help could be administered. When he was certain that Elliot was beyond help, the gunnery officer went to the bridge below.
There, on the after part of the bridge, the director crew ran into Ed who had managed to get out of the pilot house but had been unable to get down the mainmast because of his broken leg. All the regular ladders were either carried away entirely or blocked by sheets of fire. The gunnery officer put his arms under Ed's shoulders and helped him down the ladder one rung at a time. At the bottom, there were no more rungs so Lt. Griffin dropped to the deck below. From there he was able to catch Ed in his arms when Ed dropped down. Other members of the director crew checked out CIC as they went by and reported that its door was open and flames were coming out. Several bodies were lying near the door, obviously beyond help.
During the torturous climb down from the director, Lt. Griffin had seen enough to realize that he was the senior uninjured surviving officer left onboard. This was confirmed when he reached the main deck. Unhesitatingly he announced that he was in command and began to direct the damage control efforts, but with no communications operational, he could only direct those in his immediate area.
The ship was listing to starboard and settling in the water. With the captain wounded and in the water, the executive officer dead, secondary control in a shambles, and all communications cut, men of each operational station were thrown back on their own initiative to contain and repair damage without guidance from any central point. Exploding ready ammunition boxes near the machine gun mounts on the bridge and around the superstructure made any place on the decks hazardous. The kamikazes were concentrating their attention on the EMMONS but had made another hit on the RODMAN. As if things couldn't get worse, two more kamikazes bore in on the EMMONS.
On Okinawa, sixteen year old Miyagi Kikuko was also enduring unimaginable suffering. The wounded Japanese and Okinawan soldiers who were fortunate enough to be taken inside caves were not much better off than those lying outside in fields where shells were constantly falling. The student nurses had the job of changing the wounded soldiers' dressings every week or two. So pus would squirt in our faces, and they'd be infested with maggots. Removing those was our job. We didn't even have enough time to remove them one by one. Gas gangrene, tetanus and brain fever were common. Those with brain fever were no longer human beings. They'd tear their clothes off because of their pain, tear off their dressings. They were tied to the pillars, their hands behind their backs, and treatment stopped.
At first, we were so scared watching them suffering and writhing that we wept. Soon we stopped. We were kept running from morning to night. "Do this! Do that!" Yet as underclassmen we had fewer wounded soldiers to take care of. The senior girls slept standing up. "Miss Student, I have to piss," they'd cry. Taking care of excrement was our work. Senior students were assigned to the operating rooms. There, hands and legs were chopped off without anesthesia. They used a saw. Holding down their limbs was a student job.
Outside was a rain of bullets from morning to night. In the evening, it quieted down a little. It was then that we carried out limbs and corpses. There were so many shell craters -- it sounds funny to say it, but we considered it fortunate: holes already dug for us. "One, two, three!" we'd chant, and all together we'd heave the dead body into a hole, before crawling back into the cave. There was no time for sobbing or lamentation.
Toward the end of May, we were ordered to withdraw. All the men we had nursed were simply lying there. One of us asked, "Soldier, what are you going to do for these people." "Don't worry," he responded, "I'll make it easy for them." Later we heard that the medics offered them condensed milk mixed with water as their last nourishment, and the gave them cyanide and told them, "Achieve your glorious end like a Japanese soldier." The Americans were nearby. Would it have been so terrible if they had been captured and revealed the Japanese Army's situation? Instead they were all murdered to protect military strategy. Only one person crawled out to testify.
The road to Ihara was truly horrible, muddy and full of artillery craters with corpses, swollen two or three times normal size, floating in them. We could only move at night. Sometimes the American forces sent up flares to seek out targets. Ironically, these provided us with enough light to see the way. This light revealed people pulling themselves along on hands and knees, crawling desperately, wounded people calling to us, "Students! Students!" I had an injured friend using my shoulder as a crutch. Another friend had night blindness and malnutrition. She kept falling over corpses and crying out. We'd become accustomed to the smell of excrement, pus and the maggots in the cave, but the smell of death there on the road was unbearable. And it poured rain every day.
Tens of thousands of people moving like ants. Civilians, grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers with children on their backs, scurrying along, covered in mud. When children were injured, they were left along the roadside. Just thrown away. Those children could tell we were students. They'd call out, "Nei, nei!" and try to cling to us. That's Okinawan dialect for "Older Sister!" It was so pitiable. I still hear those cries today.
Finally, on the tenth of June we reached Ihara... at last reaching the entrance to the first surgery cave. When I stood up and put my foot in, the ground felt wet and slippery. I smelled blood. I thought instantly, "They've just been hit!" We lived in darkness and sensed everything by smell. From below I heard my classmates' voices, "I don't have a leg!" "My hand is gone!" At my teachers urging, I descended into a sea of blood. Nurses, soldiers, students killed instantly or severely wounded, among them a friend of mine, Katsuko-san, with a wound in her thigh. "Quick, teacher, quick," she was crying. "It hurts!" I was struck dumb. There was no medicine left, and near me a senior student was desperately trying to push her intestines back into her stomach. "I won't make it," she whispered, "so please take care of other people first." Then she stopped breathing. Now her words chill me to the bone. But a militaristic girl could say such a thing. How could she have been so strong?
On the eighteenth, the order of dissolution was issued. From then on, they told us, if we behaved as a group we would stand out too much. The U.S. forces were quite close, so we were to "escape" as individuals. Everyone shed tears, but what could we say? We didn't know what to do. Many knew they would be left behind. There was no way to take them with us. Absolutely none.
One of the students accepted milk from the medics. She might have been given cyanide too. The other didn't want to die and forced her immobilized body to crawl. She was still crawling in the mud when attacking American troops rescued her. They took her to the U.S. military hospital and nursed her with great care, but I heard she died there anyway. That was in May. After the war, one who'd heard her reported that she said, "I hated and feared these Americans, but the treated me with great care and kindness, while my classmates, my teachers left me behind."
Nineteen of us left the cave together, three teachers and sixteen students. A severe attack was in progress. So close! When we looked around, we saw we were surrounded by tanks. Americans were whistling to each other. Tanks moved forward attacking. Until then, we had to flee at night. Now we clung to the edge of the road. I heard a great booming sound and passed out. Eventually, I came to my senses. I was covered with mud and couldn't hear a thing. In front of me, two classmates were soaked in their own blood. Then they were screaming in pain. Third year student Akiko wasn't moving. She'd died there. Two teachers in their twenties had disappeared. We never saw them again. Already, on just that first morning, nineteen people became twelve.
Nearby, Japanese soldiers were running for their lives, yelling, "Armor! Armor!" Behind us, the tanks were coming on, spewing out a stream of fire. I was shaking with fear. The vice-principal, the only teacher left, shouted, "Follow me! and we all crawled after him. My friends were covered with blood. We urged them to keep up and though they were moaning, "I can't. I can't go on. It hurts," come they did. We friends promised each other, "If I'm unable to move, or you're disabled, I'll give you cyanide." We each kept a hand-grenade like a talisman.
"If we stand up, they'll shoot us," we thought, so we stood up. We walked with dignity, but they held their fire. We were slightly disappointed. It was weird, eerie. Yesterday it had been Hell, why was it suddenly so quiet? We reached the cliff's edge, an incredible precipice, and we climbed down, soon covered in blood, all the way to the sea. If they wanted to, I thought, they could kill us with a single salvo. Yet, we all reached the breaker. Everywhere the shore was full of people, all civilians. Later, I learned that nearly one hundred seventy thousand people were crammed into that narrow bit of island.
A small boat came toward us from a battleship. Then, for the first time, we heard the voice of the enemy. "Those who can swim, swim out! We'll save you. Those who can't swim, walk towards Minatogawa! Walk by day. Don't travel by night. We have food! We will rescue you!" They actually did! They took care of Okinawans really well, according to international law, but we only learned that later.
We thought we were hearing the voices of demons. From the time we were children, we'd been educated to hate them (Americans). They would strip the girls naked and do with them whatever they wanted, then run them over with tanks. We really believed that. Not only us girls. Mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers all were cowering at the voice of the devils. So what we had been taught robbed us of life. I can never forgive what education did to us! Had we known the truth, all of us would have survived.
So we climbed back up, but the top of the cliff was being scoured by flame-throwers. We had to cling on midway. When we looked down, we saw the white surf.... Our hands were growing weaker. "Teacher, teacher, I can't hold on!" Climb up," he'd say. Finally, we clawed our way to the top and just collapsed. Twelve of us. There we all cried out, "We can't take anymore." The third-year students cried the most. "Teacher, please kill us. Kill us with a grenade!"
Teacher had always urged us on, but finally even he said. "I guess it can't be helped." We felt great relief with those words. At last, we could become comfortable. "Teacher, here's good enough. Please make us comfortable." For the first time, we all sobbed. We all wanted to see our mothers. "Okaasan!" came from out mouths. We'd struggled hard not to speak of our families up until then. [Her voice chokes.] I wondered how Father, Mother, and my younger sister were doing in this battlefield.... That night, we completely forgot we were completely surrounded by American soldiers.
When Japanese Kamikaze pilot, Araki Haruo was leaving his new bride of just four hours, she asked him, "When can I see you again?" He said only, "I'll be back when it rains." He left with only those words.
All of us waited for him whenever it rained. From April to June. "He'll be back today," we'd all say when the rain fell. We didn't lock the entrance, so he could come in at any time. We'd wait until the last train, but he couldn't come back, of course. He'd died in action long before. We waited for him, waited and waited for him, all of us, without knowing that he was long dead.
At first, it wasn't so lonely. Araki Shigeko had many wonderful memories of Haruo. I'd always fought with him. "I can't stand the sight of you," he used to say. I'd tell him, "I don't care either. There are lots of boys better than you. I'll marry one of them." We were the same age. We made good opponents. He must have always thought he'd marry me. Somehow, I thought if he became a lieutenant we'd be together, even if we did fight. I was always conscious of his presence, as if we were engaged. If he'd married someone else, I'd have been furious.
He was a tall, handsome man. A man like that was blown to bits, so that not even a shred of flesh was left. It's all right if he crashed into an enemy ship, but it's possible he is alive if he were shot down on the way. You cannot be certain he was hit in the head or heart. If he'd been hit in the leg or arm, he could have survived. I hate having thoughts like that.
"I'll go first. I'll meet you at Yasukuni" is what the lead pilots said to their groups. It was their pledge. To meet at Yasukuni. They were clinging to the idea of meeting again. They couldn't help themselves. I believe their courageous spirit is there. Haruo took off in the lead plane, just after six A.M. The headband he wore bears the rising sun emblem. The students at the girls school near the air base at Chiran had cut their fingers and filled the red sun with their own blood.
When I at last learned he'd died, people said, "That's good; congratulations." I replied, "Yes, it is. It's for the country," and then I returned home to cry alone. I let no one see my tears... Nobody expressed their sorry or sympathy for us. They only said, "It was an honorable death in battle, wasn't it?" and we'd agree... Nobody held me tight in their arms and comforted me with words of sympathy.
My grandson says, "Grandma always looks up when a plane flies over." I look up because it's as if the Tokko planes are overhead as they once were, forty-five years ago. That won't ever change, I remember these things as if they happened yesterday.... I try to tell myself not to look back, to keep everything bottled up. But once the dike breaks, it seems like it never stops flooding out.
From June to July, the Tokko (Special attack) planes were practically all shot down one after another as they approached their targets. I don't know if he actually crashed into the enemy, but some did. There were results. I want to believe that. I want to believe that he didn't die in vain. Otherwise he still lies at the bottom of the cold Okinawan sea for nothing. I want to raise him even now. I know there's nothing left, but I can't help this feeling.
Later, she asks, "Would you like to see his will?" She brings out a brownish, single sheet. It reads:
Are you well? It is a month now since that day. The happy dream is over. Tomorrow I will dive my plane into an enemy ship. I will cross the river into the other world, taking some Yankees with me. When I look back, I see that I was very cold-hearted to you. After I had been cruel to you, I used to regret it. Please forgive me.
When I think of your future, and the long life ahead, it tears at my heart. Please remain steadfast and live happily. After my death, please take care of my father for me.
I, who have lived for the eternal principals of justice, will forever protect this nation from the enemies that surround us.
Commander of Air Unit Eternity
A half century later, a tiny woman with black, short-cut hair, wearing a bright red sweater comes to the station on a bicycle. When she talks about her parents and her brother, her gaze seems to drift off. Sadness, happiness, and despair are vividly expressed by her passionate alto voice. She is active in the Association to Memorialize the Students Who Died in the War. Most of these students left their campuses when university deferments were ended in late 1943. Many of these highly educated young men were drawn into the special-attack forces. They frequently left behind letters or diaries in which they grappled with issues of life and death which they were facing just as the war reached a fever pitch. Nishihara Wakana remembers these students well, one was her brother Minoru.
The morning after his return in May of 1945, I announced, "Elder Brother's back; I'm not going to school." It was a small town, and everyone knew everything about everybody. "Let's go for a walk," Elder Brother said to me that morning. I'd loved going for walks with him from the time I was really small. If I were a dog, I'd have been shaking ten imaginary tails, that's how excited I was -- and I hadn't even begged for that walk. He'd suggested it.
Right in front of our house was a pine grove, and just beyond that, the sea. With me practically clinging to him, we went down to the shore.... Unaware my elder brother's departure (for battle) in his Kaiten was imminent, I played with him, skipping stones on the sea... Elder Sister was only a year younger than him. The next morning, they went for a walk, but could say nothing to each other and turned back halfway through their course. I bitterly regret that I didn't notice anything. But, at the same time, I pray that my childish innocence, my inability to fathom his feelings, was a comfort to him.
The war would have to come to an end before the family would learn the outcome of the Kaiten war and the fate of Minoru. The war ended August 15.... That morning we were told there would be an important broadcast and we were instructed to listen without fail... We knew from the introduction that his Imperial Majesty would address us, but then we really couldn't understand the high-pitched voice that came next... We hardly understood what was said. I sat there listening absentmindedly. My father wiped away tears with his fist and groaned loudly, so I became sad and cried.
That night, my father said for the first time, "Minoru will come home!" Of course he'd return! We didn't have any thought that he'd died. Who cares if the country's lost? Minoru-chan will be back! A smile returned to my mother's face. "It's alright to take these down, isn't it?" my other brother said of the black cloth over the windows. He tore them all down. I played the piano that night as if possessed. I was so happy. "Minoru-chan will come home!" That's all I could think about. For ten days we waited like that. On the morning of the 26th, the family was given the notice that Minoru was dead. A half century later, the eleven year old girl remembers the impact on her family:
I'm frightened of ideology, of -isms, and of nations. I prefer an unjust peace to a justified war. No matter what the ideals are, if they are going to lead to war, I prefer a corrupt, immoral, unprincipled, unredeemed peace.
I cannot forget my father howling,
Crouched like a wounded beast.
Not all of the Special attack students were as aware of their fate and as resigned to it as Nishihara Minoru. For student Kozo Naoji, it was a different story.
At the time of Pearl Harbor, I was only nearing the end of my second year at the Higher School. The war was being fought by adults. Students were still deferred from the draft. If everything had gone normally, I wouldn't have graduated from the university until March 1946. I was sure I was absolutely safe, and acted that way. Then they changed the rules...
Everything was in an uproar at the Tokyo Imperial University. Nobody knew anything. Some said, "They'll never take students from the Imperial universities.... But as things turned out, that couldn't have been further from the truth. In October, I was pulled into the military. Forced in.
I was skinny. I didn't think I'd be able to take it if they got hold of me. I was sure I wasn't cut out to be a soldier or a sailor. Officers from the army had been attached to our schools since my middle- school days. They were swaggering bastards. I couldn't stand them. The navy looked better from the outside, and I found myself in the navy, a second-class seaman, the lowest thing possible to be. I took the officers examination. They felt that those of us from the Law Faculty of Tokyo Imperial University had the qualifications to sit for the paymaster exam in the Imperial Japanese Navy.
What happened was that with one exception, everyone in my group who wore glasses became paymasters. In those days, seventy percent of the Todai students wore specs. Then they called out the names of those who'd been assigned to gunnery, navigation, torpedo school, but they didn't call mine. Next they announced the names of those who had been selected for service as "defense specialty reserve students." Mine was the only name called.
"Defense specialty?" At that time I didn't know that we were losing battles one after another; I thought, "I don't have to attack!" That's great. Things have really worked out well. But in the kind of war they were really fighting, "defense specialist" was a black joke. I was sent to the antisubmarine warfare school in February 1944 and was stuck there until the end of October. I was fed up with school by then.
"What am I doing in this place?" I asked myself that when they started calling for volunteers who were "full of energy," who were willing to take on a dangerous job," and "willing to board a special weapon" that would "reverse the tide of war at once." Why not?," It's got to be better than this. I applied for it carelessly. Almost ninety percent of us volunteered.
Since they only wanted forty of us, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be one of those selected. They called us out a second time, a third time. Each time some of our classmates hadn't been chosen. In the end, we began dimly to grasp the criteria used in selection. Eldest sons were removed from the list. You had to be a second son or lower. Even then, if you had an older brother at the front, they took you off the list. If you were a third son, but neither of your elder brothers had a chance to survive, you were dropped. I was a second son. My younger brother was still in middle school. My eldest brother was an officer in the navy. I supposed they thought my younger brother had a good chance to survive, so I was picked. But I never imagined I'd be going to a place from which I'd have absolutely no chance to return alive.
So forty of us entered the Kaiten Corps. We arrived at Kawatana on the twenty-fourth of October. There weren't any weapons for us yet. They couldn't even tell us what these secret weapons would be. Highly classified, was what they said. At Kawatana they had these plywood motorboats -- they called them Shinyo, "Ocean Shakers." We charged into "the enemy" on those! You fixed the helm three hundred meters before impact, locking the rudder in place. A hand-engaged lever controlled acceleration. Once you let go of it, it didn't automatically let up like the pedal of a car. Then you jumped into the sea. The unmanned boat would then plunge into a target representing the enemy.
They weren't telling you that had to die. We were wearing life jackets, but you had to wonder if it was possible to survive this kind of attack. I thought it was damned outrageous, but they told us not to worry, the Kaiten would be a much superior weapon. How could I have imagined they wouldn't include any escape system at all?
As we were beginning our training, the first announcement of Kamikaze attacks was made. I think that was October 29. Reading the news of the "Divine Wind" Special Attack Corps in the newspapers -- planes crashing into the enemy ships -- I was bowled over. Even then, I didn't grasp the true nature of the Kamikaze. I still wondered, "What are they going to do if they parachute down in the middle of the enemy fleet?" Yet there I was. We couldn't share our doubts with each other. We were from different universities. If I had expressed my disquiet, my university could have been disgraced. I had to keep my own counsel.
As we were waiting to move to our final staging base at Hikari, we received a postcard from one of our comrades who'd gone there ahead of us. On it was "Say hello to Kudo." That was our code phrase for "Escape is impossible." Until that moment we had no confirmation that the Kaiten was a self- exploding weapon which gave you no chance to escape death.
There were many Kaiten pilots who did not share student Koko Naoji's views of their suicide mission. Yakota Yutaka was one of a different breed. "Your Motherland faces imminent peril. Consider how much your Motherland needs you. Now, a weapon which will destroy the enemy has been born. It there are any among you who burn with a passion to die gloriously for the sake of the country, let them step forward."
We heard these words as we stood assembled before the commander of our school. We were all graduating from Youth Flying Corps, the Yokaren Naval Air Station. At that very moment I decided. "I'm going!" At the time, I was afraid I might not be chosen, even though I had one of the very best records in our squad and was very strong in judo.... "Without reservation, I request that you select me. Yokota Kan." I wrote it in big letters and handed it in. I was picked first.
When selected I felt a slight sense of sadness. My life now had no more than a year to go... I wasn't thinking of surviving the war. Rather than getting shot down by some plane, better to die grandly. Go out in glory. We trained desperately. You couldn't complain of pain of anything. You had to push on: "If I don't hit the target, if I have to 'self-detonate,' I'll die without doing what I must." It was agony. For everybody. Once you become a member of the attack force, you become deathly serious. Your eyes became set. Focused. If you'd had two lives, it wouldn't have mattered, but you were giving up your only life. Life is so precious. Your life was dedicated to self-sacrifice, committed to smashing into the enemy. That's why we trained like that. We practiced hard because we valued our lives so highly.
When the motor launch first took us to our mother ship, we jumped onto our own torpedoes and, standing with our legs apart, waved our Japanese swords in circles in answer to the cheers. Before that, let me tell you what I did. I actually kissed the bow of the Kaiten that carried the explosive: "Do it for me. Please. Get an enemy carrier for me." I didn't know anything about kissing then, but I kissed the Kaiten without thinking.
"In a week it's Okinawa! Nothing less than thirty thousand tons! No suicide for any tiny ship!" We all shouted like that. Our voices probably didn't reach other ships in the harbor, but we shouted anyway..... There is an old expression, "Bushido is the search for a place to die." Well, that was our fervent desire, our long-cherished dream. A place to die for my country. I was happy to have been born a man. A man of Japan. I don't care if it makes me sound egotistical, but that's how I felt. The country was in my hands.
As we passed Bungo Channel off Shikoku on March 29, 1945, I felt acutely that this was my last view of the Homeland. Even here, at the gates of Japan, enemy submarines were waiting for us. We sailed zigzags.... Our submarine, I-47, with its six Kaitens on deck, was part of a four-sub attack plan, a total of twenty Kaitens in all. But we never made it to Okinawa. We were discovered two days out and bombed, and depth charged. Afterwards, our Kaitens looked like they'd been made of celluloid, all bent and twisted out of shape. We had to return empty handed.
I sailed the second time on April 20 for the American supply lines between Ulithi and Okinawa. When we reached the area where we might encounter enemy ships, they gave us pilots a feast.... The captain toasted us: "We don't know when we'll encounter the enemy, so this will be our farewell party. I wish you a most satisfying dash against the enemy."
"Kaiten pilots! Board! Prepare for Kaiten battle!" The sub's speaker blared. Our time had come. Once again we tied our hachimaki about our heads. Because we were men we were vain. It would be a disgrace to lose composure. "We are now departing," we declared. "Please await our achievements." You clambered up the ladder to the hatch leading to your Kaiten. You didn't have much time, but still you looked back down and forced yourself to smile. "I'm going now," was all you said. You wanted to be praised after you died, just as much as you wanted it during your life. You wanted them to say, "Yokota was young, but he went with incredible bravery. He was dignified to the end."...
At that moment, you're sitting in the cockpit. "Compose yourself. Gather your thoughts. If you're harried you'll fail. You have only one life. You're going to your mother." I calmed myself like that. The crewman who took care of my Kaiten was Warrant Officer Nao. As he closed the hatch from below, he stretched out his hand. "I pray for your success." In that tiny cramped space, he grabbed my hand. After the launching of the three Kaitens scheduled first and a wait of twenty minutes, Yutaka was given the news that there were no more targets. His launch was scrubbed. On his next trip out, his launching was again scrubbed due to a faulty fuel line on his Kaiten. He wanted to crawl into a corner and die from his failure.
The fact that he had no blame in any of these failures, didn't help when he returned. I was really beaten up this time, called a disgrace to the Kaiten Corps for coming back alive! Because of this beating I still have difficulty hearing with my left ear, and I bear scars on my left hand, too. They envied me for having been chosen to go when they had not yet been selected.
One day, a maintenance mechanic told me that Japan had lost. "What are you saying, you filthy bastard? I couldn't believe it. That night, we were all assembled. The senior commander of the Special Attack Forces told us the news. He was in tears. I left the gathering, and went through the tunnel in the base toward the sea. I cried bitterly. "I'll never launch! The war is over. Furukawa, Yamaguchi, Yangiya, come back. Please return!" I cried and cried. Not because Japan lost the war. "Why did you die, leaving me behind? Please come back!" My tears were not tears of resentment or indignation, nor were they in fear of Japan's future. They were shed for the loss of my fellow pilots.
Aboard the Emmons, fire was raging on the forward part of the ship engulfing the bridge. Gun 2 was so near the point of impact of the two kamikazes that the gun was knocked it off its track and the flames roared into the mount from all sides, starting fires in the gun mount and upper handling room. The blows and flash fires were so sudden and so unexpected that there was little time for the gun crew to get clear. There were no survivors in the gun chamber and the gun captain was listed as missing in action. Those who did escape from the mount were wounded and burned. The crew members of the Gun 2 handling room were shaken and some burns but were otherwise uninjured. Gun 1 was the last to cease firing and when power went out it was switched to local control and continued to fire until the fifth kamikaze hit just forward of the gun. Casualties were heavy.
Over seventy of the crew were now in the water having been blown there or forced to jump because of the intense heat. The crew watched helplessly as two kamikazes bore in to finish off the ship with nothing on the ship to stop them. Seeing that the ship was already doomed, the planes veered off to find more appropriate targets much to the relief of those in the water and those on board trying to keep the ship afloat.
When Ed got down to the main deck, he was aware he had severe burns on his hands and face although the rest of his body had been protected from flash burns by his clothing. His broken leg and shattered ankle forced him to hop over to the railing using his good leg. In his words: " I don't recall being in great pain when I got down to the main deck, except when putting weight on my leg -- shock was probably controlling. I didn't see Captain Foss nor Chief Quartermaster Thompson in the water. We lost 60 men -- killed or missing -- about one fourth of the crew. Official casualties -- including seriously injured -- was about fifty percent."
With many of his shipmates already in the water, his buddies lowered him gently and the cool salt water gave great relief to his burns. Ed could not see the Chief Quartermaster nor the Captain but they were swimming nearby, Only one other from the bridge location would be found, all others were gone forever.
Because of the pronounced starboard list and the gradual settling aft, there was concern over foundering. All loose gear was jettisoned and the disabled machine guns were cast loose from the deck and thrown overboard. Some of the engineers went back down into the engineering spaces to increase steam pressure for fire fighting. Progress was made with the fires aft and even the fires forward were brought under partial control. This provided an opportunity to launch a whaleboat but when it hit the water, it was discovered that vigorous bailing was needed to keep it afloat.
The crew started picking up survivors from the water and delivering them to the Auxiliary minesweeper, the RECRUIT which had arrived on the scene along with other vessels of Sweep Unit ELEVEN. Darkness was descending giving the ships relief from the persistent Kamikazes. The RODMAN was finally able to get underway and start her long journey back toward Okinawa. Survivors of the EMMONS could watch with much personal satisfaction knowing that although they had been unable to save themselves they had been able to save their sister ship.
The destroyer minesweeper ELLYSON arrived on the scene to find the still burning, drifting hulk of the EMMONS with LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) 558 and 559 standing by picking up survivors. The ship was still showing a forward draft of 15 feet indicating there was little underwater damage and therefore possibly salvageable. But with about thirty feet of stern destroyed by explosions, and fires forward preventing towlines from being established, it would be difficult. Add to that the fact that the ship was drifting toward enemy held islands and would reach shallow water within three or four hours.
The order was finally received to sink the drifting ship. The ELLYSON closed and opened fire with her main battery. After ninety-six rounds, and with many of the EMMONS crew watching from the rescue craft, the abandoned, drifting and burning ship capsized and sank in twenty five fathoms of water off the coast of Okinawa. The ship had served her country faithfully and well for three years, four months and one day.
Gunner's Mate 3c, Ray Quinn, who had come aboard as an apprentice seaman in 1942, probably said it best as he watched the ship slip below the surface: "I know we griped and complained just about everything, but as we looked back at our proud ship, a part of each one of us stayed with her."
The loss of the EMMONS would have little effect back at Okinawa where the battle raged on. The Japanese defense line was finally broken on April 28. Attacking the two flanks of the Japanese forces, Buckner's troops fought fiercely against the enemy. By May 21, the Japanese had withdrawn to the southern tip of the island. The 10th Army occupied the capital, Naha, on May 27. On May 29, Japanese troops began withdrawing from Shuri Castle, their strongest defensive position. Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines captured the remains of the castle. The Marines then made an amphibious assault southeast of the capital, while Buckner's 10th Army moved on the enemy's position at Mabuni, an escarpment located on the southern tip of the island. In the end, it took hand-to-hand combat, aerial bombardment, and tanks with flame-throwers to capture the entrenched and fiercely defiant Japanese force.
As the battle ended, the commanding general of the American Army forces, Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner heading the 10th Army was killed by a coral fragment thrown up by a Japanese artillery shell on June 18th. On June 19th, the Japanese commander General Ushijimi ordered all remaining troops to fight to the death while he and his chief of staff committed hari kari (ritual suicide) rather than except defeat. On June 22, Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger announced the island secure and a formal flag-raising ceremony took place.
For the American Navy, it was the most costly battle, ever. The fleet had lost 763 aircraft, over 4,900 sailors and 3,443 marines killed or missing in action and 4,824 Sailors and 16,017 Marines were wounded. Army casualties were 7,613 killed and 31,807 wounded or injured. There were also 26,000 non-battle casualties.
Japanese losses were enormous: 107,539 killed and 23,754 sealed in caves or buried by the Japanese themselves; 10,755 captured or surrendered. On both sides, nearly 170,000 died, over half were civilians. The Japanese lost 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships.
Japanese losses included the world's largest warship ever built, the battleship Yamato. It was dispatched April 6th, the same day that the EMMONS was sunk, but the ship managed to survive until the 7th when, after twelve bombs and seven torpedoes, it exploded and sunk in the cold Okinawan waters. Of the ship's crew of 2,747, all but 23 officers and 246 enlisted men were lost. The accompanying cruiser and eight destroyers were also lost. This was the last naval action of the war. This victory cost the Americans ten planes and twelve men.
For student nurse Miyagi Kikuko, the Battle of Okinawa was drawing to a close.
Arasaki Beach was totally silent on the twenty-first. The military ships were still glaring at us from the sea, but not a shot was fired, I had a hand-grenade, and so did Teacher... A small boat approached and signaled to us. They waved, "Swim out, we'll help you!" I shuddered. I was completely exposed. Suddenly, a Japanese soldier climbed down the cliff. A Japanese soldier raising his hands in surrender? Impossible! Traitor! We'd been taught, and firmly believed, that we Okinawans, Great Japanese all, must never fall into the hands of the enemy. Despite that, a Japanese soldier was walking right into the sea. Another soldier, crouching behind a rock near us, shot him. The sea water was dyed red. Thus I saw Japanese murdering Japanese for the first time.
Out of nowhere, a Japanese soldier appeared and dropped to the ground right in front of me. American soldiers must have been chasing him. He was all bloody. Higa-san and I tumbled into a tiny hole, I saw Teacher and this Japanese soldier fly into the air. Then I heard, "Come out, come out" in strangely accented Japanese. Soon a range of small arms fire began, Americans firing at close range. They must have thought we were with that soldier. They blazed away in our direction. A senior student, Aosa-san was killed instantly, as were Ueki-san, Nakamoto-san and the Japanese soldier. I was now under those four dead bodies.....
Random firing stopped. The American, who had been firing wildly, must have seen he was shooting girls. He could be seen from the hole where my ten classmates were hiding. They pulled the pin on their hand grenade. So unfortunate! I now stepped out over the corpses and followed Teacher. The automatic rifles of four or five Americans were aimed right at me. My grenade was taken away. I had held it to the last minute. The American soldiers lowered their rifles. I looked past them and saw my ten dead classmates. The night before those third-year students had been calling for Teacher to kill them quickly. Now, there was nothing left of them. The hand grenade is so cruel.
It was around noon, June 21. The sun was directly overhead. I staggered, crying, in the blazing sun. American soldiers sometimes called out, "Hey schoolgirl!" I was skin and bones and covered with filth. My only footwear was the soles of workers' shoes tied to my feet with bandages. "Hey schoolgirl. No poison!" I didn't know what "no poison" meant, but when I got to their camp I was given something called "ra-shon." I really didn't feel like eating. I lay in the sand, crying aloud all night long. I was taken to a camp in the north. For three months, I was taken care of by families I didn't know anything about. During the third month I met my father and mother. Mother, barefoot, ran out of a tent in the camp and hugged me to her. "You lived, you lived!" I still remember her crying aloud.
The Okinawan battle may have been over for some but there are always those (usually about two percent) who do not get the word. For Ota Masahide, just a boy from the Okinawa Normal School of Shuri, and a member of the "Blood and Iron Student Corps," the battle was not quite over. He was present and witnessed the last meeting of the Okinawa Defense Forces at their location underneath Shuri Castle. Up to this time, he had been a member of a small group of boys whose job was to carry the latest on the battle situation to the civilians and soldiers in the caves.
It was June 19, when an order was issued to dissolve the Blood and Iron Student Corps, the Lily Student Corps, and other such units, but Masahide's small group was not to be dissolved. Instead, the group he was in was to become part of a "special unit" to fight a "guerilla war."
At this last meeting, all leaders were present with Commander Ushijim himself presiding. This included all of his staff officers along with the Intelligence section.
A final sake party was held at headquarters that June 19. All the generals dressed in formal uniforms, all their medals on their chests. Staff officers wore their gold braid. I saw that. When it was over, they took off their military uniforms and donned the black kimonos worn by elderly Okinawan women, to make them as inconspicuous as possible. Some of my classmates of mine were assigned to accompany them as guides, one for every two staff officers. With one exception, all those who left the caves as guides were killed.
With three other comrades, I left for Kunigami in the North. We tried to pass through enemy lines. I was soon injured. Although we set out swearing to remain together, whether in life or in death, I lost all track of them..... That evening -- I don't remember the exact date, maybe the twenty-second or twenty -third -- a man passed by me, then returned and looked at my face. It was my classmate, Shinjo. I'd visited his home once. In that brutal, savage time, when hardly anyone could play the violin, he was a violinist. His elder brother composed beautiful and famous pieces of music.
Shinjo told me he was about to charge into the enemy. "I don't need this anymore, "he said and handed me rice, packed in a sock, and dried bonito. At that time, we put rice in our socks and tied them up. I still had a rifle and two hand-grenades with me, and one hundred twenty bullets..... Thanks to Shinjo's rice I was at last again able to move a little.
Searching for food, I climbed to the top of Mabuni Hill. Below was located the cave where we had previously hidden ourselves. There I found small graves of Commander Ushijima and Chief-of-Staff Cho. They had committed suicide. I suppose you could call them tombs, but they were very plain. Ushijima's was just the length of a man, thinly plastered over with concrete, and above it a slab of wood, probably prepared beforehand, reading "Commander Ushijima's Grave."
As I approached it, at first I thought I saw a cross there. I was very moved by it, sensitive teenager that I was, thinking one had been put up by the American soldiers. But soon I realized that rather than a cross, what I was seeing was a short American dagger struck into the grave marker. Then I noticed scratches on it, too. I didn't understand the meanings of the words written there, then, but I remembered the shapes of the letters. Later I learned they said, "God damn! Go to hell!"
For a long time we lived in a cave as defeated stragglers. My own survival then seemed inconceivable to me. I thought only of how I might break out of enemy territory. I could hardly walk with my injured leg... I buried my rifle. Simply to throw away a rifle with the chrysanthemum emblem on it would have been a serious offense! Finally I made it to the ocean, but I didn't have the strength to swim far.
Every day American soldiers came to hunt the remnants of the defeated army. Among my companions at this time was a graduate of Bunri University in Tokyo named Shiraishi. He was very gentle, and had the complexion of a girl. He'd brought a Webster's dictionary into the military. He never got promoted. He looked after me and I stuck to him. I told him at one point I was prepared to meet my end right where we were. "No," he said, "lets go as far as we can," and insisted on taking me with him.
About that time, there were only two of us, and we had nothing to eat. All around us were the tents of American soldiers. If you threw a grenade, the Americans would run for cover, and you could sneak in and steal some food. Once, because Shiraishi loved reading, I brought back an American magazine from one of my missions. "Ota, look at this," he exclaimed. Of course, I didn't understand English. "Japan lost," he told me. "The explosions we saw the other day were American salvos of celebration."
"Shiraishi read sentences incomprehensible to me. I was moved more by the force of his scholarship and the splendidness of learning language than by the danger around me. Once he said to me, "If you survive, come to Tokyo and study English." Those words altered my life completely. From then on we told each other, "Lot's not die in vain. Let's survive."
One day, a "placation squad" of former Japanese soldiers came with American MPs. "We've lost. We are defeated. Why are you taking so long to come out?" they called out to us. In our cave there were then maybe one hundred forty or fifty people, in all kinds of different groups. They'd all lived separately, but now they came together to consult on what we should do.... Finally, though,... our surrender was decided upon. We raised one final condition. We wanted to be allowed to wash ourselves decent, before we became prisoners of war.
We did so in the open air the next day. Suddenly, everybody looked like someone else because until then we'd seen each other's faces only at night or under layers of filth. We felt like we had all emerged from a different world.
The bride of Kamikaze pilot Araki Haruo, Araki Shigek would finally make her pilgrimage to Okinawa in answer to a strange longing that had plagued her life. He passed away in 1945. Forty-five years have gone by, and yet strangely the face of a man who died in action remains that of a twenty-one year old. My second husband died at fifty-seven with an old man's face, while Haruo's is almost like my son's. I guess that's why the yearning gets stronger year by year. It's like the love of a mother cherishing her son's memory.
I went to Okinawa about six years ago. I wanted to see that sea, once. I was told it was in the vicinity of Kadena Bay that he made his attack. We don't really know. Anyway, I brought some sand and pebbles from there and put them next to his grave. When I was there, I called to him by name, shouting loudly "Haruo-san!"
Sometimes people ask me to go with them to Okinawa, but it's not a place I want to go to twice. Okinawans think they were the only victims. It's amazing how strongly they feel that. That feeling is everywhere. They think Okinawa was cut off and only the Okinawans had terrible times. I see such stories in the newspapers and I don't like them. Haruo died to protect Okinawa. I get angry when the consider themselves just victims. Did you hear about the incident where they even burned our flag? I'd hate to set foot on the soil of Okinawa again.
So many memories came back to me like pictures on a revolving lantern. There are times when I wish the Emperor had reached the decision to surrender earlier. So many civilians suffered. There was so much damage...... At that time, we had an unbounded faith in Japan.... Beyond comprehension today. We felt the Yamato race was unequaled.
Victory at Okinawa was now ushering in an end to the war. Even before Okinawa, the Japanese military leaders knew that ultimate defeat was inevitable and there was already a strong peace faction among their leaders. Emperor Hirohito himself favored the peace faction and eventually, after the fighting on Okinawa had begun, approved the reshuffling of the cabinet to pave the way for negotiations. He even sanctioned a move to appeal to Russia to intercede with the United States on Japan's behalf. Not a very wise choice as it turned out.
With the loss of the what was left of the Japanese navy, twelve ships, and with the loss of over 7800 aircraft, and without appreciable supplies of gas or oil, the Japanese had little left with which to fight. What was left was described by Araki Shigeko, the bride of Kamikaze pilot, Flight Lieutenant Araki:
We were going to do it with our bamboo spears. When they landed we would attack them. We had those spears at our right hand at all times at the factory. "Each one, stab one, without fail" they'd tell us. "Yes!" We'd replied in unison. Our spear was about a meter and a half long, with a sharp point cut diagonally across at the end. We practiced every morning. "Thrust! Thrust! Thrust!" I thought I'd definitely be able to stab them. We had the image of the Americans as being gigantic. We were told, "Americans are large and well built, so go for the throat. Stab here, drive your spear up into the throat. Don't look at the face. Stab without looking." We really believed we could do it. Isn't it scary? We often called this "Yamato damashii," the "Spirit of Japan."
The bamboo spears were going to have to withstand attacks from Allied aircraft sweeping in from naval forces that now surrounded the Japanese islands and which could obliterate any area that appeared to be a threat. Bamboo spears would have to be it. The hope that the capture of Okinawa would be so costly that the Americans would be willing to make peace rather than face an even costlier invasion of the homeland was not to be. Ships like the EMMONS and RODMAN and other ships of the early warning net deserve much of the credit for absorbing much of the thrust of the Kamikazes.
Back in the States, the Japanese Military's Okinawan strategy had at least fooled the news media. It was predicting the invasion of the Japanese mainland could cost millions of American lives with the news media not realizing that the war already had been won. So the Japanese military had been successful in at least fooling the media. But time was dragging as Emperor Hirohito tried to find the proper negotiators to start the peace process.
But, as it had been in the early battles for Guadalcanal, the Japanese were reading the American newspapers and making judgments that would cost them dearly. At Guadalcanal, the Japanese had put much faith in American newspaper reports on the condition and the moral of the marines that they felt it was just a matter of time before the Americans would fold. When they woke up to the fact that the American news media's primary interest was to sell papers, it was too late, the marines were firmly entrenched.
As the Emperor and the Japanese High Command delayed their decision to surrender to the Allies, the Allied planners felt that the only way to bring the war to an end was to physically overrun and occupy the Japanese island regardless of the cost. Planning was going ahead on that assumption. With the almost total annihilation of the Japanese air force, American aircraft now were able to fly almost unchallenged across the Japanese mainland much to the annoyance of the civilian population.
For Doctor Tatsuichiro Akizuki, an attending physician at a Christian (Catholic) hospital over a mile from the center of a major Japanese city, American planes flying unchecked outside the hospital's windows presented more than an annoyance. Air raid alerts were being sounded so often that many of the patients and nurses in the hospital were starting to ignore them. At 8:30, I began medical examination and treatment of out-patients. Nearly thirty had turned up by ten o'clock. During the morning, a good friend of mine, Mr. Yokota, an engineer in the research department of the nearby Mitsubishi Ordinance Factory, turned up to see his daughter, who was one of our in-patients.... Mr. Yokota always had something interesting to say.... He said, "I hear Hiroshima was very badly damaged on the sixth." Together we despaired over the destiny of Japan, he as an engineer, I as a doctor...
Just then the long continuous wail of a siren arose. "Listen... Here comes the regular air-raid." The first warning... The enemy are on their way." Mr. Yokota hurried back down the hill to his factory and all at once I began to feel nervous. It was now about 10:30. When such a warning sounded we were supposed to make sure our patients took refuge in our basement air-raid shelter. We were meant to do likewise. But recently I had become so foolhardy, I no longer bothered with every precaution. In any case, breakfast was about to begin...
I went out of the building. It was very hot. The sky had clouded over a little but the familiar formation of B29 bombers was neither to be seen nor heard. I asked myself, "What route will our dear enemies choose to take today?" I went in again to warn my patients to stay away from the windows -- they could be swept by machine gun fire. Recently we had been shot up once or twice by fighter-planes from American aircraft carriers in neighboring waters.
About thirty minutes later the all-clear sounded. I said to myself, "In NAGASAKI, everything is still all right...
I went down to the consulting room, humming cheerfully. Now that the all-clear had been given I felt free from danger. I entered the room and found Dr. Yoshioka about to carry out an artificial pneumo-thorax operation on one ot the male out-patients. "You ought to stop working when the air-raid warning goes, at least for a little while," I told her.
"Thank you," she replied, "but there were so many patients waiting." She looked tired. She had come to the hospital that morning on foot, walking 5000 meters (three miles) across Nagasaki, and since then she had been very busy treating the patients who needed attention. "Please take a rest," I said. "I'll carry on in your place." "Well, thank you for your kindness," she said, and went upstairs to her room to rest. I began the pneumo-thorax. Miss Sugako Murai, one of our few trained nurses, was there by my side to help me.
"Well, we'll soon be getting our breakfast," I said to Miss Murai. "The patients must be hungry." So was I, but before we had our breakfast we would have to finish treating all the out-patients. I stuck the pneumo-thorax needle into the side of the chest of the patient lying on the bed. It was just after 11 a.m.
I heard a low droning sound, like that of distant aeroplane engines. "What's that?" I said. "The all-clear has gone, hasn't it?" At the same time the sound of the planes's engines, growing louder and louder, seemed to swoop down over the hospital. I shouted, "It's an enemy plane! Look out -- take cover!" As I said so, I pulled the needle out of the patient and threw myself beside the bed.
There was a blinding flash of light, and the next moment -- Bang! Crack! A huge impact like a gigantic blow smote down upon our bodies, our heads and our hospital. I lay flat -- I didn't know whether or not of my own volition. Then down came piles of debris, slamming into my back.
The hospital has been hit, I thought. I grew dizzy, and my ears sang. Some minutes or so must have passed before I staggered to my feet and looked around. The air was heavy with yellow smoke; white flakes of powder drifted about; it was strangely dark. Miss Murai, who had been assisting me, struggled to her feet beside me. She didn't seem to have been seriously injured, though she was completely covered with white dust. "Hey, cheer up!, "I said. "We're not hurt, thank God!" Another nurse, who was also in the consulting room, and the patient managed to stand up...
...Looking to the south-west, I was stunned. The sky was as dark as pitch, covered with dense clouds of smoke; under that blackness, over the earth, hung a yellow-brown fog. Gradually the veiled ground became visible, and the view beyond rooted me to the spot with horror. All the buildings I could see were on fire: large ones and small ones and those with straw-thatched roofs... Electricity poles were wrapped in flame like so many pieces of kindling. Trees on the near-by hills were smoking, as were the leaves of sweet potatoes in the fields. To say that everything burned is not enough. It seemed as if the earth itself emitted fire and smoke, flames that writhed up and erupted from the underground. The sky was dark, the ground was scarlet, and in between hung clouds of yellowish smoke. Three kinds of color -- black, yellow and scarlet -- loomed oninously over the people, who ran about like so many ants seeking to escape. What had happened? Urakami Hospital had not been bombed -- I understood that much. But that ocean of fire, that sky of smoke! It seemed like the end of the world. And this was over a mile from where the bomb had exploded!
The "Divine Wind" was finally still. The atomic age had arrived. The war was over.
The loss of the EMMONS was announced by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz on April 22, 1945, while the survivors were still on the way home aboard the transport WAYNE. It was June before accounts of her last battle appeared in newspapers throughout the United States. A Navy Unit Commendation was awarded to the ship as the Navy's way of recognizing the bravery and devotion to duty of an entire crew. It was impossible to recognize each one individually, so their group performance was highlighted. A few individuals were cited for and eventually received personal recognition. Altogether thirteen officers and crewmen were cited for outstanding performance of duty in battle against the enemy on April 6, 1945. Among them were one Navy Cross, four Silver Stars, and eight Bronze Stars.
For Quarter Master Ed Hoffman and the ship's captain Lt. Commander E. N. Foss, it was the end of their naval careers as their wounds were too extensive to allow them to remain in the service. Captain Foss, who had been blinded by the explosion of the kamikaze on the bridge, found his vision fully restored when the bandages were removed from his eyes after two weeks. For Ed, his leg and ankle healed but he would occasionally need back operations over the years. Ten years after Ed returned to civilian life, he was hospitalized for blood in his lungs. It turned out that a piece of shrapnel had migrated from a place near his backbone until it penetrated a lung. It appears, at this time of writing, that he will need a another operation on his back to relieve pain in his leg. He is scheduled to return to the hospital in March of 2000. For him, the war drags on.
For the RODMAN, the ship returned to the States to be repaired and was able to venture forth another day. For the remaining officers and crew of the EMMONS (almost half had lost their lives), they would eventually meet again with reunions and a newsletter that would hold them together. Ed would take over the job as editor. The sacrifices of lives on both ships did much to insure the safety of the ships and troops at the landing sites on Okinawa and therefore, the success of the operation itself.
For the Japanese Special Attack Forces, there was little thanks for their efforts; it was all in vain. Although there were those who seemed to have a fanatical desire to meet death in some glorious fashion, the majority of those who were asked to commit suicide for the nation were young college students who had everything to live for. Those that were assigned to "Kaiten" duty were asked to do what seems to be beyond the call of any kind of patriotism. The eleven year old girl who saw how bravely her brother went to his death, had this to write in later life:
I think the utmost crime of man is to use another man as a tool. When the Americans attacked Tokyo in the great fire-bombing, I understand that there were few American casualties. Nine died, and they killed a hundred thousand people. They came in three hundred planes, about three thousand crew members. Some were shot down, but most were rescued by submarines. They valued lives to that extent. They didn't attack until such preparations were made. In Japan, if you were told it was an order from the Emperor, you couldn't do anything about it.. The fact that the Special Attack strategy existed only in Japan means this was only possible in the Emperor's Army. Is there any other country on Earth willing to send its people into a combat from which they could not possibly return?
There were only three survivors of the Kaiten suicide force. They survived because they did not have the chance to launch. Those who launched, died. Included here, have been the stories of two of those survivors. The third survivor would not communicate with anyone about his experiences.
The achievements of the Kaitens were few and hard to confirm since the mother sub for the Kaitens would be firing torpedoes at about the same time as the Kaitens were launched so results were uncertain. One ship the Kaitens could definitely claim was the USS Underhill (DE-682). On July 24, she was escorting a convoy of LSTs loaded with troops of the Armyís 96th Infantry Division. Having seen heavy combat on Okinawa, these troops were on their way to a rear area in the Philippines for some rest and relaxation. However, in the early afternoon, while still some 150 miles northeast of Luzon, the convoy was sighted by Commander Saichi Oba, commanding the Japanese submarine I-53. The Commander is believed to have launched four Kaitens.
During the ensuing battle, Underhill conducted a depth-charge attack which seems to have accounted for one of the attacking craft. The Underhill also apparently rammed and sank at least one other of the attacking kaitens. However, shortly thereafter, at 1515 hours her luck ran out and she was struck by a third suicide craft, which rammed home on the starboard bow just forward of Engine Room #1. The results were catastrophic. The destruction caused by the kaitenís 3000+ lb. warhead was amplified by the simultaneous explosion of the forward boilers, as well as (it is suspected) the ready ammunition for the forward 3" and 20mm guns. The resulting explosion blew the ship completely in two. The forward portion sank almost instantly, with no survivors. The rear section remained afloat, although there were casualties aft as well.
Many of the dazed survivors spent several hours in the water nearby, as the other escorts continued to fire on suspected kaitens (and perhaps the I-53 as well). Eventually, all the survivors were brought aboard by PC-803 and PC-804, and the Underhillís remaining half was taken under fire by U.S. warships and sunk. In all, 112 of Underhillís crew of 238 lost their lives in the attack. The infantry division proceeded to R&R without further delay, however.
In tribute to the courage of the of the Japanese fliers who flew THE CHERRY BLOSSOM SQUADRONS and to the Hagaromo Society (Born to Die) honoring their memory, the following is included:
SONG OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOM SQUADRONS
As we are borne aloft as Samurai of the Skies,
Our eyes ever-searching for signs of battle,
See how our outstretched arms carry us forward
Like divine wings.
Here we are -- comrades of the Sacred Land of the Rising Sun!
Let us drive them beneath the waves!
Men of the Cherry Blossom Squadrons -- rally to the charge!
Through the flow of tears that fills up our hearts,
We can see a fading glimpse of hands waving farewell.
Now is the time for our final, plunging blow.
We're ready to spill our blood, oh so red.
See how we dive toward the ships in the seas to the south!
The cool waves will console our departed spirits
And someday we'll be reborn as cherry blossoms
in the gardens of Yasukuni Shrine.
The Americans arrived on Okinawa April 1st, 1945 in time for breakfast but stayed for dinner. In fact, they are still there in the year 2000 some 55 years later. Will they ever leave? That's something the Okinawan people would like to know.
Initially, the island was so devastated and so alienated from Japan that consideration was given to making it an American possession. This idea pleased the American military since the island was near such trouble spots as Korea, Formosa, Taiwan and China. However, the Japanese claims for sovereignty were finally recognized and the island finally reverted to Japanese control in 1972 but with the Americans retaining the rights to their many and huge military bases.
The Okinawans in May of 1998 erected a monument (modeled after the Vietnam Memorial in Washington) called "The Cornerstone of Peace." It contains nearly 237,000 names of everyone -- Japanese, American, British, Korean and Taiwanese -- killed in the World War II battle for the island. The monument includes a museum, with a description of the fighting, combat relics and personal tales of Okinawan survivors. Stories that reek of the sort of death and destruction told about in this account.
Click here to see a few pictures on display at the museum
The names of those lost in the war are inscribed in their native alpabet according to their nationality and place of origin. Names are inscribed in horizontal order, from left to right and grouped by nationality and service branch. A computerized information system is available to locate a specific person's name and it is possible to obtain a tracing of that name. Anyone interested in obtaining more information can contact:
Peace Promotion Division, Executive Office of the Governor, Dept. of General Affairs, Okinawa Prefectural Government, 1-2-2 Izumizaki, Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture 900 Japan.
Using the wizardry and magic of the World Wide Web, click on the line below and enter the virtual Okinawan world for additional information and pictures.
You must be online to do this.
One of the interesting accounts of earlier duty in the Atlantic when the EMMONS and RODMAN were on convoy duty was purposely omitted so as not to side track the reader too much from the Okinawan story. The story of the convoy with the designation PQ17 was considered too interesting to let drop however, so here it is:
When, in the summer of 1942,a convoy designated PQ17 left Iceland with thirty-six merchant ships and arrived in Murmansk with only eleven ships afloat, the convoy losses were deemed unacceptable and the convoy system was suspended. When the Russians were informed of this, Stalin wrote an insulting letter to Prime Minister Churchill implying cowardice because of the PQ17 affair and the lack of good faith by failing to create a second front in 1942. Both Churchill and Roosevelt, apparently, felt a gesture should be made to placate Stalin. Accordingly, a new convoy designated PQ18 was decided upon. But, could it get through?
This convoy would consist of, you guessed it, the EMMONS and RODMAN plus the cruiser TUSCALOOSA along with three Royal Navy destroyers. No merchant ships would be included. The contribution of the EMMONS would be 35 tons of mixed stores mostly canned meats and vegetables. Every available space in the magazines was filled with four-inch projectiles. The TUSCALOOSA would carry mostly munitions, medical supplies and personnel for a proposed hospital unit. On all ships, every unoccupied space, above and below decks, was utilized to carry provisions.
The Germans had submarines, air patrols and battle cruisers waiting and watching for PQ18 along much of the 1500 mile route. When the convoy got close to its destination, it had to pass as close as 50 miles to German-occupied Finland. Most of the trip was above the Arctic Circle so the crew became "blue noses." This Arctic Circle honor is much like the "shellback" honor received when crossing the equator. No initiations are given for this honor since being constantly tossed about and nearly frozen, is considered initiation enough.
The weather during most of the voyage was marked with overcast skies, mist, rain and fog. There was nearly always a stiff wind which sometimes reached gale strength. The water temperature was within a degree or two of freezing. Luckily, it was summer. The foul weather largely contributed to the success of the mission as the convoy was only spotted once but since the Germans were looking for merchant ships, it didn't occur to them that they actually had spotted PQ18. The convoy made it over and back without incident.
About the Story
The idea for the EMMONS story came about during a chance meeting between the author and Edwin Hoffman. When two old sailors started swapping war stories, it was obvious that Ed had a humdinger of a story. How often does a ship get hit with five kamikazes and how often does a sailor have two of them explode at his feet? Plus, Ed had accumulated a considerable amount of information dealing with the sinking and with the battle of Okinawa itself. Putting this information in a format for the Internet would not be all that difficult.
However, Ed seemed a little reluctant to be the hero of the Emmons' story since he felt that the injuries he suffered immediately after the ship was hit made him more of a liability than an asset trying to save the ship. While others were putting out fires, throwing overheated shells over the side and helping the wounded, he was just lying there. But, the act of Lt. Griffin carrying Ed down the ladder from the bridge while surrounded by flames and the act of his shipmates lowering him gently into the water to save his life did show what kind of a crew the Emmons had and even showed how the shipmates took care of one another. It seemed just about everyone aboard the Emmons was a hero.
For Ed, the most agonizing feeling of the whole experience for him personally was knowing that he was all right but realizing that his parents had no way of knowing that he was. It was three weeks between the announcement in the press of the Emmons' sinking and arrival of his first V-mail letter at the home of his parents (written by a Red Cross gray lady from the hospital on Guam). Not usually mentioned in war stories is the suffering of parents and friends at home.
While most of the people in the world seem to have considerable knowledge about the Normandy Invasion off the coast of France, a relatively few, other than those involved, have that kind of knowledge about the Battle of Okinawa. Considering the differences in the length of supply lines and the number of aircraft that the Allies had to face, it is obvious, at least to the author, that considerably more importance should attached to this battle. And much more credit should be give to the navies involved, both Allied and Japanese given that most of the 7800 Japanese aircraft sacrificed were from the Imperial Japanese Navy.
In an effort to gain wider readership and therefore greater knowledge and appreciation for the efforts and sacrifices of those involved in this gigantic operation, the author attempted to generate interest by using personal stories where possible and to tell the story from the Okinawan and Japanese side as well as the Allied and American viewpoint.
At the time of writing, February 27, 2000, Ed Hoffman is scheduled for an operation in early March on his spinal column to relieve pain being felt in his legs. If any of his old shipmates (or any reader) wants to wish him well, his e-mail address is:
ShirleyandELHjr@webtv.net (Edwin Hoffman,Jr.)
Update: March 15, 2000, On a visit to see Ed, I am happy to report he not only survived his operation but he looks great and the pain in his leg has disappeared. On March 16, he was cleared by his doctor to get behind the wheel of his automobile and hit the roads again. Looks like many good days ahead for Ed and his charming wife Shirley. Good luck to both.
Personal interviews with Edwin Hoffman in December, 1999 and January 2000.
U.S.S. EMMONS ORIGINAL SURVIVORS REPORTS APRIL 6, 1945
The Emmons Saga by Edward Baxter Billingsley
The U.S.S. EMMONS (DD-457/DMS-22) in World War II by E. Andrew Wilde, Jr. Commander, USNR (ret.)
Japan At War - An Oral History by Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore F. Cook
Haunting Memorial to Peace by Doug Bandow a senior fellow of the Cato Institute.
The Kaiten Story and the Underhill Compiled by Rodger Crum and Jon Parshall
The Mannoth Book of TRUE WAR STORIES Edited by Jon E. Lewis Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.
Special thanks to Roger Boggess for his review of the entire story with his recommendations for improvement and, of course, for correcting those nasty typos and mispellings that seem to always creep in. Roger is especially good at spotting those tiny mistakes that most proof-readers seem to skim by without detecting. Roger can be reached at his e-mail address: Roger Boggess <firstname.lastname@example.org>