By Maiko Takahashi 23 hours ago
Three Choices Both men described the moment they knew their fate was in the hands of their commanders.
One day in training, Tezuka was handed a questionnaire with three choices: “I strongly want to be a kamikaze”; “I want to be a kamikaze”; and “I don’t want to be a kamikaze.” The final one was not an option, he said.
Iwai and his peers were summoned to a training ground at their base, where an officer asked them if they wanted to pilot the manned torpedoes -- again an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Tezuka said that many men, including a friend, died during training flights that involved soaring to 3,000 meters before nose-diving to a practice target.
“I was sorry for his death -- not just because he died, but because he couldn’t die as a kamikaze,” he said. “Everyone was serious about the training. We didn’t want to die meaninglessly before we departed. We really wanted to succeed as kamikaze.”
Last year, Japan applied for the final letters of pilots written before their missions to be included as UNESCO Memories of the World.
Morse Code “They would send Morse code messages to their base as they flew their sorties,” he said. “When the sound stopped, we knew the pilot’s life had ended and we placed our hands together.”
Tezuka kept his coming mission from his family to avoid upsetting them.
“When I first saw a human torpedo, I shuddered with the thought that this was going to be my coffin,” Iwai said. “It was a 15-meter-long iron stick. The cockpit was tiny and not fit for humans.”
A few months before the war ended, Iwai caught tuberculosis -- an illness that delayed his mission and may have saved his life.
After being transferred again, this time to Hiroshima, Iwai witnessed an event that changed everything.
“We were in a meeting on the morning of August 6, when there was a beautiful white flash in the sky, followed by a huge boom,” he said. “Hiroshima had been destroyed. A few days later, we learned it was the atomic bomb. And the war ended soon after.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Maiko Takahashi in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org