"My Body Will Collapse Like a Falling Cherry Blossom"
Memoirs of a suicide squadron survivor.
- By Hatsuho Naito
- Air & Space magazine, May 1991
(Page 3 of 8)
Two mattresses were laid out side by side. Nishio crawled into one of them, and Taeko got into the other. They joined hands and held onto each other tightly for several minutes, their eyes closed.
Finally, Nishio opened his eyes. “All right,” he said, standing up, “I can go now without feeling any anxiety.” Taeko stayed in the room. Beneath the quilt, she sobbed quietly.
The leader of the Thunder Gods’ Betty squadron, Lieutenant Commander Goro Nonaka, had made some final preparations as well, having already sent his personal belongings, including his favorite tea ceremony kit, home to his wife.
Always outspoken, Nonaka had been vocal in objecting to the Ohka plan. He had long been haunted by the memory of his brother, Shiro, who had been forced to kill himself following an ill-fated uprising against the government in 1936. Nonaka always carried Shiro’s picture. “According to the plan,” he complained to a fellow Betty squadron leader, “after the Bettys drop the Ohkas they will return to base to prepare for another flight. Do you think we can do such a thing? Our men, the ones we have been living with, are being escorted to their deaths in the bloodiest and most cold-hearted way possible. Do you think we can leave them and return again and again? On my first mission I’m going to crash-dive myself. There is no other way.”
As a Betty squadron leader, Nonaka had a house in the nearby town. In mid-January, as the time for their first mission grew closer, the Thunder Gods were allowed visits from their families. At the urging of Commander Motoharu Okamura, Nonaka went home late one evening to see his wife and children. It was exceptionally cold, and the ground was covered with a thin layer of snow. The following morning, standing outside the doorway preparing to leave, Nonaka was suddenly struck by the urge to dance with his wife. He held her as he hummed Strauss’ beautiful Frühlingsstimmen. As they danced they left a double circle of footprints in the snow.
On January 20, 1945, in response to Japan’s worsening position, the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, ordered the 11th Aviation Group, which now included the Thunder Gods Corps and the T-Attack Corps, to move to the Japanese island of Kyushu. The main force of the corps set up command headquarters at Kanoya Air Base in Kyushu. Members of the Betty squadron and the covering fighter squadron were dispersed among several other bases in the area.
When the Thunder Gods had been assigned their quarters they re-hoisted banners Nonaka had flown at Konoike reading “HI-RI-HO-KEN-TEN” and “NAMU-HACHIMAN-DAI-BOSATSU.” Both were favorite saying of the famous mid-14th century general Kusunoki Masashige, who had attempted to help the Emperor regain power from the ruling shogun and killed himself when he failed. HI-RI-HO-KEN-TEN was an acronym for “Irrationality can never match reason—Reach can never match law—Law can never match power—Power can never match Heaven.” The inscription on the second banner was a popular Buddhist prayer.
By late February, it had become obvious that the United States was planning a full-scale attack on the Japanese mainland. Massive air raids on Tokyo and surrounding industrial areas had begun, U.S. airplanes were making daily reconnaissance flights over Kyushu and the main island of Honshu, and movements of the U.S. submarines had become more intense and were extending closer to Japan.