There was tremendous excitement in the underground operations room of the Fifth Naval Air Fleet. Okamura worried about the few cover airplanes available for the mission. Yokoi nodded his understanding, then turned to Ugaki. “Sir, shall we wait for another chance?” he asked. The normally outspoken Nonaka remained silent, looking grim.
Ugaki stood up slowly, a determined look on his face. He faced Okamura directly. “If we can’t use the Ohkas in this situation, we will never have the chance to use them,” he said.
Okamura knew from the resolute tone of the vice admiral’s voice that there was nothing he could do. It was the most difficult thing he had done in his life, but he finally managed to say, “All right, sir. We’ll do it.”
The final decision made, Wing Commander Kunihiro Iwaki and Nonaka left the operations room and headed for the airfield. There was a slight breeze rustling the leaves of the bamboo trees on the hillside. Walking a few steps ahead of Iwaki, Nonaka was deep in though, pondering the life and death of the Kusunoki Masashige, whose words adorned one of his banners. Finally he turned to Iwaki. “Wing Commander,” he said, “there comes a time when things are so hopeless that even warriors have to die.”
Nonaka selected the best pilots in his squadron for the mission, dividing the 18 into six groups of three. Fifteen were to carry Thunder Gods and their Ohka bombs.
The 15 Thunder Gods and the mother airplane crews took clippings from their fingernails and hair and placed them in unpainted wooden funeral boxes for delivery to their parents. They took off their old clothes and burned them, putting on new uniforms. They then sat down and carefully wrote out their death statements. “My body will collapse like a falling cherry blossom, but my soul will live and protect this land forever,” wrote 23-year-old Reserve Sub-Lieutenant First Class Yuzuru Ogata. “Farewell. I am a glorious wild cherry blossom. I shall return to my mother’s place and bloom!”
In front of the headquarters building, the Thunder Gods who had not been chosen for the mission were all preparing farewell cups of sake for their colleagues. Many of them appeared more pale and nervous than those who knew they were about to die.
One of them, carrying a tray of drinks across the flight line, passed in front of a Betty just as the pilot turned on the engines for the routine preflight check. He was sucked into the propeller, thrown high into the air, and killed instantly. The dead Thunder God was quickly removed from the runway, but word of the accident flashed around the field, straining even more the ominous mood.
A drumroll was sounded, the signal for the Thunder Gods and the crews of the mother airplanes to line up in front of the headquarters building. The 15 Ohka pilots were wearing headbands that had been inscribed with the words “Thunder Gods” by Admiral Toyoda. Each one also had a sword in a brocade sheath strapped to his waist.
Nonaka, the overall leader of the mission, was wearing a white muffler. He unceremoniously sat down in a chair, holding his saber like a cane, with its tip resting on the tarmac. Beside him a large blue and white streamer and his two large banners flapped in the wind. The sky overhead was clear and blue. To the north were patches of white clouds. It was a beautiful early spring day.