The assembled men waited, growing more uneasy as each minute passed. Vice Admiral Ugaki was late. Finally he showed up, solemnly taking his place in front of the formation. Okamura was the first to speak, but it was hard to understand the commander because his voice was choked with tears.
“Today’s mission will not be an easy one,” he said. “But brave and resolute action will scatter even devils. With your passionate spirit of martyrdom, you will be able to overcome any kind of difficulty! You will succeed! Keep this conviction strong in your minds!”
Then Okamura’s voice failed him completely. Tears flowed freely down his face, and he looked as though he were going to pieces. He struggled to continue.
“Looking back, your serene state of mind and outstanding behavior since last November has impressed me. I could not be more proud of you. Now you will go into the next world. And just as you have been in this world, I pray that you will continue to be pure, beautiful, healthy, and cheerful. Your colleagues and I will soon be following you. Please remember the ties we had in this world!”
Ugaki, Okamura, and the other officers exchanged farewell cups of sake with the Ohka pilots and Betty crewmen.
The fighters had been pulled out of their shelters and were now on line. The ground crews began warming up the Bettys. Their whirling propellers glistened in the sun, and the roar of their engines filled the air.
Nonaka stalked to the front of the formation and turned to face the men. For several seconds he was silent, staring intently into each man’s face. Then he said in his impressively loud voice: “We will now make an attack on the enemy’s warships! Once you are in battle, do not hesitate. Attack aggressively and destroy your target regardless of all else. Let us fight to the death! Let us fill the Pacific with our blood!”
Nonaka turned to face Okamura, saluting him in his usual brusque fashion. “We go, Commander!” he said. Okamura returned his salute, his face drained of color.
Nonaka turned and signaled the men to break ranks and man their airplanes. The white flag went down. The roar from the airplanes’ engines drowned out everything else. The Bettys, their heavy Ohka bombs suspended from their bellies, lumbered down the runway like fat gooney birds. As soon as they were in the air, the fighters began taking off.
As they turned to the east, the two squadrons were joined by a third squadron of 23 assisting fighters that had taken off from adjoining Kasanbara Air Base. The group headed southeast. Seven months after the Ohka program was first proposed, the Thunder Gods were making their first sortie.