“My Body Will Collapse Like a Falling Cherry Blossom”

Memoirs of a suicide squadron survivor.

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However, one of them, Sub-Lieutenant Mitsutaka Nishio, had fallen in love with an inn maid named Taeko in the nearby town of Sawara.  Nishio’s friends were aware that he had been smitten by the girl and felt sorry for him.  Though wartime complications prevented them from marrying, Nishio, knowing he was soon going to die, wanted to somehow formally declare his love for Taeko.

Under cover of darkness, Nishio and his two best friends, Nakane and Yasui, left the base by the rear gate and rode their bicycles into Sawara.  Arriving at the inn, they took a room, ordered sake, and asked for Taeko.

As soon as she appeared and sat down on a cushion next to Nishio, Taeko knew from the men’s grave and subdued manner that their time was approaching.  When Nishio declared his intentions, she burst into tears.

In strained silence, Nishio’s friends took turns filling the small sake cups.  He and Taeko exchanged several drinks in a solemn, improvised ritual.  In the meantime, other maids in the inn prepared a bridal bed for them.

There were no words the young couple could say to ease their agony.  Finally Nishio got up.  As if in a trance, Taeko also stood.  “I want both of you to come with us,” Nishio said to his friends.

Nakane and Yasui were shocked.  The tone of Nishio’s voice and the look on his face told his friends that he was serious, but they could not bring themselves to comply with is request.  Finally realizing they were too embarrassed, Nishio led Taeko out of the room and down the hallway to the bridal room.

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.”

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