LUCKY KAMIKAZE PILOTS – THE STORY BEHIND THE FAMOUS PHOTO

by Henry Sakaida

When I was a high school sophomore in 1968, a military collector gave me a  picture of a group of Army Kamikaze pilots cut out from a French magazine. The black and white photo was colorized. This photo has been published many times as a stock photo. There was no background information about it and that really bothered me!



No.220 Junnou-Tai on 15 June 1945 in Japan. Sitting, left to right: 2/Lt Tadashi Suzuki, 2/Lt Tokiya Morimoto; 2/Lt Iwao Hosoi. Standing, let to right: Sgt Kazuyasu Kuwata, 2/Lt Hidesuke Okamoto, and 2/Lt Akira Isoya.

No.220 Junnou-Tai on 15 June 1945 in Japan. Sitting, left to right: 2/Lt Tadashi Suzuki, 2/Lt Tokiya Morimoto (leader), and 2/Lt Iwao Hosoi. Standing, let to right: Sgt Kazuyasu Kuwata, 2/Lt Hidesuke Okamoto, and 2/Lt Akira Isoya. In reality, their flight suits and helmets were brown, their parachute harnesses  green.

For 27 years, I wondered about these pilots and how they died on their one-way mission. I have always thought, “If this thing could talk, what a story it could tell!” I made every effort to make this photo “talk.”

Kamikaze pilots (both Navy and Army) were all “volunteers.” In some cases, their commanders volunteered his pilots for the mission. Family honor, loyalty to the Emperor, and pride in their unit were of paramount importance to the soldier. This made it impossible for anyone to refuse the great “honor” of sacrificing his life for his nation. Being accused of cowardice was worse than death itself!

Typically, all the pilots were lined up at attention while the commander gave a speech about the dire war situation. They only had a handful of planes left. He would praise the spirit of his pilots and then ask for a handful of volunteers. When one enthusiastic pilot raised his hand or stepped forward, the entire unit would do so in unison. No one wanted to bring dishonor to himself by refusing. Thus, these group of Kamikaze pilots were all “volunteers.”

Army Kamikaze pilots receive their last briefing. The swords were a part of their military attire and they took them in their cockpits on their last mission.

Army Kamikaze pilots receive their last briefing. The swords were a part of their military attire and they took them in their cockpits on their last mission.

A surviving Japanese fighter pilot explained the situation this way: “We were in a hopeless situation. We had many pilots, but only a handful of old planes. By volunteering, we had the chance of sinking a ship. No one wanted to die helplessly in the enemy’s bombing raid.”



Comrades wave goodbye as an Army Kamikaze takes off for his one-way mission.

Comrades wave goodbye as an Army Kamikaze takes off for his one-way mission.

In 1995, I succeeded in solving the mystery of the Kamikaze group photo. They all survived! Mr. Iwai Hosoi, one of the pilots in the photo, sent me a letter. His unit was the No.22 Junnou-Tai based at Kagamigahara Airfield in Gifu Prefecture.

Mr. Hosoi explained that in December 1943, he was 20 years old and was a college student when he got drafted into the Army. In October 1944, he volunteered for flight training. In June 1945, he volunteered for the Kamikazes. Before his group departed for Okinawa, they took a souvenir photograph for their families.

Upon arriving in Okinawa, the group was immediately sent back to the mainland to await further orders. On 15 August 1945, the Emperor announced the surrender over the radio. Thus, Hosoi and his comrades survived the war. Lucky them! Thousands of Japanese aviators died needlessly in the Kamikaze operations.

Mr. Iwao Hosil (right) and comrade visiting a Kamikaze shrine in Kyushu in 1992.

Mr. Iwao Hosoi (right) and comrade visiting a Kamikaze shrine in Kyushu in 1992.

For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai


Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945


B-29 Hunters of the JAAF




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