By Henry Sakaida

Growing up as a kid, I would often look through our old family photo album and focus my attention on a young Japanese sailor. My dad, Tadashi Sakaida, used to tell me that they were best friends. They lived in the same farming village in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan during the 1930s and finished 8th grade together. After graduation, they both went their separate ways; his friend joined the Navy and my dad returned to America in 1938.

yoshiyuki sumida

Naval flight seaman Yoshiyuki Sumida. His parents gave my dad this photo after the war. Many like him joined the military to escape the drudgery of farm life. The economy was booming and the Japanese Empire was expanding. Young men were imbued with the nationalistic spirit.

“Oh, his name was Yoshiyuki Sumida,” my dad would tell me. “He joined the Navy and went into the air force. I heard that he was killed in Formosa in 1944.”

Now, that face had a name and story, and I had to dig further. I knew two veterans from the Japanese Navy, one of whom was president of a large veterans group. Since I had done them favors in the past, it was now time to call in a favor. That’s how the system works with fellow historians.

The veterans association confirmed that Yoshiyuki Sumida was from Hiroshima; he was a Kaigun Shonen Kokuhei (Navy Youth Flight Seaman) who enlisted at Yokosuka in 1939. They even provided me with his old home address! According to records, Sumida was killed on 25 November 1943 over Shinchiku, Formosa (Taiwan). The other veteran located a surviving naval classmate of Sumida! The training class had 377 recruits and 12 came from Hiroshima.

The next step was to look up the claims of our fighter pilots in that theater of operations. Frank J. Olynyk is a highly respected aviation historian who has spent decades listing every victory claim by American pilots in WWII. He computerized his research and produced invaluable reference books, worth their weight in gold! I simply turned to his book, USAAF (Pacific Theater) Credits For the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft in Air-to-Air Combat World War 2, and there on page 22, was the answer. Sumida was shot down and killed around 1700 hours by 2/Lt Walter L. Rose of the 449th Fighter Squadron, who was flying a P-38!

yoshiyuki sumida

Japanese aircraft were given Allied codenames. An Oscar was an Army fighter, a Nick was a twin-engined Army fighter; Sally was an Army heavy bomber; Zeke was a Navy “Zero” fighter; a Val was  a Navy dive bomber; Mary was an Army light bomber. A Nell was a Navy bomber.

The 449th Fighter Squadron was part of the 14th Air Force, 51st Fighter Group. It was first organized in China and flew in the China-Burma-India Theater from 1943 until the end of the war. They flew P-38s exclusively. It was the only P-38 unit with the 14th Air Force. The 449th received little publicity back home and was known as “The Forgotten Squadron.”

yoshiyuki sumida p38 lightning walter rose

Lockheed P-38 from a Japanese enemy aircraft identification booklet. The P-38E was the first combat variant. The high altitude  twin-boom fighter was very fast and destructive.

On 25 November 1943, fighter ace Col. “Tex” Hill, the commander of the 23rd Fighter Group, led the first air raid on Formosa by the 14th Air Force. The target was the large Japanese airbase at Shinchiku. The B-25 medium bombers cratered the runways and destroyed aircraft with cluster bombs while the escort fighters cleared the sky. A few hours later, P-38s from the 449th Fighter Squadron arrived over the airfield to strafe and shoot down any enemy aircraft in sight. 2/Lt Walter L. Rose caught a Navy bomber (codenamed “Nell”) in flight, with Yoshiyuki Sumida onboard, and sent it down in flames.

Japanese Navy G3M Type 96 bomber, codenamed Nell. There was no mistaking the twin-tailed Nell with any other Japanese bombers shot down at Shinchiku that day. Sumida was killed in this type of bomber on 25 November 1943.

When my father went to Hiroshima to see his parents a few years after the war, he called on the Sumida family. He was shocked to learn that his best friend had perished. There was a ceremonial marker for him in the family grave there.

henry sakaida tadashi sakaida

Tadashi John Sakaida visiting his old homestead in Hiroshima, Japan. He was interned at Manzanar Relocation Camp in California and released in 1945. His parents survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima because they lived far away from the city. It took my dad over 3 years to scrape up enough money to travel back to Japan and see his folks.

2/Lt Walter L. Rose was born in Corbin, Kentucky in 1920 and enlisted in the USAAF on 14 August 1942. He was a rarity in his times; this young man had completed 4 years of college. He was killed on 29 May 1944 and there is a grave marker in the Pine Hill Cemetery in Corbin, KY to honor him.

Photo courtesy of Mike (AKA) Gabby (#47829282) at findagrave.com.

For Related Articles See:

For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroes of the Soviet Union 1941–45

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45

I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal

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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