Hopes of Bereaved Families

Hopes of Bereaved Families

After the war there have been many opportunities to talk with members of bereaved families at memorial services for the war dead and at military reunions. Nearly all these families desire "proof of death in battle." They understand the remains of their sons or brothers will not come back since they were airmen. However, instead of remains families ask for some evidence such as mementos or writings to be able to acknowledge their deaths.

There are also some individuals who say that perhaps their sons or brothers are still living somewhere since they cannot believe they died in battle. While bereaved families may acknowledge death in battle on the outside, inside they may strongly hope they are still living.

In those days even if we petty officers wrote final letters, we did not have a way to pass them to our parents or other family members. Families that received mementos or letters were limited to a small number. There was no opportunity for them to attend a traditional "Navy funeral" and receive the items according to formal procedures. Nearly all families had to wait for a favorable opportunity to find out some details.

As 1945 began hardly any "Navy funerals" took place on the bases due to disorder in the public transportation caused by the air raids. Therefore, only brief notices of "died in battle at such and such location" were delivered to most families. There were also many cases where even though there was a notice it was delayed because of confusion in Personnel Administration, so it did not get delivered until after the end of the war.

It is probably natural that a bereaved family wants to know the final circumstances of the son's death. What type of plane did he fly in? When and from what base did he depart? Where was the attack? And how did he die in battle? Through cooperation of the National Institute for Defense Studies and surviving classmates, the final circumstances of most airmen who died in battle have been ascertained for the most part. As classmates it is our natural duty.

One father who attended a memorial service said with grief as he cried, "If someone could have taken his place, I would have died instead of him. I wanted my son to live a long life." A mother told how she visited the sortie base during heavy air raids to say farewell while he was alive. It was surely in the minds of many mothers that they must say a final goodbye to the sons they had lovingly raised, but they had no way to do so.

Other mothers have said they prayed their sons would return safely and vowed to abstain from tea or salt. In those days there were parents who would have exchanged or given up their own lives for their children's to try to save them. Parents prayed earnestly for their children's safety.

There is a proverb that says, "A pheasant in a burnt field, a night crane." It is said that a pheasant caught in a grass fire will not fly away, but rather will protect its chicks and die together with them. It is not necessary to consider the wild birds. One is truly touched by how deep and unstoppable is the love of these parents for their children.

Children willingly sacrifice themselves wishing to protect their parents, and parents willing to offer themselves pray for their children's safety. Considering this mutual love between family members, the origination of those desperate "body-crashing attacks" was truly heartless. At the moment a pilot crashed his plane, he must have had etched in his mind an image of his parents full of affection for him.

A pilot boarded a Type 1 Attack Bomber (Betty) as a member of the No. 8 Ohka Special Attack Force and departed from Kanoya Air Base at 6:05 on May 11, 1945. He carried out an attack on the enemy fleet around Okinawa and died a heroic death. Let me introduce a waka poem composed by the mother in remembrance of her son, the deceased Ensign Kunihisa Kikuchi, who was from Yoshii Town in Ukiha-gun, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Remembering My Son
    by Haruka Kikuchi

My dear child, brave dressed in your best
Sad not to see you again

Ready for your great Special Attack duty
You depart without telling even your mother

Your eternal parting kept secret, with your brothers
Smiling, with an innocent heart

Effortlessly flapping your spread wings
Your dear figure running forward

Giving yourself gladly for your country
You take off toward the seas of Okinawa

Suddenly my dear son perishes
Unstoppable tears at today's news

Brave, only believing in victory
Crashing your body, sinking a ship

Here I greet my beloved son's spirit today
What honor to have such a brave son

Even with our country torn and in turmoil
Someday a blooming flower at Yasukuni

721st Air Group's Betty Bomber Carrying Ohka


Translated by Bill Gordon
February 28, 2004