KEIICHI KUWAHARA – IJN Naval Airforce, Kamikaze Pilot
The following is condensed from an article by Warren Manger who has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.
Keiichi Kuwahara was 17 when he was recruited to the naval airforce in 1943. By the time he completed training, Japan was so short of pilots, planes and weapons that his squadron was disbanded and he was ordered to enlist in a kamikaze unit. He dared not refuse.
“I struggled to convince myself I had to die. I thought my death would be pointless. Even if Japan won the war my family would die in the gutter because I would not be there to support them. It tormented me. I felt as if I was losing my mind. We were told that rather than accept defeat we should offer our lives. There was no choice. We had to follow orders when push came to shove. But we didn’t wish for death.”Keiichi Kuwahara
On May 4, 1945 Kuwahara took off from the Kushira base, heading to Okinawa to attack ships invading the outpost 400 miles south of the main islands. But his engine failed, forcing him to crash land. A week later mechanical problems forced him to abort his second suicide mission.
His relief at surviving was outweighed by the fear he had dishonored his family and how he would be treated by the other pilots when he returned.
The following day his kamikaze unit was disbanded. Wracked with guilt that he survived while so many of his friends were unreasonably forced to sacrifice themselves, Kuwahara lays flowers every year for the kamikazes who died. “I hope to continue offering flowers as long as I live.”
I learned about this gracious man through a BBC report made by Mariko Oi who very kindly forwarded my request to Mr. Kuwahara’s friend Tosiyuki Takagi. I am also especially grateful to Megumi Kawaguchi who translated my letter to Mr. Kuwahara. Worried about wear and tear and just in time for the Japan sojourn, Ross Stewart designed a wonderful blue padded sleeve for the book and dutifully made his way to the local post office: only to walk straight into an active cordoned off bomb scare/extraction situation. The Log Book parcel on this occasion had some extra duct tape on the envelope which is not the sort of thing to be seen with in that context! With the town gridlocked, Ross made his way to a cafe for some coffee and cake. Thankfully no harm came to our heroic courier who was able to dispatch the book to Japan the following day.