Mr. Odachi’s Zero — the agile Japanese fighter plane that dominated the Pacific skies in the war’s early years — was loaded with an 1,100-pound bomb, weighing it down so much that it would be impossible to outmaneuver the enemy. When American fighters spotted him, he jettisoned his bomb into the ocean and managed to escape.
On his next sortie, his group failed to find a target. The next six missions also ended in failure.
After each attempt, he would wait for weeks for new orders. Every night, the officers announced who would fly into battle the next day. It “felt like the conferral of the death penalty, and it was stomach-turning,” he wrote.
But by the end, he said, “we had become indifferent to matters of life and death. Our only concern was making the final moment count.”
That moment, however, never came. On his final mission, his plane was preparing to take off when a member of the ground crew ran onto the runway, shouting and waving for the squadron to stop. The emperor, Mr. Odachi learned, had just announced Japan’s surrender. He was going home.
On his return, as a train took him through the bombed-out remains of Hiroshima, he truly understood that the war was over. At his home in Tokyo, he took the ceremonial short sword commemorating his status as a kamikaze and threw it into the hearth fire, where it melted into a lump of steel.
His only souvenirs from the war are a handful of photos and a present from a young woman he met in Taiwan: a silk scarf, made from a parachute, that is embroidered with cherry blossoms and a blue anchor, the symbol of the Yokaren.
Mr. Odachi has never revealed the woman’s identity. It is one of the few things about the war he still refuses to talk about.
Orignially published in NYT.