While our Annapolis feature was written to order, this issue's three kamikaze articles arrived unsolicited over the past several years. Kan Sugahara's "Who Knocked the Enterprise out of the War" was the first to show up. It tracks the author's attempt to identify the suicide-plane pilot whom Americans erroneously called Tomi Zai. In addition to solving this mystery, Mr. Sugahara has helped the Naval Historical Center's Curator Branch research kamikaze artifacts in its collection, including the ones on pages 27 and 39.
"Witness to a Spectacle," by Commander Berry Willis Jr., USNR (Ret.), and "The Kamikaze Strike," by Robert Shafer, provide two Sailor perspectives of different December 1944 attacks in the Philippines. Mr. Shafer wrote his recollections about the aftermath of a suicide plane's crash into the USS Nashville (CL-43) long after World War II. It's one of some 50 stories he's authored—most about his wartime experiences, both bad and good—since joining a local writer's club two years ago.
Commander Willis' account of watching a large-scale kamikaze attack from the deck of the USS Ausburne (DD-570), meanwhile, is excerpted from an article he wrote in July 1945 while stationed on Ulithi. Soon after penning it, he made several copies and sent one to Betsy Withers, a girl he'd met in Norfolk. Thirty years later, long after the other copies had been lost, the commander received a phone call from the former Miss Withers, whom he hadn't seen or heard from since the war and who had recently come across the manuscript. "She laughed and said perhaps I would like to have it for my future use and remembrances of World War II," he said.
"Of all the wartime experiences that I encountered in the North African campaign, the Normandy invasion, and my service in Ausburne," the commander later told me, "the kamikaze attacks were the most fearful and awesome." He went on to note that terrorists' suicide attacks over the past years have led him to reflect on the kamikaze pilots of World War II and "the fear they imparted to the fleet." And that, in turn, has made him more sympathetic to the dangers our troops face in Iraq "not knowing when a suicide bomb is going to take their life."