A Japanese World War II naval aviator—the rare survivor of a kamikaze mission because he was shot down and rescued by the crew of a U.S. destroyer 50 years ago—spoke with Naval History Editor Fred L. Schultz at the U.S. Naval Institute headquarters.
Mr. Hasegawa is the current President of the 80-year-old Rengo Company, Ltd., an international corrugated packing producer with more than 4,000 employees. On 25 May 1945, he was a lieutenant, junior grade, in the Japanese Special Naval Attack Corps, bearing down for a kamikaze attack on U.S. task forces east of Okinawa.
At 1015 that morning after dodging antiaircraft fire from the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48), Hasegawa’s bomber took a hit from the USS Callaghan (DD-792) and crashed into the sea. The destroyer crew in turn rescued the severely injured aviator (the aircraft’s other two crew members did not survive). Ironically, a later kamikaze attack sank the Callaghan on 29 July 1945.
In July 1995, as part of a wreath-laying ceremony and reception at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, Hasegawa remembered the dead and honored the survivors of the Callaghan and later attended the ship’s anniversary reunion at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where he was treated as a Callaghan survivor himself.
Naval History: What motivated your visit to the United States and to the U.S. Naval Institute?
Hasegawa: I had asked my friend, Captain William Horn, U.S. Navy (Retired), to confirm the records about my encounter with the U.S. destroyer Callaghan. I have therefore come here to reconfirm my recollection of the past. I am here also for the 50th anniversary of the date—25 May 1945—when I was shot down by the Callaghan.
Naval History: Many U.S. servicemen have died for their country, but seldom was death a virtual certainty. Given that consequence, how did you feel before your Special Attack mission?
Hasegawa: Of course, the psychological pressure was tremendous when I got into the airplane, because the success of the mission meant my ultimate death. It is difficult, however, to measure the pressure that I encountered as a military officer during that war against standards in peaceful times.
Naval History: So the philosophy was a “war-fever” of sorts?
Hasegawa: I think it was a “war-fever.” During the war, not only Japanese servicemen, but also American, British, and French soldiers were dying every day around me. Everybody had pressure. But since Special Attack meant death when successful, we felt another significant pressure in addition to that which was felt in an ordinary attack. It was a totally different kind of pressure, however, than we would feel during peace time.
Naval History: Where were you at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, and what was your attitude toward that attack?
Hasegawa: I was at the Imperial Naval Academy at that time. I had heard the news in the morning of the day when the attack occurred, but I did not know any of the details.
Naval History: What were your thoughts about it?
Hasegawa: I am not in a position to express my opinions as to whether that attack could be justified or not. I heard many things about it afterward. I knew that many of my seniors, such as Admiral [Isoroku] Yamamoto, participated in the attack. Many factors related to it. For me to answer this question would take a very long time. There were many considerations—strategic, national, political, military. The judgments or views of a military officer would be separate from that of a private Japanese citizen.
Naval History: How did you happen to volunteer for the Special Attack Corps?
Hasegawa: The approach to form the Special Naval Attack might have been different between the Army and Navy at that time. I was assigned to the 405 “Ginga” (Galaxy) Corps. It was a natural or normal procedure that, as a lieutenant in the Navy, I would be selected to command the 10th Ginga subunit, which was assigned to the Special Attack on 25 May.
Naval History: Was this simply your duty as a naval officer?
Hasegawa: Normally, there were about 20 officers in a flying unit. Somebody had to be named to command an attack mission. If I had died as a result of a kamikaze attack, somebody else would have assumed command of the next aircraft. So in that sense, it was a normal duty as a naval officer.
We had only 30 airplanes, when we should have had 48 bomber aircraft in our corps. It was a losing war. We were conducting many ordinary attacks. In an ordinary attack, you came back after you completed your mission. In a Special Attack, if you were successful, you did not come back. There was no special sensational feeling that came with our service in the Special Naval Attack Corps, because we had both types of missions. Every day and night we were attacking, and many people were dying. A few days before 25 May, it was decided that the forthcoming mission would follow the Special Attack method.
The 405 Corps had been assigned to carry out many ordinary attacks against Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and the American naval fleet. Some died during the missions. That method or mission procedure was the same as that used by the United States or other countries. Some days before the 25th, we were informed that the day’s attack would be a Special Attack mission. It was not a decision made after special deliberation. One day we would employ the ordinary attack method; the next day we would be alerted for a Special Attack mission. I must emphasize here that the Special Attack mission was not something we regarded as extraordinary. Of course, they were extraordinary tactics. Military men, however, had to follow whatever orders given to them and believed that they should do their best to complete assignments.
Naval History: Did you receive any special training for such missions?
Hasegawa: There was no special training for Special Attack operations. It was not necessary. Any pilot with high skills could perform the mission.
Naval History: What was the general condition of the aircraft used for these missions?
Hasegawa: The airplanes of our corps were in very good condition.
Naval History: Even for Special Attack missions?
Hasegawa: Yes. As a matter of fact, we thought Francises were too good for kamikaze missions. I remember that we often talked about how wasteful it was to use these good airplanes for Special Attack missions. They could fly at high speeds and for long ranges. Also, they could carry a lot of ammunition. They even had radar equipment.
Naval History: Recount, if you will, your mission of 50 years ago.
Hasegawa: At that time, we were divided into four small groups, each group having three airplanes and having been ordered to approach an enemy fleet from different directions. After the groups were deployed, every one of the aircraft—except mine and another airplane—returned because of bad weather. The other pilot joined me and together we found the battleship West Virginia at about 1000. The battleship began shooting at us at 1002. The records of those times are all recorded in the official account of battle. I was hit by guns from the nearby Callaghan and crashed into the sea.
Naval History: According to books written about the kamikaze, you and your comrades were afforded a “spiritual guarantee,” if your missions were successful. How did you deal with the fact that you survived?
Hasegawa: At that time, I thought it was dishonorable not to have succeeded in attacking the U.S. ships. I should mention, however, that now I do not think that way. When I was captured, I was badly injured and did not see any reason to live. I tried to commit suicide in the battleship New Mexico (BB-40) while being transferred to Guam. I became unconscious, but somehow survived. The U.S. sailor who had been assigned as a guard to watch my behavior was later scolded by his superiors.
Naval History: How were you treated by your rescuers?
Hasegawa: The crew of the Callaghan rescued me from the sea. As they were involved in a heavy air and sea battle, they were very busy, and there was much commotion. I remember somebody looking into my eyes to see if I was alive or not. After they discovered that I was alive, I was left to lie on the deck while the crews went on fighting. In general, the crews of the Callaghan and the New Mexico were very polite and treated me very decently.
Naval History: What was the extent of your injury?
Hasegawa: I suffered contusions over most of my body. Several of my teeth were broken, and I also had a fracture in my leg. The contusions were all on the left side of my body, from my hip to my ear. I remember it hurt very much.
Naval History: Why were kamikaze tactics not used earlier in the war, if they were considered to be so effective?
Hasegawa: One can rationalize many ways to fight a war. The specific tactics that are used vary, and any one tactic might be effective on a certain occasion. But from a broad point of view, I cannot say that an attack succeeded just because it was a kamikaze attack. An ordinary attack could be just as effective. I do not think that kamikaze tactics were so effective, considering the ultimate sacrifice of a human being and an airplane for each “successful” mission.
Naval History: How are World War II kamikaze survivors treated or regarded today?
Hasegawa: There are technically no kamikaze survivors. If you were deployed as a kamikaze and you succeeded, you died. Some survivors who participated in the Special Attack Corps missions are the ones who had turned back while on the way to the original mission because of bad weather, engine failures, or other reasons, or those who had made a forced landing before reaching a destination. My case, in which I was shot down over an enemy ship and returned, is very rare.
Naval History: Are you saying that you are not a kamikaze?
Hasegawa: It depends on how you define kamikaze. If you were deployed to attack as a kamikaze, you are dead. Precisely speaking, I was assigned to a kamikaze mission, but returned alive.
Naval History: If Japan had been in the position of the United States in 1945 with an atomic bomb, what do you think the Japanese would have done?
Hasegawa: I cannot take that kind of question very lightly, because any response, particularly today, will only lead to misinterpretation, controversy, or misunderstanding. Fifty years have passed since the war. From a historical perspective, many critics have evaluated the warfighting decisions and actions of both sides, have they not?
Naval History: Some of the World War II 50th anniversary commemorations have met with difficulties and controversies. What recommendations do you have for such events in the future?
Hasegawa: War is part of the history of human interaction. It is important that we judge and evaluate the war at 50th, 60th, and 100th anniversaries and so on. The reason for my being here is to fill the void in my own memory, not to condemn or judge the past at a national level. I do not have any particular recommendations for future commemoration, but I do think we should make every effort to judge the war in a fair manner. I would like to preserve the historical record related to the war in memory of those who died. I am planning to visit the families of the dead and explain the condition to them. As a result of our plane’s having been shot down, both of the other men in my crew that day are dead. Warrant Officer Yoshida’s older brother is living in Kyushu, as is the family of Mr. Koyama, the pilot of the airplane. I plan to visit them to explain what happened, based upon the confirmation of the past using your official historical records.
Naval History: Do you have any particular message for readers of Naval History?
Hasegawa: I believe that the U.S. Navy, Royal British Navy, and Japanese Navy have always had a kind of comradeship toward each other. Whenever I visit the U.S. Naval Academy or the Royal British Naval Academy, the people there always treat me with warm friendship. Because Japan does not have a formal Navy any more, I feel a sense of nostalgia toward the U.S. and Royal British navies. I would like you to know that I have very close friendly feelings toward you. I want to send my warmest regards to the U.S. Navy.