Sixty years later, veterans of the Pacific War remember: 'Kill or be killed.'
James Bowell, signalman third class, was standing on the bridge of his ship when the kamikazes came. "The sky was full of airplanes," he recalls, flown by pilots bent on killing as many Americans as possible at the sacrifice of their own lives. It was April 6, 1945, and Bowell's ship, the minesweeper Defense, was part of a picket line protecting the American invasion fleet off Okinawa. A kamikaze plane came right at the Defense, but at the last instant it tilted its wings and flew right behind the ship's smokestacks. "I was staring right at the pilot," recalls Bowell. "He had a look of absolute terror. It was 'Errr, what am I doing?'" One wing of the Japanese plane clipped a gun tub amidships, sending the plane cartwheeling into the water. Miraculously, the pilot bobbed to the surface. "I want that pilot alive!" shouted the captain, Cmdr. Gordon Abbott. "Don't shoot!" cried the officer of the deck. But machine gunners had already opened up, blasting the pilot as he floated in the water.
Most kamikazes looked forward to their fate. Toshiharu Konada, at the age of 82 a distinguished gray-haired man, recalls his feelings from long ago in an interview with NEWSWEEK. Konada was to be an underwater kamikaze, trained to ride and steer a torpedo with 3,000 pounds of explosives into the side of an American ship. The human torpedoes were called kaiten—literally, "turning of the heavens"—built to save a nation at the edge of ruin. When Konada was given his orders to die in March 1945, "it was the happiest day of my life," he recalls. "Excitement filled from the bottom of my spine through my head. I was not afraid of dying at all. I thought my life could save many other people from dying." He was spared when the Americans dropped two atom bombs, ending the worst war in the history of mankind, on Aug. 15, 1945, 60 years ago.
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