Tainan Kaigun Kokutai TNAG became 251st AG Nov 1942
Mitsubishi A6M2-21 Zero Hokoku-550 Tainan Naval Air Group - Saburo Sakai, Bali, Indonesia, February 1942.
Artwork Mitsubishi A6M2 21 JNAF Tainan Kokutai V 103 Saburo Sakai cn 3647 Bali Indonesia 1942
Profile Source: Model Airplane International 090 Jan-2013 Page 53
Skins Compatibility: IL2 Sturmovik Forgotten Battles (FB), Ace Expansion Pack (AEP), Pacific Fighters (PF), 1946
These skins are for the new SAS JPac Mod.
200th_Sakagawa: 2S JPAC Mitsubishi A6M2-21 Zero Tainan Kaigun Kokutai V-103 Saburo Sakai Rabaul PNG in May 1942
These are for the A6M-21 folder
BZ A6M2-21 JNAF TNAG V103 Pilot Sakai Indonesia 1942
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Lieutenant junior grade Saburo Sakai OY Sakai Sabur (August 25, 1916 September 22, 2000) was a Japanese naval aviator and fighter ace"Gekitsui-O", ĉ of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Sakai was the Imperial Navy's fourth-ranking ace and Japan's second leading fighter pilot to survive the war (after Tetsuzo Iwamoto).
Saburo Sakai was born on August 25, 1916, in Saga, Japan, into a family of samurai ancestry, but who made a living as farmers. Sakai, the third born of four sons (his given name literally meaning "third son"), had three sisters. Saburo was 11 when his father died, leaving Saburo's mother alone to raise seven children. Sakai apparently didn't excel in his academic studies.
On May 31, 1933, at the age of 16, Sakai enlisted in the Japanese Navy. Saburo Sakai describes his experiences as a naval recruit:
"The petty officers would not hesitate to administer the severest beatings to recruits they felt deserving of punishment. Whenever I committed a breach of discipline or an error in training, I was dragged physically from my cot by a petty officer. 'Stand tall to the wall! Bend down, Recruit Sakai!' he would roar. 'I am not doing this because I hate you, but because I like you and want you to make a good seaman. Bend down!' And with that he would swing a large stick of wood and with every ounce of strength he possessed would slam it against my upturned bottom. The pain was terrible, the force of the blows unremitting."
Sakai then served as a turret gunner aboard the battleship Kirishima until 1936, when he applied and was accepted into a pilot training school. He graduated first in his Naval Class at Tsuchiurain in 1937, earning a silver watch presented to him by Emperor Hirohito himself. Sakai graduated as a carrier pilot, although he was never actually assigned to aircraft carrier duty.
He first took part in aerial combat flying the Mitsubishi A5M in the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938-1939 and was wounded. As a third-class petty officer, Sakai shot down a Russian built DB-3 bomber in October 1939. Later he was selected to fly the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter in combat over China.
Service in World War II
When the war with the United States began, Sakai participated in the attack of the Philippines. On December 8, 1941, Sakai flew one of 45 Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai that attacked Clark Airfield in the Philippines. In his first combat against Americans, he shot down a P-40. Sakai flew missions the next day during heavy weather. On the third day of the battle, he shot down a B-17 Flying Fortress flown by Captain Colin P. Kelly. This was the first B-17 shot down during the war, and Sakai admired its capacity for absorbing damage. Japanese air forces destroyed most of the Allied air force in the Pacific in just a few months. Sakaifs Tainan Kokutai became known for destroying the most Allied planes in the history of Japanese military aviation.
Early in 1942, Sakai was transferred to Tarakan Island in Borneo and fought in the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese high command had instructed fighter patrols to down any and all enemy aircraft encountered, whether they were armed or not. On a patrol with his Zero over Java, just after shooting down an enemy aircraft, Sakai encountered a civilian Dutch DC-3 flying at low altitude over dense jungle. Sakai initially assumed it was transporting important people, so he signaled to its pilot to follow him, but the pilot did not obey. Sakai came down and got much closer to the DC-3. He spotted a blonde woman and a young child through the window, along with other passengers. The woman reminded him of a Mrs. Martin, an American who had occasionally taught him as a child in middle school and been good to him. He decided, against orders, not to shoot down the Dutch aircraft and flew ahead of the pilot and signaled him to go ahead. The pilot and passengers saluted.
During the Borneo campaign, Sakai achieved 13 air victories before he was grounded by illness. When he had recovered three months later in April, Petty Officer 1st class Sakai joined a squadron (chutai) of the Tainan Air Group (kokutai) under Lieutenant junior-grade Junichi Sasai at Lae, New Guinea. It was here, over the next four months, that he scored the majority of his victories against American and Australian pilots based out of Port Moresby. Sakai never lost a wingman in combat, and also tried to pass on his hard-won expertise to more junior pilots.
His squadron mates included fellow aces Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Toshio Ohta. On the night of May 16, Sakai, Nishizawa and Ota were listening at the lounge room to a broadcast of an Australian radio program, when Nishizawa recognized the eerie "Danse Macabre" of Camille Saint-Saens. Inspired by this, Nishizawa came up with the idea of doing a few demonstration loops right over the enemy airfield. The next day, at the end of an attack on Port Moresby with 18 Zeros, the trio performed three tight loops in close formation over the allied air base. After that, Nishizawa indicated that he wanted to repeat the performance. Diving to 6,000 feet (1,800 m), the three Zeros did three more loops, without any AA fire from the ground. Of course, Lieutenant Sasai, commander of Sakai's Chutai, was not very amused about this performance, but the Tainan Kokutai's three leading aces secretly agreed that Nishizawa's aerial choreography of the "Danse Macabre" had been worth it.
On August 3, Sakai's air group was relocated from Lae to the airfield at Rabaul.
On August 7, 1942, word arrived that U.S. Marines had landed that morning on Guadalcanal. The initial Allied landings captured an airfield, later called Henderson Field by the Allies, that was under construction by the Japanese on Guadalcanal. This airstrip soon became a main focus of months of fighting in the Battle of Guadalcanal as it enabled U.S. airpower to hinder the Japanese attempts at resupplying. The Japanese made several attempts to retake Henderson Field. These attempts resulted in continuous, almost daily aircraft battles for the Tainan Kokutai.
U.S. Marines flying F4F Wildcats from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal were using a new aerial combat tactic, the "Thach Weave", developed in 1941 by the US naval aviators John Thach and Edward O'Hare. The Japanese Zero pilots flying out of Rabaul were initially confounded by the tactic. Saburo Sakai relates their reaction to the Thach Weave when they encountered Guadalcanal Wildcats using it:
"For the first time Lt. Commander Tadashi Nakajima encountered what was to become a famous double-team maneuver on the part of the enemy. Two Wildcats jumped on the commanderfs plane. He had no trouble in getting on the tail of an enemy fighter, but never had a chance to fire before the Grummanfs team-mate roared at him from the side. Nakajima was raging when he got back to Rabaul; he had been forced to dive and run for safety."
On August 8, 1942, Sakai scored one of the best documented kills of WWII against an F4F Wildcat flown by James "Pug" Southerland (5 kills). Sakai, who did not know Southerland's guns weren't working, describes the beginning of the duel in his autobiography:
In desperation, I snapped out a burst. At once the Grumman snapped away in a roll to the right, clawed around in a tight turn, and ended up in a climb straight at my own plane. Never before had I seen an enemy plane move so quickly or gracefully before, and every second his guns were moving closer to the belly of my fighter. I snap-rolled in an effort to throw him off. He would not be shaken. He was using my favorite tactics, coming up from under.
The two were soon engaged in one of the most heroic and legendary dogfights in aviation history. After an extended battle in which both pilots gained and lost the upper hand, Sakai shot down Southerland's Wildcat, striking it below the left wing root with his 20 mm cannon. Southerland parachuted to safety.
Sakai described the Wildcat's ability for absorbing damage:
gI had full confidence in my ability to destroy the Grumman and decided to finish off the enemy fighter with only my 7.7 mm machine guns. I turned the 20 mm. cannon switch to the 'off' position, and closed in. For some strange reason, even after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman, the airplane did not fall, but kept on flying. I thought this very odd - it had never happened before - and closed the distance between the two airplanes until I could almost reach out and touch the Grumman. To my surprise, the Grumman's rudder and tail were torn to shreds, looking like an old torn piece of rag. With his plane in such condition, no wonder the pilot was unable to continue fighting! A Zero which had taken that many bullets would have been a ball of fire by now
During the air group's first missions of the battle of Guadalcanal, Sakai was seriously wounded in combat with Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers from USS Enterprise's Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6). Mistaking SBD Dauntless dive bombers, with their rear gunners, for American F4F fighters, near Tulagi Sakai attacked an SBD flown by Ensign Robert C. Shaw. Sakai fired 232 rounds at the SBD but with its armor, self-sealing fuel tanks and twin machine guns in the rear cockpit, the dive bomber proved a tough adversary. A blast from the SBD rear gunner, Harold L. Jones, shattered and blew away the canopy of Sakai's Zero.
Sakai sustained grievous injuries from the return fire; he was struck in the head by a .30 caliber bullet, blinding him in the right eye. The Zero rolled over and headed upside down toward the sea. Unable to see out of his remaining good eye due to blood flowing from the head wound, Sakai's vision started to clear somewhat as tears cleared the blood from his eyes and he was able to pull his plane out of the steep seaward dive. He considered crashing into one of the American warships: "If I must die, at least I could go out as a Samurai. My death would take several of the enemy with me. A ship. I needed a ship." Finally the cold air blasting into the cockpit revived him enough to check his instruments, and he decided that by using a lean fuel mixture he might be able to make it back to the airfield at Rabaul.
Although in agony from his injuries (he had a serious head wound from a bullet that had passed through his skull and the left side of his brain, leaving the entire left side of his body paralyzed, and was left blind in one eye) Sakai managed to fly his damaged Zero in a four-hour, 47-minute flight over 560 nautical miles (1,040 km) back to his base on Rabaul, using familiar volcanic peaks as guides. When he attempted to land at the airfield he nearly crashed into a line of parked Zeros but, after circling four times, and with the fuel gauge reading empty, he put his Zero down on the runway on his second attempt. After landing, he insisted on making his mission report to his superior officer before collapsing. His squadron mate Hiroyoshi Nishizawa drove him, as quickly but as gently as possible, to the surgeon. Sakai was evacuated to Japan on August 12, where he endured a long surgery without anesthesia. The surgery repaired some of the damage to his head, but was unable to restore full vision to his right eye. Nishizawa visited Saburo Sakai, while he was recuperating in the Yokosuka hospital in Japan.
Recovery and Return
After his five-month recovery, Sakai spent a year training new fighter pilots and young Kamikaze pilots. When Japan began losing the air war, he prevailed successfully upon his superiors to let him fly again. In April 1944 he was transferred to Yokosuka Air Wing that was deployed to Iwo Jima.
On June 24, 1944, Sakai approached a formation of fifteen aircraft that he thought were Japanese, but were actually U.S. Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters. In a high-flying chase that has become legendary, Sakai demonstrated his skill and experience, despite the loss of one eye and facing superior enemy aircraft. Sakai eluded every attack from the fifteen F6Fs for over 20 minutes, returning to his airfield untouched.
Sakai was ordered to lead a kamikaze mission on July 5, 1944, but he failed to find the reported U.S. task force. He and his men were engaged by Hellcat fighters near the task force's reported position. All but one of the Jill torpedo bombers in his flight were wiped out. Sakai managed to down a Hellcat fighter, and escaped the umbrella of Hellcats by flying into a cloud. Rather than follow meaningless orders, in worsening weather and gathering darkness, Sakai led his small formation back to the island, preserving aircraft and pilots for another day (after the war, Sakai decried the kamikaze campaign as brutally wasteful of young lives, and shortly before his death in year 2000, Sakai drew attention for his critical comments about Emperor Hirohito's role in waging war).
In August 1944, Sakai was promoted to ensign a record-breaking 11 years from enlistment to commissioning. He made Lieutenant junior grade a year later, just before the war ended.
During the war, Sakai destroyed or damaged 60+ Allied planes--mostly American. He was one of three from his original unit who survived the war. Sakai never actually said how many he shot down. The number 64 was arrived at by Martin Caidin, co-author of Sakai's autobiography.
Back to civilian life.
After the war, Sakai retired from the Navy as a lieutenant. He became a Buddhist acolyte and vowed that he would never again kill another living thing, not even a mosquito.
Civilian life was very difficult for Sakai and he found it hard to find a job due to limiting conditions imposed by the Allies and certain provisions that had been placed into the new Japanese Constitution. Fortunately, he eventually was able to start a printing shop and used this to help his former comrades and their families with work or whatever else he could do. Sakai reported that his print shop later became successful. His wife Hatsuyo died in 1954. He later remarried.
He visited the U.S. and met many of his former adversaries in an attempt to reconcile with them, including the rear gunner who shot him. In 2000 Sakai briefly served as a consultant to the popular computer game Combat Flight Simulator 2 by Microsoft.
In his later years, Sakai was asked to appear as a motivational speaker for Japanese schools and corporations. His theme was always the same, the credo by which he lived his entire life: "Never give up."
Sakai expressed concern for Japan's collective inability to accept responsibility for starting the War, and the popular sentiment that only the military and not political leaders were responsible. "Who gave the orders for that stupid war" he said in an article reported August 10, 2000 by The Associated Press. "The closer you get to the emperor, the fuzzier everything gets." Only months before his death Sakai told reporters that he still prayed for the souls of the Chinese, American, Australian and Dutch airmen he had killed. "I pray every day for the souls of my enemies as well as my comrades," he said. "We all did our best for our respective countries." "Glorifying death was a mistake," he said. "Because I survived I was able to move on and make friends in the U.S. and other countries."
Saburo Sakai died of a heart attack on September 22, 2000, during a meeting in Atsugi Naval Air Station. Sakai had sent his daughter to a university in the United States "to learn English and democracy." She married an American, and thus he is survived by his daughter and two U.S.-born grandchildren.
My Father and I and Saburo Sakai
Colonel Francis R. Stevens, Jr., USA-Retired
My quest began sometime shortly after World War II. I was a young boy (probably around 10 or 11) when my grandfather told me the story of how my father, Lt Colonel Francis R. Stevens, had been killed in the skies over New Guinea early in the War. In the spring of 1942, Dad was assigned to O.P.D., Operations Division in the War Department, what Colonel Red Reeder, who replaced Dad a few months later, referred to as General Marshallfs command post. General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army, was concerned that he was not getting a clear and complete picture of General Douglas MacArthurfs activities in the Pacific Theater. MacArthurfs dispatches kept calling for more of everything: more troops, more equipment, more supplies; but they provided precious little in the way of information as to what MacArthur planned on doing with all of this added capability. The good Generalfs approach appeared to be that, if he didnft tell higher headquarters what he was planning to do, they couldnft tell him to stop doing it. So General Marshall decided to send my Dad and a highly qualified Air Corps officer, Lt. Colonel Samuel E. Anderson, on a fact-finding mission to figure out what MacArthur was up to.
At about that same time, President Roosevelt, the Commander-in-Chief of all US forces, was having the very same problem with his commander in the Pacific Theater. And he had another problem to deal with: a protege named Lyndon Baines Johnson, a young Congressman from Texas, and a Commander in the Navy Reserve, had, on 8 December 1941, volunteered to go on active duty. Johnson was champing at the bit, eager to get an assignment to a combat theater.
Roosevelt was not at all happy at the prospect of his Congressmen and Senators heading for the front. And being politicians, once one of them did it, the rest would feel compelled to do the same in an effort to present an image of heroism and total commitment to fighting the Nationfs far-flung battles. So Roosevelt solved both problems by sending Johnson on temporary duty to Australia on the same mission on which Marshall had sent Dad. While the young Congressman was away, the President promulgated an edict that prohibited members of the House and Senate from active service -- they could serve in Congress or they could serve in the Armed Forces, but they could not do both.
Halfway across the Pacific, the three men met up with each other. Once they realized that they were there for the same purpose, they resolved to combine forces and continue on as a team. They visited MacArthurfs headquarters together, and together they resolved to get as close as they could to the war front. So they made a side trip to southern New Guinea to take part in a bombing mission over a Japanese base in northern New Guinea. It was on this mission that my father was killed, when his plane was shot down by a Japanese Zero fighter.
My grandfather concluded by adding that he believed that there were films of the action buried away in some musty Air Force archive. I did not give it much thought until about 10 years later when, as a cadet at West Point, I was on a summer trip to observe operations at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
During one of the briefings we received there, we were told that this base housed one of the Air Forcefs largest archives; so I paid it a visit to see if it possibly held a copy of the film of my fatherfs plane being shot down. Armed with only the date and a general location, I made inquiry at the front desk and was told, after a brief search, that such film was not to be found. A subsequent visit to the archives at the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, met with similar results.
The next stage in the search came seven years later, when I was reading a magazine, titled Manfs World, in a barber shop in Kaiserslautern, Germany. It contained an article entitled gThe Worldfs Greatest Air Combat Photos,h which included a series of pictures showing a twin-engined bomber, like my fatherfs, being shot down over a body of water, and going in. I wrote the magazine and asked if they could identify the date and location of the photos in question. They wrote back promptly to advise that they did not know the answers to my questions, but offered the name and address of the man who had put the article together, one Martin Caidin (author of The Six Million Dollar Man, Lost in Space, and many other books, magazine articles, and studies).
I wrote Mr Caidin to ask him the same questions. He wrote back, also very promptly, to advise that these were not the pictures I was looking for. The letterhead clearly indicated that Mr Martin Caidin was a professional historian; so I decided to ask him to help me in my quest for the elusive photos, and to offer to pay him for this help.
I first wrote my sister to ask if she would go in with me to cover the cost of securing Mr Caidinfs services. I estimated that it would cost about Pilot 1,000 (a princely sum back in 1963), but probably not enough to cover the price of the services of someone of what I was later to learn was Mr Caidinfs considerable reputation. My sister wrote back right away to say that she would be most happy to contribute Pilot 500 to the project.
By that time, I had received military orders to proceed to New York City to attend Columbia University, with the goal of obtaining a Masters Degree in English Literature, preparatory to an assignment as an instructor in the English Department at the US Military Academy, West Point, NY. Since Mr Caidin lived on Long Island, and since the ten months that the delay would entail was of little consequence, given the almost twenty years that I had been in search of these photographs, I decided to wait until I arrived in New York, when I would be able to meet him face-to-face.
The following January found me and Nancy, my new bride, in the heart of New York City at a coffee shop on Park Avenue. Having just arrived at this, my new duty station, I decided that I should check in with First Army Headquarters on Governorfs Island, which would be responsible for me during the year and a half that I would be attending Columbia. When I got through on the phone to the appropriate office, I was told that they were most happy that I had finally called in because the White House had been trying to reach me, and I was to call the office of the Defense Adviser to the President immediately.
Saburo SakaiLs A6M2 airplane
Saburo SakaiLs A6M2 gZeroh airplane, Tainan Kokutai, Bali Island, 1942.
Here I must digress to add some historical perspective. This was January 1964, less than two months since the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy, and the succession to the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, the same US Navy Commander Johnson who was with my father on the day that he was killed.
When I called the number given me by the people at Governorfs Island, I reached a very pleasant woman in the White House who instructed me to call a number in New York City and to ask for a Martin Caidin. Now this was curious indeed, since I had planned on trying to reach this very same Mr Caidin in the near future. Still operating from the pay phone in the Park Avenue coffee shop, I called the number she had given me and found myself talking to Mr Caidin himself. He advised me that he was in a hotel less than two blocks from the coffee shop and asked if I could come right over. So my wife and I shortly finished our coffee and made the brief walk to his hotel.
We arrived to find Caidin and another writer named Edward Hymoff, dressed in T-shirts and baggy pants, in a fairly spacious hotel suite, the walls of which were covered with printed sheets, photographs, pieces of paper with notes scribbled on them, and various other scraps of data. It turned out that the two of them were holed up in this hotel room for the duration, not to emerge until they had completed the history of the brief military career of the first sitting Congressman to serve in uniform in WWII, and the only one to see combat, the man who was now the Nationfs new President.
As soon as I had introduced myself and my wife, I told Mr Caidin of our earlier correspondence and of my plan to contact him to ask that he take on the mission of finding the long-sought photographs (and of my intention to offer to pay him for his efforts), whereupon he hastened to assure me that he had never intended to accept any money for such an undertaking. He then took me up to one of the paper-covered walls to show me:
A series of pictures of my fatherfs plane being shot down (the very photos that had been the object of my quest).
It was, as you can imagine, quite an emotional moment for me.
I was able to add one anecdote of interest to Caidin and Hymoff, the story I have seen in print several times since, of how Dad wound up on the plane that Lyndon Johnson was supposed to ride on that fateful mission. What happened was that Johnson had originally gotten on the gWabash Cannonball,h but had forgotten to take his camera with him. While he was retrieving his camera, Dad, unaware that Johnson had designs on sitting there, climbed into the seat that his friend had recently vacated. When Johnson returned to claim his place, Dad, in a lighthearted manner, told him that he would just have to find himself another airplane to ride that day. As fate would have it, the plane that Johnson wound up on developed engine trouble and never made it to the target, while the gWabash Cannonballh was not to return from the mission. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The next chapter of the story is my meeting with Saburo Sakai some 25 years later. Knowing now who killed my father, I resolved that I would one day meet him. I did not make any extraordinary efforts to bring this to pass, but did keep my eye open for any opportunity. The first such came 15 years later when I was attending the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama as an Army exchange student. One of my classmates was a Colonel (later a Major General) in the Japanese Air Force. He told me that he knew of Saburo Sakai and that, if I ever came to Japan, he would try to arrange a meeting. However, before I could take advantage of his offer, I was fortunate enough to meet Sakai-san through the following series of events.
In July of 1987, three years after I had retired from a 27-year Army career, I was living with my family in Tacoma, Washington, where we had moved in pursuit of my new career in computer systems. One day, my wife came upon an article in the local newspaper telling of how Saburo Sakai had been in nearby Yakima, Washington the previous weekend as the guest-of-honor at a large air show. The article went on to say that this was an annual show and that Sakai was often invited to attend. The next year, Nancy was on the lookout for Sakaifs possible return, and her watchfulness paid off. One Sunday morning, she opened the paper to learn that Sakai was once again to be at the Yakima Air Show on that very day.
I immediately called a neighbor who was involved in aviation in that part of the country and got from him the name and telephone number of the manager of the Yakima Air Field. However, all calls to this gentlemanfs office went unanswered (apparently they left no one in the office during the show). Before I could become discouraged by this unhappy turn of events, Nancy put a jacket on me and said, gLetfs go over there and see if we canft manage to meet him without any pre-arrangement.h While it seemed to me that we were about to set out on a four-hour wild-goose-chase, I got into the car with her and set off for the other side of the Cascade Mountains, into the central Washington valley that shelters Yakima and its renowned apple orchards.
When we arrived two hours later, I went up to the first police officer we saw and asked where we might find Saburo Sakai. He told me where the VIP pavilion was located, but advised that there had been a threat against Sakaifs life and he thought it therefore unlikely that I would be allowed to see him. Although hardly encouraged by this news, we headed toward the pavilion, where we were met by a huge hulk of a police officer, who turned out to be Sakaifs body guard (and well chosen for the task he was, standing about 6 feet tall and weighing at least 250 pounds, of what appeared to be pretty solid muscle). When I told him that I wanted to see Saburo Sakai, he quite naturally asked why. Unable to think of a less ominous reason, I came straight out with the fact that he had killed my father some 45 years earlier; and I had since felt compelled to try to meet him. The officer eyed me with considerable (and understandable) suspicion.
After considering it for several moments, he apparently decided that my story was too implausible to be anything but the unvarnished truth. He thereupon said that he could not promise me anything but that he would try to arrange a meeting. With that, and after thoroughly searching both myself and my wife, he left us standing behind the pavilion under the watchful eye of two other police officers.
Several minutes passed before he reappeared. He walked straight at me and leaned over to whisper as he walked by, gYou owe me.h Behind him was an Japanese gentleman of benevolent demeanor. I had finally met the man who killed my father.
Although he had made many trips to the States and had sent his daughter to school here in America, eventually giving her hand in marriage to an officer in the United States Army, he speaks practically no English. Fortunately he was accompanied by an interpreter, Jim Crossley, who spent the next twenty minutes or so translating for us, as first Sakai-san apologized for killing my father and I, in turn, assured him that I bore him no malice whatsoever, since his act was performed as the duty of a soldier, as was my fatherfs death his duty and his fate as a soldier.
The following year, Sakai-san accepted our invitation to spend the night in our home on the last day of the next edition of the annual Yakima Air Show. He arrived late in the afternoon with a large golf bag and a small satchel containing all of his other clothing and travel needs. He proved to be a gracious house-guest and a most witty and engaging gentleman. He began by asking me if I had any article of clothing that had belonged to my father. When I retrieved my fatherfs old West Point sweater that I had been carrying with me since I first left home to attend the Military Academy myself, he set it on a coffee table in the middle of the living room and said a very brief Shinto prayer over it. He then explained through our interpreter for the evening, a young lady whom neither of us had ever met, that this prayer, from one warrior to another whom he had slain, would assure my father an elevation to several levels in heaven above wherever it was that he had been originally relegated on his own merits. While I am not a very religious person myself, I was both moved by this gesture on the part of this most intriguing gentleman but also reassured that, somehow, my father would in fact benefit substantially from this simple yet sincere and powerful ceremony.
It is interesting to note that, at this point, the young Japanese-American girl who had, almost by chance, wound up as our interpreter that evening, was reduced to tears and was hard-pressed to continue to fulfill her duties for this and the succeeding series of discussions - that were to grow even more interesting and emotional. This entire series of events was completely spontaneous; yet it could not have been more dramatic and emotional had it been carefully staged by one of the masters of the theater.
Sakai-san next brought out the leather pilotfs helmet and white, silk scarf that he had worn the day he shot my father down. While this had quite an emotional impact on not only myself, my wife, and our three sons, who were with us on this most fascinating of evenings, what he related to us next was even more intriguing. For this was the helmet and scarf that he had also worn several months later, on the day that he took two bullets in the head in combat over Guadalcanal, after which he flew the four hours it took to return to his home base in Rabaul. It was quite clear where the bullets had entered his head, one of them having ricocheted off the metal rim of his goggles, the second having torn through the leather of the helmet near the temple. The idea that he could have survived these wounds, much less continued to fly for four hours after that, was all but inconceivable. From left to right: Colonel Francis R. Stevens, Jr., United States Army-Retirerd, and Saburo Sakai.
Cornel Francis R. Stevens, Jr., United
When he showed us the scarf, the first thing that we noticed was that it was quite tattered, but in a relatively symmetrical and clean-cut way. The damage, rather than being the result of the ravages of time, had occurred in one brief and traumatic encounter. The explanation was quite simple. His canopy had been blown away in the same attack that had caused his wounds; but this proved a blessing of sorts in that it kept a steady rush of air blowing into the cockpit, helping him maintain consciousness. However, his wounds were so severe that, more than once, in order to shock himself into fuller consciousness, he had to aggravate the pain by striking his open wounds. In spite of this, he several times passed out, only to be awakened by the reinforced strength of the wind rushing into his cockpit as his plane plummeted straight down toward the sea below. All this while his scarf was whipping violently in the steady stream of wind that was blowing through the open cockpit. That it remained in one piece, albeit most tattered, is a testimonial to the skill of the craftsmen who had originally woven its fine silk fibers.
When we later told Sakai-san that our eldest daughter was attending flight training in Arizona in preparation to become a pilot in the US Air Force, he was greatly moved. He saw this as a continuation of the warrior line - and it seemed important to him that it was in the field of aviation. And what was most interesting to us, given Japan's singular lack of progress into the feminist movement of recent years, was that he was delighted to find that it was a girl, not a boy who was to carry this tradition into the next generation. Demonstrating a progressiveness that is apparently shared by few of his countrymen, particularly of his generation, he seemed to view all of this as most symbolic of a new and better age.
With that, he took the tattered scarf and tore from it a piece, which he handed to me. I was instructed to give it to my daughter and tell her to carry it with her whenever she flew - that, if she did so, whatever gods there be would surely protect her from any possible danger in the air.
With this the poor interpreter was once again reduced to uncontrollable tears - but at that point, I donft think that there was a dry eye in the room.
My daughter still carries this most powerful of talismans; and, while I am still not much of a believer in things supernatural, I rest much easier when she is flying, knowing that she has that simple scrap of silk with her.
And thus ended my quest, with a new-found friend, the man who killed my father. 10 Jul 98
Si Sakai Saburo n'est pas le plus grand As Japonais de la Seconde Guerre mondiale par le nombre de victoires, sa contribution a l'effort de memoire entrepris apres guerre a permis d'apprendre a mieux connaitre ses anciens camarades dont il est l'un des plus grands representants. Ne a Saga le 25 aout 1916 au Japon, dans une famille avec des ancetres samourais, mais menant une vie de fermiers, Saburo Sakai ne montre pas beaucoup d'interet pour les etudes et le 31 mai 1933, a l'age de 16 ans, il s'engage dans la marine japonaise.
Dans un prmier temps, il sert comme canonnier de tourelle sur le Kirishima, jusqu'en a 1936, epoque a laquelle il est accepte dans une ecole de formation au pilotage apres deux tentatives manquees. En novembre 1937, il termine sa formation et sort premier de sa promotion, recevant pour l'occasion une montre en Argent de l'Empereur.
Affecte au 12eme Air Group (Kokutai), il est envoye en Chine ou il remporte sa premiere victoire le 5 octobre 1938. Ce jour la, il est a la tete d'une formation de 15 A5M "Claude" qui sont attaques par des I-15 et des I-16 au cours d'une mission sur Hankow. Totalement desempare, il parvient cependant a abattre un appareil dans la melee en faisant usage de toutes ses munitions mais se voit reprimende pour n'avoir respecte aucun des preceptes du manuel de combat. En date du 3 octobre 1939, Saburo Sakai (PO2/c) a deja acquis une grande experience et le prouve en attaquant ce meme jour une formation de 12 bombardiers DB-3 qui attaquent l'aerodrome d'Hankow. Bien qu'il soit legerement blesse au sol par ce bombardement surprise, il grimpe dans son "Claude" et se lance a la poursuite des bombardiers. Chassant avec opiniatrete les intrus sur plus de 200 km, il parvient a abattre l'un des appareils. Cette interception precede de peu son retour au Japon. Arrive dans son pays, il est salue comme un heros.
En juin 1941 (desormais PO1/c), il est affecte au Tainan Air Group (Kokutai). En decembre, il participe au raid sur Clark Field, aux Philippines, lors des premiers jours de la guerre du Pacifique. Il detruit deux B-17 au sol et revendique la destruction d'un P-40 qui, pilote par Sam Grashio, parvient toutefois a echapper a son poursuivant. Le 10 decembre, il parvient a abattre un B-17C du 14th Bomber Squadron. Il est surpris par la taille imposante du bombardier.
Une fois les Philippines conquises, le Tainan Air Group se lance a l'assaut des Indes Neerlandaises. Une fois encore, Saburo Sakai affronte les B-17. Les bombardiers lourds se relevent etre des adversaires difficiles a abattre et a plusieurs reprises, Saburo Sakai devra se contenter de coups au but sans pouvoir revendiquer la destruction de l'appareil attaque. Le 28 fevrier 1942, il intercepte un DC 3 isole a l'Est de Java au cours d'une patrouille. Inspectant l'appareil de plus pres, il apercoit une femme et un jeune enfant par le hublot. Il decide alors de laisser l'appareil de transport continuer sa route. Il obtient 13 victoires aeriennes dans ce secteur avant de tomber malade. Quand il a recupere, trois mois plus tard, en avril, il rejoint le Tainan AG qui a ete transfere a Rabaul, en Nouvelle-Guinee et qui est place sous les ordres du jeune Sous-lieutenant Junishi Sasai. Les pilotes Japonais effectuent des rotations regulieres dans cette zone dans laquelle operent les appareils allies depuis leur base de Port Moresby.
C'est a cette epoque que Saburo Sakai commence a mener une guerre personnelle contre les officiers qui avaient tendance a croire pouvoir se passer des pilotes non-officiers dans une armee ou le respect de la hierarchie etait tres marquee. Contrairement a l'USAAF, a l'USN ou a l'USMC ou tous les pilotes etaient officiers, un pilote japonais pouvait etre Sous-officier. En revanche, il ne beneficiait d'aucun privilege et il lui etait interdit de fumer. Un jour, Saburo Sakai ordonna a son ailier d'aller voler de la nourriture au mess des officiers et autorisa ses hommes du rang a fumer, obligeant le chef de groupe a enteriner cette decision destinee a rompre la monotonie des periodes de repos separant chaque combat. Devenu un veteran de nombreuses campagnes, Saburo Sakai essaye d'inculquer aux pilotes de son Group l'art du combat aerien et permettra ainsi a de nombreux pilotes de devenir des As confirmes.
Le 22 juillet 1942, 8 Zero interceptent un Hudson de la RAAF isole (A16-201 du Squadron 32) pres de Buna. Pensant avoir trouve la une cible facile, Sakai se lance a l'attaque du bimoteur pilote par le P/O Warren F Cowan. Anticipant l'attaque de Sakai, le pilote Australien fait face et se lance lui aussi dans une attaque frontale, combattant avec rage les chasseurs Japonais en nombre superieur, provoquant un grand desordre dans la formation Japonaise avant que Sakai ne parvienne enfin a l'abattre. En sa qualite de dernier temoin oculaire de ce combat, Saburo Sakai enverra une demande officielle au Ministere de la Defense Australienne, en 1997, pour que soit reconnu publiquement le courage de ce pilote et de son equipage. Sa demande sera rejetee.
Le 7 aout 1942, au cours de la premiere mission a longue distance vers Guadalcanal, il abat un F4F Wildcat pilote par le futur As J J Southerland de la VF 5 qui parvient a sauter en parachute. Alors qu'il rejoint sa formation, Sakai tombe dans une embuscade tendue par un SBD isole pilote par le Lt Dudley H Adams de la VS 71. Parvenant a placer une rafale sur le Zero, une balle traverse le Cockpit et vient frapper la tete de Saburo Sakai qui attaque a son tour et abat le Dauntless, tuant le mitrailleur (Harry E Elliot) et abat l'appareil duquel Adams parvient a s'extirper et a sauter en parachute. Adams recevra la Navy Cross pour son action.
Poursuivant la mission, Suburo Sakai intercepte un nouveau groupe d'appareils ennemis. Pensant qu'il s'agit de Wildcat, il s'approche par l'arriere et se retrouve rapidement sous le feu croise des mitrailleurs de ce qui s'avere etre des Dauntless.
"La distance diminue regulierement... 500, 400- 300 metres. Je distingue alors tous les details et m' apercois que je suis tombe dans un piege. Juqu'ici je croyais avoir affaire a des chasseurs. Mais non ! Il s'agit d'avions torpilleurs, d'Avenger. Pas etonnant qu'ils aient resserre leurs intervalles. Ils nous avaient vus et se rapprochaient pour se proteger mutuellement. Je me maudis pour ma stupidite. Maintenant je ne suis qu'a 90 metres, je distingue nettement les tourelle et de chacune une mitrailleuse de 12,7 mm - seize en tout ! - sont braquees sur moi !" (Extrait de "Les ailes japonaises en guerre" par M. Okumiya, J. Horikoshi, M. Caidin)
Grievement blesse, il parvient a rentrer a sa base avec des blessures au visage et aux yeux (il perdra l'oeil gauche), alors que le reste de son unite pense deja ne plus revoir son pilote emblematique. La gravite de ses lesions necessite un retour au Japon et apres s'etre retablit, 5 mois plus tard, Saburo Sakai est affecte, a son grand desespoir, comme instructeur dans une ecole de pilotage pendant 1 an.
En juin 1944, il reprend sa place en premiere ligne et se trouve envoye a Iwo Jima avec le Yokosuka Air Group (Kokutai). Le 24 juin, il engage le combat avec des Hellcat de la VF 1, de la VF 2 et de la VF 50. Si Saburo Sakai revendique personnellement 3 appareils ennemis abattus, son unite en revanche perd 23 appareils. Sans espoir de parvenir a contrer l'invasion Americaine, le Yokosuka AG est charge de mettre sur pied les premieres unites Kamikaze. Le 5 juillet, Saburo Sakai accompagne la premiere mission Kamikaze au cours de laquelle 9 Zero escortent 8 bombardiers torpilleurs dans leur dernier combat. Interceptes par des Hellcat avant d'avoir atteint l'objectif, Saburo Sakai desobeit aux ordres l'enjoignant a rester avec les torpilleurs et il parvient a abattre un des Hellcat. Malgre les efforts des chasseurs pour repousser les attaques des chasseurs US, tous sont abattus avant d'avoir atteint leurs cibles. Le lendemain, Savuro Sakai et les pilotes rescapes rentrent au Japon ou Saburo Sakai retrouve un poste d'instructeur.
Transfere au 343eme Air Group (Kokutai) en decembre 1944, Saburo Sakai assure la conversion des pilotes sur le nouveau chasseur "George". Luttant jusqu'a la fin, Saburo Sakai effectue son dernier combat le 17 aout 1945 pour intercepter un B-32 Dominator en mission de reconnaissance photographique.
De son propre aveux, Saburo Sakai aurait abattu une soisantaine d'appareils ennemis (dont au moins quatre avec un seul oeil). Au final, il sera un des trois seuls survivants de son unite d'origine. Apres guerre, il se retire de l'Armee avec le grade de Lieutenant. En 1982, Saburo Sakai rencontrera Harold L Jones, un des mitrailleurs des SBD qui l'atteignit le 7 aout 1942. Bien qu'il conserve les sequelles de sa blessure a l'oeil, Saburo Sakai se revelera etre un joueur de golf confirme.
Saburo Sakai est mort d'une crise cardiaque le 22 septembre 2000 au cours d'une reunion a l'aeroport naval d'Atsugi.
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