Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseShigeyoshi Hamazono was born into a fishing family in Kiire, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.
ww2dbaseAfter the start of the Pacific War in Dec 1941, Hamazono joined the Japanese Navy and eventually became a pilot. Originally a dive bomber pilot, he became a fighter pilot in late Dec 1943. In Feb 1944 during the American assault on Truk, he engaged in dogfights against American Hellcat fighters and suffered burns and temporary blindness when his Zero fighter was hit by machine gun fire. He parachuted out of the burning aircraft and made a safe landing on a small island. The island's natives nursed him back to health, and he eventually made his way back to Japan to receive proper medical care.
ww2dbaseHamazono spent several months at Kyushu's Oita Air Base in 1944 as a flight instructor. In this role he was sent on a mission to bomb a squadron of Allied ships southeast of Taiwan, but the mission was called off mid-flight as the presence of American aircraft in the area made a successful attack impossible. On 20 Oct 1944, he was transferred to the carrier Chitose, then on 24 Oct the carrier Zuikaku. On the first day of his service aboard Zuikaku, he took off for a reconnaissance mission but was thrown off course because of enemy pursuit, and as a result he landed at Manila instead.
ww2dbaseAt Philippines, although Hamazono had not yet made up his mind whether to participate in the special attack corps, he was essentially forced to become a kamikaze pilot. He was sent on such a mission on 7 Dec 1944. En route, however, oil began to spray from somewhere in his propeller assembly onto his cockpit window, forcing him to make an emergency landing. Instead of ordering Hamazono to return to the Philippines where he would again become a kamikaze pilot, his flight leader told him to head for Taiwan. Hamazono knew immediately of the reason why his flight leader gave him this order, and later noted that the flight to Taiwan was done with tears in his eyes. "He recognized my feeling, and he saved my life", he later said.
ww2dbaseOn 5 Apr 1945, after a two-month tour as a flight instructor at Hyakurigahara Air Base, Hamazono was transferred to Kokubu No. 1 Air Base in southern Japan and again became a kamikaze pilot during Operation Kikusui. En route, he flew over his home town and dropped a hachimaki headband with the words "hope you are well, goodbye". He became tangled up with American Corsair fighters, however, and lost his chance to make the suicide attack. After a 35-minute battle with American airmen that riddled his aircraft with 78 bullet holes, he broke from the engagement and returned to the Chiran Army Air Base with just enough fuel. Unfortunately, the base had not turned on the landing lights because they were not expecting any incoming aircraft. He made a crash landing in a field six kilometers from Chiran, suffering injuries during the process that kept him in a hospital for the next month. After recovery, Hamazono returned to service in Aug 1945 and was immediately assigned to special attack duty again, but the war ended before he was sent on a mission.
ww2dbaseAlthough proud to have served in the defense of Japan, Hamazono believed the systematic exploitation of Japanese pilots as kamikaze was a mistake on the part of the high ranking leaders. He believed the fatalistic belief that one must die in order to defend his country was a gross misinterpretation of Japanese ideals. He said that a special attack "is the worst type of act in that it treats precious human lives as if they are objects".
ww2dbaseAfter the war, Hamazono first returned to the life of a fisherman, then joined the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. After retirement, he once again became a fisherman. Actor Ken Takakura consulted with Hamazono for the 2001 film Hotaru (Firefly). In a 2005 interview with the Times of London, he spoke of the romanticized version of the history where young Japanese pilots volunteered for suicide duty en mass; in reality, those who did not wished to go were forced to anyways. "They used to tell us that the last words of the pilots were 'Long Live the Emperor!', but I am sure that was a lie. They cried out what I would have cried. They called for their mothers."
ww2dbaseSources: Kamikaze Images, the Kamikaze Pilot Who Chose Life Before Empire.
Last Major Revision: Nov 2006
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937