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Ex-army civilian regrets 'betraying' brother-like superior 73 yrs ago over suicide pledge

Shingo Yoshikawa explains how he felt 73 years ago, in front of a bunker in the Osaka Prefecture city of Yao, on Aug. 14, 2018. (Mainichi)

YAO, Osaka -- A former army civilian feeling remorse for not keeping a pledge to take his own life together with a brother-like superior 73 years ago in a group suicide linked to the end of World War II, visited on Aug. 14 the remains of the army facility and the Shinto shrine here in western Japan where the tragedies took place, to pray for those lost.

Many soldiers took their lives after the broadcast by Emperor Showa announcing Japan had lost the war. Shingo Yoshikawa, 90, who worked as an aircraft maintenance technician in Osaka Prefecture, could not forget how sorry he felt as he refrained from killing himself, after being asked by a second lieutenant he knew very well, to join him in a group suicide. This year, he was finally able to commemorate the soul of his superior, for the first time after the end of the war, and to lighten a bit the burden in his heart on the last summer of the Heisei era.

Yoshikawa learned aircraft maintenance at an army facility in Gifu Prefecture in central Japan, and was assigned to an Osaka army aviation workshop in the current Osaka Prefecture city of Yao, next to Taisho Airfield, the current Yao Airport. Japan had already lost air supremacy, and air raids by the U.S. forces were intensifying. He worked every day in a bunker, a hangar to protect airplanes. Yoshikawa unwillingly obeyed cruel orders such as putting only enough fuel in planes for one-way suicide missions.


On Aug. 14, 1945, rumors spread that an important announcement would be made the next day. "I will kill myself if we surrender. Will you join me?" asked the second lieutenant, who took care of Yoshikawa as if he were his younger brother. He could not refuse on the spot, and promised to meet behind the inner sanctuary of a Shinto shrine next to the place where they worked.

The next day, Yoshikawa went to work wearing white clothes to substitute for a white burial outfit. Although he entered the grounds of the shrine, his legs became weak and paralyzed as the faces of his parents came to mind and he did not make it to the meeting place.

There was a sudden commotion on the premises of the shrine, after listening to the radio broadcast of Emperor Showa's announcement of the end of the war. Yoshikawa ran to find the second lieutenant lying on the ground. He collapsed in tears and clung to his friend, but was torn away by the military police. Only later was he informed of the death of his superior, and the suicide of two other officers.

After the war, Yoshikawa established a sheet-metal company, and was fortunate to have children and grandchildren. However, he could not get over the fact that he "betrayed" the second lieutenant by failing to go to the meeting place, and did not dare visit the shrine. Neither did he actively talk about his experience in the war.

This year Yoshikawa was finally able to visit what remains of the bunker and the shrine, and offered his prayers. "The second lieutenant was only 21 and had dreamed of becoming a marine engineer. I can only imagine the kind of life that was waiting for him, if the foolish war had ended a lot earlier," he said. Now as he looks back on his own life, Yoshikawa commented that he has lived life to the fullest.

(Japanese original by Hideto Okazaki, Osaka City News Department)

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