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'I'm gonna get killed': Battleship Yamato engineer, 91, lectures on the horrors of war

Mikio Sadamori provides details on the Battle of Leyte Gulf, at his home in the Hiroshima Prefecture town of Sera, on Dec. 15, 2018. (Mainichi/ Yuta Kumamoto)

SERA, Hiroshima -- "Wars leave hell in your heart for the rest of your life," stated a 91-year-old man who was involved in the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf, during World War II, while on board the Japanese battleship Yamato as a combat engineer.

Mikio Sadamori survived the naval battle in the Philippines, considered to have been the largest in history. He began to convey his hellish experiences at lectures and on other occasions from the age of 90. For Sadamori, remembering those lost is like offering prayers.

The former combat engineer, 17 at the time, was given an order to man his battle station on the Yamato before dawn on Oct. 23, 1944. Sadamori's duties included repairing the ship's body and electrical facilities damaged in combat or in attacks from carrier-based aircraft, as well as extinguishing fires.

After completing his tasks on that day, the young man waited for new orders in a small room with two others. He heard the main gun open fire and noticed that the battle had begun. Sadamori recalled his laid-back attitude and of thinking, "It's so lively," whilst listening to the sounds of anti-aircraft guns and machine guns.

But at that moment, Sadamori was blown away into darkness by a roaring blast of hot air. "I'm gonna get killed," he remembered feeling. The young man was seized by fear of death as he experienced heat and pain all over his body. The enemy's bomb had smashed through the upper deck and exploded in a lower deck several meters down, killing three people in the next room. Sadamori desperately moved his shaking body and pushed forward with his mission to repair the damaged electrical system.

He previously believed without a doubt that it was honorable to die for the country and felt proud to have been stationed on the Yamato. But his feelings drastically changed after his first battle experience. The 91-year-old recalled thinking at the time, "I can't stand anymore wars," and never wanted to man a station again.

But the war continued. Even though Sadamori feared death, his body automatically moved when given orders. The former combat engineer explained, "Even if there was a cliff right in front of my eyes, I would have proceeded forward and not cared about my life if given a command to advance." This was because of the way he was educated. There was nowhere to run and the man just prayed that no bombs would fall.

Sadamori says that about 30 people died on the Yamato within three days of the start of the battle. There was even a comrade who was blown into pieces. The Japanese patriotic song "Umi Yukaba" was played during the victims' burial at sea. Sadamori felt a surge of sadness, loneliness, and emotions that words couldn't describe upon witnessing the scene. "I can immediately recall the mischievous faces and voices of my comrades even though 70 years have passed -- and the terror I felt at the time," commented the 91-year-old.

Sadamori was assigned off the Yamato on March 25, 1945, shortly before the ship was sunk in battle. He became a training instructor and educated new combat engineers in the Hiroshima Prefecture city of Kure, the Yamato's homeport. The man finally felt a sense of freedom from his superiors' commands a few days after the war ended when he caught an eel in a river, as fishing had been restricted at the site previously due to military secrets.

After World War II, Sadamori worked as a police officer and head of a temple and its branches. He felt uncomfortable about bringing back the memories of his experiences on the battlefield and kept them to himself for a long time. But upon losing his wife on the verge of turning 90, Sadamori began to often recollect such memories. The former combat engineer is still horrified when remembering his past experiences. However, "as a witness of history," he feels the need to tell his story when asked.

(Japanese original by Yuta Kumamoto, Hiroshima Bureau)

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