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Poems by kamikaze pilot who died in WWII remind brother war must never be repeated

Hisao Yamashita is seen before he was sent on a suicide mission, in this photo provided by his family.
Naoaki Yamashita looks at photos of his brother Hisao, who died on a kamikaze mission, in the Hyogo Prefecture city of Shiso in western Japan, on Aug. 3, 2019. (Mainichi/Hideto Okazaki)

SHISO, Hyogo -- Poems by a kamikaze pilot who died while on a mission during World War II, describing not only his confrontation with death but his feelings for his family, continue to serve as a reminder to his younger brother that the tragedy of war must never be repeated.

Naoaki Yamashita, 76, grew up in a farming household located in what is now the city of Tatsuno in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan. He was named by his brother Hisao, who was about 20 years older than him.

Hisao had entered the Kansai University preparatory school. He was studious and devoted to his family, and his parents were proud of him. But as the war worsened, the temporary exemption from conscription for students in humanities courses was scrapped, and Hisao was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Navy in December 1943. He became a member of the kamikaze special attack unit at the Kokubu No. 2 Air Base in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kagoshima, and left for Okinawa on a mission in an Aichi D3A Type 99 Carrier Bomber on April 28, 1945, but never returned. He was aged 22 at the time of his death.

Naoaki Yamashita, who was aged just 2 at the time, knows his older brother only from photos of him. After the war, whenever the shutters rattled with the wind and rain at night, he remembers his mother saying, "Hisao might have come back." For a long time, his older brother remained a source of grief for his family.

Before leaving on his final attack mission, Hisao wrote about 180 short poems, and Naoaki decided that he wanted to leave what his brother wrote to future generations. Finding more time in his life after passing the age of 60, Naoaki compiled the poems and letters his brother had sent to his family in 2006 into a posthumous collection titled "Waga Inochi Sora ni Hatsuru tomo" (My life, though vanished into the skies, published at his own expense.

The final poem in the collection revealed Hisao's thoughts about sacrificing his own life:

-- As a special attack member / My life will be spent / Like a large burning flame / Dyeing the sea

But several days before departing, Hisao also wrote poems describing his feelings for his family:

-- While eating chocolate / I am saddened by the thought that / I can no longer see my brothers

-- With a scarf handmade by his mother / Wrapped around his neck / A son that is about to die / How happy I am

Naoaki Yamashita laments the position that his brother was left in.

"The country forced promising young people to die recklessly through its strategy of suicide missions. That's how far it pressured the people," he says. Now Naoaki can only imagine what true feelings his brother had. But he wants future generations to read the poems that his brother wrote.

"Why did such a war occur? Those who are alive now must think about this," he says.

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

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