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Brothers, 97 and 99, share sorrow, regret for WWII kamikaze soldiers in 'last message'

From left, Tadamasa Iwai and Tadakuma Iwai are seen at the talk at Waseda University in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Tamami Kawakami)
A replica of a manned suicide torpedo is seen in this file photo from July 24, 2006. (Mainichi/Toshiki Inoue)

TOKYO -- Two brothers who were mobilized as students to become kamikaze suicide soldiers during the Pacific conflict in World War II came together at Waseda University in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Nov. 9 to pass on their "last message" to the youth of today.

Tadamasa Iwai, 99, and Tadakuma Iwai, 97, convened to give a lecture for the first and perhaps the last time. They live far from each other, with one a resident of Tokyo and the other of Shiga Prefecture, western Japan.

Born in Kumamoto, southwestern Japan, they are the fifth and sixth sons among 10 siblings. Tadamasa studied at Keio University, while Tadakuma enrolled at Kyoto Imperial University, now Kyoto University. Both entered the Imperial Japanese Navy in December 1943 when they were still students.

With the war continuing to go badly for Japan, Tadamasa joined a unit of human torpedo suicide vessel pilots and suicide divers. Tadakuma was made commander of a fleet of boats, which were loaded with gunpowder and sailed into enemy vessels.

While riding a steam train to visit their ancestors' graves ahead of joining the military, the pair talked and reached the conclusion that they didn't expect both of them would return home alive. Although this didn't come to pass, both of them had brushes with death while serving in the military.

When Tadakuma was boarding a ship mobilized for naval use, it was attacked by U.S. forces. Amid the commotion, he was thrown out to sea and drifted in the water for around three hours. When Tadamasa was training as a suicide diver on the seabed, he fainted from a lack of oxygen.

Despite their hardships, both survived the war, but many young men lost their lives as kamikaze soldiers, leaving behind their last letters and messages. "There are many courageous words written in those messages. There are certainly people who would be moved by reading something that says, "I will die with joy." But, I want to say to those people: wait," Tadamasa told the audience.

The idea for holding the event came from a conversation Tadamasa had with his daughter. She had been to a war memorial exhibit which was displaying the records of kamikaze soldiers, when she came upon the last writings by young men who died in the war. She said that it "felt like the men were educated, but still died believing in those emotions."

But when she spoke to Tadamasa about it, he told her that there had been inspections of the letters soldiers sent at the time, and that some would write that way so as not to hurt their families, or to encourage themselves. It was then that she urged him to tell people the reality of those messages.

In an attempt to serve as a voice for the men in those battalions whose lives were lost, Tadamasa spoke emphatically at the event: "They didn't want to die. But even if it seemed terrible (to die), they thought it would sadden their family to know they had been killed, so they tried to get them to think they were happy in death. On top of that, they had to try and encourage themselves. It was a way of soothing or inspiring oneself, by telling themselves that they weren't going to die for nothing. This has to be understood. It was terrible for those people."

At the time Tadamasa was privately critical of the war. He wanted so much to escape from the Imperial Navy, where his superiors would beat him almost every day, that he resolved to join a kamikaze unit. "Had I written a last message, mine would have sounded like the others' did, too," he confided.

Tadamasa Iwai, center, and Tadakuma Iwai, right, are seen being approached by members of the audience after their talk at Waseda University in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Nov. 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Tamami Kawakami)

Lastly, when asked by the hosts at the university what they would like to tell the young people of today, both men expressed regret. Tadakuma said, "When we ask, what can we do to ensure that we don't repeat an event like the war? It's what young adults and students do that changes the future. For that reason, I want you all to learn from history."

Tadamasa said, "Despite knowing in the back of my mind that I thought the war was a mistake, I kept silent, and entered the kamikaze unit. I had resolved to die. But why didn't I resolve to die opposing the war? I was compliant with the attitude of the time.

"Do not follow my example. That's what I want to leave with the young people today."

(Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami, City News Department)

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