Despite the numerous published testaments, photographs, and films that depict smiling pilots saluting or waving goodbye as they take off on their final mission, a rare description of the night before departure tells a very different story. It occurs in a letter written on June 21, 1995, by Kasuga Takeo, who was eighty-six years old at the time, addressed to Umezawa Shōzō.Kasuga was drafted and assigned to look after the meals, laundry, room cleaning, and other daily tasks for the tokkōtai pilots at the Tsuchiura Naval Air Base. He describes the night before their final flights:
At the hall where their farewell parties were held, the young student officers drank cold sake the night before their flight. Some gulped the sake in one swallow; others kept gulping down [a large amount].
The whole place turned to mayhem. Some broke hanging light bulbs with their swords. Some lifted chairs to break the windows and tore white tablecloths. A mixture of military songs and curses filled the air. While some shouted in rage, others cried aloud. It was their last night of life.
They thought of their parents, their faces and images, lovers’ faces and their smiles, a sad farewell to their fiancées—all went through their minds like a running-horse lantern [a rapidly revolving lantern with many pictures on it].
Although they were supposedly ready to sacrifice their precious youth the next morning for imperial Japan and for the emperor, they were torn beyond what words can express—some putting their heads on the table, some writing their wills, some folding their hands in meditation, some leaving the hall, and some dancing in a frenzy while breaking flower vases.
They all took off wearing the rising sun headband the next morning. But this scene of utter desperation has hardly been reported. I observed it with my own eyes, as I took care of their daily life, which consisted of incredibly strenuous training, coupled with cruel and torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine.