Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Burial At Sea

An unusual war story, from 72 years ago . . . 

April 11, 1945.  The U.S.S. Missouri, the largest American battleship, was offshore Okinawa, providing support for the fleet and troops ashore.  American forces had landed on the island on April 1.  Before the battle ended in mid-June, 12,000 Americans and 75,000 Japanese would be dead.  Five thousand of the U.S. dead were from the Navy which had been subject to unrelenting kamikaze attacks by Japanese pilots on suicide missions.

At noon on April 11, radar spotted a "Zeke" (Japanese Zero aircraft), nearing Missouri.  The pilot is believed to be 19-year old Setsuo Ishino or Kenkichi Ishii, volunteers given rudimentary pilot training, sitting wedged between two 550-pound bombs.  Hit by anti-aircraft fire, the Zeke seemed to falter, then picked up speed before hitting the side of the battleship, with much of its wreckage ending up on Missouri's deck, though it fortunately caused no American casualties.  While cleaning up and pushing the wreckage into the sea, sailors came across the body of the pilot.  About to push the remains into the sea, the sailors were halted by the Missouri's commanding officer, Captain William M Callaghan. Callaghan ordered the ship's medical team to prepare the body for burial.  A Japanese flag was sewn, placed over the body, and the following day the Japanese pilot was given a formal burial at sea with a salute from the American crew who the pilot had been trying to kill the prior day.

You can see photos of the incident below:

On April 12, 2001 a memorial service was held aboard Missouri at Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the funeral for the remains of the pilot found on the ship. . The memorial service attendees included retired Admiral William Callaghan, Jr., son of Missouri's Captain Callaghan, and two relatives of 5th Kemmu Squadron pilots other than Ishii and Ishino, who also died in battle on April 11, 1945.

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