One story, in particular, that caught my attention was that of the Tokkotai (an abbreviation for “Special Attack Unit”) pilots, also known to Americans as “Kamikaze”. I read the information boards on the deck of the ship and stood in awe looking at the pictures of the Japanese A6M “Zero” aircraft dive-bombing into the side of the USS Missouri. The famous picture was taken by the ship’s baker, Seamen Len Schmidt.
The incident occurred 10 days into the battle of Okinawa. The pilot, believed to be 19-year-old Setsuo Ishino, took off with 15 other pilots from their base at Kanoya. At noon, the USS Missouri is northeast of Okinawa and air defense is sounded as the “Zeke” is spotted on radar 7500 yards out. The Zeke loses altitude rapidly as Mighty Mo’s anti-aircraft fire hits. Miraculously, the pilot regains altitude and speeds through the gunfire, managing to strike the side of Mighty Mo. Fire erupts and debris is sent flying on deck. After the attack, the crew clears the deck of the aircraft’s remains and discovers the pilot’s body among the wreckage.
As Mighty Mo’s seamen were about to wash the enemy body overboard, Captain William M. Callaghan, Missouri’s commanding officer, orders the ship’s medical team to prepare the body for a burial at sea.
The body was draped with a Japanese flag sewn by Missouri crew and carried on deck. The crew gathered and offered a hand salute as the Marine rifles aim their weapons skyward to render a salute over the pilot’s remains. Senior Chaplain, Commander Roland Faulk concludes the ceremony by saying, “We command his body to the deep,” and his body is dropped into the ocean.