Sunday, April 23, 2006
"You know," he said suddenly, "I think my greatest ambition has been to fly a fighter, not these trucks we go around in. It's funny," he mused, "we've been taking more and more punishment on our raids. Most of the men feel they'll never live to go home. I feel the same way."
"Yet," he turned to look at us, "I would be satisfied if there was one thing I could do."
We waited for him to continue. "I'd like to loop that truck I fly," he added. He grinned, "Can you picture that thing going around in a loop?"
One of the Zero pilots spoke up. "If I were you, I wouldn't try it," he said softly. "You'd never come out of a loop in one piece, even if you could get up and around into one."
"I suppose so," he replied. We watched him walk across the field and climb into the cockpit of a fighter, where he sat and studied the controls. At the time, we didn't know that all of us would remember this pilot for the rest of our lives.
(Two days later, the Zero pilots were escorting a group of Japanese Betty bombers on a mission.)
We saw a P-39 plunge with tremendous speed into the bomber formation, but could not move in time to disrupt the attack. One moment the sky was clear; the next the Airacobra was spitting shells into the last bomber in the flight. Then it rolled and dove beyond our range. The bomber streamed flame; the airplane seemed familiar as I closed in to watch. It was the same Mitsubishi which had landed at Lae; its pilot was the one with whom we had talked in the billet. The flames increased in fury as the bomber nosed down and skidded wildly. It lost altitude quickly, and seemed on the verge of going out of control. At 6,000 feet it was only a matter of seconds; the flames were engulfing the wings and fuselage.
Suddenly, still blazing fiercely, the nose lifted and the bomber went into a climb. I gaped at the plane in astonishment as its pilot started to draw a loop -- an impossible maneuver for the Betty. The pilot -- the same one who had told us he wished to loop in a fighter -- hauled her back and up. The bomber went up; hung on its nose in a half loop, and then burst into a seething ball of flame which blotted it out entirely.
The flaming mass fell. Just before it struck the ground a violent explosion shook the air as the fuel tanks went off.
(excerpted from Samurai! by Saburo Sakai with Martin Caidin and Fred Saito)
Moral One: Don't wait until we are "shot down." Go ahead and do it!
Moral Two: We are already shot down. Go ahead and do it!
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