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We Commit His Body To The Deep

by Nov 24, 2019

On this date,

April 12, in 1945, at midnight, aboard USS Missouri, Raid 29, which had faded, reappeared 32 miles out. It was downed by VFN minutes later. Raid 32 was picked up five minutes later, 47 miles out, but faded. Of four subsequent raids during the early morning hours, only one closed the formation to within seven miles as Condition I was set in the AA batteries. That aircraft turned away as ships in the formation fired. A VFN from the carrier USS Intrepid gave chase until 0230 when the attacking aircraft was lost to the Northeast. Prior to sunrise, the first CAP’s (Combat Air Patrols) were launched by the carriers, as air support strikes against Okinawa continued throughout the day.

At 0900, a military funeral was held for the Japanese pilot who crashed the ship the previous day.

That morning, in waters northeast of Okinawa, as attending members of ship’s company stood at attention and offered a hand salute, six pall bearers carried his flag-draped, canvas-shrouded remains to the rail, as the 5-man Marine rifle detail raised their weapons and fired the three-volley rifle salute, as the bugler played ”Taps”, and Senior Chaplain Commander Roland Faulk concluded with: “Commit his body to the deep”.

Fifty-four years later, standing at the rail, two members of Battleship Missouri Memorial’s volunteer tours staff, Kensuke Sato and Edwin Kawahara, both veterans of World War II - Sato a former Petty Officer in the Japanese Navy, survivor of the sinking of the battleship Musashi, and Kawahara, a witness to the December 7th attack and former US Army Lieutenant, 100th Battalion, Military Intelligence Service (MIS) interrogator and language instructor - stood side by side and asked themselves: “I wonder who the pilot was?”.

They later approached their supervisor, Marketing and Tours Director Lee Collins, and asked his permission to form a research committee to investigate the attack and burial; to gather available facts about those events, and, they hoped, to identify the pilot. Collins suggested the project proposal to Curatorial, and for the next seven years, the two veterans, along with Curatorial staff, former civilian defense worker, Tadafumi Sugiyama, and Tours staff Masaji Hasebe and others on occasion, gathered at 0900 in the Tours Office every Friday to review their current findings from the US and Japan.

In 2001, having gathered information sufficient to fully recognize the significance of the two events, the Committee members proposed to UMMA management a ceremony be held onboard, to draw attention to the historic event and to honor Captain Callaghan’s uncommon courage and compassion, and our shared humanity, even in times of war.

L to R; Tadafumi Sugiyama, Kensuke Sato and Edwin Kawahara

The ceremony, cautiously approved, was impacted by an inadvertent newswire translation that ignited a firestorm of controversy, as word spread that Battleship Missouri Memorial intended to host a memorial service in Pearl Harbor to all the Kamikaze pilots that attacked Allied shipping during the War.

That cloud of controversy still lingered even as the ceremony commenced on April 12, 2001, until Senator Daniel Inouye, keynote speaker for the ceremony, stepped to the podium and addressed those in attendance, saying:

“From the dawn of civilization, warriors usually respected their adversaries. It did not matter what side of the battle line you stood. There was an unspoken code among most warriors – a code of honor.

During our Revolutionary War, at the end of a major battle, the victor was accorded the honor of formally stepping forward to receive his adversary’s sword. It was a statement of victory, and a symbol of surrender. As part of this ritual, the vanquished would also be accorded the honors due his rank.

All civilized nations had such a ceremony or symbolism to indicate to one and all that war was not necessarily the final chapter or the last page in the life of their nation.

In the spirit of that tradition which has been carried out by our military leaders since the birth of our nation – whether George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, or Dwight Eisenhower – Captain William Callaghan demonstrated to one and all that our nation, while strong in battle, upholds an unwritten code of honor, and a common bond of humanity.

It is only when confronted with the powerful passion of war, as was Captain Callaghan, do we put the strength of our convictions to the test. Who is to truly know what went through the Captain’s mind as he stared at the broken body of his sworn enemy lying on his ship? What moved him to take the compassionate, yet unpopular, stand as he did? “

The Senator concluded that Captain William Callaghan “saw him not as an enemy, but simply as a man.”

Also invited to the ceremony were members of Captain Callaghan’s family, including his son, a retired Admiral, and family members of pilots that participated in the April 11th attack on the US Navy Task Force. (Not attending were family members of pilots Ishino or Ishii.)

For those from Japan, the ceremony was an opportunity to pay respects to Captain Callaghan, through his son and family members, and to visit the ship where one pilot among the many who died in the war far from home and waiting family members, had been treated with unexpected dignity and respect.

A couple of months after the ceremony, having mailed copies of the event program and news reports about the event to Sarah Callaghan, widow of Missouri’s former Captain, we received a letter of thanks and appreciation in which she expressed these feelings:

“I think all of those who knew Bill Callaghan would like to join in honoring his memory – his sterling character, wisdom, and most of all his love of God and his fellow man.”