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Henry Sakaida
Author and Researcher

Click For EnlargementAuthor of many books about Pacific aircraft and pilots in English. For those outside Japan, his books open a window to previously unknown pilots and history.

Tell us a little about yourself
I'm 49 years old and manager of a wholesale nursery in Los Angeles County. It is a family owned business started by my dad in 1960. I am not a full time writer at all! Fortunately, I have a day job!

I have written the following books: Winged Samurai (1985, out of print), Pacific Air Combats WWII - Voices From The Past (1993, out of print); Siege of Rabaul (in print); and the two Osprey aces series Imperial Japanese Navy Aces and Japanese Army Air Force Aces.

I was born in Santa Monica, California October 1951, but lived in Japan from the age of 3 to 5. My dad was divorced, couldn't take care of 3 boys, and shipped us off to Japan until he could get re-established. So I attended kindergarten there. I would sometimes accompany my grandfather into town so that he could buy cigarettes, and I remembered seeing one-armed, or one-legged veterans in tattered military clothing begging on the streets.

Are any of your relatives WWII Veterans?
None of my family members or even remote relatives served in WWII. My dad was born here in California and my grandparents were farmers. My stepmother was born in Japan. My dad was in the Manzanar Relocation Camp during the war while my step mom lived in Hiroshima, out in the country. When the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, my dad lost a sister who was an army nurse. My step mom and grandparents lived out in the country, so they were not really affected by the atomic bomb.

How did you become interested in WWII?
I became interested in WWII combat aviation when I was in grammar school. I used to buy and build plastic model airplane kits...and when I got tired of them, blew them up or set them on fire (like all my friends!). I became interested in the men who flew them rather than the planes themselves. I loved the Japanese Zero, but never could find any information on the pilots until I picked up a copy of Saburo Sakai's Samurai! by Saburo Sakai and Martin Caidin in the 7th grade.

About that time, I found a copy of Fighter Aces by Raymond F. Toliver and Trevor Constable. For a long time I became interested in German aces too! I was so enthused with Fighter Aces that I sent a complimentary letter to the publisher, who forwarded it to Col. Toliver. This was in 1966. Col. Toliver responded, and it was simply a great thrill to receive a letter from the author! I told him about my interest in Japanese aces and he encouraged me to research and dig deeper. We communicated frequently and when I learned to drive, I would visit him at his home in Encino, California.

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Talk about your research with Japanese veterans
The one thing American historians have difficulty in is establishing communication with Japanese pilots and historians. The big obstacle is the language barrier. Secondly, it's cultural. Unless you have been formally introduced, you are a stranger. So when they receive letters, written in English, from some stranger here in the U.S., they usually do not respond. The letter almost always ask some sort of favor (recollections, signed photos, etc.) and they feel no obligation to oblige because they don't know you.

They do not like to be put on a pedestal and they are very modest. The reason why I have been successful is because I have been doing research since I was 13 and I am 49 today! They know of my reputation. I have met them and they have spoken well of me, so they have opened up to me. I am not a stranger to them. But I had to work at it!

Saburo SakaiI became friends with Saburo Sakai in 1971 when I was invited to meet him and other Japanese Zero pilots at NAS Miramar. The American Fighter Aces Association had invited the Zero Fighter Pilots Association to the US for a golf game. Col. Ray Toliver told me about it and invited me to attend, which I did! I met Sakai and another Zero pilot. I started corresponding with the other pilot, who introduced me to other Zero pilots when I visited Japan in 1975 and 1980.

The Zero pilots asked me to research the combats they were involved in (who their opposition was, who shot them down, etc.) I became hooked! They would tell their comrades about me, so they became familiar with my name. I even got a letter of recommendation from General Minoru Genda and the Zero Fighter Pilots Association. That really opened doors for me.

What role does source material play in your research?
The Japanese pilots rarely kept their logbooks and other documents. At the end of the war, there was a rumor that US Occupation Forces planned to execute fighter pilots in retribution, so they burned their logbooks, letters, photos, etc. Many unit records also went up in flames. We, on the other hand, have kept all of our records, and most are found at the National Archives, or at the USAF Historical Research Center at Maxwell AFB. Plus, the pilots themselves have kept their logbooks, and squadron scrapbooks. And the various air group associations have published memory books, etc.

I also became involved in returning Japanese military battlefield pickups. I've returned signed flags, an Army officers sword belt, a pilot's life jacket, photo albums, post cards and letters, etc. The pilots really appreciated what I was doing and told their friends about me. So in this fashion, I established goodwill.

How did you become interested in the history of Rabaul?
I became interested in Rabaul because Rabaul was where all the JNAF action was! It was known as the "Graveyard of Fighter Pilots." Almost all of the famous aces fought there at one time or another. I became interested in the story of Rabaul's Last Air Force through Mike Kawato's book Flight Into Conquest. He was a bogus ace who claimed 19 kills, including that of Pappy Boyington. It's all a myth. He had 1.25 kills in WWII. Kawato was a member of the Last Air Force. Intriguing story! I loved the idea of a small band of pilots continuing the air war against all odds! The engineers and mechanics cannibalized wrecks and made "new" fighters out of them! Hollywood couldn't top this!

Tell about some of your other completed projects
I wrote the Osprey series of books because I wanted to do it! They paid well also! But it was alot of work! And every time I finished, I swore "Never again! Not another book!" But I'm hooked on writing. I NEVER write under a deadline!!! I had enough of deadlines in high school yearbook staff! So I would start the book and when I am 99% finished, then I would sign the contract! When they ask "When are we getting the manuscript and photos?" I would respond, "When I am finished with them!!" No deadlines, no pressure. B-29 Hunters deals with the JAAF pilots who opposed the B-29s. I have a co-author who helped me with this book and his name is Koji Takaki.

I finished writing another book, Genda's Blade: 343 Kokutai Japan's Squadron of Aces, the elite JNAF Shiden-Kai "George" air group organized and led by Capt Minoru Genda, the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack. The Luftwaffe had the all jet equipped (ME-262) JV-44 led by M/Gen Adolf Galland, and known as the "Squadron of Experts." The 343 Kokutai was the Japanese equivalent! Lots of aces were concentrated in the 343 Kokutai and they were equipped solely with the N1K2-J Shiden-Kai, the latest and hottest JNAF fighter. We have selected CLASSIC PUBLICATIONS to publish it.

Please share with us a bit about any upcoming projects
Co-author Barrett Tillman and I hope to get the History Channel interested in the LBJ Silver Star Myth. In 1964, Martin Caidin and Ed Hymoff came out with a book about LBJ and his combat career, in the book The Mission. Lyndon B. Johnson was awarded the Silver Star for volunteering on a combat mission to bomb the Japanese base at Lae, New Guinea. Unfortunately, they aborted! They were never shot at, but LBJ got the Silver Star anyway! Caidin and Hymoff didn't realize that it was a myth, and that two participants had lied to them! And they never received cooperation from LBJ because it was an election year and LBJ feared a smear job by the two authors. So the two authors did the best they could under the circumstances. I exploded this myth in 1985 when I published Winged Samurai but my book wasn't exactly a best seller, so very very few people knew about this myth! Then CNN got a hold of the story recently and they were flabbergasted!

I would like to see Hollywood come out with a movie about B-29 crews and their combats over Japan and about Pappy Boyington (the real story). For those interested in Pappy Boyington, I suggest Blacksheep One by Bruce Gamble. I helped out. It gives a balanced presentation of the USMC air war with the JNAF over Rabaul and the Solomons. Most war histories are one-sided. Bruce covered both sides.

Thank you Mr. Sakaida for the interview
Henry Sakaida's Published Books

Last Updated
July 15, 2012

 

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