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
I 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
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
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