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Date: Saturday, 26 May 1945
Place: Bansei Air Base, Fukiagehama, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan
Photographer: Unknown Asahi Shimbun cameraman
Photo shows Corporal Yukio Araki (age 17 years old) holding a puppy with four other young men (age 18 and years old) of the 72nd Shinbu Corps around him. An Asahi Shimbun cameraman took this photo on the day before the departure of the 72nd Shinbu Corps from Bansei Air Base for their Kamikaze (Divine Wind) mission in Okinawa. Yukio Araki died at the age of 17 years and 2 months in a suicide attack on American ships near Okinawa on May 27, 1945. Almost all Army kamikaze pilots during the Okinawan campaign were between 17 and 22 (Muranaga 1989, 12). The guides at the Chiran Peace Museum emphasize that the youngest kamikaze pilot was only 17 years old! Yukio Araki grew up in the small city of Kiryu in Gunma Prefecture, and as a child he loved model airplanes and won first prize in a contest to keep a model plane aloft for the longest time. He volunteered for the Army's Youth Pilot Training Program at the age of 15. In September 1943, he went to Tachiarai Air Base in Fukuoka Prefecture for six months of basic training, and at graduation he received the highest award for outstanding achievement, skill, and attitude. After graduation, he transferred to nearby Metabaru Air Base in Saga Prefecture for a couple of months of flight training, and he then went to Pyongyang, Korea, in May 1944 for training in a squadron assigned to fly Army Type 99 assault planes (Mitsubishi K-51s). In about February 1945, all men in Araki's 23rd Rensei Flight Squadron in Pyongyang volunteered to make suicide attacks. In the latter part of March, the men flew to Kakamigahara Air Base in Gifu Prefecture so their Type 99 assault planes could be outfitted for kamikaze attacks. During this stay at Kakamigahara, Araki's unit was renamed the 72nd Shinbu Squadron, and Araki had the opportunity on April 5 to take the train to Gifu Prefecture for a final overnight visit to his family. Although details related to his joining the Army's special attack corps and its plans for suicide attacks were supposed to be secret, his older brother and probably his parents guessed by his words that this would be his last visit. He gave three separate letters to his parents, older brother, and three younger brothers to be opened after announcement of his death. After Yukio returned to Gifu Prefecture, his older brother came alone to the air base there to visit him one last time. After the Type 99 assault planes had been converted for suicide attacks, the twelve young men of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron returned to Korea to wait for orders. On April 21, 1945, they received orders to proceed to Nanking, China, probably due to confusion in the military command at the time. One pilot lost his life and another was injured in China when American P-51 fighters attacked them. Orders came on May 5 to proceed back north to Metabaru Air Base in Saga Prefecture (where Araki had flight training in 1944), so the ten remaining pilots returned first to Pyongyang to make the planes ready. On May 17, they reached Metabaru to await further orders. On May 25, the 72nd Shinbu Squadron flew from Metabaru to the Army's secret Bansei Air Base, located at the southern tip of Kyushu, Japan's southernmost main island. On May 26, a photographer from the Asahi Shimbun took the now famous photo of Araki holding a puppy with four other members of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron around him. In the early morning of May 27, Araki wrote his last letter to his family, and soon after the ten planes took off from Bansei but one developed engine trouble so the pilot had to return. Six of the nine members of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron who continued on toward Okinawa were teenagers. That day the Japanese Navy and Army sent 175 kamikaze planes in total against Allied ships off Okinawa. Based on Mori's research of U.S. Navy records and examination of photographs, he concludes that two Type 99 assault planes of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron caused damage to the destroyer Braine, which lost 66 men killed and 78 men wounded (Warner 1982, 259-60). The 72nd Shinbu Squadron (第72振武隊 Dai Nanajūni Shinbu-tai?) of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force was formed on January 30, 1945 as the 113 Educational Flight Corps. On March 30 of the same year the unit gained its final name, the 72nd Shinbu Squadron. The Kamikaze (神風?, literally: "God wind"; common translation: "Divine wind"; official name: Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (特別攻撃隊?), Tokkō Tai (特攻隊?), or Tokkō (特攻?), were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy warships more effectively than was possible with conventional attacks. Numbers quoted vary, but at least 47 Allied vessels, from PT boats to escort carriers, were sunk by kamikaze attacks, and about 300 damaged. During World War II, nearly 4,000 kamikaze pilots were sacrificed. About 14% of kamikaze attacks managed to hit a ship.