The Last Banzai
August 14, 1945, began as usual. Mt. Fuji rose majestically to the South and an air strike launched from the carriers of Task Force 38. Our ship, USS Southerland, DD 743, was on “Watchdog” picket station with three other destroyers between the fleet and the Japanese mainland. Our job was to screen for any “bogeys” following our returning planes and shoot them down with our four combat air patrol planes (CAP).
The Japanese accepted UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER before our planes reached their targets so they dropped the ordinance in the ocean and headed back to us while we were vectored back to the fleet.
At around 1300, all ships shifted radio frequencies to listen to Admiral Halsey’s “Well Done” speech to the fleet. At about that time, our radar team spotted a bogey that was missed by our CAP (a communication mishap). I was listening to Halsey’s speech in the crew quarters when the “GQ” alarm (General Quarters) sounded.
I rushed up the ladder to my battle station as a gunner on a fantail twin 20mm machine gun. The Banzai had closed, heading for our bridge. We joined a sister ship to hit it with 5-inch and 40mm rounds. He lost control, and as I arrived at my battle station, I watched as he glided down and splashed about 30 yards from our fantail. We were close enough to see the white scarf and determined expression of the pilot as he went down. Close call for me but worse for the pilot, who died after the war was over.
On August 28, our ship was honored to lead the Fleet Parade into Tokyo Bay.