Kamikaze shrines in Mabalacat draw Japanese tourists
MABALACAT CITY, Philippines—However they are regarded—as suicide bombers or brave young pilots—the kamikaze pilots of 70 years ago are now the link of this northern Pampanga city to present-day Japanese and to peace advocates.
Memorials for the World War II fighter pilots, collectively called kamikaze (divine wind), have become popular destinations for Japanese visitors to Mabalacat.
“They come in busloads and they stop by the airfields before they proceed to Baguio City,” Guy Hilbero, Mabalacat City tourism officer, said.
Pilot on pedestal
The Kamikaze East Airfield in Cacutud village was built by the local government in 1998. On a pedestal stands a life-size figure of a kamikaze pilot secured by a Torii gate. The site lies below the Mabalacat segment of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).
Hilbero said the spot was the “central frontage” of the first Japanese airfield during World War II.
Birth of the kamikaze
By 1944, the United States was retaking the Philippines after the Japanese invasion in 1942. The Japanese held the former Clark Air Base up to nearby Mabalacat, making the town the birthplace of the kamikaze fleet.
The east and west airfields share the same inscription: “Airfield where Kamikaze Special Attack Corps aircraft first took off in World War II.”
Written accounts gathered by the Mabalacat government said Vice Adm. Takijiro Ohnishi founded the kamikaze in the town on Oct. 20, 1944.
“The first to volunteer were the 23 fliers of the 201st Air Fleet Imperial Nippon Naval Air Force under Capt. Sakae Yamamoto then stationed at Mabalacat. The first kamikaze group was called the Shinpu Special Attack Corps under Lt. Yukio Seki. The corps was divided into four units: Shikisima unit, Yamato unit, Asahi unit and Yamazakura unit,” the accounts said.
According to the account of historian Daniel Dizon inscribed at the West Airfield, the Shikishima unit took off from the Mabalacat East Airfield at 7:25 a.m. on Oct. 25, 1944, and hit US targets near Tacloban in Leyte about four hours later.
“Lt. Seki hit first and sank the carrier USS St. Lo. His men also hit and heavily damaged the carriers USS Sangamon, USS Suwanee, USS Santee, USS White Plains, USS Kalinin Bay and USS Kitkun Bay. Some kamikaze pilots based in Cebu and Davao also joined in this successful attack,” the inscription said.
“Their initial success popularized kamikaze tactics to the majority of Japanese pilots in the Philippines, Taiwan, Okinawa and Japan,” it said.
The last kamikaze mission from the Mabalacat airfield, the account said, took off at 4:45 p.m. on Jan. 6, 1945, and attacked the US landing armada at Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan.
The memorial does not glorify the kamikaze pilots, Mabalacat Mayor Marino Morales said. “It serves as a reminder that the kamikaze phenomenon should never happen again,” he said.
Inside Clark, the local government built a monument to Capt. Colin Kelly, who led the first assaults on a Japanese ship after the bombing of Pearl Harbor at the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific.
In remembrance of these historical events, the local government declared Clark-Mabalacat City of World Peace in 1998 and installing later the statue of the Goddess of Mercy at Clark’s Lily Hill on what is now the Claro M. Recto Avenue.
The Mabalacat West Airfield, adjacent to the Clark firing range, was built by Clark Development Corp. and inaugurated in 2004. It is said that Seki took off from this area on Oct. 21, 1944. The site used to be an ammunitions dump.
Dizon said the first monument for the Kamikaze Corps was erected in 1974 at the east airfield. Lahar or volcanic sediments spewed by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 and washed down by rains buried the site.
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