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INTERVIEW | Masamitsu Yoshioka, 105, on What Happened In the Skies Over Honolulu

Masamitsu Yoshioka, 105, is the last survivor of those who attacked Pearl Harbor. He talks about cheating death and the lives lost on both sides of the War.



Masamitsu Yoshioka with his bomber, 1941. (© JAPAN Forward)

Masamitsu Yoshioka was one of the select group chosen to launch a daring first strike against American naval power in the Pacific in December of 1941. As the navigator of a Nakajima "Kate" torpedo bomber, Yoshioka helped sink the USS Utah, moored at her berth in Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. Events that day also set in motion the bloody Pacific War.

Read part one: Masamitsu Yoshioka, 105, One of the Chosen Few at Pearl Harbor

In May of 2023, I met Yoshioka, who is now the last surviving veteran of the Pearl Harbor raid. He is 105 years old but remembers his time as a navigator in the Imperial Japanese Navy with lucid clarity. Moreover, he is a living treasure, a man who made history. This is part two of his story.

Masamitsu Yoshioka and Dr Jason Morgan shake hands at the end of the interview. (May 2023, © JAPAN Forward)

Yoshioka's First Carrier Takeoff: December 8, 1941

"We trained endlessly through August, September, October, and November of 1941," Yoshioka recalls. "All torpedoes, level-bombing, where the angle has to be just right.

"But when we took off from the Soryu that early morning with our torpedo on board," Yoshioka continues, "it was the first time we had ever carried out such a thing. In terms of launching planes from the carrier , the whole operation was envisioned first through calculations — weight, distance, speed, and so forth."

The torpedoing was also almost experimental.

"Despite all of our training, we got only one practice run with a real torpedo," Yoshioka recalls.

"Torpedoes are expensive, so the one we used in training had a warhead filled with water instead of explosives. Once one crew had dropped their payload and the torpedo had hit its target, the torpedo was fished up and used for the next group."

As pre-dawn on December 8 sketched faint pewter grays along the edge of the graphite-colored sky, Yoshioka and others on board the Soryu began to put into practice all that they had trained for.

"The seas were heavy and rough that morning," Yoshioka recalls, "with a stiff wind coming in from the east. People on deck were leaning hard into it.


"We choked up the engines so that the rear end of the plane rose, poised to go. Full throttle. When the time came we released the brakes and the plane leapt forward, gaining speed.

"Still, as the planes took off, they dropped about two meters off the end of the deck and only then started to climb. We took off into the darkness. The horizon was just barely discernible."

It was the first time Yoshioka had ever taken off from a carrier deck.

Interview with Masamitsu Yoshioka. (© JAPAN Forward

Honolulu on the Radio

Taking off in turbulent conditions on a virgin run with an 800-kilogram payload was just one of many difficulties to be overcome that day. Another was finding Oahu. The planes and the ships maintained strict radio silence. Navigators would have to locate Pearl Harbor with skill and luck.

"We flew for approximately two hundred and twenty nautical miles, about an hour and fifty minutes," Yoshioka says.

Dawn broke.

"There were thick, white cumulus clouds at about fifteen hundred to two thousand meters, cloud cover about eighty percent. I could see the chop on the ocean through breaks in the clouds. It was that weather all the way to Hawaii."

Yoshioka tells me that before taking off from the carrier, the navigators checked a bulletin board marked with the present location of the ship. From that and the time and distance, Yoshioka says, he used maps to find his way to the target. But he wasn't entirely without help along the way.

"A new technology had come online for us around that August," Yoshioka continues, "a radio direction finder. I switched it on en route and heard music and people talking, a radio station from Honolulu. We had the device to allow us to follow radio signals from the base and find our way back during training. But during the war of course we had to maintain radio silence, so it was thought to be useless. On the way to Pearl Harbor, though, I switched it on and the meter needle went straight up. We were right on track."

Yoshioka switched the direction finder back off and continued on course. The next sight he would see, apart from the clouds and the sea, would be waves breaking beneath him as he and his crew crossed over the beach on Oahu.

Masamitsu Yoshioka in 1941. (© Masamitsu Yoshioka, also © JAPAN Forward)

Surviving the Deadliest War

Masamitsu Yoshioka survived the Pearl Harbor attack. He also fought across the China theater, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. Miraculously, he emerged from the deadliest war in human history virtually unscathed.

Yoshioka's carrier, the Soryu, was sunk at the Battle of Midway in June of 1942. It was a little more than half a year after the daring daylight attack on Pearl Harbor. However, Yoshioka had been ordered home on leave at that time, and so was safely on the Japanese home islands.


He was also on Peleliu, but came down with malaria and left that tiny Pacific islet for Cebu, in the Philippines, departing just before the United States Navy started shelling it. And, later, Marines stormed its beaches. Yoshioka had cheated death again.

During one mission, he recalls, cannon fire from an enemy plane hit his aircraft laterally. He was leaning forward at that moment, checking his instruments, when the hot metal came tearing through the cabin. Yoshioka was untouched. The straight-line hail of bullets also passed in front of and behind both the pilot and the radio operator/rear gunner. One bullet struck a fuel tank in the wing—but it was empty.

"Had the bullet hit the other tank," Yoshioka remembers, "it probably would have exploded."

Also from the interview with Masamitsu Yoshioka in May 2023. (© JAPAN Forward)

There to Hear the Showa Emperor's Broadcast

At the end of the war, Yoshioka was with a naval air detachment at Hyakurigahara, in Ibaraki. The Tokkotai ("kamikaze") attacks had started, but there were no parts for the planes. Yoshioka, grounded, lived to hear the Showa Emperor's surrender broadcast on the radio.

Later, Yoshioka went on to work with the Maritime Self-Defense Force after the war. He worked at private commercial firms as well. The man who expected to die in the air above Pearl Harbor in early December of 1941 sat down at a table with me — an American working for JAPAN Forward — in May of 2023.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii (via Wikimedia images)

'I Would Like to Pay Them My Deepest Respect'

As he recalls the hard fighting he did as a young man more than three-quarters of a century ago, Yoshioka suddenly looks down. His voice also lowers and a pained expression clouds his face.

"We were trained to attack ships," he says. "The order came down to hit battleships, and we did. Nobody ever told us to go out and kill. That was never our mission.

"But now I think of the men who were on board those ships we torpedoed. I think of the people who died because of me. They were young men, just like we were. I am so sorry about it; I hope there will not be any more wars."

Next, I ask Yoshioka if he ever returned to Hawaii after December of 1941.

"Never," he says.

"America at all?" I follow up.



His time in the air over Oahu was the first and last he ever saw of United States territory.

I then ask if he has ever thought about visiting Pearl Harbor. He wonders how he would be received. But I say that he would be welcomed most warmly.

"I don't know… I wouldn't know what to say."

He pauses.

"Yes," Yoshioka continues after reflecting a bit. "If I could go, I would like to. I would like to visit the graves of the men who died. [And] I would like to pay them my deepest respect."

Yasukuni Shrine. (©JAPAN Forward)

The Last of a Chosen Few

Of the some seven hundred and seventy men who descended on the island of Oahu that early December day of 1941, Masamitsu Yoshioka is the last one who lives to talk about it.

I ask if he thinks often about Pearl Harbor. "Sometimes," he replies. He tells me he has been to Yasukuni Shrine to pray for the repose of the souls of his friends and all who lost their lives in the fighting.

As for the United States today, Yoshioka expresses his wish that the United States and Japan would cooperate more and more closely.

"It's very important," Yoshioka stresses. He also says that he is grateful to the United States for its help after the war. Yet, he acknowledges that the United States has recently been changing. He seems somewhat unsure about what lies ahead.

As for what lies behind, however, the actions of brave men alone remain. Masamitsu Yoshioka is a living treasure. He represents a challenge to a deleterious world order, a salient, launched from a fleet of warships, so bold that it takes the breath away even today. Long after Yoshioka has gone to meet his fellows on the other side of Yasukuni, his and their deeds will live on, untarnished.

As the interview ends, I rise from my seat and Yoshioka rises from his. We stand side by side. We shake hands.


The hand I hold is the hand that released one of the torpedoes that struck the battleship Utah during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The hand I hold helped start World War II in the Pacific.

We look at each other and begin to smile.


Author: Jason Morgan

Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.

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