Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Saburo Sakai
The Last Samurai

Saburo Sakai   Serious Business. Saburo as a Sergeant Pilot in China

JNAF   Lieutenant

Saburo Sakai was born August 16th 1916 in the farming village of Nishiyoka in the Saga prefecture on Kyushu island, Japan. He came from a family descended from a long line of Samurai, Japan's ancient warrior class. Taught to live by the code of Bushido (Hagakure - the code of the Samurai), which meant serving the lords of Saga and living your life prepared to die. Sakai, the third born of four sons, had 3 sisters. His father died when he was eleven leaving his mother alone to raise seven children on a one acre farm. He had an uncle that worked for the Ministry of Communications who offered to adopt him and provide for a better education. Sakai was not prepared for the change however because although he was always at the top of his class back home, his new school proved to be out of his league. As education was always taken very seriously in Japan, he quickly became the "black sheep" of his new class. This brought shame to the family and his uncle was very disappointed. Saburo spent that whole summer studying trying to catch up but it was futile. He began hanging around with kids his uncle did not approve of and picking fights with larger boys. Yes, young Saburo Sakai was beginning to make his mark as a fighter. Unfortunately, his school was not as impressed as I am and they sent a note to his uncle who quickly sent him home in disgrace. This brought great shame not only to Saburo and his family but also to the entire village. "I knew that I had to leave my village. I could not stay there any longer so I enlisted in the navy when I was sixteen. This was in May 1933. I reported to Sasebo Naval Base for training, which was about ninety kilometers from my village, but far enough away for me."
As hard as life was growing up a fatherless boy under the code of Hagakure, it was not hard enough to prepare him for the brutality of his basic training. Recruits were severely beaten with rattan sticks for the slightest perceived infractions. "I remember sometimes passing out from the blows. The body and mind can take only so much punishment". When a recruit passed out they'd throw cold water on him to revive him. It was not uncommon for the petty officers to drag a man from his bunk in the middle of the night and throw the beats on him. If any man cried out he was given more "discipline". Said Sakai - "We were to suffer in silence. Period". Peer pressure was considered the best medicine for correcting "mistakes" so when one recruit screwed up they all paid. "Although there were some who were sadistic, there was a method in all of this madness. It made us tough as nails, and in battle this is often the decisive factor. After the first six months we were completely automated in our manner. We dared not, or even thought about questioning orders or authority, no matter how ridiculous the order". Saburo soon (but probably not soon enough) graduated from basic training and was assigned to the battleship Kirishima as a turret gunner. The treatment there was no better. Wanting to raise his status in life, Saburo studied long and hard and in 1935 he passed the Naval Gunnery School entrance exam. After which he was assigned to the battleship Haruna as petty officer 3rd class."This ship had sixteen-inch guns, the largest in the world at that time; this class of battleship would only be surpassed by the Yamato and Musashi, and all the world knew we had the best great ships."

Sakai speaks of the flight school recruiting process: "there were three ways to enter flight school in the early days. Remember that the recruiting method in the time before 1941 was very different than after we were at war with your country. The need for pilots caused the quality to drop steeply as the war went on. However, in 1937 when I was selected, there were three ways to get in: Officers graduating from the Naval Academy at Eta Jima, petty officers from the fleet, and young men recruited from the schools who would start their careers as pilots, similar to your ROTC program today. Pilot selection was very strict; the men chosen in 1937 when I was selected were a different breed. The men selected to fly in 1944-45 would not have been qualified to even pump fuel into my aircraft at this time, if that shows you how select the program was. I remember that 1,500 men had applied for training, and seventy had been selected that year. I was one of them, and all were non-commissioned officers from the fleet. This does not include the ensigns coming from the academy; they had their own selection process. That year I do not believe any civilian recruits were chosen, but that would change as the war with America continued. I was twenty years old; I knew that my acceptance into flight school dismissed my previous dishonor, and my uncle and family were so proud of me. The entire village was proud of me. I knew this was my greatest and last chance, and when I reported to Tsuchiura, I knew this was a completely different world."
In 1936 he began flight training. After graduation, "We had additional training in land and aircraft carrier landings at the Naval bases of Oita and Omura in Kyushu, and instrument flying was stressed heavily. This cannot be underestimated, for it saved my life in 1942 I can tell you. This training lasted three months, although I never flew from a carrier during the war. Then I was sent to Formosa (Taiwan) where we had a base at Kaohsiung. Then I was sent to southeastern China and in May 1938 I had my first combat."
Rising Sun by Robert Taylor
Rising Sun by Robert Taylor
On December 8, 1941, only hours after Pearl Harbor, Sakai flew one of 45 Zero’s from Tainan Squadron that attacked Clark airfield in the Philippines. "We started our day at 0200 hours. Our take off was ordered by the commander Saito, but a fog came in and we were delayed. We stayed with our planes waiting, and had breakfast. We received the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Aleutians, and we wondered if the Americans would be expecting us during our attack. Finally at 1000 we were ordered to take off. The mission started badly when a bomber crashed on take-off killing all of the crew. We took off and reached 19,000 feet when I saw a formation of American bombers coming towards our airfield. The Americans always had great reconnaissance and knew where we were. Our orders as the top fighter cover were to attack any aircraft coming towards the base, so we attacked and allowed the others to continue on. Then we saw that these planes were Japanese Army bombers on a routing flight, and no one had informed the navy that they were coming or even in the area. This was almost tragic. We reformed and continued on. When we arrived over Clark Field we were amazed that we had not been intercepted, although there were five American fighters below us who did not attack, and we could not; our orders were to not engage until all of our bombers were in the area. I was also amazed that all of the American planes were in perfect alignment for an attack, and we strafed and bombed, and thoroughly destroyed everything. After the bombers destroyed the base I saw two B- 17s and went into a strafing attack. We had already dropped our empty external fuel tanks, and we swept in with guns blazing. My two wing men and I shot them up, and as we pulled out the five P-40s we had seen jumped us. This was my first combat against Americans, and I shot down one. We had destroyed four in the air and thirty-five on the ground. This was my third air victory, and the first American, but not the last. I flew missions the next day, and the weather was terrible, a rainstorm that blinded us. The third day was 10 December and we had twenty-seven fighters on this sweep, and this was when I caught a B-17 that was flown by Captain Colin P. Kelly. This was the first B-17 shot down during the war."
The Legend of Colin Kelly, by Robert Taylor
The Legend of Colin Kelly by Robert Taylor
Japan destroyed most of the Allied Air Force in the Pacific in just a few months and Sakai’s Tainan Squadron became known for destroying the most Allied planes in the history of Japanese military aviation. On August 7, 1942, 18 Zeroes received the order to attack Guadalcanal (see bottom of page). The range from Rabaul was 560 miles, barely within the range of the Zero fighters.Sakai shot down 3 F4F's in this battle and then found 8 enemy planes in the distance, which he presumed to be F4F’s as well ... he was wrong.
They were SBD Dauntless dive-bombers, with eager rear machine gunners. Sakai's Zero became a target for 16 guns. Never the less, Sakai shot down 3 SBD’s before being hit in the forehead by a bullet which almost blinded his right eye and left him somewhat paralyzed. He survived, flying 4 hours and almost 600 miles back to Rabaul. He barely had eyesight but was able to land his plane. By the time he landed, his gas tank was empty.
Saburo Sakai   Lucky (?) to be Alive
Saburo's Surprise by Marii Chernev
Saburo's Surprise by Marii Chernev

Sakai resumed flying air combat, but his bad eye sight got him into trouble. On June 24 1944, he approached 15 planes that he thought were Zeros, but were U.S. Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters. In a high-flying chase that has become legendary, Sakai eluded every single attack from 15 Hellcats for over 20 minutes, returning to base untouched.
Now that's something to smile about !
Sakai during the "Glory days"

Here's an interesting story ...
Several years ago, a former Dutch military nurse contacted the Japanese Military, attempting to locate a Japanese fighter pilot that spared her life over New Guinea in 1942. She was flying in a Dutch military C-47 at low altitude over dense jungle. On board were 11 wounded soldiers and 6 children being evacuated from a combat area. Suddenly, a Japanese Zero appeared alongside the plane. It is not hard to imagine their panic as she and the children began frantically waving, hoping to ward off an attack. After a few moments of terror, the Zero pilot waved back, gave a quick wing wobble and flew away. The C-47 erupted with cheers.
For over fifty years, this Dutch nurse wanted to meet the pilot who had spared their lives. The Japanese Military located that pilot and it was none other than Saburo Sakai, who had been flying combat air patrol on that day. Sakai had thought about downing the C-47 for a moment as was the order of the day, but seeing the waving hands and terrified faces, he was moved to mercy.
Here's how Saburo tells it in one of his last interviews which can be read by following a link at the bottom of this page:
"It was me. That was in the Dutch East Indies. This was during the bombing of Java. The order was to shoot down any aircraft over Java. I was over Java and had just shot down an enemy aircraft when I saw a big black aircraft coming towards me. I saw that it was a civilian aircraft - a DC-4. As I flew closer I saw that it was full of passengers. Some were even having to stand. I thought that these might be important people fleeing, so I signaled to the pilot to follow me. The pilot of the aircraft was courageous enough not to follow me so I came down and got much closer. Through one of the round windows I saw a blonde woman, a mother with a child about three years old. So I thought I shouldn't kill them. As a child I went to a middle school for two years, a school I was later expelled from. While I was there I was taught by an American, Mr. Martin, and his wife came to the class to teach us while her husband or the other teachers were away. She was good to me. And that woman in the airplane looked like Mrs. Martin. So I thought that I shouldn't kill them. So I flew ahead of the pilot and signaled him to go ahead. Then the people in the plane saluted. The pilot saluted me and the passengers. I didn't know where it went: either to the United States or Australia. I couldn't find out. But a few years ago I came to find out where that plane went - back to Holland. Newspapermen from Holland came to visit me to find out if it was true. Well, anyway, I didn't respect my orders that day but I still think I did the right thing. I was ordered to shoot down any aircraft, but I couldn't live with myself doing that. I believed that we should fight a war against soldiers; not civilians."

After 7 years and some 200 combat missions resulting in an estimated 64 (some sources go as low as 20) kills, Saburo Sakai flew his last one on August 17, 1945. (Japan surrendered August 14, 1945) "I had a chance to combat the B-29 formations, and I must say that their speed and altitude were incredible, and their defensive fire was very accurate and heavy. I assisted in the destruction of one bomber that crashed in the ocean. This mission was launched after we were ordered to stand down and surrender, so it never went into the official records, but the USAF records recorded the loss over Tokyo Bay.
Saburo Sakai was indeed an Ace, downing 64 Allied aircraft, and most of all, never losing a wingman in over 200 missions. He experienced injuries, but always brought his aircraft home. After WWII, Sakai’s writings described the cruel reality of war and combat. Starting from his book "Samurai", he kept writing and lecturing on leadership based on his experience.
On September 22nd, 2000, he attended a party at the American Atsugi Military base. He had dinner, but felt sick and was taken to the Hospital. During various examinations, Sakai asked the Doctor "May I sleep now?" and his Doctor responded "Yes, you can sleep while we proceed". Saburo Sakai closed his eyes and never opened them again. Japan’s legendary Ace had died at the age of 84.
Saburo Sakai   Not Amused
Saburo Sakai - Never Give Up !
Saburo, not too amused

To the right is Saburo's autograph (left side of image) and Motto (on the right) as painted by him. The Motto reads roughly :
                    "Never give up"
Saburo Sakai

Saburo Sakai - August 16, 1916 - September 22, 2000

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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