Your article “Death Before Dishonor” [by Jon Guttman, January 2020] was very good. I was surprised you didn’t mention SS John Burke, a Liberty ship hit by a kamikaze on Dec. 28, 1944. An ammo ship, it was obliterated when struck. My father, Lt. Thomas J. Woods, was an officer aboard LST-395 when Burke was hit. He told us about how rough that particular convoy run was and about the Burke explosion. Two of his men were hit by debris when it exploded. You can watch a video of the attack on YouTube.
Just info only and a tribute to the men of SS John Burke, so they will not be forgotten.
Editor responds: Unfortunately, given space limitations, we couldn’t expound on every ship struck and/or sunk by kamikazes—something better left to a book-length examination. That said, it is worth relating the story of SS John Burke, one of three Liberty ships sunk by kamikazes during the war. In December 1944 it was one of 100 ships in the Uncle Plus 15 convoy sent from Guam to support landing operations on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. On the morning of December 28, hours after having left the Leyte Gulf, the convoy came under attack from a flight of six Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter planes flown by kamikaze pilots, one of whom crashed his aircraft into Burke’s munitions-packed cargo holds. The resulting blast was among the largest nonnuclear explosions ever recorded. Burke’s 40 merchant mariners and 28 naval armed guards were killed outright, and the explosion severely damaged several nearby ships. It must have been a devastating sight when its cargo went up, particularly given the loss of so many men in that split second. The rest of the Uncle Plus 15 convoy reached Mindoro two days later.
You reference a number of kamikaze pilots by name. How do you know who the pilots were?
Jon Guttman responds: Among other present-day sources is the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, in Kagoshima Prefecture, while a plaque in Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine lists the names of 5,843 kamikazes who died attacking Allied shipping during World War II. Another plaque commemorates the pilots thus: The suicide operators, incomparable in their tragic bravery, struck terror in their foes and engulfed the entire country in tears of gratitude for their outstanding loyalty and selfless service.
Given the “sacred” nature of the missions, kamikaze units recorded the names of its pilots on scrolls for future enshrinement. In many cases officers aboard the Allied ships the kamikazes hit preserved their remains with some sort of documentation to enable intelligence officers to determine their identities. The crews of the U.S. aircraft carrier Enterprise, battleship Missouri and at least one of the escort carriers, among other vessels, ceremoniously committed the remains of kamikaze pilots to the sea.
Still another source of deductive identification has been derived from poetry the suicide airmen wrote before embarking on their missions (a practice often performed during formal acts of seppuku), discovered among the papers of their units after the war.
[Re. “The Fight for the 14th Colony,” by Dana Benner, January 2020:] Nova Scotians are proud to consider themselves the 14th American colony and have some reason for that claim, although the Crown colony of Jamaica actually predates the Treaty of Paris by eight years. That treaty also established two other British colonies in North America: East and West Florida. (As a sixth generation Floridian, I tend to be a bit touchy about the Floridas being ignored in discussions of the American Revolution.) Which of these four was actually the 14th, 15th, 16th or 17th is open to debate. Certainly one—West Florida—was the 14th to be conquered during that war by hostile forces. It was seized by the Spanish in 1782.
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