ANGELES CITY - Seventy years since the first ever kamikaze unit for a war was organized in the Philippines, a Filipino man continues to promote his personal belief that the Japanese suicide attackers during World War II are noble warriors who deserve to be honored through various memorials.
Daniel Dizon, 84, said that despite the strong opposition he received from the time he co-founded the Kamikaze Memorial Society of the Philippines and initiated the erection of a kamikaze monument in the 1970s in his home province of Pampanga, north of Manila, his endeavor to honor the kamikaze pilots shall linger, even beyond his lifetime.
"I have already passed it on to my children," Dizon said of his Kamikaze Museum at his home in Angeles City in Pampanga, which he showed to Kyodo News one recent Sunday afternoon.
"My main purpose is to memorialize the kamikazes in their former airfields. At least, there, I succeeded, and of course, in explaining to students who come here, that we can learn a lesson or two from the loyalty of the kamikaze."
While Dizon had met some Japanese soldiers assigned in Pampanga while he was growing up, it was not until the mid-1960s, after he read a book about Japan's kamikaze force -- titled "The Divine Wind" and written by two former officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy -- that he began taking great interest in kamikaze pilots, which developed into a passion.
In 1941, Japanese forces invaded the Philippines, which was then a commonwealth under the protection of the United States, and occupied it until their defeat by the U.S.-led Allied forces in 1945.
When the U.S. forces returned to the Philippines in October 1944 to reclaim it from the Japanese, the Imperial Japanese Navy organized the very first kamikaze unit in Mabalacat, a town adjacent to Angeles, to carry out suicide attack missions against U.S. naval assets.
The first kamikaze sortie took off from the Mabalacat West Airfield on Oct. 21, 1944, but failed to locate targets. Four days later, one unit that took off from the Mabalacat East Airfield, led by Lt. Yukio Seki, finally hit U.S. targets in Leyte Gulf in the central Philippines.
"As you know, I have experienced the war. I have seen a lot of atrocities and the inhuman behavior of many Japanese soldiers. But when I read "The Divine Wind," it's so different. It is something that is deep, very deep. And it kept me awake nights after reading the book until, finally, I decided to do something for the memory of the kamikaze pilots," Dizon said.
"I saw them as personifications of the ancient samurai warriors of Japan, and not the ordinary soldiers who committed atrocities here. That alone prodded me to memorialize them, at least, in the area where they were organized, which is Mabalacat."
Describing the kamikaze attackers as "very noble" for their discipline and self-sacrifice, Dizon started not too long after reading the book to establish his home-based kamikaze museum, displaying, among others, a kamikaze pilot uniform, an anti-aircraft cannon, a machine gun, Japan's wartime flag and other items recovered from the airfields in Mabalacat, as well as from houses occupied before by Japanese soldiers.
He also displays his personal sketches of some known kamikaze pilots, and the text of a kamikaze pilot's letter to his daughter.
In 1974, the first kamikaze monument in the Philippines was built at the former site of the Mabalacat East Airfield on Dizon's initiative. But after the 1991 eruption of nearby Mt. Pinatubo completely buried it in ash, it was replaced in 2000 by a wall engraving the Philippine and Japanese flags.
Four years later, to mark the 60th anniversary of the organization of the kamikaze unit, a kamikaze pilot statue was unveiled in front of the wall.
At the Mabalacat West Airfield site, where a known kamikaze tunnel was also preserved, Dizon's efforts resulted in the construction of another memorial marker, unveiled also in 2004.
Dizon recalled most people were not happy with his advocacy, particularly because he started it at a time that the anti-Japanese sentiment was still high due to the Japanese soldiers' abuses during the occupation. He said it also initially bothered him because suicide is against the teachings of his Catholic faith.
Cognizant of the criticisms against him then up to now for publicly giving respect to Japan's wartime suicide attackers, Dizon could only hope that one day, his fellow Filipinos will also appreciate the core of the kamikaze fighters, which is their loyalty to their country.
"I tell them (students who visit the museum), if only we can do one-fourth of what the kamikaze have done in their loyalty to their country, the Philippines will be a greater country," he said.
But despite few Filipinos embracing his views and some even criticizing them, he expressed understanding, suggesting they are ignorant of the "whole story of the kamikaze," and vowed to "continue this endeavor because it's part of the history of this place."
"The kamikaze was organized here, and that's history. No other place on earth has that kind of opportunity in history," he said.
If anything, this is also only the value that Ricardo Jose, a history professor at the University of the Philippines, specializing on Philippine-Japan relations, sees in Dizon's efforts to memorialize the kamikaze pilots.
"Well, they can be considered noble, but only from the Japanese perspective. In this particular case, if we see it from Filipino eyes, they were fighting for their country. And at that time, we were fighting against Japan. So it has that kind of inconsistent ring to it, in the sense that, firstly, we don't even know who our heroes of the war are, and we hardly memorialize them," Jose said in a separate interview with Kyodo News.
For Jose, it would not be right to inculcate in the minds of Filipinos that the kamikaze pilots were noble fighters, even if, just like Dizon, he is also not optimistic about the acceptance of such concept by most Filipinos.
"We can say that what is relevant is that, if they were willing to die for their country, we should be willing to die for ours in the same way. But the Filipino mentality is not that kind of thing...We never really close our door on survival. So I don't think that that phenomenon strikes a common cord in the Philippines," Jose explained.
"We can understand them, yes. Maybe, we can appreciate them a little better. But to say that that's something to be inculcated in Filipinos, I don't think so," he said.
Regardless of the difference in views, Dizon stressed that ultimately, his advocacy provides valuable lessons from wartime.
"I think the war has something to do in forcing the kamikaze to do what they did. That's why I always think that in order to avoid these controversies, there should not be war anymore," he said.
"Actually, this museum of mine is antiwar. When you really come down to the very core of that, it's antiwar. If there was no war, there was no kamikaze."