Banzai • Murray Froelich

My name is Shin. It is 1941 and I live in Edo, Japan. I am 15 years old and my father is an officer in the military. I was born in 1925. It’s just my mom, my brother and me. My brother and I always fight. I’ve only seen my Dad once that I can remember. When he came home, he brought me a bamboo spear. He said, “One day you will need this.” Since then, I haven’t seen him.

My family has it pretty good because of my Dad’s rank in the military. Both of my parents were born in Edo. Growing up has been hard because I really don’t have good social skills. I only have one friend. His name is Akio. In school, I get good grades, but my teachers never compliment me.

Over the past few months, I have listened to the news more often. It says that relations with the United States and Japan are not looking good. I wonder what this means. On a better note, today is the day that I’m going to enlist in the military. This is such a great thing because my brother is really annoying me.

This morning, I packed all my things. I don’t have much, so there is room for my bamboo spear in the bag. At that moment, I recall my father’s words, “One day you will need this.”

After I arrive at training camp, I realize this is not going to be easy. Banzai training is one of the most strenuous programs in the entire Japanese military. “Banzai” is a Japanese battle cry. Historically, only a few of the Japanese soldiers were trained to be Banzais, so it was a great honor.

We are brutally trained. Our teachers kicked and sliced us with their spiked boots. They taught us expert hand-to-hand combat. We are also taught other methods of attacking, such as the Banzai Charge. To do so, a ton of men sneak up on the enemy and engage in hand-to-hand combat. An officer who is armed with a pistol and sword leads. The other men are armed with bolt-action rifles fitted with bayonets. The Banzai Charge is used as the last stand in battle.

The two results, or goals, of a Banzai Charge are to die and take as many enemy troops as possible, or to get the enemy’s provisions. All Japanese battalions need to be able to survive on their own. They must have a food source that sustains the entire battalion.

When we practice Banzai Charges, we do so in the early morning or late at night because that is when it would be done in live combat. The training is so brutal that all around me, my comrades commit suicide. I’ve lost so many of my fellow soldiers.

The day after my enlistment, we get the news. All the headlines read “Japan Bombs Pearl Harbor.” Everybody is terrified, because messing with the United States is like poking a sleeping lion with a short stick.

Meanwhile, the Empire of Japan is taking islands, getting closer and closer to Australia. Almost all of Japan’s ground forces are deployed to islands such as Guam, Thailand, Shanghai and Midway.

I am deployed to Saipan. In our camp, we hear rumors that the Allied Forces are coming. Those rumors are true.

On July 15, 1944, U.S. Marines storm the beaches of Saipan. I am currently located in an airbase that the U.S. has their eyes on. My comrades and I fight hard, but the Marines keep coming. Finally, my Captain calls a retreat and we move to Mount Tapochau, Saipan’s highest mountain. We hold out for such a long time, but our food supply is dwindling. The Allied Forces surround us. Eventually the Allied Forces take Mount Tapochau and we retreat to the north side of the island.

We hear news that the Japanese military might cut off our daily rations. We will have to survive on only our food source.

Sooner than later, we will be dead either from starvation or from the Marines killing us. So the Captain says we will do a Banzai Charge. This is going to be one of the biggest Banzai Charges in the history of Japan. On the night of the charge, our leading officer arms us with bolt-action rifles fitted with bayonets. I wish I was an officer because they get pistols and Samurai swords. I bring my bamboo spear.

It is 2:00 a.m. on July 8 and we are ready to fight. The plan is to run at the U.S.’s trenches and kill as many men as possible. If it weren’t for the motivation I have, I probably would have just surrendered. If a soldier dies in a Banzai Charge he is awarded 10,000 years in heaven. We all run at the trenches. You can hear the word “Banzai” being screamed by thousands of men. It is all over when the U.S. brings out their submachine guns. I am not in the front lines, but I can hear the rat-rat-rat-rat of the machine guns. As soon as that sound reached my ears I hit the ground in an army crawl position. A few seconds later the machine guns stop. They are reloading. I only have a few seconds. I load my rifle and aim for the nearest machine gun. Bang!!! This goes on for hours. Pretty soon the machine guns stop firing for good. We shot every machine gun operator.

We make it to the trenches. As I crawl into the first trench, I pull out my bamboo spear. I ran out of ammo. As I sprint around the bend, I see my first enemy. He only has a knife. He must have lost his gun in the chaos.

As I run up to him I level my spear. It is him or me. I know right as my spear point hits his skin that I have won this battle. A waterfall of red blood came flowing out of his body. I wonder what his family will feel when they get the news. I don’t know if it is right to steal this man’s knife, but I do it anyway. This is a matter of life or death.

I fight my way past ten men before two men corner me in a foxhole. I know that I can’t win this battle, but I will die trying. I come upon the first man like a tornado, jabbing with my spear and deflecting blows with my knife. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the other man flanking me. He is to close. Fast as a viper, he strikes. The last thing I see is a burst of blood from my chest.