Friday, June 21, 2013

Douglasville's World War II Submarine

This column first appeared in the Douglas County Sentinel on March 24, 2013....

I've been researching and writing about Douglas County history for a couple of years now, and I'm always amazed regarding what I discover. Folks ask me how I come up with the things I write about, and my answer is always the same.

Douglas County was and is an amazing place!
Most of the time my subject matter simply falls in my lap. Something I read spurs me to write, something someone says, something a reader sends me, and sometimes my writing begins with just a photograph.

The other day I came across a picture of a captured Japanese submarine on the back of a truck being carried through the middle of Villa Rica. I realized that if the submarine was being driven through Villa Rica the chances of it being driven through Douglasville were very high.
Intrigued I decided to dig a little deeper.

I knew the time period for the picture was 1943, so I wanted to pour over the Sentinel issues archived at the library. Unfortunately, the microfilm copies for 1940-1943 are missing, so I turned to the Internet for the rest of the story.
During the early morning of December 7, 1941 it wasn’t just Japanese aircraft bearing down on Pearl Harbor. Five midget submarines were also launched from the Japanese fleet as well.

The submarine that eventually made its way through Villa Rica and Douglasville was 78 feet long and carried the designation of HA-19. There was just enough room for two men – Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki and Chief Warrant Officer Hiyoshi Inagaki.
There were problems with the submarine as soon as it hit the water. At one point it nearly sank. When the men were finally forced to surface, the submarine was spotted by a U.S. patrol, and our men began tracking it.

Sakamaki and Inagaki finally decided to scuttle the submarine and make for shore. Explosives were rigged to destroy the craft in case the men had to abandon it, but when there was no explosion Sakamaki swam down underneath the submarine to determine the problem. He became unconscious from the lack of oxygen and washed ashore near Waimanalo Beach, Oahu.
When Sakamaki finally awoke he found himself the “guest” of the United States. In fact, he is recorded as the very first prisoner of war captured by the United States during World War II.

The submarine was salvaged by Navy and Army personnel, and for the remainder of the war it toured the country as part of a war bond drive. That’s how it ended up being carried through Villa Rica and Douglasville. 
The submarine served as a symbol – a reminder regarding how the United States entered the war and of our loss. The submarine ended up raising millions of dollars for the war effort.

Sakamaki’s name was stricken from Japanese records as if he never existed. He begged his U.S. captors to allow him to commit suicide, but of course, his request wasn’t granted. He spent the entire war on the U.S. mainland as prisoner of war, number one.
At the war’s end Sakamaki was released and returned to Japan where he refused to discuss the war. He eventually became an executive with the Toyota Motor Corporation and served as the president of its Brazilian subsidiary during the 1970s.

Sakamaki eventually wrote a memoir entitled I Attacked Pearl Harbor.
He was reunited with his submarine in 1991 when he traveled to Texas for a historical conference regarding the war. He reportedly cried.

I remain on the hunt for the missing newspaper articles and will keep you updated.
More about the submarine and a few more pictures here.

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