As World War II drew to a close with imminent American victory, Japan's military planned its ultimate mission even as American forces were landing in Leyte. On October 19, 1944, Japanese Vice Admiral Takajiro Ohnisi arrived in Mabalacat and, meeting in the house of Marcos Santos, enjoined the naval air force soldiers of the 201st Air Group to sacrifice their lives for the glory of Japan through suicide attack units composed of "Zero aircraft fighters" and 250 kilogram bombs.
The way it was planned, the aircraft with the pilot on board was to crash-dive into an American carrier.Thus was born, in San Francisco, the "Kamikaze" (Divine Wind) suicide missions which took the lives of 1,228 brave young Japanese pilots by the end of the war. Colacirfa Hill (Dona Africa's Hill) in Tabun was turned into a Kamikaze command post .
The very first Kamikaze unit organized was known as Ohimpo, and to this unit belonged Japanese Lt. Yukio Seki. In the book The original choice had actually been Naval Academy graduate Naoshi Kanno, but he was away from Mabalacat. In his stead, Seki was nominated and after hearing his mission, he remained silent then said "You must let me do it".
The first kamikaze planes took off on 21 October 1944 from the Mabalacat West Airfield ( located in a place called Babangdapu, Tubigan.) Hampered by thick clouds, the planes returned only to regroup again on a lonely, dusty sugarcane field in Barangay Cacutud. Here, Lt. Seki, along with others, took off and headed for Leyte Gulf on October 25, 1944 at 7:25 a.m. for what was to be his last flight.
In an hour, Lt. Seki was dead, having crashed his plane on the American aircraft carrier , Saint Lo during the battle of Samos. He thus became the first Japanese kamikaze pilot to give up his life for his motherland. Before he made that fateful trip, he wrote: "Fall, my pupils, my cherry blossoms, just as I will fall in this service of our land".
American liberators assumed that the suicide planes were flying from Northern Luzon, but postwar interrogations of Japanese pilots revealed that they had, in fact, flown from Clark Field, thus making it appear they were attacking from the north. In all, kamikaze pilots sank 34 and damaged 288 warships, causing the loss of 5,000 American lives.
The Kamikaze Marker was erected in Barangay Cacutud in 1975 through the initiative of local historian-writer-painter Daniel H. Dizon. Partially buried in lahar in 1991, it was replaced with a new peace memorial, inaugurated in October 2001. In 1998, Mabalacat was declared a “City of World Peace” by the Great Buddhist Bishop, His Eminence, Ekan Ikeguchi in an effort to promote peace and goodwill between Japan and the Philippines. A 12-foot Buddha was donated by the Japanese people, and in return, a “Goddess of Peace Shrine” was established by the Mabalacat Tourism Office at the Lily Hill in Clark Field.
On October 24, 2004, a life-size fiberglass gold statue of an unnamed Kamikaze pilot was unveiled at the Japanese War Memorial, eliciting cries of outrage and disgust that saw print on national dailies. Local tourism official Guy Hilbero, the proponent of the controversial project, maintains that the statue “is not a memorial glorifying the Kamikaze pilots” but its aim is to promote peace “using the lessons of war”.
Concerned individuals think otherwise. Col. Rafael Estrada, 87, founder of the veterans group Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor says, “The site is where the Kamikazes were born. That is a historical fact. I have no problem with that, but to mark it with a full size statue of a Kamikaze pilot, is in my opinion, not right”.
Dr. Benito Legarda Jr., of the NHI said the denial of glorifying the pilots were hollow. “The purpose of the Kamikaze was precisely to prolong the war, our country’s occupation by a brutal and still unrepentant invader”. Legarda calls it a “monument to servility”. However, despite such misgivings and howls of disgust, there has been no organized protest against the statue. Hilbero maintains that the statue should be seen as a symbol…”a symbol for all that is wrong with the war. The point being that no one wins”.