Have you ever heard the story of Commander 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) of the 大日本帝国海軍 (Imperial Japanese Navy) who, during World War 2, was the captain of the Japanese naval destroyer 「雷」 (Ikazuchi)? (The name “Ikazuchi“, by the way, is an uncommon pronunciation for “thunder” in Japanese).
How about Sir Sam Falle who was a sailor on the destroyer, HMS Encounter of the English Royal Navy, during World War 2?
Just like most people, you probably aren’t familiar with either.
I recently watched a special about their story on TV. It’s an amazing story about Sir Sam Falle and Commander 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU), who lived by 武士道 (the Way Of The Samurai).
The story began in early March 1942. The HMS Encounter and the US Navy ship, the USS Pope were sunk after a heavy battle with the Japanese Navy.
442 survivors of those two ships were left floating in the Java Sea with no realistic chance of rescue by the allies (who weren’t in the area). One of those survivors was Sam Falle.
There weren’t enough life boats for all of the men, so most were holding onto the boats or debris and floating in the fuel drenched sea. Many got oil in their eyes and couldn’t see.
After the men of the HMS Encounter and USS Pope had been floating for over twenty hours and were close to death, the Japanese destroyer 雷 (Ikazuchi) entered the Java Sea.
The 雷 (Ikazuchi) was on high-alert and the sailors onboard were at their battlestations because the area was known to be heavily populated with enemy (re: Allied) submarines that could torpedo and sink the ship.
When the stranded Allied sailors initially saw the destroyer, they thought it was a friendly ship and began to wave madly to make their presence seen. But once they realized that it was a Japanese warship, they were certain they were doomed.
When the sailor on lookout watch onboard the 雷 (Ikazuchi) saw the American and English sailors in the water, he informed the ship’s captain, Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU).
The commander knew that they must have been the survivors of the sea battle the day before. And much to his crew’s surprise, he ordered a rescue operation!
He was informed that in order to rescue them all, almost all ship’s crew would be required to help…which would take men off of submarine watch and from manned guns. And also it require a great deal of the ship’s fuel…if an enemy ship approached, they might not have enough fuel for evasive battle measures.
On top of that, he was informed, taking onboard all of those additional sailors would more space, medicine and food than they had onboard.
Despite all of this, Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) believed that even in war, there are moral rules to live by. And he repeated his order to rescue each and every man from the sea.
Sir Sam Falle was surprised and moved that the crew of the 雷 (Ikazuchi) rescued them and gave them their medicine and food.
After the war was over and Sam Falle was living back in England, he still could never forget about the kindness of Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) and he wanted to travel to Japan to meet him again and thank him in person.
The only problem was that shortly after that incident, Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) was transferred to command another ship…and the Japanese naval destroyer 「雷」 (Ikazuchi) was sunk in battle and all of the sailors onboard died.
Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) never spoke of the war or his experience (even about the rescue operation). Some people think this was because he felt bad about the sinking of his former ship and the deaths of his former shipmates.
Because Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) never spoke of his experiences, it was difficult for Sir Sam Falle to locate him.
It wasn’t until Sam Falle wrote a book (titled “My Lucky Life“) about his experiences in WW2 (including, of course, the rescue operation in the Java Sea by the Japanese destroyer) and the book was translated into Japanese that fate stepped in.
A former Japanese crewman of 雷 (Ikazuchi) who was part of the rescue operation (but had also transferred before the ship sunk) contacted Sir Sam Falle and they met in 2003.
At the meeting, Sir Sam Falle told the Japanese sailor (whose name is Shunzo TAGAMI) about his desire to meet Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) and thank him in person.
In 2004, Mr. Tagami told Sam Falle that he was finally able to find out about Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU). He had unfortunately died of cancer in 1979.
After Mr. Tagami was finally able to find the grave of Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU) in 埼玉県川口市 (Kawaguchi, Saitama), Sir Sam Falle was able to come to Japan and pay respects at the grave of Cmdr. 工藤俊作 (Shunsaku KUDOU)…on December 7, 2008. Just a few days ago!