He's a 93-year-old former fighter pilot for Japan, but Kazuo Odachi has one more highly unusual entry on his military resume. He was a kamikaze pilot and thus not supposed to survive World War II. But as the New York Times explains, Odachi did indeed survive and has begun telling his story of late, including in his book Memoirs of a Kamikaze. Odachi enlisted at age 17 when it seemed increasingly clear that Japan would lose the war. He makes clear that he didn't want to die but considered it an honor to sacrifice his life while protecting loved ones. "We were the same age as today's high school students and college freshmen," he says in an interview. "There wasn't a single person among us who would have decided on their own to die."
Odachi survived thanks to several close calls. At the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, he watched other kamikazes take off on their suicide missions, but US bombers began destroying his squadron's planes before he could take off. The following year, he flew several missions loaded down with a heavy bomb, the idea being that he would find a target and never return. But those targets never materialized, and he returned each time. Each new order "felt like the conferral of the death penalty, and it was stomach-turning," he writes in his book. Finally, he was beginning to take off on another mission when a ground crew member ran onto the runway and flagged him down to relay the news that Japan had surrendered and the war was over. (Read more kamikaze stories.)