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An Incident of Respect

The battleship USS Missouri, commissioned in 1944, is famous as the site of the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender that ended World War II. Earlier, under the command of Captain William M. Callaghan, the ship had been attacked by a Japanese Zero piloted by a kamikaze attacker. On April 11, 1945, the fighter plane came in at a low angle, as you can see in the image above, and crashed across the deck.

Even as antiaircraft fire hit the plane, the plane hit the ship. The ship’s baker, Len Schmidt, captured the terrifying millisecond right before impact on camera. An explosion could have killed hundreds. Instead, what foxhole converts call a miracle – historians call it wartime’s dumb luck – intervened: the bomb fell off the plane before impact. The hit barely made a dent, although it did start a gasoline fire. The Japanese pilot was the only casualty. Half his body fragmented, scattering on deck; the other half sank into the sea with his plane.

With the special fury sitting-duck sailors expressed for these flying suicide bombers, crew members prepared to wash their enemy’s body into the sea. Then in a decisive, life-defining, incredibly decent move, Captain Callaghan said “No.” He decided to see past the fearsome façade, and honor the fearlessness—and fealty—this boy demonstrated.  Callaghan ordered that the body be brought to sick bay “and we'll have a burial for him tomorrow.”

Callaghan explained to his crew that they were not honoring the enemy, but instead a fellow warrior who had done his duty and given his life for his country. Read about the incident and the funeral at sea at The Daily Beast. -via Metafilter


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