The Tale of Saburō Sakai

“When the war of the giants is over the wars of the pygmies will begin.” —Sir Winston Churchill

In a Nutshell

One of the most famous pilots from World War II is a Japanese man named Saburō Sakai. He was one of the highest ranking Japanese pilots to survive the war and underwent an incredible battle for survival during the conflict. In August of 1942, Sakai was shot in the face by a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) bullet that entered the right side of his skull and passed through his brain. He survived, continued flying, and survived the war.

The Whole Bushel

After Japan and the United States entered into war, Sakai and the Tainan Air Group were given the task of defending Japanese airspace over the Pacific. Sakai is credited with shooting down the first American B-17 during the Pacific War, an aircraft flown by Captain Colin P. Kelly.

On August 7, 1942, Allied forces landed on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida in an attempt to disrupt Japanese supply routes. During this time, Sakai was given the task of flying offensive missions over the islands. On his first mission, Sakai was shot in the head by a large bullet. The wound left him blind in the right eye and temporarily paralyzed on the left side of his body. After being shot, Sakai’s plane started to fall toward the sea, but he was able to gain control and fly back to his base on Rabaul, a flight that took four-hours, 47-minutes and covered 1,040 km (640 mi). After landing safely on his second attempt, Sakai insisted on giving his mission report before being treated at the hospital.

Sakai eventually recovered from his injuries, but lost vision in his right eye. Despite the damage, Sakai convinced his superiors to let him return to combat. He is one of only three pilots from his Japanese pre-war unit to survive the war. Sakai is credited with destroying or damaging more than 60 Allied planes.

After the war, Sakai became a Buddhist and vowed to never kill anything again, not even an insect. He harbored no animosity toward the Allies and criticized Emperor Hirohito’s role in World War II saying: “The closer you get to the emperor, the fuzzier everything gets.” In September of 2000, Saburō Sakai died of a heart attack following a U.S. Navy dinner in which he was an honored guest.

Show Me The Proof

New York Times: Saburō Sakai Obituary
Warbird Forum: Saburō Sakai
Military Images: Sakai’s Plane

  • Fameister

    Good story, and first.

    • It is quite amazing how many cool stories come out of the tragedies of war. War is a terrible thing but boy does it produce some incredible people.

      • Fameister

        There’s this book that talks about the POW in Japan. Some of the Japanese guards tried to help the prisoners escape. When WW2 ended, all the guards were rounded up, and tried for crimes against humanity (torturing prisoners) Some of the Japanese guards that made prison bearable for the prisoners ended up executed for doing nothing wrong. Just goes to show how the universe can be cruel. War can cause a lot of unfairness.

        • Yeah – and that’s just amongst those fighting. Don’t forget those indirectly involved (families of the soldiers, etc.)

  • Jan

    Ohh please Im not getting addicted to another site. Im late for work and I still have 6 tabs open!

    • Six? You should see my tabbar! I can’t even see the website icons anymore. This is becoming a daily problem!

    • Same here- just found this and I love it. I love listverse too.

  • inconspicuous detective

    what an incredible dude, and an interesting story. really well done, simple and effective.

  • Phil_42

    Interesting story, must say that I was most impressed about his being hosted by the US navy. Gave me a good feeling about humanity and how time can heal all wounds.

  • BryanJ

    The Story of Corrida

    After the outbreak of World War II, many people attempted to donate their pets to the war, but few were selected for service. Others wanted to keep their pets at home, but it became difficult to feed the animals and many died. In war-stricken areas, pets often ran away or were killed by fighting. Many cases exist of famous war animals, but few accounts have been published on influential pets that died during World War II.
    In 1932, a racehorse named Corrida was born in France and quickly impressed her breeder Marcel Boussac. She was a beautiful horse and by 1936 Corrida had bloomed into one of the most dominant horses in the world. She continually beat male competition and won France’s most prestigious race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, in 1936 and 1937. Corrida also captured many victories in Belgium, Germany, and England and is considered one of the greatest fillies of the 20th century.
    After her retirement from racing, Corrida was sent to a breeding farm in Lower Normandy, France. She was bred with the champion sire Tourbillon and produced Coaraze, who was a successful horse and won a number of races in Europe. During World War II, Corrida was housed in Normandy and wasn’t impacted by fighting until the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, which occurred in the wake of D-Day. The battle was waged in the middle of August, 1944, and resulted in the destruction of German forces west of the River Seine. During the fighting, Corrida ran away from the farm and was never heard from again.

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  • Saburō Sakai was a hell o a pilot but still he was japanese 😀 he had alot of courage..