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Operation Vengeance: 56 Down

Posted on December 13, 2010

Operation Vengeance: 56 Down, ©MMX

For a time, Isoroku Yamamoto (山本 五十六), ruled the Pacific. As Naval Marshal General and the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, Yamamoto was the Empire’s greatest weapon. For hundreds of years the united nation of Japan had stifled and romanticized the glory days of war and honor when swords were not merely symbols of stature. If Japan was the scabbard, then Yamamoto was the blade. Despite inferior numbers, supplies and technology, Yamamoto stacked victory upon victory; a warrior in a warrior’s time.

And so in a world at war, FDR put out a hit on one man.

“Operation Vengeance” was what they called it. The “sneak-attack” on Pearl Harbor still hung heavy in the heart of the United States. Revenge is rarely named for what it is. “Operation Vengeance” was born out of desire rather than strategy (think of the “hunt for bin Laden”). The United States had broken the Japanese broadcast codes long before and had worked carefully to keep the Japanese unaware. A high-profile assassination of could destroy this tactical advantage.

On April 18, 1943, Easter Sunday and the first anniversary of the  Doolittle Raid, a large group of specially outfitted P-38 Lightnings took off from Guadalcanal. They made contact with Yamaoto’s escort group over Buin. The Betty bomber carrying Japan’s most precious asset was shot down and crashed into jungle below. Upon returning to base, the words”I got Yamaoto” lit up the Allied radio: Mission Accomplished.

The Japanese quickly began searching for the body of their Commander. What they discovered was a mythic, epic and fitting end. Yamamoto’s flight chair was thrown from the wreckage and sat upright and intact under a tree; Sidhartha on the battlefield. The Commander sat, his head bowed as if meditating on his own death. His white gloved hand still clutching his katana.

The warrior’s purpose is found in death; Yamamoto was the true last samurai. Canonized as the modern Benkei of myth and lore, Yamamoto sacrificed everything for his country. With only scabbard and hilt in hand; blade shattered and lost, there was to be no recovery for Japan.

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Isoroku Yamamoto’s nickname and code prefix “56” referred to the literal reading of his given name

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