Reviewed by Michaela Cross (Worcester State University)
A real and raw look into the Battle of Okinawa, told with a twist of humor and tragedy. This story documents the journey of the navy pilots of those who fought in the pacific in 1945; from flight school until their untimely deaths. Robert Gandt is a story teller who makes history sound like a summertime blockbuster hit. The Twilight Warriors follows a group of extremely young aviators as they graduate from flight training and enter into a brutal battle. Each chapter gives the reader a realistic description of the battle.
Okinawa was the most expensive naval battle in American history, but it is overshadowed by the fighting happening on land. The reader has little time to grow attached to each sailor and airman before their bitter death. Gandt informal writing focuses on background history of both the American and Japanese fighters. This leads the reader to understand both sides reason for fighting and to leave their bias behind. Grandt speaks of the exact warplane each pilot used, i.e. the Corsair, and the pilots every maneuver – good and bad.
Grandt wants the reader to understand that the Japanese were not these evil demonic people but a country desperate to protect their own. Gandt writes “Japan had one remaining potent weapon, and it was as ancient as the Japanese culture. What Ohnishi had in mind was a Special Attack Corps - dedicated unit of airmen who would crash their bomb-laden airplanes into American ships. The desperate strategy had a name – tokko”(p.11). The author goes on to define the word tokko – which he describes as “interchangeable with kamikaze.’
Gandt switches from the Japanese to American perspective of the war. He describes the American response to the battle tactic of the use Kamikaze as: “How did you defend yourself against an enemy who was determined to die? (p.28).”
Throughout the book we learn about both Japanese and American pilots. Kochini Nunoda was a tokko warrior – a kamikaze pilot. Grandt describes his suicide mission as a flawless performance, which seems to turn the battle into a deadly rendition of the Nutcracker. We briefly meet Ens. Donald “Mickey Mouse” Croy, who was a fighter pilot killed in a midair collision with the Japanese. The first name basis of the fighters connects the reader to military heroes as they would their favorite television character.
Robert Gandt really puts the reader into the era of World War II. The men who were fighting this war were young, eager, and determined to fight for their country. The author really puts the urge