Saburo Sakai and Harold Jones

I'll be trying a "new" and "exciting" technique here sometimes referred to as "Tarintino-ing it". So I apologize if this comes out dumb as shit.

In 1982, Japanese fighter ace Saburo Sakai met with a man named Harold "Lew" Jones for Memorial Day. They seemed to hit it off quite well. Inspiring, considering that 40 years earlier, they were duty bound to hate the shit out of one another.

Saburo Sakai, looking like a villain, but also fantastic.

Saburo Sakai, looking like a villain, but also fantastic.

Harold "Lew" Jones, looking like a suave Florida bumpkin, which he was.

Harold "Lew" Jones, looking like a suave Florida bumpkin, which he was.

Image from PacificWrecks.org, who I understand keeps a rather large library of donated private photographs. I wish them and their collection well.

Image from PacificWrecks.org, who I understand keeps a rather large library of donated private photographs. I wish them and their collection well.

Now, I will be true to my word, and back us up 40 years. The previous time these two men met was August 7th, 1942, over Guadalcanal. Sakai, in his Zero, was flying out to intercept what he thought to be a flight of F4F Wildcat fighters. The Wildcat was a fine plane, but the A6M2 Zero was a hell of a hard target for even a group of them. Sakai spotted a flight of 8 American naval planes in formation, and moved in to engage.

An F4F, for reference

An F4F, for reference

However, Sakai had misidentified his target. These were not fighters, but SBDs. For those of you that don't know, the SBD (Scout Bomber, Douglas) was a dive bomber that featured a twin .30 caliber machine gun turret covering the rear arc.

This plane is also sexy. But not as sexy as the F6, not being featured in this story, sadly.

This plane is also sexy. But not as sexy as the F6, not being featured in this story, sadly.

Sakai realized his error only when he pulled close enough to prompt the tail gunners to open up. Among these gunners was Harold Jones. Jones later described watching pieces of Sakai's Zero go flying, including bits of the canopy. He also said he caught a glimpse of what was most likely a dead pilot, slumped back in the chair as the Zero tipped upward, apparently out of control. And then it was gone. Jones's squad finished their mission and returned home.

In his short engagement of the bombers, Sakai had absolutely riddled Jones's plane with bullet and cannon rounds, and a medical team had actually run out, anticipating that they'd be pulling a dead tail gunner from the damaged plane once the SBD was landed. But Jones was fine. Well, as much as someone who had just stared down a Zero and also a dead Zero pilot could be, anyways.

Side Note: Based on the accounts I have reviewed, I can't promise that it was Jones that scored the "killing" shot on Sakai's Zero, but it's just as likely him as any of the other 7 bombers.

Meanwhile, Saburo Sakai was *not* fine. One of the gunner's rounds had pierced his canopy, and also his head. According to his account of the incident, he was in extreme pain, and wanted to die. In addition, he received chastisement and also apparently navigation help from a hallucination of his mother. After a 4+ hour flight back home, he touched down as safely as someone with a gunshot wound to the head could touch down in a damaged Zero.

The picture's kind of grainy, and he looks more dazed than anything here. But part of that is because he stopped some of the bleeding with his silk scarf earlier. Combat pilots are a practical type.

The picture's kind of grainy, and he looks more dazed than anything here. But part of that is because he stopped some of the bleeding with his silk scarf earlier. Combat pilots are a practical type.

Sakai survived his injuries, against considerable odds. Before accepting medical attention, he insisted giving a report to his superior officer, and did so, before collapsing. Apparently, most of the staff at his base were too busy to help one of their most experienced, qualified pilots, so one of his squad mates (who would later die over the Philippines), had to stuff him in a staff car and drive him to the medic themselves.

Sakai would lose most sight from his right eye, but returned to flying first as an instructor, and then back to full combat duty near the end of the war. (Rumor is that he was behind the controls of an N1K2 that was especially dangerous to bomber flights, but accounts are dubious, and Sakai himself credits a different pilot with those missions).

Moving forward to 1982, Sabro Sakai met, shook hands with, and got along pretty damn well with the man who most likely shot him in the fucking face 40 years earlier.

Ignore the exceptionally unfortunately placed watermark and observe, if you will, Sakai pointing out the hole in his pilot helmet where the bullet passed through.

Ignore the exceptionally unfortunately placed watermark and observe, if you will, Sakai pointing out the hole in his pilot helmet where the bullet passed through.


There are a number of lessons to be learned from the whole incident. The first is that Saburo Sakai was a hardcore badass. The second is that it's amazing who you can be friends with if you look around past transgressions. And the third is to make absolutely sure that anything you're about to kill is, in fact, the thing you think you're about to kill.