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A Sailor from Rolla and kamikazes from Japan, 1945

August 1, 2017 – There was a sailor from Rolla named George Raasakka who served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II. It was on this date in 1943 that the Navy launched the Callaghan, a brand-new destroyer, near Long Beach, California. George Raasakka became a coxswain on the Callaghan, helping steer the ship in every major battle in the Western Pacific from Palau to Okinawa, providing fire support for troop landings.

Raasakka and his shipmates were attacked several times by kamikaze suicide planes in 1945. At Okinawa on May 25, 1945, two kamikaze aircraft emerged from low clouds, heading directly towards the Callaghan and the U.S. battleship West Virginia. Anti-aircraft gunners on the Callaghan fired immediately, setting both afire. One smoldering kamikaze turned away and disappeared into the clouds. The other headed right towards the Callaghan, passing just over it, and crashed into the sea. Its bomb did not explode, and two survivors were seen clinging to a wing fragment.

The Callaghan’s rescue boat went out and brought back the two badly wounded prisoners. One of the kamikaze aviators died, and the other, named Kaoru Hasegawa, got emergency treatment and was transferred by stretcher to the battleship New Mexico before being sent to Hawaii as a prisoner of war.

After the war, Kaoru Hasegawa returned to Japan, eventually becoming president of a large company. In the 1990s, Mr. Hasegawa researched his own dramatic episode of U.S. sailors saving him from death, and learned that the Callaghan’s crew had shot him down and then rescued him.

The former kamikaze pilot contacted the Callaghan’s reunion group and in 1995 joined them in a fiftieth-year reunion in Tennessee. North Dakota sailor George Raasakka was among the Americans who befriended their former enemy.

That reconciliation happened despite the fact that another kamikaze attack sank the Callaghan, on July 29, 1945, two months after Hasegawa was shot down. This time, a suicide-pilot crashed his bomb-laden airplane into the Callaghan near Okinawa. Forty-seven sailors and one officer perished. George Raasakka had been wounded, but survived.

After the war, Raasakka returned to Rolla. He married Velma Kaleva and raised two children. Although George never talked much about his traumatic Navy experiences, he attended Callaghan reunions until his death in 2012, at age 87.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department, with research provided by Jennifer Wilkie, MSUM alumni.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org.

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