The Japanese kamikaze pilots who flew out on suicide missions during World War II left their homeland with little more than the fuel they’d need to reach their targets at sea.
But most of them made room under their uniforms for an important memento. Pinned close to their hearts were kamikaze dolls, as they were called, tokens made for them by loved ones back home as a final reminder of everything they were fighting for.
Most of the dolls were destroyed in the attacks, but last weekend one made its way from Olathe to Pensacola, Fla.
Kevin Corbett, Olathe’s director of Parks and Recreation, donated a kamikaze doll he had inherited to the National Naval Aviation Museum.
But the journey there was a long and winding road.
He first learned of the doll four years ago, when sifting through a massive collection of historical artifacts kept by his friend Bob Enright. The World War II veteran and history enthusiast showed Corbett the kamikaze doll, which had been given to him by a fellow World War II soldier in 1944. Enright told Corbett his friend had scrambled to collect the doll after a kamikaze plane had crashed into his battleship.
Over the years, Enright told Corbett, people had told him to sell the doll. But he was curious to know what Corbett recommended.
“I told Bob he couldn’t sell the doll because whether it was worth one dollar or a million dollars, it belonged in a museum,” Corbett said. “If you put monetary value on something, it clouds the story behind it.”
Two years later, when Enright passed away, Corbett received the doll upon his request.
At first, he was at a loss for what to do.
He contacted a historian in Boston who flew out to Olathe to see the doll for herself. She marveled over the World War II relic and told him the history of the doll, which stunned him.
“This (anthropology) professor told me that this doll was incredibly rare, because most were destroyed in the explosions,” he said. “There is only one other believed to be in the United States and only three or four in Japan.”
When Corbett updated his father, who had fought in the South Pacific during World War II, on the details of the doll, he was surprised by the advice he received.
His dad, who had lost friends to kamikaze attacks, told him he should find the family from which the doll had come.
Corbett asked Enright’s friends and family if they knew any more details surrounding the doll. He researched online. He got nowhere.
Earlier this year, Corbett decided there was nothing more he could do. He reached out to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola and offered the doll as a donation.
Last Friday he flew out with Enright’s grandson, who just graduated from the Naval Air Academy, to present the doll.
“The museum gets 900,000 visitors every year, so the hope is maybe someone out there will know something,” Corbett said. “The most important thing is that this doll is going to be preserved forever as a part of American history.”
Staff at the museum welcomed the doll with open arms.
Hill Goodspeed, the museum’s historian, was thrilled by the gesture. He believes it is important to tell the stories of those who fought against the United States.
“This doll presents a face of the enemy which most people haven’t seen,” Goodspeed said. “It reflects how important it is for us to preserve history. I applaud Kevin for donating this doll to us. We certainly appreciate it.”