Sakai came up from modest means and was able to join the Imperial Navy in 1933, finally making the grade to become a pilot, graduating first in his class in 1937. One of the first pilots selected to fly the new Mitsubishi A6M "Zero", he flew combat against Allied forces in the Philippines and throughout the islands of the Western Pacific until August 7, 1942 over Guadalcanal. Fighting, and shooting down numerous U.S. Navy aircraft, Sakai thought he was sneaking up on an F4F Wildcat, only to be surprised by the rear gunner. He had come up on an SBD Dauntless and the rear gunner shot out his windshield. The bullet creased his skull and caused temporary blindness. Somehow he managed to fly 4 & 3/4 hours back to his base at Rabaul.
An honored guest of the U.S. Navy at a meeting in 2000, he died suddenly of a heart attack. His wartime tally is credited somewhere between 24-68 victories. Japanese wartime records were not as stringent as in the West and victories were not considered credited to the pilot, but to the unit.
-Original artwork by Robert Coker. CokerAirArt
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