HIJMS Fujinami tribute

A tribute to the Honorable Japanese Commanding Officer of the HIJMS Fujinami, his Officers and crew

Tony Potochniak, October 1943

Tony Potochniak, age 18
October 1943

HIJMS Fujinami

The Honorable Commanding Officer Tatsuji Matsuzaki of the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Fujinami stayed with the disabled Japanese Heavy Cruiser HIJMS Chokai, protecting her from air attacks and to keep the HIJMS Chokai from being captured, should the U.S. Fleet of admiral 'Bull' Halsey, suddenly return to join in the battle. From my vantage point, in the water, I saw two attacking U.S. Avenger torpedo bombers, one being hit by anti-aircraft fire and exploding in mid air the other aircraft trailed smoke, it was lost from view below the horizon. After a while the U.S. Naval aircraft ceased attacking the disabled HIJMS Chokai, and headed north in pursuit of bigger game, Admiral Kurita’s main force of Battleships and Cruisers plus escorting destroyers. While in pursuit of our retreating “Taffy-3” U.S. Task Unit, the Japanese task force of four battleships including HIJMS Yamato and HIJMS Kongo narrowly missed us 706 floundering survivors. The Japanese battle force was going at full speed and didn't see us. We could hear the throb of their engines as they passed. There were no crew on deck, decks were always cleared of personnel when prepared to fire the huge naval guns. The air attacks continued on the main part of Admiral Kurita's battle fleet throughout the morning of October 25th. The HIJMS Fujinami while protecting the Cruiser HIJMS Chokai, circled through us swimming survivors. The first of many shipmates Lou Rice, and including our ships Chaplain Vern Carlsen and Executive Officer Ballinger, reported, that as the HIJMS Fujinami moved through us swimmers, men of the HIJMS Fujinami standing at the rail, were seen waving, saluting and taking pictures. We had expected to be strafed. We were not molested in any way. The Japanese Cruiser HIJMS Chokai was scuttled late in the night of October 25th. We surviving swimmers could feel the underwater blast. There were no Japanese ships in sight off the shore of Samar Island on the morning of October 26th. The main enemy fleet had retreated into waters west of the Philippines Islands.

The aircraft of U.S. Admiral "Bull Halsey's fleet had finally returned to the battle scene on October 27th, (Two days too late) to participate in the last epic surface engagement of WW II. Tatsuji Matsuzaki and all his crew were killed on October 27th 1944, as the HIJMS Fujinami was returning through the San Bernardino Straits toward the Asian mainland. This was one day after Admiral Kurita's force had already retreated thru these straits. The Commander was promoted to Captain posthumously. The Captain was born on October 15, 1904 in Kagoshima Prefecture. He entered the Etajima Naval College on August 26, 1921 and graduated on July 24, 1924. His naval records show that his ship did not participate in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I want the world to know, especially the people of Japan, about the men who served on the destroyer HIJMS FUJINAMI. I want them to know about the actions of these honorable men. They all died on October 27, 1944, the same day 1,140 of us survivors, from 4 sunken ships, were rescued, 45 miles from where we were sunk. We were home for Christmas 1944 with family. The entire crew of Fujinami was lost. They weigh heavily on my memory and heart every Christmas season, I do pray for their souls.

I can pay up to several hundred dollars to have this message printed in a major Japanese news paper. If this story of an honorable ships commanding officer and crew aren't brought to the attention of the people of Japan, especially the family of the HIJMS Fujinami, it will be lost for all time with my departure from this world. To all of you readers I ask, can you, will you help me? You can do a search on the Internet to affirm my credibility.  Go to Tony (Anthony) Potochniak, USS Gambier Bay Survivor.

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last revised May 06, 2011
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