TAKAYAMA, Gifu Prefecture--When he was 17, Imperial Japanese Navy pilot Ryozo Kotoge received orders to deploy for what was supposed to be his last mission: a suicide attack.

Even though he was poised to leave for the mission early one morning, expecting his life to end soon, he instead witnessed the end of the war, and lived to tell the tale.

It is a story Kotoge has told over and over to pass his wartime experiences on to younger generations, along with a message of peace.

“I would like to convey the message to others that we should never have wars,” he said with conviction.

Seventy-five years after the war, now 92, the Takayama resident still remembers seeing some of the worst of its horrors up close: the aftermath of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At exactly 11:02 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, in Isahaya, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kotoge watched a U.S. B-29 bomber drop a drum-like object over neighboring Nagasaki city.

With a huge roar and tremendous flash of light, the blast almost knocked him to the ground.

That moment was the second time in history an atomic bomb was dropped on a country by another.

Kotoge remembers the unusual look of the sky, stained red from fires that raged throughout the night.

He was ordered at 4 a.m. the next day to prepare to deploy for an attack.

“I thought that I was finally going to die,” he said. “I remembered my mother sending me off.”

But the truck never came to pick him up.

Five days later, he listened to a radio broadcast to the nation given by Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa. The signal was not coming in clear, but he gathered enough to understand that Japan had lost the war.

A week later, on Aug. 22, 1945, his unit was demobilized. He left for his hometown by train.

“I felt survivor’s guilt for living through the war, but I was glad that I could go to my hometown Takayama,” Kotoge said.

The following night, the train suddenly came to a halt. Someone told him it would stop there for an hour. He asked where they had stopped, and they told him Hiroshima.

Kotoge smelled human bodies burning. He left the train station and walked around. He saw dead bodies piled up everywhere. After people poured oil on them, they were set on fire. It was a horrific scene and putrid smell. All he could do was put his hands together and pray.

After the war, Kotoge worked for the prefectural government. Once he finally retired, he had a chance to talk about his wartime experiences at the elementary school his grandchildren attended. Later, he started to talk about his life more often and told war stories at other local schools.

He was still very young when he fought in the war, something that makes it easier to connect with his audiences.

When he was 16, he attended Hida Junior High School, now called the prefectural Hida High School. At that young age, he joined the Imperial Japanese Navy and became a pilot. During the war, he lost many of his fellow service members.

One tragic moment occurred in Taiwan, where he was training--and it turned out to be one of the most striking moments he experienced in battle.

He was about to get into a plane, but then he noticed an attack starting and managed to escape into the nearby sugarcane fields. But one of his comrades, a good friend, had already taken off for a training flight in a two-seat plane with his instructor.

The training plane avoided being shot down and safely returned. But when Kotoge approached the plane, he found his friend had a big hole in the left part of his chest and died in the pilot’s seat.

“It was awful,” he said. “We must not have such a war.”

He believes that he survived the war mostly through luck.

Leaving Taiwan, he traveled by boat in a large fleet headed to Japan’s Kyushu region. The fleet was attacked and most of the ships were sunk. But the vessel Kotoge was on safely avoided the enemy by taking the long way around, thanks to the ship captain’s wiles.

He also thinks the order he received to carry out a suicide attack came to him late because he had to undergo treatment for malaria.

“Even if just one little thing was different, I would not be here now,” he said.

Two of his older brothers returned safely from the Chinese front, but they have both since passed away.

Almost all his fellow Navy comrades, the only people who can truly understand what he went through, are now dead.

“The comrades I can really remember and discuss war experiences with have already gone,” he said.

That has filled him with deep sorrow. That's why he wants to pass on his experiences to young generations. 

“If we do not talk about it, no one will remember the war,” he said.

Recently he has faced a new challenge, battling health issues that caused his legs to deteriorate and made it impossible to speak at public events. But he remains determined to deliver the message: “Now, we enjoy peace on the foundation of many victims. That is at least what people should know about.”