Characteristic of WWII veterans is that after the war they tended
not to talk about their experiences in combat. Now that they have retired
and think more about their mortality, they have tended to record for
their families and others some of their experiences as well as return
to places where they been stationed. I am one of those veterans. The
following was condensed or excerpted from the book of the above title.
Based on Okinawa at Yontan Airfield, which had recently been taken
by U.S. forces, I was the pilot of a B-24 bomber. It had a sufficient
range from Okinawa to bomb the main islands of Japan and some coastal
cities of China held by the Japanese. My crew members were all very
compatible and we enjoyed each others company with little regard to
military rank. We had become close friends––not an unusual thing where
each often depended on the other for their life.
On July 28, 1945 we were posted to fly a mission to bomb the Battleship
Haruna which was anchored in Kure Harbor---a major naval base on the
main Island of Honshu. Our crew was assigned a B-24 nicknamed Lonesome
Lady. We took off early in the morning as part of a formation of
six flights of six planes each with several slots missing. Our flight
had only five planes. About noon we arrived at the target area and the
lead plane of our flight spotted the Haruna. We had been briefed that
the Kure Harbor Naval Base was heavily armed with anti-aircraft installations
and that the Haruna and other naval craft in the area were also heavily
armed. An old adage among pilots was "never fly over a battleship."
We had orders and followed them.
Just after we dropped our bombs, a B-24 in our flight nicknamed Taloa,
was hit and went down quickly. A second plane of the five was hit but
was able to fly to an Island short of Okinawa. In quick succession my
plane was hit but we could still fly. I did not realize how badly we
were damaged and planned to head for the open sea where there was hope
that our Naval seaplanes would spot us and pick us up if we ditched
and survived. We started losing altitude and the controls were becoming
less responsive and I could not head out to sea---the plane flew back
toward land on it own.
The Engineer came up to my position and said that our right inboard
engine was on fire. He was soaked with hydraulic fluid that was spouting
from a broken line. The inevitable became obvious and I ordered the
crew to bail out. Pete Pedersen, our navigator, came to my position
and reported that the bomb bay doors, the exit point for all the crew
on the flight deck, were stuck closed. I ordered that he kick them out
which they were designed for in emergency. Pete was a stout, capable
fellow and this would be scary but no problem for him.
We were getting close to the ground by this time, and the Lonesome
Lady was completely out of control. I looked around and saw that
the flight deck was clear so I ordered the copilot to bail out. I then
left the controls, scrambled on my hands and knees to the bomb bay and
bailed out. After a very short time hanging in the chute I hit the ground
All of the crew were able to bail out and were scattered for miles
along an area south of Kure Harbor in a mostly wooded, sparsely populated
area. We were all captured and after some harassment taken to a city
(later identified as Hiroshima). We were always blindfolded when out
of a prison cell. I saw all of our crew there except Pete and Bill Abel,
the tail gunner. We were not allowed to talk but all of the crew looked
in good to fair condition. I learned later that the tail gunner had
been taken to a military base in the city of Kure. Months later I read
Japanese reports that Pete went down with the plane---this worried me
very much because I was sure that the flight deck was clear of people
when I bailed out. There were some Navy fliers and at least one of the
Taloa crew there also. It is not clear but several of the Taloa
went down with the plane. Those who successively parachuted were
apparently killed either by civilians or the military.
Hiroshima was a major military center but the military officers were
not trained as interrogators. At that point in the war we were briefed,
that if captured by the Japanese, to tell them anything that we knew
because they would already know it or it would not aid them. I told
the truth in answer to rather simple questions, but I was told that
they knew that I was lying and would be shipped out to the interrogation
center (the Imperial General Headquarters at Tokyo I learned later).
As I left my crew in Hiroshima on about August 1, 1945, I felt a bit
sorry for myself.
During a couple of days of a stop and go train ride, I was delivered
by my escorts to the Interrogation Center. After questioning for several
days with threats of various sorts, it became obvious to the interrogators
that I knew nothing of importance. However, on August 6 or 7 I was rushed
out of my cell to the interrogators and questioned intensely about a
new kind of bomb.
Of course I knew nothing about it. I guess out of frustration and hate,
I was sent back to my cell where a very large Japanese soldier brandished
a sword at me. Then I was taken out, blindfolded as usual, and judging
from the noises in front of me there were some troops present. I was
pushed down to my knees and then my head was pushed down. Beheading
was a common fate of many U.S. POWs in Japan. After some shouted commands,
I was jerked up and prodded back to my cell. For some strange reason
after this obvious threat, I was not interrogated again.
After a few more days in my solitary cell surviving on one rice ball
a day, I heard music come over the PA system. The music sounded to me
like a funeral dirge and the first thing that I thought of was that
the Emperor had been killed in a bombing raid---that would be bad news
for POWs. I learned later that the music was the equivalent of the Japanese
National Anthem. After about 20 minutes a very modulated voice came
on and spoke for a few minutes. All of the guards that I could see stood
at rigid attention. I learned later that it was the playing of the recording
of the Emperor's Rescript in which he stated in part "enduring
the unendurable and suffering the insufferable" which translated
into announcing the surrender of Japan. (This was the first time that
the Japanese had heard the voice of their Emperor/God).
I suspected something when the next day one of my guards solicitously
asked about my parents. Then my rice ball arrived larger than usual
and with some dried fish added. I was convinced that Japan had capitulated,
but I was still wary. Fifty American POWs were beheaded at Osaka after
the news of surrender was announced.
The next day I was shipped out a short distance to a marked POW camp.
It was the small island of Omori in Tokyo Bay. There we could move about
and talk and got a bit better ration. I met B-29 airmen who had been
terribly abused, emaciated and some were on the edge of death. Also
there were Australians and others who had been POWs for several years.
see U.S. warships in the bay and U.S. planes flew over and dropped all
sorts of supplies by parachute. On August 28 before the surrender was
signed and official, Marines came in with two landing craft and liberated
all of us. This was a wild and hectic scene; the crafts were met by
every able bodied POW so exuberantly that the craft almost could not
dock. We were taken to various Navy ships (I was dropped off at a destroyer),
given showers, clean cloths (all seamen outfits), and good food. Many
of the emaciated could hardly eat. I ate too much but adjusted in a
day or so. I had lost a pound a day but had been a POW only thirty days.
In the process of being repatriated, I was sent to Okinawa to await
suitable transportation to the U.S. I made my way to my old outfit where
I was at first not recognized in seaman's cloths and then incredulously
as I was presumed dead. Reports from companion aircraft indicated that
the anti-aircraft hit on us went though the pilot's cabin when in fact
it was just to the right going through the wing.
Shortly after I arrived at my old outfit, Bill Abel, my tail gunner,
walked up, also in Navy garb. We ran to each other and hugged and shook
hands repeatedly. While keeping a lookout for our other buddies from
the Lonesome Lady to possibly show up, we exchanged stories of
our capture and internment. Bill had been badly mistreated. We had to
part ways and make our way back to our different ships without seeing
our buddies but with high hopes of them showing up somewhere soon.
After arriving in the U.S. and being given physicals, getting medals
and a promotion, I made my way back home to see my parents and friends
and especially my girl friend, Carolyn, who I later married. I kept
waiting to hear about the remainder of my crew and no word came. I wrote
the War Department requesting information but got no answer. A few weeks
after I got home a book came out with pictures of Hiroshima and it dawned
on me that that was where my crew had been interned. I contacted the
War Dept again detailing all of the limited observations that I had
made while interned with my crew indicating that I thought that it was
Hiroshima. For example the interrogator there asked me why this important
city had not been bombed. Also I could tell from the noise and streets
that it was a large city and that I was taken to a second floor for
Some months later the families of the six member of my crew were informed
that their sons were had been killed in Hiroshima. I was never informed
about the fate of my crew. It is still unclear how many American POWs
were killed in Hiroshima, but there were at least 17. The atomic bomb
was never mentioned in the letters to parents, and the public was never
informed that there were Americans killed by our atomic bomb.
I believe that it was a real disservice to the families and to the
American public for the military officials in command to have kept this
information secret. Whether it was a deliberate cover-up or an insensitive
oversight in the ecstatic days following peace, I don't know. Years
later under the freedom of information act, a documentary film producer
uncovered the truth and made a film about it. Still it seems to be a
little known fact.
My first trip to Hiroshima was, to say the least, unpleasant. I entered
and left with hands tied and blindfolded and saw little more that the
inside of a prison cell and interrogation room.
My next trip to Japan was in 1983, when I was invited to give a paper
at a beef genetics conference in Kyoto. I took advantage of this trip
and went to Hiroshima to visit where I had been interned and where my
crew mates were killed by the atomic bomb. Later I went to the Peace
Memorial Museum where, after viewing the gruesome depictions of victims
of the atomic bomb, with my mind full of memories of my comrades who
died there, and perhaps feelings of survivor's guilt, these displays
were repulsive to me.
Also, the presentations seemed to be unfairly accusatory of the U.S.
without any background information or rationale for the atomic bomb
being deployed. I could not bear this scene any longer and left early.
I had always felt a void about my crew, my friends, vanishing (except
for the other survivor Bill Abel) with nothing to connect to them. One
day in 1985 I got a letter from a Japanese man, Mr. Keiichi Muranaka,
who had lived close to where the Lonesome Lady crashed. He had
been stationed at an anti-aircraft battery at Kure Harbor and had witnessed
our attack and saw my plane heading down, trailing smoke. A few days
later after witnessing the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima he asked for
leave to check on his parents. When nearing his home he saw the wreckage
of the Lonesome Lady and sneaked a piece of the torn aluminum
as a "reminder of the war." He wrote, "Forty years have
passed since the crash of your plane. The U.S. and Japan has overcome
the difficulties caused by the war. This pleases me greatly. I could
not imagine the peace we enjoy today when I was in the Navy. I always
relate my sad experiences regarding WWII and A-bomb and the crash of
the Lonesome Lady. Now I would like to give you this article
which I have kept all these years as a reminder of the sad experiences
that we shared during that terrible time in history. By remembering
we shall be able to maintain this peace we enjoy now. This is our responsibility."
I was emotionally overwhelmed. Though meager, this twisted piece of
aluminum was something solid, palpable related to memories of my crew
that had been lacking---they had vanished, with only speculation on
my part for so long. I corresponded with Mr. Muranaka for several years.
Mr. Muranaka initiated an effort to raise funds to place a monument
at the small village of Ikachi, close to the crash site of the Lonesome
Lady, in memory of all military who gave their lives in the war
and to specifically honor the memory of the airmen of the Lonesome
Mr. Shigeaki Mori was an eight-year old boy in Hiroshima on August
6, 1945. He survived as a "hibakusha" (a Japanese term translated
as "explosion affected person") and has health problems associated
with radiation effects. As an historian he had become very interested
in the historical record of the crew of the Lonesome Lady and
other U.S. airmen interned in Hiroshima. He has traveled extensively
to crash sites and interviewed people who were eye witnesses as well
as digging through archives for long forgotten records. He continues
these activities and I am told that he is the most knowledgeable person
about these events. He wrote to me in 1995 and we have continued an
Mr. Mori has clarified many things that were incorrect in the records
and detailed much information that was not previously recorded. After
he had written me about a number of points important to me about the
crash and fate of my crew, I asked him specifically about my Navigator
which the records reflect went down with the plane. If his remains had
actually been found in the plane, it is likely that he had been captured,
tortured, killed and his remains placed in the plane. Mr. Mori's initial
reply was that of the official record. I wrote my concern and reason
for not believing this report. I have no idea how much effort Mr. Mori
put into this question but he finally wrote that he had uncovered in
a remote village the record of a woodcutter finding the remains of a
body in a dense forest in 1947. A report of the inspection of the scene
and of the body was made by a British doctor and a Japanese official.
Parachute remains were close by the site, dog tags on the body were
for Roy Pedersen, etc. Examination of the bones indicated that the body
crashed to the ground breaking many bones. This clarification, though
gruesome, was a relief in the sense that he had not been tortured. Also
it vindicated my feeling that he had left the plane before I left. It
is clear that his parachute had failed to open properly; perhaps this
failure was related to Pete's kicking the bomb doors open.
Mr. Mori also erected a plaque, at his own expense, on the building
that stood at the site of the old Chugoku Military Headquarters building
where my comrades were held when the atomic bomb was dropped. It was
dedicated to the American airmen killed in Hiroshima. He had a proper
dedication with appropriate American and Japanese present. A marine,
Major Keefe, Information Officer at an American base in Japan, participated
and brought a Boy Scout troop with him when the U.S. Consulate refused
Gradually the thought of returning to Japan became appealing to me
in order to visit the sites of the memorial plaque in Hiroshima and
the memorial monument in Ikachi village and to meet Mr. Muranaka and
Mr. Mori. Travel plans were made and my wife Carolyn, son Dr. Pat, and
Matt Crawford, President of our Bomb Group veteran's organization asked
to join me. The purpose of my visit was to meet and thank the people
who had erected a plaque and monument acknowledging my crew and other
U.S. airmen. Also, at the appropriate places and times, we wanted to
pay homage to my comrades who died there. We expected to be involved
only with those with whom we had become acquainted through correspondence.
We flew from the U.S. to Kansai Airport at Osaka. We were surprised
to have been met by a TV crew from the NHK, the national TV network
for Japan. This crew was very polite, considerate and helpful, escorting
us to Hiroshima by train. However, by this time we became aware that,
as they posed me by the window of the bullet train flashing through
the country side at 120 to 150 miles per hour, that our visit would
not go unnoticed by others than our hosts.
However, we were not prepared for the reception at the Hiroshima train
station. As we stepped off the train we were greeted by our hosts, but
there were also TV cameras, photographers and reporters making up a
crowd of a dozen or so hovering around us. We were ushered through this
melee to our hotel. After checking in and having a cup of tea, we went
for a short walk to the location where the Chugoku Military Headquarters
Building had stood and Mr. Mori had placed the memorial plaque.
The Plaque area was tastefully decorated with the American and Japanese
flags and flowers. We placed flowers at this shrine and turned for the
throng of photographers to take pictures. The plaque, all in English,
listed the names of all of the American fliers killed by the atomic
bomb. Later we returned unaccompanied to quietly in our own way pay
homage to our comrades.
Next we visited the crash site of the Taloa where we talked
with an eyewitness. Then we walked to the point under the hypocenter
of the bomb, and on to Aioi Bridge which was the sighting point of Bombardier
Maj. Ferebee of the Enola Gay. This bridge was also the place where
one of my crew had been tied to a lamppost after surviving the fire
of the bomb and beaten to death and after death. We were invited to
the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum---the place that repulsed me in
1985. The Director greeted us and invited me to make a statement at
a press conference. I read An Open Letter to the People of Hiroshima
that I had prepared.
I have come to Hiroshima to pay homage particularly to our friends
and comrades who died here in August, 1945. These included six of my
bomber crew; I was spared by being transferred to Tokyo. We come to
thank and pay respect to those of you who have recognized these comrades
and erected memorials to them.
At the same time we recognize that our comrades are a few among
many who died here in August 1945 and pay respect to the memory of their
souls. Everyone in Hiroshima at that time was directly affected themselves
or through the loss and injury of family and friends, as did many other
Japanese. I am one of relatively few Americans who lost personal friends
and comrades in the atomic holocaust. Perhaps this closeness aligns
me more with the feelings of you, the citizens of Hiroshima. No one
can know what the fate of each of us might have been if the fury of
atomic fission had not been unleashed on Hiroshima. What we do know
is that this force, which is so powerful that it powers the sun, and
has an array of effects that even transgresses generations, should never
be used to again to vaporize human life in wholesale and then to seep
into survivors to kill or maim them, some quickly some slowly, and still
affect generations yet to be conceived. I know only the heartache---you
know the heartache but also the nightmare memory and insidious residual
We appreciate the reception and hospitality that has been extended
to our small group---the memory of which we hope will be passed to the
next generation. All of us should certainly desire to keep our family
and national pride and loyalty; these are core to our human dignity
and instinct. At the same time we must continue to learn how to embrace
and enhance our common well being, happiness, and understanding. Whatever
the results of this trip might bring I hope that it will contribute,
even in an ever so small way, to continued peace and friendship.
We have learned that war brings hatred, suffering, destruction,
and waste and that peace can bring happiness and prosperity. Let us
each teach this to our sons and daughters.
Thomas C. Cartwright
The next day we went to Etajima Island by ferry. On the way we spotted
the point where the Haruna was sunk (now cleaned up for scrap metal).
On Etajima Island a monument had been placed by the survivors of the
Haruna honoring their ship mates who had been killed while on duty.
There we met two of the former crew who had shot at us as we bombed
them. We had a very compatible meeting congratulating each other on
the accuracy of their anti-aircraft and then on our bombing accuracy.
One of the men told us that the Haruna had transferred all of its fuel
to an aircraft carrier months before we bombed it and had been harbor
bound for months.
We left Hiroshima by train and then transferred to a van headed to
the village of Ikachi, the place where the Lonesome Lady flew
herself into a rice paddy. On the way we stopped at the Iwakuni U.S.
Marine base to speak to Major Keefe. He was every inch a model Marine
and we were all proud to be represented by him. He hosted us to coffee
and told us that our trip was very helpful to Japan/U.S. relations.
The next stops were along the path that my crew bailed out. The first
was a farm house overlooking a small cultivated valley. Mrs. Mika Marumo,
about our age, lived there alone. She was a bit overwhelmed by all of
the visitors and a TV crew. She sunk back on her heels and could hardly
talk to us at first. As she opened up, she told the story of living
there with her father during the war. Her husband was in the army and
her brother had been killed as a kamikaze pilot. She related seeing
one of my crew parachute into the field in front of her house. Her father
grabbed his rifle and proceeded toward the "soldier" as did
other farmers. He was bitter about his son having been killed by the
Americans and intended to shoot the "soldier." Instead the
"soldier" shot her father and killed him. I had never heard
I was incredulous so I asked Atsuko, a young lady with us who spoke
perfect English, if I had heard this story correctly and she confirmed
it. I do not know which of my crew this "soldier" was but
he shot in self defense. He was captured and later joined with other
crew members and taken to a police station. This humble lady was not
hostile and invited us into her house and showed us her Buddhist shrine.
I later wrote Mrs. Marumo thanking her for her hospitality. She wrote
back saying in part "I didn't bear a grudge against the Americans.
It was my honest feeling." Your letter "was guided to the
tomb of father. I don't hate American. Father should have run away early
from enemy who had a pistol."
The next stop was to see a farmer who related that when he was a boy
he saw our smoking plane flying in an arc and four parachutes coming
out. We interviewed other people and learned of some serious hostility
but none of my crew was killed by civilians or local police. The next
stop was close to where I came down. I talked to a woman who saw my
"captor" (I turned my self in to him) coming out of the woods
followed by me.
Just as we were trying to digest all of this information about my crew
and myself our van pulled up by a small community center at the Village
of Ikachi. There was a small crowd of local people there who very politely
greeted us. I turned to look at the monument that they had erected honoring
my crew and saw a sign in large red letters:
"Dr. T. C. Cartwright Welcome to Ikachi."
After shaking hands around we were escorted a short walking distance
to the site where the Lonesome Lady crashed. A number of men
wanted to tell me all of the details such as where the engine came loose
and crashed through a shack, where a wing catapulted to the next field,
etc. All of this was very interesting to me. After this short excursion
we all sat in front of the Center for a few sort speeches, and traditional
tea. I then read my Open Letter to the People of Ikachi.
is Tom Cartwright and I was the pilot of the Lonesome Lady, a
U.S. B-24 Bomber that crashed at your village on July 28, 1945. Having
parachuted before the crash, my copilot, Lt. Durden Looper, and I were
taken prisoners here. I am privileged to be welcomed back to your village.
Could anyone have imagined in 1945 my returning here, welcomed in peace?
You may not be aware that, in retrospect, I feel fortunate that
our fateful mission, after our plane was damaged beyond continued flight,
it brought us to your community. We were at war with one another and
we represented the enemy. Except for our Navigator, Lt. Roy Pedersen,
whose parachute failed to open, our entire crew survived heavy anti-aircraft
fire, parachuting out of a burning plane, and being captured in enemy
territory. None of us was seriously maltreated. I am fortunate that
the Lonesome Lady, damaged and uncontrollable, flew toward this area
and maintained sufficient altitude for me to bail out in your community.
After I retired the one thing that I most wanted to do was to return
to this village.
I wanted to return because of a longing in my heart to see the crash
site and where I was captured. I was overwhelmed to learn that you erected
a monument as a memorial to those killed in the war and specifically
recognized "the Dreadful Accident" of the Lonesome Lady
listing the seven airmen of her crew who died and stating that, "These
soldiers gave their lives for their country." The character of
this community is embodied, I believe, in the above and in the following
inscription on the monument:
Appreciating today's peace we erect this monument.
We heartily hope that happiness will continue forever, from father
to son, from son to son.
I am pleased that my son joined us so that, as the inscription admonishes,
the next generation will take notice and remember. We are honored to
be your guests, have a chance to meet you, thank you in person, and
to pay homage to our fallen comrades at this most appropriate place
by your historic monument.
Thomas C. Cartwright
After the ceremonies a lady came up to me and gave me a piece of paper
on which she had written the following:
"It was hot in Summer vacation afternoon. I felt like war was
coming to an end even ones child heart. Sudenly one bomber crashing
under fire and disappeared western over the hill. What happened! cried
my mother. I saw that moment when I was 6 years old. I never forget
that moment, but you still alive in front of me I cant believe. In those
days we ate grass and leaves of trees. After a while Japan was defeated
by the United States. There was a lot of different cind of sacrifice
each other [both sides]. I am thinking that if we had been defeated
by the U.S.S.R. we would not live. Thank you United States finally.
We pray the partnership between the U.S. and Japan will last forever."
After this trip I felt comfortable about coping with memories confronted
at Hiroshima. Our itinerary included only Japanese who were friendly.
The fact that the documentary of our visit made by NHK was shown twice
in the Hiroshima area and once nationally was an indication of general
interest in Japan.
My return to memories in Japan also reinforced two old resentments.
One was the failure of our highest officials, even up to the Commander
in Chief, for not reporting, recognizing or admitting that American
POWs were killed by our atomic bomb in Hiroshima. This negligence, or
cover-up for whatever reasons, was a great disservice to the families
of the POWs and to the American people.
Another event that I resent is that the highest military officials
in the Pacific theatre ordered Air Force and Naval air strikes to bomb
the Japanese Naval fleet anchored and stuck inoperative in the Japanese
Inland Sea, especially knowing about the extremely heavy anti-aircraft
firepower from both anchored ships and shore installations. The incentive
for ordering missions to attack these targets, which were known to be
costly of lives, appears, from the evidence, to have been based more
on the egos of commanding officers than on strategically important purposes.
Our crew was always loyal and carried out orders without question.
We were proud to be Americans in the Air Force and probably had the
best, most considerate officers of any armed force. I just feel that
mistakes were made and that it is appropriate to record them.
Although we did not meet any Japanese who were openly hostile to us
as visitors coming to Japan to open old wartime memories, there are
no doubt Japanese who hold hostile feelings. Also, even though our small
group came in peace with an open mind, there are Americans, especially
those who were badly mistreated and brutalized, and the families of
POWs who were executed, who will never forgive the Japanese for their
I do not presume to suggest that these people should be forgiving or
attempt to convert them. I only wish to convey that we met Japanese
who have given a great deal of effort to finding and recording the correct
history of WWII and, more importantly, having it taught to the current
and future generations of Japanese.
During my return trip to Japan reporters would ask me, often while
standing beside a memorial dedicated to my comrades just after seeing
it for the first time, "What are your feelings now?" There
was no way that I could express feelings of gratitude while mixed with
memories hoarded for fifty-five years. I would try to say something
appropriate, but always felt that it was inadequate. Now trying to summarize
"how I feel now," I still feel inadequate. I had never thought
that I would be invited to a guided tour of places in Hiroshima and
Ikachi of historical interest to me plus new monuments created as memorials
to my comrades. Also I had never thought that I would have Japanese
friends with whom I would correspond and share thoughts. Even though
my visit to Japan did not result in total "closure" of my
feelings about the fate of my crew, I did feel more comfortable about
many things including making new friends in Japan.