Tag Archives: 第二次世界大戦

A Soul Lost in a Faraway Jungle – Part 6/Epilogue


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A portrait of my grandmother taken by my father in their Hiroshima home. She is flanked by my father (left) and Uncle Suetaro (right), both in their respective country’s uniforms. April 1948.

“Tell me the truth about death. I don’t know what it is. We have them, then they are gone but they stay in our minds. Their stories are part of us as long as we live and as long as we tell them or write them down.”

ELLEN GILCHRIST

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The Pain of Hope

I opened this series trying to describe the anguish a mother must have suffered – no matter what her country – knowing her son was missing in action in a battlefront so far away…

When we closed Part 5 of this series, no Imperial Japanese soldier came down off Mt. Canguipot on August 15, 1945, the day Japan officially surrendered to the Allies.¹ The US Navy and Army had also effectively sealed off any chance of retreating to other islands.

Uncle Suetaro was still on Leyte.

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The date when Grandmother Kono and Aunt Michie learned of Japan’s surrender is unknown. After all, Japan and especially Hiroshima was in shambles from the fire and atomic bombings but I’m sure they learned fast enough.

But with war over and just like ANY stateside mother, Grandmother Kono waited for her son to come home… her precious son born in Seattle who was to carry on the family name in Japan.

As days passed then months, deep in her heart, she must have come to the realization Uncle Suetaro may not be coming home…but the hope was still burning inside, I’m sure.

Hope is powerful. Hoping, you believe, will change destiny. But on or about October 15, 1947, Grandmother Kono will learn that such hope can magnify anguish.

She learned her son was declared dead.

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Japanese War Records

In January of this year and through the urging of Mr. Ota, my cousin Masako and her daughter Izumi journeyed to the Hiroshima Prefectural Office in hopes of retrieving some official military record or declaration of his death. Not knowing was eating them, too.

Because of the strictness of Japanese society, they were unsure the government would release Uncle Suetaro’s military record (if any) to his niece, Masako. I understand in anticipation of this, Masako had a “song and dance” prepared. She wanted to know that badly as to what happened to him.

Suetaro's farewell letter. It starts with
Suetaro’s farewell letter. It starts with “Dearest Mama”.

She took along the precious, brittle 72 year old notebook with her… the notebook in which Uncle Suetaro hurriedly wrote his good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in May 1944. She told the government worker stories of her Uncle Suetaro from 75 years ago – that he was always happy-go-lucky and was the peacekeeper with his kind heart.

Perhaps the song and dance was unnecessary but she was successful. As sad as it was, she was given Uncle Suetaro’s certified death notification. She was also given a copy of a handwritten IJA service record that abruptly ended in 1943 – when the tide of war turned against Japan.

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Excerpt from the certified military death certificate obtained by Masako. It states his place of death was 20 km north of Villaba, Leyte.
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Copy of Uncle Suetaro’s handwritten military record. Sadly, my father and Uncle Yutaka are listed as next of kin. All three were American citizens.

In Masako’s heart and mind, she then accepted Uncle Suetaro’s fate and resting place.

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Uncle Suetaro’s Spirit Calls Out

But with the recent discoveries and stirring of beautiful memories, the spirit of Uncle Suetaro dominated her thoughts my cousin Masako said. His spirit beckoned her mightily…so much so that even with her failing legs, she determined to go “visit him”.

At eighty years of age and with ailing legs, Masako and her filial daughter Izumi journeyed to 備後護国神社, or “Bingo Gokoku Jinjya” on February 2, 2015. It is a military shrine in which resides the god-like spirits of those men who gave their young lives in defense of Japan.

Izumi wrote that she escorted Masako to offer her prayers to Uncle Suetaro at the first altar (below), believing that was a far as she could go.

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Main entrance to Bingo Shrine and first altar. Photo by Izumi K.

Then Masako, in a stunning revelation, said, “I am going to climb to the top… Suetaro is calling for me.”

No joke.

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The steps Masako climbed – with her bad legs and knees – to get to the main shrine at the top…on her own… Without help from her filial daughter, Izumi. She said Uncle Suetaro was watching over her. (Photo source unknown.)

Izumi was beyond belief. Stunned.

Her mother was going to walk up the numerous steps that reached upwards towards the brave spirits. No cane. No assistance. By herself.

Masako climbed the steps, one by one. Determinedly.

Izumi wrote to me that upon reaching the top, Masako said in her Hiroshima dialect (translated by me), “Whew..! I made it! I climbed the stairs! You know, I feel Suetaro was nudging me from behind, all the time.” (「まあ~ あがれたわ~ 末太郎さんが後ろからおしてくれたんじゃろ~か???」)

Here is a link to a video from youtube of the shrine and stairs. It is so peaceful, you can hear Uncle Suetaro whispering. No wonder Masako had to climb those stairs:

From that day, Izumi says, Masako had renewed her life energy, all due to the call from Uncle Suetaro’s spirit.

But she did voice in reflection, “Suetaro was starving… When I think about that, dieting is nothing (meaning she can do it).”

Or, “Suetaro must be so lonely… When I think of that, I feel that we must go to Leyte to visit him and offer our prayers so he won’t be lonely anymore.”

…then, “Now I’ve got to go to the pool to strengthen my legs… so that I can walk on Leyte.”

And she means that.

She is likely going to Leyte this year.

And it looks as if Izumi and I will be going, too.

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Epilogue

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I believe this young man is called Noguchi but am not positive. He journeyed to Leyte to cremate any Japanese soldier’s remains he finds as in the above. He is in one of the hundreds of caves on Leyte. His Japanese website is here: http://www.noguchi-ken.com/M/2008/10/51133019.html

Uncle Suetaro’s Soul and Resting Place

Uncle Suetaro’s dreams of life in America died with him…shared only by him. But his spirit lives on.

Perhaps somewhere on Leyte, while surrounded by the US Army, he glimpsed up at the night sky through the dense palm fronds. Rain fell upon his unwashed face. Perhaps he was wounded and if so, perhaps shivering from a raging infection. If he lived until morning, he found each dawn worse than the dawn before. He was starving.

He knew inside his heart he was not evil… But if I am not evil, why am I here dying?

While I cannot speak to how my Hiroshima cousins feel, to me, the hard evidence tells me Uncle Suetaro did make it to Leyte as a soldier in the IJA’s 41st Regiment. With the good help from Mr. Ota, his official military records document that.

But truthfully, I don’t know if he was in the troop convoy that disembarked on October 26th in Ormoc. Records indicate that only two of three battalions of the 41st Regiment landed there; the third battalion remained on Mindanao for a short period. Yet, it appears that even that last battalion headed to Leyte in short order.

Due to Mr. Ota’s notes and as corroborated by official US Army combat records, Uncle’s 41st Regiment did fiercely engage Colonel Newman’s 34th Infantry at the end of October and that one of Suetaro’s lieutenants was killed during that violent combat.

Combat records of the US 12th Cavalry Regiment document that once again Uncle Suetaro’s unit was engaged in combat. The presence of the 41st Regiment was confirmed by dog tags, having been removed from Japanese bodies then translated by Nisei’s in the US 8th Army’s 166th Language Detachment – the same unit my dad was assigned to in 1947.

There is second hand testimony that a few survivors had assembled on Mt. Canguipot from January 1945… and “mopping up” actions by the US Army units continued. Indeed, it was far from a “mopping up” situation.

Those of you versed in WWII will know of how enemy corpses were handled – down to the use of lye – so there is no need for elaboration. If you are not familiar with how death is handled in a WWII battlefield, the only thing you need to know is it is odious.

Therefore, how he met his death will never be known…nor his place of rest uncovered with his identification intact. Perhaps there was a picture of him and his siblings in his pocket that has long since dissolved away. But dedicated Japanese citizens visit these battlegrounds in search of Japanese remains to cremate them. Maybe Uncle Suetaro has been given such an honor.

I can only hope death had a heart…that he did not suffer for so long only to endure an agonizing death in a lonely confine… but statistically, over 60% of the 2,875,000 Japanese war deaths was attributed to starvation or illness (including those arising from wounds and lack of medical care).

Indeed, Uncle Suetaro is a soul lost in a faraway jungle.

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My oldest son and I visited Tokyo in August, 2012. One stop was at the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s equivalent of our Arlington National Cemetery in a way. We left a prayer for Uncle Suetaro. May your soul be at peace, Uncle.

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Mr. Ota, on behalf of my family here in the US, I thank you for your help in our search for Uncle Suetaro.

大田様、大変お世話様でした。米国におる金本ファミリーは感謝しております。お礼を申し上げます。

正子さん、いずみさん、淳さん, 俊郎さん、有難う御座いました。末太郎さんは大喜びでしょう。。。

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Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 4 is here.

Part 5 is here.

NOTES:

  1. Yes, some holdouts continued to fight the Allies after war’s official end and more lives were lost on both sides. And indeed, there were two notable soldiers who held out for many, many years. Sgt. Onoda was the longest holdout, living for 29 years in a Philippine jungle until his former commanding officer flew to the Philippines then personally rescinded his order to stay and fight but this is atypical.

A Cauldron and War’s End


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My aunt’s second cousins are on the left, Mr. and Mrs. Nakano. I took this while were were on the way to their field to harvest yams. They harvested yams from the same field during the waning days of the war. August 1974, Fukui, Japan.

We must realize that those who endured World War II – as combatants or as civilians – are leaving this world daily.

Of those who survived and remain with us today, it is not enough to have seen it as a small child.  Of course, I am not implying there was no damaging effect on their souls.  If you were such a child and witnessed a bomb blast, that will be in your mind forevermore.

But those who were young adults back then have the most intimate, most detailed recollections.  Unfortunately, they would by now at the least be in their late 80s or early 90s – like my parents and Aunt Eiko.

Even so, the mental faculties of these aging survivors have diminished with age.  For some, dementia has taken over or of course, many just do not wish to recall it.  My dad is that way on both counts even though he did not endure combat.  For instance, he still refuses to recall what he first felt getting off that train at the obliterated remains of the Hiroshima train station in 1947 as a US Army sergeant.  I’m positive he also went to see the ruins of his beloved high school where he ran track.

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Some of my Aunt Eiko’s poignant notes about the last weeks of war.

As described in my series on the firebombing of Tokyo (link is here), my aunt, mother and grandmother fled Tokyo around July 1, 1945 via train.  They were headed for Fukui, a town alongside the Japan Sea, and the farm of Mr. Shinkichi Mitani (He is my second great uncle so you can figure that one out.) My guess is grandfather believed the farmlands to be a very safe refuge. My grandfather accompanied them on their journey to safety but he would be returning to Tokyo after they reached their destination.  To this day, my aunt does not know why he went back to Tokyo, a most dangerous and desperate city to live in.

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Fukui is marked by the red marker. Tokyo is directly east along the bay.

As the railroad system in Japan was devastated, it always perplexes me as to how my grandfather managed to get tickets on a rare operating train let alone get seats…but he did.  The train ride is even more incredible given the Allies ruled the skies by then; during daylight, American P-51 Mustangs strafed targets of opportunity at will: trains, boats and factories.  It appears they traveled at night.

My aunt firmly recalls the train being overfilled with civilians trying to escape extermination in Tokyo.  But with my grandfather’s connections (and likely a bribe or two while spouting he was of samurai heritage), they were fortunate to get seats in an uncrowded private rail car. You see, the car was only for Japanese military officers; the military still ruled Japan.  She remembers many of them were in white uniforms¹, all with “katana”, or their ceremonial “samurai swords” as the Allied military forces called them.  She said she didn’t say a word. She felt the solemnness heavily amongst them in the stuffy humidity.

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My dad’s youngest brother, Uncle Suetaro, is sporting a “katana”, or samurai sword for a ceremony of some kind. Although born in Seattle, he was unable to leave Hiroshima and became drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army. He was KIA on Leyte by US forces. Circa 1944.

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The Mitani farm was about 2-1/2 miles NW of Awara Station in a village called Namimatsu; the beach was about a ten minute walk away.

She said they arrived at the Awara Station (芦原) at night.  Humidity was a constant during that time as it was the rainy season (梅雨, or “Tsuyu”); nothing could dry out and mildew would proliferate.  They walked roughly 2-1/2 miles (一里) in total darkness on a hilly dirt trail looking for the farm of Mr. Mitani.  Being of an aristocratic family, I’m sure their trek was quite the challenge emotionally and physically. No, they did not have a Craftsman flashlight. No street lights either. The only thing that possibly glowed was my grandfather’s cigarette.

The challenge would escalate.  While living conditions in Tokyo were wretched, they had been aristocrats. She was unprepared for farm life. Indeed, she had become a Japanese Zsa Zsa Gabor in a real life “Green Acres”.

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When I visited the Mitani farm in 1974. Although the Mitanis had passed away, Mitani’s daughter is at the center with the blue headband.  Her husband is at the far right with my mom standing next to him in “American” clothing. I am at the far left, toting my Canon F-1 camera of back then.

Aunt Eiko described the farmhouse and its associated living conditions as essential beyond belief.  She was greeted by a 土間 (doma), or a living area with a dirt floor², as she entered.  Immediately inside the doorway was a relatively exposed お風呂, or traditional Japanese bath tub.  Her biggest surprise was the toilet – or rather, the absence of one.  It was indeed a hole in the ground outside.  (I know.  I used it when I visited in 1974…but it had toilet paper when I went.)

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During the day, they helped farm the yams Mr. Mitani was growing.  They also ate a lot of those yams because it was available.  There wasn’t much else.

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My second cousin Toshio on the left, mom pulling some yams, Mr. Nakano at right when we were visiting Fukui in 1974.  It was the first time back for mom and Aunt Eiko since the war.

Although my grandfather moved them to Fukui as a safe refuge, he was mistaken.

Shortly after arrival, Aunt Eiko said the terror of being on the losing end of war struck again.  US warships began to shell the farming areas in the Namimatsu village.³  Mrs. Mitani immediately screamed, “Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!”  She vividly remembers Mrs. Mitani and all the other villagers strap their “nabekama” (鍋釜), or cast iron cooking cauldrons, onto their backs and whatever foodstuff they could grab and carry.  You see, life had become primal for the farmers and villagers.  Food and water was their wealth.  Everything else had become expendable by then.

鍋釜
A traditional cooking cauldron, or “鍋釜 (nabekama)” hangs above a firepit towards the bottom left in the picture above.

They all did run to the hills as the shelling continued, she said.  I do not know how long the barrage lasted nor how far away those hills were or if anyone she had met there was injured or killed.  Surely, the damage must have been quite measurable on the essential crops or already dilapidated farmhouses if they were hit.  For some, it may have become the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The years of war would have taken its toll.

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The Japan Sea was on the “backside” of the farm, she said (see map above); it was close by.  One poignant memory she has is one of watching young Japanese soldiers by the coastal sea cliffs several times.

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My Uncle Suetaro is at the bottom left at a beach; he and many of his fellow soldiers are in their typical loincloths. I am confident my Aunt Eiko saw very similarly dressed young soldiers like these by the sea cliffs at Fukui.

She writes:

表がすぐ日本海であったのでその海崖にいつも若い日本兵がフンドシ一つで泳いでいた。学徒出陣の青年達だった。この青年達も皆戦死したであろうと思うととても気持ちはいたい。

She says that as the Japan Sea was on the other side of the farm, she watched young Japanese soldiers joyously swimming by the sea cliffs in their loincloths (フンドシ or fundoshi). They were Army recruits and so very young.  Aunt Eiko says her heart is pained to this day knowing that all those young boys she saw swimming in the Japan Sea certainly perished.

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Preceded by my mom, Aunt Eiko and grandmother returned to Tokyo about a month after war’s end. The Mitani’s had taken them into their already burdened life, provided shelter and shared whatever meager provisions they had. While they have all passed on, she is grateful  to them to this day.

As she wrote, the sight of Mrs. Mitani strapping on their cauldron remains etched in her mind to this day.

To Aunt Eiko, the simple cast iron cauldron had helped stew the essence of survival.

Notes:

1. Being the summer months, the white uniforms were likely worn by Imperial Japanese Navy officers.

2. For a visual on what a dirt floor house may have looked like, please click on this link.

3. While TF 37 and 38 were operating around Japan attacking targets, I was successful in only locating one battle record of Fukui being attacked when Aunt Eiko was there.   It belongs to the US 20th Air Force; in Mission 277 flown on July 19th, 1945, 127 B-29s carpet bombed Fukui’s urban area.  Military records state that Fukui was deemed an important military target, producing aircraft parts, electrical equipment, machine motors, various metal products and textiles.  It was also reportedly an important railroad center.  Per Wikipedia, the attack was meant to destroy industries, disrupt rail communications, and decrease Japan’s recuperative potential. Of the city’s 1.9 sq. miles at the time, 84.8% of Fukui was destroyed that day.  I am under the assumption that having witnessed B-29 attacks in Tokyo that she definitely would have heard the ominous drone of the B-29s.  As such, she maintains it was a naval barrage.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue


YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Lt. Gen. Burton Field, United States Forces Japan commander and 5th Air Force commander, gives Tomo Ishikawa, Gakushuin Women’s College student, a hug after she presented him 1,000 origami cranes March 16, 2012. The students made a total of 4,000 origami cranes and gave 1,000 to a member of each service. This was in appreciation for all the help given by the 5th Air Force to the Japanese citizens stranded by the tsunami.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chad C. Strohmeyer)

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

War is hell.

Vile.

Scars are left on those who had to endure the horror…

Those who witnessed it…

Those who fought in it…

But then hopefully there is a healing.

Perhaps it will take a generation or two.

But it will happen.

Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.
Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.

Perhaps one will never forget… but one can forgive.

Perhaps is it wrong of me – a person who never endured war – to say it so simply.  Forgive.

But I have witnessed forgiving with Old Man Jack… Mr. Johnson…

Warriors have forgiven and tried to move on with their life in spite of nightmares for the rest of their lives.

Civilians, too.

The result is endearing friendship.  The same USAF that bombed Japan assisted thousands of stranded Japanese civilians after the tsunami.  The world has benefited but at the cost of the sanity of single souls so many decades ago.

Captain Ray B. Smisek

On Sept. 2, 1945, Captain Ray Smisek once again made a round trip flight to Tokyo.

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A glimpse at a formation of B-29s flying over the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. Perhaps Capt. Smisek’s B-29 is pictured. National Archives.

This time, it was as a member of one of the great air armadas ever assembled in history.  Over 300 carrier based Navy planes and hundreds of B-29s.  MacArthur rightfully wanted to make an impression upon the Japanese people by ordering a huge flyover Tokyo Bay and the USS Missouri, where the formal surrender documents were signed.  (They were to fly over at the moment of the signing but were late, upwards of ten minutes.  MacArthur apparently whispered to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF something to the effect of, “Now would be a good time, Hap,” with respect to his missing armada.)

It was the crew’s 21st mission.  They were going home.

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Official Mission List, retained by Capt. Smisek’s bombadier, Capt. Alfonso Escalante. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

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In Part 1, son S. Smisek said of his father that he hated to kill anything – even bugs.  That was his character.

Capt. Ray Smisek returned home to his parents after the war and tried his hand in the Los Angeles real estate market; he also worked as a cook in a restaurant.  He must have made one heckuva Sauerkraut, one of his favorites.

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Capt. Ray Smisek with his parents after returning home. They must have been proud. Photo courtesy of S. Smisek (Copyright).

But…  Ray Smisek had met a young woman while he and a back-seater were on a cross-country training flight in 1942.  They were flying from Greenville, Mississippi when the BT-13 trainer developed engine trouble.  To make matters worse, there was a bad storm.  Not swell conditions when you’re training to be a pilot.  Fortunately, the clouds miraculously parted and a small town below was bathed in forgiving sunlight.  He said he did a barrel roll and dove through the break in the clouds.  It turned out to be a rural airport in Springfield, MO (now known at the Springfield-Branson National Airport).

On the USAAF’s dime, he was put up in a posh hotel.  After noticing “this sweet thing walk by” per his son, Ray Smisek asked a desk clerk if he knew who she was.  Seeing the twinkle in his eye, the clerk contacted the gal’s father who agreed to let him meet his daughter…but under the father’s mindful eye.  She apparently “had a guy”, so to speak, but they still ended up becoming pen pals.  Those letters must have been so important to a young man off in a faraway place facing death at any time.  It may have been fate but her beau tragically perished in a B-24 Liberator accident in England.
She was a singer in the “big bands” era of the 40’s and traveled extensively.  Remembering there was no internet, Ray finally tracked her down in 1947.  She was in Houston for a gig.  His son tells me he drove for two days straight to get to where she was performing.  Ray had a note he had written and asked a waiter to hand it to her.  It said, “Let me take you home and love you forever.  Ray!”  The note is a precious heirloom; the family still has it.
After getting married, Ray re-enlisted in the newly organized USAF (It was separated from the US Army.).  He flew for 16 more years in service of our country and retired from the USAF as a Colonel in 1963.  Along the way, they had five children; one was born at each station at which he was assigned.  Talk about the hardships of a military family.
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Family picture taken in the 1980’s, with Ray (plaid shirt) and his wife (red blouse), five children and the grandparents to the right of center. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

S. Smisek explained to me that his father rarely, if ever, talked about his time at war while he was growing up.  That was very typical, you see.  His son wrote very eloquently:

When I was growing up, he never spoke much of his time during the war. When asked about those times, I could see a sullenness come over his face, then he would most often ask me another question just to change the subject. In those rare exchanges when he would answer, he made it very clear that he desired no recognition for what he had done. He desired no contact with his fellow comrades, felt no honor for the devastation he had helped cause, and amazingly to me, felt no affection whatsoever for the incredible aircraft which had brought he and his crew back safely from so many missions over so many horrible places.

He, along with the rest of these brave young men, was an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so that countless others would have the freedom to accomplish theirs.

Raymond B. Smisek was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in 1989 and passed away at home, surrounded by his family, in August 1990.  He was just 70 years old.  His son believes his father also suffered from another cancer – one related to unhealed scars from war.  His son said they were cancers of the soul and spirit, much more damaging than those of the body.  His wife – the singer in the big bands of the ’40s – passed away in 2001.

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Please visit his son’s tribute to the men of the 330th Bombardment Group at www.330th.org.  For the sake of the families of the WWII airmen, S. Smisek has researched and brought many of the pieces together of what it was like for their fathers at war.  Through his website and in a sterling triumph several years ago, S. Smisek played a key role in coordinating the meeting of a Japanese gentleman living in Canada with a B-29 pilot from his father’s squadron. Seventy years earlier, the Japanese gentleman was in Kumagaya Japan as an eight year old, running from the bombs being dropped from the pilot’s aircraft.  The two finally met and it was moving and emotional moment per S. Smisek.  For an article of the meeting, please click here.

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Aunt Eiko

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Dad took this picture of the Tokyo Station in 1947. His G-2 HQ was to his left in front of the Palace. The station was being rebuilt, courtesy of the US. Notice the rickshaws lined up in front; the Japanese had no cars until the late 50’s. Also note the trees; they are burned.

There was no escaping bombardment for Aunt Eiko, even after moving to Fukui slightly inland from the Japan Sea; the US Navy shelled their farming neighborhood heavily.  She also vividly remembers a small group of high school aged Japanese soldiers relaxing at the nearby beach and still cries inside knowing their fate.

Preceded by my mother, Aunt Eiko and grandma returned to Tokyo sometime in mid-September to find it in shambles.  People were living in lean-to’s, she said, and running water still had not yet been re-established in devastated areas.  Food was a tremendous daily hurdle.  She cannot recall when but she remembers it was such a relief when MacArthur began rationing out beans and drinkable water…but it was American beans.  Still, the beans were appreciated.

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PFC Taro Tanji seated in center flanked by (from left) mom, grandparents and Aunt Eiko. You can make out Taro’s US 8th Army emblem. Taken in Tokyo, December 8, 1946.
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Aunt Eiko got a job at the Tokyo PX, working out of the Matsuzakaya Department Store in the Ginza. You can see “Tokyo PX” on her badge. 1947, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

But their greatest savior surviving the first few months after war’s end was another relative – an American.  An American of Japanese descent that is.  Taro Tanji was born in Livingston, CA but was drafted out of the Amache War Relocation Center in Colorado by the US Army.  He became a member of the famed Military Intelligence Service.

He arrived in Tokyo at war’s end as part of the US 8th Army’s Occupation Force.  Through his intelligence connections, he was able to track down Aunt Eiko and family in a suburb called “Toritsu Daigaku”.  Some of it had miraculously escaped burning.

Driving up in his US Army jeep, he stayed at their house every weekend.  Each time, he would bring a duffle bag filled with C-rations, instant coffee and American cigarettes for my Grandfather (which he reluctantly accepted – funny story).  Yes, Aunt Eiko ate the Spam and deviled ham.  Taro managed to get in a good word and found both Aunt Eiko and my mother jobs at the PX.

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Aunt Eiko and her love in her life, Puri. Circa 1952, Toritsu Gakuen, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

Things were tough until the early 50’s.  Dogs as pets were still rare as they also needed to be fed…but Aunt Eiko wanted dearly to achieve one of her dreams – to have a dog.

And so she did… She named him “Prince”, or “Puri” when you shorten “Pu-ri-un-su” pronounced in Japanese.  She loved him until he passed away in 1968.  She was devastated, of course.  I think Puri was an escape from the war’s ugliness for her.

She met Paul Sakuma sometime in the late 60’s; he was a Hawaiian born Sansei who was also drafted by the US Army into the Military Intelligence Service by the US Army.  He was attached to the 720th MP Battalion to serve as a translator.  He told a funny story to Aunt Eiko where the MPs frequently raided certain types of “houses”…  You know…  GI’s were prohibited from “fraternizing with the enemy” so they would raid them.  One time, there was a fellow MIS Nisei caught inside.  He made sure the “howlies” couldn’t escape…but held the door open for the Nisei.  After being discharged, he decided to stay in Tokyo to live and worked for the USAF as a civilian employee, using his knowledge of Japanese as a go-between.

Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling's top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945.  The old barracks is seen in the background.
Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling’s top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945. The old barracks is seen in the background.

They married but had no children – but a week before my first marriage in 1980, I got a phone call from Aunt Eiko in Tokyo.  She was sobbing uncontrollably.

Uncle Paul had gone upstairs in their beautiful home he just had built for them after washing her car.  He screamed, “Eiko!”  It would be his last word; he suffered a massive heart attack and died, right there at the top of the stairs in his brand new home.

Soon after his death, Aunt Eiko immigrated to the US along with my grandmother.  She became an US citizen about a dozen years ago.

In an irony, the country that bombed her city to ashes in 1945 bestowed upon her beloved husband Uncle Paul (as well as to Uncle Taro) the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for their service to the country.  While both had passed away before the award, Aunt Eiko cried for happy when I surprised her with the medal.  She said, “Even after all these years, Paul still brings me happiness.”

Holding Uncle Paul's Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy.  Incidentally, she became an American citizen about ten years ago.
Holding Uncle Paul’s Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy. Incidentally, she became an American citizen about a dozen years ago. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.
With her best friend - August 1963
Aunt Eiko with her childhood friend – the one who was burned during a firebombing. August 1963, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

As for her childhood friends, she is all who remains now at 88 years of age, just like Old Man Jack.  Her friend who was burned during the firebombings was one of the last to pass away.  She was the tall girl standing behind Aunt Eiko atop the Asahi Newspaper Building on October 30, 1937 and shown here in 1963.

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A most sincere thank you to S. Smisek without whom this series would not have been possible.  I wish him continued fortune with his 330th Bomb Group’s website, helping those descendants piece together their father’s contribution in World War II.

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My two youngest kids standing beneath the Enola Gay in 2010, the most famous B-29. Her single bomb destroyed my father’s Hiroshima high school and damaged my grandmother’s home as well. Read the story by clicking on the photo.  Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

Previous parts can be found by clicking on the links below:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4


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One of my WWII aviation lithographs; it shows a P-38 Lightning ironically over Leyte where my uncle was killed. Drawn by my good friend Mike Machat.

The View From the Ground

“うわぁ。。。二つの尻尾。。。それはその時代の飛行機だ。。。”, my Aunt Eiko said. “Oh, my… The twin tails… Its that plane from (the war).”

She just saw my lithograph of a WWII P-38 Lightning.  She and my parents had come for the first time after we moved into our house across the street from Old Man Jack. I had just put up my WWII aviation art gallery and she immediately recognized this US fighter plane with its distinctive twin tails from the war.  She said it strafed the high school that she was walking near.  She was about 18 years old.

Funny how things stick in your mind from war.

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Circa 1930
(L to R) Mom and Aunt Eiko, circa 1931. Tokyo.

Along with my mom and grandparents, Aunt Eiko lived within walking distance of the Imperial Palace in Shimbashi, Tokyo.  Back then, the Emperor was god.  To live so close to the Imperial Palace meant your family had some extra change.

Although a photo of their house from that time no longer exists, the home was typical of that time.  Beams and floors made of wood. Doors called “shoji” (framed in light wood with paper “windows”) slid open and close.  By sliding, they saved space as regular doors would have to swing open and close, taking away precious space.  The floors were “tatami”, or boards wound with rice straw.  Believe me, they are uncomfortable to sit on to say the least.  Many homes still sported thatched roofs, or kusabuki, made with layers of a type of reed.  But all in all, the homes were made with wood products or straw.  Not exactly fireproof.

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My Aunt Mieko (dad’s side of family) standing in front of our traditional style home, circa 1936. Although my dad’s home shown here is in Hiroshima, the construction is the same as my aunt’s: wood and paper. Behind her are the “shoji”, or sliding door panels as well as the hard tatami mats. As a side note, all these shoji were blown out by the atomic shock wave.

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As three generations usually lived in a family home, Aunt Eiko had the same close knit circle of girl friends having stayed together through high school.  Families rarely moved back then.  The girls took classes in “kimono”, shamisen (a guitar of sorts) and cooking – very traditional fare for a Japanese girl.  To them, etiquette was to be followed, never to be broken.  I would think she had a crush on someone just as any girl would have…but she has not said.

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Aunt Eiko, front row, third from left, and circle of close friends. Her closest friend, standing to the left of her, was slightly burned during a firebombing.  Taken atop the Asahi Newspaper Building, Tokyo, Oct. 30, 1937.

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Before the Firebombing

Sometime in late 1943, my aunt says my grandfather decided to move the family, a rarity, due to her illnesses.  Apparently, my grandfather thought the unhealthy downtown Tokyo air was exacerbating her ills so they moved into another wooden frame home in Higashi Senzoku, a couple of kilometers south of Shimbashi.  It does not appear potential bombings by US planes was the reason to move at this time.

Soon thereafter, though, the family received mandatory evacuation orders (強制疎開). My Aunt believes this to be late in 1944… Times were tough.  Food supplies had already dwindled to nearly nothing. To make it worse, only older doctors remained as many younger ones were conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army as well.

They moved to her grandfather’s home in Omiya, Tokyo; it is about a mile due west of the Imperial Palace:

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Omiya, the Imperial Palace and childhood home.

A drawing of the wood home in Omiya:

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The actual traditional wooden home (立ての木) in Omiya, Tokyo where my family took refuge during the bombings. It is about a mile west of the Imperial Palace. This was drawn on extremely thin paper – much thinner than the old tracing paper we had here in the States – by my great-grandfather, Wakio Shibayama. Undated but post-war.

The Firebombing

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My aunt’s writing. (Copyright Koji Kanemoto)

March 9, 1945 was about two weeks before my Aunt Eiko’s 19th birthday.  Due to the strenuous and meager living conditions, I doubt any birthday party was in the works.  I doubt there were many birthday parties at all.  There was little to be had as Japan was losing… and losing badly.

Aunt Eiko was at their grandfather’s house in Omiya that night when the pathfinders found their mark.  She says they all gathered in the front yard to gaze towards the Imperial Palace after hearing the first explosions.

She notes on the left:

東京大空襲が3月10日にあっておじいさんの家の庭でB-29の爆弾、焼夷弾が落とされる時の雨が降る様な音とその爆弾の数の多いことにだいたいおどかされた。そのおとのザ~ザ~というのが今でも耳にのこっている。

In doing my best at translating, she says:

We were in the front yard of my grandfather’s house when the firebombing started on March 10.  The B-29s were dropping shocking amounts of bombs and firebombs – so many that they sounded like heavy rain coming down.  I will never forget that sound (of the falling bombs); it is still vivid in my ears even today.

A year earlier, my youngest daughter was interviewing her for a 5th grade family biography project.  One requirement was that the family member’s history was interesting or unusual.  Naturally, since experiences like my aunt’s are not found in school textbooks today, I recommended she interview Aunt Eiko about her war experiences in Tokyo.

ちょうちん
提灯 or paper lantern.

During the interview, Aunt Eiko said the (AN-M69) incendiary sticks were like thousands of 撥 (bachi, or the drumsticks used for taiko drums) raining down from the sky… that there were so many of them that it looked like swarms of insects.  She also described the thousands of trailing streamers (attached to each stick) reminded her of ribbons fluttering in the breeze.¹  Unlike what many of us believe, she said the B-29s came for hours… that there would be a rash of explosions then the B-29s would disappear only to hear the now familiar drone of more B-29s approaching then more bombs.

In earlier conversations², she described seeing hundreds of flashes of light at roof top level during the firebombings.  It wasn’t clear to me then but it is clear now that the flashes she witnessed were likely the smaller high explosive bombs dropped from the B-29s hitting structures and exploding.  She also sadly described the homes burned like 提灯 (chouchin, or paper lanterns) and that the waves of heat distorted distances (like looking through the heat waves rising from your street in summer).  It made it hard to judge how far – or how close – the fires were.

The Firestorm

The main concentrations of fire occurred not just in the area behind and to the left of the Imperial Palace; Aunt Eiko said incendiaries (possibly dispersed due to the heat thermals) ignited neighborhoods just to the left of her Omiya house where they were staying. (Embers would have achieved the same results, however, and may be more likely.)

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The city’s fire department was largely staffed by women who were not professional firefighters. Importantly, note the clothing worn by the mother and child in the forefront. Source: “The Reports of General MacArthur“.

According to studies, death occurred through suffocation, incineration, and heat.

Fed by winds and with a fire department largely staffed by women volunteers, the fires spread rapidly and raged out of control. These firefighters attempted throwing dirt or sand on the incendiaries, a hopeless effort. When there was water pressure, the water pressure was low.  Reports indicated the firefighters tried to douse the civilians as they fled but the water would soon evaporate from the heat.

Suffocation occurred as the great fires sucked all the oxygen out of the air. They just couldn’t breathe.  Those that were able to find cooler river water tried to keep their faces above the water; but they, too, simply suffocated due to the lack of oxygen. In some instances, fleeing civilians attempted to seek shelter in areas that had pretty much burned but their bodies were found later in a small cluster.  They suffocated to death together as oxygen became depleted.

Extreme heat was another cause of death as temperatures soared to 1,800F.  Asphalt bubbled and steel bridges became frying pans.  People panicking ran or were herded towards bridges or rivers only to be pushed into the waters by the ensuing masses of humanity trying to flee.  Unfortunately, the water was at boiling temperatures and they were essentially boiled to death once they fell in.  Escape paths were blocked with debris, downed power poles, burning trees…and bodies.  If one could not escape the heat, that person simply burst into flames.  Horrifically, superheated air swirled down towards street level.  People would then literally burn from the feet up when their pants would catch fire.

taka-hide
A Japanese artist’s depiction. Note the pants on fire and the swirling heat.  While unsure, the name appears to be Takahide.

Incineration was the worst, the most painful death I would assume.  One aspect not widely known by the general populace is their type of clothing contributed greatly to their demise of burning to death.  Their cloth-based head gear (see painting of women firefighters shown earlier) was meant to protect their ears and head from bomb explosions – not a firestorm.  In the end, this protective head gear easily caught fire as did their loose fitting trousers.  Aunt Eiko reported a girl she knew ran from the fires with a baby strapped onto her back in traditional Japanese style.  Through all the noise, screaming, running and panic, the girl was unable to notice until too late that burning jellied gasoline had landed on the baby’s face and had died.

No photos of corpses are deemed necessary here.

Aftermath

tokyofires
A wall exhibit at the Tokyo History Museum, showing the extent of the area destroyed by firebombing. The Imperial Palace is just right of center. The Omiya house is in the burned zone, in the very center.

Aunt Eiko has never said whether the Omiya home survived the firebombings and I don’t intend to ask.  While this Tokyo raid was the first of several, I cannot understand why my great-grandfather would have sketched the home out, apparently from memory, unless it no longer existed.

Japanese reports of the aftermath indicate that due to the thousands of burned corpses or of those who suffocated, it was nearly impossible to walk through Tokyo without stepping on bodies.  Further, as the seared corpses disintegrated, their ashes would swirl up into the air.

She, my mother and grandmother finally fled the city on or about July 1, 1945; grandfather stayed behind for reasons never known to her.  They lived at another cousin’s yam farm in Fukui, helping to farm the fields while living on meager rations.

The war ended six weeks later.  What happened in between is another story altogether.

Part 5 of “The Firebombing of Tokyo” will be an epilogue.

I hope you will stay tuned.

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 5 (Epilogue) is here.

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NOTES:

1. That even surprised me as I didn’t know the incendiaries had streamers, so much so that I asked her what she was talking about.

2. Just like Old Man Jack and many other combat veterans, Aunt Eiko (along with my father) suppresses many of the horrific war experiences she witnessed.  She “gives” things out little by little.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2


Fifi 1
Fifi – the last flying B-29 Superfortress in the world. Taken by me flying over my house on November 13, 2010. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

Superfortress.

Or the “Superfort”.

That’s what we called them here in the States; nicknames for the Boeing B-29 bomber.

My aunt called them “地獄からのトンボ” or dragonfly from hell.

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Development

The development of the B-29 actually started before WWII began for the US – in 1939.  Perhaps there were some shenanigans back then but Boeing had engineered a pressurized cockpit for their B-17 Flying Fortress (from whence the nickname Superfortress hailed from) for the USAAF.  Conveniently, the USAAF put together in 1939 a call for a new bomber capable of 400 mph while carrying a 20,000 pound payload.  The B-29 was born.

frye
Destroyed Frye Packing Plant. Boeing archives.

Her development was not smooth.  Indeed, it was the most advanced aircraft design of its time with its pressurized crew compartment and ten remote control dual .50 caliber Browning machine guns.  The second prototype YB-29 crashed into the Frye Packing Plant in Seattle killing her pilot, Eddie Allen, all ten of her crew of engineers as well as 19 workers on the ground.  (In fact, two engineers managed to bail out over Seattle but they were too low for their parachutes to deploy.)  As an indication of things to come, an engine caught fire 20 minutes into the flight causing the horrendous crash.  As the plane was secret, there was a tremendous cover-up as well.

BI219398
Test pilot Eddie Allen from his cockpit of the XB-29. Boeing archives.

The production of the B-29 was a nightmare.  Due to immensity of the aircraft for its time, there were no manufacturing facilities large enough to house it let alone build it.  Four assembly plants were utilized with Boeing’s Wichita plant eventually becoming the hub.  The plane’s complexity exacerbated the production; over a thousand sub-contractors were involved.  Production changes were so prevalent, numerous and on-going that even when a B-29 had been assembled, it was towed to a holding area in Wichita to have major modifications done post-production.  The freezing weather also made work a nightmare.  Production was so poor that even when about 97 were delivered in 1943, only about 15 were flyable.

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Source unknown.
b29-superfortress-engine-assembly-line
Posed photograph of workers working on B-29 cockpit module. National archives. Undated.
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First B-29 out of Wichita, Kansas, Fall 1943. National Archives.

Some examples of these major flaws included:

  1.  Defective pressure seals around cockpit windows and gunner blisters;
  2.  As each plane had about ten miles of wiring and electronics, there were numerous failures;
  3.  Wing structure needed post-production modifications;
  4.  Cockpit glass were distorted;
  5.  The analog computers used for the new “remote control” machine guns were problematic; and,
  6.  As as mentioned, the engines overheated to the point of being set on fire during flight.

Because production of the first B-29’s were done “on the run”, the first 100 built were really built by hand by unskilled laborers.  Each one differed from another.  One end result of this production on the run was that there were significant differences in weight between supposedly identical bombers.

Only personal intervention by the great General Hap Arnold improved the production problem… but it took months.

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The first combat deployment of the B-29 occurred from the China-Burma-India theater of war on June 4, 1944.  Ninety-eight B-29s flew to targets in Thailand.  However, the results were dismal (Reports indicate perhaps one bomb hit target. Most bombs landed two kilometers off target.).  As another indicator of things to come, five B-29s were lost during the mission.  They were not lost due to enemy fire; they crashed due to mechanical failure.

The first bombing mission to Japan occurred on June 15, 1944.  Sixty-eight B-29s took off from bases around Chengdu and bombed a steel plant in Yahata, Japan.  As a first indicator of an ugly pattern, only 47  of the 68 B-29’s reached their target.

As in the XB-29 prototype crash, the engines were the most serious operational defect.  They utilized the 2,200 hp Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine with 18 cylinders in two rows. One central design defect rested within the top five cylinders of the radial engine.  These radial engines needed massive air flow to cool them off.  Unfortunately, engine shortcomings, i.e., engine failures, led to a number of crashes at take off when the planes were fully loaded with ordnance or at other unfortunate times during their long flights.  Engines needed overhaul or replacement only after about 75 hours of operation to give you an idea of their unreliability.  Bombing missions to Tokyo averaged 15 hours in the air.

Later models – the B-29B or ‘”Silverplate”¹ – would be stripped of all defensive armament except for the tail gun.

Imagine being on the plane during that time flying over thousands of miles of ocean…exponentially worsened if you were under attack.

I wonder what unpleasant thoughts kept gnawing at Capt. Ray Smisek and his crew during one of their missions.

He was flying the Chevy Citation of the skies.

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Ordnance

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AN-M69 cluster incendiaries were shipped in metal tubes. Source: http://www.japanairraids.org/?page_id=3242.

AN-M69s

In essence, there were many combinations of bombs used in the bombing of Tokyo.  For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on a couple.

The AN-M69 Incendiary Bomb was a cluster-type jellied gasoline (napalm) weapon; the gel would be contained in a cheesecloth sack then enclosed in a metal tube.  The Standard Oil Development Company started work on the weapon two months before Pearl Harbor.  The engineering goal was to develop an incendiary device with as little magnesium as possible due to supply constraints.  The objective of this weapon was to simply burn things (and the enemy) up.  Ironically, German buildings were the initial target but as the war progressed, use against Japanese targets became the focus.

Test of an AN-M69 incendiary device against a “Japanese style” building. Undated.

The most common cluster assembly (the M19) held 38 individual AN-M69s, nicknamed “Tokyo Calling Cards” by her crews; the B-29s would release the M19s 5,000 feet above a target. As the M19 canister would break open, the force of the wind would deploy the streamer attached to each AN-M69 stick.  As the individual AN-M69s scattered in the air stream, they would orient themselves to the nose-down position.  The M1 fuse would activate after hitting the ground or target, then would lay there 3 to 5 seconds allowing the stick to lay on its side. After those seconds, the explosive charge would disperse the burning jellied gasoline, clinging to anything it touched.

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An excellent schematic of the AN-M69 with a 38 stick cluster. Courtesy of S. Smisek.
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A close up of an actual AN-M69 incendiary bomb. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

For a USAAF film taken of its assembly and testing:

Each B-29 could carry 40 M19 canisters in their bomb bays with each canister carrying 38 AN-M69s. Using simple (non-common core) multiplication, that would be 1,520 AN-M69s per each B-29.  A raid could involve hundreds of B-29s.

There were other variations of this concept, such as the M17s.

AN-M41

We have all been camping at one time or another.  When we try to start a campfire “the old way”, the kids would be sent about looking for smaller twigs and branches to be used as kindling.  Larger logs would then be placed upon the then burning kindling.

The AN-M41 was a 20 pound fragmentation bomb, held in clusters.  There is nothing very unique about this weapon.  Upon hitting a target, it’s mission was to simply break things up upon impact.  Smaller pieces would then be easier to burn, much like kindling in concept.

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A cluster of AN-M41 20 pound fragmentation bombs. Copyright and courtesy of S. Smisek.
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AN-M41 clusters above an armorer being readied in a B-29 bomb bay. They are flanked by M-19s each containing 38 sticks of the AN-M69 incendiary bombs. Copyright and courtesy of S. Smisek. (For another rare image courtesy of S. Smisek of the M-19s being assembled by her armorers, please click https://flic.kr/p/j2tpA7

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I would think it would take immense courage to be flying in an aircraft being shot at while carrying these explosives.  In colloquial terms, it took balls.

Lots of it.  You were in a flying gasoline tanker.

ssms1
Captain Ray B. Smisek, standing at far right, and his gallant crew. Guam 1945. Copyright and courtesy of S. Smisek.

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The perilous B-29 missions will be coming next in Part 3.

Hope you’ll stay tuned.

Edit: You can find the other chapters in the links below:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

NOTES:

1 Ironically, the secret codeword Colonel Paul Tibbetts of the Enola Gay was given by General Hap Arnold while assembling his atomic bombing group was “Silverplate”.  If Tibbetts encountered any administrative SNAFU, he could get anything ordered by using the secret codeword.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1


A View From Both Sides

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From left: Grandmother, Dad in US Army uniform 1947 and his youngest brother (seated), circa 1943. The writing is my aunt’s; you can see “B-29”.  Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

My Aunt Eiko called me in April of 2011; you can tell she was crying.

“I’ve seen this before,” she said in Japanese.  She was watching the TV footage of the disaster caused by the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Dumbfounded, I asked, “How could you have seen this before?  The earthquake just happened.”

“完全な破壊。。。戦争思い出したわぁ。。。” or loosely translated, “From the war…  I remember seeing this (complete destruction) from the war…”

Ironically, she was recalling what she saw exactly 66 years earlier – April 1945 – when Tokyo and many other cities were firebombed in an all out world war.

She was there.

And so was someone else from the other side of the Pacific.

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Through the miracle of WordPress, many of us here have met in the most peculiar of ways –  the hub being World War II…  Perhaps ironic but nevertheless destiny.

For instance, pacificparatrooper‘s father was in the US Army’s 11th Airborne and parachuted into combat over the Philippines with my Dad’s youngest brother killed later on Leyte as a Japanese soldier.  JeanneRene‘s father fought on the wretched islands as a critical Seabee.  Of course, my neighbor Old Man Jack was a sailor fighting to survive in the thick of things on those “stinkin’ islands” – Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Okinawa and Green Island.  Mr. Johnson fought and was wounded on-board CV-6, the USS Enterprise, manning the 20mm AA guns as a US Marine.  Although they returned, they did not return home unscathed.

None of them did.

The Main “Human Beings” of this Story

This series hopes to present the ugliness of war as personally experienced by two human beings – one who was on the ground and one who was in the air.

…The scarring of a Tokyo teen-aged girl on the ground: my Aunt Eiko.

Circa 1932
(L to R) Aunt Eiko, Mom, Grandpa and Grandma. Circa 1938, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

…AND the scarring of a young B-29 Superfortress pilot in the US Army Air Force’s 330th Bomber Wing: Capt. Ray B. Smisek who flew bombing missions over Japan.

Capt Smisek 2
Ray B. Smisek (to right of nose gear) after a safe return from a bombing mission to Gifu. Behind him is the B-29 he captained with a crew of ten young men, the “City of San Francisco”. 1945. Courtesy of son S. Smisek (copyright).

There is one sad, dreadful thing about their fateful relationship: neither had asked for it.

Neither had asked for war.

A very bitter war.

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Ray B. Smisek, the Gent

Capt Smisek Catalina island
A “life is good” portrait of Ray Smisek on Catalina Island. Copyrighted photo courtesy of S. Smisek.

One person I met online was S. Smisek.  He has an extensive photo collection on flickr of his father’s service during World War II; that is where our paths crossed (his photo link is here).  His father was Capt. Smisek, the captain of “City of San Francisco”, a B-29 bomber flying out of Guam as part of the 330th Bombardment Group, 458th Squadron.  Born in Minnesota in 1920, he was also a lead pilot – a very heavy responsibility let alone if under attack.

His son shared with me his remembrances of his father.  He shared that Capt. Smisek liked flying above all else – especially open cockpit.

“(His dad) liked Czech and German food, like Sauerkraut, sausage and beer. Polka music. Baseball and football.  He loved baking bread and pastry.  Made amazing sourdough pancakes and Christmas bread. He loved gardening.  He could grow ANYTHING and liked to tinker on anything and everything around the house.  Fix it… or break it if it already was fixed.

Capt Smisek Football at 18 yo Thrid from front right
A young Ray Smisek, third from right. Copyrighted photo courtesy of S. Smisek.

He hated hunting. Did not like to kill anything.  He would pick up bugs and release them outside.  Used to freak us kids out!

He liked his newspaper and watching the news.  He occasionally smoked a pipe.  Wore Old Spice aftershave all the time I knew him (I keep some around to this day.).  He loved licorice. 

He was honest as the day is long.  A man of his word.  A handshake was an agreement.  A promise.  A very strong Republican who loved Richard Nixon and John Wayne.  He liked Louis L’Amour books.  I think he dreamed of being a cowboy.

(Dad) hated racists.  Always gave everyone a chance. Maybe two and that’s it.”

Aunt Eiko, the Teenager

(L to R) Aunt Eiko and mom. Circa 1932, Shimbashi, Tokyo.
(L to R) Aunt Eiko and mom. Circa 1932, Shimbashi, Tokyo.

My Aunt Eiko and my mother had lived with my grandparents in Tokyo since their births in the mid-1920’s. Their childhood home was next to the Ginza at Shimbashi 5 Chome; think of it as Japan’s Beverly Hills.  It is within walking distance from the Imperial Palace.  My aunt says the picture to the left was taken near their Shimbashi home and next to a relative’s kimono shop in the Ginza.

As a child, she was apparently sickly.  They say she was quite skinny from this ailment and that ailment; the food shortage didn’t help much although my grandfather reportedly had black market connections to obtain food once in a while.  Nevertheless, she had a weak digestive system.  She has it to this day.

Like most Japanese “upper society” girls of that time, she was required to know how to play the shamisen, or a Japanese stringed instrument.  She was also trained on the silk kimono – it was an elaborate dress that took a couple of hours to put on properly.

Showa 14 Aki - Fall 1939 / Grandma in center, Aunt Eiko on right
Aunt Eiko on right playing the “shamisen”. Tokyo, Autumn 1939.

Aunt Eiko didn’t disappoint anyone’s ear drums when she saw a bug.  She screamed really loud when a bug got near her.  It was easy to see them since they get as big as footballs there in Japan.  Ok, I’m exaggerating – a little.

She had an artistic flair, with her grandfather being a noted painter and art professor.  She loved “ikebana”, or flower arranging.  In fact, she made it her career after war’s end, becoming one of the top ranked ikebana instructors in Tokyo.

Amazingly, in spite of her stomach ailments, she liked cooking; unfortunately, she had a knack for burning things.  I know.

Most of all, she loved dogs.  After feeding one with her chopsticks, she’d just go right back to using them to feed herself… but with food a scarcity, her love for dogs would have to wait until quite a while after war’s end.

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In Part 2, we will visit the B-29 Superfortress, her crews and the ordnance she would typically carry into battle above Japan.

Hope you’ll stay tuned.

Edit: You can find the other chapters in the links below:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

Fairy Tales, Dragons and MacArthur – Part 1


http://www.wall321.com

As I watched “How to Train Your Dragon” on Blu-Ray for the third time with my kids, it became clear that knights in shining armor kill dragons…and only in fairy tales.

A tremendous Einstein moment for this old geezer.

But then I realized that sometimes, what we read about WWII history can be sort of a fairy tale, complete with a knight in shining armor trying to slay a dragon… the dragon being what truly happened in war.

History becomes what the writer – or a leader – wants it to be in the public domain.

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Unknown to many is that another battle raged after the surrender of Japan.  It was about what was to be recorded as an official history of WWII.  It was a battle involving glorification, greed and politics of both the victors and the defeated.

And of course, it involved General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur www.historychannel.com
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
http://www.historychannel.com

First, a quick opinion and summary of MacArthur from this arm-chair (amateur) historian’s viewpoint.

MacArthur had a helluva an ego as did George Patton and Bernard Montgomery.  He was suspicious, short tempered, short on patience and embittered.  MacArthur – as did Patton – studied military history extensively; he loved Napoleon.  As commander, he failed to appropriately alert the troops under his command in the Philippines immediately prior to Pearl and worse yet, in the hours after.  He had to flee the Philippines on a PT boat along with his family to avoid capture leaving behind his troops.  However, supported by a brilliant, top notch staff and highly critical intel derived from intercepted then deciphered Japanese transmissions, he was highly successful in winning the war in the Pacific.  He was a hero at war’s end to his great gratification.  He was so loved by the American public that quite a few babies were named Douglas.

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Primarily due to a ridiculously small and inexperienced staff, only a relatively short written history of WWII in the Pacific emerged in late 1946 to the chagrin of MacArthur.  He immediately then placed Major General Charles Willoughby in charge of generating an “official” history.

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Willoughby (left) then Kawabe. http://www.trumanlibrary.org

Willoughby was in charge of the US Army’s G-2 (i.e., military intelligence) in the Southwest Pacific theater of war and was trusted by MacArthur.  (I briefly reported on Willougby in “Ike, a German-American Soldier”.)  Having a heavy German accent, Willoughby was very loyal to MacArthur, pompous and stoutly anti-Communist.  He seized the opportunity to “write the history” on victory in the Pacific under MacArthur’s leadership.

The tiny staff then blossomed under Willoughby to over 100 and was headquartered on the 3rd floor of the “NYK Building (Nippon Yusen Kaisha)” just a block from MacArthur’s GHQ in the Dai-Ichi Seimei Building; both are situated directly across the Imperial Palace.  (Coincidentally, my dad was stationed in the NYK Building on the 4th Floor as a US 8th Army Technical Sergeant, 3rd Grade in Willoughby’s G-2. He is pictured below with the edge of MacArthur’s GHQ seen on the extreme right. The NYK Building is off the picture to his left.  Behind him is the moat of the Imperial Palace.)

By the Emperor's Palace 1947

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You can clearly see the devastation caused by firebombing. http://www.geocities.jp/torikai016/map/P0229tokyo-tokyo1947.jpg

Seeking glory in this mission, Willoughby recruited by the end of 1946 top Japanese military officers, spies and even war criminals.  Each had their own personal goals and copious amounts of US money flowed into these Japanese hands.  One Japanese officer who Willoughby met in Manila was the Imperial Japanese Army’s Lt. General Torashiro Kawabe (photo above).  Amazingly, because Kawabe also spoke German very well and was anti-Communist, he and Willoughby struck it off well.

A short time later, still in 1946, Willoughby met Lt. General Seizo Arisue who was the intelligence chief for the Imperial Japanese Army.  By sheer luck, Arisue was also fluent in German and a staunch anti-Communist and reported he had the extensive spy network in place mentioned above.  A triad had thus formed and the project to document history took off but with a twist: to Willoughby’s credit, he foresaw a “dual” history.  As history always gets written by the victor, Willoughby wanted two volumes.   One would be the US side of the story, the second volume to be Japan’s.

In early 1947, Willoughby was introduced to a former colonel who served at the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo during the war.  His name was Col. Takuhiro Hattori.  Hattori was known to both Kawabe and Arisue as a genius in planning and organizing.  Hattori eventually became the person from Japan’s side to determine what went into the war history.

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Crypt, or ohaka, of the Araki’s in Japan. Click on link to a Japanese website, “History Sleeps in This Cemetery”. http://www6.plala.or.jp/guti/cemetery/PERSON/A/araki_mi.html

Generous money flowed through Willoughby to Kawabe and Arisue, reportedly to help fund the spy network.  Along the way, they brought in an “Issei” (a Japan-born first generation immigrant to the US like my grandfather) plus a university professor named Mitsutaro Araki.  He also received education in Germany but no history would be complete without sexual escapades.  Professor Araki’s wife was a socialite who used her beauty to charm others, primarily men.  Her name was Mitsuko Araki. As a bit of trivia, Mitsuko was the only Japanese who was allowed free, unhindered entry/exit to GHQ.  It was believed the CIA concluded she and Willoughby were having an affair.

In his efforts to make his recorded history unique, Willoughby paid Mitsuko to find and compensate artists who could paint battle scenes from Japanese eyes.  He felt photos were too ordinary plus many were from US sources.

To be continued in Part 2.