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The following five American veterans, members of the U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. Navy, travel to Japan on a Japanese government-funded program of remembrance and reconciliation. They will visit the sites of their capture, torture, and rescue as well as several Japanese cultural properties.
These men were “special prisoners” who were afforded no rights or even minimal care. One of the trip’s participants, Fiske Hanley, wrote a book, Accused American War Criminal on the horrors he and other flyers endured. Two of the men, Navy aviators Charles Brown and William Connell, were mentioned at length in James Bradley’s Fly Boys. Connell is believed to be the last American to leave Chichijima alive (others were beheaded and cannibalized).
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The men will include a visit to the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage and the memorial to the Raids in Yokomamicho Park. The Foreign Ministry will host a reception for them.
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SCOTT M. DOWNING, JR, 96, resides in Amarillo, Texas. He was working for Boeing Aircraft making B-17s in Seattle, Washington when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1942. He was not called to active duty until February 15, 1943 and he began his basic training at Buckley Field, Denver, Colorado (today’s Buckley AFB). He was then sent to Fort Hays State College in Kansas for Cadet Training and then to Bombardier School at Big Spring, Texas. In June 1944, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and sent to Harvard Army Airfield, Nebraska (today’s Harvard State Airport) and the 505th Bombardment Group for B-29 training. In mid-December 1944, he reported to Grand Island Army Airfield, Nebraska (today’s Central Nebraska Regional Airport) to pick up a new B-29 plane and was sent to Tinian to join the 482 BS, 313 Wing, 505 Bombardment Group, 20th Air Force in the Mariana Islands, arriving December 27th. Raids against Japan from Tinian had started November 24, 1944. His crew’s bombing and mining missions began on January 29, 1945. On their 20th mission over Tokyo on May 25/26, 1945, his B-29 was shot down near Musai, about 15 miles northeast of Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture. He bailed out of the burning plane and was captured almost immediately by civilians who turned him over to military personnel. The next day he and three other members of his crew were trucked through bombed-out downtown Tokyo to the Kempeitai Tokyo Regional Headquarters. After initial interrogations and beatings, he was thrown in a cell that was about 8’ x 12’. These were converted horse stalls that often held 19 men per cell including some that were critically burned and injured. For roughly three months, Downing subsisted on a baseball-sized ball of rice each day, and his weight fell from 165 to 120 pounds. These months were marked by a horrible monotony of fear and homesickness, occasionally interrupted by guard-administered beatings and sadistic interrogations. The men were not allowed to talk, wash, shave, or receive medical care. Conditions were so tight that when everyone would lie down to sleep, the only way to turn over was to stand in place, turn, and then lie back down. Throughout the day and night, they listened to fellow POWs–some of whom had been severely burned–scream in pain or insanity and struggle to take one more breath before their breathing stopped altogether. It is estimated that 250 American flyers were brought the Kempeitai Tokyo Regional Headquarters, but only 160 survived. On August 15, 1945, Downing and his fellow prisoners were moved to a barbed wire-surrounded barracks on a five-acre man-made island between Tokyo and Yokohama called Omori POW Camp Tokyo #1. This move was part of an agreement between the United States and Japan in anticipation of the end of the war. It was a tough camp but a relief from the Kempeitai horse stalls. On Omori, the prisoners had more freedom and could talk, bathe and exercise. On August 29, 1945, the over 500 POWs including 155 B-29 flyers on Omori became the first liberated by American forces. After the war he was in and out of Madigan General Hospital (today’s Madigan Army Medical Center) at Fort Lewis, Washington. He remained in the service and was assigned duty in the spring of 1946 at Clinton County Air Base in Ohio. In April 1947, he was ordered to Japan and was sent to the 611th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron at Shiroi Air Base (today’s Shimofusa Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces Air Base) located northeast of Tokyo. Downing was soon asked to help investigate the atrocities committed by the Tokyo Kempeitai for war crimes prosecution in Yokohama. Working in the Investigation Division of the Legal Section of General Headquarters, Japan, he helped interrogate Japanese defendants and assisted the prosecutor by preparing the witnesses. He also testified concerning conditions and the treatment of the prisoners at the Tokyo regional Kempeitai Headquarters. Discharged from the Air Force while in Japan, he concluded his part of the investigation in early fall of 1948 and returned to the United States and Canyon, Texas. He then entered the construction business with his two brothers. Downing has been married to Bitsy for 64 years and they have one son. He enjoys fishing and watching college sports. His oral history is held by the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.
FISKE HANLEY II, 95, lives in Fort Worth, Texas where he grew up. Always fascinated with aviation, he earned an AS in Aero Engineering from North Texas Agricultural College (today’s University of Texas at Arlington) and in 1943 a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Texas Technology College (today’s Texas Tech University). In his junior year, he was accepted into the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. Immediately after graduation, he was sent to the Boca Raton Army Airfield, Florida for cadet training for engineering, meteorological, and communications. The base was created from appropriated land of Japanese-Americans. In September 1943, he was sent to Yale University for specialized technical training and graduated in February 1944 with a second lieutenant’s commission. With only 20 members of his Yale class, Hanley was sent to B-29 flight engineering school at the Seattle Boeing factory. Graduating in August, he was assigned to the 504th Bombardment Group training as a flight engineer at Fairmont Army Air Field, Nebraska. In January, his air crew commanded by 2nd. Lt. John A Brown made their way to Tinian. They flew 16 missions, seven considered combat, which included the March 10, 1945 bombing of Tokyo. Hanley’s plane was shot down on March 27, 1945 while mining the Strait of Shimonoseki. One of only two crew members who survived the plane’s destruction, he parachuted into a rice paddy near Ueki, southwest of Yawata, near the steel mills of Kokura on Kyushu Island [today the mills have become UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites]. His first eight days were spent in or near Kokura at a police station and a military facility. He had his wounds treated twice and he believes he was questioned by a high level Combined Fleet Command about his mission to mine Shimonoseki Straits. In early April, Hanley and 12 other B-29 captured crew members were taken north over 600 miles by train to Tokyo. On April 6th, the group arrived in Tokyo. Before reaching the Kempeitai Tokyo Regional Headquarters, the prisoners’ guards took the time to reward themselves by visiting a Comfort Station, or military brothel. The American flyers were taken to filthy, basement 4’11’ x 9’10” dungeons or “pig boxes” [buta bako] and told that they would either die of their wounds in or be executed. They were “special prisoners,” considered criminals who murdered women and children and lower than the vermin that would infest their cells and bodies. Eight men, a mixture of B-29 crewmen and Japanese political prisoners, were crammed into these cells. Except for one light bulb that burned 24 hours a day in the corridor, these cells were continually shrouded in gloom. Eventually he was sent to a cell holding 19 other men in an 8’ x 12’ horse stall in the back of Kempeitai Tokyo Regional headquarters. Many mortally wounded men were thrown into these cells. Hanley still has nightmares of their groans and screams of agony as they slowly succumbed to their injuries. Subject to constant beatings and brutal interrogations, Hanley and the other POWs were quickly fading from starvation, torture, untreated wounds, unsanitary conditions, and misery. One tormentor, the English-speaking Yasuo Kobayashi particularly stands out for his cruelty. He seemed to thrive on the prisoners’ agony and enjoy their suffering. He was directly responsible for the deaths of many prisoners and the continual torment of the rest. Although sentenced postwar to 40 years hard labor, he was released in 1952 and settled into a peaceful and successful life in Hawaii. On August 15th, the surviving POWs were taken to Omori POW Camp Tokyo #1 a prison camp island constructed by American POWs. Still “special prisoners” they were separated from the other POWs, but allowed more freedom, given medical attention, and could talk, bathe and exercise. On August 29, 1945, the over 500 POWs including 155 B-29 flyers on Omori became the first liberated by American forces. Camp Omori also housed Olympian Louis Zamperini, a WWII hero at the center of Unbroken, a film by Angelina Jolie based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand. Hanley was a “source for Unbroken” and he was invited to the movie’s Hollywood premiere in 2014. After liberation and medical care on the U.S. hospital ship Benevolence, he was flown back to the United States. He was treated at Letterman Army Hospital and then went home to Texas on leave. He was discharged from the Army Air Corps and married to Betty, an American Airlines stewardess, in June 1946. He went to work as an engineer for Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft in Fort Worth, which became Convair, then General Dynamics, and now today’s Lockheed Martin. He worked on developing new bombers and fighters as well as NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket. He retired in 1989 and wrote The History of the 504th Bomb Group in World War II and then his autobiography, Accused American War Criminal: One of Few Survivors of Japanese Kempei Tai Military Police Brutality. Married to Betty for 23 years they had three children.
DONALD E. RYAN, 93, lives in Sebring, Florida. He grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on November 16, 1942. He did his basic training at the Big Spring Army Air Force Bombardier School in Texas. In January 1943, he was sent to the Gulfport Army Air Field in Mississippi for aircraft training on P-39/P-40s and other older planes. He then trained at Boeing’s B-29 flight engineering school in Renton, Washington. In August 1943, he was assigned to the 794-468th Bombardment Group; 58th Wing, 20th Air Force at the Smoky Hill Army Airfield Salina, Kansas with the first group to train on the B-29 Superfortress. In January 1944, the 468th Bombardment Group shipped out to the Kalaikunda Air Force Station in Kharagpur, West Bengal, India. It was one of four B-29 bases established by the U.S. in India. Ryan flew as a tail gunner in the 16 missions they had in India which included flying gasoline and bombs over the “hump” (the Himalayan Mountains) to China; bombing railyards and docks in Bangkok, Singapore, and Sumatra. The crew also participated in the bombing the steel mills at Yawata on Kyushu (today an UNESCO World Industrial Heritage site). In April 1945, they were reassigned to Tinian in the Mariana Islands. On their second mission, May 25-26, 1945 to bomb Tokyo, his plane was attacked and hit by fighter planes and those that could, bailed out. Ryan landed on a farmer’s fence near today’s Misato in Saitama prefecture close to Tokyo. The local Kempeitai official, who identified himself as having attended the University of Michigan, questioned him while “playing” Russian roulette on him. This intimidation was reinforced by taking Ryan to a saw mill and alternatively trying to stuff him into a casket or pushing him toward the buzz saw. He was soon turned over to military authorities in Tokyo and told he was a “special prisoner,” undeserving of care or POW status. He was taken to the Kempeitai Tokyo Regional Headquarters near the Imperial Palace. He was put in an 8’ x 10’ cell that was once a horse stall with 16 other men. Flies and lice soon turned his and his cellmates’ skin into unending open boils and infections. Continual beatings, starvation, darkness, filth, random cruelty by the guards, and dehydration wore on his humanity and morale. He endured the slow deaths of two badly burned fliers who were added to his cell. On August 15th, the horse stalls were emptied and the prisoners were taken to Tokyo Bay to wash in the surf and then to Omori POW Camp Tokyo #1. Still “special prisoners,” the men were held in barracks separate from the other POWs on this man-made island outside Tokyo. It was a tough camp but the prisoners had more freedom and could talk, bathe and exercise. On August 29, 1945, the over 500 POWs including 155 B-29 flyers on Omori became the first liberated by American forces. Ryan was evacuated to the USS Benevolence and soon flown to Hawaii to take a ship back to the United States. He spent at least six months in the Edward Hines, Jr., Veterans Administration Hospital outside Chicago and was discharged from the Army Air Corps in mid-1946. Ryan returned home to Kalamazoo where he worked with his brother in a truck leasing business and for a number of years owned the Otsego Inn. He has five children from his first marriage. He enjoys dancing and married his fourth wife in 2013.