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Hiroshima historian returns fragments of shot-down bomber to loved ones in U.S.

After 63 years, a homecoming of sorts

By CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 18, 2008

The remnants of a U.S. Army B-24 Liberator shot down over Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II were returned to U.S. soil last week.

The pieces of fuselage from the "Taloa" had been kept in a local farmer’s barn for more than six decades. The farmer, who refused to disclose his name to Stars and Stripes, feared being punished for disobeying a Japanese military police order in 1945 to not touch the wreckage.

The Taloa was shot down as it returned from a mission to bomb the Japanese warship Haruna, harbored in Hiroshima.

The homecoming of the fragments was made possible after more than three decades of dedicated research by Shigeaki Mori, 70, a Hiroshima historian and a survivor of the U.S. atomic bomb that incinerated his city. He has devoted himself to honoring Americans who died in his hometown.

Mori discovered that 12 Americans — detained as prisoners of war after their airplanes went down — were killed in the atomic blast on Aug. 6, 1945. Mori detailed their fate in his recently published book, "A Secret History of U.S. Servicemembers Who Died in Atomic Bomb."

The Taloa departed with 11 crewmembers from Yomitan Auxiliary Airfield on Okinawa on July 28, 1945, Mori said. Eight died in the crash or shortly after they parachuted out of the airplane, he said. The three survivors would perish in the A-bomb blast nine days later that killed about 140,000 people.

The Taloa crashed into a mountain in the farming community of Yahata. By the time residents learned of the crash, Japanese military police had cordoned off the site. But after military authorities left, people who lived nearby began picking through the site.

At the time, there was a scarcity of just about everything and metal was a rarity for the villagers, Mori said. But the military also needed scrap metal and military officials soon ordered the villagers to return anything they had taken.

But two brothers kept a large piece of the fuselage and a smaller scrap of metal in their barn.

It remained a family secret until late July, when the farmer showed the pieces to his neighbor, who happened to be a friend of Mori’s. The friend called Mori because of his interest in the fate of the American POWs.

"I hurried there in half-disbelief," Mori said during a recent telephone interview from his Hiroshima home.

"But when I saw the fragments, I could tell right away that they belonged to Taloa because I have seen many pictures of Taloa and component drawings of the aircraft."

Mori felt it was only right to return the fragments to the United States.

"For the crewmembers, whose bodies were never recovered after they died in the crash or by the atomic bomb," Mori said, "the fragments should serve in place of their ashes."

Mori obtained the fragments only after promising he would not reveal the farmer’s name.

Mori initially planned to donate the metal to the National Prisoner of War Museum in Georgia.

However, when his inquiry went unanswered, he opted to cut the pieces into smaller sections and send them to the families of the fallen servicemembers.

With help from a reporter from the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s major daily newspapers, Mori was able to locate a niece of Army Staff Sgt. Charles O. Baumgartner from Ohio and a close friend of Army Staff Sgt. Julius Molnar from Chicago.

Mori hopes to also find families of the rest of Taloa crew: Capt. Donald F. Marvin, 1st Lt. Robert C. Johnston, Tech. Sgt. David A. Bushfield, Staff Sgt. Charles R. Allison, Staff Sgt. Camillous F. Kirkpatrick, 1st Lt. Rudolph C. Flanagin and Tech. Sgt. Walter Piskor.

"If the families wish, I am ready to send them the fragments," Mori said.

Mori hopes the remnants will serve as closure for family members.

Had it not been for the war, these people could have led happy lives, he said.

"My ultimate hope is to send out a message that war deprives people of everything ... We should never repeat the mistake."


Crosses were erected by the Japanese Imperial Army at the site where a U.S. plane crashed July 28, 1945, after being shot down. The inscription on the crosses reads “Brave warrior of U.S. military.”
COURTESY OF AKITAKA FUJITA

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