Historian tells of Americans POWs killed at Hiroshima
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Servicemembers, veterans and others gathered Friday at Club Iwakuni to commemorate those who went to war and never returned — especially a dozen doubly unfortunate Americans:
the crew of the F6 Hellcat that left the USS Randolph on July 25, 1945, headed to Kure, Japan;those aboard the SB2C Hell Diver that took off a few days later from the USS Ticonderoga; andcrews of two B-24 Liberators — Lonesome Lady and Taloa — that left Okinawa early July 28, 1945.“These are just four of dozens of aircraft that were shot down during these four days of air assaults” over Japan in World War II’s closing days, Marine Tech. Sgt. Chris Valgardson said Friday at the base’s program to mark this year’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
“But the survivors of these four aircraft, these dozen men, were about to find themselves members of a fraternity no one wishes to join,” said Valgardson, 374th Communications Squadron, Iwakuni Detachment. The servicemembers, captured one by one, were brought to the Chugoku Military Police Headquarters in Hiroshima — some 500 yards from what soon would be ground zero.
“We recognize a small yet select group of World War II POW/MIAs today,” said Valgardson, the program’s coordinator.
The theme of this year’s program was “Never Forgotten,” and the guest speaker, Shigeaki Mori, 67, has spent a lifetime remembering.
When the bomb was dropped, he was 8 and knew of the U.S. prisoners, Valgardson said, because he was a pupil at a school next to the police headquarters.
Mori survived; the Americans did not.
Some three decades later, Mori “set out to research their fate,” the event coordinator said.
“In 27 years of studying modern Japanese history … I came to know these [prisoners of war] from Allied Forces died in the devastation of atomic bombings,” Mori told more than 200 at Friday’s gathering. “I have confirmed this through confidential [historical] government documents.”
He contends that of 20 Allied servicemembers whose deaths may be attributed to the atomic bombs, 12 were U.S. POWs in Hiroshima. In 1998, he erected a copper memorial plaque on a building at the site where the POWs were detained.
Hiroshima’s mayor adds names to the official atomic bomb memorial book each year, Mori said. It lists approximately 222,000 known victims. In 2002, approval was granted to add two of the U.S. POWs: Staff Sgt. Ralph Neal and Petty Officer 3rd Class Norman Brissette. Mori said he hopes to get permission to add a third, Staff Sgt. Charles O. Baumgartner.
“I believe those up there (spirits of victims) will appreciate your prayers offered to them,” Mori told the audience.
Valgardson said he’d wanted to provide anecdotes during the program about the lives of the POWs, “but I cannot,” he said. “There is still so much to be learned about them … few took the time to share their lives and stories for us to remember today.”
“I think the Golden Rule is appropriate here,” he added, “for us to remember them, just as we would like to be remembered.”