Most of us have learned of the event that brought the United States into World War II…the attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States was caught totally unaware, even though the signs were there, and even some chatter was heard. Nevertheless, our ships were sitting in the harbor, with many of the men not on board, and our planes were sitting on the tarmac. The plan the Japanese had was to wipe out the US military machine, so that the United States was virtually out of the war. The mistake the made was that they misjudged the United States. Nevertheless, on December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a battle the United States lost.
There were heroes on that day, however. The people who worked to save what lives they could, and put out the fires caused by the attack. And there were two heroes I had never heard about. I’m not sure why I hadn’t, but the fact remains that I hadn’t. Kenneth Taylor and George Welch were pilots stationed at Pearl Harbor on that fateful day. Taylor was a second lieutenant in the US Army Air Corps’ 47th Pursuit Squadron. He received his first posting to Wheeler Army Airfield in Honolulu, Hawaii in April 1941. His commanding officer, General Gordon Austin, chose Taylor and another pilot, George Welch, as his flight commanders shortly after they arrived in Hawaii. A week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 47th Pursuit Squadron was temporarily moved to the auxiliary airstrip at Haleiwa Field, located some 11 miles from Wheeler, for gunnery practice…a move that made their response to the attack possible.
Saturday, December 6, 1941, found Taylor and Welch spending the evening at a dance held at the officers’ club at Wheeler Field. After the dance, the two pilots joined an all-night poker game. After that, the account of the story gets a little fuzzy. Some said that the two pilots had finally gone to sleep, and were awoken only around 7:51am, when Japanese fighter planes and dive bombers attacked Wheeler, but others said that the poker game was just wrapping up, and they were contemplating a morning swim when the attack began. Whatever the case may be, Taylor and Welch were stunned to hear low-flying planes, explosions, and machine-gun fire above them. Information was scarce in all the chaos, but they learned that two-thirds of the planes at the main bases of Hickham and Wheeler Fields had been destroyed or damaged so badly that they were unable to fly. The two men rush to Haleiwa Field to get their planes. They had no orders, but Taylor called Haleiwa and commanded the ground crew to prepare their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks for takeoff, while Welch ran to get Taylor’s new Buick. The men were still wearing their tuxedo pants from the night before, but that didn’t stop them. The two pilots drove the 11 miles to Haleiwa, reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour along the way.
When they reached the field, Welch and Taylor jumped into their P-40s, which by that time had been fueled but not fully armed. That didn’t stop them. They took off and immediately attracted Japanese fire. Welch and Taylor were facing off virtually alone against some 200 to 300 enemy aircraft. When they ran out of ammunition, they returned to Wheeler to reload. The senior officers ordered the pilots to stay on the ground, but then
the second wave of Japanese raiders flew in, scattering the crowd. Taylor and Welch took off again, in the midst of a swarm of enemy planes. Though Welch’s machine guns were disconnected, he fired his .30-caliber guns, destroying two Japanese planes on the first attack run. On the second, with his plane heavily damaged by gunfire, he shot down two more enemy aircraft. A bullet pierced the canopy of Taylor’s plane, hitting his arm and sending shrapnel into his leg, but he managed to shoot down at least two Japanese planes, and perhaps more. In the end, Taylor was officially credited with two kills, and Welch with four.
Welch and Taylor were among only five Air Force pilots who managed to get their planes off the ground and engage the Japanese that morning. The total loss in aircraft at Pearl Harbor were estimated at 188 planes destroyed and 159 damaged. The Japanese lost just 29 planes. Both men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross medals, becoming the first to be awarded that distinction in World War II. Welch was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award, but was reportedly denied because his superiors maintained he had taken off without proper authorization. For his injuries, Taylor received the Purple Heart.
After Pearl Harbor, George Welch flew nearly 350 missions in the Pacific Theater during World War II, shooting down 12 more planes and winning many other decorations. After he contracted malaria in 1943, his wartime career came to an end. While in the hospital in Sydney, Australia, he met his wife. After the war, Welch became a test pilot for North American Aviation. There are some claims that he became the first pilot to break the Mach-1 barrier with an unauthorized flight over the California desert in 1947, several weeks before Chuck Yeager’s famous flight. Unfortunately, Welch was killed in 1954 while ejecting from his disintegrating F-100 Super Sabre fighter jet during a test flight.
After Pearl Harbor, Ken Taylor was transferred to the South Pacific, where he flew out of Guadalcanal and was credited with downing another Japanese aircraft. Unfortunately, his combat career was cut short after someone fell on top of him in a trench during an air raid on the base, breaking his leg. He became a commander in the Alaska Air National Guard and retired as a brigadier general after 27 years of active duty. Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Air Medal, and a number of other decorations. In his post military career, he worked as an insurance underwriter. Taylor died in Tucson, Arizona in 2006, at the age of 86.
As we all know, being a prisoner of war is not a safe place to be. Growing us watching shows like “Hogan’s Heroes” gave the impression that the enemy was always nice to their prisoners, and that being in a POW camp was ok, but that wasn’t the reality of those camps. Of course, in the days of “Hogan’s Heroes” violence was just not shown on television. The world was a different place…at least for the people back home watching it on television. The reality of the POW camps was much different, as many of us have seen in newer shows about prisoners during wars. We have witnessed some of the atrocities that have been done…and we still aren’t seeing the true story, I don’t suppose.
One example of the true story is the Sandakan Death March. For some reason, when the Japanese were close to getting caught in their brutality, they decided that the best thing to do was to take the prisoners on a march deeper into the jungle so that the evidence of their torture was not found. In reality, they could have just left the prisoners in the camp…abandoned them, and they would have likely never been caught, but apparently it was more about retaliation over their loss in the war. One such march was the Bataan Death March in the Philippians and the deadly construction of the rail line linking Burma with Thailand.
Similar to that was the Sandakan Death March in Malaysia. It is not as well known, and in fact many Australians would like it to be removed from history…not from the history books, but they wish it had never happened at all. I can fully understand that, once I found out what the Sandakan Death March was all about. Still, I don’t understand why more people don’t know about it. There were 2,700 British and Australian prisoners of war interned there by Japanese forces, as the end of World War II approached. The Sandakan Death March has been called that Australia’s worst military tragedy.
Sandakan was a brutal place. About 900 British soldiers were among the prisoners of war brought to Sandakan. Most of them did not survived. Prisoners interned here died slowly. They were starved and beaten. Toward the end of the war, when the Japanese decided to flee Sandakan, most of the remaining prisoners were marched to their deaths. Those who were strong enough to make it to the end of the trail were executed. Only six…a man named Owen Campbell and five others survived…and then only because they escaped. Campbell is the last living survivor, and a reminder that when war veterans pass away, a little piece of history dies with them. That is the saddest part of such horrific loss. When people forget about the atrocities of the past, the world is destined to repeat them. When life is viewed as so insignificant, then killing becomes easy, and the consequences of these killings is somehow pushed aside and even justified. That should never be allowed to happen…not in the POW camps, or in the streets of our cities. Bruce Scott, Australia’s minister for veterans affairs, referring to the prison guards at Sandakan said, “The proud and honorable title of soldier cannot be applied to those men.” The guards forced the prisoners to begin the death march from the camp at Sandakan as the Allies were approaching. The men were already very weak from being starved and beaten. Most of the men did not survive the march…succumbing to their conditions along the way. Those that survived the march were simply executed when they reached the end of the journey. That was even more brutal than the march itself.
Campbell returned to Borneo for a ceremony in March of 1999, back to the jungles where half a century ago his best mates were marched to their deaths. Wearing a row of ribbons and medals across his left breast pocket, Mr. Campbell, aged 82, stared straight ahead at a black slab of granite, a memorial to one of the most horrific…yet little-known…atrocities of World War II in the Pacific. “We come here to this place to help ensure that this story is not forgotten,” Bruce Ruxton, an Australian veteran, told the crowd assembled at the memorial site. “We acknowledge that great evil was done here, that inhumanity here reached such depths that shame us as human beings even to contemplate.” In a sign of the continuing sensitivities and anger surrounding the prison camp and death march, no Japanese were present at the ceremony.
There are many heroes in World War II, and many of their stories are never told. Many of them just did their job and went on to the next mission. It’s the ones who got shot down, sunk, shot on the ground, or captured that always seem to be remembered. It’s the way of things, I guess, but sometimes someone come across a story of bravery that is so intriguing that it must be told.
Owen John Baggett was born on August 29, 1920, in Graham, Texas to John M. and Mary Pearl Baggett. He was always known for his quick smile and kind words. He graduated from Hardin–Simmons University in 1941, where he was the band’s drum major. After graduation, he was employed as a defense contractor on Wall Street. Baggett enlisted in the Army Air Forces and graduated from pilot training on July 26, 1942, at the New Columbus Army Flying School. Baggett achieved the rank of second lieutenant and was a member of the 7th Bomb Group based at Pandaveswar, in India, during the World War II.
On March 31, 1943, while stationed in British India, Baggett’s squadron, was ordered to destroy a bridge at Pyinmana, Burma. It was a dangerous mission, as the bridge would be heavily guarded. Before the squadron could reach their target, the 12 B-24s of 7th Bomber Group were intercepted by 13 Ki-43 fighters of 64 Sentai Imperial Japanese Army Air Service. Almost immediately, Baggett’s plane was severely damaged and was set on fire by several hits to the fuel tanks. There would be no recovery from this, and the crew was forced to bail out. They escaped the crippled B-24 only seconds before it exploded. Then began the next horror. The Japanese pilots began attacking the US airmen as they parachuted to earth. This was a brutal practice designed to insure that the airmen could be rescued, smuggled out of occupied territory, and put back in the air to fight anther day. Two of the crewmen were killed in the air. It was at first thought that the pilot, Lloyd K. Jensen was “summarily executed”, but he actually survived the war. Baggett, who had been wounded, decided to play dead, hoping the enemy pilots would ignore him, but one Ki-43 fighter flew close to Baggett and slowed to make sure. The opportunity was too good to pass up, and when Baggett saw the pilot open his canopy and decided to take a chance. He drew his .45 caliber M1911 pistol and fired four shots at the pilot. He was a good shot, and the bullets hit their mark. Baggett watched as the plane stalled and plunged toward the ground.
My guess is that Baggett had no idea of the enormity of his actions. He later found out that he was famous. Baggett was the only person ever to shoot down an aircraft using a pistol. Of course, in true Japanese style, they claimed that “no Japanese planes were lost during this action. They said that the pilot (wounded or not) regained control of his aircraft and flew it back to his airfield.” I submit that they weren’t there. Still, Baggett hadn’t seen it either, but his doubt came to an end when his paths crossed with Colonel Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, who had also been shot down that day. Melton saw the plane, and could confirm that Baggett had shot down an enemy plane with a simple .45 caliber handgun. It was an amazing feat of multi-tasking. Baggett, of course, still had to land and was immediately captured by Japanese soldiers on the ground. He remained a prisoner of the Japanese for the rest of the war…2½ years. Baggett and 37 other POWs were liberated at the war’s end by eight OSS agents who parachuted into Singapore.
Baggett was always grateful that his life was spares, and wanted to give back. While he was assigned to Mitchel Air Force Base, Baggett was noted for his work with children, including sponsoring a boy and a girl to be commander for a day. In 1973, at the age of 53, Baggett retired from the Air Force as a colonel. He later worked as a defense contractor manager for Litton. Retired Colonel Owen Baggett died at peace and dignity July 27, 2006 in New Braunfels, Texas.
A sneak attack…not something that happens overnight. That kind of attack takes planning. Relations between the United States and Japan had not been good, but now with Japan’s occupation of Indo-China and the implicit menacing of the Philippines, an American protectorate, they were deteriorating rapidly. The Americans had retaliated by seizing of all Japanese assets in the United States. That action was followed by the closing of the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping. In September 1941, President Roosevelt issued a statement, drafted by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, that threatened war between the United States and Japan should the Japanese encroach any farther on territory in Southeast Asia or the South Pacific.
The Japanese were keen to wield more power on the people of the earth. To do that, they had to take down the biggest super power, the United States of America. And to protect themselves, they needed to take Hawaii out of the hands of the United States, because it was a gateway in the Pacific that they couldn’t afford to have in the hands of the Allies. On September 24, 1941, the Japanese consul in Hawaii was instructed to divide Pearl Harbor into five zones, calculate the number of battleships in each zone, and report the findings back to Japan. They were preparing for the attack they had planned for December.
The Japanese military had long dominated Japanese foreign affairs. The official negotiations between the United States secretary of state and his Japanese counterpart to ease tensions were still ongoing, but Hideki Tojo, the minister of war who would soon be prime minister, had no intention of withdrawing from captured territories…even if the negotiations required it. He also decided that the American “threat” of war as an ultimatum, and he made plans to attack first in a Japanese-American confrontation: the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
As the plans began to gear up, Japan didn’t know that the United States had intercepted the message. Most unfortunate, was the fact that the message was sent back to Washington for decrypting. There were not a lot of flights east, so the message was sent via sea. That process took more time. When it finally arrived at the capital, staff shortages and other priorities further delayed the decryption. When the message was finally unscrambled in mid-October, it was dismissed as being of no great consequence. It was a huge error on the part of the American intelligence community, and on December 7th, everyone would know that.
Prior to December 7, 1941, the United States had signed a Proclamation of Neutrality. They did not want to get pulled into World War II, any more than they had World War I and any of the other wars they were involved in. Still, I think everyone knew that it was inevitable…even before the Japanese attack. Early on the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and almost simultaneously at other locations in the Pacific, would end any continued semblance of neutrality, and the United States prepared for war. The response to the attack was quick and decisive. The US Army Air Force (USAAF), under the command of Major General Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold was authorized to equip, man, and train itself into the world’s most powerful air force, and to do so quickly. The first order of business was to establish air force bases. By early 1942, the USAAF had committed to building scores of air bases across the United States. Everyone wanted to help, so a Chamber of Commerce delegation from Casper, Wyoming, traveled to Washington DC, to lobby for one of the proposed air bases. According to Joye Kading, longtime secretary at the Casper Army Air Base, they marketed the “zephyr wind” that whips around the western end of Casper Mountain as part of what made it a perfect location. The USAAF agreed.
In March 1942, the US Army Corps of Engineers leased the old Casper City Hall at Center and Eighth streets in downtown Casper, in preparation for the construction of the new Army Air Base at Casper. The site they selected was a high, flat, sagebrush-covered terrace located nine miles west of town on US Highway 20-26 and adjacent to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad. After the war, the site became the Natrona County Municipal Airport and the land and all buildings became county property…later the name was changed to Casper-Natrona County International Airport when the airport achieved international status. The Casper Air Base was built in record time. Ground was broken in April, and six months later, on September 1, 1942, the base was officially opened. B-17 bomber crews began their Combat Crew Training School at the facility that consisted of four mile-long runways and around 400 buildings. With in six months, in the spring of 1943, the base transitioned from B-17 to B-24 crew training. Kading said, “The base was built to accommodate 20,000 men to be trained. They would come out there, and they were trained to do the last of their training in the B-17s and the B-24s because they could go around the east end of Casper Mountain and hit the zephyrs…our famous west winds…to take them right up to the sky.” By war’s end, almost 18,000 men had been trained at the Casper Army Air Base.
Not all was fun and games in learning to fly. Pilots did face risks too, as they gained experience. Flying over mountains can bring downdrafts, and turbulence, and it can make for a risky flight for the inexperienced pilot. The base had it’s share of accidents. Kading said, “The fellows hit something in the wind that they didn’t know how to handle, and they would have a plane wreck and they were lost. A lot of our pilots were in training, and we had some of our planes [that] were wrecked in other states. The soldiers’ bodies were then shipped back home to their families.” In the war years, the base was almost a third of the size of the city that was it’s host. On any given day, the base had an average of approximately 2,250 Army Air Force personnel and 800 civilians. I’m told by my Aunt Sandy Pattan that some of my aunts were among the civilians who worked there. The training class sizes varied, with as many as 6,000 in training during peak times. The men arrived in Casper by train, in newly assembled crews, each consisting of two pilots, a navigator, a bombardier, a radioman, flight engineer, and four gunners, to begin a strict regimen of training.
In one record-setting month, crews flew more than 7,500 hours at Casper Army Air Base. The remains of these activities are scattered across the high plains of Wyoming in the form of spent .50-caliber bullets, shells and links, 100-pound practice bomb fragments, and the wreckage of more than 70 aircraft. At the height of training, more than one million .50-caliber rounds and one thousand 100-pound training bombs would be expended per month. Now that, for some reason, amazes me. To think of spent bullets and parts of bombs or planes just lying around in the plains of Wyoming…just amazing, but of course, logical. One hundred forty Casper Army Air Base aviators perished in 90 plane crashes in training. Many more died later in combat. One hundred forty Casper Army Air Base aviators perished in 90 plane crashes between September 1942 and March 1945. Most of the crashes were in Wyoming, but many occurred out of state when the fliers were on longer training flights.
Most of the soldiers who came to Casper were not from Wyoming, but they embraced Wyoming and felt like their time in Casper was very special. Not only did Casper Army Air Base become a part of them forever, but they became a part of it too. Some of the soldiers wanted to show just how special the base was to them, so they decided to paint murals at the enlisted men’s club. Casper artist and art historian, Eric Wimmer, later researched the series of murals that depicted Wyoming’s history, and found that they were painted by some of the soldiers. Wimmer said, “They served for a short time, and then many soldiers were stationed at another base or sent overseas to fight in the war. This became the driving inspiration behind the concept [Cpl.] Leon Tebbetts developed for painting a set of murals in the Servicemen’s Club. He planned to give these temporary residents a history lesson on the state of Wyoming before they left.” The work began in October 1943, Tebbetts and three other soldiers with art backgrounds…JP Morgan, William Doench, and David Rosenblatt…started the series of 15 murals that included American Indians, travel on the trails in pioneer days, and other historic subjects. The murals are still there to this day.
The Casper Army Air Base closed in 1945, when the war ended. Today, the site of the old bomber base is largely intact with 90 of the original buildings still standing, including all six of the original hangars. I know that one of the barracks was moved to North Casper, because my grandfather, George Byer bought it to expand his small house to accommodate his large family of nine children. I remember playing back in that large room as a child. Visitors to the Wyoming Veterans Memorial museum in the base’s former Servicemen’s Club encounter a variety of stories: a gunnery instructor who gained his experience against the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Midway; a base commander who was known as the best machine gunner in the world; and a bomber navigator who was blown out of his B-17 and held prisoner in Germany. In addition, there are accounts of the tragedy of the Casper Mountain bomber crash that I am certain was the crash that my then 8-year-old mother, Collene (Byer) Spencer witnessed. The base was also witness to the adventures of renowned test pilot Chuck Yeager, and saw the time that comedian Bob Hope paid a visit to the soldiers stationed there.
It is common knowledge that many presidents served in the military, but for some reason, many people don’t think about the fact that, had things gone differently, that person would not have been our president. Such is the case with George HW Bush, who was a torpedo bomber pilot, stationed in the Pacific Theater of World War II. On September 2, 1944, the future President George HW Bush was on a mission when his plane was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft guns. The damage was sufficient enough that the crew had no choice but to bail out of the plane over the ocean.
According to the Navy’s records, Bush’s squadron was conducting a bombing mission on a Japanese installation on the island of Chi Chi Jima in the Pacific when they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. The engine on Bush’s plane was set ablaze, yet Bush managed to release his bombs and head back toward the aircraft carrier San Jacinto before bailing out over the water. Two other crew members perished in the attack. After floating on a raft for four hours, a submarine crew fished a safe but exhausted Bush out of the water. Bush was given the Distinguished Flying Cross. This was not the only close call Bush had. After making a previous bombing run, he was forced to make a crash landing on water. He was rescued by a US destroyer crew on that mission. After his experience near Chi Chi Jima, Bush returned to the San Jacinto and continued to pilot torpedo bombers in several successful missions.
Throughout 1944, the squadron, VT-51, of which Bush was a part, suffered a 300% casualty rate among its pilots. The squadron was based off of the USS San Jacinto, and somehow, the future president managed to win three Air Medals, as well as a Presidential Unit Citation. Over the course of his military career, Bush flew 58 combat missions during the war, and achieved the rank of lieutenant. Following his time in the South Pacific, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia in December of 1944. There he was tasked with training new pilots. He received an honorable discharge from the Navy in September 1945 after the Japanese surrender.
Thinking of a president as having come so close to death, and the complete change of history that his death would have brought to the United States, is an odd thought, but it was entirely possible, nevertheless. While we would not have realized the difference it would make, because we wouldn’t have know what was to be. Still, good or bad, for better or worse…it would have changed history. In this case, President George HW Bush did survive, and even continued to parachute out of planes. No one ever said exactly why he did that, but maybe it was to celebrate his bailout. Nevertheless…every 5th birthday, even on his 90th, when he was confined to a wheelchair, President Bush strapped on a parachute and bailed out of a plane. Not my idea of fun, but then I have no desire to jump out of a perfectly goo airplane. Still, there are a lot of people, including my son-in-law, Travis Royce and grandson, Caalab Royce, who think it’s a great idea. President Bush passed away on November 30, 2018 at the good old age of 94.
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they were bent on making the most of the advantage they had, or perceived to have had. As we know the advantage was much less than they thought it was, but the United States did need a little bit of time to regroup and prepare for their entrance into World War II. The invasion of the Philippines started on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The US military had just lost ships and personnel, and understandably, the Japanese saw the opportunity to take advantage of the chaos. As at Pearl Harbor, American aircraft were severely damaged in the initial Japanese attack on the Philippines. A lack of air cover, forced the American Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines withdrew to Java on December 12, 1941. General Douglas MacArthur was ordered out of harms way. He was sent to Australia, 2485 miles away, unfortunately leaving his men at Corregidor on the night of March 11, 1942. Cutting off supplies, the Japanese finally forced 76,000 starving and sick American and Filipino defenders in Bataan to surrender on April 9, 1942. They were then forced to endure the infamous Bataan Death March on which 7,000 to 10,000 people died or were murdered.
The 13,000 survivors on the island of Corregidor surrendered on May 6, 1942. It was the last holdout against the Japanese in the Philippines. The surrender of the Philippines and Corregidor was not only a sad thing…it was a death sentence for many. The island of Corregidor under the command of General Jonathan Wainwright, was hit by constant artillery shelling and aerial bombardment attacks, which ate away at the American and Filipino defenders. The troops at Corregidor managed to sink many Japanese barges as they approached the northern shores of the island with necessary supplies, but finally, cut off from supplies, the Allied troops couldn’t hold the invader off any longer. General Wainwright, who had only recently been promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and commander of the US armed forces in the Philippines, offered to surrender Corregidor to Japanese General Homma, but Homma wanted the complete, unconditional surrender of all American forces throughout the Philippines. Wainwright had little choice given the odds against him and the poor physical condition of his troops. He had already lost 800 men. He surrendered at midnight. All 11,500 surviving Allied troops were evacuated to a prison stockade in Manila.
The Japanese did not care about any kind of proper treatment of the prisoners of war. Men were beaten, starved, and worked to death. Many of the men who surrendered at Corregidor were sent to Japan to work there. No one knew where they were, or even if they were still alive. At first, it was thought that they were in the prison camps, but people only later heard that their loved one was…who knew where. General Wainwright remained a POW until 1945. I’m sure the US government felt bad that they couldn’t help him, and so he was invited to the USS Missouri for the formal Japanese surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945. He was also be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry S Truman. Wainwright died in 1953…eight years to the day of the Japanese surrender ceremony.
It is a strange idea to give a pilot minimal training and then send them out to do a mission, but it depends, I suppose on the mission they are sent out to do. With Japan losing the war and most of the well trained pilots gone, as a result of major battle losses, a new breed of pilots was born. These new pilots were called Kamikaze or Suicide Bombers. They required only minimal training, because most would not return from their missions. It was part of a strange plan that required the pilot to deliberately give up their life for the mission. Of course, every soldier knows that the next mission could end badly, and that losing their life is never out of the question, but the idea of heading out with the specific plan of crashing your plane into a ship is very foreign to me.
From a training aspect, I suppose the Japanese felt it was a good tradeoff. The Kamikaze pilots needed little training and could do great damage taking planes full of explosives and crash them into ships. Still, it seems to me that the cost of the training, and the loss of the planes on every mission…not to mention the loss of pilots, would completely defeat the purpose of the pilot training. Nevertheless, Kamikaze pilots have been around a while, and some nations see suicide missions as honorable somehow. Everyone knows that in a war, people are going to die, from both sides, but to specifically plan to take your own life for the mission, seems crazy to me, and to most sane people.
For the Japanese, the Kamikaze mission brought a temporary measure of success, I suppose. At Okinawa, they sank 30 ships and killed almost 5,000 Americans. In that process, 30 pilots, who paid for the victory with their lives, were also lost in the mission. And in the end, the Kamikaze missions made no real difference in the war’s outcome. They still lost the war, and to me, that does not make the Kamikaze missions worthwhile. I don’t think it ever pays to take so little consideration for the lives of the people who serve under you. I believe that is the biggest mistake made by these horrific regimes. Such a murderous nation cannot long succeed, because people will eventually put a stop to it. The only sad part is that sometimes it takes so long to put a stop to these horrific acts. Kamikaze pilots, suicide bombers, and any other soldier who’s mission requires his own death, all fall into the category of a price too high to pay.
Probably the most notable memorials of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, is the Arizona Memorial, which floats atop the sunken ship USS Arizona, which sank during that attack, taking with it 1,177 men. In all, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, took the lives of 1998 navy personnel, 109 Marines, 233 army personnel and 48 civilians that were killed in that bombing which resulted in 2,402 soldiers killed and 1,282 military personnel and civilians wounded. Over half of the fatalities of that dreadful day occurred on the USS Arizona.
The USS Arizona had one more situation that would make it unique…in a tragic way. There were 38 sets of brother stationed on the USS Arizona. The brothers totaled 79 men. Of these 79 brothers, 63 lost their lives that day. There were three sets of three brothers: the Beckers, the Dohertys, and the Murdocks. Only one of each of the sets of three survived. Of the 38 sets of brothers on the USS Arizona, 23 complete sets were lost. There was also a father/son set on the USS Arizona…both of whom were killed in the attack. This is in no way to say that any of the other people killed in the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941 were less important that these brothers or the father and son set, because they weren’t. Every person that served when out nation was brutally attacked that day, gave their lives for their country. The brothers serving was unusual, in that the military tries not to place siblings together, lest they both be killed, but these men requested this. They liked having their brother there with them. I can understand that. Long months away from family can be very lonely.
The explosion and subsequent fires on the USS Arizona killed 1,177 sailors and marines instantly. The entire front portion of the ship was destroyed, because the fire burned everything in its path. To make matters worse, the fires continued for 2½ days, causing the bodies that were there to be cremated before anyone could located and removed. Out of a crew of 1,511 men on the USS Arizona, only 334 survived. Of the dead, only 107 were positively identified, due to the immense fire. The remaining 1,070 casualties fell into three categories: (1) Bodies that were never found; (2) Bodies that were removed from the ship during salvage operations and were severely dismembered or partially cremated that identification was impossible. DNA testing was unheard of in 1941. These bodies were placed in temporary mass graves, and later moved and reburied and marked as unknowns, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in 1949; and (3) Bodies located in the aft (rear) portion of the ship. These remains could have been recovered, but were left in the ship due to their unidentifiable condition. The injuries to these bodies indicated that most of these crew members died from the concussion from the massive explosion.
Everyone of the people who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, were heroes. Their families were left to mourn their loss, mostly without the closure that can be found when there is a body to bury. The horrific attack marked the inevitable entrance of the United States into World War II, and if the Japanese thought they could beat the United States with this sneak attack, they soon found out just how wrong they were. They had awakened the “sleeping giant” and they would be sorry they did. Today we honor all those who dies at Pearl Harbor, but also, all who survived and went forward to avenge their fallen comrades. We will never forget their sacrifice. We are forever grateful.
During World War II, when men were in short supply due to deployments, and the secret codes of the Japanese and Germans were causing major problems, the American government was faced with a difficult decision. They needed people who were qualified to break the codes of their enemies, and the only code breakers were in very short supply. The decision was made to search out college-educated women, preferably with degrees in Mathematics, Physics, and those who were fluent in other languages. There weren’t a lot of college educated women in those days, and even fewer with degrees in math or physics, but there were teachers. The Navy and the Army began recruiting these women. The women were required to go through a battery of tests and interviews to see if they had what it took to become code breakers. Many did not, but those who did were offered an exciting, but stressful career.
Upon arrival in Washington DC, these women found themselves in direct competition with the men, and the men didn’t like it one bit. Nevertheless, the feelings the men had for these women who were a threat to their job, was at least matched by what the public thought of these women who, sworn to secrecy, had to lie about the work they did. They told people they were secretaries, and glorified waitresses, bring coffee to their bosses, while adding a bit of “interest” to the office. People thought these women were “loose” women…”gold diggers” looking for a husband, and because of the deep need for security, the women were forced to let people think what they wanted too.
No matter what the public thought, these women code breakers were a vital part of the war effort. Our men were dying because we had no idea where the ships and submarines were until they struck. These women turned the tables in favor of the Allies, though few people ever knew it. The women were told they must never speak of what they did there…even after the war, and most of them took their secrets to the grave. While the women were forced to keep their secrets, they all knew that what they were doing mattered. They also knew things about the war, that others didn’t know. They knew the danger the Allied ships were in. They knew about ship that were torpedoed, almost as soon as it happened, and sometimes the ships were ones that friends and loved ones were stationed on…meaning they knew of their loved ones deaths almost immediately after they were killed.
At great sacrifice to themselves, the women code breakers fought a battle in the war that many people never knew about. The stress, and just the shear gravity of the situation wore of the women. Some later had to seek psychiatric help, and some had nervous breakdowns, still they kept their secrets, lest their services were ever needed again. They kept them in case they ever had to be used again. They kept them because they had orders, and they would follow their orders no matter what. The work had been tedious, and sometimes codes took a long time to crack, but the determined women stuck it out, although most would never be thanked for their hard work. It didn’t matter. Their work was vital, and they were saving lives. That would have to be enough to carry them through the rest of their lives.