Sunday, May 22, 2022

August 5, 1945: The Day I lost my loving grandparents

Today, May 15, Okinawa marks 50 years since reversion from U.S. rule, inviting Prime Minister Kishida, despite its long-stated hope of becoming a peaceful island free of military bases. It is 87 years after Japan’s unconditional surrender of war by the calamitous two atomic bombs felled on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9).

I was 14-years old in 1945, living in “Imabari”, 2nd largest city - facing Seto Inland Sea in Ehime Prefecture. My town is known for quality towel producing mills. My father was just over 40-years old and was drafted into the army. My younger brothers and sister evacuated to an off-shore island where my mother was born. I lived with my grandparents and my mother. I was a student worker and started to work at one of the mills converted into an airplane wing manufacturing plant.

On August 5 around 11PM, 64 Boeing 29 Bombers came (US Op #316, 58th US Squadron) carrying 500-pound M19 incendiary cluster bombs (2,449 pcs) and 56 T4E4 and 32 AR-M64 regular cluster bombs. Incendiary cluster was set to release at 160m and regular at 900m height.

The raids started with 4 parachute flares to defy blackout enforcement kept by Imabari citizens with numberless showers of incendiary bombs. A total of 66 B-29 Bombers took turns dropping incendiary bombs for another two hours. Reported 80% of the city houses perished and was reduced to ashes. 454 persons were dead, including my grandparents, and 150 were heavily injured. Total house loss by fire was 8199. Victims numbered 34,200, including us.

Prior to the heavy air-raids, Imabari had a few minor bomb attacks by Boeing B-29s, including time bombs and rare low flying Grumman fighter machine gun attacks in 1944 and 1945.

My grandparents used to seek shelter at the nearest forested park. We searched for them in vain. They did not return. We concluded that the bomb hit them. Mom and I fled out of the burning streets to the rice paddies, found an irrigation gutter and crouched there breathless until dawn.

All we had were padded hoods. We lost everything. We did not know how to continue living. We were eventually assigned to a barn in a nearby village farm until the end of war.

We heard rumors about a new bomb dropped in Hiroshima but there were no details.

Recently I obtained a copy of the newspaper and saw a photo of an incendiary bomb for the first time. My recollection of the bomb was a metallic sheathed bomb, about less than a meter, uncovered from the ruins after the fire.

In regards to the Boeing B-29 bomber, I learned that my son-in-law’s father Raymond, a Carnegie Tech graduate, was a navigator during World War II. He told me his first assignment was to take a brand-new B-29 to Manila from Texas. It took three stops to the Philippines, including Hawaii. Japan could be reached from Manila. Panhu Islands or Pescadores are the boundaries.

He once took me to one of the old bombers to show where he sat, among the crew of 10 to 12. We became good friends since the wedding ceremony of my daughter and his son. He lived in Riverdale, California. We share our great grandchildren. RIP.

In June 1943, US defeated Japan at the battle of Saipan in the Mariana Islands, leaving Japanese archipelago within reach of the B-29 bombers. We used to look up high 10,000 meters to see them in formation, shining in the blue sky without being challenged. I heard a dozen stories of Japanese fighter planes ramming into them, especially in Kitakyushu and wondered how the small fighter planes could climb so high.

I learned that San Diego, where I spent 20 years, was heavily involved in airplane manufacturing, particularly the Boeing 29s, under Lockheed Martin. Americans produced a total of 18,482 B-29s, possibly in Nebraska, Kansas, Florida, Texas or California. Montgomery Airport in Kearny Mesa may have been a possible production site, the backyard of 3611 Balboa Avenue. My salute to all involved, regardless of enemy or ally.