Regardless of his political background, president Bush was the leader of the most powerful country in the world, and to be fair, he didn’t do a bad job of running it.
That's Bush in the center of the photo above, he is flanked by Joe Reichert (left) and Leo Nadeau (right), in this WWII image (Robert Stinnett/U.S. National Archives).
Since he was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, U.S.A., I realized he would have been of age to participate in WWII, and wondered if there was a Japanese connection, besides his unfortunate illness while attending a banquet and barfing into the lap of then-Japanese prime minister Miyazawa Kiichi (surname first).
Guess what? There was… and it’s a far more interesting story than watching a poor guy vomit and faint during a political dinner.
When Japan attacked the American naval base of Pearl Harbor on American protectorate Hawaii back on December 7, 1941, Bush was 17-years-old and a senior attending Phillips Academy Andover.
Like many Americans of that era, he wanted to immediately enlist, but could not because of his age.
He thought about going to Canada to sneakily enlist in the Royal Air Force so he could be a pilot, but he also realized that while he wanted to go and help fight the Japanese, it would be better if he waited and joined the U.S. Navy.
After graduating from Andover, he was sworn into the Navy. About one year later, he was an officer of the United States Naval Reserve and a naval aviator, assigned to fly torpedo bombers off aircraft carriers in the Pacific theater.
In September of 1943, he was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as the photographic officer, and by early 1944, his squadron was assigned to the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30, an Independence-class light aircraft carrier. He was part of the Allied forces’ largest air battles of WWII in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944).
Now a Lieutenant, junior grade, on August 1, 1944 the USS San Jacinto began attack operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands, (aka the Ogasawara Islands, 小笠原群島, Ogasawara Guntō), an archipelago of 30+ islands 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) due south of Tokyo.
Bunin means “no people”, aka uninhabited, but that’s not entirely true, as the islands of Hahajima (母島) and Chichijima (父島) are inhabited. During WWII, there were 6,886 civilians living there (both islands), as of 1944.
The Japanese had set up a small naval base on Chichijima in 1914, back when they were allied against Germany et al in WWI (aka The Great War). During WWII, however, it was the primary site of long range Japanese radio stations, as well as being the central base of supply and communication between Japan and the Bonin Islands. It had an armed forces of about 3,800.
In 1944, all Japanese civilians were told to evacuate the archipelago as Allied Forces began to push the Japanese back towards the mainland. In fact, Japanese troops and resources from Chichijima were used in reinforcing the strategic point of Iwo Jima before battle there from February 19 to March 24, 1945.
On Just a shade over the age of 20, on September 2, 1944, Bush and his team were to fly over Chichijima and try and take out a radio tower there.
Bush, along with William G. White (aka Ted) and John “Del” Delaney, took off, but were hit by anti-aircraft guns near the island. Bush’s nickname, as evidenced by his skinny frame in the photo at the top, was “Skin”, as I can only imagine they already had someone named “Bones”.
Bush told White and Delaney to get read to parachute out as cockpit filled with smoke and the wings became engulfed in flames.
This should be the stuff that legends of war are remembered for: Despite the choking smoke in the cockpit, Bush continued to steer the aircraft towards his radio tower target, dropped the bomb payload, blew up the radio tower and, as he continued to steer the plane back away from the island, told his crew to parachute out.
Bush then climbed out of the cockpit hatch to prepare for his own jump, but the force of the wind hit him hard, lifting him off his feet and throwing him back onto the aircraft’s tail, cutting his head and smashing his eye, as he sailed back away from the flaming plane as it headed toward a watery doom in the Pacific Ocean.
As his parachute expanded, he watched his plane hit and sink beneath the waves before he himself crashed into the water before resurfacing.
Tough SOB that Bush is, despite the one eye getting smacked, both eyes burning from the cockpit smoke, the gash on the head, a now water-laden flight suit, and a mouthful of salty water, and, let’s face it, in a bit of shock from the whole day’s event, he spotted a life raft, which he managed to inflate and get into it.
The bigger problem now for Bush, was that the waves were pushing the inflatable raft back towards Chichijima, so armed with nothing but his arms, he began to paddle away from the island.
A good thing too, as to have ended up on Chichijima as a POW (prisoner-of-war) would have been difficult, as there were later reported war crimes there.Which I'll get to below.
Perhaps because of the smoke inhalation, sea sickness from the stress, or simply because he had concussed himself when he was blown back against his aircraft’s tail, Bush paddled and barfed, as he looked frantically for his comrades White and Delaney… but of them, he never saw again.
After a while, weak and weary, and thinking he was hallucinating, a U.S. submarine suddenly broke the surface near him, turning the dire situation into a rescue op. It was the USS Finback (SS-230), a Gato-class submarine.
|This is really a still from a video of George Bush Sr. being rescued by the submarine! Image via http://www.aero-news.net/index.cfm?do=main.textpost&id=f09b9737-3c58-480f-9012-89036d084edc|
You can also hear president Bush speak about the ordeal in his own words:
As for the war crimes committed by the Japanese at Chichijima - there was something called the Chichijima (or Ogasawara) Incident, when in 1944 and 1945 Japanese soldiers killed and ate several captured American airmen.
Yup… cannibalism. Bush luckily missed out on the worst Japanese meal ever. Holy crap.
Now the military records do NOT mention cannibalism in their charges against the Japanese, mostly because cannibalism wasn’t specifically mentioned in military or international law (at that time).
After nine American airmen in different planes were shot down during various raids on Chichijima, eight were captured… Bush being the lone man to avoid capture.
These eight airmen were beaten and tortured before being executed, a fact only discovered after the war.
The men had all been beheaded on the orders of Lt. Gen. Tachibana Yoshio (立花芳夫, surname first).
And parts of four of the men were cannibalized by Japanese officers—their livers—done either as part of some weird-ass ritualistic thing, or to stem off starvation... though just consuming the liver seems less about starvation, and more about a ritual—eating your enemy as a show of defiance.
I can tell you that my downstairs neighbor in Japan who was stuck on one of these islands during the war was only too happy to surrender when Allied troops landed because they were starving. He told me that the Americans were kind and generous and took good care of him and his remaining squad—something he did not expect because his commanding officers and the government were always going on about how evil the Allied Forces were. They were brainwashed by propaganda.
After the war, 30 Japanese soldiers on the island were tried for war crimes. As mentioned, since cannibalism wasn’t apparently a crime, they were tried for murder and “prevention of honorable burial”.
Five were found guilty: Major Matoba, General Tachibana, Admiral Mori, Captain Yoshii, and Doctor Teraki.
When I began this article, I was hoping to write a story that got away from president Bush’s unfortunate future vomiting incident in Japan, but little did I know there would be lots more vomiting as part of the story, and an ending that made me sick to my stomach.
PS: Okay, so does this article make up for the crappy one from yesterday?