Understanding the scars of war and hatred for an enemy invading one’s homeland runs deep, it would be easy to believe the Japanese civilians, who endured the on-going, unrelenting bombings during WWII, would be bitter and vengeful towards Americans during and after the war. However, the humanity, respect and brotherhood extended to 34 American crewmen whose lives ended abruptly on March 10, 1945 when their planes crashed into Mount Fubo, is a remarkable story of the extraordinary lengths the people in a small Japanese village went to, to memorialize 34 American crewmen in 1961, and again seventy years later in 2015.
On March 9, 1945, under the command of Major General Lemay, 21st Bomber Command, 334 B-29’s, the largest force of bombers ever assembled without flying in formation, were launched from Guam, Saipan and Tinian in the early morning. The mission: bomb the industrial center of Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, and destroy their military assembly plants. The “Superfortresses”, loaded with E-46 incendiary “fire” bombs would assault Tokyo with a new kind of warfare. The untried new tactic required the bombers to firebomb the city from an altitude of 5,000 to 8,000 feet (not from the usual altitude of 28,000) to create an inferno of devastation that ultimately destroyed 16 square miles of the heart of Tokyo.
As the bombers headed for home, three B-29’s, in the early morning hours of March 10, flying in fierce blizzard conditions and 100 miles off course, crashed into the same mountain, within minutes of each other. The lives of thirty-four American crewmen ended abruptly, including my uncle, Corporal Albert Donald Lutes, shipped overseas February 9, 1945 with the 19th Bomber Group of the 93rd Squadron, stationed on Guam.
Shiraishi villagers, living at the foot of Mount Fubo, heard the planes and witnessed the burst of flames as each bomber crashed near the top of the mountain. In the morning daylight, villagers made the arduous climb up the snow-covered mountain, found, collected the remains of the bodies, buried them in one mass grave and marked the site with a wooden post. When they learned the crewmen were part of the group that bombed Tokyo, they responded, not with hatred, but believed it happened, “by orders of their commanders within military action”. *
After Japan’s surrender in August, 1945, the US Army brought the remains of the 34 crewmen and other WWII American veteran’s killed on foreign soil back to the States for interment. My Uncle Don’s remains, with two other crewmen, are interred in the National Cemetery in Grafton, West Virginia.
But it doesn’t end there. In 1959, the Shiraishi villagers formed a committee christened “Fubo-kai” to erect a monument to the 34 airmen. The drive, soon a national effort, raised one million yen. The plaque’s inscription on a huge stone monument, at the summit of the mountain, reads in part: To the memory of the 34 crewmen of the U.S. Air Force B-29’s men who sacrificed their lives for their country on this mountain on March 10, 1945 and to the everlasting peace of mankind.
At the September 23, 1961 dedication ceremony, Lt. Gen. Jacob E. Smart, commander of U.S. Forces in Japan, David L. Osborn, First Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and Assemblyman Taketaro Shoji of Shiraishi stressed “the friendship that now exists between the two people who were once enemies”. *
On August 2, 2015, 70 years later, at the foot of the mountain, Shiraishi residents dedicated the Fubo Peace Memorial Park in memory of the American crewmen and to salute the 50 million around the world, including Japan, who died during WWII.
On the 60-acre site, planted with hundreds of Japanese Cherry and American Dogwood trees, 34 monuments memorialize each crewman with their name, age, position, rank, Bombardment Group, and the plane they were on; three monuments list the crewmen on each plane; four monuments tell the story, show the three crash sites, replicate the monument on the mountain summit, and, an Epitaph “extolls the joys and hopes for peace and vibrant progress for the future to all who came here.” The evening of March 9 and early morning of March 10, 1945 when their B-29 bombers crashed on Mt. Fubo while flying to bomb Tokyo but encountered terrible blizzard conditions.
The memorial park was built by the Japanese 70 years after that fateful night to remember those young American servicemen and consists of 34 memorial markers each one with a tree planted beside it and a series of other descriptive memorial stones.
The Japanese created this memorial “for the sake of today’s and tomorrow’s children who will shoulder the burden of this world over the years to come, and far into the future, in our resolve to never allow memories of the cruelty and horrors of war to fade into oblivion. In the interest of passing on the spirit of the integrity of life, and the nobility of peace, we pray for eternal harmony and pledge to never engage in the waging of war again.”
It was heart wrenching for us to walk past all 34 markers for these young men, some as young as 19 years old, who lost their lives that day. But it even more moving to realize that the Japanese people who were to targeted for attack held no grudge and built this monument in their honor.
As we observe Memorial Day, the humanity and brotherhood extended to the Americans who died that fateful morning, is a story to share.
By Susan Moffat-Thomas