The Fubo Memorial Peace Park in Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan is a peace park that memorializes 34 American servicemen who sacrificed their lives for their county in WWII. 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 experienced on-going, unrelenting bombings during WWII, would be bitter and vengeful towards Americans. However, the humanity, respect, and brotherhood extended to 34 American crewmen whose lives ended abruptly on March 10, 1945, is a remarkable story that needs to be shared.
It is a story I became aware of two years ago when a relative called to share information on a dedication ceremony her niece saw on a video clip for the Fubo Peace Memorial Park in Japan. My uncle, Corporal Albert Donald Lutes, is one of the crewmen memorialized in this Park. He enlisted in the Army Air Corp in his senior year of high school, shipped overseas February 9, 1945, and was stationed on Guam with the 19th Bomber Group of the 93rd Squadron. He died when the B-29 he was on and two other B-29s crashed into Mt. Fubo in the Zao mountain range within minutes of each other. 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’s remains, with (two of his buddies) other crewmen, are interred in one gravesite in the National Cemetery in Grafton, West Virginia.
Although I knew my uncle died in a plane crash during the war, I did not know the details. Following up on the phone call, I spent time searching on the website for information on this Park and found an article written by Ken Tokura, coordinator for the Australian Cowra Japanese War Secretary and President of the Australia-Japan Cultural Exchange Association that provided a detailed explanation of the March 10, 1945, incident. Additionally, I learned even more when I read the book, Mission Tokyo: The American Airmen Who Took the War to the Heart of Japan by Robert P. Dorr.
In the mid-1940’s, as the war in Europe was winding down, the war in the Asian Pacific Theater continued.
The Allies had recaptured Guam, Tinian, and Saipan in the Marianna Islands in the late summer of 1944 and constructed airfields for B-29s based there so they could conduct strategic bombing missions against the Japanese mainland. The precision, high-altitude daylight bombings that worked in Europe were not working in the Pacific. Washington was beginning to debate wholesale destruction of Japanese cities with firebombs. The wretched and often unexpected weather conditions during raids, along with dropping bombs from high altitudes, were unsuccessful and a new tactic was put in place that they believed would change the war in Japan. The new kind of warfare was flying at a low altitude and leaving the guns behind. The men who were assigned to fly that first mission in March “dubbed the thousand kids” all believed they wouldn’t return because of the new tactic of shifting to flying over the city at low altitude.
On the early morning of March 9, 1945, Mission Tokyo began when, under the command of Major General Curtis Lemay of the 21st Bomber Command, 334, B-29s, “Superfortresses,” the largest force of bombers ever assembled without flying in formation, were launched from Guam, Saipan, and Tinian in the Marianna Islands. Their mission was to bomb and destroy the heart of Tokyo, Japan’s largest city. The Superfortresses, loaded with E-47 incendiary “fire” bombs (each filled with 56 bomblets), would assault Tokyo with a new kind of warfare. The untried and untested new tactic required the bombers to fire bomb the city from an altitude of 5,000 to 8,000 feet (not from the usual altitude of 28,000). No armada of warplanes in such numbers had ever been launched without flying in formation or flown so low.
The main force of the 300+ B-29s took two and a half hours to pass over Tokyo, dropping nearly one half million of the M-69 bomblets to create an inferno of devastation that ultimately destroyed 16 square miles of the heart of Tokyo, with an estimated population of 1.5 million, an event that dwarfed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
As the bombers headed for home in the early morning of March 10, 1945, three B-29s, (two from Guam and one from Saipan), 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.
Shiroishi-Zao 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 daylight, villagers made the arduous climb in 10 feet of snow up the mountain, went to each site, 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 feelings of hatred, but believed it happened “by order of their commanders within military action.”
In 1959, under the leadership of Mr. Taketaro Shoji, the Shiroishi-Zao villagers formed a committee christened “Fubo-kai” to erect a monument to the 34 American airmen. The drive, soon a national effort, raised one million yen.
Sixteen years later, 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 City Assemblyman Taketaro Shoji of Shiroishi, who headed the drive, placed wreaths at the foot of monument and stressed the friendship that now exists between the two people who were once enemies.
The plaque’s inscription on the huge stone monument, placed 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 who sacrificed their lives for their country on this mountain on March 10, 1945 and to the everlasting peace of mankind.
In 2000, Mr. Taketaro Shoji and the Shiroishi-Zao villagers joined together again to raise funds to construct a peace park at the foot of the mountain, in memory of the 34 Americans and the 50 million around the world, including Japan, who died in the clashes during WWII.
On August 2, 2015, 70 years after the war with Japan ended, the Fubo Peace Memorial Park was dedicated. Japanese and American dignitaries extended thanks to Shiroishi-Zao villagers for their humanity and expressed hopes for world peace.
The 60-acre site, planted with 3,000 Japanese Cherry and American Dogwood trees, has four major monuments: a smaller replica of the monument at the summit of Mt Fubo; an epitaph summarizes the events of March 10, 1945, with prayers for worldwide peace; a map showing the three crash locations and the bottom section lists the names of the crewmen, their age and position on each plane; a monument with the inscription, “May each of us ask what we can do to work for peace and goodwill” contributed by Caroline Kennedy, United States Ambassador to Japan, and thirty-four individual cenotaph monuments have a bronze plaque, engraved in English and Japanese, with each crewman’s full name, age, position, rank, their Bombardment Group and which of the three planes they were on that fateful day.
The last paragraph of the Epitaph monument titled, For Peace of the earth, engraved with the sentiments of Soichiro Ito, Japanese Speaker of the House of Representatives, reads:
“Finally, Mt Fubo, literally meaning “Unforgotten Mountain”, truly exudes the presence of a sacred peak, overflowing in compassion and benevolence. By its very nature, it affords comfort and consolation to the souls of the American servicemen who tragically met their end here, some 10,000 miles from home, while extolling 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.
Fubo in Japanese means “unforgotten.” Thanks to the compassion and benevolence of the Shiroshi Zao villagers, the history of the catastrophic event will be “unforgotten” for generations to come.
This is a remarkable story of the humanity, respect, and the great lengths the people in a small Japanese village went to to memorialize 34 American crewmen killed in WWII on two different occasions over the past 75 years.
By Susan Moffat-Thomas