On December 3, 1944 I was the lead plane in a bombing mission against Japan. My B-29 was named the "Rosalia Rocket" because I always bragged to my Texas friends what a great place the State Of Washington was and how wonderful my little home town of Rosalia was as compared with the sand dunes of Texas. My friends got to calling me the Rosalia Rocket and it sounded good enough to name my B-29. This was my third trip over Japan. The first two were free from enemy fighters and not much flak was observed. I had no reason not to think this mission would not be as easy.
Our target was code name 357, The Nakajima Aircraft Factory on the west
edge of Tokyo. The day was clear and the target plainly visible. After
"bombs away" we turned to the north to go around Tokyo and then south back
to Saipan. I wasn't to make it. I was flying at 33,000 ft. and we were
immediately intercepted by Japanese fighters. The first one to make a
head-on pass put holes in my right wing and puncturing my gas tanks. Then
several bad things happened. A run away prop. An engine that wouldn't
feather. And, the fire. I don't know where the fire started but the
interior was blazing forcing us to bail out of the aircraft. I had
forgotten to hook up my emergency bail-out bottle so I fell free for about
20,000 feet to get low enough to breath. The temperature at 33,000 feet
was around 60°F below. I was wearing a summer flying suit.
Many years later, I met this Japanese gentleman. He was 89 years old and he wrote me a poem which is framed and is hanging in my living room today. Through the efforts and investigations of my Japanese friend, Nori Nagasawa, I met this man. And I saw where my plane had come down and met people who saw it crash. But that was years later. This night of December 3, 1944, I was taken to Tokyo and put into a prison run by the Kempei Tai. I received another good beating, was stripped and was put into a small 8 by 10 wooden cell. My flying suit thrown in after me. The next day I took stock of my situation. My hands were burned. I was in a summer flying suit, in a cold unheated cell, in the winter and the food was a small amount of rice three times a day. About a mouth full of rice each meal. The weather got very cold and I was given four blankets to wrap in.
I was interrogated about the B-29. I told some terrible lies. Sometimes I got away with it and sometimes I got a beating. I never want to see a Kendo Club in the hands of a Japanese guard again. My hands became badly infected and I saw the first act of compassion from a Japanese person. A doctor was brought to my cell and he worked miracles. He was a very kind man and very gentle and, in the months to come, my hands recovered. I stayed in a Kempei Tai cell until the next April. My clothes were filled with lice and fleas. My starvation diet had me down to about 85 pounds. My normal weight was 175. I thought I would die in that cell.
I was given a trial and, one day in February, I was told that my trial was over and few members of my crew that had been captured had been given life imprisonment. I, as the aircraft commander, was to be executed. The next morning, I was taken from my cell to an open area back of the prison. There was a lot of activity. After awhile, I was taken back to my cell. The ropes and blindfold were left on. Then I was taken out again. Lots of talk and coming and going by the prison personnel. Finally I was taken back a second time to my cell. After a couple of hours, they came in and took off the blindfold and my ropes. I never heard any more about it.
But the next April, I was taken to Omori POW camp outside of Tokyo. For the first time I was with fellow Americans. Our food ration was increased slightly and I had the feeling that I just might survive this after all. The camp personnel were very strict and it was easy to break a rule and get knocked around. Spring and summer came and I saw the Japanese in a different light. We were put to work outside and we saw the Japanese people as we never saw them in the Kempei Tai cells.
We were given the job of clearing bombed out areas and planting gardens. One detail that we had was the "honey bucket" detail. My good friend, Hap Halloran, a B-29 navigator, and I worked this detail together. Getting back into the little village of Omori, we received many acts of kindness from the people living there. They would sneak us a little food. One lady gave Hap and me a few roasted soybeans. Seven apiece. A life saver. One lady gave us some hot water and a small piece of soap. We had not washed in over six or seven months. We could see that the Japanese were hungry and their life was down to the bare essentials. When they sneaked us a little bit of food they were depriving themselves.
We survived day by day, week by week, months by month and then, suddenly, the war was over and we were liberated. It is impossible to describe the feeling of getting on that hospital ship anchored in Tokyo Bay. When I was taken to the hospital ship I could see Omori POW camp off in the distance. I had to be carried onto the ship but I staggered over to the rail, looked back at Omori and said," You -------, I beat you." I was taken for immediate medical attention. I weighted 85 pounds. We had lived like pigs for so long that the sight of nurses in their white starched uniforms, smelling so good, so clean, so kind, it, well, brought tears to our eyes. All of us ate too much and gained weight too quickly. But we couldn't stop eating.
I did not feel any particular bitterness. I just felt that I never wanted to see Japan again and I never wanted to see a Japanese again. Every war has POWs and we all realize a POW's life is not going to be easy. Japan was particularly hard on POWs and, right from the early reports of the Bataan Death March, we accepted that our survival rate, as a POW, would be low. From the twelve men I had on my aircraft, three survived. I remember daily the members of my crew that didn't make it home. I think that, as long as they are remembered, their names live on.
I returned to my family and picked up my life. I had no real problems. Some health problems but good food and a loving family got me back to normal. I went back to Japan during the Korean War and I saw the Japanese as friends, rather than enemies. During the next years, Jean and I were able to visit Japan. I took her to where the old camp had been.
Then, by great fortune, I met Nori Nagasawa. My wife and I were vacationing on the Island of Maui and Nori was vacationing and living in the same condo where we were living. Of course, we got acquainted and we had a great time. She was a teenager when I was at the Kempei Tai and I got to hear just what her life, and the life of her friends, was like. They were not having it very easy and I found out that the Japanese were not so unlike us after all.
Nori took an interest in POW affairs and in the following years she was able to visit with POWs from other countries. And she discovered what the life of a POW was like under the Japanese military. I told her once that a Japanese guard made me "tyso," exercise. She asked if we went out and exercised to band music. I said no. I had to stand on that freezing floor in my bare feet that had been frostbitten, and shuffle back and forth just enough to keep the guard from coming in my cell and working me over with the kendo club.
Then Nori organized and arranged for a "trip of a lifetime." Jean and I were invited to return to Japan and participate in a "Going in Peace" ceremony. This was in the area where my plane went down. She found people that saw my plane come down and saw me parachute down. We had an exciting and wonderful time. I even tried to make a speech in Japanese. I had an interview on Tokyo television and the Japanese hosts put on a wonderful birthday party for me since it was my 80th birthday.
Nori became a wonderful friend, and with her, other Japanese that I met.
Nori and I didn't have too much trouble with our communication but once in
a while we had a different understanding on events. Our cultures were so
very much different that it is somewhat amazing that we had as little
difficulty as we did in understanding. We used to have parties at the
condo that where we both were staying. One condo had a piano and we had
two very fine piano players. We would get together and sing old songs.
Lots of old WWII songs. Nori liked these gathering and she was a favorite
My wartime imprisonment gave me a desire to serve
home in peacetime as well as in wartime. So, running for State Politics,
I served for sixteen years in the Washington State legislature. Over the
years, I have talked to many schools and I tell the kids to remember that
the enemy we have today might just be a friend tomorrow. I tell them that,
in spite of the many beating I had and of the abuse by certain guards with
their Kendo clubs, Japan is a beautiful country and the Japanese are
beautiful people. One cannot live with
bitterness. And as my friend, Hap, who was also a survivor of the Kempei
Tai cells, says, "each day is a bonus day."
The Maui Gang
In early 1993, I stayed at the Maui Kai, a condominium in Maui Island, Hawaii. This north-west part of the island is a very quiet place. The church there is so lovely and small; you might pass it without ever noticing there was a church. On Sunday, January 24, I visited this church. After the service, the minister asked all attendants to introduce themselves. That was my first experience to introduce myself in English in a church. My turn came so soon, and I said I am Japanese, from Yokohama, and staying at Maui Kai. When I was leaving my seat, a lady came to me and said, “We saw you walking on the street this morning. We are staying at the same condo. Let’s go home together.” and she drove me home. Before we said good-bye, she invited me to join their afternoon pool-side chattering. It sounded good to me but I was hesitating what to do. Surprisingly, the door bell rang, and the lady and her husband were standing outside of my door and calling my name. “Nori, let’s go!” I was very impressed by their actions as I understood their words were not just lip service.
While we were talking in the Jacuzzi, her husband
looked at me and asked, “Where did you live during
Mr. Goldsworthy and Ms.
My blood was frozen as I knew how the Japanese Kempei Tai mistreated captives during the war. Also, I had a friend, whose father was killed in Kempei Tai because he was a leader of the liberalists in Japan. I did not know how to apologize to him for what I said. I assumed that he had a bad impression of me, however, he did not blame me, but he said some jokes to cheer me up. Perhaps my face had been almost crying. Then, all the audience surrounded us, clapped their hands and said “God Bless both survivors!” What generous people! I was moved and very happy to meet such nice Americans on the first day of my vacation.
His name is Mr. Robert F. Goldsworthy, retired General, and the pilot of the lead plane in a bombing mission against Japan on the 3rd of December, 1944. Jean is his wife.
I read his essay before I began writing this essay. I was impressed with how he was thoughtful toward me and didn’t speak badly about his horrible experiences. He always made me laugh with his jokes. “My doctor in Kempei Tai was very nice, but that nurse! I wish she were Nori, because she tore off my bandage so roughly!” and he exaggerated how mean the nurse was. When I made a large rice ball for him, he said “I wish you had brought this into Omori Camp!” But he liked the white rice anyway and poured a lot of soy-sauce on it. “Stop, Bob!” both Jean and I shouted, but his answer was, “It’s the most gorgeous way to eat rice in Omori Camp,” and he wouldn’t listen to us. I watched him enjoy eating rice with soy-sauce and gave up stopping him. For over 50 years, he has kept some bad habits from his hard experiences in Japan. He still remembers some bad Japanese words. Who can blame him?
I never imagined Bob as a General in Maui. He is the boss of the Maui Gang. What is “the Maui Gang”? A group composed of 15 to 20 people staying at the Maui Kai or near the Maui Kai, every year between January and March, from different parts of the USA and Canada. They are very good friends with each other, and make a drama under the director, Bob. He also performs as a main actor. The drama always has the same topic. In Maui, his credit card was stolen by the Gang because he had been asked by his bank tellers to bring them some souvenirs from Maui.
Once in awhile, they have a pot-luck party all
together, singing and dancing. Gracie and Bill, the best friends of Jean
and Bob in Maui, appear with their fancy-dress to surprise everybody. Then
our great singer, Gracie, sings beautiful songs with Bob’s ukulele. Next
is Bob’s comic monologue with his ukulele. I really praise him about how
he can remember such long stories. We can’t have a party without their
performances. Then, they sing their high school songs and old songs one
after another. At first, I was very surprised by their singing. It’s as if
they are still school kids. I think this is the symbol of the “Maui Gang.”
Nobody tells each other what they were doing in the past. They just enjoy
their present life. We get together at our balcony to countdown the
sunset, and when the sun is going down into horizon, somebody blows a
conch shell. It is impossible to describe the beauty of the colored sky
and shining sea with the sound of a conch shell in the background. The
Maui Kai is the paradise home for the Maui Gang. I have been going to Maui
every February since 1993 to meet with my life friends Bob and Jean, and
all the other members of the Maui Gang. I look forward to it every year
and always have a wonderful time.