|Ray "Hap" Halloran
Cincinnati, OH (1922)
- US Army Air Force, B-29
Navigator, 878 Squadron, 499 Bomb Group
- Shot down over Tokyo on January 27, 1945
- Kempei Tai military prison, Ueno Zoo,
Omori Tokyo Basecamp #1
During WWII, I was the
navigator of a B-29 bomber based out of the Island of Saipan in the
Pacific Ocean. Our mission was to bomb targets on the Japanese mainland.
These were very high altitude and long range missions of 14 to 16 hours
duration. The average age of our eleven man crew was 21. I was 22.
Crew of "The Rover Boys
On January 27, 1945, our
B-29 was shot down by a Japanese fighter plane over Tokyo at 32,000 feet.
Fear and denial set in immediately among our crew, but realistically we
all knew that we had to abandon our plane - it was on fire with two
engines out. And as if that wasn't enough for us to worry about, the
normally pressurized and heated interior of our plane had been ruptured
and we were dealing with an outside air temperature of 58 degrees below
zero at 32,000 feet. We would freeze solid if we didn't act fast. We had
no choice but to attempt to parachute out of our disabled bomber, and to
do so as fast as possible.
As the order went out, "Bail out, Bail out" we were terror-stricken young
men and boys, but somehow we maintained our composure. I prayed to God,
for myself and for my fellow crewmen. We embraced each other quickly, then
we jumped from our dying ship at 27,000 feet altitude and parachuted over
enemy soil, just east of Tokyo. To avoid freezing or passing out from lack
of oxygen at such a high altitude, I elected to free fall until I was
approximately 3,000 feet above the ground, at which time I pulled my
ripcord and thankfully my parachute blossomed above my head.
I was immediately captured by a group comprised of very angry Japanese
civilians and military personnel, who beat me so badly I thought I would
be killed. It turned out I'd been one of the lucky ones, because some of
my fellow crewmen were beaten to death that very same day.
For what seemed like a very long time, I wavered between life and death.
Subsequently I was forced to sign documents acknowledging that I'd been
part of an indiscriminate bombing campaign which had killed civilians. I
was also forced to sign a waver of my Geneva Conference Prisoner of War
rights. I was not considered a POW by the Japanese, but instead a Federal
Prisoner. I was charged with murder and I was held captive - with a death
sentence over my head every single day of the 215 days I survived - until
I was liberated from this living Hell at the end of the war.
The conditions I endured were almost indescribably brutal and terrifying.
I endured solitary confinement in a frigid, dark cage for long periods of
time, broken up occasional by severe beatings and interrogations from the
prison guards. Food consisted of 2 or 3 small bug infested balls of rice
per day. The pain was constant, without any medical treatment of any kind.
My body was covered with running sores, lice and fleas, and sleep was
nearly impossible because of the bed bugs. I lost over 100 pounds and was
failing rapidly, both physically and mentally.
I lived on the very fringe of existence - and it was becoming exceedingly
difficult to maintain the desire to live. As time went on, more of my
fellow POW comrades died or were killed.
It reached the point where I never thought I would survive and make it
home. I prayed to God to help me live through another minute, then hour,
then day. I'm not afraid to admit, I cried often in that cold dark cage.
Almost miraculously, our prisoner of war camp survived a massive fire raid
by B-29s on nearby Tokyo that took place on March 10,1945. Much of Tokyo
burned to the ground that night, with more than 100,000 people killed,
more even than those killed at either Nagasaki or Hiroshima after an
atomic bomb was dropped on these two cities.
The wooden stable - where I was held captive in a steel cage - was
surrounded by a huge fire that night. Again, I don't know how I endured
the heat or the smoke. After I survived the fire bombing, I was removed
from my own cage and put on exhibit (naked) in a tiger cage at the Ueno
Zoo in Tokyo, where Japanese civilians, mostly women, looked upon me in
sad silence. Thankfully, I was eventually moved to the Omori POW facility.
Throughout the entire ordeal, I was under a decree of capital punishment,
with the uncertain knowledge that, at any given moment, I could be
executed and put to death.
after the war ended, myself and my fellow POWs, those that were still
alive, were liberated. That day was August 29, 1945. I remember spending
two weeks aboard the hospital ship, USS Benevolence, in Tokyo Bay - I was
too physically weak and unfit to travel back to the USA. I ended up
spending additional months in a government hospital for returning soldiers
in West Virginia, before I eventually made it home in Cincinnati.
Liberation Day (Mr. Halloran
At first, I found it very
difficult to "return to normal." I tried hard, but my progress was slow.
Even now, I have not been one hundred percent successful in eradicating
all of the bad memories, but it's so much better than it once was.
As time went on, I experienced severe nightmares with varying degrees of
frequency. I've made progress, and they are less frequent now. The dreams
tended to be of a constant nature: falling through space and trying to
reach out to hold onto something. Or being surrounded by fire and smoke
and high winds - the firestorm - or working to avoid being beaten by
guards with their rifle butts.
Yet, as the years started to pass by, I saw and felt some positive things
in my life - and I started to feel good about myself and my life - and
even life in general.
After initially declaring to myself that I would never - ever - go back to
Japan, a gradual transition in my thinking began to take place. Perhaps if
I did go back and see with my own two eyes the Japanese people after the
war (versus my totally negative remembrance of them during the war), well
perhaps this would be a good thing for me.
Now, since my first return visit to Japan in 1984, I have been back to
this wonderful country eight different times. These trips have been a
great help in eradicating those bad memories. I now have many friends
throughout Japan. A few years ago, I had 32 Japanese people touring the
United States spend the day with me at my home in northern California.
My thoughts and my mind over the last 30 plus years have demonstrated
gradual changes within my heart and soul. I can state without reservation
that I have experienced positive things in my life that are a direct
by-product of those terrible days as an American POW in Japan.
My feelings now are this - if you can go through adversities like I've
described and survive, the possibility exists that one day you might
actually make comparisons on events and problems in your present day life
and actually appreciate how small some of the things we actually worry
about really are. One can actually become more positive and appreciative
of life because of earlier hardships, even the most awful of hardships.
I feel these positive changes and higher values can apply to individuals
in their personal life, in their family life, and in the world of business
As I look at myself today, I know I have a far greater appreciation of
life. Yes, even the simplest of things that I formerly took for granted
can take on a special meaning for me now.
I appreciate that I was very fortunate to survive this experience. And I
have this feeling that I should do things for others as a form of
appreciation for having been so lucky - or blessed - or maybe both.
I definitely have a much higher level of confidence than I've ever had
before. I set higher goals and I have higher expectations of myself and
I've achieved a reasonable degree of success in many of the things I've
attempted to accomplish.
Most importantly, I no longer sweat or stress over the small stuff. I
guess I've finally taken time to stop and smell the roses.
For instance, I've made significant progress in the matter of speaking
before groups. Even when I was a man in my forties, I had a fear of public
speaking. Hopefully my presentations, no matter how tough they were for
me, have had a positive and motivating effect on my audience. Sure, we all
have problems - but you don't have to give up. All of us can hang in there
and solve our problems and appreciate the incredible gift of life.
I make it a point to speak to students - I've probably spoken to groups of
young people over 200 times now. I tell them how - within each of us
-there is a power and ability to solve and accomplish things we never
before thought was possible.
I appreciate my life - and my freedom. And I
love watching our Flag flowing in a gentle breeze.
I enjoy and appreciate sunrises and sunsets - and especially the stars.
Stars that I use to navigate with during long nighttime missions in a B-29
over the Pacific. The stars are still - and will always be - my friends.
I guess I've come to the conclusion that it was those difficult days
during WW II that taught me a lot of things about myself - things that
have helped me over the many years of my life. Lessons that are still
helping me today. And I will always continue to use what I've learned to
help other people grow too. Especially young people, who sometimes need a
little help growing.
Bill, thank you for introducing me to the concept of "Post
Traumatic Growth." I didn't know about this powerful new concept before,
but I'm a believer in it now.
elementary school near his former camp site
(This essay was first introduced in
Military. Com on July 15, 2003 by Mr. Bill Goss who had asked Mr.
Halloran to write a response to his essay on "Post Traumatic Growth".)
incident I always remember took place while I was hanging in my parachute
after bailing out from our B-29. Suddenly, three Japanese fighter planes
appeared at my level and made a close in pass. Two of them left but the
third one made a large swing and headed directly for me. I feared the
worst. Then the pilot of this plane saluted me and left. I couldnít quite
comprehend all this but it gave me the feeling that maybe, just maybe,
there was a hope for me.
After my first return visit
to Japan in 1984, some of my newly acquainted friends became interested in
this story and began searching this pilot. They located him and I was
finally able to meet him again in October of 2000. I thanked him for his
noble act of saluting me 56 years earlier. He had been confined to bed for
some years. We embraced each other; we didnít have to talk. That was a
very memorable meeting.
planning to visit him again during my most recent trip to Japan in the
summer of 2004. I was in Nara the night before I was scheduled to visit
him and received the news that he had died several hours before. I was
invited by his son and his friends to come to pre-funeral gathering. His
son offered me the opportunity to see his father for the last time. I
didnít know what the proper Japanese protocol for this kind of occasion
was, but said prayers. And I retuned my salute to him after 59 years.
A Letter from a Japanese eyewitness of the B-29 air raids on
I am extremely happy about your miraculous safe return to the U.S.
and your subsequent activities. I am also deeply impressed by the
way you overcame the hate and abuse while you were a prisoner of
war, and how with a heart of charity you have been reaching out
to your former enemy, the Japanese.
I was a first grader in a national elementary school at the end
of the war. It was while I was studying about the reality of these
childhood recollections of B-29s that I met you.
Our family saw before our very eyes the great Tokyo air raid of March
10, 1945. Although we hurriedly evacuated to my mother's parents' home,
my father, who remained in Tokyo, was hurt in the air raid, and not having
any medicine, died on June 30. He left behind my mother and her four children.
Shortly after that, on July 15, 1945, one of the airmen shot down by
the Japanese Army descended by parachute near where we were taking refuge.
The military police captured him, tied his hands behind his back, blindfolded
him and then paraded him around the village. I stared at this spectacle
along with all the other villagers.
Half a century went by, and I often wondered if the airman had lived
to return to his own country. At the time, though, it was rumored that
he was immediately executed.
After I retired, I had the opportunity to search for some real clues
and went to see the legendary B-29 crash site. A record of my research
was made public on a website and I appealed to both Japan and the U.S.
for more information.
Some American and Japanese knowledgeable on B-29s saw my website and
offered their help in my search for the truth. And it was you, Hap, who
gave me information about a POW I had been looking for, who was interned
with you at the Omori POW camp and liberated together on August 29, 1945.
I also received an email from the nephew of the captain of the plane
that was shot down, expressing his gratitude that he was able to finally
find information that he had been searching for.
An 82-year-old American woman, whose younger brother took part in an
air raid on Kobe and became a POW and then was executed just before the
war ended, sincerely told me of the importance of peace, and that she
was happy there was now friendship between Japan and the U.S.
For 53 days, both you and I were under the same Tokyo sky -- when you
became a POW from January 27, 1945, until the time I evacuated on March
19. Those days, not only above the skies but under as well, were a hell.
We saw the end of the war -- my father had died, and you had lived in
the terror of torture and death.
Hap, you experienced in your body the futility, the sadness, and the
hatred of war -- and you overcame. You are a true ambassador in seeking
friendship and peace between Americans and Japanese.
As one of the many Japanese who respects you, I placed in my living room
a photograph of your beloved plane, The Rover Boys Express. Through my
Recollections website, I hope to tell future generations about the
futility of war.
Hap, you take care of yourself.
October 6, 2004
Mr. Halloran in a recent photo
-- posted Nov. 2004
* Mr. Halloran passed away on June 7, 2011.