Tag Archives: World War II

USMC VMB 611: Japan Surrenders. Minoru Wada & George Byers Jr

  • LITTLE BOY: On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped a 13 kiloton uranium bomb on Hiroshima. The decision had been made on August 4. No surrender from Japan.
  • FAT MAN: On August 9, 1945, the United States dropped a 21 kiloton plutonium bomb on Nagasaki. The decision had been made August 7. No surrender from Japan.
  • The purpose of the second bomb was to get across the idea that there was an endless supply of bombs. The bombs were, however, vastly different one from the other. That’s weird… Since no other bomb followed a three day pattern, so, by the 12th, it might well have been hypothesized that there were only two bombs of such enormity. Japan was willing to call the bluff, as it were.

For scale, note the mountainous coastline at the bottom of the picture.

Sure, it was all entirely devastating. But however important Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, I wonder if they were necessarily decisive as everyone says they were. Whatever about any military industry that was there, those two cities were civilian soft targets. Japan could still congratulate itself as to somehow imagine that they were winning, or should be and could be winning in the bigger picture, say, in the Philippines, regardless of losing important battles in the past there as well. Japan did not surrender in the days following the second bomb, and the days would drag on. They would not surrender until August 14, 1945, fully five days after the second bomb with obviously no third bomb falling. I’m guessing there had to be something else to push the decision besides any taunting from the USA.

News would finally come of what might be called a third bomb, that is, what happened in the Philippines on August 10, just one day after the second bomb. This news of a “third bomb”, though nothing nuclear, would have been strategically the end of any hope of victory for the entire war. This “third bomb” did not involve any massive battle and was not hard fought. It was ridiculously insignificant compared to Little Boy and Fat Man. But what the USMC had done in the Philippines on August 10, 1945, heralded the end of Japanese aggression in the Philippines and decisively ended any possible hope of their continuing with their aggression. When they heard the news, they would have to surrender, and they did.

So, what is it that happened in the Philippines? Glad you asked. It’s a story in pictures. Here’s an original newspaper story that my dad had specially framed up. You can find others copies online. This is the actual newspaper:

Sometime before the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man, the Imperial Japanese Army Officer Lieutenant Minoru Wada was captured by the USMC on Mindanao of the Philippines. He’s an American born Japanese fellow, who, as was the practice at the time, grew up and went to school in Japan. He was American, but was taken into the Japanese Army as the Japanese aggression began. He betrayed Japan, although with the best of intentions, so as to lower casualties in Japan by ending all hope for Japanese victory in the Philippines, and thus ending all hope for Japan to be victorious in their overall war of aggression, forcing their immediate surrender. Army General Douglas MacArthur had long stated that the Philippines were absolutely strategically necessary for Japan.

Minoru Wada might well have been told of the intransigence of Japan in the face of Little Boy and then, as the mission dependent on his betrayal was being readied, he might have well been told of the dropping of Fat Man without any reaction from Japan. The pressure must have set him to shaking quite literally. This betrayal, surely saving even millions of lives, would bring Japan to give up. This was not a betrayal then, at all. He did the right thing for humanity. There was zero loss of life on the American side. All they did was to take out the well hidden headquarters of the Imperial Japanese 100th Division and their communications center, ending effective Japanese military action. Four days later, Japan did indeed surrender.

Now, I suppose I’ll get blasted for saying such an outlandish thing. The events of Little Boy and Fat Man over against this little operation in Mindanao are incomparable. Yes, but the Japanese military machine seemed to be calling the “bluff”, if you will, of two bombs so different from each other and therefore likely being unique in production and not at all exemplars for an unlimited supply of similar nuclear bombs. The arguments among the top brass must have been intense, with anything else that might happen being that which would lead them to surrender. They were risking so very much. The loss of the effective control of the Philippines was simply too much to bear in the wake of Little Boy and Fat Man.

Odd thing about Minoru Wada, he had worked closely with my dad, George Byers Jr, who was flying for the USMC VMB 611 at the time in the Philippines, on Mindanao. My dad is to be seen in the upper left of the bottom group of four pictures in the newspaper story above. In that picture he is the one in the lower right (the back of his head, but unmistakable to me, his son!). Dad totally respected integrity and honesty, and what he saw in Minoru Wada would have captured his imagination. He put the original photos of Minoru Wada in frames and hung them up around the house, including the original newspaper story (the actual newspaper). Dad pointed out to me as a little kid the bomber with the “stick” of bombs falling. So, I gotta wonder who the pilot of that particular PBJ-1 seen out the window is. These pictures are from our family home back in the day…

Dad was just 21 years old in 1945. Here’s a picture of him with the typical aircraft of the VMB 611, that is, the North American PBJ-1 (either “D” or, probably “J”) medium bomber airplane which sported twelve to thirteen .50 caliber machine guns, and carried bombs, depth charges, 5-inch rockets, or an aerial torpedo:

Placing him in the Philippines at the time is a citation he received for an Air Medal. I only just happened to get this just the other day. Yikes!

And the Air Medal with the numeral 5 for that citation:

The Air Medal for numbers of missions surprises me. I’m guessing he’s done hundreds over the many years. Antiaircraft fire is nasty for sure. He’s becoming a decorated member of his squadron at the same time as Minoru Wada is captured and brought on side. I’m sure dad’s meeting up with Minoru Wada was very formative of his own character for the rest of his time in the military, which was to be a long time indeed. Minoru Wada’s name was changed for him. It is unknown if he is still alive. If he is, I would like to thank him for what he did.

One of the last things VMB 611 did was to accompany (for navigation purposes) F4U Corsairs to Shanghai, China. The VMB 611 was shutting down, and dad joined up with the occupying forces in China (getting another medal for that), and then went on to head up the Checkerboard squadron in Japan and Korea, with the medals piling up as he went along.

The abundance of medals, I’m told, is most extraordinary, as in those later years the flow of medals slowed down to almost nothing.

What have I learned from dad? Just be faithful to what you need to do in the circumstances right before you, step by step. Just do it. Do it fiercely. No apologies. No compromise. Ever.

This is never easy. But do it. Not everyone is given over to doing things right. The VMB 611 had an extremely rocky start. Horrible. Like hell. It seems with people doing what they shouldn’t be doing. Putting hundreds of our own at risk. Horrible. Horrible. I’m hoping my dad missed all that. I don’t know. Finally they got established, did what they needed to do – thanks Minoru – thanks dad – lots of great crew and pilots – and just that quick they were disbanded. Take the opportunity to be faithful while you have it. In this case, they were there to do a simple flight that would assist Japan to surrender forthwith, saving millions of lives. And I’m sure that was by far the easiest flight any of them had ever done in their careers. Easy or difficult doesn’t matter. Just be faithful. Always. Do it fiercely. No apologies. No compromise. Ever.

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Dad the hero: I don’t know the half of it Thanks NC Rep Mark Meadows & Bev!

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I’ve never met the Honorable Mark Meadows or Beverly, but they are now family as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been trying to get something about dad’s wartime years for decades, it all having disappeared in the vicissitudes of life. No one could get anything, not even friends of friends working the archives. But Rep. Meadows and Bev were successful. The first notification, the listing of medals, came in just now. I hope there is more available. Obviously, I don’t know the half of it. My patriotism is confirmed again.

I am overwhelmed. This is all quite the revelation to me. I’d like to write some posts about those medals against the backdrop of the man I knew as dad. But below is just my first overall reaction to my dad, the hero. He didn’t get the Medal of Honor, but on multiple other occasions he almost did with another four medals just below the Medal of Honor a couple of which are exceedingly rare for field officers who are not Generals. He didn’t get a medal for a record number of planes shot down as a fighter-attack pilot, but some of the missions he was given were obviously freakishly important, with the success of some part of the war effort, in no small part, riding on whether he would be successful. He got a Battle-Wounded Purple Heart. And, I only find out now, he was also in the Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign. I had thought he was all Pacific based. What special mission did they spirit him away to do way outside of his normal theater of operations, and then back again?

Part I: the spirituality of integrity, of being a hero

  • On the one hand, my dad wasn’t perfect. I know that. I’ve seen him at his worst. I’m his son. Have any of us seen ourselves at our own worst, admitting that, dealing with it, coming around, being the best because of depending on our Lord, because of knowing we can’t depend on ourselves?
  • So, on the other hand, I’ve also seen dad at his best, when he learned, successfully, to depend only on our Lord. He’s always been the hero in my eyes because of victory in his personal life. In that way, he’s my example of integrity. I still remember going to the 1962 Mass with him in the early 1960s: he would smack his heart with his fist at the Confiteor: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Part II: The instruction about my dad, the hero

Top Brass and politicians were often over to my dad’s house, George Byers Jr. There I would be, the little boy naive to the warring ways of the world. More times than I can count, they would take me aside, have me sit down, and have “The Talk” with me. “The Talk” consisted of seriously looking me in the eye and then, when I was paying serious attention, they would instruct me about my dad being a great hero, that there were a lot of things which for a thousand reasons could not be told, but I had to know that my dad was a great, great hero, and that it was an honor for me to be his son.

This one or that would write a book. This one or that would recount war stories. But they would never ask my dad for the same. They already knew his story as these things get around by witnesses who survived to tell the tale. They knew he could never say a word with any non-combatant like me around, little boy that I was.

What I don’t have…

While the generic description of why any medal is what it is is widely available, there is also a story recounted for specific medals given to specific individuals for specific actions, especially ones which are recommended only by the President of these USA. I don’t have the stories. I wish I did…

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Top Gun: The Rest of the Story

Live and learn, right? But maybe it’s taken all these years to learn a lesson about military funding. Trump’s got it right. Here’s why:

At the end of any war there is a push by politicians who have no military background to cut military funding down to just about nothing, as if no other war would ever take place.

What happens is that training goes to hell and no one knows how to do anything anymore. No more tactics. No more talent. An entirely vulnerable nation. But it’s like clockwork. Politicians play on the heresy of false optimism, that we’ve saved ourselves because we played out some fearfully effective strikes in the last war, yesterday. So, now it’s all good. We don’t need funding. Let’s spend money on pork projects for my constituents. Then, for just a few individuals, literally, the entire nation is put at risk.

After WW2, and then, “after” the Korean conflict (which Trump will hopefully now bring to an effective and formal close), back in the 1950s, pretty much the entire budget for pilot training was slashed to nothing, that is, just when the first jets were coming out.

My dad, commander of the famed Checkerboard fighter attack squadron out of the Marine Corps Air Station (Merritt Field) of Beaufort, SC, just up from Parris Island, came back from his ten years in the South and then North Pacific Corsair flying (VMFA-312) so as to teach the guys how to fly at Andrews just South of D.C. while he was put through JAG school at Georgetown University. After this, he went to Chicago to continue to teach a new generation of fighter pilots.

But that’s when the funding was cut. He knew how to fly by instinct and could handle the new jets, but his students couldn’t learn the instinct because there was no funding except for just a practice flight here, maybe again later, there. Nothing really. They had to think about flying the planes. Not good enough. They flew the planes literally straight into the ground.

My dad complained ferociously about the need for more funding for more flights. Denied. Again and again. More deaths of the best of the best.

And that was it for him. He wasn’t going to kill off an entire generation of pilots just because some self-congratulatory politicians thought they could please a few pork recipients.

So, dad took a cut in rank, left the Department of the Navy, moved to Minnesota to be a civil lawyer and politician himself, meanwhile joining the National Guard for something like another 20 years. But his heart was still with flying for the USMC. He would often bring me to airfields, and sometimes was able to commandeer a fighter to buzz over the rooftops of our local city where he was mayor. Why? Because his heart was still with the guys who were flying their planes straight into the ground because there was no funding for pilot training in the hippie days of the early-mid 1960s. Guys thought they could fly. They knew nothing. They were taken out with great ease by the enemy. We had now lost everything. Tactics. The whole lot. Gone.

Finally, with enough dead, people woke up. Top Gun school was created. Now, looking back, we all wish the Top Gun of Top Guns would have been heard. But at the time, all that could be heard was the ♬ kaching ♬ of greed. I, for one, am happy for the renewed military spending, and that, finally, finally, we are taking a look at the plight of our pilots.

Here’s dad, George Byers Jr, getting out of one of the planes he so loved to fly:

george-byers-jr-usmc-corsair

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