World War II Plane Crews Died Needlessly
In the early hours of July 28, 1945, the B-24 “Lonesome Lady” left Okinawa on a mission to bomb the warship Haruna anchored in Kure Harbor, Honshu, Japan. Aboard were:
Pilot Tom Cartwright,
Co-Pilot Durden Looper,
Navigator Roy Penderson,
Bombardier James Ryan,
Radio Operator Hugh Atkinson,
Engineer Buford Ellison,
Gunners William Abel, John Long and Ralph Neal.
The bomber was struck by flack shortly after releasing its bombs and crashed. Roy Penderson’s parachute failed to open; his body would be discovered in a remote area in 1947. William Abel evaded capture for several hours and would be imprisoned at Kure, where he was subjected to torture. The remaining members of the crew were quickly rounded up and imprisoned at Chugoku Military Headquarters. As was standard procedure, pilot Tom Cartwright was separated from his crew and sent to Tokyo for specialized interrogation. Cartwright reports that there were at least 17 other Americans at Chugoku besides himself. Aside from the crew of the “Lonesome Lady,” five of the remaining 11 prisoners were:
Ray Porter and Norman Brissette, crew of a Helldiver plane from the carrier USS Ticonderoga.
John Hantschel, pilot from the carrier USS Randolph.
Chas. Baumgartner and Julius Molnar, crewmembers of another B-24 named “Taloa.”
On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Chugoku Military Headquarters along with most of the City of Hiroshima disappeared in an atomic flash. Chugoku was about 1,300 yards from the epicenter of the explosion.
At least three Americans survived the initial blast. Two were beaten to death by Japanese civilians and Brissette would soon die of radiation poisoning after being transferred to a nearby POW camp. The six other Americans reported by Cartwright remain unknown, at least to me, if they were still there.
The crews of the B-24s died solely because the Air Force brass, for reasons of prestige, wanted to sink the Haruna before the U.S. Navy could do so. The circumstances of the deaths were withheld from the families and the American public for several decades until the information was discovered as a result of inquiries filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
David A. Becker