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Friday, December 10, 2010
Local WWII veteran
It's always depressing to me to see the number of World War II and Korean War veterans in the obituaries of our local paper. Occasionally, I recognize one of them as a contributor to my museum (MacArthur Memorial). Such was the case this week with one, I won't mention him by name, but since he was a Navy doctor and a physician after the war, shall refer to him here as "Doc."
I never met Doc in person, but spoke to him on the phone after his son brought to the museum two very unique things his father had brought home after the end of World War II. These two items were Japanese Navy surgical kits - one an amputation kit, the other an autopsy kit. Doc had gotten these on the island of Chichi Jima after the Japanese surrender. Doc was part of a detachment of Marines sent to disarm the Japanese garrison of Chichi Jima and to inquire as to whether they had any American prisoners there. One of the Japanese officers let it slip to the Marine CO that they had had prisoners on the island - this confession opened up a months-long investigation, which turned into a war crimes trial. The story is told in great detail in Chester Hearn's book Sorties into Hell, and Doc figures prominently therein. I won't go into the gory details, for gory they are as the tale involves cannibalism and torture, not in that order, but many American airmen who were shot down were held on Chichi Jima. Suffice to say they never came home, nor was much recovered of some of them - you can probably fill in the blanks by now.
Talking with Doc on the phone about a year ago and hearing him recount this story and how it still haunted him, 60+ years later was truly touching. I was only vaguely familiar with what had happened there before I had the chance to talk to him, and I didn't read the book until afterward. I never got a chance to talk to him again after reading it. And that maybe a good thing - for after reading in Hearn's book about one of the island surgeons using his surgical kit to dismember American prisoners, I really just don't want to contemplate that that may well be the surgical kits he donated.
If you really want to learn about war atrocities, read Hearn's book.