Monday, August 12, 2019

Nisei US Soldier Aided MCAS Ewa Marine B-25’s In Bizarre End Of Pacific War Mission

Nisei US Soldier Aided MCAS Ewa Marine B-25’s In Bizarre End Of Pacific War Mission

Extraordinary 1945 End of Pacific War US Marine Corps
Bomber Mission Classified For Decades

by John Bond, MCAS Ewa historian

A Japanese-American recruited into the US Army from an internment camp, an American born Japanese Imperial Army officer and US Marine Corps MCAS Ewa B-25 Bomber Squadron VMB 611 performed one of the most unusual final Pacific War missions as atomic bombs fell on Japan. 

And as the Pacific war was ending Japanese Imperial Army POWs recruited from Camp Iroquois, Ewa Beach near MCAS Ewa, helped expedite the announcement of the Japanese surrender before more civilians were killed.

In likely one of the strangest military missions of the Pacific War, if not all WW-II, involved a Nisei, Charles Takeo Imai, an internee from Camp Minidoka, a Japanese American Internment camp in Idaho, and Minoru Wada a Kibei, a Japanese born in America and raised in Japan. They and a Marine Corps B-25 bomber squadron trained at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, conducted one of the most unusual war missions ever at the close of WW-II, as atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.

 Camp Minidoka internee Fumi Onodera, points at the names 
of her three brothers on the Honor Roll of 
Japanese-Americans serving in the U. S. Army in 1943.

Charles Takeo Imai's name is seen on left side of the Honor Roll

Charles Imai, a second generation Japanese-American born in Washington State, had been swept up in the February, 1942 post December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by Executive Order 9066, rounding up nearly all people of Japanese ancestry and placed into internment camps. Imai was interned at nearby Camp Minidoka in Idaho where around 9000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) families were held.

 The missions of the Army Military Intelligence Service 

were classified for decades


By 1943 the US government allowed the creation of Japanese-American military units, among them the famous 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. When the opportunity came Imai volunteered from Camp Minidoka to join the US Army. AJA’s, many of whom did not speak fluent Japanese, were largely forbidden to serve in the Pacific theater of war, however Imai had extremely valuable fluency in Japanese and was assigned to the elite Military Intelligence Service (MIS) as a Technical Sergeant to serve in the Pacific. This work often involved interrogating captured Japanese soldiers and evaluating captured documents for intelligence assessments. In some cases these MIS soldiers helped lead dangerous raids into Japanese held areas.

Meanwhile, Minoru Wada, born and raised in the United States, immigrated back to Japan before the war and went to the University of Tokyo and later the Kyushu Military Academy. Drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army, by 1945 he had become Lieutenant Minoru Wada, and was part of the Japanese 100th Infantry Division on the Philippine island of Mindanao. The war was not going well for the Japanese at that point in 1945. Although some Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner, most fought until they were killed or committed suicide.

US Army MIS translator interrogates a Japanese army general

At Camp Iroquois in Ewa Beach Hawaii, Japanese POW's were given extensive
 privileges, including cigarettes, beer rations and escorted off camp excursions 
if they were accepted into a democracy indoctrination program and 
provided Japanese military psychology information.  

Marine Corps Air Station Ewa becomes host to the new special 

Marine Corps fast attack B-25 medium bombers

Designated B-25 J (USAAF) and PBJ-1J by Marine Corps with 
mounted radar in the starboard wingtip at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa 1944

Marine Corps Air Station Ewa showing the expanded 1944 ramp for medium 
bombers, patrol bombers and large four engine air transport like 
the Douglas C-54 Skymaster (R5D)

Some PBJ-1J series had nose-mounted APS-3 radar, as seen on USS Manila Bay 
en route to Moret Field, Zamboanga, Mindanao, Philippines

US Marine Corps bomber squadron VMB 611 was commissioned on October 1, 1943 at Cherry Point, North Carolina and assigned B-25 model J’s, a fast medium bomber for use in low level attack missions. On August 24, 1944 the B-25-J’s flight echelon sailed to Hawaii onboard the aircraft carrier, USS Manila Bay.  Once there, they were off loaded at NAS Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, and flown over to Marine Air Station Ewa in West Oahu.  After training at MCAS Ewa, VMB 611 was transported to their first forward advanced combat base on the small island of Emirau in the southwest Pacific. In March 1945, the squadron was transferred from MAG (Marine Air Group) 61 to MAG 32, MAGSZAM (Marine Air Groups Zamboanga) and assigned to Moret Field, Zamboanga, Mindanao, Philippine Islands.

The  North American made Mitchell B25-1J used by 

Pacific war Marine Corps crews


VMB 611 used the latest model North American made Mitchell B25-1J, which under Navy-Marine designation was called the PBJ-1J. Early Army B-25’s were remembered and widely associated with the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942. US Pacific war military commanders had decided that Marine pilots, who were very successful in flying low level combat air support in fighter planes like the F4U Corsair, would be trained in dangerous low level medium bomber air attacks against Japanese shipping and island bases. Their air combat tactics called “heckling missions” were primarily based upon total surprise, strafing and low-level bombing before enemy troops could react.

 USAAF B-25 crew and support units. The Marine Corps PBJ-1J version was more heavily armed with additional machine guns, rockets and special night mission radar capabilities.

The North American PBJ-1J medium bomber was powered by two Wright Cyclone engines providing 239 knots (275 mph). Crewed by seven: Pilot, Copilot, Navigator-Bombardier, 2 Radio-Gunners, Mechanic-Turret Gunner, and Armorer-Turret Gunner the B-25-1J was heavily armed, carrying up to thirteen .50 caliber machine guns, as well as bombs, depth charges and 5-inch rockets.

Moret Field, Zamboanga, Mindanao, Philippine Islands

From April 1945 until August 1945, VMB 611 alone made over 500 sorties against Japanese shipping and land based targets, mostly in fast, low level attacks. As the Japanese forces were gradually being worn down in Mindanao by August 1945, the squadron was presented with a strange new combat mission.

Small numbers of captured Japanese, as most died in suicide attacks or killing themselves

A Japanese army Lieutenant, Minoru Wada, who had been either captured or surrendered, fell into the hands of the US Army Military Intelligence Service where he was interrogated by Tech Sgt Charles Imai. The Japanese military never gave their soldiers any POW (Prisoner of War) training and had not signed the Geneva Conventions outlining treatment of POW’s. Usually Japanese expected to be killed after interrogation. However the US military in the Pacific, because of early successes at places like Camp Iroquois in Ewa Beach near MCAS Ewa, learned that Japanese POW's could be valuable sources of intelligence if treated well.

 Tech Sgt Charles Imai brings Lt. Wada to the attention of area commanders

Tech Sgt. Imai recognized that Lt. Wada knew a lot about the still hidden Japanese Imperial Army groups on Mindanao and even more importantly wanted to help point out exactly where they were. By August 1945 Wada had heard of Japan’s heavy military losses in the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and was frustrated by the war’s continuation, which seemed more pointless and wasteful  with each passing day. The Japanese government under prime minister Hideki Tojo continuously refused any Japanese surrender and vowed to fight on to the death of all soldiers and civilians.

 The VMB-611 mission is plotted out and scheduled for August 9,1945

Tech Sgt. Imai learned that Lt. Wada had served as the transportation officer for the Japanese Imperial Army 100th Infantryman Division under the command of Lieutenant-General Jiro Harada. Charles Imai’s fluency in Japanese convinced him that Wada was a very valuable informant and willing to do anything to stop the war and bring about peace, even if it meant losing his own life. Imai reported this up the chain of command to US Army headquarters and US Army Ground Liaison Officer Major Mortimer Jordan was assigned to work with Imai and Lt. Wada.

Major Jordan contacted the nearby MAGSZAM (Marine Air Groups Zamboanga) and suggested a mission to bomb the 100th Division headquarters in hopes that its destruction would disorganize and demoralize the Japanese into surrendering. As transportation officer, Lt.Wada had an intimate knowledge of the island and of the Japanese ground and air defenses. The Marine Corps VMB 611 B-25 air mission commanders asked US Army Tech Sgt. Imai to convey to Wada that they wanted his help in locating and bombing the Japanese division headquarters. Army Major Jordan and the Marine air group commanders gave Wada time to think over their proposal and the thought of betraying his own countrymen by directing the medium bomber air strike.

Minoru Wada concluded that the fighting on Mindanao might end sooner and save hundreds if not thousands of Japanese soldiers and American soldiers lives for the price of taking out the well concealed 100th Division headquarters under the command of Lt General Jiro Harada. As the Japanese headquarters was located in the dense jungles of Mindanao’s Kibawe-Talomo trail, it became clear that the only way the B-25J Marine bombers could locate the headquarters was to have Wada lead the air strike personally. This required Tech Sgt. Imai to also assist with the pre-flight mission briefing to the VMB-611 Marine pilots at MAGSZAM, Moret Field, Zamboanga on Mindanao.

US Army Tech Sgt. Imai provides translation for 1st Marine Air Wing fighter 
and bomber pilots, Moret Field, Zamboanga. The pilots were likely 
incredulous with the concept of their strike mission being directed by 
a Japanese Imperial Army lieutenant.

Meanwhile the USAAF flew the long range 

B-29 missions from Tinian island 


Long distance B-29 missions over Japan from Tinian island were perilous 
with heavy anti-aircraft fire, mechanical issues and  Japanese planes 
either attacking or trying to ram the bombers in suicide attacks. 

 August 6, 1945

Meanwhile the top secret atomic bombing missions assigned to a select few B-29 Superfortress crews based on Tinian island 1500 miles from Japan were preparing to make their first A-bomb air drop. The final selected target was Hiroshima on Japan’s Honshu Island and on August 6 the first atomic bomb in history was dropped, creating a huge mushroom cloud.

Japanese officials dispatched scientists and military personnel to Hiroshima to assess damages from the atomic bomb, but they remained paralyzed by disagreement over whether to surrender unconditionally as required by Allied forces as stated in the Potsdam agreement or continue to fight on against ever increasing odds and now the introduction of a new American super bomb. With no response from the Japanese government President Truman ordered the continuation of Allied bombing runs over Japanese military installations.

US President Harry Truman at his work desk during WW-II

August 9, 1945 

 August 9, 1945 a B-29 drops an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan

US Marine Corps 2ndLt Gordon Growden, a combat correspondent interviews Japanese Minoru Wada prior to the bombing mission on the prisoner’s former headquarters, at Moret Field, Zamboanga, Mindanao, Aug 9, 1945

 USMC PBJ pilot Major Sidney Groff, right, adds the name of Japanese POW Lt. Minoru Wada to the flight manifest  for transfer to Moret Field, Zamboanga, Philippines

Army Ground Liaison Officer and Strike Coordinator Major Mortimer Jordan, interpreter Tech Sergeant Charles Imai, and Imperial Japanese Army Second Lieutenant Minoru Wada were flown to Moret Field in Zamboanga, Mindanao. On August 9 a second atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki by a USAAF B-29 from Tinian island. There still wasn’t any official reaction from the Japanese government to the Hiroshima devastation. Often also forgotten is that the atomic bomb was preceded by a massively destructive B-29 Superfortress firebombing campaign that devastated 67 Japanese cities and yet Japan had still refused to surrender.

Above, in a likely imposition of two photos, 
Wada watches as the group nears the target area

On August 9, US Marine PBJ-1D’s of Marine Bombing Squadron 611 took off and were escorted by F4U Corsairs fighters of Marine Fighting Squadron 115, leaving from Moret Field in Zamboanga, Mindanao and headed for Harada’s 100th Division headquarters. Wada communicated with Tech Sgt. Imai who then in turn explained directions to Army Ground Liaison Officer Major Jordan who communicated directly with the VMB 611 mission strike leader as they flew to the target area in the dense jungles of Mindanao.

Still dressed in his Japanese Army uniform, Wada sat in the radio-gunner's position of the lead B25-1J and looked for familiar landmarks. Speaking through Tech Sergeant Imai, Wada was able to direct the bombers right to his own 100th division headquarters complex. The strike group dropped 22,000 pounds of bombs on the headquarters area and fired additional "Tiny Tim" 5-inch rockets.

Lt. Minoru Wada watches, likely with mixed feelings, as the air strike 
devastates the 100th Division headquarters

The attack was extremely successful and the headquarters was thoroughly demolished. Army Major Jordan later told debriefing officers, "the Japanese officer put us zero on the target and we did the rest – maybe overdid it." The loss of the 100th Division's command and control establishment virtually ended the Imperial Japanese Army resistance on Mindanao overnight.

Meanwhile, Japan had yet to respond to the two atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities 

Radio Tokyo exhorted all Japanese to prepare defenses against an enemy 
invasion, which included arming civilians with sharpened bamboo spears. 

Allied invasion plans were underway for the largest operation of the Pacific War, Operation Downfall, the Allied invasion of Japan. Set to begin in October 1945, Olympic involved a series of landings intended to capture the southern third of the southernmost main Japanese island, Kyushu. Operation Olympic was to be followed in March 1946 by Operation Coronet, the capture of the main Japanese island of Honshu. The target date was chosen to allow for Olympic to complete its objectives, for troops to be redeployed from Europe, and the Japanese winter to pass. The invasion of Japan would cause the slaughter of huge numbers of civilians and soldiers.

A fanatical Japanese military faction under Hideki Tojo controlled the Japanese government. The only higher authority in Japan was the Showa deity emperor Hirohito.

Hirohito in Navy uniform and Hideki Tojo in Army uniform
It took the unprecedented action by the Emperor of Japan to finally break a Japanese military-civilian political deadlock and accept the unconditional surrender terms of the Potsdam Declaration. Hirohito secretly recorded a radio announcement that Japan had accepted the unconditional surrender of Japanese military forces. However, fanatical Japanese army units also maneuvered to try and capture the emperor and prevent his pre-recorded announcement from being broadcast over the radio to the Japanese public. However, this coup attempt failed and the Emperor's recording was broadcast.

August 10, 1945

On 10 August Japan’s Emperor Hirohito by radio broadcast called upon the power of his moral and spiritual leadership as a Japanese deity and directed that Japan should accept the terms of the Potsdam agreement calling for unconditional surrender. For the first time the Japanese people became aware that their government was trying to surrender as a stunned population listened to Emperor Hirohito’s high, shaking, unfamiliar voice announcing the final surrender of the Japanese nation.

However, this was not the end of the war and military fanatics 
could continue fighting to the death of themselves and many civilians

Due to the still remaining intense disagreements among the Imperial Japanese military and the desire by some fanatical factions to fight to the death of everyone in Japan, the US Office of War Information based in Honolulu, with a forward operation established on the Pacific island of Saipan, realized that unless the acceptance of the surrender was not very quickly and widely disseminated, fanatical Japanese military units might undertake a complete Japanese government takeover or go off on their own suicidal directions attacking each other and fighting to the death.

Fortunately by 1945 the US had highly developed Japanese American Army MIS 
and Japanese Prisoner of War groups available as a major resource. A massive 
psychological information campaign was immediately launched with Japanese 
POW's from Camp Iroquois, Ewa Beach by MCAS Ewa, providing extremely valuable translation insights in how to effectively influence the Japanese civilian population. 

Huge amounts of PsyWar leaflets and news about the Showa emperor of Japan 
accepting the surrender were dropped from B-29 bombers all over Japan islands.

The US War Department sent an urgent dispatch ordering OWI (Office of War Information) to inform the Japanese people directly, by leaflet and radio, that their government under the power of the emperor had accepted the offered surrender terms and that the Allies had also accepted. Japanese military POW’s that had been recruited into the special experimental democracy indoctrination project at Camp Iroquois, Ewa Beach were immediately brought into effective utilization with their lifetime knowledge of Japanese cultural society and government institutions.

These prisoners, many Japanese Imperial Army officers, had undergone significant passive indoctrination into democratic principals of government and had been conceived of being be a future spearhead group for a Japanese democratic government that would be established after the war ended.

Some of the Office of War Information (OWI) leaflets dropped on Japan used 
graphic cartoon depictions that were easily understood by the civilian population.

While Japanese American MIS could be used for interrogation and document analysis, the actual psychology of the average Japanese in Japan, knowledge of unique cultural language phrases and deep civilian reverence for the Showa emperor required an extremely well thought out campaign appeal. The campaign had to be developed and launched almost overnight as there was very little time before hot headed Japanese military fanatics could launch into suicidal infighting, self-destruction and excommunicate the Japanese public from Emperor Hirohito’s decision.

The OWI Saipan operation had to print and load massive amounts of 
Japanese language newspapers and leaflets in a very short amount of time 
to get the word out about the Showa emperor accepting the 
unconditional surrender of Japan to Allied forces.

The Camp Iroquois POW group helped write overnight the OWI psychological appeals for leaflets, newspapers and radio broadcasts from OWI's forward facility on Saipan, close to the Japanese main islands. The text and graphics from Camp Irquois were immediately transmitted to OWI Saipan where high speed offset presses, some run by Japanese POW's, turning out high volumes of printed leaflets and newspapers. By August 1945 Saipan OWI had four US Navy press operators and 30 Japanese POW's also running presses, sorting, stacking and loading containers to be dropped over Japan by B-29's.

August 11, 1945

The 17 members of the OWI staff on Saipan were challenged to a previously unmatched degree and by mid-night on 11 August, less than 48 hours after Japan’s surrender acceptance message was received in Washington, three-quarters of a million leaflets giving notification of the surrender had been printed. The fast moving effort included Japanese military POW’s running presses and helping to load the leaflets onto trucks for the Army Air Force to drop from B-29s over Japan.

 August 12, 1945

On 12 August, B-29 aircraft runs departed Saipan at 1:30, 4:30, 7:30 and 11:30 p.m., delivering to the people of Japan the news of their government’s surrender acceptance by their deity Emperor. The 4” x 5” leaflets rained down by the millions, telling the Japanese people that the Japanese Emperor and government had accepted a full unconditional surrender and that all fighting should cease immediately.

August 15, 1945

The significance of this information barrage cannot be overstated. At noon on 15 August, six days after the bombing of Nagasaki and the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan—Japan officially announced its acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration defining terms for Japanese surrender to the Allies.

August 19, 1945

Japanese officials left for Manila, Philippines on August 19 to meet General Douglas MacArthur and be briefed on his plans for the occupation. On August 28, 150 US personnel flew to Atsugi airfield, 30 miles from Tokyo, Japan. They were followed by the battleship USS Missouri, whose accompanying ships landed the 4th Marine Regiment on the southern coast of Japan. The Army 11th Airborne Division was airlifted from Okinawa to Atsugi airfield as other Allied personnel followed. The Japanese military and civilian authorities cooperated completely with all US occupation directives.

 August 30, 1945

General MacArthur arrived in Tokyo on August 30 and immediately decreed several laws, including no Allied personnel were to assault Japanese people, no Allied personnel were to eat the scarce Japanese food and flying the Hinomaru or "Rising Sun" flag was initially severely restricted. The Japanese people largely accepted MacArthur as their new "emperor" while MacArthur retained Hirohito as a figurehead deity that the Japanese still revered. This is very likely why the Japanese military, once full surrender was accepted, were extremely dutiful in following all orders and directives from the new US military occupation authorities.This also allowed many more Americans in uniform assigned to occupation duties to be processed out more quickly and back to civilian life in the United States.

September 2, 1945

  This date is known as Victory over Japan, or VJ Day, and marked the end of World War II

The Japanese unconditional surrender is mostly remembered by the formal September 2nd document signing in Tokyo Bay, on board the USS Missouri which officially ended World War II. The signing ceremony aboard the USS Missouri was a compromise between Army General Douglas MacArthur and Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz, with President Harry Truman having his home state battleship Missouri being the actual place of the historic signing. Today the USS Missouri can be seen at Pearl Harbor, moored near the sunken USS Arizona, bombed on December 7, 1941.


By 1947 a new Japanese government constitution was approved and contained many elements, largely directed by MacArthur, for a democratic form of government with many citizen rights including the right of women to vote in elections.

 And they all just "faded away"

The Pacific war ended less than a week after the VMB 611 air strike on the 100th Division headquarters. It is not known where Minoru Wada went after the war or what became of him.Wada was given a new identity and was never heard of again. This very unusual air strike mission led by an Imperial Japanese Army officer remained classified for decades and has still only been partially declassified. As of this writing, it is unknown if the important role of US Army MIS Tech Sergeant Charles Imai played was ever recognized- or if he just also faded off into history and his retirement.


The PBJ-1J's trained at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa

After the war virtually all of the Marine Corp PBJ-1J and other models were scrapped. Only one restored flying condition PBJ-1J is known to exist at the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, in Camarillo, CA.


MCAS Ewa remains virtually intact from it's historic 1941 to 1945 wartime service, including runways, taxiways and parking ramps. This includes a 1944 hangar and Quonset huts that serviced the PBJ-1J medium bombers and larger transports that flew to all of the Pacific war battlefields and brought back critically wounded Marines. The entire MCAS Ewa is a National Register eligible site.

Nisei Military Intelligence Service And The Pacific OWI - JICPOA 

Psychological Warfare Campaign