Previous page

POW Camp #1 - Page 5

Page 1 INDEX

V. Atrocities and Abuses

Anyone who has studied the POW issue will have read of an assortment of atrocities perpetrated by the captors. Inhumane behavior abounds in the reports you will find in the POW Affidavits section below. This section I've set aside for the most infamous, savage, and barbaric of atrocities, for which Fukuoka has become known internationally in WWII histories. I've also compiled a chart showing a summary of the Japanese War Crime Tribunal sentencing of Japanese personnel for the Vivisection and Aburayama incidents. For further insight on these atrocities, read The Fallen: A True Story of American POWs and Japanese Wartime Atrocities by Marc Landas.

For the few Japanese soldiers who were taken prisoner, captivity was viewed in radically different terms than in Western armies. In August 1944, Army G-2 was apprised of an incident in Australia that dramatically pointed out this vast perceptual gulf. The incident occurred in the early hours of August 5, at a large POW camp that had been constructed for Japanese prisoners in the parched countryside of New South Wales, near the town of Cowra. That morning more than 900 Japanese prisoners charged the barbed-wire perimeter clutching baseball bats, crude clubs, and cutlery knives. Issuing banzai battle cries, they attacked the camp gun emplacements in what was later determined to be a mass suicide attempt. In this incident 234 Japanese died and 108 were wounded. At least 31 prisoners killed themselves outright -- either by hanging or by other means -- and twelve were burned to death in huts set afire by their own comrades. "I could not kill myself and had been waiting for some force to kill me," said one participant who survived the ordeal. Said another: "The shame of being a Japanese prisoner of war was beyond endurance.... The time to die, which had been our desire since the day of our capture, had arrived."

If this was the way in which the Japanese viewed their own prisoners of war....then how could they be expected to view American POWs with a sense of mercy? The Japanese had signed but had never ratified the Geneva Convention of 1929, which concerned the humane treatment of prisoners. When the war began, Prime Minister Tojo had issued instructions to the commandants of all the Japanese-run POW camps. "In Japan," he told them, "we have our own ideology concerning prisoners of war which should naturally make their treatment more or less different from that in Europe and America." Tojo proved tragically correct in his assessment of these differences. After the war, it would be calculated that the death rate of all Allied POWs held in German and Italian camps was approximately 4 percent. In Japanese-run camps, the death rate was 27 percent. One out of four captives of the Japanese perished.

--- Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers

"Kill-All Order" of August 1, 1944
War Ministry, Tokyo

When the battle situation becomes urgent the POWs will be concentrated and confined in their location and kept under heavy guard until preparations for the final disposition will be made. Although the basic aim is to act under superior orders, individual disposition may be made in certain circumstances. Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, and whether it is accomplished by means of mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, or decapitation, dispose of them as the situation dictates. It is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.

It is against the laws of humanity, and custom of war, to kill captives, though thou thyself hast taken them with thy own sword and bow, which may seem to give thee some colour of right to destroy them; but much more unworthy will it be in cold blood to kill these. -- Matthew Poole, c. 1670, commenting on II Kings 6:22: Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and thy bow? set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.

So I returned, and considered all the oppressions
that are done under the sun:
and behold the tears of such as were oppressed,
and they had no comforter;
and on the side of their oppressors there was power;
but they had no comforter.
-- Ecclesiastes 4:1

Of all their white enemies, the Japanese hated airmen the worst, particularly bomber crews. From the time of the Doolittle raid in April 1942, the Japanese called them war criminals, and flyers coming down in Japanese-held territory were marked men.

In the Japanese home islands, civilians were told that any white man coming down in a parachute deserved to be killed...

At Fukuoka it was soldiers demonstrating sword cuts and judo strikes, training civilians how to fight white invaders, showing how white men looked when they were shot with bows and arrows, before they had their heads chopped off.

The Western Japan military command gave some medical professors at Kyushu Imperial University eight B-29 crewmen. The professors cut them up alive, in a dirty room with a tin table where students dissected corpses. They drained blood and replaced it with sea water. They cut out lungs, livers, and stomachs. They stopped blood flow in an artery near the heart, to see how long death took. They dug holes in a skull and stuck a knife into the living brain to see what would happen.

...For months, the Imperial Japanese Army at Osaka had been killing downed American airmen, poisoning them, shooting them, chopping their heads off. After the emperor spoke (ending World War II), the last five were taken to a military cemetary. Three were shot, two beheaded. The same day, hours into the peace, Japanese officers at Fukuoka on Kyushu took their samurai swords and chopped sixteen airmen to death, with the squad commander's girlfriend along to watch.

--- Gavan Daws, Prisoners of the Japanese

A. Vivisections at Kyushu Imperial University

On Saturday, May 5, 1945, a B-29 crashed near the town of Taketa in Oita Prefecture after it was attacked by a Japanese fighter plane. The B-29 was returning to its base in Guam from Bombing Mission 145 against Tachiarai Airfield (a total of three B-29s out of 55 were lost that day). On board were eleven men. The plane developed engine trouble and the airmen had to bail out. They landed in various locations and were all captured except for one who committed suicide, one who died in the fall and one who was shot. The fate of one other airman is unknown. They were held in the POW detention center at the Western Army HQ in Fukuoka. (NOTE: This is where the Fukuoka Daimyo aerial 1947High Court in Jonai is now located. The POW detention building was located where the Akasaka Lawyers Bldg. stands today and had 5 rooms that were 3m square. Some 40 men were interned here. It was torn down from Aug. 16~18, 1945. The Japanese Sixteenth Area Army, headquartered at Fukuoka, had the responsibility for the defense of Kyushu and Western Honshu. See aerial photo {73K} with buildings labeled; taken from the east looking toward moat lake. Click on photo at left for enlargement.)

From May 17, eight airmen out of a total of twelve interned airmen at the Kyushu University campus, c. 1945time, were trucked to the Kyushu Imperial University Medical Department where they were used in a total of four vivisection experiments on May 17 (Thursday; 2 men), May 22 (Tuesday; 2 men), May 25 (Friday; 1 man) and June 2 (Saturday; 3 men). (Click on image at right for 89K enlargement; dotted line shows route of truck to its final destination, the Anatomy Dept. building. See also aerial photo {84K} with the Anatomy Dept. bldg. circled, and west-side photo {71K} with the Anatomy Dept. bldg. on the right edge of photo under white splotch, and this June 18, 1944 aerial image of the entire university. See also Google Map and the Medical Museum). The various organs manipulated or removed were the lungs, brain, liver, stomach, and heart. All eight airmen died during the operations.

On June 3, the day after the last of the vivisection experiments, the liver of one of the final three airmen was removed and reserved for a special event, to be set out for sampling at a welcoming party held at the Officers' Hospital (east side of the Western Army HQ). It was first charcoal-grilled and seasoned with soy sauce. Though there is some question as to whether this incident actually occurred, it was brought up in the War Crimes Trials. Out of a total of thirty defendants in the vivisection trials, five Japanese were tried in connection with this incident. They were all found not guilty. Dr. Toshio Tono, mentioned in the article below, believed the whole incident was contrived by the US military lawyers.

The vivisection experiments became the main story in Shusaku Endo's novel, The Sea and Poison, and is also mentioned in many Pacific War histories as it is the only documented account of vivisections during WWII.

Every May 5th a ceremony is held in Hirata in Taketa City to commemorate the men aboard the B-29 that crashed there. Very few people know about "Junku no Hi" memorialthe crash site, and the "Sky Martyrs" Memorial cenotaph which was erected in 1977 by the landowner, Fumio Kudo (died in 1991). If you're ever in the area, I hope you will take the time to visit theB-29 crash site memorial and Fumio's son who lives nearby. He'll even show you a piece from the B-29 that was found buried in their field just on the other side of the hill behind their home. (More photos and video at this Japanese website.)

Dr. Tono wrote excellent accounts of the incidents and subsequent trials (published in 1979 and 2019, Japanese only), including an interview he had with the pilot and sole survivor of the B-29 crash, Marvin Watkins. Dr. Tono was even present during two of the vivisection experiments. His son now runs his OB-GYN clinic in Fukuoka.

1. Articles on the crash, the vivisection experiments, and the memorial

From The Baltimore Sun...

A quiet honesty records a World War II atrocity
Thomas Easton
Tokyo Bureau of The Sun
Published on Sunday, May 28, 1995 (C)1995 The Baltimore Sun

FUKUOKA, JAPAN -- "I could never again wear a white smock," says Dr. Toshio Tono, dressed in a white running jacket at his hospital and recalling events of 50 years ago. "It's because the prisoners thought that we were doctors, since they could see the white smocks, that they didn't struggle. They never dreamed they would be dissected."

The prisoners were eight American airmen, knocked out of the sky over southern Japan during the waning months of World War II, and then torn apart organ by organ while they were still alive.

What occurred here 50 years ago this month, at the anatomy department of Kyushu University, has been largely forgotten in Japan and is virtually unknown in the United States. American prisoners of war were subjected to horrific medical experiments. All of the prisoners died. Most of the physicians and assistants then did their best to hide the evidence of what they had done.

Fukuoka is midway between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which are planning elaborate ceremonies to mark the devastation caused by the United States dropping the first atomic bombs. But neither Fukuoka nor the university plans to mark its own moment of infamy.

The gruesome experiments performed at the university were variations on research programs Japan conducted in territories it occupied during the war. In the most notorious of these efforts, the Japanese Imperial Army's Unit 731 killed thousands of Chinese and Russians held prisoner in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, in experiments to develop chemical and biological weapons.

Ken Yuasa, now a frail, 70-year-old physician in Tokyo, belonged to a military company stationed just south of Unit 731's base at Harbin, Manchuria. He recalls joining other doctors to watch as a prisoner was shot in the stomach, to give Japanese surgeons practice at extracting bullets.

While the victim was still alive, the doctors also practiced amputations.

"It wasn't just my experience," Dr. Yuasa says. "It was done everywhere." Kyushu University stands out as the only site where Americans were incontrovertibly used in dissections and the only known site where experiments were done in Japan.

Today, the anatomy building at the university sits on a weedy lot, almost lost on an austere, modern campus of concrete and brick. No marker tells what the building is or what it was. A thick layer of dust covers the floors inside.

All memory of what occurred here in the waning days of the war might have decayed with the lab were it not for a small number of people who have kept its history alive.

One of them is Dr. Tono. As a medical assistant, he took part in several of the human vivisections, and he spent the 1960s and 1970s examining records and roaming the hills to piece together a full account. Against the advice of his colleagues, he published his findings in a book he entitled "Disgrace."

"Doctors asked me, 'Why did you have to disclose it?' " Dr. Tono says now. "You weren't supposed to admit what happened during the war."

On May 5, 1945, an American B-29 bomber was flying with a dozen other aircraft after bombing Tachiarai Air Base in southwestern Japan and beginning the return flight to the island fortress of Guam.

Kinzou Kasuya, a 19-year-old Japanese pilot flying one of the Japanese fighters in pursuit of the Americans, rammed his aircraft into the fuselage of the B-29, destroying both planes.

No one knows for certain how many Americans were in the B-29; its crew had been hastily assembled on Guam.

But villagers in Japan who witnessed the collision in the air saw about a dozen parachutes blossom.

One of the Americans died when the cords of his parachute were severed by another Japanese plane. A second was alive when he reached the ground. He shot all but his last bullet at the villagers coming toward him, then used the last on himself.

Two others were quickly stabbed or shot to death, according to Toshio Kai, a high school teacher who has spent years following up the leads in Dr. Tono's book.

At least nine were taken into custody.

B-29 crews were despised for the grim results of their raids. So some of the captives were beaten.

The local authorities assumed that the most knowledgeable was the captain, Marvin S. Watkins. He was sent to Tokyo for interrogation, where he would be tortured but would nonetheless survive the war.

The doctor and the colonel

Every available account asserts that a military physician and a colonel in a local regiment were the two key figures in what happened next. What happened can not be easily explained. Perhaps caring for the Americans was an impossible burden, especially since some were injured. Perhaps food was scarce.

Whatever the reason, the colonel and doctor decided to make the prisoners available for medical experiments, and Kyushu University became a willing participant.

Teddy J. Ponczka was the first to be handed over to the doctors and their assistants. He had already been stabbed, in either his right shoulder or his chest. According to Dr. Tono, the American assumed he was about to be treated for the wound when he was taken to an operating room.

But the incision went far deeper. A doctor wanted to test surgery's effects on the respiratory system, so one lung was removed. The wound was stitched closed.

How Teddy Ponczka died is in dispute. According to U.S. military records, he was anesthetized during the operation, and then the gas mask was removed from his face. A surgeon, Taro Torisu, reopened the incision and reached into Ponczka's chest. In the bland words of the military report, Torisu "stopped the heart action."

Dr. Tono remembers events differently. The first experiment was followed by a second, he says. Ponczka was given intravenous injections of sea water, to determine if sea water could be used as a substitute for sterile saline solution, used to increase blood volume in the wounded or those in shock. Dr. Tono held the bottle of sea water. He says Ponczka bled to death.

Then it was the turn of the other Americans.

The Japanese wanted to learn whether a patient could survive the partial loss of his liver. They wanted to learn if epilepsy could be controlled by removing part of the brain. There were further intravenous injections of sea water, and every time the result was the same. All the Americans died.

"There was no debate among the doctors about whether to do the operations -- that is what made it so strange," Dr. Tono says. It was, he says, the mood of the times.

The remains of the soldiers were at first preserved in formaldehyde, the better to be studied by anatomy students. There were second thoughts when Japan surrendered to the United States in August 1945.

Some of the people involved began to worry about the consequences of having performed the experiments. The body parts were disposed of, records destroyed and stories concocted to mask what had been done.

But word of the experiments eventually leaked out, apparently through foreign students who had been at the university. There were arrests. In 1946, one of the surgeons killed himself in jail.

Thirty people -- some military, the others from Kyushu University -- were brought to trial by an Allied war crimes tribunal in Yokohama, Japan, on March 11, 1948. Charges included vivisection, wrongful removal of body parts and cannibalism -- based on reports that the experimenters had eaten the livers of the Americans.

Of the 30 defendants, 23 were found guilty of various charges. (For lack of proof, the charges of cannibalism had been dismissed.) Five of the guilty were sentenced to death, four to life imprisonment. The other 14 were sentenced to shorter terms.

A loss of interest

But the attitude of the American occupation forces began to change -- largely because of the start of the Korean War in June 1950. The United States had less interest in punishing Japan, an enemy-turned-ally.

Thus, in September 1950, U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as supreme commander for Allied Forces, reduced most of the sentences.

By 1958, all of those convicted were free. None of the death sentences was carried out.

Faculty members at Kyushu University had meanwhile met several times to examine the school's role in the experiments. After the court proceedings in 1948, the university declared that "even if the events occurred as has been said," it was in no way responsible because its facilities had been used without permission and under military jurisdiction.

By the mid-1960s most of the medical notes, photographs and tissue samples had been destroyed, hidden or lost, according to Shoji Kawazoe, a former faculty member.

Mr. Kawazoe prepared a 700-page school history that was published in 1967, in which he devoted three pages to describing the wartime experiments. Even that was apparently considered too detailed: A subsequent edition, published in 1992, distilled the three pages to one.

Dr. Tono continued his research, in archives and in the grasslands and hills surrounding Fukuoka, until he found the sites where the B-29 and the Japanese fighter had crashed, in a lightly populated area east of the city.

Hanako Kobayashi was a young women in 1945 when she found on her family's land the wreckage of the fighter and the body of the pilot, Kinzou Kasuya. She wiped the blood from his face. She remembers his seeming unmarked. She watched as men carried him away on a stretcher made from a door.

A simple monument

In 1976 some of the survivors of his squadron came to with her and her neighbors. They persuaded her to erect a simple stone monument on her land to honor Kasuya.

Fumio Kudo, a farmer living five miles away, owns the land where the B-29 crashed. There is a stone monument there, too.

Mr. Kudo decided on his own to build the monument and engrave it with the names of the Americans said to have died: John C. Colehower, Leon E. Czarnecki, William R. Fredericks, Robert C. Johnson, Charles M. Kearns, Leo C. Oeinck, Dale E. Plambeck, Teddy J. Ponczka, Robert B. Williams and Howard T. Shingledecker.

But those identities remain in doubt; the archives in Japan are silent about many details. According to the records of the military tribunal, there was no Johnson, Kearns, Oeinck or Shingledecker on the B-29. There were instead Jack M. Berry, Billy J. Brown, Merlin R. Calvin, Irving A. Corliss, Jack V. Dengler and Charles Palmer.

A Japanese researcher suggests there was at least one more flier, identity unknown.

Whatever the true number of victims, they are honored collectively each May 5.

The commemorative service at the monument to the Americans began this year at 10 a.m.

Seven friends of Kinzou Kasuya attended the ceremony. "Time passes quickly -- I'm an old man of 74," said Haru Takamure, a former pilot in Kasuya's squadron. "I'm beginning to forget, to forget Kasuya. Compared to me and my friends, those who died left a memory of being young and courageous."

The mayor of Takeda City, the village closest to the crash site, spoke briefly. The memorial, he said, was intended to transcend hatred.

"War does not necessarily come from outside," he said. "It can come from inside ourselves."

Behind him were banners in English and Japanese: "Dedicated to a young Japanese soldier and the crew of the B-29 which crashed here." A picture of Kasuya was placed on the monument, along with a bowl of fruit and sake and -- perhaps in deference to American tastes -- a tray of chocolate chip cookies.

A second, quieter ceremony was held at the monument to Kasuya. A Buddhist monk went from there into the hills to honor the Americans who died before they ever reached Kyushu University.

He said a prayer at each of three stones, marking where three of the Americans are known to have died. Finally, at dusk, he climbed a steep hill to where another flier had been seen to descend from the sky.

In darkness, he said a prayer for the last of the dead.

THOMAS EASTON/SUN STAFF PHOTO: Stone marks the former grave site of a U.S. soldier who was shot to death after parachuting from his crashing B-29. FUKUOKA

...for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. -- Psalms 74:20

Several of the war crimes trials created great interest after the war, perhaps none more so than the one involving Kyushu Imperial University Faculty of Medicine. On 5 May 1945, an American B-29 was shot down over the island of Kyushu. Eleven parachutes were seen to open, but, after the war ended, no record was found of the fate of any of these men. Careful investigation finally convinced US authorities that the eight men who died after vivisection at Kyushu Imperial University, and who could not be identified by name, were part of the missing group of eleven. The crime charged against almost three dozen Japanese nationals (including fourteen physicians and one woman, a nurse) seemed peculiarly unpleasant: vivisection and cannibalism. The Japanese also have shown some interest in the case: Endo Shusaku wrote a challenging novel based on this episode, entitled in translation The Sea and Poison.

Kyushu Imperial University is located in the city of Fukuoka on Kyushu, the westernmost of the Japanese main islands. Kyushu Imperial University's Faculty of Medicine was considered first-rank in 1945, among the best outside the environs of Tokyo. One of the potential defendants, Dr Ishiyama Fukujiro (who committed suicide before trial), was Chief of the First Surgery Clinic; another, Dr Hirako Goichi, was Director of the Anatomy Section; Miss Tsutsui Shizuko was Chief Nurse in Ishiyama's clinic.

The doomed flyers were first placed in a so-called detention barracks; according to Japanese policy they were considered 'captured enemy flyers' rather than POWs until they could be investigated on the blanket charge of indiscriminate bombing. If found innocent, the men would then be transferred to a POW camp. One defendant, Komori, persuaded Sato, the officer in charge of the detention barracks, to release the flyers for medical experimentation. Sato alleged that he did so on the understanding that the release had been approved by higher authority. Komori contacted Ishiyama at the surgical clinic, offering him use of the men 'for the advancement of medicine'. (Physicians at another hospital rejected the offer.) On approximately 15, 23, and 26 May and 3 June 1945, operations were performed. None of the POWs had any injury requiring surgical treatment.

On the first date, a lung was removed from each of two POWs. While the first victim was still alive, Ishiyama removed the ligatures on the pulmonary arteries, and Komori 'scooped blood out of the chest cavity with a cup'. In the second series, operations were done on the stomach, heart, and liver of two victims. Ishiyama at one point returned to the first prisoner in this group, still alive, opened his chest, incised the heart, sutured it, then had two associates do the same to demonstrate that a puncture of the heart is not always fatal.

On the third date in May only one flyer was operated on. The purported object of the surgery was to reach the trigeminal nerve 'from the top of the brain'. This flyer died from haemorrhage and brain damage. A professional colleague of Ishiyama, observing, did not exude confidence in Ishiyama's competence: 'I was asked by Dr. Ishiyama as to what was the quickest way to locate the "Trigeminus" nerve. My answer was that it was impossible to locate the "Trigeminus" nerve because they had opened the skull at the wrong place.' The final three American flyers all had surgery on 3 June. One man had his stomach removed, another was exsanguinated and infused with sea water, while the third had several operations affecting gall bladder, liver and heart. Yakumaru Katsuya, Chief of the National Defence Guard, went with Sato to see an operation on a POW. They arrived in the autopsy room while the surgeons performed a liver operation.

I thought the POW must have had a liver ailment but as the operation progressed I noticed the surgeons removed the liver so I thought this to be a funny operation. I saw the surgeon tie the liver vein. At this point I left the room and went home because I felt sick... afterthe liver was removed Komori turned his head and said to me, 'this is a removal of the liver and we are going to see how long the man would live without his liver.'

All eight flyers died before leaving the operating room, which was a poorly-equipped dissecting room in the anatomy department. No records were kept of these 'experimental' operations at the time or later. Ishiyama and Komori were present at all eight operations and acted as principal and first assistant in their performance. These two men seem, from the evidence, clearly to have played the most significant roles. Ishiyama committed suicide; the trial records state that Komori was 'allegedly deceased', a remarkable coincidence that engenders suspicion. According to a statement by Ishiyama, Komori was wounded during an air raid on 19 June 1945; his leg was amputated but he developed tetanus and died.

After the death of the eight flyers the heads were severed and the bodies were dissected. Various parts were removed by members of the anatomy department. Komori took one POW's liver to his base at Kaikosha Hospital, and he also took away pails full of blood. There was an allegation of cannibalism regarding ingestion of human liver by some of the accused, but this charge was not sustained. Nevertheless, there is testimony in affidavits about a social event at which cooked human liver supposedly was served to the guests.

All eight bodies, minus the removed portions, were cremated by staff members of the anatomy department. The ashes were discarded, in some instances hurriedly when the case began to be investigated. False records were prepared to indicate that the flyers had all died during a later bombing of Fukuoka. This report ultimately was replaced by one alleging that the flyers were transferred to Hiroshima, where they were purportedly destroyed when the atomic bomb exploded on 6 August 1945.

Clearly science was no factor in carrying out the vivisections. The so-called research was nothing more than pointless cruelties culminating in murder, with no genuine attempt to learn anything. The fact that no notes were made is proof that no benefit to human knowledge was anticipated. A genuinely scientific approach would not have mitigated the crimes significantly, had it existed; it did not.

Ishiyama escaped justice by killing himself. In his suicide note he seemed unrepentant: 'I have devoted my heart and soul in giving medical treatment to the American soldiers. However, I regret that they did not understand me. My children have nothing to be ashamed of.' He then invoked research as an honourable activity, though he refrained from claiming that his crime exemplified such research. 'To the fellow doctors and persons concerned at the hospital: Please forgive this ignorant doctor with one death for his crimes which are equivalent to 10,000 deaths. Continue research to the end. To all the professors: I do not know how to apologise. I bow and pray for the Emperor.'

From: Human Vivisection: The Intoxication of Limitless Power in Wartime by Charles G. Roland, in Moore, Bob and Kent Fedorowich, Prisoners of War and their Captors in Word War II, Oxford, Berg, 1996, pp. 149-179 (NOTE: For other papers by Roland see Bibliography.)

B-29 crash route Route taken by B-29 after being attacked
(Click on image for 74K enlargement)
(Used by permission, Toshio Tono)

Crew of the B-29 in front of their plane -- GuamCrew of B-29
Marvin S. Watkins, William R. Fredericks, Howard T. Shingledecker, Charles M. Kearns, Dale E. Plambeck
Robert C. Johnson, Teddy J. Ponczka, Robert B. Williams, Leon E. Czarnecki, Leo C. Oeinck, John C. Colehower
(Click on image for 92K enlargement)

The fate of these men:

Watkins (pilot) -- Taken to Tokyo, interrogated, and interned at Omori POW Camp. Released at end of war. Died in 1989? in Virginia.
Fredericks (co-pilot) -- Died during vivisection experiment
Shingledecker (bombardier) -- Place & means of death unknown
Kearns (navigator) -- Died in vicinity of crash site
Plambeck (radar navigator) -- Died during vivisection experiment (PHOTOS 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 -- DOCUMENTS 1 - 2 -- Paper by grandson)
Johnson (left gunner) -- Died in vicinity of crash site
Ponczka (engineer) -- Died during vivisection experiment
Williams (radio operator) -- Died during vivisection experiment
Czarnecki (tail gunner) -- Died during vivisection experiment
Oeinck (right gunner) -- Died in vicinity of crash site
Colehower (nose gunner) -- Died during vivisection experiment

See this PDF scan of an archival document of March 5, 1946, which shows some of these airmen listed as being killed by the A-bomb in Hiroshima, a ploy used by the Japanese military to cover up the vivisection atrocities.

2. Statement by pilot, Marvin Watkins

On May 5th, 1945, my B-29 was on a bombing mission to the Tachiarai airfield in the northwestern section of the island of Kyushu. As the formation was turning away from the target, our aircraft was hit by fighter and anti-aircraft fire. A fire was started in our #4 engine and gas tank which soon got out of control making it necessary for the crew to leave the aircraft. We all bailed out before an explosion occurred.

Second Lt. Fredericks, Lt. Plambeck, Sgt. Ponczka, Cpl. Colehower and I were captured and taken to a Japanese Army Camp near where our aircraft crashed. Since I was blindfolded at all times when moved, I have no knowledge where this camp was located. We were held in individual adjoining cells and could not speak to each other.

After about four days and a number of interrogations, I was separated from the fellow crew members and taken to Tokyo where I received several more very thorough interrogations. I was held there in Tokyo along with many more B-29 men until liberated on Aug. 29th. To this date I haven't heard or been able to get any information as to the whereabouts of my crew. It hardly seems possible that all ten would have disappeared.

Marvin S. Watkins
1st Lt., United States Army Air Corps
October 29, 1945

Submitted by his wife, Beatrice, and two sons, Marvin Sidney, Jr., and Sam, November 16, 2000

3. Interrogation of Marvin Watkins


Judge Advocate General's Department -- War Department
United States of America

In connection with information relative to the location of the crew as a result of plane crash, May 1945
Perpetuation of Testimony of Marvin S. Watkins, discharged, formerly 1st Lt., ASN 0-801224
Taken at: State Highway Headquarters, Petersburg, Virginia
Date: 20 March 1947
In the presence of: Jonathan H. Harrington, Special Agent, 109th CIC Detachment, Second Army
Questions by: Jonathan H. Harrington, Special Agent, 109th CIC Detachment, Second Army

Q. State your name, former rank, serial number and permanent home address.

A. Marvin S. Watkins, 1st Lt., ASN 0-801224, Church Road, Virginia.

Q. When did you return to the United States from overseas?

A. I returned to the United States on 3 October 1945.

Q. What was your organization on or about 5 May 1945?

A. I was assigned to the 29th Bomb Group, 6th Bomb Squadron. We were based in Guam.

Q. Did you personally take part in a bombing mission on 5 May 1945?

A. Yes, I was the pilot of a B-29 on 5 May 1945 with our mission as the bombing of Tachairai [Tachiarai] Air Depot.

Q. Who were the members of your crew on the mission of 5 May 1945?

A. William R. Fredericks, Co-Pilot; Howard T. Shingledecker, Bombardier; Charles Kearns, Navigator; Dale Plambeck, Radar Navigator; Teddy Poncezki, Engineer; John Colehower, Gunner; Cpl. Johnson, Gunner; Cpl. Oeinck, Gunner; Cpl. Czarnecki, Gunner; Robert Williams, Radio Operator and myself as pilot.

Q. What happened during the bombing mission of 5 May 1945?

A. We had completed our bombing run and were ten to twenty miles away from the target when our plane was attacked by a twin-engine enemy fighter. As a result of the attack by the enemy fighter our number 4 engine caught fire.

Q. What was the date and time of the attack by the enemy fighter?

A. The attack occurred about 0800 - 5 May 1945.

Q. Was the condition of your plane, after the attack, such that it was necessary to abandon the plane?

A. Yes, all of the crew with the exception of the engineer and myself left the plane. I do not know the exact location where the crew should have landed, however, I do know that the location was southwest of the airfield that we had bombed. After the remainder of the crew had bailed out, the engineer and myself flew the plane for about five miles and then bailed out when we lost one of the wings. The engineer and I landed, by parachute, in a southwest direction from our target but beyond the location where the remainder of the crew should have landed.

Q. When were you captured by the Japanese after you had landed from the damaged aircraft?

A. I evaded the Japanese for about eight hours and was not captured until about 1700 - 5 May 1945.

Q. What happened after you were captured?

A. At the time of my capture I was handcuffed and blindfolded and placed on a train and traveled on this train from 2000 to 2400 - 5 May 1945. I attempted to ascertain the direction of our travel but due to the blindfold I was to unable to determine our location or direction of travel. I was removed from the train that night, still blindfolded and handcuffed, and the next morning about 0900 (6 May 1945) I was taken back on the train along with Fredericks, and we traveled in an unknown direction until 1600 or 1700 when we arrived at an Army camp, name and location unknown. I believe that the particular Army camp may have been a recruit camp inasmuch as the Japanese personnel gave the impression that they had only been in the Japanese Army for a short time. I know that Fredericks was with me on the train due to the fact that I peeked under the blindfold. We were not permitted to talk at anytime.

Q. Do you know whether or not any of the other crewmembers were located or confined at this Army Camp?

A. Yes, I know that Lt. Plambeck, Cpl. Colehower, Sgt. Poncezki and Lt. Fredericks were confined at this camp, although, we were placed in separate rooms. When I arrived at the camp I was placed in a separate room where I stayed for two days and nights, still handcuffed and without blankets, then moved to another building where I stayed for three or four hours and then I was brought back to the confinement building and placed in a room with Sgt. Poncezki and instructed to care for Sgt. Poncezki by the Japanese.

Q. Why were you instructed to care for Sgt. Poncezki?

A. Sgt. Poncezki had received some sort of a stab wound in the back, between the shoulder blades, and had also been hit in the left groin. I do not know how the injuries were incurred. During this time we were still handcuffed and without any type of medical supplies. I remained in this room with Sgt. Poncezki until 8 May 1945 when I was transferred.

Q. Where were you transferred on 8 May 1945?

A. On the 9th of May 1945 the Japanese came into the room where I was confined, blindfolded me, placed me on a train and I arrived at our destination about 1700 -- 10 May 1945. I believe that we arrived at Kempi [Kempei Tai] Headquarters in Tokyo.

Q. What happened when you arrived at Kempi Headquarters?

A. On my arrival I was taken to a room and interrogated for a period of about two hours by a Japanese civilian known to us as "Whiskers", I do not know his correct name. During the time I was being interrogated I still wore the handcuffs, without blindfold, and was forced to assume a kneeling position in front of the Japanese and during the interrogation he severely beat me about the head and hips with a short stick which was about eighteen to twenty-four inches in length and about one inch in diameter. It is believed that the stick may have been a portion of a Japanese practice saber.

Q. Why were you beaten by the Japanese civilian?

A. I think that the interrogator was confused by the names of Watson and Watkins. Apparently the Japanese, at this interrogation center, had confined a portion of a crew of a plane piloted by a Captain Watson and the interrogator attempted to have me admit that my name was Watson and that the crew in confinement was a portion of the crew of my plane. The interrogator continued to beat me until I was unable to maintain the kneeling position.

Q. What happened at the conclusion of this two-hour interrogation?

A. I was returned to my cell about 2100 - 10 May 1945, where the blindfold, handcuffs and shoes were removed and I was given some blankets. This was the first time the handcuffs had been removed since my capture. The next morning, about 0800 (11 May 1945) I was removed from my cell and again interrogated for about two hours and the Japanese still maintained that my name was Watson. During this interrogation they threatened to removed my head. During my stay at this interrogation center I was interrogated about eight more times but I did not receive any further beatings.

Q. Can you describe the Japanese civilian interrogator?

A. As previously stated I do not know his correct name but he was nicknamed "Whiskers" by the prisoners. He was about 5'8" in height, weight 155 to 160 pounds; age 45 to 50 years; wore glasses; black hair and black goatee. He gave me the impression as being in charge of the interrogation center or at least a person of authority. I believe that he may have been partly Korean.

Q. Do you know the location of the Kempi Headquarters?

A. I believe that it was located in the southwest portion of Tokyo and the building where the interrogation took place was a stone building beside a canal. The interrogation rooms are believed to have been in the basement of this stone building.

Q. How long were you confined at Kempi Headquarters?

A. I remained at that location until 15 August 1945 when we were moved to a PW Camp on an island outside of Tokyo. It is believed that this PW Camp was headquarters camp for Tokyo area. I was released from this camp by the Navy on 29 August 1945.

Q. What type of treatment did you receive at Kempi Headquarters?

A. There were sixteen prisoners in a small room, about eight by twelve feet. We were required to sleep on the floor and were not permitted to leave the room except for interrogations. We were permitted to sleep from 2100 to 0500, daily, and our only food was in the form of rice and we were not permitted to talk.

Q. Do you personally know of any of the prisoners being beaten or mistreated at Kempi?

A. I personally know that two prisoners were beaten outside of our cell by Japanese guards for talking. We did not have any type of medical supplies and I know that two prisoners were seriously ill with diphtheria, one of these prisoners died enroute back to the United States. I further know that two prisoners were suffering from severe burns and the prisoners died due to the fact that the Japanese would not provide any type of medical treatment. Two other prisoners, one with a broken ankle and the other with a broken arm, did not receive any type of medical attention. The prisoner with the broken ankle was required to hobble from one building to the other for interrogation. During the entire time I was confined at this camp we did not have a change of clothing or a bath with the result all of the prisoners were plagued with lice and were very dirty.

Q. Do you have any information as to what happened to other members of your crew?

A. As previously stated I know that Lt. Plambeck, Lt. Fredericks, Sgt. Poncezki and Cpl. Colehower were confined in the Japanese Army Camp where we were taken on 6 May 1945. I was transferred from this camp on 9 May 1945 to Kempi Headquarters in Tokyo and I do not have any information relative to these crew members since the date of my transfer.

Q. With the exception of the crew members mentioned in the preceding question do you have any information as to what happened to the remainder of your crew?

A. I do not. I did not see any of the other crew members after we had abandoned the plane. Based upon a very limited conversation with the crew members confined at the Japanese Army camp it is believed that all crew members were successful in leaving the plane although we are not positive that Cpl. Czarnecki actually left the plane.

Q. Do you think that Lts. Plambeck, Fredericks, Sgt. Poncezki and Cpl. Colehower had any information relative to the other crew members?

A. No, I don't think that they had any information.Q. Have you ever heard, in any manner, from any of the other crew members?

A. I have not. To the best of my knowledge I am the only crew member who returned to the United States. I have been in contact with various members of the families of the other crew members but I have never been able to obtain any information as to the other crew members. While still overseas and after I had been released from the PW Camp, I attempted to obtain information about the crew members but was unsuccessful.

Q. Do you have any other information as to what happened to the crew of your plane?

A. I do not. I would like very much, to know what happened to the crew or to obtain any information relative to the crew.

Q. Would you be willing to testify, as an oral witness, in connection with any war crime of which yon have knowledge?

A. Yes.

Marvin S. Watkins
State of: Virginia
County of: Dinwiddie

I, Marvin S. Watkins, of lawful age, being duly sworn on oath, state that I have read the foregoing transcription of my interrogation and all answers contained therein are true to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Marvin S. Watkins
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 27 day of March 1947.
Summary Court


I, Jonathan H. Harrington, Special Agent, 109th CIC Detachment, Second Army, certify that Marvin S. Watkins, personally appeared before me on 20 March 1947 and testified concerning war crimes; and that the foregoing is an accurate transcription of the answers given by him to the several questions set forth.

Date: 27 March 1947
Place: Petersburg, Virginia

Special Agent, 109th CIC Detachment

4. Watkins Statement of December 10, 1948

State of: Virginia
County of: Dinwiddie

I, Marvin Sidney Watkins, Captain, Organized Reserve Corps, Petersburg, Virginia, do hereby, voluntarily, make the following statement in connection with my imprisonment by the Japanese. I was assigned to duty with the 6th Bomb Squadron, 29th Bomb Group, 314th Wing, based on Guam, from March 1945 until 5 May 1945 when I was captured by the Japanese.

I was shot down over Tachairai [Tachiarai] Air Depot in Kyushu, Japan, at approximately 0800 hours on 5 May 1945. I was captured on Kyushu on 5 May 1945. I was taken from Kyushu to Kempei Headquarters in Tokyo arriving approximately 10 May 1945. The mistreatment and beatings of myself and other prisoners of war at the Kempei Headquarters have been described in sworn testimonies taken on 20 March 1947 and 7 October 1947.

On 15 August 1945 I was transferred to the Omori Prisoner of War Camp. There I received much better treatment and was allowed to freely converse with other prisoners, walk around, keep clean and I was not molested. Also, I was never interrogated again while here. Our rations were adequate as was also the medical attention given. The obvious reasons for this reversal in treatment was so that we would appear to be in good physical and mental condition. This was further brought out by instructions we received, after being at the Omori Camp for about a week, that all of us were to clean up and put on our best clothes for an inspection by International Red Cross. On 29 August 1945 we were liberated from the Omori Camp by the United States Navy.

Marvin S. Watkins

Sworn and subscribed to before me this tenth day of December 1948.
Rudolph G. Kellman
Summary Court

5. Letter from Marvin Watkins to Mrs. Dale Plambeck

Church Road, Virginia
Oct. 19, 1945

Dear Mrs. Plambeck,

This is to express to you my sincerest sympathy during the trying days of waiting. I can appreciate your anxiety for I also have been waiting for news of other members of my crew.

You have been informed by the Squadron Commander and by several others as to what trouble we encountered and that report is correct. I will attempt to give a few more details. Everything was normal and no fighters or anti-aircraft fire was encountered until we had released our bombs and turning away from the target. There was a twin-engine fighter high ahead of us and a little to the right that made a pass on our formation and getting our ship in his sights and when it came through it was only a near-miss of crashing into us. A fire was started in #4 engine and gas tank which soon got out of control, making it necessary for us to leave the ship before an explosion occurred. The bail-out signal was sounded and all left the ship in an orderly manner. The engineer and I were the last to leave and by that time the wing had burned off and the ship was out of control. We had hoped the fire might burn out.

I can authentically say that your husband left the ship and parachuted down safely for I was later captured and held as prisoner in an adjoining room to Dale. There were five of us together but in separate rooms at some Army camp near where we crashed. Japanese customs and policies forbid us to talk to each other, but in spite of this Dale and I had a few words together. He was alright and said all the boys in his compartment got out and they parachuted down together.

After about three or four days and several interrogations, I was separated from these boys and taken by train to Tokyo and there I received quite a number of very thorough interrogations and was held there as a prisoner until liberation. During this time, I was unable to contact any of my crew and to date I haven't heard a word. Lt. Fredericks, Sgt. Ponczka, Cpl. Colehower, Dale and I were together at this camp on Kyushu.

After liberation, I was taken to Okinawa and then Manila. While there, I personally checked all rosters of liberated personnel, and asked the Red Cross to do likewise, without any success. I sincerely hope by this time you have heard something.

As Dale's airplane commander, I was pleased to have him as a crew member and know his fellow crew members regarded him very highly also. He devoted himself nobly as a combat crew member and you can be proud that he in no small way contributed to the success of the missions in which we participated.

I wish there was more information in regard to Dale but due to the Japanese customs and our separation, this is all I have. If there are any questions you would like answered, please feel free to write at any time. I regret very much I haven't been able to write sooner, but due to traveling or subject to moving all the time, my mail is just catching up.

Since liberation, I've been under observation and am still classed as a patient even though I feel fine and look well. Tomorrow I begin a 30-day convalescent leave. Wish to assure you that it was four rough months.

My family and I wish to extend our deepest sympathy to you and your family. I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Marvin S. Watkins

6. Message from Marvin Watkins to Taketa City


A memorial is an occasion of inspiration and sorrow. We are inspired by the value of those who placed National Safety above personal survival; saddened by the loss of bright and honorable lives. Nations have been engaged in many wars and battles. Many have died. They died to preserve their country and all it stood for, stands for, and all it will continue to stand for in the years to come.I, MARVIN S. WATKINS, B-29 Aircraft Commander on a flight over KYUSHU, JAPAN, May 5, 1945, commend and pay homage to the citizens of the TAKEDA CITY, OITA area for the erection and dedication of a memorial to the memory of my aircraft crew and others who offered their lives in the sky. You have without doubt in my mind spared no efforts in making it possible to erect the monument at an appropriate location.

I offer my sincere prayer for the souls of all Americans and Japanese in whose memory the memorial is erected. Let us never forget those who sacrificed their lives for the present peace and friendship between the United States and Japan. May the people of these two great Nations forever share the relationship we have shared for the past 36 Years.

SIGNED: Marvin S. Watkins
DATE: MAY 5, 1981

Summary of Japanese War Crime Tribunal sentencing of Japanese personnel: Vivisection and Aburayama incidents

For further insight on the vivisection atrocity, read The Fallen: A True Story of American POWs and Japanese Wartime Atrocities by Marc Landas.

Transcript of vivisection atrocity TV documentary aired in Japan on Dec. 27, 2005

For more on Unit 731 and beyond, read Japan's Biological and Chemical Weapons Programs; War Crimes and Atrocities: Who’s Who, What’s What and Where’s Where – 1928-1945 by Dwight Rider

From the eyes of the Japanese...

Medical officers in most armies are there to save lives. But in the shattered-jewel army, they were to end them. As Tamotsu Ogawa recalled:

I became a murderer. I killed men who didn't resist, couldn't resist. I killed men who only sought medicine, comrades I was supposed to help. Naturally the officers didn't do it themselves. They left it to the orderlies. We did it under orders from the company commander, then covered the bodies with coconut palm leaves and left them there. I think to myself: I deserve a death sentence. I didn't kill just one or two. Only war allows this -- these torments I have to bear until I die. My war will continue until that moment. I'm alive. What a pity I can't do anything but weep. I know tears don't erase my sin.

"Why did Captain Yoshii order Jimmy's death?" I asked (Fumio) Tamamura-san years later. He explained:

For Yoshii it was an effort to raise morale. He had to prepare everyone for dying. We were all going to die, we thought. We knew the American instruments of death were going to come at us and that we had no hope. We were all going to die together; the prisoner would go first. "It can't be helped," everyone thought. It's a mass hysteria, wartime hysteria. It's impossible to analyze it unless you were in that bizarre situation. The reactions of a cornered rat are not normal. And besides, when the Americans came and we were all going to die, how could we hold on to a prisoner?

The Ofuna guards who harassed Bill and Charlie probably viewed themselves as relatively benign. If the tables had been turned, the guards certainly would not have expected any better from the Americans. "I was shocked by the U.S. treatment," Yoshio Nakajima, one of the very few Iwo Jima POWs, told me. "The U.S. treated me fairly as a human. There was a huge gap between the Japanese and American forces." Another Iwo Jima POW, Masaji Ozawa, told me he believed he would have his head chopped off if he surrendered to U.S. forces, instead, he found himself receiving medical treatment for his wounds and drinking Coca-Cola. "Our education was a military one," Ozawasan said. "We were supposed to die for the emperor. We were small things, like bugs to be squashed. We thought the Americans would treat us as bugs, just like our army did. But instead America saved my life."

From: Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, James Bradley, 2003

Next page >