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A Face Without A Name: Who Was He?
by Michael Moskow
As visitors to this web site know, an enormous number of photographs were taken throughout the Second World War, many of which have since become more than just photos; rather, they're now instantly recognizable symbols of that era. Yet, perhaps the majority of images taken between 1933 and 1945 likely still reside in private collections, or the historical archives of nations throughout the world. Such long-forgotten photographs are continuously coming to light, reminding us of aspects of history that have garnered relatively little attention. The accompanying photo is one such example.

This image of a captured American aviator appears in the Time-Life book Japan at War. Published in 1980, Japan at War describes the lives and experiences of the Japanese people during World War Two, focusing Japanese civilians in the country's Home Islands. Japan at War is one of 39 volumes in the Time-Life series World War II, which were published between 1976 and 1983.

The photo illustrates a discussion of the perils that B-29 crewmen faced if captured. Another image on the same page shows Japanese military personnel examining the wrecked fuselage of a B-29 which crashed near Kobe. Accompanying both photos is a story which may allude to the loss of a crew from the 29th Bomb Group during a mission to Tachiari Airfield, Kyushu, in early May of 1945.

What about the POW? Unfortunately, the quality of the image is not the best. Similarly, the only information about the picture is its caption, which states, "Blindfolded and hands bound behind him, a captured American flier stands beside his life jacket and inflated survival raft in Kobe." According to the book's bibliography, the photo originally appeared in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

Click For Enlargement

In an attempt to learn more about this picture I wrote to both the Asahi Shimbun and United States National Archives, but neither organization has this image in their possession.

Remarkably, in spite of the haunting and compelling nature of this image, it seems to have attracted little to no attention since its publication over two decades ago. Similarly, this author knows of only one other image of a B-29 POW taken while the airman was actually in the custody of the Japanese*, as opposed to postwar pictures of liberated POWs.

Perhaps someone "out there" can identify this aviator, and reveal information about the circumstances behind his capture?

For now, several things "stand out" about this picture that taken together, might (might!) help to identify the POW. They are:

1) As the caption relates, the photo was taken at Kobe. This would suggest that the POW was shot down during a mission to that city, or perhaps transported there from another location, and then photographed. Most likely, the former.
According to Kenn C. Rust's Twentieth Air Force Story, the 20th Air Force conducted missions to Kobe on the following dates in 1945:

Date Bomb Wings Participating

February 4 73rd and 313th Bomb Wings - 1 B-29 lost
March 16/17 (evening) 73rd, 313th, and 314th Bomb Wings - 3 B-29s lost
May 5/6 (evening) 313th Bomb Wing - 4 B-29s lost
May 11 58th, 73rd, and 314th Bomb Wings - 1 B-29 lost
June 5 58th, 73rd, 313th and 314th Bomb Wings - 9 B-29s lost
June 27/28 (evening) 313th Bomb Wing - no B-29s lost
July 19/20 (evening) 313th Bomb Wing - 3 B-29s lost

2) The very fact that the photo exists; that it was published in the Asahi Shimbun in the first place; that two Japanese soldiers are visible in the picture; indicates that the POW was in "official" custody of the Japanese military or Kempei Tai at the time, and not held by civilians. So, he presumably was sent to the POW camps at either Ofuna or Omori, and hopefully survived the war.

3) The fact that he is standing next to intact survival gear…assuming that the inflated life raft and Mae West are actually his…would suggest that he was captured almost immediately upon landing, before having time to destroy or hide this equipment. Also, though his life raft and Mae west have been inflated, his hair and clothing appear dry, suggesting that he landed by parachute on the Japanese mainland, rather than at sea. Perhaps his captors inflated his survival gear as part of this staged photo?

4) His clothing, consisting of a heavy jacket and long pants, would suggest that he was the crewman of a heavy bomber (B-24 or B-29) or Naval patrol plane (Navy PB4Y), rather than a fighter pilot, or crewman of a B-25 Mitchell, SB2C Helldiver, or TBF/TBM Avenger.

5) His hair is dark. Not surprisingly, he appears to be in his late teens to early 20s.

6) The left side of his jacket appears to have an insignia or emblem attached to it. This could be the insignia of the Army Air Force, or perhaps his name plate.

7) One of his dog tags may be visible against his shirt. Weighing all this information, I think it very likely that he was a B-29 crewman, but for now, this is only speculation on my part!

Does anyone "out there" have any ideas?

* First Lieutenant Ernest A. Pickett, a B-29 pilot of the 792nd Bomb Squadron, 468th Bomb Group, whose plane, Ready Teddy (42-6408) was shot down on August 20, 1944. Lt. Pickett's picture appears on the cover of Accused American War Criminal, by Fiske Hanley II, also a B-29 Ex-POW.

Read Michael Moskow's followup: A Face Without a Name Part II

Simons, Gerald (editor) Japan at War, Time-Life Books, Chicago, Il., 1980. ISBN 0-8094-2528-9

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