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
Perhaps someone "out there" can identify
this aviator, and reveal information about the circumstances behind
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
assuming that the inflated life raft and Mae West are actually
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