Sons honor their former POW Fathers

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office (Volunteer)
On this National POW/MIA Recognition Day, we recall last week's 6th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) Association reunion here in Portland, Oregon, at which members of two families reunited to commemorate the wartime service of their fathers, former prisoners of war during World War II.  Mr. David Farquhar, Mr. Steve Dananay and his brother Mr. Larry Dananay traveled to Portland where they remembered and honored the service and sacrifice of their fathers who flew in the strategic air war against Imperial Japan. 

On the night of 23 May 1945, T/Sgt David G. Farquhar, Central Fire Control gunner,  and S/Sgt Milan E. Dananay, right gunner, were en route to Tokyo on their 18th combat mission with the 24th Bomb Squadron's First Lieutenant John B. Boynton crew (Crew # 2404) aboard the B-29 Superfortress "Blind Date/Lady's Delight." 

Enemy anti-aircraft fire over the target area set their aircraft's wing afire, and despite the pilots' best efforts to extinguish the flame, including an unsuccessful dive to try and extinguish the fire and a harrowing return over the target as the crew battled unresponsive flight controls in the stricken bomber, the crew bailed out over Japan after finally getting away from the Tokyo area.

All eleven crew members successfully bailed out and were eventually captured after landing in the Japanese countryside far and wide.  Steve Dananay recalled:  "My Dad told me that when he was spotted in the woods by a youngster, he immediately got rid of the clip from his 45. The kid returned with a group of farmers with pitchforks, shovels, etc.  Likewise Dave Farquhar, when in a similar situation, removed the firing pin from his 45 and tossed it. They both stated that they didn't want to be shot with their own weapon." 

Tail gunner Sgt. Robert A. Franz managed to evade capture for eight days before being spotted getting water and captured by about 50 civilians with clubs and pitchforks on the ninth day.  "You can only about so hungry and then it doesn't bother you much anymore, " Franz recalled in a 1989 interview.  "But being thirsty is much worse."

Due to B-29 crewmembers being considered "special prisoners" having no rights by the Imperial Japanese authorities due to the devastating nature of B-29 raids on Japan, they were subsequently turned over to the Kempeitai, the dreaded Japanese military secret police.  "I was interrogated several times," Franz remembered. "And in every case, the Japanese interrogator had been educated in the United States."

The entire Boynton crew survived their three months of captivity.  Farquhar and his crew's POW experience was summed up in the association newsletter of January 2013, carried from the American POWs of Japan web log, as follows:  "They were taken to the infamous horse stalls outside of the Kempei Tai (military police of the Imperial Army) Headquarters in Tokyo near the Emperor's palace.  They were not considered POWs but "special prisoners" who were war criminals.  Beaten, starved, and tortured, they were denied clothes, basic hygiene, and medical treatment.  On August 15th, the day Japan surrendered, he was transferred to a cell at Tokyo Base Camp #1 Omori where he was liberated August 28, 1945. Omori was the first POW camp liberated.  After a series of hospital stays he was discharged in 1946."

Some 33 aircrew members of the 6th Bomb Group were captured by the Japanese, with the complete crews of two aircraft falling into enemy hands, and the partial crews of two others becoming unwilling guests of the Empire.

One such partial crew was that of the 24th Bomb Squadron's Captain Gordon P. Jordan (Crew # 2406) and the B-29 "Sharon Linn."  They were shot down on a mining mission to Niigata, Japan, on the Japan Sea, on the night of 19 July 1945.  Although all but one of the 11-man crew made it out of the stricken aircraft, the airmen soon found a hostile reception on the ground from angry civilians; three of them were killed shortly after landing and others beaten and roughed up.  Their tragic fate is chronicled in a book by Dr. Gregory Hadley of Niigata University published by Paulownia Press in 2007 titled Field of Spears:  The Last Mission of the Jordan Crew.

Of the 33 men of the 6th Bomb Group captured in the war, at least one is still with us today.  Although he was unable to attend the Portland reunion, association members had contact with S/Sgt Walter W. Wiernik, the Radioman of the Jordan crew mentioned above, who was on his 33rd combat mission when his B-29 was shot down.  In a 15 September 2015 interview, Mr. Wiernik recalled what crossed his mind when it came time to leave the mortally wounded aircraft near Niigata: "When I bailed out (he thought) 'Ma's gonna worry herself to death.'"

S/Sgt Wiernik was captured, taken away to a "Kempeitai hellhole" in Tokyo where about 100 B-29 aircrew special prisoners were confined.  There he was put into a jail cell with 15 other prisoners.  "It was a horrible thing.  We were in Tokyo, the remainder of the crew.  We had no blankets or stuff," he recalled, "16 guys in a jail cell; we slept on our sides like sardines."  Wiernik endured the deprivation and maltreatment of Kempeitai captivity before transfer to Omori POW Camp and he survived to return to the US after the war. 

Of note, Farquhar, Dananay, Wiernik, other 6th Bomb Group crewmembers and many other former POW's were initially treated and their medical condition evaluated aboard the US Navy hospital ship USS Benevolence in Tokyo Bay before their return Stateside.  A former POW next to Wiernik, close enough to breathe on him, expired on the ship despite the efforts to save him.  It scared Wiernik who wasn't sure if he might contract whatever the dead man had died from.  Thankfully he did not.

Despite the grim wartime prisoner experience, and the potential for enduring hard feelings between former adversaries, some signs of reconciliation are present.  In early October, 2012, David Farquhar and his wife travelled to Japan as guests of the country.  He and six other former POW's were flown first class to Japan on a visitation program to meet with government representatives. 

This program started in 2010 and according to the American POWs in Japan web log, " a model for Japanese government war apologies. There is a formal presentation of an apology and a concerted act of contrition."  Japan's Foreign Minister apologized in person to the veterans for their treatment at the hands of the Imperial government of wartime Japan.

On a smaller scale, more personal level, a few years ago, Professor Hadley and his Japanese wife visited Mr. Wiernik at his home in the States.  What might have been an awkward meeting wasn't.  "I asked her if she was scared to see the enemy..." recalled Wiernik, (but) "she was a nice and pleasant person," he said.

The 6th Bomb Group also has 32 airmen from three B-29 crews yet missing in action, officially declared dead years ago, but still missing after all these years.  Their names are remembered in the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.  There is hope that someday their fates might be learned, but until then, they will be remembered as missing comrades-in-arms by veterans and members of the association.

The 142nd Fighter Wing also has POW's (18, including three who escaped from captivity) and MIA's (11 airmen) from World War II to recognize and honor on this day and can thus connect with the 6th Bomb Group Association on the importance of remembering. 

On this National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Recognition Day, the men and women of the 142nd Fighter Wing salute the brave airmen of the 6th Bomb Group (VH) who never came home from the war, and those who fell into enemy hands and experienced a brutal captivity. 

It is a credit to the family members of these men that they remember former POWs and the missing, and honor their memory by representing them at such events as the 6th Bomb Group Association's Portland reunion.  And it is a credit to the citizens of two nations, former enemies, to make efforts to acknowledge the past, live in the present and look forward to a peaceful future.

The examples of service and sacrifice by our former POW's and MIA's remain an encouraging testament to the character of America's citizens who rise up to serve the nation in time of need, and who, despite difficult and sometimes deadly circumstances, do their duty.  Let us all do our part to remember our MIA's and POW's on this national recognition day, for our freedom isn't free.