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Sorties into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima

Sorties into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima

by Chester Hearn

In October 1946, Colonel Presley Rixey arrived by destroyer at the island of Chichi Jima to return 22,000 Japanese, who had been bypassed during the war in the Pacific, to Japan. While waiting for a Marine battalion to arrive, the colonel met daily with a Japanese commission assigned to assist him. When asked what had happened to American prisoners on the island,


In October 1946, Colonel Presley Rixey arrived by destroyer at the island of Chichi Jima to return 22,000 Japanese, who had been bypassed during the war in the Pacific, to Japan. While waiting for a Marine battalion to arrive, the colonel met daily with a Japanese commission assigned to assist him. When asked what had happened to American prisoners on the island, the Japanese hatched a story to hide the atrocities that they had committed.
In truth, the downed flyers had been captured, executed, and eaten by certain senior Japanese officers. Rixey's suspicion of a cover-up was later substantiated by a group of Americans returning from Japan who had lived on Chichi Jima for generations. It would take five months of gathering testimony to uncover all the details. Thirty war criminals were eventually tried at Guam in 1947, five of whom were hanged.
Sorties Into Hell is the story of the investigation, the cover-up, and the last hours of those Americans whose remains were distributed to the cooking galleys of Chichi Jima. Drawing on research into long-classified files, author Chester Hearn has added an important and largely overlooked chapter to the history of World War II, and his contribution will be welcomed by the general reader and serious enthusiast alike.

Product Details

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 8.94(h) x 0.71(d)

Read an Excerpt

[Sorties Into Hell: The Execution of Jimmy Dye]

By General Tachibana's orders, the prisoner originally marked for execution with bamboo spears [to instill fighting spirit among the Japanese ranks] had not been York but "Jimmy" Dye. Dye won a reprieve when Yoshii, the diminutive, sour-faced commander of the Yoake Wireless Station, learned that the flyer was a radioman. He talked the general out of killing Dye on the premise that he could use a flyer to teach his radiomen how to decode American transmissions. When the soldiers came to take York away, Dye never knew that a substitution had been made, nor would he have cause to celebrate.

Dye's first indication of a change in his status came when a car from Yoake containing an officer and several men arrived at Ryodan Shireibu and separated him from York. The two flyers said good-bye, unsure of whether they would meet again. By then, both flyers knew that the men taken from Ryodan Shireibu or Haken Shireibu had never been returned.

As the car bumped up the serpentine road to the radio station, Dye could not have guessed where he was being taken or why. He arrived at a gray concrete building situated on a small plateau nestled among rocky heights on the eastern side of the island. Nearby he could see a tall radio antenna made of angle iron, and along the crest of Mount Yoake and Mount Asahi he could see several more. When the car came to a stop by the building, the guard gave him and nudge and Dye got out. He followed the guards as they ushered him through the building, which was filled with spare parts, and into a long radio receiving area inside a cave. Power lines and cables ran across tapered walls into a long bank of radio receivers arranged in a row on tables, each having a chair and a headset. There he met Petty Officer 1/C Fumio Tamamura, who had been born in San Francisco, lived for thirteen years in California, and spoke perfect English. Tamamura intercepted American radio calls from aircraft and listened to short-wave radio broadcasts, and though he understood what was being said, he could not decode the messages. That, Yoshii said to Tamamura, was to be Dye's job.

Relieved that he had finally found a Japanese enlisted man who spoke English, Dye appealed to Tamamura to have York brought up to Yoake. The petty officer said he could do nothing about York, but he tried to make Dye feel comfortable and lodged him in his room. Dye did not know that York's execution had already been decided.

Commander Yoshii expected Tamamura and Dye to get to work immediately, but Dye behaved in a "nervous state of mind," Tamamura said. "I knew he could not do any work, so I let him sit in front of the receiving set, and we talked a lot." Dye kept pulling on a scarf wrapped around his neck, and Tamamura asked him where he had gotten it. The flyer replied, "It was a gift from my sweetheart."

For the first time since his capture, Dye spent a comfortable night slumbering in the generator room at the receiving station. He liked Tamamura, and if he could settle his nerves, he said he might be able to help the radioman. But Dye did not know anything about American naval code--only what the jargon meant that bounced back and forth between the aircraft, the squadron, and the carrier.

In the morning Yoshii came to the radio station and asked whether Dye had helped. Tamamura replied, "No, not yet." A little later Yoshii returned to the receiving station and said, "We cannot keep Dye. We must dispose of him."

Tamamura looked puzzled, but Yoshii knew the petty officer's American lineage and said, "You may have your own ideas, but I have mine, too. You have silly ideas about war, and you must get those ideas out of your head." To emphasize that he meant business, he added, "Since the prisoner cannot help you, he will be executed."

The remark startled the men operating the radio equipment. Yoshii noticed their reaction and angrily said, "I must kill this flyer to instill more fighting spirit in all of you!" Then he whirled about and departed from the cave.

Tamamura did not have the heart to say anything to Dye about Yoshii's declaration. "I did not feel so good," Tamamura recalled, so he and the flyer sat together all morning and talked. They shared a meal and chatted about Japan and about America, and Tamamura noticed that Dye began to relax. He watched as the natural spirit of the flyer's young life began to revitalize. Dye began tinkering with the radio set and asking questions because he wanted to learn and to help his new friend. Tamamura went through the exercise of explaining to Dye whatever he asked. Time passed quickly, and Dye soon picked up the scuttlebutt coming from the ships lying 0 off Iwo Jima.

At 2:30 in the afternoon Yoshii's orderly came into the room and in Japanese told Tamamura that the commander was about to announce Dye's execution. Then he turned to the flyer and through Tamamura told Dye to take off his leather jacket and his scarf, as the commander wanted them. The orderly departed, leaving Dye and Tamamura alone, and so they sat together a little longer and talked of things past and of good memories before the war. Tamamura liked the flyer, and he could not bring himself to say, "You are about to die."

While Dye and Tamamura conversed in the radio room, Yoshii called a general assembly. Most of the men came outside and fell into line by the fuel storage building. Others had heard about the executions on Nakayama Toge and made an effort to remain invisible. Tamamura came alone, leaving Dye in the receiving room. While the men stood at attention, Yoshii, who tended to squint and never wore a pleasant expression, sent a pair of orderlies into the cave to get Dye.

For the last time in his short life, Dye walked into the afternoon sunlight. He did not know where he was being taken because Tamamura had said nothing. As he stood between the orderlies with his hands tied, he could see fresh, upturned soil and a grave-like hole that had been dug nearby. Then he heard Commander Yoshii deliver a prayer, one he could not understand, and when everyone bowed his head, he did so, too. Dye did not know that Yoshii's message included the announcement of his own execution or that Yoshii said to his men that the American flyer's fate today might be their fate tomorrow. He ordered all the men in the unit to "watch carefully."

Yoshii's arrangements for Dye's execution had been made during the morning. When he selected Lieutenant (jg) Minoru Hayashi to perform the beheading, he did so intending to expunge the lieutenant's timidity and cast off any vestiges of the young officer's civilian-bred humanity. Hayashi did not know whether he could behead the flyer because he had never performed an execution. He did not like the task imposed upon him by Yoshii, and when he objected to the assignment, Yoshii scowled and said, "You know what happens to an officer who refuses an order." Hayashi knew it well. Disobeying an order meant execution or life imprisonment, so he bowed to acknowledge that he would behead the flyer. As Hayashi stepped forward with his sword, Yoshii again ordered all the men in the unit to "watch carefully," but Hayashi peered nervously at the flyer and hesitated, for Dye was looking at him square in the eye. Then Yoshii remembered the blindfold and called for his orderly to bring a towel.

Tamamura stood about five feet away from Dye when the orderly approached and wrapped a towel around the flyer's eyes. He observed Dye begin to shake. The flyer's chin quivered like a person forcing back tears. Dye knew that Tamamura stood nearby and asked, "What are they going to do to me?" Tamamura could not tell the truth and said, "You are just going to be questioned." Dye nodded his head as if to say, "Okay," but all the blood had run from his face, and beads of perspiration dripped from his light brown hair. It must have seemed odd to Dye to have his hands tied and his eyes covered to be questioned.

"I felt sorry for him," Tamamura recalled, "and I thought if he was going to die, it would be better without the mental pain."

Commander Yoshii called to Tamamura and said in Japanese, "Tell the prisoner to kneel."

Tamamura complied. He noticed that the radioman was close to losing consciousness, and he told Dye to sit still while the commander questioned him. Dye felt someone move his body closer to the freshly dug hole, close enough that Dye probably realized that he was sitting on its rim. He no longer asked Tamamura questions. He now knew he was about to be killed.

Yoshii turned to Hayashi and nodded. The lieutenant came forward, unsteadily raised his sword, and swung it for a killing blow. The blade cut into Dye's neck about an inch, breaking into the nape of the neck just above the flyer's backbone. Dye winced and groaned and tried to raise his head. With his spinal cord severed, he could probably sense a feeling in his arms and legs, but not be able to move them. His head would swim, transporting through his semiconsciousness a myriad of dazzling lights as his nervous system searched to find its circuits. Hayashi took one look at the blood spurting from the back of Dye's neck and dropped his sword. He dove among the crowd and sprinted away. Others followed. Dye slumped forward, his head nearly touching the ground. Then he tried to straighten himself but could not move his body. He was not dead, yet nothing about his body felt alive.

A second man, Lieutenant (jg) Shinichi Masutani, stood by with a sword, but when he saw blood pouring from the cut on Dye's neck, he backed away. Yoshii snapped an order, and Masutani raised his sword, but he froze and could not bring it down. Yoshii hollered, "Cut and finish him," but a man slumped over, his face turned to the side on the ground, could not be properly beheaded. Masutani handled the sword clumsily, using the blade to hack rather than smoothly cut. After two slashing blows, Dye's head, still held by a thin strand of skin, dangled over the pit. More blood spurted from his neck, and slowly Dye's body stretched out on the ground and leaned forward. His head rolled into the grave, and his trunk and legs tumbled in behind it.

Yoshii said nothing to Hayashi or Masutani, but he looked angry. He called for the surgeon, and Dr. Sasaki plunged through the astonished spectators with his bag of surgical instruments. Men began to move away, some hurrying back to their work. Others followed the doctor toward Dye's body, puzzled by what miracles the doctor intended to perform on a decapitated corpse. Sasaki stared into the grave, saw the messy result of a clumsy execution, and shook his head grimly. He looked disparagingly at Yoshii, who growled, "You know what to do."

Sasaki reached for his scalpel and a few men crowded around to watch the bloody work. The surgeon cut away Dye's shirt and made two long incisions, one vertically into the stomach and the other horizontally. He peeled back the flyer's skin and cut out the liver, placing it on sheets of paper. The Officer of the Day stood by and dolefully watched, but when the surgeon began slicing off flesh, he cried out, "Do not cut any more!" Yoshii reprimanded the officer and told him to mind his own business. He sent the other men away and waited while Sasaki removed the flesh. When the surgeon finished cutting through the thighs, Yoshii called for the burial detail and said, "Cover the prisoner."

A sailor delivered Dye's liver, wrapped neatly in paper, to Petty Officer Second Class Kazunori Suzuki, Commander Yoshii's cook. Suzuki did not know what the package contained. He put it aside in the galley and went about preparing the commander's usual supper. Later that evening Yoshii called for the package. Suzuki brought it to him and unwrapped it. "It was very dark colored flesh," Suzuki recalled. "I did not know that human liver looked like this, as I had never seen one before."

Yoshii scowled at his cook and said firmly, "Do not tell this to anybody."

Suzuki bowed and departed. He wanted nothing more to do with human liver.

Alone in his room Yoshii cut a slice from the slab, cooked it, ate it, and took the remainder to a party just getting started in the main building at the radio station.

When Yoshii arrived two parties were already under way--one on the second floor, which ochcontained the officer's mess, and the other on the first floor, where the enlisted men ate. A galley on each floor served the two dining areas. After Yoshii reached the second floor he opened the package of liver. A few of the navy officers took a quick look and bolted from the table under the pretext of being on duty. During the course of the evening Yoshii fried the liver in the galley, sliced it, added garnishes, and brought it to the table to eat. He ordered his officers to eat a slice, but some of them refused. Others, reinforced by liberal amounts of sugarcane rum and compelled by duress, joined the commander and dined on pieces of Dye's liver. About 8 P.M. an air raid disrupted the party when a pair of American hecklers flew over Chichi. Men ran for the cave but not Yoshii. He remained behind to store some of the uneaten liver in the galley's icebox. The remainder he took back to his quarters for personal consumption.


Commander Yoshii's rush to execute Dye cannot be explained in the context of the American concept of morality. Yoshii behaved much like his counterpart in the 308th Battalion, Major Matoba--the difference being that Yoshii was seldom drunk, and Matoba was often drunk. Yoshii executed American prisoners not because he craved human flesh but because he believed that war was coming to the island, and he expected it to be brutal. Matoba seemed to enjoy the taste of human flesh and took every opportunity to acquire it. To face American bestiality, Yoshii and Matoba believed that their men must be hardened to fight...with more fanaticism. They also believed that human liver gave those who ate it inner as well as spiritual power and that soon the entire division on Chichi would be faced with the need to eat their own dead in order to survive and continue the fight. Eating a few dead Americans now would make the practice more palatable when the ground war came to Chichi.

Meet the Author

Chester Hearn graduated from Allegheny College in 1954 with a B.A. in Economics. After serving in the United States Army, he began a manufacturing, engineering, and operations career, working for such companies as General Electric, Dresser Industries, Patterson Industries, Sprout Waldron Company, Combustion Engineering and ABB, Philip Crosby Associates, and CJ Quality Associates.

Hearne has written and published twenty-one books, with the twenty-second-on the evolution of aircraft carriers and carrier air tactics during World War II and the years that followed-upcoming.

He lives with his wife, Ann, in Erie, Pennsylvania.

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