| To Interested Parties:
Contained is information I have accumulated over the years regarding Sgt. Otto Baumgarten Jr. I became interested when Otto's brother Ted, told me about the Japan incident and, as a history buff, I kind of tucked it away until my daughter and her husband went to Japan to teach English in 1997. As it happened, they lived very close (about 100 miles) from where the air crash occurred. My wife and I visited them in Japan during the summer of 1998; but were not aware of the memorial that the Japanese people had erected until after we returned and talked to Ted. Since that time, I have been able to located a considerable amount of information using the internet to search for documents and locate people.
To put things in somewhat of a chronological order:
On May 7, 1945, the crew of the B-29 "Empire Express" (42-63549) was involved in a mission to bomb a kamikaze air base at Usa Airfield on the southern island of Kyushu. Apparently, they had just completed their bombing run successfully when they were rammed by a twin engine Ki-45 Nick fighter piloted by MSgt. Tsutomu Murata. It appears from reading the missing crew report that it was not necessarily a kamikaze attack; but rather a frontal attack that either misjudged or was too aggressive for the high closing speeds. The ensuing crash took about 10 feet off the left wing of the B29 and both aircraft spun off to crash into Hachiman Mountain near the Village of Yamaguchi. The pilot of the twin engine fighter was killed in the crash and although, the missing crew report states that "no parachutes were seen leaving the B29", it seems that three crew members, Sgt. Edgar McElfreash, Ralph Romines and Otto Baumgarten must have been able to jump as all the others were killed in the crash and the terrain is quite mountainous which would hardly allow for a safe landing considering loss of control and an aircraft still heavily loaded with enough fuel to return to the island of Tinian.
As best I can figure out, the crew of the Empire Express consisted of:
Lt. James McKillip, Montgomery, Alabama (Pilot)
Lt. John Lambert Jr. Pasadena, California (Co-pilot)
Lt. Norman Siegel Chicago, Illinois (Navigator)
Lt. Harley Hammerman Clayton, Missouri (Bombardier)
T/Sgt. Edgar McElfresh Martin’s Ferry, Ohio (Flt. Engineer)
S/Sgt. Albert Yokubonis Port Carbon, Penn. (Radio Operator)
S/Sgt. Lewis Balser Attleboro, Mass. (Radar Gunner)
T/Sgt. Vernon Galyardt Russell, Kansas (CFC Gunner)
Sgt. Ralph Romines Sevierville, Tenn (Left Blister Gunner)
Sgt. Otto Baumgarten Baraboo, Wisc. (Right Blister Gunner)
Sgt. William Beckman Haxtun, Colorado (Tail Gunner)
Some of the addresses may not be exactly accurate as the airmen may have been married, thus it would not have been their "home town" address, but rather their next of kin's. These addresses were obtained from the Missing Crew Report which was filled out shortly after the aircraft failed to return. They were members of the 20th Air Force, 505th Bomber Group, 483rd Bomber Squadron. It has been reported that this was Otto's thirteenth mission into Japan when the air crash occurred. As aircrews normally trained as a group, we can safely assume that it was the thirteenth mission for the rest of the air crew also. The only change would normally come as a result of someone wounded or sick. In that case there would be a replacement crew member.
Baumgarten, Romines and McElfresh were most likely captured shortly after the incident. Whether any of the three were injured is not known; but they were eventually transported to Fukuoka, a large seaport city on the west coast of the Kyushu where they were interred at one of the Fukuoka prison camps and, it appears, quite possibly at Western Army Headquarters pending "trial," which means they were most likely interrogated under difficult conditions. Japanese were known to be quite brutal in regard to prisoners.
On the evening of June 19th, 1945, Fukuoka was bombed by B29's with considerable damage to the city and also to the Japanese Headquarters and their legal office. There were a number of captured airmen held in the area and Major General Kyusaku Fukushima said they must be "disposed of without trial," in retaliation for the bombing; but also because they felt that American invasion was imminent. Eight of the captured airmen were brought to the Fukuoka Girls School and beheaded. It appears that the three crew members from the Empire Express were among the eight. This was less than two months after they had been captured and slightly more than a month before the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended. To the best of my knowledge, the remains of the airmen were never found, although they were identified as being executed. Sgt. Otto Baumgarten is listed as missing in action on the Tablets of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Hawaii. He was awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart. I’m quite sure Otto's parents would rather have had him return in lieu of the medals.
A letter was sent to Otto's parents, dated 28 April 1948 regarding the air crash and the executions. It further states "that the perpetrators of this atrocity will be brought to trial at a General Military Government Court in the near future." There were a great number of war crimes trials held after the war, but I have been unable to find any kind of a transcript regarding this particular incident. Although I do remember reading in a book describing the Fukuoka executions that Japanese Camp Commanders responsible were themselves found guilty in 1948 and executed for their crimes. I have been unable to officially verify it, though.
Throughout my searching I have had a couple of very interesting letters and contacts. As I searched the internet for information regarding the air crash and the executions, I often left a posting on various web sites hoping for further information. I was contacted by a Col. Winters whose father was a 19 year old gunner (same as Otto) on an adjacent aircraft during the same raid. His father remembers the ramming. Although in his description, it almost seemed deliberate; but then, his memory could be dimmed by almost 60 years. I also made contact with the Empire Express pilot's son who lives in Georgia. He was born July 1945 or about two months after his father's death in the air crash. I've sent him whatever material I've been able to scratch together regarding the situation. He also has some information he's getting together and will share with us in the future. Seems very interested and a nice fellow. It appears that the crew members who perished in the air crash were buried near the crash site. One of the pictures that my daughter and son in law took show a small memorial with a cross and Japanese and American flags. The Japanese writing states "Here Lie American Soldiers," so it would seems that the crew members must have been buried at that spot. According to information I received from "Sparky Corradina" at the 40th Bomb Group Website: five bodies were found in the wreckage and two were found outside and one body was not identified (whatever that means). The bodies were exhumed by the US Army in 1946. McKillip, Siegel, Lambert, Balser, Beckman, Yokubonis aand Galyardt were identified as being killed in the crash. We know that Baumgarten, Romines and McElfresh parachuted so that only leaves Lt. Hammerman not to be indentified. However, the missing crew report lists him as identified so somehow he was lost in the paperwork shuffle at one time.
In 1970, a new memorial was constructed by the Japanese with the cooperation of American servicemen stationed in Japan. S/Sgt. Howard Standerfer was asked to speak at the dedication of the memorial and as there were only pictures and information about Japanese military men, he felt that the Americans lost in the crash should be honored also. Standerfer stated, "If it's truly to be an international peace monument, then information about all of those lost in the crash should be kept in a museum." After returning to the United States, Standerfer began organizing funds for a memorial and largely through his individual efforts the memorial became a reality. It consists of a large granite stone map of the United States with a native rock from each of the airmen's home states cut into the shape of the state and fitted into the monument. The names and states of the fallen airmen are engraved on the back of the monument along with the governor of each state represented. The Japanese side of the monument consists of two facing granite slabs engraved with blossoms in memory of the Japanese pilots. I have not been able to locate or find any further information on Howard Standerfer.
The monuments are part of a large peace park with various sculptures, including one of three children, black, oriental and white, playing together. A memorial museum is on the grounds where various artifacts are displayed including parts of the B29 and pictures of all the fallen airmen, both American and Japanese. My daughter and son in law did a fine job of documenting the memorial, museum and peace park with photos and video camera when they visited the site in 1998. Memorial services are held each May in the park to remember the fallen and pray for world peace.
As I was researching the air crash incident, I became aware of the paradox between the events that happened shortly after and those that occurred several years later. As I mentioned before, the Japanese were generally very brutal with the treatment of prisoners of war. There were exceptions, of course, but history books are filled with accounts of atrocities performed by the Shogun warrior mentality of the Japanese soldiers and their leaders. For example, the Bataan Death March and the Rape of Nanking. Thus, it's not too hard to understand that they would take captured airmen and execute them in retaliation for a air raid. They wanted no witnesses to the atrocities they had performed, including live medical experiments, so many of the surviving airmen were executed when invasion became a possibility. On the other hand, think of the compassion of the Japanese farmer who marked the crash spot or the Japanese villagers who began the process of building a peace park to honor both the American and Japanese dead. Of course, time heals many wounds.
We should take a little time to think of the members of the air crews. Generally, they were between 18 and 24 years of age. Hardly started out in life, but probably anxious to see what the world was about. I can remember being there in the late 1950's. They trained together as a crew and, other than being separated as officers and enlisted, they lived together. They became a true "band of brothers," that is, for survival purposes, one totally dependant on the other. As a member of the B29 crew, they were part of an elite group. Only the best got to fly in the B29. It was reported not to be a easy plane to fly or maintain. The B29 was designed as a long range, high speed, heavy duty bomber. The distance from their base at Tinian to Kyushu, Japan's most southern island, was near 1500 miles. That would mean a round trip of 3000 miles or 10-12 hours or more, depending on the upper winds. They would arrive back at their home base at Tinian tired and low on fuel. Possibly shot up, with engines out. They had to navigate to islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with few land marks on the way. The crew had to be good and experience was a hard teacher. They were most likely typical of the WW2 generation. Their families had struggled through the great depression of the 1930's. Within them was the "can do" attitude that obstacles were made to be overcome. No job was impossible. Their training had taught them to complete the mission as a team, no matter what the danger and, of course, they were lost doing just that.
It appears that the plane they were flying "Empire Express" had been assigned to another crew before Lt. McKillip's crew. In the "Island Express" newsletter dated March 23, 1945, the pilot in command is listed as Lt. James. It wouldn't be unusual for a different crew to fly the plane while another crew "stands down" (or rests). It's also quite possible that there could be more than one "Empire Express."
The crew of the "Empire Express" needs to be remembered. Their country called and, like many of their generation, they responded and gave their lives in the defense of freedom. Let us remember them for their dedication and bravery, but let us also remember the words at the crash site on Mt. Hachimen : "Each stone imbedded on the face of this monument represents a life expended in search for peace. May this monument stand as a constant reminder of the futility of war."
Eleva, WI 54738