This is the fifth article in a Scroll series on Ricks College and BYU-Idaho alumni who lost their lives in the service of their country.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
2nd Lt. Robert Le Grande Owens
Climbing through several feet of snow, Japanese villagers finally made it to one of the crash sites. Earlier that morning, they watched three planes burst into flames as they dove into Mt. Fubo. They found 34 American servicemen dead — including 24-year-old Robert Owens of Iona, Idaho.
Like all the other men assigned to Operation Meetinghouse, Robert was nearly sure he wouldn’t return from Tokyo.
The U.S. had been at war with Japan for over three years and recaptured key Pacific islands from which they could conduct strategic bombings on their enemy’s mainland. Now, the Americans were launching one of their largest bombing campaigns yet.
In Europe, the U.S. saw success in their daylight, high-altitude bombing missions. They tried the same in Japan, targeting industrial facilities, but didn’t see the same results. Instead, on this March 9, 1945 campaign, they opted to firebomb Tokyo using 279 B-29s, also known as “Superfortresses.”
The incendiary bombs would set fires meant to cause more extensive damage to the city than conventional bombs. What made the aircrews nervous was their altitude. Whereas they had previously bombed structures at 28,000 feet above the ground, this mission required them to hover at 5,000 to 8,000 feet in the dark.
By the early morning of March 10, the mission would become the most destructive single air attack in history. Despite the American aircraft’s immense exposure, Japanese defenses failed to save the capital. Over 90,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, died. A million lost their homes.
As the bombers returned to their bases, three encountered a blizzard and flew 100 miles off course.
Not long after, the sound of planes caught the attention of people in the towns of Shiroishi and Zao located at the foot of Mt. Fubo. Within minutes of each other, the three lost planes, Robert aboard one of them, crashed into the mountain.
The villagers collected the remains of the 47 men and buried them in a marked mass grave. They learned later of the men’s involvement in the bombing of Tokyo, but expressed no anger. To them, the soldiers had simply done their duty to their country.
Over a decade later, Shiroishi City assemblyman Taketaro Shoji and a group of other villagers formed a committee that raised a million yen to erect a monument for the fallen American servicemen.
Four decades later, the villagers again raised funds for the Fubo Peace Memorial Park, a 60-acre site of Japanese cherry and American dogwood trees, four memorials and 34 individual markers for each soldier.
The original monument reads,
To the memory of the 34 crewmen of the U.S. Air Force B-29s who sacrificed their lives for their country on this mountain on March 10, 1945, and to the everlasting peace of mankind.
1st Lt. Adrian Abraham Waters
Adrian Walters counted down the days until he could see his son. In the days leading up to Milton Walter’s birth in Rexburg, Idaho, Adrian was very anxious because the boy was overdue. But now that anxiety had turned to excitement as he looked forward to the day he could hand the baby the clothes he bought for him in Calcutta, India.
Waiting to take off for another mission at the Pengshan Airfield in Southwest China on Dec. 7, 1944, Adrian’s thoughts most likely drifted to his wife, Lela.
Two years earlier, as an aviation cadet, Adrian joined a convoy to the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska. When he got to the islands, he wrote home, “Mom, this is an awful place … But that doesn’t bother me because I have a sweet, clean, little girl in Idaho and that is where my heart is.”
A year after marrying that girl in Idaho, that’s where his heart lay as he dwelt in another part of the world, ready to bomb a Japanese munitions factory in Manchuria.
After a six-and-a-half-hour flight from Pengshan to Mukden, Manchuria in Northwest China, the mission was straightforward. Led by Capt. Roger Parrish with Adrian as co-pilot, the men aboard the “Gallopin’ Goose” B-29 had already completed nine combat missions and six “Hump” trips over the Himalayas.
The 468th Bomb Group encountered moderate to strong opposition as they attempted to hit their primary target. The Japanese set up smoke screens that made it difficult to see so the bombings were scattered.
Forty minutes after the group headed back, SSgt. William Wooten, the right gunner aboard Windy City II, saw a Japanese fighter coming low toward his plane. From 400 yards away, Wooten barreled the “Nick” with 50 rounds destroying its right engine. Smoking profusely with pieces of the canopy flying off, the fighter went down out of control. The “Nick” pulled out and slipped under the Gallopin’ Goose. When it pulled up again it hit the left horizontal and vertical stabilizers sending the Goose down with it. Several parachutes were seen deployed, but Adrian and his crew were gone.
Years earlier, after Adrian had earned his wings, he came home and showed his mother.
“It hasn’t been easy for me to get them,” he told her. “But here they are. I am ready to go wherever they send me.”
“I know it hasn’t been easy for you,” she replied. “I’m very proud that you earned them. Go and do your best.”
Torn by her son’s death, Jennie Walter’s mind might have gone to a poem, written by another pilot’s mother, he sent her while he was in India.
Dear God, it seems but yesterday
Thou gave this boy to me.
The one who’s many miles away
Who’s face I cannot see.
The years have swiftly come and gone
So eager in their stride
To Brush me lightly by the way
And take him from my side.
It seems to me he’s still a child,
So full of boyish glee.
But pleadings of a war-torn world
Have forced the man-to-be
1st Lt. Harold William Wright
There was never a dull moment around Harold Wright.
From holding his sister upside down in a snowdrift to throwing rocks at kids on their way to school, he always found ways to entertain himself in the small farming town of Bennington, Idaho.
As much as he enjoyed messing around, nothing competed with his love for his family, especially his little sisters. On the night a lunar eclipse fell on his twin sisters’ birthday, he told them and their friends scary stories to keep them awake until they saw it. After watching a movie in a nearby town, his sister Clarine mentioned she liked the song “Harbor Lights” from the film. Though he insisted there were better songs in the movie, the next day he gifted Clarine sheet music for “Harbor Lights.”
Harold’s musical opinions may have carried weight, though. With his sister Maxine at the organ, he would sing at ward roadshows and amaze the audience. At home he would often energetically sing, “Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Who?”
After receiving his teaching certificate from Ricks College in 1941, he taught in the small community of Lanark for a year.
In November 1942, Harold left home for aviation cadet training in California. After receiving his commission in October 1943, he was sent to New Mexico for more training. There he fell in love with Wanda Stradling. He made his way out to the Pacific Theater in April 1944.
By September 12, Harold had completed 30 missions and made history. He was the first pilot on a B-24 Liberator and had been part of the first land-based daylight raid on the Japanese-occupied Micronesian island of Yap on June 22.
For the next year American airmen would engage in dogfights with the Japanese in the skies above Yap almost daily as they attempted to bomb the bases there.
Harold was about to return home at the beginning of October to marry Wanda when his leaders asked for volunteers for a raid over Borneo in Indonesia. On Oct. 3 his plane was shot down and he was declared missing. The remains of his crew were found years later but were unidentifiable, so they were buried together at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.