|My memories of August 14, 1945 are very clear. I flew P-51's from Iwo Jima over Japan during WWII as a 21-year old Captain and Flight leader. On August 6, I returned from a mission when LT. Phil Maher jumped on my wing and shouted, “We dropped one bomb and wiped out a city, it's over!” |
There was a sense of relief in the entire squadron. No more 8-hour missions. No more guys being killed. We had survived. Our motto “Back Alive in 45,” seemed to have been fulfilled.
But it wasn't to be.
A notice was posted in the ready room on August 13, with our assignments for the next day's mission for all to read. The briefing would start at 1600 hours.
Major Jim Tapp, squadron commander stood in front of the map of Japan and started to talk, “Why another mission?” was called out from the gathering of pilots. Tapp responded, ”We have to keep them honest. We will take off at 0800 but I doubt we will reach the target before the war is called off. If you hear the code word ‘Ohio,' we will abort the mission and return to ‘Hotrocks' (the code name of Iwo Jima).”
I was scheduled to lead Blue flight. Phil Schlamberg, a 19-year old pilot from Brooklyn, NY, was my wingman. Schlamberg, sitting next to me, leaned over, and said, “Captain, if I go, I won't come back.”
Startled, I said, “Why?”
“Just a feeling I have,” Phil responded.
When the briefing ended, I approached Tapp and told him what Schlamberg told me and asked if there was a replacement.
“There isn't anyone to take his place, Jerry. Doc Lewis can get him off if there is a medical reason and Schlamberg agrees,” Tapp replied.
When I asked Phil, he said, “No way.”
On the morning of the mission, I told Phil, “Just stay close on my wing, tuck it in tight, you will be OK. We will probably abort before we reach the target.”
No one heard the code word before we dropped our wing tanks and started strafing airfields near Tokyo. Phil was tight on my wing while we strafed our targets and on my wing when we started back toward the B-29 navigation plane. I looked over gave him a thumbs up and led the flight into some clouds. When we emerged into clear skies, Phil was gone, no radio transmission, no visual contact, just gone.
When we landed back at Iwo, we learned that the war had been over for three hours while we were over Japan.
In my mind Phil Schlamberg was the last man killed on a fighter mission over Japan and may very well have been the last man killed in combat in a war that took the lives of 60 million people.
I knew 16 young men who were killed during the war. I hated the Japanese all of my adult life. Then I attended a wedding in Japan on March 6, 1988, between the daughter of a Japanese Imperial Air Force veteran and my youngest son, Robert. This wedding between children of former enemies made me rethink, not only of my life as a warrior, but the lives of all of us who served in combat. Today I have three grandchildren living in Japan, aged 19, 17 and 13. They love me, I love them. I can't help feeling that all of Humanity is the same, that the pure purpose of war is to kill and the pure purpose of life is to connect to all of Nature. It is up to the young people of our World to find a way to eliminate War and find a way to live in Unity with all of Humanity, in Harmony with Nature and find Peace for our Planet.