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
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
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.