BY DUANE VACHON – This story is not only about a hero, it’s a reminder of the horrible truths of war. It’s a story that has only recently become public knowledge after 60 years of being covered up by the American and Japanese governments.
JAMES WESLEY DYE JR, was born in December of 1925 to James and Kathryn Brannon Dye. His early years were spent in Gloucester City NJ, where his parents lived with his maternal grandmother and aunts and uncles at 12 Thompson Street.
Known to friends and family as “Buddy”, he graduated from Audubon High School in Audubon, NJ, before joining the Navy.
James entered the United States Navy in February of 1943, and had served in the Atlantic before transferring to a newly constructed aircraft carrier, the USS BENNINGTON (CV-20) in December of 1944.
After transiting the Panama Canal, the USS Bennington arrived at Pearl Harbor on January 8, 1945, and then proceeded to Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands.
There he joined TG 58.1, on February 8, 1945. Operating out of Ulithi, he took part in the strikes against the Japanese home islands (1-17 and 25 February), and the Volcano Islands (18 February – 4 March).
On his first combat mission, on February 18, 1945 James was shot down, and captured by Japanese forces while bombing communications towers on the island of Chichi Jima, north of Iwo Jima.
On the same mission, another plane was shot down and the pilot parachuted into the sea and was rescued by an American submarine the USS Finback. That pilot was George H.W. Bush, who was elected President of the United States in 1988.
James and seven other airmen met a horrible fate at the hands of the Japanese. Some were beheaded and all were cannibalized.
Lieutenant General Yoshio Tachibana, the Japanese general in command on Chichi Jima, and a subordinate, Major Sueo Matoba ordered the executions and butchering of the American men one by one, to be fed to fellow Japanese officers as part of the spirit warrior indoctrination (the Japanese Army on Chichi Jima had plenty of food).
Senior Japanese Army Officers hosted a Sake party for their Navy counterparts where the livers of American POW’s were roasted and served as an appetizer. The Japanese Navy officers subsequently reciprocated by hosting a party where they butchered and served their own American POW’s.
After the war, James’s remains were recovered by American soldiers and returned to Hawaii.
Captain Yoshii, the Japanese officer who ordered his death and cannibalization, was tried for War Crimes in 1947, executed by hanging, and buried in an unmarked grave on the island of Guam (where the trial was held) along with Major Matoba, General Tachibana, Admiral Mori, Captain Yoshii and Dr. Teraki.
His fiancé, Gloria Nields, gave James a white scarf, which he always wore when flying; it became a souvenir of a Japanese lieutenant. Lieutenant, if you are still around, it would be nice to get that scarf back.
AVIATION RADIOMAN THIRD CLASS JAMES WESLEY DYE JR. now rests in peace at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, section N grave 1291.
Duane A Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights” He also writes a weekly column in The Big Island Reporter mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org