World War II is laden with horrific tales of POWs being tortured and the Chichijima Incident is one of the most gruesome. It happened in September 1944 and is a terrible tale of torture and cannibalism. A total of eight American airmen were captured, beaten and then eaten by Japanese soldiers. It could have been an event that changed American history had a 20-year-old pilot not escaped the fate of his comrades. Future CIA leader and American President George H.W. Bush was with the party, but in a twist of fate, he was the only one of the nine men shot down to evade capture.
1. The Capture
The island of Chichijima is part of the Bonin Island Group some 700 miles from Tokyo. Although it is a small island at just 15 square miles, it was of crucial strategic importance during World War II as the Japanese used it as a radio relay link. To put things in perspective, this tiny piece of land was protected by 25,000 Japanese troops by the end of the war as they desperately tried to defend it against American bombing attacks.
During one of these raids on September 3, 1944, nine airmen were shot down. It was a sadly common occurrence in the period before the Americans landed on islands like Iwo Jima as around 100 pilots were shot down over the Bonin Island Group; only three survived as the rest were either captured, died with their planes or drowned in the water.
Bush was flying his plane (called Avenger) on the raid when it was shot down in flames. He managed to ditch the plane further away from Chichijima than the rest of the pilots, and it was this quick thinking that saved his life. While the other pilots also bailed out, they swam towards the island and were captured. Their fate remained hidden from the public for decades.