World War II Hero Leads Guam's 63rd Liberation Day Parade

Story Number: NNS070731-02Release Date: 7/31/2007 8:45:00 AM
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By Oyaol Ngirairikl, U.S. Naval Forces Marianas Public Affairs

SANTA RITA, Guam (NNS) -- Jim B. Smith, the last surviving crew member of the World War II Boeing B-29 Superfortress named "Boomerang" -- one of the planes involved in that last mission of the war -- was the grand marshal of the island's Liberation Day festivities July 21.

"Anybody, in all the millions, could have been grand marshal," Smith said. "The war couldn't have been won without the effort and support of millions of people.

"Everybody that made a step towards freedom, military or civilian, we were all the same. ... I'm just a symbol (representing) those who fought and those who died," he added.

The celebration marked the 63rd anniversary of Guam's liberation from Japanese occupation.

Smith flew the final mission of World War II from Guam's Northwest Field on Aug. 15, 1945.

Unbeknownst to the men in the Boomerang at the time, their efforts thwarted a plan to overthrow the Japanese Imperial government, which may have extended the war.

Smith, who served as the radio operator on the Boomerang, wrote "The Last Mission," detailing his account of the final strike of World War II. Smith was most recently featured on The History Channel to discuss his experiences during the war and the research involved in the writing of his book.

"It's an important piece of history that nobody knows about," he said. "... the story wouldn't be complete without it."

Just days before, Smith said they received word of the atomic bombs that hit Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Everybody was talking about Japan's surrender and victory celebrations were already underway.

The crew members of the Boomerang and others in the 315th bomb wing were weary from the 12- to 14-hour missions they'd been flying for weeks and were more than ready for the war to end.

Then, on the morning of Aug. 14, 1945, they were told to prepare for their next mission. The planes took off later that afternoon. However, because the Japanese government had sent word to the United States that an imperial surrender was forthcoming, the crews were expecting the mission be halted.

As the Boomerang flew out of Northwest Field that afternoon, fellow crew members kept asking him, "Smithee have you heard the code word?"

"We were tired," he said with a practical shrug, noting that he and his fellow Airmen didn't know why they were being sent out when it seemed like surrender was imminent.

But there was no code word and within a few hours the B-29's of the 315th Bomb Wing had flown over 2,000 miles to reach their destination and began dropping the bombs. And, under a moonless sky, the orange glow of fires could be seen as more than 100 B-29s released bombs in Tokyo.

Only after about 20 years of research on that final mission, talking to people and reading information on the war that the U.S. military declassified, did Smith realize the importance of the mission.

Smith said they started bombing oil refineries and other targets just as a military coup aimed at kidnapping Emperor of Japan Hirohito was taking place. At the time no one on either side had any idea that a military coup was happening.

After making the decision to surrender, Emperor Hirohito had made a phonograph recording of a speech to be aired later on the radio to the Japanese population telling them of the surrender. This phonograph record was then hidden to prevent it from possibly being discovered and destroyed by pro war government officials.

This was a real threat as young members of the Japanese War Cabinet believed their Emperor was under the influence of traitors, and if they could safely kidnap him and reverse his decision, their nation could continue fighting the war.

But this final bombing of Tokyo caused a black-out that allowed the Emperor to remain free, and his phonograph record of surrender safely hidden. It's broadcast soon afterwards to the Japanese people finally brought the cruel war to an end.

Had the last mission not occurred, historians believe World War II may have lasted much longer.

"The atom bombs were certainly the beginning of the end," he said. "But if the revolt had succeeded, ... you could only speculate what might have happened."

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