Story of Marcus McDilda - Kempeitai Torture - WW2 FEPOW

We've got a brand new collection of records coming out on the eve of #VJDay, the 14th of August. As a little taster check out our blog and read about one of the men who could testify to the horrors of being an Allied FEPOW under the Japanese: Marcus McDilda, a United States Army Air Force fighter pilot captured on 8th August 1945, just two days after the atomic bomb struck Hiroshima.

The cruelty of the Japanese soldiers towards Allied POWs is well documented, from the Bataan death march on the Philippines, to the execution of doctors, nurses and patients at the British Alexandra Barracks hospital in Singapore. They believed themselves to be or were led to believe they were ‘Samurai’, a perverted and distorted version of the warrior class of Feudal Japan, and as such considered themselves to be superior to their Allied counterparts, who dishonoured themselves by being defeated in battle and captured alive. This so called “Bushido code” turned a modern military force into a barbaric and xenophobic mass of indoctrinated troops, as bad as, if not worse than the SS-Totenkopfverbände.

Doolittle Raider RL Hite blindfolded by Japanese 1942

One of the men who could testify to this is Marcus McDilda, a United States Army Air Force fighter pilot captured on 8th August 1945, just two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. As reported by US Marine Brigadier General Hagen in War in the Pacific, McDilda was paraded through the city streets of Osaka, bound and blindfolded, while being beaten by the civilian populace in retaliation for the bombing. Bundled into a Kempeitai interrogation room, he continued to be questioned, beaten and tortured.

Torture has been in the news a lot recently, from the ill-treatment of Iraqi POWs during the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the waterboarding of prisoners at the now closing Guantanamo Bay facility. It is an ineffective means of gaining accurate information from someone and is outlawed by international law and the Geneva Conventions.

"Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary."
- General David H. Petraeus, Commander, U.S. Central Command, 10th May 2007

Lieutenant McDilda would go on to prove how true this statement is. With the Kempeitai interrogators getting nowhere, a Japanese General Officer was summoned. Drawing his sword, he pressed it to McDilda’s lip, drawing blood, and threatened to behead him right there if he did not tell them everything he knew about the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In response, McDilda spun a lie that may very well have saved his life. Remembering his high school chemistry, he launched into the following explanation of the US Army Air Force’s new weapon:

As you know, when atoms are split, there are a lot of pluses and minuses released. Well, we've taken these and put them in a huge container and separated them from each other with a lead shield. When the box is dropped out of a plane, we melt the lead shield and the pluses and minuses come together. When that happens, it causes a tremendous bolt of lightning and all the atmosphere over a city is pushed back! Then when the atmosphere rolls back, it brings about a tremendous thunderclap, which knocks down everything beneath it.

The interrogators were delighted, but wanted to know one more thing; the next target. McDilda told them that Tokyo and Kyoto were the next targets and that Tokyo would be hit within a couple of days. Ecstatic with their new intelligence on America’s secret weapon, the Kempeitai shipped McDilda to Tokyo and Omori POW camp to be interviewed by a civilian scientist. As it turned out this scientist had been educated in the United States and graduated from the City College of New York. McDilda repeated his lie, but after several minutes the scientist realised that he was a fake and knew nothing about nuclear physics. When asked why he lied, McDilda explained that he had tried without success to explain that he knew nothing about the bomb.

McDilda survived the Second World War and was liberated from Omori by the 4th US Marine Regiment after the Japanese surrender. However, many of his captured comrades were not so lucky. It is very likely that the lie saved his life, since it was later discovered that 50 USAAF POWs in Osaka, the camp in which he had been held before being transferred for further questioning, had been executed shortly after the broadcast of the Japanese surrender.

While records of POWs held by the Japanese are not as detailed as those of POWs held by Germany and Italy, they are nonetheless an incredibly useful tool for genealogists. In telling a part of a serviceman’s story, they provide information that may lead to the discovery of further leads or records, and ultimately help to uncover the richer details of a serviceman’s story, such as Marcus McDilda’s lie or Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey’s leadership at the Burma-Siam Death Railway.

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