I Got Shot Down

Seven airmen talk about the event none wants to experience.

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NAME: Staff Sergeant William E. Price (U.S. Army)
AIRCRAFT: B-29 Superfortress
SHOT DOWN OVER: Nagoya, Japan

We took off from North Field, Guam. It was a daylight mission over Nagoya, Japan, to bomb the Mitsubishi aircraft engine factory. We started our bomb run at 20,000 feet, which was the highest we ever flew before. We had just dropped our bombs when I heard over the intercom, “Fighters coming in at 12 o'clock level.” A second or two later there was a brilliant flash—a Kawasaki Ki-45 suicide plane tore off our left wing with the number-one engine. We rolled over on our back and went into an inverted flat spin. I was 20 years old and I remember saying out loud, “Mom's going to give me hell for this.” I was between the passageway and the right gun blister and I figured I was going to die, so I just relaxed and let myself go.

Somehow I went, bareheaded, through the Plexiglas blister—took the entire blister off with my head and took the gunsight off with my shoulder. The left gunner and the engineer got out, but I didn't see them get out. Nobody else made it out. I heard later from the engineer that the plane blew up before it hit the ground. The parachute was open when I came to. I must have pulled the ripcord unconsciously.

I got down. There could have been about 150 to 200 people—soldiers, police—coming after me. Then the fun started. The first one who got to me hit me with a bamboo pole and sent me rolling. A soldier hit me with a bayonet through my flying suit but missed my body. An officer made him stop and then some soldiers beat me up, broke my collar bone and three ribs. They handcuffed me in front and tied a rope around my arms in back and blindfolded me and took me to a bunker and I got beat up again. Then they took me to a railroad station, sat me on a bunker, and threw stones at me for about an hour.

We got into a 1937 Ford V-8. Two soldiers sat in front and I got into the back seat with a guard on either side of me. The car wouldn't start. I said, “I think you're out of gas,” and I got a beating out of that. I learned to keep my mouth shut.

We went into this building—I had to have a soldier on each side of me to hold me up, I was so bruised up and I had all these broken bones and I'd lost a lot of blood—and a guy in front of me asked my name and I told them “William Price,” and he asked my rank and I told him “sergeant,” and he must have not liked that and he hit me twice. I came to and they took me to Nagoya Castle, and I was in solitary for six days. On the seventh day, a nice Japanese guy came in and sat on the floor. He was a nice guy 'cause he didn't beat me. He said I was going to Tokyo. I said, “What for?” He said, “To be executed.”

We took a train to Tokyo, to Camp Omori. It was on a sandbar two blocks wide and a block long, but the camp was half that size. B-29 prisoners weren't very well liked. In Germany, one percent of prisoners died. In the Pacific, 40 percent died as POWs. But of captured B-29 crews, only five percent got back alive.

The camp consisted of 517 POWs, and the majority were regular prisoners. They had a group of special prisoners in one building who got half rations. We were special, special prisoners: We got quarter rations. I went four months, 10 days without a bath, shave, or haircut. All of that was in solitary—that was the rough part. Beatings I could take.

I weighed 104 pounds when I got out of the cell and I weighed 150 normally. We got out August 15 and got put in with the rest of the prisoners. We knew something was going on. We heard rumors that the war was over. A few days later the [U.S.] Navy had carriers off the coast of Japan, and the fighter pilots would take up collections of cigarettes and candy bars and drop those on the camp. Later B-29s would come over and drop platforms with parachutes—food, clothing, and stuff like that. I got my first shave and haircut. On August 29 we were liberated. August 29 was another special day—the Japanese had orders to execute all prisoners on August 29.

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