Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Lt. Stanley H. Levine Believed To Have Escaped Death."

By Paul--

Last week, after subscribing to a search engine called newspaper archive, I entered my father's name in the window and clicked the mouse. The monitor flickered with the front page of The Williamsport (PA) Gazette-Bulletin, September 14, 1945. There was a photo of my father in his Air Force uniform, and the headline: "Navigator on Doomed Plane Reported Safe." The drop-headline read: "Lt. Stanley H. Levine Believed to Have Escaped Death."

I tried to imagine my mother's reaction to the news. Sally Levine had been waiting five weeks after having been told by the War Department that my father and his B-29 crew were M.I.A. The crew had d borrowed an aircraft, the "Nip Clipper,"
because their own, the "Sad Tomato," was grounded with mechanical problems. The crew was part of a wave of 30 B-29s that had taken off from Tinian and dropped 1128 incendiary bombs over the industrial area of Yawata on the Japanese mainland. The craft was struck by anti-aircraft fire; an engine burst into flame and spread to the wing. Captain George Keller gave the order to bail out.

It was August 8, just after Hiroshomia and before Nagasaki. Ten of the eleven crew members survived the plunge into the Sea of Japan and floated in rafts for several days before being captured by a Japanese fishing vessel. The surviving crew members were taken to "Hiroshima Prison Camp Number One," which was actually 35 miles from the destroyed city on the island of Mukaishima. The official Japanese surrender -- you remember those amazing photos on the U.S.S. Missouri -- was still two weeks away, and P.O.W.'s were routinely being slaughtered by angry Japanese soldiers.

One morning, Japanese militia members lined up the 10 Americans in front of straw baskets. The men were to be beheaded by swords. A courageous Japanese Army military policeman named Nobuichi Fukui intervened and saved the crew. For the next 40 years, my father and Fukui remained pen pals, sending each other holiday cards and family photos.

Soon, the Japanese guards abandoned their posts and the American, British, and Australian prisoners took over the prison camp. The crew members found some paint and wrote "OX-23 Crew Is Here" on the roof of the barracks. The sign was seen by American aircraft, resulting in the newspaper story below:

HUGHESVILLE--An unofficial report that Lt. Stanley H. Levine, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Levine, of North Main Street, Hughesville, is a prisoner of the Japanese and presumably well and safe, was received here Thursday.

The wife of the pilot of the B-29, on which the local officer was serving as a navigator when the craft was shot down off the Japanese mainland Aug. 8, has informed his parents that she learned the crew is safe. No official message has been received from the War Departmen

According to the letter, a U.S. plane stationed on Tinian Island was flying over an unknown area of Japan Aug. 31 and its crew was attracted by a message printed on top of the building. It read: OX-23 Crew Is Here."

Returning immediately to their home base the fliers reported the incident to headquarters and learned the number was the identification of the missing plane. Information as to the message seen in Japan was sent to the pilot's wife, who resides in Fort Wayne, Ind. by a member of the crew which sighted the building. The airmen also indicated the prisoners soon would be freed by American occupational forces.

Lieutenant Levine and his 10 comrades were returning from their 17th bombing missing when...
(Continued on Page 15, Column 1

And that's the end of it. I couldn't recover the jump page. One tragic end note. Captain George Keller's wife had been informed that all the crew members were safe, but that was a mistake. Captain Keller was the last to bail out of the flaming aircraft, and his chute never opened. He did not live to see the Japanese mainland. The other 10 crew members returned home safely. My father died at age 76, in 1996.

By Paul


  1. What an incredible story, Paul! Did your father ever talk about his experiences in the war? So many couldn't or wouldn't, my dad included.

  2. Patty,
    My father kept extensive notes. I have boxes of research files, including the official report of the unsuccessful Air-Sea Rescue Search on August 10, 1945. I talked to my father endlessly about those days. In 1999, I sold CBS a mini-series based on the experiences of the OX-23 Crew, the first Americans to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. [They were given a "guided tour" by Lt. Fukui, who protected them from the mobs.]

    I wrote a 4-hour script for CBS. It sat around, gathering dust, for a while until the executive who bought it was fired. The network's long-form department virtually disappeared, and the show was never made. From time to time, I get calls from feature producers who know of the script, but no subsequent deal has been made. However, Patty, if you have $50 million, we can make the movie ourselves.

  3. 50 million? That's half the advance for my last book. Oh well, for you I'm willing to sacrifice.

  4. Pretty fascinating. My father served in the Navy in WWII on the USS Shangri-La. He had some souvenirs from Japan and I asked him once about them. He commented that after the the surrender, the Shangri-La had been in port and he spent a few days there. When asked what it was like he rather drily said, "The Japanese weren't very happy to see us and weren't too friendly."

    Otherwise he rarely if ever talked about the war. My most vivid memory of my dad's opinion on the military was when I was a high school senior and my mother was encouraging me into various areas of the armed forces or coast guard because then she'd be off the hook for any tuition assistance (you had to be there, I guess) and my dad snapping, "He doesn't want to be in the military. Leave it alone."

    When he passed away about 3 years ago, my brother and sister and I were going through his photographs (he was a photographer) and we found some very interesting photos from the Shangri-La, including a marker board with "kills" on it for the # of Japanese planes shot down. As my brother commented, "War is a very strange thing."

    Mark Terry

  5. You're very fortunate. My Uncle Tom (after whom I am named) was a B-29 pilot and would never talk about his experiences, except to my aunt, who told us he never got over seeing so many of his friends shot down around him, planes blowing up around him when anti-aircraft fire hit the bombs in the bays, coming home with hundreds of hits riddling his plane. God bless them all--they were more heroic than most of us can ever imagine.


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  7. This was a great true story, Paul. It's too bad you haven't been able to get producers to make something of the script you wrote.

    Just a picky note...I found a typo in the article here:

    "It was August 8, just after Hiroshomia and before"

    Hiroshima would be correct.

    I'm a spelling nut, so I notice these kinds of things. Need a proof-reader? :)

    I'm a new reader of yours and admire your work. Keep at it!



  8. Paul; I'm a genealogist as well as a writer. The paper was no doubt microfilmed long before it was digitized. Libraries in the area will have copies, and probably would not charge all that much for a copy of the full article, including the jump page.

  9. Nice blog. I'm an author and managing editor, and I love finding sites like this one. I'll add you to my blog roll.

  10. "Hero" is a word that gets oversued these days, but your dad was a true hero. I remember reading your tribute to him in the Miami Herald when he passed away. It was only when I shared your piece with my father that he told me he was part of the D-Day invasion. So many stories by so many brave men never told. I'm glad your father's will be remembered. Best, Jim