Excerpt No. 3
Part V: China-Burma-India, 1944 to 1945
Chapter 33: Tokyo Rose
One incident that occurred during my year in India and China was a chapter of the war that Lee and I never forgot. In June 1944, we flew our first mission out of China against the Japanese home islands. We bombed the steel mill in Yawata, on the island of Kyushu. It was a tough mission, and we lost several airplanes and crews. It was the first time that Japan, itself, had been hit since the Doolittle raid, and they tried to make the most of it.
The Japanese had a propaganda broadcast that they put on the air every night, pointed at the American troops. Most of us listened to it for a couple of reasons: It was usually good for a laugh, and it played good music. The announcer on the program was a young Japanese woman called “Tokyo Rose.” She spoke excellent English and was, in fact, a young lady who had lived in California for a number of years and had graduated from UCLA, in Los Angeles.
After the Yawata mission, Tokyo Rose announced that several B-29s had been shot down and listed six crew members, who had been identified and buried. My name was among those she listed. It was sort of a joke to us, but, of course, the broadcast was picked up in the United States, and this came as a shock to my little Lee. She got in touch with my folks, who were also shocked. My father got off a wire to the War Department asking for confirmation. In China, we were on the end of a long pipeline that extended three-quarters of the way around the world. In those days, there were no satellite relays, and it took an ungodly long time to pass the word back and forth between Washington and China.
I wrote Lee a letter right after the mission, and when she received it about two weeks later, it was the first word she had that I was still alive. To show how thoughtful some people can be, Lee’s postman was aware of Lee’s being on her own while her husband was in China, and he made a special point of it whenever he had a letter to deliver from me, and he knew that I had been reported missing. He was sorting mail in the post office one morning when he came across my letter written after the mission, and he stopped sorting and made a special trip to bring Lee the letter.
This was a harrowing experience for Lee, as the Japanese propaganda mongers intended it to be, but the truth finally came out, and Lee had the strength and courage to see it through. If the Japanese lie did anything, it brought us closer together.
Headlines about the event
Report from the West Los Angeles Tribune, June 23, 1944:
“Japs report death of Col. Edmundson”
Report from the Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1944:
“Wife receives no report on Col. Edmundson”
Letter to Lee
June 24, 1944
Last night, Radio Tokyo announced that I had been shot down over Japan on our last mission and that the honorable Japanese had cremated me. A little later, they gave my name as being a prisoner of war.
Honey, I can just about guarantee that neither of those stories is true. Of course, I might not be a good authority, but I’m relatively certain they aren’t right. What do you think?
All kidding aside, Sweetheart, I sure hope word of this report hasn’t reached you. As soon as I heard it, I contacted Bomber Command. They sent a radio message to Washington denying the statement and asking the War Department to notify all concerned immediately that it wasn’t true. That was the fastest way I could think of to stop your worrying in case you had heard the story. Bomber Command told us to write to our next of kin as soon as possible and deny the story, as well. I hope you didn’t hear it and I hope, Honey, that you never let anything you hear through the Japs bother you.
Letter to Lee
July 6, 1944
I received a very sweet letter from my darling wife today. It was dated the 27th of June, and I know it was a hard letter for you to write. You see, the wife of one of the boys in the squadron sent him a clipping form the LA paper dated the 24th, which gave Tokyo’s account of knocking me down over Yawata.
I had hoped that would never reach you, and I had assurance from Gen. Wolfe that you would be immediately notified that it was a false report. I could tell by your letter that you had heard the report and also that you hadn’t yet received word that it wasn’t true. It must have been a tough letter to write, Darling.
I know by this time that you know better and your worries are over. You are a wonderfully brave little soldier to carry on that way without a peep. I love you so much. You must have known in your heart it wasn’t true and, yet, the doubt was still there. My Sweetheart, never, never believe anything you hear from Jap sources and don’t worry for a single instant about me. Everything is O.K. and will continue to be that way. O’Reilly’s Daughter (B-29) is getting to be an old hand at this business, and she’ll take care of things.