Friendship After Bombing Davao

Two 63rd Squadron B-24 Snoopers took off from Owi Island on the night of September 4, 1944 to bomb Matina Airdome at Davao, Mindinao. One of the B-24s soon turned back due to radar failure. Captain Roland T. Fisher, pilot of the other B-24, “MISS LIBERTY,” continued on alone. Fisher had flown night missions with the Royal Air Force in 1941 and would soon be needing every ounce of skill he had acquired over the last few years.

Twenty-one years after this mission, Fisher recounted his experience: “I could see again the bright moon in the clear night sky and the green shadow of Cape San Agustin below. I had entered Davao Gulf by crossing from the Pacific over the peninsula into the head of the gulf and made nearly a straight-on approach over Samal Isle to Matina air strip. I remember thinking perhaps this would allow me to enter the gulf undetected. On previous occasions I had entered the gulf at the mouth and flew north, and it seemed like [Japanese] defenses always spotted me.

Miss Liberty's Nose Art

“But this evening my plan didn’t work…I recall vividly being in the searchlights and how, just after I had made the bomb run over the air base, I made a sharp turn to the left with the intent of flying south out of the bay.” Back on the Japanese-held base, a man who had been ordered to reconnoiter the area in his Irving night fighter spotted the interloper. That man was Yoshimasa Nakagawa. “Some minutes after my plane took off,” wrote Nakagawa, “I found that the bomb which had fallen off [the B-24] seemed to have been exploded somewhere in the air-base. My plane had caught sight of [the B-24] which was flying about 1500 meters high above mine…my plane had been kept waiting for [him] to start on [his] way home. My plane was drawing nearer and nearer to [his] B-24 which was circling over the little island in Davao Bay.”

While Fisher was still in the middle of his turn out of the bay, Nakagawa flew straight at “MISS LIBERTY” with guns blazing. A collision between the two planes was imminent and Fisher pulled up a wing, narrowly avoiding the Japanese fighter. Nakagawa turned again to make another attack on Fisher’s B-24, this time for the death. “My plane could not help colliding with [the B-24] owing to the disorder of the machine gun. I hope you can understand we Japanese pilots of those days felt as if their heart were broken when we were forced by the General Headquarters to do such a thing as collision,” he later wrote. As Nakagawa rammed his plane into the B-24, his fighter’s propellers severely damaged the belly of the B-24.

When the planes broke apart, Nakagawa watched Fisher’s plane plunge towards the sea and flew to base thinking about the skill of the American pilot, who probably wouldn’t make it home. Fortunately, Fisher was able to limp back to Owi after a long, tense 7 hour flight. Years later, Nakagawa contributed to a book called The Divine Wind, which is about experiences of kamikaze pilots. In that book was the story of his encounter with that B-24. Fisher received a copy of the book from a former tentmate, telling him to look on page 29, where he found the mission described above. He then composed the following letter:

Letter to Yoshimasa Nakagawa

Even though Nakagawa had tried to kill Fisher and his crew years ago, the two men put the past behind them and struck up a friendship 20 years after their first encounter. The men met in 1972, both of them thankful that the other was still alive, and appeared on the Dick Cavett television show together. “Imagining how bravely you could survive the World War 2 that had made the horrible marks in the history of the slaughter of human race,” Nakagawa wrote to Fisher. “I am inclined to heartily express my joy that you are still living all right. I am very grateful to you, who hope I am in good health and fortune, for the fact that you have no antipathy against me, who had once been an enemy of you. I am also very much delighted to be able to exchange correspondence with you. I hope you are in good health and happy for ever.”

In his response to Nakagawa, Fisher wrote, “Then you and I were young and conducted ourselves as young men should for our countries. Now we are older an wiser and our countries are wiser and I feel that we have attained a lasting friendship between our countries that is not only honorable but sensible and good for their futures. Still those dark moments we spent as young men in the night tropic skies of twenty years ago, I am sure, always will be glistening memories no matter how old we grow.”

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35 thoughts on “Friendship After Bombing Davao

  1. Does anyone have any information about missions in Germany that were Secret in April 1945 in Brunswick, and VENLO, ALSO GUTERSLOH, GERMANY. THE REASON I ASK I CAME ACROSS SOME REPORTS THAT MY DAD HAD AND THEY ARE MARKED SECRET. THEY DEAL WITH ME-626’S,ME-190’S AND 109’S BEING SHOT DOWN BY PILOTS OF THE GROUP.. THEY WERE WITH THE 8TH AIR FORCE.

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  2. Pingback: International Historical Research Associates | Once Enemies, Now Friends

    • I agree, swabby429, that the story is touching, but from my exposure to military fliers in my family history, I don’t believe their behavior was “chivalrous” from their points of view.

      To quote from a poem my father kept framed in his home office, once man has “reached out and touched the face of God” I doubt he has anything but empathy for others who made it back alive – regardless of “side.”

      It was a different time – men did what was required of them regardless of their emotions – for God and Country.

      As Fisher wrote, “Then you and I were young and conducted ourselves as young men should for our countries. Now we are older an wiser and our countries are wiser and I feel that we have attained a lasting friendship between our countries that is not only honorable but sensible and good for their futures.”

      Today, as America has passed the Presidential baton, I pray that peace will prevail.

      Great post! [I jumped over from GP Cox’s reblog]
      xx,
      mgh
      (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
      – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
      “It takes a village to transform a world!”

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  3. Wow!Your work is outstanding………………..still. Thank you for your greeting in December. I will be writing to you soon. My school has me swamped this year, I need to write and will as soon as i can get out from under my heavy workload. Thak care of you and keep writing.

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  4. Astounding. My Dad had a huge library of War literature – of which I availed myself. I often marveled at how some were somehow able to survive.
    Similar incidents to what you recall here occurred in Europe with former enemies becoming friends. As that guy said in ‘Guns of Navarone’ “We are not all monsters.”

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  5. I really can’ t get over these stories. Its really not that far behind us. Wars are so useless. I have nominated you for the “Blogger Recognition Award”. You have an outstanding blog. Your stories are important to us today as they were for those people that lived it. I am grateful for what you are doing. I hope you write a book. 💖 And, I hope you will accept the award. You need to go to my blog for details. simplysplendidfood.com. Thank you for having a great blog!

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