Lieutenant Byrne’s Postwar Adventure in Japan

After the war ended, the men who hadn’t yet reached the required number of points to head home were sent to Japan as part of the occupation force. One of those men was Lieutenant Arthur D. Byrne. He was part of the 65th Squadron Intelligence section and wouldn’t be sent Stateside until February 1946. In January of that year, he had a memorable excursion to the house of a Japanese man who sold silk, kimonos and other fabric goods.

“Last night I had quite an experience,” wrote Byrne. “Earlier in the afternoon Toepperwine and I were making the rounds of the shops in Tachikawa. While we were looking at some embroidery, a well dressed Japanese male of about forty spoke to us in English, making suggestions about the comparative values and prices of goods we were looking at. We left a few minutes later and he walked out to the street with us where he explained that he has a large shop in Tokyo dealing in fine silk products and inviting us to come see him later in the evening. We were disgusted with the cheap junk in Tachikawa, so, when we returned to the base, we called Felix and asked him to come over to the barracks and bring a jeep. He did so with fairly good grace, and we took off at 1830 bundled to the ears.

“We had been told by our Mr. Turuya that he lived in Asagaya, about half way to Tokyo on the railroad, which he advised us to take. We started by asking everyone we saw on the post where to find Asagaya. They never heard of it. We asked the MPs at the gate. They never heard of it either, but they had a map showing everything of importance in the Greater Tokyo area. It wasn’t on the map. The Jap boys in the civilian Labor Office told us in a few thousand precise phrases that they didn’t know it either. We decided to ask at the railway station in Tachikawa. The interpreter was out. There was a consultation resembling that which must have preceded the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It resulted in a rough map drawn upside down, as regards compass directions, and accompanied by the explanation that Asagaya is easy to find by train, but by jeep, well, ha ha, shrug, grin, no so easy. We muttered the usual ‘sank you’ and left in a cloud of dust. By this time it was 20 minutes to 8, in other words 1940. Finally, after twisting and turning and bypassing bombed bridges, we got to Route 2, a wide, black topped highway into Tokyo. After two miles we stopped at a little road side 2 x 4 police station. The blue uniformed Nip cop, smiled, nodded, consulted and emerged with chalk with which he and his colleague sketched a map near actual size on the pavement in the moon light. They put in circles for towns, 9 kilometers to Shofu, etc., drew a bridge, a side road to the left and then, with a triumphant flourish of chalk, Asagaya itself. We ‘sanked’ them and sped away for the prescribed number of kilos, stopping occasionally for confirmation from civilians still abroad at this late hour. Some of them understood us but didn’t know; others understood us but didn’t give a damn if we went to Asagaya or to Hades.”

Google map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya

This screen shot from Google Maps shows present day routes between Tachikawa and Asagaya, Japan. The green and orange lines in the middle symbolize modern rail routes between the two cities.

[map of the distance between Tachikawa and Asagaya, orange and green line are the modern rail lines]

It was bitterly cold out and their prolonged exposure to the cold air was leading the men to believe they were frostbitten and needed to hurry to Asagaya. They stopped many times along the way to confirm that they were heading the right way, and, eventually reached the Asagaya station.

Upon arrival, “Topper got out, took the paper bearing our friend’s name and address in Jap characters and waved it around. Top is one of the biggest men who ever came out of Texas, although certainly one of the gentlest. To add to his dimensions he was wrapped in a complete Eskimo flying outfit. Also, Americans were obviously a complete novelty in these parts, and a crowd gathered at once with a small sword-dragging cop trying frantically to bore into the center of things to satisfy his own curiosity…after a few minutes we hustled the cop into the jeep to act as a guide, since he seemed so interested and so willing to be helpful…It seems we had passed the place we were looking for. He directed us to it and we pulled up at about 9 o’clock after a two and one half hour hunt.”

The men were greeted outside by Mr. Turuya and led inside to a comfortable room in which they were directed to sit down, cover themselves with a blanket and warm themselves by the heater in the center of the room. They discovered that they weren’t frostbitten after all, just very cold.

“Wine was brought by Mrs. T. and served in tiny glasses on a small lacquered tray. Meanwhile we explained our delay to our host who was amused and sympathetic. Then his two little boys came in and sat quietly by the door. They were little burr heads dressed in army style clothes. I gave them two bars of Baker’s chocolate. They beamed, said ‘sank you,’ and departed. I suppose they are not allowed to smack their lips before company. All this time Mrs. T. was sitting or kneeling, I couldn’t tell which because of the long kimono she wore and the low cushions. Mr. T. turned and spoke to her, she definitely kneeled, smiled, and then left the room. We engaged in more small talk of this and that, of anything by the recent hostilities, and presently she was back with piles of silks, brocades and embroidery, kimonos, obis, scarfs. They were passed to Topper and Felix and me, and we ogled, murmured and exclaimed and were pretty generally bewildered by the richness of it all. I began to fidget and finally managed a vague question about process, which I felt was a breach of etiquette at that stage of the game. Mr. T. smiled indulgently and reassured me, ‘You select what you want. Do not worry about price.’ So I did, recklessly—seven or eight brocades, a kimono and two small embroidered pieces, plus a dazzling four foot length of irresistible something or other. Then Felix and Topper finished their selections, and after more talk over cups of cocoa (we were promised green tea next time), we suddenly discovered it was growing late. Then came the question of price. This occasioned surprisingly little disagreement and the goods were wrapped and handed to us. At 11:20 we were bowed out with good nights and best wishes, further invitations and much smiling.

“Half way back to camp we had a flat, but, strangely, we had both spare tire and tools, a definite oversight on the part of someone. We fixed it in twenty minutes and got to the Field about 12:20. So now I’ve been in a Japanese home and have experience the traditional Jap courtesy. Whether it’s real or false, I still haven’t the faintest idea. It looked genuine.”

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The Same Places, 70+ Years Apart—Five More WWII Bases Then and Now

Port Moresby

The town that would later become the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, was a major staging base for the Allies during World War II. Port Moresby’s air fields, named for their distance from the city, included: 3 Mile (Kila Kila), 5 Mile (Ward), 7 Mile (Jackson), 12 Mile (Berry), 14 Mile (Schwimmer), and 17 Mile (Durand). It was crucial for the Allies to hold onto this territory, as it was the last piece of land between the Japanese to the north and Australia to the south. The city’s occupants were subject to many Japanese bombing raids until September 1943. Postwar, Port Moresby transformed from an Australian territory to the Papua New Guinea capital in 1975. Today, all that remains of World War II are artifacts and steel matting from the runways.

Port Moresby then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is the Port Moresby complex as it appeared in December 1942. At right is Port Moresby today, taken from Google Maps.

Floridablanca

Translated from Spanish as “white flower,” Floridablanca was settled as a Spanish mission in 1823. Not much is known about the area’s history, but it was taken over by the Japanese during World War II, then liberated once the Allies moved that far north. The 312th Bomb Group and 348th Fighter Group both used the air base on Floridablanca for a short time. The Philippine Air Force now uses the base and it has been renamed Basa Air Base.

Floridablanca

Click to enlarge. In the photo on the left, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is Floridablanca as it appeared in 1946. At right is Floridablanca today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Owi Island

Owi’s only inhabitants before World War II consisted of two families, one at each end of the small island. Shortly after the arrival of Allied forces in 1944, the natives left. It took about three weeks to build the airstrip, which consisted of coral, a difficult surface to land on when it was wet. Owi was used between June and November 1944, then abandoned as U.S. forces pushed north. Traces of the runway can still be seen today.

Owi then and now

Click to enlarge. In the photo at the top, taken from an upcoming book, is Owi Island as it appeared in August 1944. Above is Owi Island today, taken from Google Maps.

Finschhafen

In 1885, Finschhafen was settled by the German New Guinea Company. About 15 years later, it was abandoned after disease spread rapidly among the settlers and resulted in the failure of two different colonization attempts. At some point before World War II started, Lutherans built a mission station on Finschhafen. The Japanese took over the area on March 10, 1942 and held it until Australian forces moved in and captured Finschhafen on October 2, 1943. Allied forces expanded the base and used it until the end of the war. After the war ended, a huge hole was dug and much of the leftover equipment was buried. These days, Finschhafen is a quiet location.

Finschhafen then and now

Click to enlarge. In the undated photo at the top is Finschhafen sometime around World War II. Above is Finschhafen today, taken from Google Maps.

Gusap

Previously uninhabited, Gusap was built up into an eight-runway airfield by U.S. Army engineers. It was used from October 1943 to July 1944 by several units that included the 49th Fighter Group and 312th Bomb Group. This location was ideal for staging missions by fighters and light bombers. After the war was over, remaining aircraft were scrapped. Today, only one of the eight strips is still being used by aircraft and is noted by the balloon in the right image. The rest of the area has been turned into a cattle ranch. With the radical transformation of Gusap, the exact location of the airfields seen in the left image has become unknowable.

Gusap then and now

Click to enlarge. In the top photo, taken from Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s, is part of Gusap’s airfields as they appeared in December 1943. Above is Gusap today, taken from Google Maps.

 

Sources and additional reading:

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_port_moresby.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Port-Moresby

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/philippines/floridablanca/index.html

http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Floridablanca,_Pampanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owi_Airfield

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/owi/index.html

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/provinces/png_finschafen.html

http://engineersvietnam.com/engineers/WWII/owi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finschhafen

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea/morobe-and-madang-provinces/finschhafen-area/introduction

https://www.britannica.com/place/Finschhafen

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/gusap/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gusap_Airport