Saturday, April 18, 2015

Atrocities on Chichi Jima

Grady Alvah York
James Wesley "Jimmy" Dye
“We really were not cannibals…”
by Robert A. Waters

On October 4, 1946, an Associated Press article reported that “three Japanese militarists were condemned Friday to die on the gallows for cannibalism—a crime so heinous it is covered by no rule of war.  The 3—a general, a navy captain and a major—listened unblinking as a U. S. military commission ordered them to die for eating the roasted livers of 2 U. S. airmen downed on Chichi Jima late in the war.”

The three were Japanese Major Sueo Matoba, Captain Shizuo Yoshii, and Brigadier General Yoshio Tachibana.

Their victims were U. S. Navy Aviation Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Grady Alvah York of Jacksonville, Florida, and Radioman 3rd Class James Wesley “Jimmy” Dye of Mount Ephraim, New Jersey.

Early on the cold, gusty morning of February 18, 1945, a crew consisting of York, Dye, and Ensign Bob King, the pilot, flew their Avenger from the aircraft carrier USS Bennington for a dive bombing mission on Chichi Jima, a tiny once-uninhabited speck in the Bonin Islands.  By now, the Japanese were reeling from Allied advances in the Pacific, including recent raids on Tokyo.  Their once-proud military machine had been beaten down, ship by ship, island by island.  Yet they refused to surrender, many fighting to the death, others committing suicide when all hope was lost.

On Chichi Jima, the Japanese had established airfields, radio stations, and strong anti-aircraft placements.  One American pilot spoke of the difficulty of getting out alive after flying a bombing mission there: “Chichi Jima was a mean place.  They had very good gunners there.  When you hit Chichi, you were hitting a valley between two mountains.”

As Ensign King’s Avenger neared its target, anti-aircraft fire tore through the left wing, ripping off the tip.  Because of the damage, King temporarily lost control.  Thinking they were going to crash, he ordered his two crew members to bail out.  York and Dye successfully deployed their parachutes and landed in shallow water near Chichi Jima where they were soon apprehended by Japanese troops.  Meanwhile, King struggled mightily with the plane and was eventually able to control it enough to fly it back to the USS Bennington and land.

The fates of York and Dye now lay with their captors.

After interrogating the Americans, Japanese Brigadier General Yoshio Tachibana ordered them to be taken to the island rifle range.  There the two hapless soldiers were tied to trees and used for bayonet practice.  When it was done, Captain Masao Yamashita (who had supervised the bayonet practice) beheaded York.  Dye was also beheaded, on orders from Japanese Navy Captain Shizuo Yoshii.

But the cruelty did not stop with the deaths of the soldiers.  The Japanese officers, impressed by the stoic demeanor of the enemy soldiers as they were being tortured and killed, ordered their bodies cut up and their livers cooked.  Then, to inculcate the “warrior spirit” of their victims into their own bodies, thirteen officers consumed the livers and some of their flesh at saki parties.

After the war, the remains of York and Dye were exhumed and re-buried Hawaii.  The story of their deaths and cannibalization horrified American war crimes investigators.  The officers involved were tried, even though cannibalization of the enemy was not technically a war crime.  The officers were found guilty and scheduled to be hanged.  In all, the American military executed thirteen Japanese officers for cannibalism.  (At least a dozen U. S. airmen were eaten or partially consumed by the Japanese.)

At his trial, Major Sueo Matoba attempted to explain the reasons U. S. soldiers were cannibalized. 

“These incidents occurred when Japan was meeting defeat after defeat,” he said.  “The Iwo Jima situation was desperate and air raids (on Chichi) were increasing in velocity.  The personnel became excited, agitated and seething with uncontrollable rage.  We were hungry.  We tried every eatable animal and plant, like rats, mice, dogs and lizards.  I hardly know what happened after that.  We really were not cannibals.”

When Japanese Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana dropped from the gallows on a fine fall morning in 1946, his death was nothing compared to that endured by his victims, gunner Grady York and Radioman Jimmy Dye.  In fact, Tachibana had a Buddhist priest administer his last rites before dying.  York and Dye had only howling Japanese warriors to administer theirs.

NOTE: Much of the information for this story came from Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley.


Unknown said...

No act could be more horrifying than being tortured and eaten, by people that you don't understand the language and customs, must have been a pure nightmare come to life for these to HERO'S of the war.
Sad for their families and all involved.
From what was said here just shows you that when at war anything can and does most often happen, but not without consequences that go with them, the 3 Japanese officers that were hanged were put to their deaths in a so called religious fashion, these 2 poor SOLDIERS were just out right murdered "in the moment" then their liver eaten. I have heard of this on boats when out to sea all long time and back in the 1800s (such as the Dunner Party) but not just to do it because you can. I know Japaneses are lethal but this goes beyond reasoning I would even think by their own country.

Jennifer said...

My father, Captain Fredric T. Suss, prosecuted these war criminals. He was interviewed by the author of Flyboys on the subject. I remember hearing him talk about the details just as this article has reported. Believe it or not, this was his very first trial out of law school. He wrote a very profound closing argument which I can find and share if anyone is interested. You can contact me at Please put his name in the subject line so I don't delete it by accident.

Jennifer Gilmer

Unknown said...

I have reading Flyboys but I have read many books on the War in general.

I also have watched what Youtube has to offer.

Nowhere have I found what is in Flyboys.

We know this happened in New Guinea but this is very different.

It disturbs me that Japan was a civilized country up to a point but when it came to war they ceased to be civilized and committed acts only wild animals would do.

Appalling also is the fact that the world community was not utterly sickened by what these Japanese soldiers did in many other places.

We have no clear understanding of how the Japanese soldiers reconciled there acts in their minds and continued to live not seeking justice against their leaders.

We have many educated people who in their fields of study of human behavior how it became possible to stray so far from moral values.

George PeaBee said...

Thank God these japs were held accountable. Nice to know some American attorneys placed justice above criminals.

My hometown had a lawyer, Willis M. Everett, Jr., who defended the murderers of the Malmedy Massacre and their leader, Joachim Peipet.

There were 73 defendants. 43 of the Nazis were sentenced to die, 22 to life in prison, and 8 to prison sentences of 10 to 20 years.

Thanks to Willis Everett’s rampant anti- semitism, and lacking any sense of justice for murdered American soldiers ; he saddled up to corrupt politicians and kept getting more of what he saw as justice for Nazis instead of justice for victims.

None of the murdering Nazis were executed. I believe the most that happened was about 10 years in prison.

They, with Everett, were able to go in with their lives, while there was no justice for the American soldiers.

Everett is buried in Westview cemetery in Atlanta, Ga. Thank God he was not involved with the cannibals of ChichiJima.