WHO WAS THAT CAPTURED JAPANESE PILOT I MET IN 1942?

By Henry Sakaida

“I didn’t know his name, I don’t know where he was from, I don’t know what happened to him…but I sure would  like to find out!” Sounds like an impossible task? You bet!  The fact that these two people met 40 years prior during WWII certainly didn’t help either. I’ve had tougher cases.



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Harold L. Jones traded machine gun fire with former Zero pilot Saburo Sakai over Guadalcanal in August 1942. In 1982, they met as friends. It was at this reunion that Jones asked me about the captured Japanese he met on a copra boat.

In 1982, I met an old US Navy veteran, Harold L. Jones of Unionville, NV. During the war, he had been a SBD dive bomber rear gunner. AOM3/c Jones and his pilot Mills were forced to ditch their crippled plane on 17 – 18 October 1942 around Loun Islet in the Russell Islands. They were picked up by an Australian coast watcher  and a Marine Corp captain in a copra boat. Down in the hold of the boat, there was a Japanese handcuffed to the wooden mast; he had been captured by natives.

“He never said a word to anyone on the boat except to me,” recalled Jones. ” I figure I met him about the 10th or 11th of November.  We were making our way towards Guadalcanal. He was very neat in his appearance even though he was with few clothes on. He reminded me of some bright student at a university. He did not have a beard like myself. And I thought he spoke pretty good English.”

Jones felt sorry for the prisoner. He cut up some lemons and threw it down to him which the prisoner appreciated. “He must have been sick breathing in all that engine fumes,” said Jones. “We finally arrived at our destination near Henderson Field and I never saw him again after we waved to each other. This is a needle-in-the haystack, but is there any way you can find out who this guy was?”

I figured that in that part of the world, any Japanese who became a prisoner would be under the jurisdiction of the Australians.  I wrote to my Aussie historian contacts down under and also did a lot of digging.  After 5 years, I finally got a hit:  Prisoner of War Japanese 100,012 Navy Lt (Air) Iizuka, Yutaka. Bingo! According to the Australian POW report, Lt(jg) Yutaka Iizuka was captured on New Georgia Island on 11 September 1942. Now I had a name!



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Iizuka’s interrogation report proved interesting. He never divulged the fact that he had graduated from the Japanese Naval Academy. However, he was truthful about getting shot down on 10 September 1942. A check of US combat reports indicated that the Betty bomber formation were intercepted by Grumman F4F Wildcats of VMF-223. The Marines claimed 5 enemy bombers shot down while losing only one pilot (2/Lt Zenneth A. Pond, MIA).

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Lt(jg) Yutaka Iizuka military biography

POW report: “Iizuka was the senior pilot of a twin-engined bomber based at Vunakanau, which was hit in the right engine by a shot from a Grumman over Savo Island while returning from a raid on Guadalcanal on September 10th or 11th. The prisoner flew his plane on one engine as far as the north tip of New Georgia and there due to failing engine and lack of fuel, had to make a forced landing on the beach. He was trying to reach Gizo where he knew there were Japanese troops.” Natives captured the bomber crew the following day.

Iizuka was imprisoned  at Gaythorne Camp in Brisbane on 13 May 1943 and then transferred to Cowra on 4 July 1943.  He was repatriated to Japan on the ship Daikai Maru, which left Sydney on 2 February 1946. Now all I had to do was to find him!

I made inquiries with veteran Zero fighter pilots in Japan. My contact in Tokyo found a classmate of Iizukas’s from the Naval Academy, who tracked down the daughter! Yutaka Iizuka was born 23 April 1918 in Ibaragi Prefecture. In July 1939, he graduated from the Naval Academy and initially served aboard the cruiser Yakumo. In December 1939, he joined the Kasumigaura Kokutai (air group). And in March 1942, he was assigned to the Misawa Kokutai. Iizuka married during the war, one daughter  (Yoko) was born, then divorced after the war, and died on 26 June 1963 from illness.

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Yutaka Iizuka, holding daughter Yoko, and his wife, circa 1954.

In June 1987, Iizuka’s daughter wrote the following: “I can’t believe the American truly met my father, but I’m very glad even now someone in USA remembered him!” I sent her response to Lew Jones along with a photograph of Iizuka (above). After spending 5 years on this search, we were both glad to find closure and I was happy to get my life back!



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Combat mission report of VMF-223 verified Iizuka’s POW statements.

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Iizuka POW report 2

Iizuka POW report 3

Iizuka POW report 4



Iizuka POW report 5

Iizuka POW report 6

Iizuka POW report 7

Iizuka POW report 8

Iizuka POW report 9



For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45


I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal


Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai


Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945


B-29 Hunters of the JAAF


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