Marcus McDilda, P-51 Pilot Who Fooled the Japanese About the Atomic Bomb:

First Lieutenant Marcus McDilda’s P-51 Mustang was shot down off the coast of Japan on August 8, 1945, two days after the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. The Japanese fished McDilda out of the water, blindfolded him and paraded him through the streets of Osaka. He was attacked and beaten by a mob of angry civilians before he was taken to the headquarters of Japan’s brutal secret police, the Kempeitai.

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Insignia of the 46th Fighter Squadron

McDilda knew the Japanese were rumored to kill their captives, he had heard stories of their brutality and harshness.

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Marcus McDilda
(Photo via: William Craig from Marcus McDilda)

Marcus McDilda was a native of Florida, born and raised in Dunnellon, a small town known for its Phosphate mines. McDilda played football on the award winning six man football team of 1939 and was named All American End by American Boy magazine. He worked for the railroad in Georgia until he joined the US Army Air Force.

The Army Air Force assigned McDilda to the 46th Fighter Squadron of the 21st Fighter group. He was sent to Iwo Jima to fly missions against mainland Japan. Marcus McDilda flew P-51D 44-63901 and named his plane “The Gator” after his Florida roots.

The Japanese interrogated McDilda for hours, taking turns beating him. They asked him about his base on Iwo Jima and the capabilities of the P-51 before turning to questions about the atomic bomb. As a junior officer in a fighter squadron, Marcus McDilda knew nothing about the secrets of the atomic bomb. He told the Japanese of his ignorance but was beaten and repeatedly asked the same questions.

Around midnight, a Japanese general came in and again asked about the bomb. When McDilda could not answer, the general drew his sword and pressed the tip of it against an open wound on McDilda’s face. The general screamed that if McDilda did not tell them about the bomb, he would personally cut his head off.

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Marcus McDilda’s P-51D Mustang “The Gator”

The night before he was shot down, McDilda had heard one of his squadron members talk about properties that might have been used to make an atom bomb. The man was nicknamed “The Brain” because he got a doctorate in chemistry. This was enough of a base of knowledge for McDilda to make up a story.

McDilda began to talk. He played up his Florida drawl in hopes it might confuse his interrogators. He talked about pluses and minuses being split when atoms were released, and how the Americans had taken them and put them in a big box separated by a lead shield. When the box was dropped, the lead shield melted away and the positives and negatives met which resulted in a huge explosion.

The Japanese became very interested and asked him how the explosion happened. McDilda said that when the lead shield melted, it caused a lightning bolt that pushed back the atmosphere causing a thunderclap that destroys everything underneath. McDilda gave the Japanese dimensions of the bomb, and said the Americans had one hundred more. The Kempeitai asked where the next targets were and McDilda named the biggest cities he could think of, including Tokyo and Kyoto.

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The Devastation in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb

The Kempeitai interrogators thought they were onto something. They passed McDilda’s “information” on to the government in Tokyo. The lies about more imminent atomic bomb attacks were used as an argument for peace by Japan’s pro peace faction and might even have played a part in the Emperor’s decision to surrender.

Whether truly influencing the Emperor or not, McDilda’s story was able to get him sent to Tokyo as a prisoner of value. He eventually ended up at the Omori Prison Camp near Kamakura and survived until the end of hostilities. When the war ended he was sent to Okinawa then on to Manila before going back to the USA.

McDilda returned to Japan in 1947 to testify in the war crimes trials of lesser grade war criminals. Thanks to his quick thinking, McDilda was able to escape from the Osaka Kempeitai prison where more than 50 American Prisoners of War died from torture and execution by their Japanese jailers.

Marcus McDilda returned to Dunnellon, Florida where he worked in the road construction business until his death in 2008.

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