By Henry Sakaida

A few months ago, I came across a report on an interrogation of a Javanese prisoner captured in New Guinea. It concerned the execution of an American prisoner-of-war. Naturally, I had to investigate to see if I could identify the hapless victim. The 23 year-old Javanese was captured on 22 April 1944 in a slit trench with other Javanese laborers by American troops when they landed at Aitape. He was not identified by name, but he served as an interpreter at Hollandia and Korako between December 1943 and April 1944. The Japanese used Javanese natives as laborers in New Guinea. On the left is the interrogation report as conducted by ATIS (Allied Translator & Interpreter Section).

lynch p38 lightning ace

Lt. Colonel Tom Lynch

The US State Department learned about this execution and lodged a complaint with the Japanese Government through the Swiss in August 1944. The American airman was executed in the presence of three Japanese officers and fifteen soldiers. The United States charged the Japanese officers with this atrocity; it knew the names and location of these officers. However, the Japanese maintained that no units were in the area where this execution occurred!

I started to see if I could identify the unknown American airman. It took about a week, but I was able to come up with a list of missing or shot down US planes for that area of New Guinea. I could only account for two US aircraft losses in the vicinity of Korako at that time.  BANZAI member Justin Taylan was very familiar with the area because he had been there! The biggest settlement there was Aitape and he says that the surrounding areas are commonly referred to as Aitape. Justin writes: “Even the Tadji Airfield was sometimes called ‘Aitape’ because it is close. Today, it is a short drive from Aitape to Tadji or the Korako spot… although I don’t remember that name, I probably went there because it is right at Tadji. Also, any Japanese Army garrison in that area, might have been based at Aitape, but had troops along the coast.”

LtCol Thomas Lynch, the famous P-38 ace with the 39th Fighter Squadron (20 victories) was killed at Aitape on 8 March 1944. From Justin’s Pacific Wrecks website:

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Tom Lynch (center) and other Aces of the 39th Fighter Squadron

On March 8, 1944 took off piloting P-38J 42-103987 on a fighter sweep with P-38 piloted by Richard I. Bong over Aitape Harbor. Strafing six Japanese barges, his P-38 was damaged by anti-aircraft fire at low altitude. Bailing out low to the ground, his chute barely rippled open, and fellow pilot Richard I. Bong witnessed him hit the jungle and his P-38 crash. Declared missing in action, his remains were never found and he remains Missing In Action (MIA).


Lockheed P38 Lightnings in flight

Richard Bong, who became the top US air ace in WWII with 40 victories, visited Tom Lynch’s mother after his death. He told her that her son climbed to 2,500 feet in order to bail out, but his plane fell to around 100 feet when the nose section exploded, and Lynch was blown out of the cockpit. His parachuted started to stream when he disappeared into the jungle. When his mother asked Bong if there was any chance Tom had survived, Bong said there was no possibility.


Interrogation Report of the execution

The Lynch loss occurred on 8 March 1944, which I thought was close to “about 20 March 1944.” It is very difficult to remember dates and time in such a jungle environment, especially during war.

On 26 March 1944, an A-20G Havoc bomber from the 90th Bomb Squadron took off on a low level strike against shipping at But and Aitape. While attacking targets near Aitape, this bomber was caught in a water spout from a bomb blast, from a bomber in front. The bomber crashed/ditched 300 yards offshore and circling planes saw only one survivor in the water. According to records, this crewman was captured by the Japanese, transported to Aitape, and executed (identity unknown). The bomber carried 3 crewmen: Pilot: Capt.Glen O. Richardson; Gunner: S/Sgt Joseph P. Casillas; Photographer: S/Sgt Herbert E. Divers.


Map of the New Guinea and the Southwest Pacific. Aitape is located on the northwest coast of New Guinea between Hollandia and But

Analysis: Initially, I thought that the beheaded American airman could have been LtCol Thomas Lynch. However, in reading and rereading Bong’s testimony about his wingman’s death, I had to conclude that it would have been impossible for the pilot to have survived a 100-foot bailout. As for the A-20 Havoc bomber, the date of its loss is close to “about 20 March 1944.” The location fits. More importantly, one crewman was seen in the water, and he was captured by the Japanese and taken to Aitape where he was executed. Korako is in the vicinity of Aitape, and often, because Aitape is well known but Korako is not, the general area is commonly referred to as Aitape. So I conclude that the executed airman was one of the three crewman from the Havoc bomber. But I will never be able to ascertain who he was because there are no records from the Japanese side, all the Japanese connected with this crime are now dead, and the name of the Javanese interpreter is unknown.

Tom Lynch’s P-38 is still somewhere out there in the jungle where he fell. His skeletal remains are under the jungle floor. All we have to do is to locate his P-38 wreckage, then do a perimeter search with a metal detector, looking for his pistol, parachute straps, etc.

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  • Bill Getz says:

    Hadn’t heard of this one before, either. You are doing a great job in coming up with interesting, little known stories. Thanks.

  • Henry Sakaida says:

    Thank you Mr. Getz! I have hundreds of interesting, little known stories. I’ve spent the last 40 years researching them, interviewing veterans and documenting their stories. I was going to put them all in a book, but now decided to post them here. Publishers pay you peanuts and goal is to share my stories with everyone. So please spread the word!

  • Bill Foley says:

    Your stories of may 16 were very interesting.I look forward to reading many more! I’ll check “WWII History Articles”


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