By Henry Sakaida

wellman huey

The passage about Huey’s downing in Japanese which initially caught my interest.

This story goes way back to 1989. Actually, it began in 1981 when I journeyed to Japan to visit Zero pilot veterans. One of them was Kenji Yanagiya, the sole surviving escort pilot from the ill-fated Adm Yamamoto Mission. The admiral’s death changed the course of the Pacific War.

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204 Air Group History given to me by Mr. Yanagiya

Yanagiya gave me a book as a gift. It was his squadron’s history book titled Rabaul: 204 Kaigun Kokutai  Sen Ji (Rabaul 204 Naval Air Group War Record). I had taken a Japanese language course at San Jose State, so while I couldn’t read the book at even 20% level, I knew enough get an idea of what certain passages meant.

A short paragraph caught my eye. I was able to translate it as: “In this combat, the results were two B-24s and two F4Us, and four P-38s shot down. From a P-38, one pilot parachuted and became a prisoner. He was a graduate of Michigan college who went to flight academy and was a 22 year old 2nd lieutenant.” In another part, the date 14 February 1943 appeared. There was more than enough information to start investigating.

The mission report of the 339th Fighter Squadron for 14 February 1943 confirmed the loss of 4 P-38s in heavy combat over Bougainville. The pilots were: Lt. John Finkenstein, Donald G. White, John Mulvey Jr., and Wellman H. Huey. Mulvey was eventually rescued. I needed to find out which of the three men had attended college in Michigan and was 22 years old.

339th Fighter Squadron lost 3 P-38 pilots on Valentines Day 1943

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I wrote letters to Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. MSU stated that none of the three had been students there. But the University of Michigan confirmed that Wellman Huey had attended their school from September 1937 through May 1938! Wellman was a student in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. He was 22 years old at the time of his capture and his rank was indeed 2nd lieutenant.

The University of Michigan’s records for Wellman Huey

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Since I knew that Huey came from Michigan, I decided to contact the Detroit News, and asked them to print a story about my quest to find the Huey Family. One day after it was published, Wellman’s older brother Don Huey, read it. He was stunned! He followed up with a letter expressing his appreciation for letting them know.

1989 letter from Don Huey to Henry Sakaida

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Japanese Enemy Aircraft Identification Booklet carried by Navy pilots in 1943, describing the P-38

The two Zero pilots who met Wellman Huey and survived the war were Kenji Yanagiya and Ryoji Ohara. Mr. Ohara, a retired airline pilot vividly remembered Huey and wrote: “After the dogfight, we were told by the commander that an enemy pilot had parachuted down over our airfield and was captured.  Around dusk, while going back to our barracks, we decided to go over and rough up the guy. We saw him squatting down in front of the headquarters building. He was tied to a tree and there was a guard watching him.  He was wearing his flight suit, boots, and flight helmet with goggles.”

Evidently, Wellman made a good impression on the Japanese pilots; he was respectful and talkative. The pilots didn’t understand English, so they brought over an interpreter.

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2nd Lieutenant Wellman Huey is reported missing in action. Wellman Huey carried his uncle’s American flag with him. I asked Ohara about the flag and Ohara responded that he did not have such a flag when he met him. (Click to enlarge)

Ohara recounted that Wellman told them that he was 22 years old, a 2nd lieutenant, and had attended college in Michigan. Ohara thought that Wellman was handsome and intelligent. “No one laid a hand on him,” recounted the old veteran.

Wellman presented his flight helmet as a gift to Petty Officer 2/c Sei-Ichi Nakazawa, Ohara’s best friend in the squadron. Nakazawa was very pleased and wrote about his encounter with Wellman in his diary. He was killed on 18 July 1943 over Buin. After his death, Ohara kept his friend’s diary which survived the war. The information from the diary about the captured American pilot was written into their squadron’s history book.

Huey requested that he be moved to Rabaul, which was the great Japanese bastion in that part of the Pacific. The reason for this request was because Rabaul would be safer from Allied air attacks. Ohara remembered that this request was pretty nervy for a captured pilot. However, Wellman was transported to Rabaul for interrogation. He would have been a prized captive because he flew the P-38. Ironically, Adm Yamamoto would be shot down two months later by the 339th Fighter Squadron, led by Maj John W. Mitchell, Wellman’s commanding officer.

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Ryoji Ohara in 1945, Japan

The SS Kokai Maru arrived at Rabaul on 17 February 1944 to unload supplies.  It was a 3,871-ton passenger cargo ship, which was requisitioned into naval service in 1941. On 21 February, it departed for Palau in the western Pacific Ocean, in a convoy consisting of Kowa Maru, fleet tug Nagaura, and two subchasers CH-37 and CH-38, and an auxiliary subchaser CHa-48. At 1320, off New Hanover Island, the convoy was attacked by 15 B-25 Mitchell bombers of the 345th Bomb Group (500th and 501st Bomb Squadrons). The bombers sank both cargo transports, as well as damaging one of the sub chasers.

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SS Kokai Maru under attack off the coast of New Hanover, on 21 February 1944. (courtesy of Lawrence J. Hickey, Warpath Across the Pacific, The Illustrated History of the 354th Bombardment Group During World War II)

Minoru Kameda, the tireless Japanese war history researcher, recently found documents related to Kokai Maru which contained the name Wellman Huey! The 1948 papers were compiled to account for the fate of the transport and for maritime insurance claims. Wellman Huey and 11 other Allied prisoners were supposedly on board the Kokai Maru according to the ship’s manifest.

I had not kept in touch with the Huey Family since 1994. I learned sadly that Mr. Don Huey died in 2007 at age 91. His wife Marie passed away in 2011 at age 90. They had no sons; one daughter had died, but another was living. I conveyed the new information to the surviving daughter via her niece.

Japanese documents concerning the Kokai Maru were celebrated as a remarkable find! This is the first time Wellman Huey’s name appeared on any Japanese document. It confirmed that he had been a prisoner at Rabaul.

Prisoner manifest from the Kokai Maru

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Wellman Howard Huey appears as the second man listed. His name was misspelled as “Willman Haward Huey.” Of interest is the 3rd man on this manifest: Walter Clement Beasley. I believe he was the unknown American “Clements” who was a POW at Rabaul in the custody of the Army’s 6th Field Kempei Tai. Major Saiji Matsuda, deputy CO of this unit, stated postwar that he heard that “Clements” was transported to Japan and arrived safely. The Florida Dept. of Military Affairs lists Lt(jg) Walter Clements Beasley of Tampa as a fatal military casualty. He was unaccounted for after the war and was declared dead on 7 January 1946.


Since the Kokai Maru POW manifest surfaced, I ran it by Justin Taylan, the foremost expert on Pacific World War II MIA/POW aviation cases.  He is the founder/director of Pacific Wrecks <>.He put in a lot of hours checking out the documents with his own sources of information. It just didn’t seem to make sense to the both of us.

The manifest had serious problems. There are three names listed which did not belong there. Of the 12 men supposedly on board the Kokai Maru, it was documented that three of them were executed at Rabaul prior to the ship’s departure! They were: Ens Phillip Kirk Phillis (executed 17 January 1944); Warrant Officer John P. Bailey, and 1/Lt. Philip Louis Bek (both executed on 25 November 1943). How was this possible? Was it simply a clerical error or something more sinister?

When the Japanese forces on Rabaul surrendered, Australian and American military investigators started asking a lot of questions about Allied prisoners. There had been many illegal executions of military and civilian prisoners there. Japanese military police officers banded together to “get their stories straight” and feigned knowledge of such atrocities. They blamed the deaths on illness, lack of medical supplies, and Allied air attacks.

What the Japanese officers did not count on were the statements by enlisted men who either saw or participated in the illegal executions. Their standard excuse was: “I was given orders to execute prisoner(s) by X, and I simply followed orders.”

Item “B” conflicts with the 1948 Japanese document concerning SS Kokai Maru

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Prior to surrender, incriminating records in the files of the Japanese 81st Guards Division and the Army’s 6th Field Kempei Tai were burned. Both were military police units in charge of Allied prisoners. The paper trail leading directly to those responsible for the countless deaths was destroyed. Since Huey was captured by the Navy, he fell under the jurisdiction of the 81st Guards.

The Australians held war crimes trials after the war, but without documents, prosecution was difficult. However, some higher ranked officers were held accountable for the atrocities inflicted by their subordinates. They received prison sentences and a number of them were hanged.

Wellman H. Huey was most likely long dead before the Kokai Maru arrived at Rabaul.

If Wellman Huey was alive at the time Adm Yamamoto was shot down, his captors would have beaten him unmercifully to the point of death, to extract information on the P-38, the planning of the mission, and revenge. The Japanese Navy had an unwritten policy of executing prisoners once they were finished with interrogations. At war’s end, none of the POWs under their custody came out alive.

It is my opinion that the Kokai Maru’s POW manifest is bogus. It cannot be trusted.

It appears to be an attempt to cover up the executions of a dozen POWs by “documenting” that they were aboard a transport ship which was ultimately attacked and sunk by American bombers. A contradictory document found in Huey’s military dossier suggests that he was a POW on a transport ship which was torpedoed.

Mr. Don Huey provided a biography of his brother Wellman in 1991

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wellman huey

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Huey Family gathering, 1935. Wellman Huey is front row middle, next to his sister.

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The author with Mr. Kenji Yanagiya, his daughter and son, Tokyo 1981

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