This Future American President Escaped Being Tortured and Cannibalized During World War II

This Future American President Escaped Being Tortured and Cannibalized During World War II

Patrick Lynch - June 2, 2017

World War II is laden with horrific tales of POWs being tortured and the Chichijima Incident is one of the most gruesome. It happened in September 1944 and is a terrible tale of torture and cannibalism. A total of eight American airmen were captured, beaten and then eaten by Japanese soldiers. It could have been an event that changed American history had a 20-year-old pilot not escaped the fate of his comrades. Future CIA leader and American President George H.W. Bush was with the party, but in a twist of fate, he was the only one of the nine men shot down to evade capture.

This Future American President Escaped Being Tortured and Cannibalized During World War II
American troops hold up bullet-holed Japanese flag. Pinterest

The Capture

The island of Chichijima is part of the Bonin Island Group some 700 miles from Tokyo. Although it is a small island at just 15 square miles, it was of crucial strategic importance during World War II as the Japanese used it as a radio relay link. To put things in perspective, this tiny piece of land was protected by 25,000 Japanese troops by the end of the war as they desperately tried to defend it against American bombing attacks.

During one of these raids on September 3, 1944, nine airmen were shot down. It was a sadly common occurrence in the period before the Americans landed on islands like Iwo Jima as around 100 pilots were shot down over the Bonin Island Group; only three survived as the rest were either captured, died with their planes or drowned in the water.

Bush was flying his plane (called Avenger) on the raid when it was shot down in flames. He managed to ditch the plane further away from Chichijima than the rest of the pilots, and it was this quick thinking that saved his life. While the other pilots also bailed out, they swam towards the island and were captured. Their fate remained hidden from the public for decades.

This Future American President Escaped Being Tortured and Cannibalized During World War II
George Bush as a pilot in WWII. Independent Journal Review

Bush Is Rescued

Although he had escaped POW status, Bush was still stranded, alone and utterly helpless as he floated on the water. Suddenly, the USS Finback submarine appeared and spotted the person it was destined to save. In his delirious state, Bush initially thought the submarine was a hallucination. The future president was floating on a flimsy life raft, vomiting and bleeding. There is no doubt that he wouldn’t have lasted much longer had the Finback not arrived on the scene.

If he believed he was lucky to survive, he didn’t know the half of it. The eight men who swam to the island would have been better off staying in the water but of course, their survival instinct was strong, and once they saw their chance, they naturally swam ashore. Unfortunately, they ended up in the clutches of a particularly sadistic group of enemies. The files of these eight men were sealed by the United States Government for decades, presumably to spare the families of these men the anguish of knowing what happened to their loved ones.

The public only gained knowledge of the gruesome end of the men in 2003 when James Bradley published his book: ‘Flyboys: A True Story of Courage.’ The book documented the stories of POWs using details from war criminal trials and interviews with Japanese soldiers. In fact, even Bush didn’t know what happened to the men until Bradley told him. When he heard the news, he simply shook his head in stony silence. As well as thinking about the cruelty the men endured, he knew it could easily have been him. So what did the Japanese soldiers do to the eight Flyboys? Read on to find out, but be warned, it is a harrowing story.

This Future American President Escaped Being Tortured and Cannibalized During World War II
American soldier being executed by Japanese soldier. rontpagemag

A Truly Horrific Tale

It was originally believed that the eight men disappeared and drowned after escaping from their aircraft. Details of their fate only came to light during war trials in Guam in 1947. The commander of the Japanese troops in Chichijima, Yoshio Tachibana, was an alcoholic and notorious for his sadistic tendencies. The information Bradley found mainly came from transcripts of Tachibana’s trial on Guam along with detailed accounts from Doctor Teraki and numerous soldiers involved in the atrocities.

All of the men were tortured, beaten and executed. Some of the flyboys were beheaded while others were stabbed with bamboo stakes and bayonets. A couple of men were bludgeoned to death. Marve Mershon, a radio operator, was forced to trudge to an empty grave that was freshly dug. He was blindfolded and made to kneel before a soldier beheaded him with a sword.

The very next day, Major Sueo Matoba laid on a sake-fuelled feast for high-ranking Japanese officials including General Tachibana with American flesh on the menu. A Japanese medical assistant spoke about how Teraki removed flesh from Mershon’s thigh which was eaten at the feast. In a stomach-churning addition to the tale, the men reportedly ran out of flesh at the meal and ordered a soldier to retrieve more from Mershon’s corpse.

Bradley found out further information about the deaths of all eight soldiers. Ensign Floyd Hall was bayoneted to death, and his liver and gall bladder were removed and wrapped in cellophane paper. Second Lieutenant Earl Vaughn was beheaded but was defiant when it was his turn to be executed. He stunned the executioner by shouting ‘Semper Fi’ and revealing his neck. Again, his liver and gall bladder were removed, and officers were invited to take whatever flesh they wanted.

Similar fates awaited the other men who were later identified as Dick Woellhof, Grady York, Jimmy Dye Jr., Glenn Frazier Jr., and Warren Hindenlang. All of them were brutally murdered, and several of them had their flesh taken for consumption.

It is incorrect to assume that the Japanese soldiers ate the flesh of the Americans out of necessity. In reality, it was an act of superstition. The soldiers believed that eating enemy flesh imparted a piece of the soul of the victim into them, so it was a ceremonial process.

This Future American President Escaped Being Tortured and Cannibalized During World War II
Tachibana surrenders. History of Sorts


When Bradley contacted the families of the victims to tell them the truth about what happened to their loved ones, the initial reaction was a stunned silence. Bush did not find out about the cannibalism and brutal deaths of his comrades for many years. In 2003, he visited Chichijima with Bradley, and while the ex-president was somber, he held himself together.

In fact, he ventured into the water in a modern life raft to try to recreate the experience he had in 1944. He admitted that he thought about the victims all the time and when he was on the submarine after being rescued, he wondered why he had been spared and what God had in store for him.

Although it is small comfort to the families of those who died, the perpetrators of the evil deeds did not go unpunished. A total of 30 Japanese soldiers and four officers, including Matoba and Tachibana, were charged with war crimes and found guilty. All of them were hanged and buried in unmarked graves in Guam. All the other men involved in the act either as witnesses or participants in the cannibalism were also found guilty and sent to prison. However, they were all released within eight years.

In his book, Bradley compares the brutality on Chichijima with the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese and the brutal treatment of Native Americans. According to Bradley, the perpetrators of these horrible crimes all believed in cultural superiority and showed a complete disregard for the lives of peoples from different cultures. Sadly, the Chichijima Incident was not an isolated event in World War II. There are numerous accounts of Japanese soldiers resorting to cannibalism out of necessity near the end of the war when the Allies cut off their supplies.