Incredible Victory, Incredible Journey
Today is the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Midway that lasted from June 4th to 6th, 1942. Coming less than six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor it was important not only strategically, but psychologically.
Forewarned of the Japanese plan of attack, PBY Navy airplanes were used to scout the open sea for the Japanese Navy. During the early hours of 4 June 1942 four PBY 5As torpedoed the Japanese oiler Maru. Among the four aircraft carriers sunk that day was the Hiryu and aboard was an ensign named Mandai. Ordered to abandon ship Mandai ended up in the water just in time before the Hiryu was scuttled by the Makigumo. He swam for his life, made it to a life boat.
Overhead a PBY circled the life boat; its gunner trained his machine gun on the boat until the survivors were picked up by the American ship USS Ballard. When the PBY returned to base the gunner, my father, Conrad R. Frieze, received a package that turned out to be the cap device of Ensign Mandai and a note thanking “the young gunner” for not shooting him. It was a noble gesture that impressed my twenty year old father.
The war ended three years later. My father completed his education at Oregon State, became an aeronautical engineer and went to work for the Boeing Company. The purchase of Walter Lord’s Incredible Victory, the Battle of Midway in the 1970s brought my father to an incredible discovery. My father recognized Ensign Mandai in a picture in Lord’s book. Now he had a name.
Because my father’s job now took him all over the world, including to Japan, he was able to track down Ensign Mandai who was by then Retired Admiral Mandai. With the very willing help of the Boeing Company a meeting with the life boat survivors was arranged in Tokyo during one of my father’s visits there. It became a media event. One of the survivors refused to attend the meeting, but the tall even by American standards Admiral Mandai was among those in attendance and when my father offered to return the cap device Mandai had sent to him all those years before he declined to take it, saying that it was my father’s war trophy.
Time and experience seeing the world had cooled the anger and hatred that the attack on Pearl Harbor had flamed in my father on December 7th when he and his brother Dick had fought back at Kaneohe NAS. Admiral Mandai and my father became friends, trading visits with their wives in Japan and Seattle. It was heartening to have this proof that we are all just people.