Friday, June 5, 2015

Remembering the Battle of Midway

From the moment the Japanese flew back to their carriers from Pearl Harbor, my father was no longer that fresh faced boy from the Missouri Ozarks

Seventy-three years ago the United States Navy dealt a strategic blow to the Japanese plan to dominate the South Pacific and my father, Conrad R. Frieze, was there.

My father and his brother Richard had been at Kaneohe Bay on December 7th, 1941 and together fought back against the Japanese attack from he waist hatch of a PBY w: the ith a 50 caliber machine gun.  Uncle Dick even shot down a Japanese zero.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was not only a blow to the United States military with losses of ships and airplanes and some 2,000 soldiers and sailors, but it was a blow psychologically.  Years later my father wrote that he never felt the same again.  He'd gone from being a 19 year old sailor stationed in paradise, scheduled to take an entrance exam for Annapolis. Midway was booster shot to his psychology and that of the United States.

From the moment the Japanese flew back to their carriers from Pearl Harbor, my father was no longer that fresh faced boy from the Missouri Ozarks and by June of 1942 he was a fighting man and the gunner on a PBY.  The PBY was not a fast or glamorous airplane, but it was the workhorse of the Navy and much loved by him.  PBYs were instrumental in locating the Japanese fleet on their way to Midway and by the end of the battle, the one my father was on flew circles around a Japanese lifeboat, my father's 50 cal trained on the officers therein, until a rescue could be exacted by the Navy.

When my father's plane returned to base a messenger sought out my father with the cap device from a Japanese lietenant and with it was the message  "Tell the gunner thank you for not killing us." That and a sword, which came from where I know not and disappeared by my father's death, were among his momentos of the war.

In 1967 Walter Lord published his book Incredible Victory: the Battle of Midway.  My father, now working at the Boeing Company as an aeronautical engineer and an executive, read the book in the early 1970s and saw a picture of the Japanese officers he hadn't killed.  Through his connections at Boeing and the National Archives he was able to track down the men in the boat.  All were still living and the lieutenant was now Retired Rear Admirable Mandai. 

By this time my father had been traveling all over the world, including to Japan, on a regular basis selling first the 727 on through the 747 and saw an opportunity to create publicity for Boeing and to meet the men he didn't kill.  With help from Boeing a meeting and photo op in Tokyo was arranged (one of the men, for whom the war had not ended, refused to attend) and my father got to meet them and present the cap device to Admiral Mandai.  The tall stately man refused to take it back, declaring that it was my father's war trophy.

After that my father and step mother became friends with Admiral Mandai and his wife.  They did the tourist bit around Tokyo with them and the Mandais made visits to Seattle where my father got to be tour guide. 

I don't think as my father watched the Japanese planes disappear on December 7th, 1941 that my father could have ever imagined that one day he would be friends with a Japanese officer or that he still contained enough humanity to save his life.  I am glad for both.

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