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1945 B29 City of Kankakee

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Raid recalled from both sides

Mike Lyons , The Daily Journal

July 18, 2004


GUAM -- "Hey sixteen! Heard anything yet?"

The question broke combat radio silence and riveted the attention of every bomber crew in the advancing Superfortress armada.

Aboard the 330th Bomb Group's K-16 -- a B-29 called "City of Kankakee" --pilot Vivian Lock's radioman strained for any hint of the code word "Utah."

It was to be the signal that war had ended. That hostilities in the Western Pacific had finally ceased.

Had it been received, hundreds of Honshu bound bombers would have reversed course in the darkness, jettisoned their bombs in the black Pacific and headed harmlessly "home" for breakfast.

Instead only silence greeted Lock's radioman and the B-29s of the 330th Bomb Group droned on through the trackless Pacific night of Aug. 15, 1945 -- bearing down on the sleeping Japanese city of Kumagaya, a stone's throw northwest of Tokyo.

An attack made all the more poignant when, years later, Lock would find a note his navigator had scrawled in his flight log that night -- "Heard on radio that New York was celebrating VJ Day. We were on our way to target. 'Utah' was the code word for turning back from mission -- Never heard it."

The Kumagaya assault would prove to be the last bombing raid of World War II. A final blow in the tortured history of 20th century warfare.

Lock's crew, flying "tail end Charlie" on the Kumagaya raid, would drop the second to last bomb load of World War II.

But for Lock, the 25-year-old pilot of the "City of Kankakee," this night's appointment with history would be shared with 11-year-old Ken Arai, one of three brothers born to a Japanese dentist who lived and practiced in the heart of the doomed city.

Nearly 60 years later, with the recent help of the Internet, these men would finally "meet." Not in the face-to-face fashion of conventional confabs, mind you, but in that peculiar 21st century meeting room called "cyberspace."

Arai, now 70, is an engineer living in British Columbia. He's the only member of his family living outside Japan.

But an abiding interest in what he'd witnessed that August night on the island of Honshu led him to seek answers about a raid virtually buried by the news of the Japanese surrender which immediately followed.

An Internet Google search for anything related to the Kumagaya bombing raid led to the web page of the 330th Bomb Group, and his eventual meeting with "Viv" Lock.

"I will be 70 this year," Arai began one of his initial e-mails to Lock.

"Pretty quickly the firsthand witnesses on both sides of the war will all disappear from the surface of the planet.

"So, after receiving your response, I wrote a short article trying to recall what happened on Aug. 15, in Japan, particularly in my town of Kumagaya....I have never put them down in writing either in Japanese or in English."

Arai's communications were prefaced with the hope that correspondence not be laden with expressions of regret or apology.

For his part, Lock agreed, noting in his response that "No apologies, but I have always regretted all the innocent people killed, injured and loss of homes and property. Further, I expect no apologies especially from one who was only 11 years old on Aug. 15, 1945.

"I was 25-years-old at the time, and am 83 now. On the Kumagaya mission I was the Aircraft Commander of B-29, K-16. My rank was captain...."

Kumagaya was already ablaze by the time Lock and the "City of Kankakee" arrived overhead. The second to last in a string of 81 B-29's which had set out from Guam seven hours earlier, Lock sought to drop his load of incendiaries along an edge of the expanding orange tide below his wings.

Somewhere 14,700 feet below, Arai and his family sought survival.

"I was awakened by my father shouting 'Get up! Air raid,'" Arai recalls.

"(The) air was filled with a roaring noise. Something was burning between two houses behind us illuminating sidings of the houses," Arai recalls.

It was a far different experience than he'd come to know, when the youngsters of the city would thrill to the sight of B-29s passing high overhead, white contrails streaming from their hot engines.

Or the thrill of spotting "enemy" fighters; aircraft they'd learned to identify as carrier based Grumans or Iowa Jima based Mustangs.

The family first took refuge in the tiny, tin clad bomb shelter partially dug into the backyard.

But the shelter was soon abandoned. As he says, "By then, all Japanese became smart enough to know that if we stayed in those pathetic makeshift shelters during air raid, we would all be suffocated or BBQed."

So with his father's instruction to leave the shelter and head for his uncle's home 5 kilometers south of the city, Arai set off with his grandmother, his mother, and his baby brother strapped to his mother's back. His father and elder brother remained with the family home in the hope of fighting off the blaze.

Still, for an 11-year-old, the sights of incendiaries landing in city streets and on house tops proved exhilarating.

Once outside, the street leading out of town toward the uncle's home proved clogged with flame. The women and the two young children decided to go the opposite way -- toward the city's cemetery where they could "gather by grandfather's tombstone and seek the protection of his spirit," Arai notes.

"The fire was so vigorous that many objects were flying in the air, including corrugated tin plates, common roofing material of the time."

Progress through the streets was slow. His kimono clad mother and grandmother couldn't run as fast as Arai was able to.

It gave Arai time to appraise the city, now awash in a sea flame.

"Much later, my mother used to recall with laughter that I repeatedly looked back and said to her, 'Look, mom, look! It's beautiful."

A warning by a civil defense worker that running on city streets would draw fire from the aircraft, diverted the maternal clutch into a field.

But running in the darkness, Arai's mother soon slipped into a composting pit. His grandmother, trying to aid her, was also pulled in. Now both women were soaked to the waist in smelly, organic field fertilizer. Both escaped the pit and made it to the sanctuary of the cemetery.

Soon the engine roar of the armada of 330th Superforts faded as Lock and the remainder of the group headed out over the black Pacific heading for Guam.

Arai and family left the cemetery at first light, stopping by the home of a farmer friend who fed them and provided dry kimonos for the women.

In just days, Arai would see his first GI's, speeding up the road to Kumagaya in a cloud of dust.

11th-hour mission remains mystery

Mike Frey , The Daily Journal

July 18, 2004

Once planned as a catalyst for Japanese capitulation, the 11th hour raid against the Japanese city of Kumagaya remains something of a mystery today.
Occurring Aug. 15, 1945, the raid was hard on the heels of the Aug. 6 nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and the Aug. 9 nuclear blast that devastated Nagasaki. But despite its devastating effect, the Kumagaya raid was something of a ruse.

According to Kankakee native Vivian Lock, whose B-29 "City of Kankakee" dropped the second to the last bomb load of World War II during the Kumagaya raid.

But the lead bomber in the 81-plane attack armada was packing a wallop. Lock firmly recalls the pre-raid briefing indicating the blast from that craft was intended to be heard in Tokyo, just 60 kilometers distant, convincing them that yet another city had been devastated with a nuclear weapon.

"The lead B-29 salvoed four 4,000-pound bombs, equipped with radio proximity fuses set so they'd explode in the air above the town," Lock explains.

"They were to make a boom loud enough they could hear it in Tokyo. The rest of us dropped fire bombs to set the town on fire."

But Lock's correspondence with Ken Arai, then a Japanese youth who lived through the raid, can't pin down confirmation. Arai says that neither he nor other Japanese he's questioned about the raid recall a horrific explosion preceding the city's burning.

Yet Lock has corresponded with relatives of a crewman on the lead B-29 who recalled his telling of pulling the pins and arming the bombs. In any case, the raid played no part in "convincing" the Japanese to surrender.

Lock and his crew learned of the war's ending within a half hour of returning to Guam after the raid. "There was happiness and shouting, but no big celebration," Lock recalls of the reaction on Guam, adding "and there was no interest in whether those 4,000 pound bombs had any effect."

Lock remained in the Air Force, retiring in 1968 at lieutenant colonel. After the war he transitioned to jet transports, flying KC-97 tankers with the 98th Refueling Squadron.

Lock says he has no plans for meeting Ken Arai, though he acknowledges he'd like to meet him.

"I think so," he said, when asked if he'd welcome the possibility, adding "It would be interesting, but kind of awkward, in a way when you think about it."

Their correspondence has been both fruitful and congenial. Lock notes that some time ago, Arai started signing his e-mails as "An Old Jap."

Lock then responded, signing off as "An Old Flyboy."

Mike Lyons

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