Jack Leaming
Born: Philadelphia, PA (1919)

- U.S. Navy, radioman/gunner, Scouting Six,
USS Enterprise (CV-6)
- Marcus Island, Argentina Maru, Ofuna POW Interrogation Center, Zentsuji POW camp,
Osaka POW camp, Toyama POW camp
 
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Pearl Harbor  

If you are a peace loving person and like to have fun, and enjoy life, the sudden confrontation of a surprise attack, with your life on the line, is utterly devastating. Especially so, if you have loved ones, what you have lived for, and plans for your future. Sudden and unexpected mixed emotions of fear, anger, danger, contempt, defiance, retribution would be generated in your mind, and you fight back with a vengeance. No son-of-a- bitch will deprive you of FREEDOM!

First attack on the Japanese

For two months, Task Force 8; the Enterprise accompanied by the heavy cruisers Chester, Northampton and Salt Lake City; the destroyers, Belch, Blue, Dunlap, Maury, McCall, Ralph Talbot and the fleet tanker Platte; under Halsey roamed the Pacific. We were flying every day, searching, looking. Nothing, nothing. What the hell was happening? What kind of a war was this? When will we start to even the score?

The building frustration because of the lack of confrontation began to subside the latter part of January. Our course was a constant southerly heading. The night sky changed, the heavens were covered with stars. A not so common star group, the Southern Cross was in the sky now. The ambiance surrounding us seemed to suddenly change also.  Expectation of a nearing encounter dominated our thoughts and conversation. Something was about to happen!

And then, it did! We hit the Marshalls on February 1, 1942. By 4:45 on that morning, we were on our way to bomb Roi. A few minutes before seven Roi was sighted and the “Skipper” ordered an echelon to the right. At seven, we were on our way down, diving from fourteen thousand feet. The early morning sky was full of black bursts from AA. Red tracer from machine gun fire laced the sky.  All hell had broken loose.

Dale (my pilot) was determined to drop our bomb. He ignored the enemy fire surrounding us. Never had the seconds seemed so long. The altimeter was spinning like a top. I called out, “Mark” at fifteen hundred feet over the ICS. Dale released our five hundred pounder and we went screaming across the strip as I emptied a can of .30 caliber strafing. Years later, Dale reminded me that it was the fourth bomb of WWII to strike Japanese soil!

The air was saturated with AA and machine gun fire. Dale released our 100 pounders and I strafed a building where some soldiers were running out a door. Several of them fell as my bullets struck. The gun was bucking like a hot tormented animal. The spent shells were flying into the cockpit and into the slipstream, a shiny brass shower. I stopped firing and then it was up, up, and away as we headed back to the Big E. It was a rapid return, a constant scanning from horizon to horizon and our position for enemy attackers.

This was really my indoctrination into war and combat. It engendered feelings and emotions never before experienced. Suddenly, your throat feels dry, your brow becomes hot and moist, and an uncontrollable slight tremble ripples through your fingers, the tremble of real fear.

You feel all alone up there, that every gun available to the enemy is pointed at you. You are going to die, if there is a goof, quickly and suddenly. If the pilot goofs or if he does not have eyes in his behind or if you see something, and it is not too late, you better tell him fast. Either way, you do not have complete control of your life. It is all chance. Even in peace, life is a chance. War just accelerates the timing. The finality of death is awesome, frightening. The faces of the men that were hit and missing scroll across your mind’s eye and neither the sweat nor the tears can blur or erase them.

Then, all at once, these feelings disappear. They are gone. Vanish.  Vengeance takes over. When the bombs are released and on their way to the target, you are not flying for Uncle Sam, you are flying for yourself. Save your fanny! Live! Live! So, you can do it again.

Marcus 

It was Ash Wednesday, March 4, 1942. A day I shall never forget. Reveille was early that morning. Now, I wonder how I slept so soundly, knowing that in the morning, we would be attacking again and staring death in the face.

I grew up in the Depression Years in poverty and with it all around me. I watched my stepfather become an alcoholic and my Mother become bitter and desperate. I hated it like death! I had joined the Navy out of depression to escape it. And then, came the war. Now I hated death as much as I hated poverty. What could I do to end this? What could one man accomplish?

The attack group had begun launching at 0445. By 0525 the thirty-eight planes in the group had rendezvoused and set course for Marcus Island. We climbed steadily over the overcast until reaching fifteen thousand feet. And, it was COLD up there. I was shivering.

The dawn, as it started to break, was spectacular. The sky was appropriately bloody red. It was at this moment of assessing our environment and thinking about what was going to happen next that the Air Group Commander radioed that he had sighted the islands ahead and to port. He ordered us into an echelon to the left in preparation for the order to attack.

By the time we arrived, the surprise factor had been eliminated and every machine-gun and AA battery on the island was manned and firing. I did not see the machine-gun fire that was crossing in front of us because I was facing the tail. It forced Dale to fly a straight course, for if he turned in either direction, he would fly into it. This brief, but steady flight, gave the Japanese AA gunner a steady target. It was all they needed for they appeared to be better marksmen than on any of our previous attacks.

Then, there were two or three real close ones. No sooner than the thought occurred that we were going to get away Scot free passed through my mind, when there came an explosion and a jolt.

The plane bounced violently and trembled for a split second. Simultaneously, a sound, r-r-r-r-r-rrup, rose over the noise of flight. It was loud.  It penetrated the ear pads of my helmet and sounded like a steel plate being dragged over concrete. I thought, “Gee-zus Kee-rist!”

In the seconds that pass as hours during the sudden transition from flying through the air to a sudden splash in the ocean; from staring at death and wondering at what moment it will arrive when it seems such a certainty; and then when you think the moment has arrived and it does not happen; you begin to wonder if you can be happy with the predicament that confronts you now.  

Prisoners of War

When they came alongside our rubber boat, two of them reached down to help us aboard their boat. Neither of us could understand what they were saying to us. Never having been exposed to any foreign language but three years of Spanish that I had taken in high school, the Japanese language was very, very strange.

To be ordered to do something in an unlearned language by a man with a rifle with a fixed bayonet, inches from your belly, is not a pleasant feeling. Staring at death is a sensation that is extremely difficult to accept because you are looking into eyes that are looking into yours, that seem to reflect the same feelings you are experiencing. Anger. Confusion. Consternation. Perplexity. It is different than being helpless in a burning man-made contrivance. I did not want to accept it, but to avoid death obeyed and did my best to interpret what was being demanded as the bayonet moved back and forth and up and down, prodding me in the direction I was being told to go in a language I could not understand. Their orders must have been to take us prisoner and not kill us.

Because I was an enlisted man and they probably assumed I would be more cooperative most of the questions were directed to me, initially.
"What ship were you on?"
"USS Yorktown."
"How many ships?"
"Three."

They undoubtedly knew, because of the remoteness of Marcus, we had to be from a carrier. Which one could be important to them. The last I knew the USS Yorktown was in the Atlantic. So, that would be the carrier from whence we came. I just was not going to tell these SOBs the truth. The hell with them!

The questioning was brief. Upon completion, we were blindfolded again and placed in the truck. We were taken to our quarters. How elite! A room about eight foot square, cement floor with one half of it about four inches higher than the remainder, walls half cement and half wood. No door knob on the inside and damp as hell. A piece of canvas, a tarp, was spread over a wooden pallet ... our bed. No chairs. It must have been the Japanese Navy's version of the brig. They took all our belongings and gave us dry clothing. A white jumpsuit, typical Japanese sailor work clothing.

As the day wore on, it became obvious to the Japanese there would be no more attacks. When they relaxed, some men on the Island were free to satisfy their curiosity. There was a small window in the door that provided the frequent and curious visitors the opportunity to see their American attackers. The door could be opened from the outside but not from the inside. The guards that we had were very friendly. They brought us candy and cigarettes and talked with us most of the time. It seemed strange that they wanted to be so friendly after what we had done.

Typical conversations centered on our personal life; where we were from and our families. None of the questions they asked was of a military nature. If we did not have a visitor once a day we felt slighted. They had a Japanese-English book. With it and signs, we understood each other well. They made each day interesting. We would have missed them if they did not come around to joke and talk with us and inform us of the great military fete that Dai Nippon had just accomplished.

It seemed to me to be a shame that these fellows had to be called enemies. But, I suppose all of us took it for granted that this war was no fault of ours and personally there were no grudges. A swell lot of fellows. Takahashi Tatsumi, Morita Taro (Tokyo's Gary Cooper, he said), Hoshi Bumpei, Ichigaya Saburo, Sakizaka Masao, and  Hosoda (given name unknown). All different personalities, but good ones. Always full of life. Interesting, never a dull moment. They insisted that when the war was over that they would show us Tokyo and visit us someday in the United States. They asked us to exchange addresses with them. I have theirs in their handwriting to this day.

Liberation

For the next forty-two months, I endured hunger, humiliation, and lived as an animal. In order to survive in captivity with your life completely in the enemy's hand, you have no choice other than becoming passive, tolerant, and reconcile yourself to the situation. If you fracture a bone, it will heal and you are restored. With your mind it is not so easy.

Becoming a prisoner-of-war can break your spirit and you can lose part of yourself. It is difficult to shed. It leaves a scar that stretches as far and as deep as the mind and the imagination can travel.  It can be subverted, but as long as you remain sane, you know it is there.

We were in constant danger. It took courage to survive unarmed in the enemy’s camp. POWs were tested by means few men know little about. They persevered with dignity and loyalty to their country. I would rather die on my feet or live on my knees. I want to soar with the eagles.

When it is over and you arrive home, you come to the realization that those war years are a lot of time to lose and you can never, never, ever, get them back. They are especially hard to lose when you are young. And when you grow older, the loss becomes greater. No matter how you may try, those years are irretrievable. Finally, if it is not too late, you accept the fact, get on with your life, and enjoy it.

It is inescapable, the past affects the future. While the POW camp I was in was more humane than many others I have read and heard about, the fact remains that you were a combatant and in the hands of a fanatical enemy. They could, and would, do as they wished with you. That includes execution that was always a daily conjecture.

When the war is over, it never ceases, another begins. It is never over. It goes on, and on, and on, in the minds of the former warrior. One thing that can make you feel a little better is that you can suddenly realize that life itself is essentially a defeat. It is a relentless, constant, losing game. It is best to gather your courage, surmount the obstacles, endure reality and what the future may bring, do your best, and….

BE HAPPY!

 

From a Japanese friend

My name is Kan Sugahara. I am a freelance translator/editor and WWII historian who attended the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy during the war. I came to know Mr. Jack Leaming when I was seeking someone who remembered a Japanese two-engine bomber attempting to crash land on the USS Enterprise (CV6) on February 1, 1942, in the Marshall Raid.

Jack responded to me not direct, but through the Enterprise Association. Since I learned that he was an ex-POW, this made me think that he still had hard feelings toward Japanese. When I rather hesitantly wrote him a thank you letter with this in mind (I do not recall the exact wording now, but indicated my sincere sympathy for his misfortune). He emailed back to me with a heading of “Your Grateful Reply,” in which he briefly mentioned about those miserable days in Osaka, he was stationed in NAS Iwakuni during the Korean Conflict, and on his way back to the States, he stopped by Osaka and visited the place where he had worked, and met a coolie whom he worked with during his captivity. They chatted briefly and hugged goodbye.

As I corresponded with him, I learned that Jack wanted to know about what has become of the places he had been in, especially about Osaka. I wrote to the local government offices, and gathered information for him. They were very cooperative. He really wanted to visit Osaka in the not too distant future, but he had to change his mind after learning that there was practically nothing left to remember those days by, because of the war devastation.

Then he told me about those sailors whom he met on Marcus Island after he was shot down and captured on March 4, 1942. According to Jack, they treated him and the pilot, Lieutenant (jg) Dale Hilton not as prisoners, but as human being. When I heard of this, I immediately decided to help him locate those sailors for two reasons; 1) first and foremost, I wanted Jack to accomplish a reunion, 2) I wanted the world to know that treatment of POWs by the Japanese soldiers during the war is so notorious, but there were some exceptions! Since Jack had given me the names and addresses of some men, I wrote to their respective city/ward offices to learn of their recent whereabouts. Alas! Two of them could not be located at their address, and one had passed away in a traffic accident after his repatriation to his hometown.

Since then, we asked the Sankei Newspaper, the Kaiko, an organ issued bimonthly by an Association organized by the ex-IJN Petty Officers and Sailors, and some websites to have an article on Jack’s seeking the Marcus sailors, but without success at this writing.

It is my sincere wish that someday in the near future, Jack would be able to meet with those sailors and enjoy their reunion while he is still up and doing.

Kan Sugahara

 


Mr. Leaming in a recent photo


                                                                                                      -- posted Nov. 2004