What do you do when World War II, the one that killed your big brother or the uncle that you never knew, has been over for almost 75 years? When you find out that your niece has always wanted to know the story? When you learn that your aunt has twenty years of research and emails from the guys who trained and flew with him? When it’s David, the youngest guy in his crew, the central fire control gunner on a B-29 airplane, who lived through 21 missions, and who once hit the silk, bailed out, and joined the caterpillar club?
What do you do when you find out that David had more excitement packed into his last two years of life than most people ever see in their lifetimes? And when you discover that what happened the last weeks of his life was cruel, senseless, illegal and so horrible that most of the family doesn’t know what really happened to him?
You learn about his story, you read and read, you collect all the research, sort it out, and piece it together. That’s what you do.
David McNeley was born at exactly the right time to grow up and become draft bait right after high school. In 1924, when he was born to his parents, young Marjorie Faye Haussmann and her older suitor David Harley Wadsworth, who could have known that his father would leave them, his mother would take him to Iowa, where she would meet a man and marry him and give David three younger siblings?
David would be eighteen before he would find out that the man he called Dad all those years was actually his stepdad, and that he was a half-brother to Neysa, Joanne, and Jim. His parents would tell him the truth when he left for the military in February of 1942 because he needed to bring his birth certificate. His siblings wouldn’t find out for another 32 years.
“After he died, we didn’t see the point,” his mother would say.
David died in World War II at the age of twenty-one. The family remembers him as being twenty. But he turned 21 two weeks after being taken prisoner by the Japanese police, kept separately with the other airmen from the regular POW’s.
The airmen were not given POW status. They were forced to sign a three-page statement with guns at their heads saying that they waived POW status accorded by the Geneva Convention. They were criminals in the eyes of the Japanese police. They had been bombing Japanese citizens and were therefore on trial for their lives. How do we know this? Two airmen who survived in another prison in another part of Japan wrote about it in their memoirs. They were the lucky ones. They got out.
David and thirteen other airmen with him were executed on August 6th, 1945, the day after the U.S. military dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.
Is this just another World War II story? Yes and no. Yes, in that there were many airmen and a few that were captured and made it home. No, in that David was not able to tell us much, especially after he shipped out to India in April of 1944. When his plane was shot down on June 5th, 1945, only eleven B-29’s were lost that day on the Kobe mission. 389 otherB-29’s dropped their bombs and made it back to base. The Hull’s Angels crew didn’t make it back.
Of the eleven airmen in the Hull’s Angels crew, eight parachuted out, and five stayed alive long enough to be captured. Three drowned, and three went down with the plane. Of the eleven, not one man made it home. Yet their story needs to be told. Five of them were married, two of them were fathers or about to become one. They were a close-knit group of guys who started out in the twentieth air force and got transferred from India to the Marianas Islands to join the 21st Air Force in Tinian. Some say they should’ve been done with their tours of duty. Some say they didn’t need to fly on June 5th, that they had enough missions. But the missions were counted in different ways, more for combat, less for milk runs (dropping of supplies), more again for flying over the hump, the Himalayas. It was a dangerous route. Many airmen were lost because their planes ran out of fuel or crashed in bad weather.
For a kid out of high school with no college, one that got to travel the world and fly on the top of the B-29 bomber plane at 35,000 feet, it must have been a thrill. David was a good student, a quick learner, and a loyal crew member. We have no doubt that he loved what he was doing almost up to the end. But the airmen became worried when the night-time raids switched to daytime and when the high altitude raids switched to low-altitude raids.
By then the airmen were convinced that they had to do it for their country, the USA, to stop the war in the Pacific, and to keep a million more ground troops from having to invade Japan and possibly lose their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us Americans.
Brother David, Uncle David. This is his story, as told by his sister and his niece.