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Posted on Jun 18, 2005 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Sorties Into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima – Book Review

By Richard N Story

Sorties Into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima
Chester Hearn
Lyons Press, 2003

The island of Chichi Jima seemed to meet all the requirements of the United States military for a forward base near Japan. It had a good harbor and was 140 miles closer to Japan than Iwo Jima. The Japanese were building an airfield on the island, but it wasn’t selected for invasion because there was no room on the island for a base to support the expected B-29s making emergency landings. This left the large Japanese garrison on the island isolated, except for periodic air attacks. Yet despite this, there was a nasty and brutal conflict on Chichi Jima, and if the submarine Finback was slower in getting to the island, the World’s history would be quite different to this day. This is due to the fact that George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States and father of the 43rd President, would have been captured by the Japanese, executed, and possibly cannibalized by the Japanese garrison.

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Sorties into Hell is a true life horror tale of how a civilized nation’s soldiers can sink into the lowest depths of depravity. It not only recounts the tales of the 22 airmen who were captured by the Japanese, but of the amazing detective work by the occupation forces sent by the United States to demilitarize the island. However, the United States has a longer history with Chichi Jima than commonly supposed. The Bonin Islands were ‘discovered’ by the Japanese in 1593, 50 years after the Spanish. In fact, in Japanese Bunin meant ‘Land of No Men’. In 1853, Matthew Perry landed on Chichi Jima and found an expatriate colony of British, Italians, Danes, Sandwich Islanders and the American family of Nathaniel Savory of Bedford, Massachusetts. Nathaniel Savory had transplanted the colonists to the island, and was determined to make it an American possession. He passed on this determination to each of his descendents. Commodore Perry then made him the Agent for the United States on the island, and tried to build interest in it as a coaling and way station for shipping. There the islands lay forgotten by everybody but the Japanese. In 1862 Japan returned to claim the islands. The Savory’s presence grew on the island, and they had two iron clad rules. The first was that every Savory would learn English in addition to Japanese. The second was that, despite being Japanese citizens, they would remain loyal to the United States. When World War II broke out, the Japanese looked at the Bonin Islands and decided that the most logical target would be Chichi Jima. All the citizens were evacuated from the island to the homeland, and the Japanese started to fortify the island. Iwo Jima, in fact, was fortified more as an afterthought than for any obvious strategic value. Yet what did Chichi Jima have that made the United States attack it, beyond nuisance value? On the island was the main communications array that allowed the Imperial Japanese Navy to communicate with its far flung ships and bases. Thus the stage was set for tragedy.

On the 15th of June, 1944, the first two American pilots fell into Japanese hands; on July 4th, another flyer was captured. These three pilots would be the only American captives to land on Chichi Jima and live to tell the tale, as they were then transferred to Japan. Afterwards, any American unlucky enough to find himself captured on Chichi Jima would be executed. While it could not be proven that every American prisoner executed was cannibalized, there was proof enough that the senior officers on the island did eat the livers of some of the captives, and at least once, meat from the thigh and legs of an American was served to the enlisted mess. Sometimes the executions were performed by members of the garrison whom the commanders felt were not properly motivated. After the war, the civilians who were evacuated returned home, and one of them was Fred Savory. As he was fluent in both Japanese and English, and considered himself an American, he was a natural to act as a go-between for the Americans and the Japanese forces. The Americans had grave suspicions of atrocities against the captives, but the cover stories were good enough to delay retribution until Fred Savory overhead a snippet of conversation that would lead into five months of investigations into the war crimes. Colonel Presley Rixley did not have a functioning staff, but he made due. It was his diligence, and the diligence of the investigating staff, that brought the Japanese to trial. And after the trial, which took place on Guam Island, five of the leading figures in the horror that was Chichi Jima were lead to the gallows and hanged for their crimes against humanity.

Chester Hearn authored Sorties into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima, and 21 other books. Sorties Into Hell is well written, and supported amply with illustrations that aid, rather than detract, from the text. Chester Hearn uses both primary and secondary sources to unravel the tale of the horrors on Chichi Jima. The book is technically proficient, and is free of grammatical or typographical faults. Sorties Into Hell is highly recommended for any student of World War II in the Pacific, and with a list price of $14.95 (US) for the soft cover edition, is well within the budget of most readers.

20 Comments

  1. I was on a medical criuse on a LST in 1947 0r 48 and visited the Island of ChiChi Jima. Our dentist missed the ship and I was doing any dental work necessary. Was privy to conversations others were not. Found that the comanding officer had natives watch him slice pieces of a pilots liver or heart and eat it. They thought he was from the B25 I think that was run up on the beach inside the harbor. May be gone from there now. A couple fishermen took me out fishing on one of their boats and they ran out a mile of line and then went diving for a large critter looking like a lobster but was called longusta or somthing simular. I would like to be in touch with some of the Savoy people to correspond if possible. I am 82 years old. Any help would be appreciated. Pete Peterson

    • Mr Peterson, James Bradleys book ” Flyboys” documents the conduct of the Japanese on Chichi Jima through interviews with former Japanese soldiers. They coorborate the information you received.

      • I have just completed reading the book “Flyboys” I noticed that even former President Bush was featured since I believe he crash nearby only to be “fished” by a submarine.
        Nevertheless, The book so captivated me that I found it difficult to set it down. Its almost as if the Japs took great delight in decapitating these young fliers and actually devouring their flesh.
        I wish I could now read a book outlining how the victors read them the beatitudes when they were captured.

  2. I was born and raised on Chi Chi in 1943…..had to leave the island in latter part of 1944 and in 1946. You probably did some dental work on me when I was a young boy. My brother Frank Washington (deceased) was inducted in the Imperial Army on stationed on Ashii Yama (radio station) as a gunner and claimed he “shot” Bush. I am also aware of one of the Gilleys who was forced to eat curry (liver) rice by his commanding officer. I knew Fred Savory, Jerry Savory, Nicky Savory and Simmon Savory. After the war, Fred went to Guam and coordinated the sale of Chi Chi fish market to Frank Edwards store in Guam. I am in touch with all the Savory, Gilley, Washington, Webb and Gonzales families.

    If you need any information from me, please don’t hesitate to ask me. My email is “hankkoe1@yahoo.com.”

    Regards,

    Koe

  3. I spent 14 months on Chi Chi Jima as a sailor in the USN (58/59). All othe Islanders were very nice people and I considered all of them my friends. The are having a ChiChi Jima Reunion in Las Vagas, Nevada on May 14-15,2011 at the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino. Phone (702)-367-7111. I will not be able to attend much to my sadness.

  4. my stepfather john j. stetz (cpl. usmc-deceased) was at chichi-jima. would like to find out any info from any of his fellow marines. my interest has been pigued by a gift from my mother. it was a japanese sword my stepdad had brought home. thanks

    • I was a Marine and served 5 mo’s on Chi Chi in 1964, at that time Marines stationed at Naval Air station in Guam would be flown into ChiChi on a sea plane. The Marines that had a secrete clearance had an opportunity to go TAD, (temporary assignment duty. On Chi Chi, the Marines that returned to Guam had nothing but good things to say. The attachment consisted of a total of 30 enlisted and one Officer. The Marines made up a guard detachment of 10 men, 10 Seabee’s, and 10 Navy personnel, the Officer was a Navy Capt. We Marines would rotate 4hrs. of guard duty and off for 36hrs. For a Marine let me tell you it was great duty. I served over 4 yrs. in the corp.and to this day I have NO idea what we were guarding and I will let that part of the story end. There was but one bar on the Island which the local Japanese would frequent along with the 30 U.S. military. we deep sea fished, scuba dove, hunted goats on smaller Islands with the old M1′s then we gave the meat to the Ilanders. Fishing for Wawoo was the most fun. They looked like sord fish without the sword and could take between 10 to 15 min to land. The locals would prepaire the fish and goat and we would drink beer and eat all day. We also explored the honeycomb of fortresses and there were meny. The barracks was actually a cottage.

      • Tom, being a old Marine myself, I enjoyed your story about your time on Chi Chi very much. I am wondering why only the guys that had a secret clearance got to go on what we called TDY (Temp Duty Assigment)? Also, were there any cilivians (non-native) US or others living there at that time? What was your MOS? I was a Shore Fire Control Party E-5 in an Anglico Company from Camp LeJuene. I would have loved to call fire from ships from those hills!! What a great time you must of had there!! I hope this finds you well and can reply to me soon. Semper Fi !!

  5. Mr Schreck
    According to Bradleys book, it was hush hush about the canabalism of the “Flyboys” for many years. There were exocutions for these war crimes. I do not know if the families ever were informed of the fate of their young sons. Perhaps that is the reason for the secret clearence requirement for the assignment.

    • Mr. Stone, the time period that I was talking about to Mr Schrack was 1964 and we Marines had secrete clearances because we were guarding Nuclear Warheads. Of course we didn’t no that at the time but now we do. The cold war, china threat of invading So. Korea thru No. Korea was the reason for that. That information is all declassified and can be researched. Be leave me its quite a story I spent the better part of the day reading about Chi Chi.

  6. When were the Japanese radio towers brought down? Also i add that if Iwo invasion was difficult, a Chichi invasion would have been merely impossible, with more enemy troops, more rugged terrain, and very poor sites for amphib landing.

  7. Why, during WWII, the Navy didn’t send a ship to bombard the targets on Cichi Jima, rather than put pilot’s lives in danger?

  8. I was one of four officers aboard a small Navy cargo ship (AKL 28) called the “fish and turtle express” because we carried fresh provisions from Japan to Chichi Jima where we loaded their fish and turtles for later sale on Guam, our home port. At that time, there were two LCDRs and a contingent of US Marines assigned there. The Marines stood armed guard at the entrance to a cave — the only place we were denied entry. I have fond memories of touring the small island by jeep and taking movies. I note that one of your correspondents mentioned guarding nuclear warheads — that would confirm my theory that something nuclear would explain armed guards in such a remote location.

  9. Mr Nolan, the AKL not only carried fish and turtles. Sometimes the USS Banner was used to transport us islander students to and from Guam. I remember becoming an Honorary Member of the Banner on the return trip from Guam to Chi Chi for the summer. ’cause none of my Army buddies would believe me when I mentioned that I was transported on Navy ships and planes when I was just a young kid going to school in Guam as an “off islander” student. Lived most of the times with Navy families who sponsored us students from C

    • Tom, My dad, LCDR George J. Evans was the C.O. of the USS Banner AKL 25 stationed out of Guam from 1956 to 1959. My sisters and I went with our Mom aboard the Banner in the summer of 1967 for their West Pac tour. One of the highlights was our stop on Chi Chi Jima. The island was amazing. Saw the copper caves, went diving with the turtles, and met such wonderful people on the island. Only ten years old at the time but I remember it like it was yesterday. Banner had a much bigger job than anyone ever knew at the time.

  10. Date of trip to Chi Chi was 1957 not 67…

  11. In 1950 I was part of Adm Radfords CICpacflt trip to Iwojima(rock), ChiChiJima (mother island), HaHaJima (Father Island). At that time
    the residents said they had one million gallons of Alcohol in the
    tunnels and they wanted permission to sell it. It was in barrels and
    they were beginning to rust from the outside in. Adm Radford was
    governer of all pacific islands in the Pacific. The beaches in the
    Horse shoe shaped cove still had torpedos laying around. We also
    visited HaHaJima, only occupants were two Male dogs. This island was ignored by US forces.

  12. I spent 3 Months on ChiChi Jima in 1962. I was stationed at Naval Comm Station on Guam. I got my secret Clearance while I was on Guam. The Commander was Lt. Commander Wetherby.
    May God bless,
    Cpl USMC

  13. To all that served:
    I admire what you have all done for us. Im only 22, but my best friend is a Vietnam Vet. (Yes, he seriously is my best friend :) ) I listen to him talk about the things he experienced and I cannot imagine what you all saw, went through, and lost. I see in his eyes his anguish and regret of some of the things he had to do. You’re sacrifices for this country is not appreciated enough. I am overjoyed to see you all telling your stories! Please continue to do so. My and future generations need your stories. God bless you all and I hope you find those you have lost contact with!

  14. My father LCDR C.E. “Jack” Frost was OinC of Chi Chi 1953-1955. My youngest brother was born there. I have some fond memories of Chi Chi.

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