Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cover Story: The Hap Halloran Story

A Ray of hope

Hap Halloran survived an ordeal toward the end of World War II that cannot be adequately described by mere words. He was almost lynched by an irate mob of Japanese civilians, tortured by Japanese soldiers, kept in solitary confinement for long periods, lived through the Tokyo air raids, stripped of all clothing and thrown into a zoo cage for presentation to crowds of Japanese civilians, then was finally interned in the infamous Omori POW Camp. Despite the brutalities inflicted on him and the attempts to crush his will to survive, Hap miraculously overcame the odds and was among those rescued from the jaws of death at the end of World War II in 1945, being taken from Tokyo aboard the USS Benevolence. He survived to tell this story.

Heroes are made, not born. Certainly not everyone can be a hero, as opportunities for real heroism are somewhat rare. But when the opportunity does come, only those who seize the moment can become a hero.

Raymond “Hap” Halloran, now 86, does not consider himself a war hero. For him, war heroes are those who died on the battlefield or incurred great bodily harm while trying to save their buddies. Nevertheless, others consider Hap a hero due to the bravery he showed in times of great adversity and severe brutality. He attributes his triumph over death to the power of prayer and a strong belief in God, as well as his determination to live to tell the story about his captivity.

Enduring the barbarity and the brutality of prison life, Halloran triumphed due to his will to survive despite being courted by death every single night and day during the long seven months of imprisonment in Tokyo.

As the only remaining member of the eleven-man crew of the B-29 Superfortress Rover Boys Express, shot down over Tokyo on January 27, 1945, Halloran is visiting places that matter to him most as he seeks closure to his war-torn past and total healing.

The Pre-War Years

Born on February 4, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Raymond is the second of five sons born to Paul and Gertrude Halloran. Like other men and women of his generation, he belonged to a unique period in world history. The world had just emerged from World War I and another world wide conflict was brewing. Conditions around the world were unstable. As colonial empires disintegrated and waned, a new world order was taking shape as great nations partitioned the globe into their spheres of influence.

Just as Halloran and the American people labored through harsh economic conditions following the Great Depression of 1929, the rest of the world, including the Japan, sought resources to feed an ever-growing population and to respond to the demands of an industrial society. A scarcity of national resources and other economic pressures drove the Japanese to seek solutions overseas.

Meanwhile, Hap was comfortably enjoying his youth. In a conversation with the editor of the Island Locator magazine, Halloran remarked, “We were a very happy family of seven in a small two-and-a-half bedroom home. Lots of love offset the shortage of money. We grew up in the days of the Great Depression.”

Early on, Hap expressed a fondness for flying planes. He told IL magazine, “Growing up in Cincinnati, I had an early love of airplanes. Whenever a small plane flew over, I stopped everything I was doing and screamed ‘Hey Mister, give me a ride.’ I enjoyed making model airplanes—the balsa wood and glue type models. Even today, I can remember how proud I felt when I finished a model and used the rubber-band powered engine to test its flying abilities; it was a wonderful feeling when the flight test was successful. I made many model planes and proudly hung them from the ceiling of the bedroom I shared with my two brothers. Airplanes were the joy of my life.” And what a joy it was for him to take his first ride on a small plane over Washington D.C, at the cost of $1.50. Then he shelled out $3 to take a thirty-minute flight on a DC-3 from Cincinnati to Dayton, Ohio and return. He still has the two tickets from those flights..

Golf is another of Halloran’s recreations. He started caddying at Ridgewood Golf Club when he was in the fifth grade, and won the Southern Ohio High School golf tournament in 1940. Halloran remembers getting paid 50 cents caddying for 18 holes. From his earnings as a caddy, Halloran saved enough money to purchase his first bicycle at the age of 16, for which he paid $5. It was during his golf-playing days that news about the attack on Pearl Harbor reached him. “I decided immediately that I wanted to volunteer for the Army Air Corps.” He wanted to fight to avenge the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Serving His Country

Halloran enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 at Wright Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio and completed training as a navigator in Hondo, Texas in 1943. The following year he finished bombardier training in Roswell, New Mexico. Soon after, he was assigned to B-29 Bomber Training at Smoky Hill Air Force Base in Salina, Kansas, and became a member of the 878th Squadron of the 499th Bomb Group (VH), 73rd Wing, 20th Air Force. Joining 10 other men from different states, Halloran became a member of the Rover Boys Express, an elite crew that would later spend training time in Lincoln, Nebraska and Herington, Kansas before they were assigned their own B-29 Superfortress. Vividly recalling the day he first saw the B-29 on the ramp at Smoky Hill Air Force Base, Halloran remarked, “It was a beautiful sight—overpowering.”

“Every crew selected a name for its plane. We selected Rover Boys Express, which was a common name for four-wheel racers portrayed in comic books and other media. After training, we were sent to Saipan to fly long-range bombing missions against Japanese mainland targets,” recalls Halloran. Upon receipt of orders, the crew flew their B-29 to California and then across the huge expanse of the Pacific, stopping en route in Hawaii and on Kwajalein. From Kwajalein, the Rover Boys Express proceeded to Isely Field on Saipan to join the 73rd Wing.

Looking back, Halloran spoke of his initial thoughts about the island upon landing here in 1944. “I was very impressed with Saipan, which was the operating base in support of the air war against Japanese targets. Here we were, young kids 8,000 miles from home—now in combat flying dangerous 16-hour missions to and from Tokyo as well as other cities such as Kobe and Nagoya. We were brave and courageous young men, always striving to do our very best on those long, high-altitude missions where danger was ever present.”

On those missions, Halloran was joined by 2/Lt. Robert Grace (bombardier), 2/Lt. William Franz, Jr. (flight engineer), SSgt. Robert Holladay (right gunner), SSgt. Anthony Lukasiewicz (CFC gunner), Sgt. Vito Barbieri (left gunner), Sgt. Cecil Laird (tail gunner), Snuffy Smith (aircraft commander), Jimmy Edwards (pilot), Guy Knobel (radio man) and John Nicholson (radar man).

Of the 11 brave crew members of the Rover Boys Express, who risked their lives on bombing operations over Japan, Halloran is the only one still living. He recollects that “six were killed when our B-29 was shot down over Eastern Chiba prefecture (Tokyo) on January 27, 1945. Five survived as POWs and returned to the United States.” On that fateful mission, while flying past Mt. Fuji at 32,000 feet en route to target #357, the Nakajima Aircraft Factory, the Rover Boys Express was shot down by a Japanese Toryu fighter that set three of the four engines ablaze. Inside the bomber, as wind rushed through the jagged openings at a temperature of minus 58 degrees, the crew scrambled to bail out. Halloran was the second to last to jump, and managed to munch on a sandwich as he plummeted toward earth.

To avoid being shot by Toryu fighters as he descended, Halloran free fell from an altitude of 24,000 feet, releasing his parachute only upon reaching an altitude of 3,000 feet. While slowly gliding down to earth, three Japanese planes circled him in a counterclockwise motion. According to Halloran, of the three planes, “one came very close and despite my freezing limbs, I raised my hands in a gesture of surrender and was astonished to receive a salute from the pilot of the third plane.” Puzzled by this, Halloran remarked later on, “I had a friend I didn’t know because he could have shot me. Perhaps the enemy pilot had his own code of ethics.”

As soon as he hit the ground, an angry mob surrounded him and began beating him severely. In one official statement he released concerning his ordeal as a prisoner of war, Halloran described how he was nearly bludgeoned to death. He said they were beating him with boards and rods and large rocks while they jumped on him and kicked him. He faded in and out of consciousness and expected to perish, right there, on enemy soil.

The beatings continued as the Kempei Tai police took him from the irate crowd. Soldiers also beat him with their rifle butts, slashed his parachute and gagged him with it. After tying his hands and feet, he was blindfolded, dragged and hauled off in a truck, writhing in pain. He said he was already tempted to just give it up as he feared death was imminent. Halloran was overwhelmed with constant fear then. “I knew I didn’t have much longer to go. I was in very bad shape.” Then he was taken to the Kempei Tai Torture Prison close to the moat at the north edge of the Imperial Palace, where he was treated like a federal prisoner for bombing and killing civilians. He was even forced to sign documents stating his admission of guilt, as well as a waiver concerning the Geneva Conference rules on prisoners of war. Looking back, Hap said they were not given instructions on how to behave as a prisoner of war. “We did have a late briefing from a Marine: ‘Tell them answers to all questions. Be consistent or you will be killed for certain.’ Obviously, we just didn't want to talk about the possibility of becoming POWs—for good reason. We believed we would safely return from every mission.”

After interrogations, his hands were unbound and the blindfold removed. Then he was shoved into a 4’x 6’ cage guarded by a Japanese soldier armed with a rifle and bayonet. In that prison, silence was the rule and broken only during times of interrogation.

Halloran spent 67 grueling days in solitary confinement. He remembers the constant pain that kept him in deep agony. One time a doctor was called in and tasked to inject suffering and noisy prisoners with a green liquid that Halloran identified as potassium cyanide; however, he recalls that “Something spiritual saved me from that thing.”

He also spoke of others he was with in the prison, those who suffered a fate different from his. There was a tail gunner who would often say, “Mom, I’ll be right down for breakfast.” There was also an officer whom Halloran kept hearing asking for a pencil and paper so he could rewrite his will and testament. All the while, in the cold, pitch-black environment, the prisoners did not receive any medical treatment whatsoever.

Halloran said he almost became blind from not seeing light for 70 days, as well as being blindfolded most of the rest of the time as they continued to receive constant beatings, suffered from starvation and had to lie down on a floor infested with bed bugs, lice, and fleas. In this condition, Halloran said he had to make a conscious decision to want to live—to try to survive—to keep death away from his cell if he expected to leave this hell hole still breathing. “Death came easily to some and seemed a viable option many times.” Halloran added that he would recite short, simple prayers as he muffled his sobs in his cage while seeking God’s divine intervention. Focusing on his family, he wanted to live so he would not let his family down. There were times when he entertained the thought of committing suicide, but he chose to persevere as he held on to his faith like he would a grain of rice at the height of starvation. He said, “I prayed a lot. I prayed every night and during the day.” Deprived of food, Halloran became emaciated, going from a weight of 212 pounds to a mere 115.

Earning the nickname “Hap” from his fellow soldiers, he looked for humor in his gruesome experience. Despite the horrific stay in his cell, he often recalls that his guard greeted him with the word “Ohayo” every morning, which reminded him of his native state of Ohio. But how did the guard know he was from Ohio? Later he learned that the guard was uttering a Japanese expression that meant “Good morning.” There were also times when he imagined he was playing golf in Ridgewood. He would do anything to keep his mind busy to avoid thinking about his predicament and the nearness of death.

From the prison cage, he was dragged through snow and transferred to a horse stable which held five other B-29 prisoners. There he lay on the floor, left to endure the cold and dampness. But he was never able to sleep well.

On March 10, 1945, he and his fellow prisoners heard thunderous blasts. For almost three hours, bombs were being dropped on Tokyo from B-29s. Peering through a small 12-inch window, Halloran could not tell what was happening outside, except that the sky had turned red. There was constant firing, Hap recalled, and from the glare in the red sky one could conclude that it was a horrific onslaught of fire bombing.

“The fire raid of early morning on March 10th was so massive that I never thought I would survive the night. Part of the door and roof of our stable was burned away by the fire. It was difficult for me to relate to B-29s bombing at such a low altitude. Those were brave B-29ers. I prayed for them that night as more than 100,000 Japanese were allegedly killed,” related Halloran about his experience.

In the aftermath of the bombing, an interpreter (whom Halloran refers to as “decent” in almost all his public talks) was sent to his stable to inform him that B-29ers would all be executed that day. However, the details were not clear and the fear of death remained ever present. Eight to ten days later, another interpreter told him that a high official from the palace would be visiting him.

After surviving the air raid mayhem, he was taken to Ueno Zoo, stripped naked, strapped to bars in a tiger’s cage, and humiliated before a large crowd of civilians. For Halloran, it was the Japanese soldiers’ way of shoring up their deflating morale in the face of raids that crippled their defense. On display for a day and a night, his body covered with oozing sores caused by the bugs in his cage, and having had no bath since his capture, this period was the lowest point in his entire life. Halloran remarked, “Being shown publicly to the Japanese, naked and covered with untreated sores, made it pretty tough to maintain your dignity and appear to be a proud member of the Air Force.”

Sometime in April 1945, Halloran was taken to an island in Tokyo Bay where other prisoners of war were kept—the Omori POW Camp. There he was reunited with his command pilot, Snuffy Smith, and he met Pappy Boyington. It was wonderful to be with fellow American flyers again. This was cause for great elation and hope. Halloran said it took him and Smith a while to recognize each other because of their dirty and emaciated condition. During one of his conversations with Pappy Boyington, Pappy remarked about his Medal of Honor award, “Right now, I would trade it for a hamburger sandwich!”

The 32 captives thought about their fellow crew members who were in planes gunned down by enemy fighters. They were racked with hunger and talked incessantly about food because they received only half of the rations given to other allied prisoners. B-29ers like Halloran were treated as “special prisoners”—classified as being guilty of murder for “the indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians.”

Although they suffered atrocities at the hands of the enemies, there were incidents that buoyed their spirits. Halloran recalled his experiences at the food gardens they had made nearby. He was especially appreciative of the good Samaritans—the Japanese ladies—who, at the risk of being killed, would give them beans to stave off hunger.

Rumors surfaced that the Navy and the Marines were about to liberate them from the prison camps, but there was no way to confirm such rumors, which caused them more mental anguish. “It was hard to believe that the war might end or we would be freed. We POWs were on a death list and were told we would be killed by one of six methods—such as being shot, beheaded, poisoned or drowned—if an invasion occurred or the war ended.” On the fateful day of their liberation, Halloran remembered being called back to camp, along with other prisoners, from their work area so they could listen to the emperor, who was making a speech.

“Later the cruel guards left and all records in the camp office were burned, but we were allowed to mix with other prisoners. Food and supplies were dropped into our camp by B-29s on August 27th or 28th. We were finally liberated by Marines and taken onto the hospital ship USS Benevolence in Tokyo Bay on August 28, 1945. Aboard the Benevolence, I could not contain my excitement for a bath, clean pillows and sheets, and food. I consumed 17 Milky Way candy bars in less than a day. Euphoria was written in our eyes. It was the best day of our lives,” said Halloran. “An armistice was signed on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. I was flown home and spent months in a hospital in West Virginia as we learned to cope with civilian life after the POW ordeal.”

Discharged from service in September 1946, Halloran’s return to the mainstream of life was not without considerable effort. “At first, I found it very difficult to ‘return to normal.’ I tried hard but my progress was slow.” He eventually got married and established a career in the transportation business. But spasms caused by his treatment in the hands of the enemy would take its toll on his personal and family life.

He said he had to live with constant and recurring nightmares for forty years, often dreaming about his free fall from the plane, the fire bombing, and the beatings. At some point he reasoned that there had to be a cure from the incessant nightmares. So directly facing those nightmares that haunted him at night, he went to Japan in 1984 and faced the people and places that caused the nightmares. He met interpreter and guard Kaneyuki Kobayashi and WWII Japanese air ace Saburo Sakai, who helped him the following year to locate the Toryu fighter pilot who shot down their B-29. Although he never found the pilot, he finally was able to put the past behind him and the healing began. He continued to visit the places that mattered most to him.

On January 27, 1989, Halloran traveled to Saipan—44 years after his B-29 crew left Saipan on its final high-altitude mission to Tokyo. Over the years, he would continue to travel to Japan and the Northern Marianas to relive the past and gain closure.

Hap concluded our interview with the statement, “I have made 11 or 12 return trips to Japan since 1984 and have made many friends throughout that country. After a period of understanding, forgiveness, and objective judgment, the evil feelings I held against Japan were replaced by a genuine feeling of reconciliation, respect, and friendship.”

(This IL Magazine writer was the only media representative invited to travel with Hap Halloran to Tinian on April 19th, 2008.)

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