A True Story of Courage


By James Bradley

Formats and Prices




$12.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 30, 2003. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Over the remote Pacific island of Chichi Jima, nine American flyers-Navy and Marine pilots sent to bomb Japanese communications towers there-were shot down. Flyboys, a story of war and horror but also of friendship and honor, tells the story of those men.

Over the remote Pacific island of Chichi Jima, nine American flyers-Navy and Marine pilots sent to bomb Japanese communications towers there-were shot down. One of those nine was miraculously rescued by a U.S. Navy submarine. The others were captured by Japanese soldiers on Chichi Jima and held prisoner. Then they disappeared. When the war was over, the American government, along with the Japanese, covered up everything that had happened on Chichi Jima. The records of a top-secret military tribunal were sealed, the lives of the eight Flyboys were erased, and the parents, brothers, sisters, and sweethearts they left behind were left to wonder.

Flyboys reveals for the first time ever the extraordinary story of those men. Bradley’s quest for the truth took him from dusty attics in American small towns, to untapped government archives containing classified documents, to the heart of Japan, and finally to Chichi Jima itself. What he discovered was a mystery that dated back far before World War II-back 150 years, to America’s westward expansion and Japan’s first confrontation with the western world. Bradley brings into vivid focus these brave young men who went to war for their country, and through their lives he also tells the larger story of two nations in a hellish war.

With no easy moralizing, Bradley presents history in all its savage complexity, including the Japanese warrior mentality that fostered inhuman brutality and the U.S. military strategy that justified attacks on millions of civilians. And, after almost sixty years of mystery, Bradley finally reveals the fate of the eight American Flyboys, all of whom would ultimately face a moment and a decision that few of us can even imagine.

Flyboys is a story of war and horror but also of friendship and honor. It is about how we die, and how we live-including the tale of the Flyboy who escaped capture, a young Navy pilot named George H. W. Bush who would one day become president of the United States. A masterpiece of historical narrative, Flyboys will change forever our understanding of the Pacific war and the very things we fight for.


Begin Reading

Table of Contents

A Preview of The China Mirage



Copyright Page

In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at Thank you for your support of the author's rights.



All these years I had this nagging feeling these guys wanted their story told.

Bill Doran

THE e-mail was from Iris Chang, author of the groundbreaking bestseller The Rape of Nanking. Iris and I had developed a professional relationship after the publication of my first book, Flags of Our Fathers. In her e-mail, Iris suggested I contact a man named Bill Doran in Iowa. She said Bill had some "interesting" information.

This was in early February 2001. I was hearing many "interesting" war stories at that point. Flags of Our Fathers had been published recently. The book was about the six Iwo Jima flagraisers. One of them was my father.

Indeed, scarcely a day passed without someone suggesting a topic for my next book. So I was curious as I touched his Iowa number on my New York telephone keypad.

Bill quickly focused our call on a tall stack of papers on his kitchen table. Within twenty minutes I knew I had to look Bill in the eye and see that stack. I asked if I could catch the first plane out the next day.

"Sure. I'll pick you up at the airport," Bill offered. "Stay at my place. It's just me and Stripe, my hunting dog, here. I have three empty bedrooms. You can sleep in one."

Riding from the Des Moines airport in Bill's truck, I learned that Stripe was the best hunting dog in the world and that his seventy-six-year-old owner was a retired lawyer. Bill and Stripe spent their days hunting and fishing. Soon Bill and I were seated at his Formica-topped kitchen table. Between us was a pile of paper, a bowl of popcorn, and two gin and tonics.

The papers were the transcript of a secret war crimes trial held on Guam in 1946. Fifty-five years earlier, Bill, a recent U.S. Naval Academy graduate, had been ordered to attend the trial as an observer. Bill was instructed to report to the "courtroom," a huge Quonset hut. At the entrance, a Marine guard eyed the twenty-one-year-old. After finding Bill's name on the approved list, he shoved a piece of paper across a table.

"Sign this," the Marine ordered matter-of-factly. Everybody was required to.

Bill read the single-spaced navy document. The legal and binding language informed young Bill that he was never to reveal what he would hear in that steaming Quonset hut / courtroom.

Bill signed the secrecy oath and he signed another copy late that afternoon when he left the trial. He would repeat this process every morning and every afternoon for the trial's duration. And when it was over, Bill returned home to Iowa. He kept silent but could not forget what he had heard.

Then, in 1997, Bill noticed a tiny newspaper item announcing that vast stashes of government documents from 1946 had been declassified. "When I realized the trial was declassified," Bill said, "I thought, Maybe I can do something for these guys now."

As a lawyer, Bill had spent his professional life ferreting out documents. He made some inquiries and dedicated eleven months to following where they led. Then one day, a boxed transcript arrived in the mail from Washington. Bill told Stripe they weren't going hunting that day.

The transcript contained the full proceedings of a trial establishing the fates of eight American airmen—Flyboys—downed in waters in the vicinity of Iwo Jima during World War II. Each was shot down during bombing runs against Chichi Jima, the next island north of Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was coveted for its airstrips, Chichi Jima for its communications stations. Powerful short- and long-wave receivers and transmitters atop Chichi's Mount Yoake and Mount Asahi were the critical communications link between Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo and Japanese troops in the Pacific. The radio stations had to be destroyed, the U.S. military decided, and the Flyboys had been charged with doing so.

A stack of papers my brother found in my dad's office closet after his death in 1994 had launched me on a quest to find my father's past. Now, on Bill's table, I was looking at the stack of papers that would become the first step in another journey.

On the same day my father and his buddies raised that flag on Iwo Jima, Flyboys were held prisoner just 150 miles away on Chichi Jima. But while everyone knows the famous Iwo Jima photo, no one knew the story of these eight Chichi Jima Flyboys.

Nobody knew for a reason: For over two generations, the truth about their demise was kept secret. The U.S. government decided the facts were so horrible that the families were never told. Over the decades, relatives of the airmen wrote letters and even traveled to Washington, D.C., in search of the truth. Well-meaning bureaucrats turned them away with vague cover stories.

"All those years I had this nagging feeling these guys wanted their story told," Bill said.

Eight mothers had gone to their graves not knowing the fates of their lost sons. Sitting at Bill's table, I suddenly realized that now I knew what the Flyboys' mothers had never learned.

History buffs know that 22,000 Japanese soldiers defended Iwo Jima. Few realize that neighboring Chichi Jima was defended by even more—Japanese troops numbering 25,000. Whereas Iwo had flat areas suitable for assault from the sea, Chichi had a hilly inland and a craggy coast. One Marine who later examined the defenses of both islands told me, "Iwo was hell. Chichi would have been impossible." Land troops—Marines—would neutralize Iwo's threat. But it was up to the Flyboys to take out Chichi.

The U.S. tried to blow up Chichi Jima's communications stations for quite some time. Beginning in June of 1944, eight months before the Iwo Jima invasion, American aircraft carriers surrounded Chichi Jima. These floating airports catapulted steel-encased Flyboys off their decks into the air. The mission of these young airmen was to fly into the teeth of Chichi Jima's lethal antiaircraft guns, somehow dodge the hot metal aimed at them, and release their loads of bombs onto the reinforced concrete communications cubes atop the island's twin peaks.

The WWII Flyboys were the first to engage in combat aviation in large numbers. In bomber jackets, posing with thumbs up, they epitomized masculine glamour. They were cool, and they knew it, and any earthbound fool had to know it too. Their planes were named after girlfriends and pinups, whose curvy forms or pretty faces sometimes adorned their sides. And inside the cockpit, the Flyboys were lone knights in an age of mass warfare.

In the North Pacific in 1945, the Flyboys flew the original "missions impossible." Climbing into 1940s-era tin cans with bombs strapped below their feet, they hurtled off carrier decks into howling winds or took off from island airfields. Sandwiched between blue expanses of sky and sea, Flyboys would wing toward distant targets, dive into flak shot from huge guns, and drop their lethal payloads. With their hearts in their throats, adrenaline pumping through their veins, the Flyboys then had to dead-reckon their way back to a tiny speck of landing deck or to a distant airfield their often-damaged planes never made it to.

The Flyboys were part of an air war that dwarfed the land war below. In 1945, the endgame in the northern Pacific was the incineration of Japan. This required two layers of bombers in the sky—huge B-29s lumbering high above with their cargo of napalm to burn cities, and smaller, lower-flying carrier-based planes to neutralize threats to the B-29s. My father on Iwo Jima shared the same mission with the Chichi Jima Flyboys: to make the skies safe for the B-29s.

Japanese military experts would later agree that the napalm dropped by these B-29s had more to do with Japan's surrender than the atomic bombs. Certainly, napalm killed more Japanese civilians than died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

Most of the Chichi Jima Flyboys fought and died during the worst killing month in the history of all warfare—a thirty-day period in February and March of 1945 when the dying in WWII reached its climax. If you look at a graph charting casualties over the four years of the Pacific war, you will see the line jump dramatically beginning with the battle of Iwo Jima and the Flyboys' assaults against mainland Japan. And few realize the U.S. killed more Japanese civilians than Japanese soldiers and sailors. This was war at its most disturbing intensity.

It was a time of obscene casualties, a time when grandparents burned to death in cities aflame, and kamikaze sons swooped out of the sky to immolate themselves against American ships. It was the time of the worst battle in the history of the United States Marine Corps, the most decorated month in U.S. history, a valorous and brutish time of all-out slaughter.

By February of 1945, logical, technocratic American military experts had concluded that Japan was beaten. Yet the empire would not surrender. Americans judged the Japanese to be "fanatic" in their willingness to fight with no hope of victory. But Japan was not fighting a logical war. Japan, an island nation, existed in its own moral universe, enclosed in a separate ethical biosphere. Japanese leaders believed that "Japanese spirit" was the key to beating back the barbarians at their door. They fought because they believed they could not lose.

And while America cheered its flyers as its best and brightest, the Japanese had a very different view of those who wreaked havoc from the skies. To them, airmen who dropped napalm on defenseless civilians living in paper houses were the nonhuman devils.

This is a story of war, so it is a story of death. But it is not a story of defeat. I have tracked down the eight Flyboys' brothers and sisters, girlfriends, and aviator buddies who drilled and drank with them. Their relatives and friends gave me photos, letters, and medals. I have scoured yearbooks, logbooks, and little black books to find out who they were and what they mean to us today. I read and reread six thousand pages of trial documents and conducted hundreds of interviews in the U.S. and Japan.

The families and friends of the Flyboys could only tell me so much. Their hometown buddies and relatives had stories of their youth and enlistment. Their military comrades had remembrances from training camp up until they disappeared. But none of them—not even the next of kin or the bunkmates who served in the Pacific with them—knew exactly what happened to these eight on Chichi Jima. It was all a dark hole, an unfathomable secret.

In Japan, some knew, but they had kept their silence. I met Japanese soldiers who knew the Flyboys as prisoners. I heard stories about how they were treated, about their interrogations, about how some of the Flyboys had lived among their captors for weeks. I met soldiers who swapped jokes with them, who slept in the same rooms.

And I ventured to Chichi Jima. Chichi Jima is part of an island chain due south of Tokyo the Japanese call the Ogasawara Islands. On English maps the chain is called the Bonin Islands. The name Bonin is a French cartographer's corruption of the old Japanese word munin, which means "no man." These islands were uninhabited for most of Japan's existence. They literally contained "no peoples" or "no mans." So Bonin translates loosely into English as No Mans Land.

I hacked through forest growth in No Mans Land to uncover the last days of the Flyboys. I stood on cliffs with Japanese veterans who pointed to where they saw the Flyboys parachute into the Pacific. I strode where Flyboys had walked. I heard from eyewitnesses who told me much. Others revealed a great deal by refusing to tell me anything.

Eventually, I understood the facts about what happened to Dick, Marve, Glenn, Grady, Jimmy, Floyd, Warren Earl, and the Unknown Airman. I comprehended the "what" of their fates.

But to determine the "why" of their story, I had to embark upon another journey. A trip back in time, back 149 years, to another century. Back to when the first American military men walked in No Mans Land.



When others use violence we must be violent too.

Yukichi Fukuzawa, quoted in Japan: A Modern History

IN the nineteenth century, the United States transformed itself from thirteen tiny colonies hugging the eastern seaboard to a continental giant stretching from sea to shining sea. America accomplished this with a government policy of ethnic cleansing. As ethnobiologist Melvin Gilmore later observed: "The people of the European race in coming into the New World have not really sought to make friends of the native population, or to make adequate use of the plants, or the animals indigenous to this continent, but rather to exterminate everything they found here and to supplant it with plants and animals to which they were accustomed."

Alexis de Tocqueville, the perceptive chronicler of early America, noted that he often heard fine Christian Americans casually discuss the extermination of Indians:

This world here belongs to us, they add. God, in refusing the first inhabitants the capacity to become civilized, has destined them in advance to inevitable destruction. The true owners of this continent are those who know how to take advantage of its riches. Satisfied with this reasoning, the American goes to the church, where he hears a minister of the Gospel repeat to him that men are brothers and that the Eternal Being, who has made them all in the same mould, has imposed on them the duty to help one another.

There was a sense among white European Christians of themselves as civilized and "Others" who were not. The slaughter of these Others brought little hand-wringing—it was, after all, the normal course of things in the nineteenth century, the original era of Darwinian thought. In his book The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin predicted, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world." Teddy Roosevelt, who often wrote of the winning of the West, observed, "Of course our whole national history has been one of expansion.… That the barbarians recede or are conquered, with the attendant fact that peace follows their retrogression or conquest, is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway."

Teddy, like so many of his countrymen, found nothing wrong in even the most barbaric American actions. In December of 1864, an audience in a Denver theater applauded wildly as on stage an ordained Methodist minister displayed the results of the latest encounter between the civilized races and the Others. The minister's name was John Chivington—Preacher John. Preacher John was a volunteer in the cavalry. Days earlier, he had led an attacking party to Sand Creek, Colorado, where they had surprised and massacred at least 150 Indian children, women, and old men. The braves had been away hunting.

What elicited the roars of approval from the Denver theater audience was not just Preacher John's tale of "victory" but the grisly evidence. A pile of hacked Indian penises brought laughter. Applause greeted American soldiers who displayed hats over which they had stretched the vaginal skin of Indian women.

None of Denver's civilized residents saw much wrong with this. No one was ever charged with any wrongdoing. The grateful people of Denver made Preacher John a deputy sheriff, a job he held until he died peacefully in his sleep forty-eight years later at the age of seventy-one.

Teddy Roosevelt not only approved of this atrocity, he thought it was one of the single great moments in American history. About the Sand Creek massacre he said, "In spite of certain most objectionable details… it was on the whole as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier."

Almost the entire West was ethnically cleansed of Indians in the same manner, by American soldiers acting on government orders to remove the Red Devils from their land by imprisoning them on reservations or killing them. As Teddy said, "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth."

The extermination and confinement of the Indians won America only part of the continent. Much of the West was held by Mexicans, people whom Senator Thomas Corwin of Ohio called a "half-savage, half-civilized race." Colonel Stephen Austin, who dealt with Mexicans for years, informed his government that "they want nothing but tails to be more brutes than the Apes." Unitarian minister Theodore Parker said that Mexicans were "a wretched people; wretched in their origin, history and character," a race destined, regardless of American policies, to "melt away as the Indians before the white man." American expansionists felt they had a "Manifest Destiny" to bring Christian civilization to Mexican lands. Or, as Walt Whitman, America's greatest poet, put it: "What has miserable, inefficient Mexico—with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the new world with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission!"

President James Polk fomented a conflict Americans called "the Mexican War" (later, "the Mexican-American War"). The Mexicans referred to it as "the U.S. invasion." Ulysses S. Grant, later a general and president, fought in the war as a young man and wrote in his memoirs that "we were sent to provoke a fight" and that the war was "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation." Mexico was unprepared for the invasion and after two years of slaughter ceded her vast territories of California, New Mexico, and what is now Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of Arizona in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

On February 2, 1848, just as diplomats from the United States and Mexico were about to sign the treaty, one of the Mexicans turned to American commissioner Nicholas Trist and remarked, "This must be a proud moment for you; no less proud for you than it is humiliating for us." To this, Commissioner Trist quickly replied, "We are making peace; let that be our only thought." But Trist later wrote to his wife, "Could those Mexicans have seen into my heart at that moment, they would have known that my feeling of shame as an American was far stronger than theirs could be as Mexicans. For though it would not have done for me to say so there, that was a thing for every right-minded American to be ashamed of, and I was ashamed of it, most cordially and intensely ashamed of it."

With new lands on the west coast and excellent new ports as bases, expansionists continued the tradition of gazing westward for opportunity, looking out to America's far west—the Pacific Ocean.

To the Americans of the day, the significance of the Pacific meant first and foremost oil. Generations before black crude was tapped from the earth, whale oil greased the gears of the Industrial Revolution and lit the streets of America. Wildcatters from New England roamed for years over the Pacific, which to them was "a vast field of warm-blooded oil deposits known as sperm whales." Whaling was big business, a major component of the American economy. Herman Melville estimated that by the 1840s the American whaling industry employed 18,000 men aboard 700 ships, reaping a harvest of $7 million annually.

The whaling business was driven by hardy seamen and entrepreneurs who risked fortunes and life and limb on dangerous multiyear voyages over a scarcely charted wilderness. One of these entrepreneurs was Nathaniel Savory, a Massachusetts native who sailed off to the Pacific in 1814 at the age of twenty. Savory spent ten years in and around Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands), which was the main Pacific base for American crews who increasingly turned their attention to the rich whaling grounds near Japan.

Realizing a need for provisioning outposts nearer to Japan, Savory—in true manifest destiny Yankee spirit—looked west from Hawaii for a suitable harbor to found his whaling supply enterprise. Whalers stopping in Hawaii told him of a tiny uninhabited island near Japan with natural springs. So in May of 1830, at the age of thirty-six, Nathaniel Savory sailed west from Pearl Harbor with twenty-two other adventurous men and women on a three-thousand-mile-long trip to seek their futures on the beautiful island of Chichi Jima.

In 1848, Congressman Thomas King of Georgia, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Naval Affairs, held hearings to discuss how America might span the Pacific. The government was already subsidizing four steamship lines in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. A Yankee line across the Pacific would be a significant boon to American commerce. But while steamships could conquer the Atlantic, the Pacific was far too wide.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest physical feature on the planet. If all the world's landmasses were placed in the Pacific, there would still be room left over for an additional Africa, Canada, United States, and Mexico. The Pacific is two and one half times larger than the Atlantic Ocean, hiding mountain ranges that dwarf the Himalayas.

The most compelling witness to testify before Congressman King's Naval Affairs Committee was the Navy Department's chief oceanographer, Lieutenant Matthew Maury. Lieutenant Maury placed a large globe before the committee's congressmen. Maury bent over his satchel and extracted a long piece of white string. He placed one end of the string on San Francisco. Then he ran the string across the blue expanse to the next landfall, the Hawaiian Islands. Steamships had proven their ability to reach Honolulu, 2,100 miles from San Francisco. But it was the next leg, from Honolulu to Shanghai, at 4,700 miles, that posed the big challenge. Marine engines of the time burned so much coal that if enough were brought along to fuel such a long journey, there would be scant room for any other cargo.

All eyes were fixed on Lieutenant Maury's globe as he ran the white string from Hawaii to Shanghai. The congressmen could see that the string ran through the Bonin Islands—No Mans Land—on its journey to Shanghai. Maury explained that if they established a coal depot there—perhaps on Chichi Jima—the steam trip to Shanghai was possible. Honolulu to Chichi was a distance of 3,200 miles. After coaling there, a steamship could easily make the last leg from Chichi Jima to Shanghai—a distance of 1,500 miles.

The implications of this simple demonstration were staggering, Lieutenant Maury explained to the congressmen. A letter, a person, or a pinch of tea now took eighty days to traverse the British route from New York to Shanghai, which went across the Atlantic and around Cape Town, a distance of twenty thousand miles. By exploiting the strategic location of Chichi Jima, the U.S. could reduce the journey's length by two thirds. "It is in our power to establish and control the most rapid means of communicating with… China," Maury explained to the hushed room. "By establishing the quickest lines of communication to the Orient, the U.S. could break up the [British] channels of commerce [in] the Pacific and turn [these channels] through the U.S." It was clear to the congressmen that Lieutenant Maury was suggesting no less a prize than commercial domination of the Pacific.

There was one catch to the plan, however. No Mans Land lay perilously close to Japan. How would Japan react to America establishing a coaling station on Chichi Jima, so near its mainland? Did Japan consider No Mans Land part of its territory?

Nobody knew.

Japan was a closed book. Western ignorance of Japan was not the fault of the westerners but the design of the Japanese. For two hundred years, Japan had been shut tight. By national law, a Japanese could not leave Japan and no outsider was allowed in. Death sentences were meted out to any who gave foreigners information about the land of the gods. Almost no maps and no books existed in the English-speaking world describing the closed land.


On Sale
Sep 30, 2003
Page Count
416 pages

James Bradley

About the Author

James Bradley is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Imperial Cruise, Flyboys, and Flags of Our Fathers, and a son of one of the men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.

Learn more about this author