As we reflect on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II over this past weekend, it is a good time to remember the men behind the victory in the Pacific. The lucky number 7 was unlucky for World War II Hero Fiske Hanley who passed away this week at the age of 100. On his 7th combat mission over Japan in March of 1945 his B-29 was laying marine mines by parachute about 400 miles south of Tokyo when his plane was shot to pieces by the largest Battleship of the Second World War, the Yamoto that was on its way to fight the American fleet at Okinawa.
The Yamoto was the mightiest warship yet constructed. Possessing the greatest firepower ever mounted on a vessel—more than 150 guns, including nine 18.1-inchers that could hurl 3,200-pound armor-piercing shells on a trajectory of 22.5 miles. Fiske’s B-29 did not stand a chance. He was one of only two crewmen who survived and was captured by a group of angry farmers who were about to kill him when a local policeman risked his life and went into the mob and pulled him to safety. The policeman put him in the local jail and gave him the only medical treatment for his wounds he would receive for many months. Unfortunately he was turned over to the Japanese version of the Gestapo, the dreaded Kempei Tai.
Fiske died last week on August 9, just days from the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Japan. He touched the lives of thousands with his speaking and his book entitled “Accused War Criminal: An American Kempei Tai Survivor.” Speaking at a Veterans Parade Medal of Honor Banquet last year he said “My life and the life of every Allied Prisoner of War was saved by the Atomic Weapon. The Japanese had written orders to kill every POW the minute American troops set foot on the home islands of Japan.”
His favorite audience was junior high students who would hang on his every word. He always recited the same truth. He told them “Freedom is not free. Every generation must earn it and we are only one generation away from losing it. It was the American Constitution that made America great, not all that hogwash you hear now a days.”
Mr. Hanley was a people person who never met a stranger. His best friend was his fellow Pacific War hero, Hershel “Woody” Williams who received the Medal of Honor for gallant action the day they raised the flag over Iwo Jima. “Woody” took out 7 Japanese pillboxes using only a flamethrower. “Woody” Williams said of Fiske. “The Commandant of the Marine Corp made him an honorary Marine for bombing the beaches of Iwo Jima prior to our arrival, creating some fox holes to provide us with cover.”
Being the Grand Marshall of Military Parades was another way he gave back and brought visibility to the 16 million servicemen and women of the Second World War.
Fiske served in the National Board of State Funeral for World War II Veterans, with Illinois State Chair Mr. John Galer. The organization is a national Veterans Non Profit that has as its mission to convince President Trump to hold a State Funeral in Washington for the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. 473 servicemen received the MOH during the Second World War. Today, only two remain. “Our country has had many State Funerals for Generals, but never one for an enlisted man.” said Fiske Hanley’s friend Don Ballard, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War. This funeral would serve as a proper final salute to the greatest generation. The idea for this state funeral came from Rabel McNutt, a 10 year old public school student in Dallas.
Illinois State Chair Mr. John Galer stated, “Fiske was a national treasure who loved America.”
As we reflect on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, let’s contemplate on the men behind the victory. Men like Fiske Hanley.