A Wartime Trip Down Memory Lane For An American Tracing His Roots

A wartime trip down memory lane for an American tracing his rootsRalph Neal, the nephew of a U.S. airman shot down over Japan in World War II, visited a memorial here Aug. 4 near the crash site where his uncle's plane went down.
For Neal, 58, who shares the same name as the relative he never met, it was an emotional occasion. His uncle survived the crash, was taken to Hiroshima and died as a result of the atomic bombing that occurred days later.

The elder Neal's B-24 bomber, dubbed “Lonesome Lady,” took off from Okinawa on July 28, 1945, to attack a Japanese battleship anchored off Etajima island in Hiroshima Bay.

It was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Kure, just east of the island, and crashed into mountain terrain in what is today the Ikachi district of Yanai.

Airman Neal and seven crew members managed to bail out, but were captured.

Of the eight, pilot Thomas Cartwright and a co-pilot were sent to Tokyo, where they survived the war and were eventually sent home. Neal and the remaining five crew members were detained in Hiroshima.

According to Neal, his uncle survived the initial Aug. 6, 1945, blast by jumping into the moat of Hiroshima Castle, but apparently died from radiation exposure two weeks later.

In August 1998, residents living near the Lonesome Lady crash site erected a monument called "Heiwa no Hi" (monument of peace) to pass down the memory of the bomber's crash and to pray for peace.

Historian and hibakusha Shigeaki Mori was a boy when the bomb was dropped.

Much later in life, Mori, now 78, got in contact with Cartwright, the Lonesome Lady’s pilot, and for the 70th anniversary of the crash, he invited Neal to visit the monument to his uncle’s downed plane.

Dozens of local residents greeted Neal at the monument on Aug. 4, including 79-year-old Yoshitaka Fujisato, who recalled seeing the bomber go down 70 years ago.

"I saw two parachutes come down and barefooted Americans being taken away by the police," Fujisato said as Neal listened attentively.

Neal looked around the site and said the green scenery reminded him of Kentucky, where his uncle grew up. He thanked the locals for their warm welcome and told them he made the visit because he wanted to share the memories of losing someone dear to him with those who suffered the same.

"We were able to share such an opportunity because of the peace we have now,” Fujisato said. “We hope to share our belief that wars are absolutely unjustifiable."