By LtCol Mike Christy TWS Dispatches
Very little is known about the life and times of Minoru Wada except for a moment in time during August 1945; but what a remarkable moment that was.
Minoru Wada was born in the United States and followed the Japanese-American Kibei custom of traveling to Japan for his education. He attended the University of Tokyo and then the Kyushu Military Academy. The Kibei practice was to return to America after their schooling but in Wada’s case, the Pacific war broke out while he was in Japan and he was pressed into service in the Imperial Japanese Army. Wada became a junior officer in the Army’s transportation section and by 1945 he was serving with the Japanese 100th Infantry Division on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, Lt. Gen. Jiro Harada commanding.
As the war progressed, Wada detested all the killing and he became very disillusioned with the nature of war. He never believed in the warring character exhibited by the “Old Guard” of the Japanese military. After seeing war up close, more than anything he wanted peace to return to the Japanese islands and to the Japanese people. As the Pacific war moved past the Philippines, past Iwo Jima, and was passing Okinawa, Wada’s anti-war feelings began to fume as the fighting and dying on Mindanao seemed more and more pointless. Then, in the first week of August 1945, Wada was captured by American troops – defected, according to some sources – but in either case, he became a Prisoner of War.
Japanese Prisoners of War were routinely interrogated by Intelligence personnel but the interviewers found an unusually sympathetic subject in Minoru Wada. He shared his disillusioned feelings about the war and described his strong wish for the war to end. He said he would do anything, even sacrifice his own life, to stop the war and bring ultimate peace to the Japanese people. The Army Intelligence officers offered him the chance to help the Americans end the war on Mindanao but he initially refused the request, since bombing his own countrymen was something he was unwilling to do. Wada then reconsidered after going through a thought process that was eerily similar to what U.S. President Harry Truman had just gone through days before and it led Wada to the same place: perhaps it was better for a smaller number of people to be killed now than for vastly larger numbers to be killed later. For Truman, this led to his decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan in the hopes of avoiding greater losses in an invasion; for Wada, this led to his decision to help U.S. forces destroy Lt. Gen. Harada’s well concealed headquarters complex in the hopes of avoiding greater losses from prolonged and pointless fighting.
As a transportation officer, Wada had an excellent knowledge of the island and its terrain. He also knew the key locations of the command structure of the Imperial Japanese forces. Wada pointed out the headquarters location on maps but the rugged terrain and dense jungle of Mindanao’s Kibawe-Talomo Trail region meant that the only sure way for the Americans to find the complex would be for Wada to take them there. Thus the stage was set for one of the most unusual raids of the war.
On August 9, 1945, the day the second atomic bomb of the war was dropped on Nagasaki, Marine Bombing Squadron VMB-611 flying PBJ-1D Mitchell bombers and Marine Fighting Squadron VMF-115 “Joe’s Jokers” flying F4U Corsair fighters prepared for take-off from Moret Field in Zamboanga, Mindanao bound for Gen. Harada’s headquarters. Wada helped brief the pilots and then the pilot of the lead plane had to add the names of three unusual passengers to his flight manifest: Army Ground Liaison Officer and Strike Coordinator Maj. Mortimer Jordan, interpreter Sgt. Charles Imai (Wada did not speak English), and Imperial Japanese Army 2st Lt. Minoru Wada. Still dressed in his Japanese Army uniform, Wada sat in the radio-gunner’s position and looked for familiar landmarks. Speaking through Sgt. Imai, he was able to direct the bombers right to his own headquarters complex. The strike group then dropped 22,000 pounds of bombs on the area plus a healthy dose of 5-inch rockets.
Wada also identified a number of additional critical targets, and the Marines pounded the target areas with napalm, fragmentation bombs, rockets and heavy machine gun fire. The raid was extremely successful and the headquarters network was thoroughly demolished. Major Jordan later told debriefing officers, “The Japanese officer put us zero on the target and we did the rest – maybe overdid it.” The loss of the 100th Division’s command and control establishment virtually ended the fighting on Mindanao overnight.
Many aspects of this mission remained classified and the full details have still not been disclosed. For Wada, the raid brought him mixed feelings, but he did not regret his actions and firmly believed he helped save the lives of many for the sacrifice of a few.
In the peace that followed, Wada was given a new identity and appearance and a place to live by the U.S. Government. He was then allowed to disappear into history.
Photo One: Sgt. Charles T. Imai, right, interpreter, explains to the 1st Marine Air Wing fighter and bomber pilots the nature of the target as described by Minoru Wada. Maj. Mortimer H. Jordan, the air strike coordinator, stands on the left, checking the information which Wada has already given him.
Photo Two: In the waist of a Marine Mitchell bomber, Minoru Wada scans the mountains below, picking out landmarks that will aid him on leading other Marine bombers and fighters over the target. Maj. Jordan has moved forward into the nose of the bomber to take command immediately as the target is pin-pointed.