Yes, you read that right; George HW Bush was almost cannibalized in the Second World War. On September 2, 1944, early in the morning, a squadron of American pilots involved in the Pacific theatre took to the sky. Unfortunately, only one from the group would live to see the end of their bombing mission to the Bonin Islands; the others would suffer cannibalism, torture, and death in what became known as the Chichijima Incident.
The U.S. Navy covered up the horrible truth of what transpired at Chichijima for many years. The Navy didn’t want folks back home to know that “their boys were being eaten,” as one of the men would later put it.
Regarding the survivor, A 20-year-old pilot was the only individual to escape the terrible outcome of the Chichijima Incident. He name? George H.W. Bush.
The Origins of the Cannibalistic Incident
On December 7, 1941, Japan struck Pearl Harbor, effectively bringing the United States of America into the Second World War. The Pacific theatre of the war became bloodier and thousands died once the United States entered the conflict. When George Bush was 18 years old, he vowed allegiance to the United States of America and served in the Navy when the nation called out to him.
Up until September 1944, when he was sent on a mission to destroy a significant radio tower on the Japanese island of Chichijima, George was able to remain incident-free. However, this mission was extremely risky because the tower was well-defended by the Japanese. The Americans had attacked the tower before but were forced to flee after a fierce encounter with the Japanese. Nonetheless, the admiralty insisted that the tower had to come down.
George Bush, who was twenty years old at the time, boarded his Avenger Torpedo Bomber on September 2, 1944, along with nine other airmen, and they headed towards Chichijima. George had no idea that he would be the only one to survive at the time.
The squadron encountered intense anti-aircraft fire as it flew over the island. It was so formidable that all the planes got hit and were downed. As Bush would later recall, “The plane was burning. Smoke was starting to fill the cockpit. I believed she was going to blow up.”
How George Bush Was Almost Cannibalized
Bush persisted in flying despite this, dropping two bombs on the radio tower before turning the plane back into the open sea. He knew he would have to abandon his plane, which had been mortally struck. However, before jumping, Bush sought to get as far away from Chichijima as he could. He rightly assumed that doing so may aid in his escape. Bush told his radio operator and gunner to jump when he was unable to hold out any longer.
He soon gave the order “Hit the silk!”
But only he managed to get away. The other two men were unable to jump from the plane because one couldn’t get his parachute to open and the other was dying. Terrified, Bush watched as their plane crashed into the ocean. When he landed in the waves, he realized that he was quite deep behind the enemy lines and was effectively separated from his mates.
“I believed I was done for a while there,” Bush admitted. “I was crying, throwing up, and swimming like hell. I could have made the Olympics that day because we had to get out of there.”
The 41st President of the United States swam away from the Japanese islands over the course of the following few hours, bobbing on the waves. The American aircraft flying overhead stopped the Japanese patrol boats from making an appearance, so luck was still on his side. He swam as far as he could before realizing that his attempts to stay alive were futile because he was too far from home. However, just as George began to lose hope in his ability to survive, an American submarine emerged from the depths.
As the hatch opened, a crew member greeted him joyfully. “Sir, welcome on board!” George H.W. Bush was saved.
The Madness of The Second World War
The other airmen, though, were by no means as fortunate. Surrendering was never an option according to the Japanese code of honor (hence, the advent of the kamikaze pilots). The Japanese were taught that prisoners of war were no longer men since the period of the samurai. When they gave themselves up to an enemy, they gave up their right to be regarded with respect.
The downed airmen were captured by hostile Japanese forces. The crew was swiftly beheaded after being tortured with sharpened bamboo sticks and bayonets. After their death, the airmen were stripped, and surgeons cut out their livers and muscles for consumption. According to all known information, the American airmen’s corpses were eaten with soy sauce, and other locally grown veggies, and washed down with some good sake.
Admiral Kinizo Mori stated that a chef “had the liver perforated with bamboo sticks and fried with soy sauce and veggies.”
According to Mori, the dish was a delicacy and was regarded as “healthy for the stomach.”
The Japanese believed that the human liver had excellent therapeutic qualities. There were cases of cannibalization for subsistence and also ritualistic cannibalism. In other words, the POWs were simply kept alive so that meat could be harvested from them over time, preventing spoilage of the meat supply. An arm for lunch, thigh for dinner.
They weren’t remorseful either. One of the top officers who cannibalized the American soldiers, Major Sueo Matoba, later defended his actions. He asserted, “These instances took place while Japan was suffering defeat after defeat. The staff grew excited, angry, and racked with excessive wrath. We were famished. I hardly remember what followed. Actually, we weren’t cannibals.”
The event was dubbed the Chichijima incident, and the commanders in charge of it were hung after the war. The soldiers who took part in the incident were released after serving short sentences, but seriously; can you still call yourself a man after brutally eating another man? To the Algonquian people, they are the wendigo and are burnt at stakes.
It wasn’t until James Bradley’s 2003 book Flyboys: A True Story of Courage was published that the heartbreaking truth of their deaths was made public. The public then learned what had happened to the pilots and how a president of the United States had just escaped a similar fate.
Did Bush know? Bush himself was unaware of the Chichijima event. When Bradley started writing his book in 2003, he became aware of it. Bradley described Bush’s response as “a lot of head-shaking, a lot of silence. There was no repulsion, terror, or shock. He belongs to a different generation of veterans.”
Bush’s near-death experience, and probably even worse, generates a web of possibilities for him. In a CNN interview prior to his passing in 2018, Bush speculated on what-ifs. He said, “I wonder if there was anything else I could have done. Why me? Why am I fortunate? What keeps me alive?”
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