Last Mission Memorial Dedication

Remarks by Carl Peterson

August 15, 2005 / 1300

Thank you Capt Gingras, and welcome.  Today’s dedication is a great day indeed!  After 60 years, we are finally closing an open-ended circle – 60 years ago today, with the landing of the B-29s of the 315th Bomb Wing, the hostilities of the “Great War” came to an end.  

We have many people to thank for making this dedication a reality.   We couldn’t have a dedication without a monument.  This simple but prestigious monument, which we believe will become more conspicuous and prominent with time, is made out of white cement so it will not require maintenance.  We are indeed grateful to Steve Radonich of Smithbridge, Chris Rabetts the GM of Rocky Mountain Precast, and Tim Wenden, the project manager, for designing, building, and placing this tribute to the 29ers.  Thank you all very much for your sense of history and your civic involvement and consciousness.  

As we look toward the monument it is obvious others must be thanked.  The site was made clean, neat and presentable, and the coral compacted so we won’t get muddy, by the Civil Engineers up at AAFB.  The GVB staff was mesmerized with how quickly so many things got done once Chief Wicks became involved!  Thank you Chief.  

Many other departments and groups were involved from AAFB.  Protocol and Public Affairs have been actively engaged; the wing historian, Dr. John Treiber, supplied lots of background information; and many others like those who provided the communications, the Honor Guard, Maggie Aguon who sang the National Anthem and the Guam Hymn for us a few minutes ago,  Chaplain Sherouse, the escorts, those controlling the parking, and of course our narrator for today, Capt Gingras.   We want to thank all you, as well as those who may have been left out, for your tremendous support.  

We are especially pleased to have the Base Commander, Col. Boera, participating in this important dedication.  

A couple of years ago a group of volunteers started discussing the possibility of a monument at NW Field to memorialize what took place here.  We don’t know exactly how they all came together but their pro-tem leader was Dianne Strong.  She was the enthusiasm for the group and they had many, many exchanges as to what would be appropriate for the site.  Others, both downtown and on base, who were involved included: Linda Steiner, Dana Lujan, Dan Rosenbalm, and Chuck McManus from AAFB; Lynda Aguon, William Hernandez, and Joe Garrido from Dept of Parks and Rec, Historic Preservation Office; and Chris Jones and Jeff Quitugua from the Division of Aquatic & Wildlife Resources, Dept of Agriculture. (My apologies for those who may have been missed).  

About February of this year Col PK White shared his vision of Guam and NW Field getting the recognition it so richly deserves.  He said that AAFB had provided the site some time ago and that maybe it was time to insert more objectivity and less subjectivity into the equation and finally get the monument in place to memorialize the special significance of NW Field on Guam.  

Now enter GVB.  GVB, like most agencies, has not been getting its full allotment of funds and did not have the wherewithal to do the entire project itself.  GVB is not omniscient but it does have convergence so once the project was approved, available resources were assembled (others enlisted), a sense of urgency developed and the project moved forward:  the various scripts for the monument were gathered, condensed and cast onto a plaque; they contacted Smithbridge and Rocky Mountain and the rest is history as they say.  The diligent efforts of Pilar Laguana and Gina Kono are very much appreciated.  

But the REAL reason we are here today is because of the patience of a young, very energetic 80 year old (who will be 81 on Saturday) named Jim Smith.  At the time there was a surplus of pilots so Jim was assigned as a radioman on the Boomerang, which is the plane that is on the plaque; he is the author of the book THE LAST MISSION; he was the key person in The Last Mission documentary which all of us can see next Sunday on the history channel – actually his son plays the part of a pilot;  with the recent agreement for screenwriting, Jim is now on track to make a feature movie of The Last Mission; along with Mrs. Beverly Green, the grandmother of Justin Birch who is with us today, he is the inspirational leader of the 315th Association; and for 60 years he has been the untiring de facto chairman of The Last Mission memorial we will dedicate today.  While the 315th Association, and other Wings from the Marianas, are already planning a tour to this memorial in 2006, more than anything else Jim wishes he could have been here today.  This would not only be one of the highlights of his life, but because the last activity of war took place here rather than Nagasaki,  he feels it not only symbolically brings closure to WWII for those stationed in the Marianas but it also honors everyone who fought in the South Pacific.  

This field was frantically built in early ’45, primarily by the Seabees. And today we are honored by the presence of one of those Seabees, Mr. Ken Jones.  Mr. Jones stayed on Guam after the end of the war and while he has always been known as a visionary, in his heart he is still a Seabee! Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ken Jones.  

To demonstrate the urgency of building a strip here, the first elements started arriving in April of ’45, a time when conditions were still quite primitive – latrines were dug out of coral and water had to be hauled in lister bags from Agana. Formal dedication took place on June 1st 1945 and the likes of MGen Curtis LeMay; Adm Chester Nimitz; and Maj Gen Henry Larson of the Marine Corps were present.  The wing was specially trained for top secret night missions; they were specially equipped with advanced radar; in order to fly longer they were stripped of all turrets except the tail gunner; and less than 400 of the B-29 B model were made.  Their first combat mission was flown June 26th ’45.  

The mission starting the afternoon of August 14th was the longest continuous mission ever attempted – a distance 3760 miles and a duration of 17 hours.  The mission was to destroy the largest oil reserves in Japan at Akita. After holding for a long time, they finally lifted off at 4:42 local time.  They had a secret recall code.  It was APPLE – but the recall never came.  Near Chi Chi Jima Japanese radar picked them up and shortly thereafter Tokyo went black, expecting a strike.  

Documentaries and on-the-scene historians such as Samuel Elliot Morrison, tell us that on August 14th Emperor Hirohito had decided to unconditionally surrender and was to make a recording that night which would be played on the 15th.  War Minister Anami and his Generals had other plans.  They wanted to continue the war so they must kill the traitorous advisors and kidnap the Emperor who they were still spiritually bound to.  But according to the historians this plan turned into chaos and was abandoned hours after the power was turned off, and thus obviated the need for an invasion of Japan and the deaths of millions.  The Emperor’s recording was played the following day.  

The mission of the 315th was successful and all 143 planes returned safely – albeit they were in ditching positions as they cleared the cliffs approaching the landing strips because their engines were backfiring from fuel starvation.  Actually 13 had to land in Iwo Jima to get fuel in order to make it back.  

The succinct significance of this mission, as Jim would say, is The Last Mission is to Guam as Pearl Harbor is to Hawaii – Pearl was the Alpha to the war and we are the Omega.  It is truly that profound.  

And with that Col Boera, please accept this monument from the Guam Visitors Bureau in honor of the brave airmen who flew the B-29s and especially The Last Mission! Thank you.

Content ©2005, Larry Miller

October 7, 2005