Son of Thomas T. and Ruth Denman
75 Years Later, Uncovering The History of a Downed Flier Over Nara's Higashiyoshino
Aug 15, 2020
By David Caprara
On August 1st, 1945 , 21-year-old Pennsylvania native CPT Thomas W. Denman took off in a P51D Mustang from Iwo Jima in clear weather for a fighter strike mission in Kansai. The trip was over 1,200km long and took more than 10 hours. The P-51D were single-seat fighter planes equipped with M2 Browning .50 calibre machine guns. For air raids over Osaka, they served primarily as support and reconnaissance for large bombers like the B-29 "Super Fortresses."
At approximately 10:45AM, one of the plane's engines was hit by antiaircraft fire north of Yamato Koriyama Airfield in Nara Prefecture and began spewing oil and coolant. The aircraft was unable to get enough altitude to clear the mountains bordering the Yamato basin — the final obstacle between the strike location and the home stretch of the open sea. Other US fliers reported that Lt. Denman parachuted out of his plane and appeared to have landed safely in the cedar forests of Takami-mura before his plane slammed into the mountains.
These days Takami-mura is incorporated within the village of Higashiyoshino. This village is famed for being the village where the last Japanese wolf was captured before its extinction and for centuries has relied on forestry to support its economy.
The Ouda Police Chief and several police officers also gave statements on their recollection of the events. They reported that Denman was captured by the Tokubetsu Keibitai and was held for a time blindfolded with hands tied in the office of the mayor of Takami-mura. He was handed over to the Nara Kenpei Tai at around 16:30 in Haibara and later passed over to Sakurai.
The Sgt. Major of the Nara Prefecture Kenpai Tai had been investigating the site of another P-51 crash that occurred at the same time Denman went down and in roughly the same general location. This plane was piloted by Phillip Benjamin Ingalls and was downed in the Asakura mountains of Kurosaki, which is today a part of Sakurai City. US records indicate that these two lost planes were for some time confused to have been the same crash.
Denman was held in the same Osaka POW camp outside of Osaka Castle and likely made contact with these surviving members of the B-29 crew that crashed on the side of Mt. Omine several weeks earlier as there were less than 20 American prisoners in this camp at the time. Korean nationals Seungky Lee and Chullchai Park were incarcerated in this same prison in August 1945 and remembered speaking with Denman.
There would only be two weeks left in the war and Japan was running out of resources. Days after his capture, the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One wonders if the captors of these POWs received word of these bombings and if they had any sense how close the country was coming to capitulation. Perhaps Denman and the other POWs had a sense that the camp would be liberated.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. Most of the POWs in this camp were executed and Lt. Thomas W. Denman was among them. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown, but his captors were tried in war tribunals and given sentences ranging from two years to life in prison. His remains were relocated to Owasco Rural Cemetery in Skaneateles, Onondaga County, New York, USA. He was buried next to his father.
As time moves on, memories of war fade. Perhaps there is something to gain from leaving a record for those who care to dig and uncover the path. It is for these people that this history is written.
Thomas Floyd Denman
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