It’s been nearly 70 years since Tom Cartwright was a prisoner of war (POW) in Japan during World War II. And it’s been nearly 70 years since the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima where his fellow crew members died.
The 68th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima was recognized last month on Aug. 6.
The Moab resident recorded the story in small book called “A Date with the Lonesome Lady”, now on sale at Back of Beyond Books.
The U.S. Army Air Force dropped the first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945 on Hiroshima. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.
Cartwright was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force. He flew a B-24 called the Lonesome Lady, which was struck by artillery after it dropped bombs on the Battleship Haruna at a Japanese naval base on the island of Honshu. He and his crew members bailed from the plane, and were soon captured by the Japanese. They were blindfolded and taken to Hiroshima, where they were imprisoned.
He had been told that if he was captured by the Japanese, “to tell them anything that we knew because they would already know it or it would not aid them.”
Even though Cartwright gave simple, honest answers when questioned, he was accused of lying and sent to Tokyo for further interrogation.
“As I left my crew in Hiroshima, I felt a bit sorry for myself,” he said.
He left Hiroshima on Aug. 1, 1945. It saved his life.
He was questioned and threatened for a few days, he said, but a week later interrogators questioned him intently about what he knew about a “new kind of bomb.”
He said that when he was sent to his cell, a large Japanese soldier brandished a sword. He was then blindfolded and taken out of his cell. He was pushed to his knees and his head was pushed down.
“Beheading was a common fate of many POWs,” he said.
He heard shouts, was pulled to his feet and was returned to his cell.
“I was not interrogated again,” he said.
A few days later he heard the Japanese national anthem being played, and then the recorded voice of Japan’s emperor announcing their surrender.
His diet improved: The daily rice ball was bigger, and now included fish. Guards asked him about his family. He was sent to a POW camp on a small island in the Tokyo Bay and was soon rescued by U.S. Marines.
He found Bill Abel, the tailgunner, at Okinawa. He looked for his other buddies from the Lonesome Lady, but couldn’t find them. He had hope they would show up. He returned to the states, received a promotion, married his girlfriend and continued to wait for word about his crewmembers.
He heard nothing.
A few weeks after he returned home he read a book that included photos of Hiroshima.
“It dawned on me that was were my crew was interned,” he said.
The families of the crew were later informed that the men were killed in Hiroshima, but there was no mention of the atomic bomb.
“They all died quickly. They all died horrible deaths,” he said.
Cartwright said it was a disservice to the families and to the American public for the military officials to keep it a secret.
“Years later under the freedom of information act, a documentary film producer uncovered the truth and made a film about it,” Cartwright said. “Still it seems to be a little known fact.”
Andy Nettell, owner of Back of Beyond Books, loved Cartwright’s book.
“It is a piece of WWII history that is utterly fascinating and unknown, Nettell said. Because it has a local connection, I push it as much as I can.”
Nettell said that the book store tried to do an event with Cartwright years ago, but he didn’t want to be in the limelight. That made Nettell respect him even more.
Nettell said he is approached weekly by local authors, who have either self-published or who are working with a publishing house.
“I’m always happy to bring in those titles with a couple of criteria,” Nettell said.
If the books don’t sell, he needs to be able to return additional copies to a distributor or publisher; and there needs to be discount rate.
He said he is happy to talk with prospective authors before they publish.
“Because if they ask the right questions before a book is published, it will save them a lot of time and heartache,” Andy Nettel said. “Few know what it takes to get into distribution and into stores.”