WATSONTOWN — A bombardier aboard a B-29 Superfortress serving in the Pacific during World War II was killed in action during one of the most significant actions against Japan as World War II was grinding to an end.

First Lt. Earl Dutrow was killed when he and his crew came under fire May 23, 1945, in the South Pacific. Dutrow and the rest of the crew parqachuted from the crippled plane about 14 miles off the coast of Japan. The men had taken part in a mining strike, which was part of the long-range bombing runs over the Japanese homeland.

According to the War Department, the men parachuted after making radio contact with a submarine in the area. Rough seas, with waves of 20 or more feet were reported, and darkness limited crews attempting a rescue. Three of the men — Sgt. Howard L. Stein, Sgt. Robert R. Canova and Cpl. Charles Smith — were recovered by the submarine at daybreak after being spotted by a rescue plane.

The late May run included more than 520 B-29s, which attacked urban and industrial areas south of the Imperial Palace. It was the largest number of B-29s involved in a single mission during World War II.

During the night of May 23 into the early hours of May 24, the bombers targeted their industrial sites along the west side of Tokyo Harbor. Seventeen bombers went down, among them the bomber carrying Dutrow and his crew.

Overnight May 25-26, more than 460 B-29s took to the skies to pound urban areas of Tokyo, south of the Imperial Palace and north of the bombing targets from two days earlier. Nineteen Japanese fighters were taken out and 26 B-29s were shot down, the largest single-day loss of B-29s during the war.

Reports indicated the bombing runs crushed the spirit of the Japanese people, who prior to November 1944 had not worried about attacks on their homeland. The runs of May and June had a devastating effect and by the time the Japanese surrendered in August, more than 50 percent of Tokyo had been reduced to rubble.

American planes routinely dropped leaflets and pamphlets warning residents of the impending bombing runs. Over half a million civilians were killed and another 5 million displaced.

Dutrow’s family was originally notified that he was missing in action. His family received word of his death shortly thereafter. Capt. Richard P. Chambers, chaplain of the 9th Bomb Group, wrote, “Written words seem so inadequate, and yet in love and esteem we do sincerely wish to do what we can. So to words of sympathy from his commanding officer and other friends I add my expression of sympathy and assure you of my prayer that His grace which is sufficient to our most urgent needs will be yours in full measure. (II Corinthians 12:9).

“You have by now been informed by the War Department and his commanding officer that Lt. W. Earl Dutrow has been reported missing in action since May 23, 1945, when, with the rest of the members of Lt. Joseph Lewis’ crew, with whom he was flying, he parachuted out of his crippled plane into the ocean... as they were returning from a mining strike.”

The men parachuted into what was reported to be heavy seas from a storm.

“Lt. Dutrow was a very highly esteemed bombardier in our 9th Bomb Group,” the chaplain continued. “He showed real courage and devotion to high duty by continuing in combat flying for his country after more than one ditching in the ocean and perilous experience. His queit, friendly way won him some real friends who truly miss him. I saw them briefly at their plan just before take-off and commended them to God’s almighty keeping, and so we still commend them and you, confident that He will see them through.”

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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