Lieutenant Marcus McDilda was a P-51 pilot who was shot down over Japan in the closing days of World War II. In fact, he was captured the day after the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. His kempeitai interrogators very much wanted information about the new American weapon. (As my collaborator pointed out, McDilda didn’t know *** about the bomb.) When the interrogators realized he knew nothing, they beat him for several hours. A Japanese officer came into McDilda’s cell, drew a samurai sword, pressed the blade against McDilda’s face hard enough to draw blood and told the American that if he didn’t come clean, he was going to cut McDilda’s head off then and there.
At this point, McDilda had an epiphany, saying, “Oh! THAT atomic bomb!” He focused on remembering what he had learned in high school chemistry several years before. In desperation, he improvised, informing his fascinated captors that the Americans had developed a process of separating positive and negative charges, then putting them in a large bomb with a lead sheet between the two, and when the bomb was dropped, the lead sheet fell away, allowing positive and negative charges to meet, causing a huge explosion. Intrigued, his captors demanded to know what the next American atomic target was. Again, McDilda improvised, solemnly telling them that the next target would be Tokyo within twenty-four hours. His captors decided that he obviously possessed such valuable information that they shipped him to Tokyo for further questioning. When McDilda go to Tokyo, he met with an American-educated physicist who asked him exactly what he knew. At that point, McDilda confessed that he knew absolutely nothing about atomic energy, and he had made the whole story up. He and the physicist both broke out laughing.
McDilda’s desperate improvisation saved his life. The other fifty American POWs he’d been held with, all B-29 crewmen, were all murdered by the Japanese in the waning days of the war. McDilda may also have played a part in ending the war. The report that Tokyo was the next target was passed along to Imperial Headquarters and might very well have influenced the Japanese decision to surrender. I have not been able to find any record of what Lieutenant McDilda did after the war, but he certainly qualifies as an unsung hero.