Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lieutenant Marcus McDilda, Unsung Hero of World War II

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.


sgtmm606 said...

Hello, after the war my father returned home to Dunnellon, Florida where he worked in the road construction business until he retired. He loved living and working in that small community. He never spoke much about what he went through as a prisoner of war. He passed away in August of 2008 in a nursing home in Merritt Island, Florida. Thanks for blogging about my father's small part in a big war. He never thought he was a hero, he always gave praise to the guys that didn't get to come home like the majority of the guys who experienced the war.

Thanks again,
Marc McDilda

fran n ray said...

I recently gave a talk about The end of the war and refered to the role of Marcus McDilda. Are you aware of the fact that "The Longest Mission" devotes a page and 1/2 to his "interview" by the Japanese. I feel his role although inadvertant was significant.So glad to see Marc's comments.I'd like to "talk" to Marc about his dad.
Ray Dubner
16BG 315BW

randy said...

Hello all-Wow, small world...I was just looking through the end of Pacific War to get a feel for what my Dad went through. (Like many, he didn't speak of it, and he's now gone.) I ran across the McDilda story, and thought of how fortuitous it was for him to be creative. Without that lie born of desperation, he wouldn't have lived. And then I wondered about what happened to him--did he get to go home and raise a family that otherwise might not have been here? In reading on Wikipedia and then doing a Google, I wind up here, where there's a reply from a family member...too cool. My family is also from north Florida--I think alot of our Dads found what they saw in that war too hideous to bring home. They loved the peace and quiet of their small communities and friendships.

Taipan said...

Like about a million other guys my father was on the ships sitting just out of range of the Japanese bombers waiting for the big push onto the home islands. I wonder how many lives were saved and new lives that would never had been without the events that came together that night. Thanks to the crew of the Boomerang and the courage and quick thinking of Lt. McDilda it was a price we didn't have to pay.

Ed Saadi said...

God bless your dad and all our service men

RickNam70 said...

I'm reading William Craig's book "The Fall of Japan" originally published in 1967. In it, he describes the interrogation of Marcus McDilda and his creativity. Craig is an excellent author who also wrote "Enemy at the Gates" about the Battle of Stalingrad. I am not a fan of revisionist historians who try to use what we know in 2016 to divine what the leaders in in 1945 should have done. Truman and his advisors made the decision to drop the atomic bomb. In my opinion, it saved tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, lives, both American and Japanese.