Going In Peace Downed Pilot To Meet Enemy’s Wife
The Japanese fighter plane attacks straight on. Its guns seek to pierce the skin of the American bomber in front of it.
B-29 pilot Robert Goldsworthy watches the fighter approach, then roll under his plane, smoke coming from its engine compartment. Did his gunner crew hit it, or is the enemy pilot pushing the throttle?
He doesn’t linger on the thought.
The .50-caliber guns of the fighter have hit home. Fire burns in the bomber. Three engines die. A wing buckles. The “Rosalia Rocket” falls.
Goldsworthy bails at 30,000 feet. He prays on the way down and lands in a rice paddy. Soldiers arrest him, the lead sergeant waving a sword.
It is Dec. 3, 1944. Goldsworthy is a captive.
In the next nine months he is beaten and starved. In a small, uninsulated wooden cell he shivers through winter. He dreams of warmth and having plenty of food. His only view is a blank wall beyond the bars of his prison.
Fifty-three years later, Goldsworthy sits on his living room sofa. He has a 10th-floor view of the Spokane River and the tree-covered horizon beyond. He is preparing to return to Japan.
At the end of September he will go to the site of his prison. He will visit the village where his plane crashed. He will meet the widow of the pilot who destroyed his bomber.
He’s looking forward to seeing her.
“I think I will just tell her I would have liked to have met Major Kobayashi and that he was a very brave and skillful pilot,” Goldsworthy says. “One pilot can appreciate the skill of another whether they are enemies or not.”
Goldsworthy and his wife Jean don’t quite know what to make of their upcoming trip.
The former state legislator and retired farmer didn’t plan it. It came as an invitation from a Japanese woman they befriended five years ago during a church service in Hawaii.
In her youth, Nori Nagasawa lived through Tokyo bombing raids that destroyed the homes where she lived. The bombs were brought by flocks of American B-29s like the one Goldsworthy flew.
Out of a war in which their countries were enemies, Nagasawa and the Goldsworthys found friendship. She has visited Spokane and urged them to come to Japan. When Goldsworthy told her about his desire to find the site where his plane crashed, Nagasawa began searching.
American B-29s followed routes on their bombing runs. By examining those, Nagasawa and a friend, historian Akiko Nakamura, were able to determine where Goldsworthy’s squadron flew and where his plane crashed: in the Chiba prefecture.
Nakamura knew the widow of a pilot who flew sorties in that area. The widow had her husband’s flight diary. The diary had answers.
On Dec. 3, 1944, Teruhiko Kobayashi recorded hitting a B-29 during a straight-on attack. Kobayashi’s own plane was damaged by gunfire and had to return to an air base.
The description fits Goldsworthy’s memory of that day. Nakamura and Nagasawa believe Kobayashi was the pilot who downed the bomber.
Kobayashi was a famous fighter pilot. He survived the war and went to the United States for jet training. In 1957 he was killed in an accident during bad weather in Japan.
Chieko Kobayashi is around 70 years old now. She is looking forward to meeting Goldsworthy, Nagasawa says.
The pair will speak through interpreters.
“She is very, very happy to meet him,” says Nagasawa during a phone interview from her home in Yokohama. “Both her husband and Goldsworthy survived the war and both were very good pilots. She is very proud of her husband and is happy to meet a very good pilot.”
His meeting with Kobayashi is a small part of the trip Nagasawa has arranged. There will also be a peace ceremony at the village near where Goldsworthy’s plane crashed.
“He is coming to stand on the same place he stood in 1944 with his parachute,” Nagasawa says. “Many, many places in Japan have changed, but that spot was still just a plain place.”
A Japanese magazine plans to publish some of his memoirs. There may be a TV interview and the Edo-Tokyo Museum has expressed an interest in some artifacts from Goldsworthy’s imprisonment - especially his boots.
They are leather, thick-soled and heavy, nails in the bottom - boots for war.
They were the only part of his uniform to survive imprisonment.
Goldsworthy still wears them sometimes.
He slips them on when he’s alone at his cabin on Priest Lake. Standing in those boots he grills a big steak, a spatula in one hand, a scotch in the other.
“I would just stand there and remember how hungry I had been in the war, in prison,” he says.
Now, the boots are in the den of his Spokane home, awaiting their trip to a Japanese museum. There are other reminders of the war in this room, part art gallery, part office.
Goldsworthy is not burdened by bad memories. The anger and bad dreams from imprisonment left a long time ago. Mementos from his stint in the service are displayed proudly.
On a wall hangs a large painting of a B-29 flying near Mount Fuji. The bomber is being harassed by Japanese fighters. It bears the tail numbers of Goldsworthy’s plane, “The Rosalia Rocket,” named after his birthplace 30 miles south of Spokane.
Goldsworthy is the only living crew member of the Rocket’s last flight. Of the 12 men on the plane, five made it to the ground alive. Only three survived the prison camps.
In the den is a small stack of papers that may also go to the museum. The sheets are soft, brown and wrinkled; more survivors of prison camp and of the 53 years since.
They contain diary entries and recipes.
“We spent most of our life writing down things we wanted to eat,” Goldsworthy says of the prison papers.
His body had rice and thin soup. His mind had pie: “Graham cracker crust, a thin layer of peanut butter, layer of chopped apples, sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon, layer of sliced peaches, a few slices of oranges, pour over a little orange juice, sprinkle liberally with mixed nuts and raisins, cover with shredded coconut, pour over a little honey, sprinkle on some more brown sugar, sprinkle on bits of sweet chocolate, cover with banana cream filling, bake, cover with whipped cream and sliced bananas and serve.”
The 6-foot-1 pilot landed in Japan weighing 170 pounds. He left 80 pounds lighter.
On his return trip to Japan in September, Goldsworthy and his wife will visit the site of the prison camp where he ended the war.
He wants to take his friend Nori and Chieko Kobayashi to this place. It’s now the site of a Chinese restaurant. He hopes to buy them dinner there. It should be warm and there should be plenty of food.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color) Map of Japan