First Lt. Bob Normile, now living in Pine Brook in Venice, Fla. was copilot of the C-54 that flew Gen. Douglas MacArthur from Manila to Okinawa, Japan on Aug. 28, 1945, for the surrender ceremony ending World War II.
Five days later, the general, aboard the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Harbor, presided over the official end of the most devastating war in world history.
The process began a dozen days earlier when Lt. Gen. Torasirou Kawabe, vice chief of the Japanese Army’s General Staff and a delegation of high-ranking Japanese officers, flew to Ie Shima Island, off Okinawa, as part of the advance surrender party.
The surrender delegation was instructed by MacArthur’s staff to fly two Japanese “Betty” bombers to Ie Shima, painted white with green crosses on their wings, tails, and bodies. When the enemy delegation arrived on the tiny Pacific island, they were to board a C-54 transport plane that whisked them to Manila, in the Philippines, for an initial surrender session with MacArthur.
Normile, now 85, picks up the story from there.
“I was at the airport in Manila when the Japanese delegation landed. Staff cars took them to MacArthur’s headquarters in the city hall. It was one of the few buildings in Manila still standing that wasn’t damaged beyond recognition.
“The Japanese officers had to take off their Samurai swords and leave them on Col. Dusty Rhodes’ desk in the outer office,” Normile explained. “Dusty was the general’s chief pilot.”
The officers spent some time with MacArthur being told their parts in the upcoming surrender ceremonies aboard the Missouri on Sept. 2, less than two weeks away. After their meeting with the general, they spent the night in Manila, climbed back aboard the transport plane they’d arrived in and flew back to Ie Shima. From there, they got aboard their Betty bombers and returned to Tokyo.
Orders were cut, and on Aug. 28, 1945, MacArthur and his staff would fly to Yokohama, Japan, for the surrender. They flew in three four-engine aircraft – a C-54 named “Bataan,” a B-17 and a B-24. Those who made this historic trip included:
*Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme Allied commander.
*Lt. Gen. Richard K. Southerland, chief of staff.
*Maj. Gen. Richard J. Marshall
*Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney
*Col. Roger O. Egeberg
*Col. Sidney F. Mashbir
*Col. Herbert B. Wheeler
*Col. H. Bennett Whipple
*Lt. Col. Weldon E. Rhodes
*Maj. Karl E. Oviatt
*Maj. Victor E. Skov
*1st Lt. James R. Normile
*1st Lt. John W. Shoemaker
*2nd Lt. Gaetano Faillace
*2nd Lt. Yoshito Fujimoto
*2nd Lt. Kay I. Kitagawa
*Warrant Officer JG Wilbur J. Collins
*WOJG Fred R. Harrison
*WOJG Virgil H. Lewis
*Mr. Castro (civilian)
“I flew aboard the Bataan, MacArthur’s C-54, as co-pilot, with Col. Rhodes flying pilot,” Normile recalled. “During the flight, MacArthur came forward and Col. Rhodes introduced him to me. He didn’t carry on a conversation with me. He only noted there were many dials on the plane’s instrument panel. Then the general turned and walked away.”
When they landed at Okinawa, on the first leg of their journey to Japan, Normile switched planes. He became the copilot on the accompanying B-25 carrying the rest of the general’s staff. A major took over as copilot on the plane MacArthur was in and flew the remainder of the way to Yokohama with Col. Rhodes still flying the C-54.
They weren’t allowed to go into Tokyo after arriving in the port city. MacArthur stayed in the New Grand Hotel that had recently been built in Yokohama. Normile and all the air crew were billeted a short distance away in what had been Japanese officer’s barracks.
Before this mission was over, the young lieutenant and MacArthur’s flight crew flew generals here and there all over the Pacific. They even flew Jean MacArthur, the general’s wife, and their son, Arthur, to Yokohama. The child was named for the boy’s grandfather, who received the Medal of Honor at the Battle of Lookout Mountain in the Civil War and later became governor of the Philippines.
On the wall of Normaile’s Venice home is a note from Jean written years later recalling their flight to Yokohama. Normile and Col. Rhodes took her to meet her husband in Japan shortly after the surrender. Mrs. MacArthur invited the flight crew to dine with her after landing in Okinawa before reaching Yokohama.
The note written on stationery headed Waldorf Astoria Towers, New York City and dated May 19, 1987, mentions the dinner with the crew that she attended in Okinawa during the flight to Japan.
On another flight, they also took a group of generals on MacArthur’s staff to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to witness firsthand the terrible destruction done by the two atomic bombs dropped by American forces in WWII.
“We landed and walked around Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he said. “Both cities were practically obliterated. A few concrete buildings and some steel beams were all that was left.”
Possibly the most poignant encounter he had was when he met Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who was left in Corregidor, Philippines in 1942 as commander of all the Allied forces in the area. The general was forced to surrender to the Japanese. MacArthur, who had been commander and Wainwright’s boss, was ordered by President Roosevelt to escape by PT boat to Australia. Wainwright spent three years as a Japanese prisoner and looked as thin as a scarecrow when he stepped off the plane.
“They had just gotten Gen. Wainwright out of a prison camp. He was flown to Asaugi Airport, 15 miles outside Yokohama, in time for the surrender ceremonies. I met him at the airport and took him and Gen. Kruger, commander of the 6th Army, into Yokohama in an old Japanese car. I listened to the two generals talking about retirement and what they were going to do after the war.
Wainwright signed the surrender document for the United States. MacArthur signed as Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific. Many more high-ranking Allie officers signed for their respective countries. In addition, a small delegation of vanquished Japanese military men and civilians were marched aboard the Missouri to sign the surrender ending the war the Empire of Japan launched when it attacked Manchuria in the early 1930s.
Normile wasn’t aboard the battleship during the surrender. He said, “I If I had been there, I probably wouldn’t have seen anything because I’m so short. Everyone on board would have been taller than me.”
Where was he when his boss, Gen. MacArthur, was bringing down the curtain on World War II?
“I was standing on a dock in Yokohama a few miles away, watching our fleet fill the harbor,” he said. “Soldiers from the 7th Cavalry Regiment disembarked from a nearby ship. With banners waving, their regimental band was playing beautiful marching music for the troops who were coming ashore. There I was, all by myself 10,000 miles from home, watching one of the greatest events in history.”
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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Venice man recalls trip to place where Ernie Pyle died – Bob Normile flew paper’s rep to site where reporter shot
Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Monday, Sept. 20, 2004
Author: DON MOORE; Senior Writer
A week or so ago I wrote a story about 1st Lt. Bob Normile of Venice, Fla. who was the co-pilot on the B-17 bomber that flew Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Okinawa on his way to the surrender ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945 aboard the battleship USS Missouri that ended World War II.
Normile and several other multi-engine pilots were part of the general’s official transportation staff. They saw to it that MacArthur and other high ranking members of his entourage were where they needed to be when they needed to be.
Okinawa played a key role during the war in the Pacific. It was the last major island battle of the Second World War. There was also another little island, a couple of miles from Okinawa that figured prominently in the closing days of the war, Ie Shima.
This is the island that the advance Japanese surrender delegation flew into in their “Betty” bombers on Aug. 20, 1945. MacArthur ordered three enemy bombers painted white with green crosses on their wings and body. The Japanese delegation was taken in an American C-54 transport plane by Normile’s group to Manila, Philippines to meet with the supreme commander in the South Pacific.
Much better known by the guys out there fighting the war in the Pacific was the death of Ernie Pyle, Scripts-Howard, beloved war correspondent, who was killed on Ie Shima on April 18, 1945. He spent the war in the foxholes with the front line troops writing about the every day troubles of the “foot sloggers.”
Pyle had seen enough fighting for several life times by the time he arrived at Ie Shima near the end of the war.
He joined Scripts-Howard before WW II and he was with our soldiers in North Africa when Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps beat the stuffings out of them at the Kasserine Pass. This was the first engagement in which a division of U.S. soldiers went head-to-head with the Germans in the war. He took part in the invasion of Sicily before the Normandy invasion of mainland Europe a few months later.
Pyle spent the rest of the war in Europe writing about our troops from a front line foxhole as they fought against Hitler’s forces in France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.
Not satisfied he had completed his job, the diminutive Scripts-Howard reporter continued on to the Pacific to cover the last year of the war. Pyle was with the 77th Infantry Division on le Shima Island when his time came. They were trying to take the tiny speck of sand away from a contingent of Japanese Imperial Marines.
As usual, he was up front where the shooting was going on crouched behind a barricade of palm logs with a group of American soldiers. When he stuck his head above the logs to see what was happening, an enemy bullet hit him squarely in the forehead.
A month or so later Bob Normile became involved in the Pyle story. The young Air Force lieutenant was ordered to fly co-pilot in “Bataan,” MacArthur’s C-54 transport, along with Col. Dusty Rhodes, the general’s chief pilot, on a special flight to le Shima to transport a single passenger.
“We were to fly a man named Howard, I don’t recall his first name, from Manila to Ie Shima,” the 83-year-old Venice man said. “I think he may have been accompanied by someone from the general’s staff.”
Howard was obviously a senior representative of the Scripts-Howard newspaper chain.
“He had a big wreath with him. It was maybe four or five feet in diameter,” Normile explained. “He was going to place it on Pyle’s grave.”
Normile and Rhodes never landed at Ie Shima with the newspaper man. The runway on the little island was too short so they flew into Okinawa which had longer runways capable of accommodating the four engine C-54.
Howard continued on his journey in something a bit smaller, probably a twin-engine C-47 transport plane. It’s not likely there was much more than a crude marker at the site where Pyle was killed because the battle was still going on.
“As I recall it was just before the war ended when we flew the newspaper chain’s man to Okinawa,” Normile said. “It must have been around the end of August 1945.”
Ernest Taylor Pyle is buried in the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii together with thousands of other American servicemen who lost their lives in the Pacific during World War II.
Today an obelisk marks the spot on Ie Shima where America’s best loved World War II newspaper reporter died doing what he did best, covering the troops at the front. Near the top of the marker is a bronze plaque of the Statue of Liberty. The inscription below reads:
“At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, ERNIE PYLE, 18, April, 1945.”