Wally identified himself as the kneeling Flying Fortress crewman who looks like a teen-ager in the front row. Clay Tice is front row left.
Wally Beene and I were colleagues in news reporting and teaching for more than half a century. He covered Vietnam. I sat at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie when the U.S. and Soviet tanks faced off tread-to-tread. On other notable occasions we managed to use a birdwatching stamp acquired aboard a tourist bus as a visa to cross the Iron Curtain from (then) East Germany into (then) Czechoslovakia.
But in the one-upmanship contest, Wally takes the prize.
Just before his recent death, Wally told me of his participation in a surrender ceremony at Nittagahara airbase in Japan a full week before Gen. Douglas MacArthur made his historic appearance in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship Missiouri.
Wally had managed to enlist at the age of 16 and was only a couple of years older when he was flying as a waist-gunner on a version of the B-17 Flying Fortress on rescue patrol off the coast of Japan. The message came through to them that a U.S. P-38 with a fuel problem had landed on Japanese soil at Nittagahara.
His flight leader, Clay Tice, followed him down, meanwhile “keeping my fans turning for a rapid departure if necessary.” Wally remembers his pilot, 2nd Lt. Edwin Hawkins, saying: “I’m going down, too. They could use our transfer pump to gas up the P-38.”
After about a half hour with the three planes parked on a deserted runway, Tice recounted in his official report that “a Japanese on a bicycle saw us and hurried away … Shortly thereafter two Army officers with several soldiers approached and saluted.”
I asked Wally what the atmosphere was like at this point, and he remembered that all parties seemed to be observing “be nice.” Tice said he vetoed sidearms under the axiom: “When you are on enemy ground and they outnumber you, discretion is the better part of valor.”
While the B-17 crew was handing out their rations to children who had gathered around the plane, Japanese families reciprocated with homemade candy. “It was like a local fair!” A Shinto priest appeared on a bicycle in his flowing black robe and “fly-swatter” hat. Next came the town mayor dressed in striped pants, gray spats and a black tophat.
Meahwhile, through the use of a pocket dictionary, Tice had talked the Japanese into providing a hand-operated pump to transfer fuel to the stranded P-38.
When a Japanese officer later handed over his sword, Tice remembers, “I had no thought of taking the ‘surrender of Japan!’ “ Later the entire episode was squelched by MacArthur for just this reason.
One postscript supplied by Wally: When Tice was taxiing toward takeoff, his P-38 cockpit canopy flew off. The mayor, one hand holding down his top hat, came running with coattails streaming while he held the canopy in the other hand. It was returned with many bows.