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Vet publishes book about an unrecorded piece of WWII history

By on October 25, 2017 in Articles with 0 Comments

Fred Samples self-published a book about the WWII history of the Sakishima Islands, where some Japanese kamikaze pilots were trained.

By Vicki Olson Carr

A young man is sitting in the dark in the middle of the night looking at a glowing radar screen. Alone. He is at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida studying the Southeast sector of the United States

He is to determine whether the blips on the screen are friend or foe aircraft passing between Cuba and U.S. The Cuban Missile Crisis is at its peak. President Kennedy has issued his directive to the Soviet Union to get their war weapons out of Cuba or else.

The whole world is holding its breath, or so it seems to 23-year-old Fredio Samples who is feeling absolutely alone this night, like world peace is resting on his shoulders alone. His heart pounds and he is drenched with sweat as he studies the radar screen intently and compares it to the information coming through on the teletype.

Later, this Air Force enlistee from rural Kentucky went with due respect and humility to ask his superior officer why he had to face this awesome responsibility alone.

All the man had to say was: “Well, you really had to do some growing up, didn’t you?”

Maybe this test was what put Fred — the name he prefers to use — on the list of radar operators to be sent to remote SE Asia during the beginning stages of the Vietnam conflict.

Arriving at Naha on Okinawa, Fred is directed to find a bunk in the transit barracks. “Don’t unpack. You’re not going to stay here,” he hears. Bewildered, he learns soon that he is on his way to Miyako-jima Island, a 7-mile by 12-mile island, largest of the seven semi-tropical Sakishima Islands which are closer to Taiwan than Okinawa.

It is 1964 and he is to identify all air traffic in this sector of the east China Sea. “We had to identify everything that flew,” he said. “And China was only 80 miles west of us.”

In his off duty hours, exploring this small, flat island covered with sugar cane fields, Fred found underground bunkers and an airfield with two bomb craters on it. In 1872 the Japanese government incorporated the Sakishima Islands into Japan, and they became strategic in Japan’s invasion of China prior to WWII.

During WWII, US forces gained control of the Philippine Islands, and continued their sweep north toward Japan invading island after island. Training kamikaze pilots on this remote island was a last ditch effort to destroy the airfields of US planes — that is, the aircraft carriers that infiltrated the seas around the Japanese Islands.

One day Fred saw a cloud of dust headed toward the base. A local father and son were leading a horse with a large bomb trailing behind tied to a rope.

“Dozo, dozo (please),” the younger man said, pointing to the “USN” stamped on the bomb. A munitions crew from Okinawa was flown in to remove it and drop it safely into the sea.

Fred also noticed the indigenous population was very nervous and frightened when planes flew overhead. “It was years after the war, but they still flinched and reacted,” Fred explained as he thought about this remote corner of the world.

These reminants of WWII on Miyako-jima Island piqued the young Airman’s interest.

The first three nights on Miyako-jima Island, he had terrifying dreams of Japanese soldiers shooting up the barracks. Later he felt the aura of death — some call the Spirit of Death — lingering in the dark alleyways of Nobaru village.

He heard the anguished stories of locals and saw the reminders of Japanese WWII activities training kamikaze pilots on the island. Though he searched diligently and returned to Miyako-jima Island in 2004 and 2007, he could not find any war history documents.

It all came to a head when Fred retired and decided to record the historical evidence he had been collecting for 47 years.

Fred is the first to admit he is not a history buff nor a writer, so organizing his research notes and island experiences took years of thought and time.

However, Wings over Sakishima was self-published by Fred in 2010. He writes in the book’s introduction: “Wings over Sakishima is my contribution to those of our greatest generation. We will always remember them as long as we have their true recorded history.”

In November when the U.S. honors its veterans — fewer and fewer who remain from WWII — Fred feels especially gratified that he was able to preserve a slice of world military history, which had gone unnoticed and unrecorded.

He hopes Nobaru’s restless Spirit of Death is at peace.

Wings over Sakishima is available in the North Central Washington Regional Library system, and King County, Snohomish County and Skagit County libraries, as well as 60 other libraries across the United States.

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