WWII Veteran Tells of Time as POW

Fiske Hanley has crammed a lot of lives into his 96 years.

When asked how old he feels, “I’d say I’m in my 60s,” Hanley answered with a laugh.

In his Fort Worth home he’s proudly wearing his officer’s uniform.

"It almost fits too,” Hanley said.

In World War II, the aeronautical engineer was in charge of keeping engines running on B-29s.

“Turned out pretty good, up till’ the seventh mission,” said Hanley.

On that mission their B-29 was lit-up by a Japanese battleship.

“So they put all of our engines on fire, our bomb bay was on fire. I figured I was through,” said Hanley.

He and the co-pilot jumped out of their burning plane.

"I bailed out of this little door right here,” Hanley said while pointing to a small model plane.

They parachuted down, hitting the ground in Japan. Hanley pointed to a painting and said, “this is where I landed over here, in a rice paddy. That’s where I got captured.”

Soon after capture the torture began. He was already wounded by gunshots and plane shrapnel.

“No medical attention, one-half regular rations -- we were starving to death,” said Hanley. “And so, we were just trying to live.”

What made it worse? B-29 prisoners were classified as war criminals and treated more harshly than other prisoners.

“We were not going to live through the war no matter what happened,” said Hanley.

Held in a dungeon in Tokyo he was fed a daily food ration of rice the size of a silver dollar.

“Once a day, that’s all we got, thrown in on the dirty floor,” said Hanley.

He said his weight went from 165 pounds down to about 80 pounds. On top of that, he counted 14 times of facing imminent death, including a firing squad.

“Order comes out, guns up, click click, bullet in the barrel, I thought, ‘Boy this is it’ and nothing happened,” Hanley said.

The officer never pulled the trigger.

“Why didn’t they do it?” Hanley questioned.

He credits his survival to his faith and his body’s ability to heal his 30 plus infected wounds.

“By the time four and a half months, half of them had healed.”

More than five months after his capture, Japan’s emperor surrendered and the fighting stopped.

“It’s just all these happy people. I’m in the front row there,” Hanley said with a chuckle, pointing to a picture with other POWs who were freed. “We wanted food, candy and cigarettes.”

Years later, working on planes as a civilian back in Texas, he met a Japanese co-worker named Bill Nagase.

Hanley learned Nagase trained as a kamikaze pilot in Japan during World War II. The two became friends and Hanley later learned their paths had crossed in the tragedies of war when Hanley’s B-29 dropped a bomb on Nagase’s home.

“Well, I didn’t tell you really how bad it was. I burned his house down. He didn’t tell me this, but his wife did. I killed his mother and father -- and we’re still friends.”

Hanley was by Nagase's side when he passed away a few months ago. Nagase left him his Japanese service medal.

Hanley has traveled back to Japan several times while working to answer some of life’s toughest questions, including one that came from a little school girl.

“I said, ‘Yes, young lady, what do you want to ask?’” said Hanley. “She said, ‘Mr. Hanley, what causes wars?’ Now how do you answer that?”

Hanley has written two books about his accounts of World War II. He is also planning to go back to Japan for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He’ll be 100-years-old that year.

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