How did one pilot end up accepting the surrender of an entire Japanese airfield at the end of WWII?
Major Robert K. Diers was born in Boise, Idaho on June 12, 1920. Growing up in Mackay, Idaho, he attended Idaho State University before enlisting in the Army Air Corp in 1941. He would complete his advanced pilot training at Luke Field (now Luke Air Force Base). In his time at Luke, he became close friends with legendary pilot Dick Bong, the “Ace of Aces.”
Diers served as the instructor for two classes of Chinese cadets at Luke Field before eventually being assigned to the 311th Fighter Group. Diers would serve as operations officer for the 529th Fighter Squadron and commanding officer of the 528th Fighter Squadron (known as the “Dragonflies”) and would fly a P-51 in the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI).
Someday between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Aug. 6 and 9, respectively) and V-J Day, Diers was one of the pilots tasked with strafing a Japanese airfield. What happens next depends on whose story you are to believe. In either version, it ends with Diers accepting the surrender of an entire Japanese airfield.
In the January 1981 issue of the Ex-CBI Roundup, Ewing W. Kinkead references the story by writing:
“Then there was the time between A-Bomb number two and V-J Day that for no reason that I could ever discern except just for the hell of it, he set his P-51 down on a Japanese airdrome and blandly taxied up the ramp. Surprised Japs scurried from sight until the local commander, a major-general, appeared and insisted upon surrendering the entire installation to him along with his samurai sword – the largest and most beautiful I have ever seen. The entire proceeding was duly recorded by the general’s own photographer whose swiftly processed record of the event was presented to the conqueror.”
While the conclusion of Diers’ personal account had the same ending, the circumstances leading up to his landing at the airfield and immediately after his landing differ from Kinkead’s version. As Diers told it, after a full day of strafing the Japanese airfield, one of his wingmen was forced down. Diers did the only logical thing and landed to pick him up. The wingman crawled into DIers’ P-51 and onto his lap, but with the Japanese approaching, they could not take off. Each man drew his pistol and agreed on the spot that they would shoot each other before being captured. Then, at seemingly the last minute, a car pulled up with the Japanese airfield’s commander and some civilian translators who let the men know that they’d be surrendering. The two were kept in a guarded building overnight (for their protection) before a formal ceremony for the surrender was held the next morning. The Japanese then repaired the wingman’s plane and allowed the two to leave.
At any rate, Diers’ work would not be over at the conclusion of V-J Day. Instead, he would be ordered to lead the pilots of his unit over the Hump to deliver new P-51 fighters to China from various points around Calcutta. Written accounts note that Diers “brought a few bottles of American whiskey,” because “Unless you were a medic, American whiskey was still something to reminisce about in Shanghai.”
In 1946, Diers would make his way back to the United States via the USCG General Scott, returning to Mackay to establish a private flying service, a car dealership and to purchase his father’s hardware store (which is still in the family today) before dying of natural causes in 1993.
You can have a great opportunity to learn more about the history of Luke Air Force Base, the heroic pilots it has produced and the future of airpower still being forged there today at Luke Days 2018, coming this March to Glendale, Arizona.