Jul 14

The One That Got Away

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 12:01 AM


Downed aviators captured in Japan during World War II usually met a cruel fate. Here’s the tale of one that got away.

On 14 July 1945, the air group from the carrier Shangri-La launched a raid on Hokkaido, in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of Japan. One pilot flew so low through the thick cloud cover that he slammed his Helldiver into the side of a mountain. He died instantly.

However the crash only knocked out the rear gunner, ARM 1/c Oliver Rasmussen, a 23-year-old Sailor who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. Rasmussen came to, evaluated the situation, and scrambled away from the wreck into the hills to avoid capture. He spent the next two weeks evading Japanese patrols, living off the land, and heading for the coast, where he figured his chances of rescue were better.

On 31 July he reached a farmhouse near the ocean. He noticed a cow chewing its cud staked in the yard. That night, the gunner crept up to the cow, milked it, and gorged himself. It was his first real nourishment in two weeks.

Rasmussen decided to wait in the area for a chance to signal a U.S. aircraft. For the next nine days he fed himself by what he could grab from cellars, gardens, and that cow. “I used to watch the farmer when he came out to milk the cow,” Rasmussen later recalled. “He sure was puzzled.” Because the cow wasn’t producing, the farmer turned her loose. For the next five weeks, Rasmussen survived on frogs’ legs, eggs from birds’ nests, and food he took from a network of local farms.

By mid-September, the resourceful Sailor had noticed that American planes had begun to fly unusually low over the area without being shot at. He concluded the war was over.

On the 19th, Rasmussen decided to risk going into the nearby town of Tomakomai. The chief of police gave him a cigarette and told him the war had indeed ended. The officer mentioned a rash of milk, rice, and vegetable thefts from nearby farms over the last month. Rasmussen denied knowing anything about it. The Japanese gave him hot food and a hot bath, and then turned him over to U.S. soldiers from Chitose.

Rasmussen returned to his ship by the end of the month.

  • I came across Rasmussen’s fabulous story while researching “Whirlwind”, about allied air ops over Japan. He was the subject a short memoir, “Chippewa Chief” in 1991, describing 68 days on the ground in Japan, evading capture the entire time. One of the greatest evasion stories ever.

  • Paul Mucciarone

    My father served with Chief Rasmussen in VC-33 homeported out of NAS Atlantic City in the early 1950s. My brothers and I grew up with sea stories about my dad’s squadronmate who was shot down in Japan, evaded capture, and wouldn’t allow the Navy to classify him as a POW after his repatriation.

  • Rasmussen was one lucky individual. During the Battle of Saipan, none of the American airmen who bailed out behind Japanese lines survived, and they did not die dignified deaths. I have the names and stories of several who are still listed as MIAs. I also made contact some years back with a navy photographer’s mate who was assigned to go ashore on Saipan and take photos of the remains of Americans who fell into Japanese hands. Those photos must be somewhere, but I have not been able to find them.

  • From every war and policing action (?) since WWI tens of thousands of US military have been imprisoned, tortued, suffered and died in the lands of countries we fought. How many are still alive is a mystery to American families. We now do business with the very companies that used Americans in their factories. Air Force people were bled for technology and information, never to return. Good ole American politicians & businesses don’t let this hinder their MONEY sources.
    YEA! Time heals most wounds- The SCARS and TEARS remain as a constant reminder as to WHO the VILLIANS Really are!
    This GREAT COUNTRY of OURS has made the ULTIMATE SACRAFICE in fighting & supporting Every nation in the world at one time or another! Some Americans realize who these nations are that now spit on USA! You are all welcome! Welcome to kiss my …
    God Bless and HELP America.
    Joe, ole NAVY goat, honoring our MIA’s and OUR TROOPS and their FAMILIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!