Texas Tech University

WWII Prisoner, Texas Tech Alumnus Fiske Hanley II Dies at Age 100

Glenys Young

August 11, 2020


Hanley survived captivity and torture by the Kempei Tai.

Texas Tech University alumnus Fiske Hanley II, class of 1943, died on Sunday (Aug. 9), at 100 years old. Hanley shared his life story with Texas Tech Today in 2014, and we share it with you today in his honor.

2nd Lt. Fiske Hanley II Commissioned Feb. 4, 1944.

Sleep didn't come easy.

While the world began to heal from years of war, Fiske Hanley II returned to his hometown of Fort Worth to do some healing of his own – physically and mentally. Despite months without treatment, American military doctors worked to repair the 30 to 40 shrapnel wounds from anti-aircraft fire that downed his plane over a Japanese rice paddy in 1945.

In his mind, however, the wounds stayed fresh, and horrors borne of his time as a Special Prisoner of the Japanese came alive at nighttime. Hanley was plagued by thoughts of getting shot down, and then locked up in an overcrowded, lice-ridden 5-by-9-foot dungeon at Kempei Tai headquarters in downtown Tokyo across the moat from the imperial palace. He became one of a very few who survived on half-rations for regular prisoners while the real threat of execution overshadowed each passing moment.

The Japanese labeled Hanley a Special Prisoner because he had served as crewman aboard a B-29 Superfortress – a plane used to firebomb Tokyo and other cities. Special Prisoners were considered especially abhorrent by the Japanese for killing innocent women and children during these incendiary raids. During his capture, Hanley awaited trial and certain execution and endured relentless inquisition and beatings for six months before his liberation.

His experience under the control of the dreaded Kempei Tai, the secret military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army, made regular POWs' experiences look like a vacation. He watched 62 of the 64 B-29 incarcerated crew members "disappear."

For some reason, though, death never came for him.

Afterward, the war might have been over, but his experiences swirled inside his brain in the lonely hours of the night.

Then, he took out his college typewriter from his days at Texas Tech and started to exorcise his demons. Page by page, he wrote down his experience. By writing, he said, he managed to let his own personal horror go.

"As I typed, I was happy," he said. "It was all gone. I didn't talk about it, and I lived."

Hanley's book published by Texas Tech University Press.

Hanley's book, "Accused American War Criminal" published by Texas Tech University Press, explains the war in the Pacific theater and captures his experience as a Special Prisoner. Hanley said he wanted to share his personal exorcism to show readers a very real side of the experience of war.

"After I retired in 1989, I got around to writing the book," Hanley said. "I just felt the world needed to know about this. Readers will find out that war is not good. You fight a war, you fight to win. That's what (Gen. Curtis) LeMay did. We sure killed a lot of Japanese people."

The book was originally published in hardcover by Eakin Press in Austin about 15 years ago. Texas Tech University Press' publication is the first paperback edition.

"Mr. Hanley's story is important because being held as a Special Prisoner was much worse than a 'regular' Prisoner of War, and so few Special Prisoners survived the ordeal," said Jada Rankin, marketing coordinator for Texas Tech University Press. "The fact that Fiske Hanley did survive and, at 94, is still living, is exceptional. Also, he's one of the oldest-living Texas Tech alumni."

Hanley recently visited Lubbock to promote his book and sat down to tell us his story.

Born to Fly

From his earliest memories, Hanley said he wanted to fly airplanes. Born in 1920 in Brownwood to C.W. and Esther Hanley, his family moved to Wichita Falls soon after, then to Fort Worth in 1930. His father worked as an oil executive for Gulf.

"Probably Lindbergh and people like him inspired me," Hanley said. "I spent every penny I could on model airplanes. I won a national gas model event in Detroit in 1937, setting a world record. It still stands. No one every broke it because they changed the rules. My airplane got a good wind."

He graduated in 1938 from Paschal High School, then attended North Texas Agricultural College (which would become University of North Texas at Arlington) to earn an associate's degree in aeronautical engineering before coming up to Lubbock in 1940 to earn a bachelors degree in the new aeronautical engineering degree offered at Texas Tech in 1943.

"We had to fly 35 missions before we could come home...
there was not much chance of living through all of this."
- Fiske Hanley II

"I got the notice from the draft board in the fall of 1942," Hanley said. "'Greetings, you have been selected to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.' I passed the physical, all that. I decided I wanted to graduate before this happened. When I signed up as an aviation cadet, they guaranteed me I would be allowed to graduate. Then I would go to aviation cadet school and be an engineering officer."

Before finishing at Texas Tech, Hanley said he hadn't heard any information about when or where to show up after he graduated. So, the morning after graduation, he borrowed his parents' Dodge sedan and drove to the recruitment offices to find out what he should do next.

"When do I get called," Hanley remembered asking the sergeant behind the desk.

"Here are your orders. Here is your train ticket. Go get on the train," the sergeant replied.

"Well, I had my family's car, Sergeant. how are they going to get it?'

"Don't worry. They'll find it."

So, Hanley boarded the train bound for Boca Raton, Florida, to join his cadet class and train for three months.

"This is the Army, Mr. Jones..."

At the Boca Raton Club, Hanley learned how to march, dress and behave in basic training. Three months later, he went to Yale University for six months and was commissioned a Second lieutenant maintenance officer, but was ordered to train as a B-29 flight engineer because he had received a civilian pilot license at Texas Tech.

Hanley was chosen to train on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a four-engine heavy bomber labeled the largest aircraft in service during World War II. High-tech for its time, the planes featured pressurized cabins, electronic fire-control and remote-controlled machine-gun turrets. Initially designed as a high-altitude strategic bomber aircraft, these attacks proved disappointing until the military began using the planes extensively in low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing missions.

Hanley trained on the B-29 Superfortress. The B-29 known as "Enola Gay" (above) dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945.

The planes were used near the end of World War II, and carried out a massive incendiary bombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945, later estimated to be the single most destructive bombing raid in history. On Aug. 6, 1945, the B-29 bomber "Enola Gay" flew into history after it dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

From Yale University, a few graduate engineering officers left for Seattle for three months basic training on B-29s, then went for more education as flight engineers at Lowry Field in Denver. However, with almost all B-29s involved in active duty, crews settled for training on B-24 and B-17 bombers. In the fall of 1944, Hanley left for Nebraska and met his 11-man combat crew for more training over the cornfields.

"The B-24s and B-17s were smaller airplanes," he said. "They didn't have a flight engineer station. There was a special station in a B-29 for flight engineers. They had many complicated instruments and controls. So, we got the feel of flying, feathering engines, so on. It was good training. The B-29, when we finally got to fly on them, was an entirely different kind of bird. Terrible, unproven engines. Experimental engines. R-3350s. Bad airplane. Lost a lot of them. Fires. Engines going bad. The airplane shaking itself bad. But the B-29 did what it was supposed to do and ended the war."

Final Mission

In Hawaii, Hanley visited with fellow Texas Tech graduate on the general's staff who told Hanley he would be based on Tinian in the Marianas and about Operation Olympic – the October 1945 invasion of the Japanese island of Kyushu, and Operation Coronet – the March 1946 invasion of Tokyo.

Before going to Tinian, however, Hanley, a second lieutenant, and his crew were ordered to leave their B-29 in Saipan because so many bombers had already been lost.

"They took our B-29," he said. "They flew us three miles over to Tinian on a war-weary B-24. Got there on Jan. 12, 1945, and began fighting the Japanese."

It didn't take Hanley and others on the crew to figure out just how dangerous flying B-29s had become. Before his last mission, his crew was the last of three officer crews in his Quonset hut, showing the high attrition rate. Before the crews could go home, they had to fly 35 missions. Most were lost before the war ended.

Hanley during Aviation Cadet jungle training.

On their seventh mission, March 27, 1945, Hanley and his crew dropped 12 1,000-pound naval mines in the major Japanese waterway of Shimonoseki Strait. The crew thought themselves lucky on this mission since it involved flying over water with little to no risk of attack from anti-aircraft or fighters. The mines had to be dropped with precision since they had to be swept before U.S. Forces could invade Japan's homeland on April 1.

This was not a cinch mission. The U.S. won't admit the Japanese ever broke the American code, but Kempei Tai intelligence officers told Hanley they knew of the Okinawa invasion beforehand. Plus, they knew the total American plan for the upcoming invasion of the Japanese homeland.

"Major units of Japanese fleet were right down under us in this major waterway," Hanley said. "The Japanese battleship Yamato, one of the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed, was suddenly right under us when we were accurately dropping these mines. That's when one of the search lights from the big battleship caught us. All the other ships zeroed in. I've never seen a B-29 at night that got so illuminated survive. We were stuck. I tried to keep the engines running. Our plane was totally on fire – all four engines. That was it. Only two of us got out. The co-pilot and I sitting back to back."

Hanley and co-pilot Al Andrews bailed out and parachuted down over a rice paddy. Hanley had placed a small metal shield underneath the flight engineer's seat that protected him from taking a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire, but a second shell exploded nearby and badly wounded him. On landing, an angry mob of civilians, incensed with earlier incendiary bombing of Tokyo, tried to kill both men. A Japanese police officer intervened, and it would be the third time in one night Hanley escaped death.

Andrews, the only married crewman aboard, also managed to survive the war.

"A Japanese policeman saved me," he said. "The mob knocked him down several times, but he saved me. The rest of it is in my book. Not good. We were not POWs. We were Special Prisoners to be tried and executed for killing innocent women and children. Most of the B-29 crews got killed. I didn't. For some reason."


Hanley soon learned that Special Prisoners had special rules – including no medical attention. No one attended to his flak wounds. In fact, some Kempei Tai officers purposely infected his wounds. Special prisoners got one half rations for regular POWs – a ball of rice about the size of a golf ball. Special Prisoners weren't covered under the Geneva Convention's rules on POWs, and Special Prisoners got beaten at will with rifle butts and bamboo sticks called kendo clubs.

Across a moat in front of the Emperor's Palace, he lived in squalor in the Kempei Tai's building with nine other prisoners in a fetid cell. Bathing wasn't allowed. One latrine serviced all prisoners. He survived for five months.

"The Bataan Death March people got twice as much food to eat as we did," Hanley said. "Anybody badly wounded died. We were not prisoners not of the regular Japanese Army, but of the Kempei Tai, the Japanese equivalent of Hitler's Gestapo. Only one out of 29 B-29 crewmen shot down over Japan came back. So I survived. The Good Lord. Only reason. I don't know why I survived."

"Time after time I missed being liquidated... I'm a survivor."
- Fiske Hanley II

Most Special Prisoners were continually interrogated, and the Kempei Tai questioned flight engineers the most, believing they knew the most information.

"In early April, there were 64 American B-29 prisoners. Sixty-two of them were taken out and supposedly sent to the 'nice place.' The 62 prisoners did not come back. They were massacred. A B-29 raid set this special Kempei Tai prison in a suburb of Tokyo on fire, and the Japanese killed all those that tried to get out. They were massacred. I didn't know that until after the war. I wondered what happened to them.

"Time after time I missed being liquidated."

For six months, Hanley endured interrogations and beatings. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the war with the Japanese, Emperor Hirohito surrendered on Aug. 14, but Hanley didn't know anything about these events.

On Aug. 15, all remaining 40 or 50 prisoners were handcuffed, blindfolded, secured with ropes around the neck and put on trucks. Soldiers drove them through burned-out Tokyo. Despite a blindfold, Hanley could see total destruction everywhere and a body of water that turned out to be Tokyo Bay. Prisoners were then imprisoned in Camp Omori – a regular Japanese prison camp on Tokyo Bay and much better facility than the Kempei Tai headquarters downtown.

Hanley visiting Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock.

"I thought I was back in the Boca Raton Club in Florida," Hanley said. "It was so nice compared to the Kempeis had done to us. I weighed 70 pounds, down from 160 pounds. So the war is over. I'm in hog heaven again. I was there about two weeks after the emperor spoke. Admiral Halsey moved his Third Fleet into Tokyo Bay. On Aug. 2, Gen. MacArthur said no prisoners can be released until he signed the peace treaty. Admiral Halsey said 'baloney' and some other words. 'Those are our people in Camp Omori. Go get them.' On Aug. 29, we were liberated. I was taken out to the hospital ship, the U.S.S. Benevolence, and checked over, wounds treated for the first time and saved. So, I'm alive and liberated."

From nearby ships, Hanley and other liberated prisoners watched MacArthur sign the peace treaty on the U.S.S. Missouri. Eventually, he ended up at Brooke General Hospital in San Antonio, where he continued treatment and to convalesce. After his final leave and separation from the army, he went to work for Convair, and flew as a flight engineer on the B-36. He trained Air Force crews on the B-36 peacemaker bomber.

"The human body is wonderful," he said. "Doctors don't understand me. Here I am 94 years young and healthy. I'm a survivor. It's an experience I survived. As a result of that, I probably enjoy life more than anyone. I don't let things bother me. If problems can't be fixed, I dismiss them. My lifestyle is probably very different from others."