Almanac

Community - June 15, 2011

Obituary: Hap Halloran, bombardier and POW from World War II, dies at 89

by Dave Boyce

During World War II, Menlo Park resident Raymond "Hap" Halloran found himself on the giving and the receiving ends in the air war over Japan — first as a B-29 bombardier and then, after his plane was shot down over Tokyo, as a prisoner of war. The prison camps were unmarked and thus occasional targets of apparently ferocious friendly fire, including the March 1945 fire bombing of the city.

Mr. Halloran, who died June 7 at the age of 89, experienced parachuting from his doomed airplane; humiliation as a POW when put on display in a zoo; solitary confinement; a successful business career; decades of nightmares as he tried to escape wartime memories; and, finally, relief after reconciling with former enemies, according to an autobiographical account.

A memorial is set for noon Friday, June 17, at St. Raymond Church at 1100 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park.

When invited, Mr. Halloran would talk about his experiences. He spoke in Japan at museums, temples and in Peace Parks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "They also were seeking closure," he wrote of his audiences, some of whom reciprocated by visiting him in the United States.

While visiting Japan, he met the fighter pilot who shot him down, and a "good guard" from his time as a prisoner of war, according to his account.

Mr. Halloran is survived by his sons Dan of Barcelona and Tim of Brentwood; and by his daughter Peggy of Redwood City, relatives said.

A cold dark cage

Raymond Halloran grew up in Cincinnati, the second of five boys. He volunteered for the Army Air Force following the December 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor.

After training, he joined an 11-man crew that flew a new B-29 bomber from the Midwest to Honolulu and then to an airfield in the Northern Marianas Islands, from which were launched bombing raids on the Japanese mainland.

On his crew's fourth mission, a Japanese fighter plane critically damaged two of his B-29's four engines such that it left the formation. The crew bailed out at 27,000 feet at an ambient temperature of 58 below zero, he said in his account. Five men survived, he said.

After 24,000 feet of free fall, he deployed his chute and a Japanese fighter pilot flew by and saluted him, he wrote. "A rarity," Mr. Halloran noted.

The graciousness did not last. On the ground, a crowd of civilians set upon him and administered "severe beatings," he wrote. He was nearly dead by the time Japanese soldiers came upon him and took him off to solitary confinement for 67 days in a "cold dark cage." He received no medical treatment and was forbidden to talk except when interrogated, he wrote.

He was out of solitary by the time the Allied forces fire-bombed Tokyo. "The heat, smoke and firestorm were absolutely terrifying," he wrote. Some prisoners burned to death in their cells, Mr. Halloran's son Dan said in an interview. The guards wouldn't let them out, he added.

After the fire bombing, soldiers took him to the Ueno Zoo, Mr. Halloran wrote, where they displayed him in a cage as "the hated B-29 prisoner," naked, unwashed and covered with sores from insect bites. "Conditions were extreme," he wrote. "I cried (a form of relief) and prayed constantly."

B-29 crews were new to bombing from the jet stream, Mr. Halloran told his son Dan, and were being blown off course and missing their military targets. The citizens hated them, Dan said, because "they saw them as individuals killing citizens."

His father also signed a paper purportedly nullifying his Geneva Convention rights, Dan said. "They felt they could do anything they wanted to him."

With peace came liberation to a hospital ship, then back home and months in a government hospital. He returned to civilian life and a career, but with changes, including nightmares for 39 years, he wrote.

"Very disruptive to my family life," he wrote. "In the early years after the return from POW days I absolutely tried to wipe out all those bad memories of my time in Japan. I failed."

"Dad never talked about it," his son Dan said. "We knew something was wrong. He was having nightmares and screaming and once tried to climb out a window," he said.

Relief, for a time

Relief began with reconciliation. Mr. Halloran flew to Japan in 1984 to "view people and places as they are presently," he wrote. "Positive results slowly became evident in my outlook, feelings and judgments. Understanding and reconciliation became a reality."

Alzheimer's disease proved his undoing, however. Mr. Halloran's mental strength had kept his wartime memories at bay, but they came roaring back. He entered psychotherapy with his son.

"(The memories) started to kind of take over when he was losing control of his mind," Dan said. "He thought that he was in prison camp again. It really didn't help at all."

"They're doing a lot with post-traumatic stress treatment now," Dan Halloran added. "The families really learn how to support these guys."

"It was very painful for World War II veterans when they didn't have any psychiatric help after the war," Dan said. "Basically these guys were on their own once they were physically able to get out in the world again."

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