Human cannibalism, or the practice of humans eating another human’s flesh or internal organs, was first recorded in the 17th century in New Guinea and parts of the Solomon Islands and some other places. During World War II, the gruesome act happened on the island of Chichijima in Japan on what was known as the Chichijima incident.

Warning: Graphic content.

The Capture of the Flyboys

In 1944, the US Navy bombarded the Bonin Islands repeatedly in support of the campaigns to take the Marianas, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and then Tokyo from mid-1944 to early 1945. More than one hundred American airmen were shot down throughout the period, and many of the American soldiers were held captive by the Japanese.

American troops hold up bullet-holed Japanese flag. History Collection/Pinterest

Nine airmen escaped from their planes after they were shot down during the raids on Chichijima, a tiny island 700 miles south of Tokyo. The anti-aircraft defense system of Chichijima was excellent in taking out the Americans’ planes. They were imprisoned and would, later on, all be executed, except for one who was the then-20-year-old George H. W. Bush, the future President of the United States who would escape capture and be rescued by the USS Finback.

George H.W. Bush rescued by the USS Finback. ATI(All That’s Interesting)/US Navy

Shattering The Enemy’s Ambition

In March 1945, Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso announced the fall of Iwo Jima, calling it “the most unfortunate thing in the whole war situation.” He also said that they would fight until the end “to shatter the enemy’s ambitions.”

Sergeant Siffleet’s execution at Aitape, 1943. Leonard George (Len) Siffleet (1916-43), Australian commando,  being executed by a Japanese soldier. (Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

And so, orders arrived to execute the remaining prisoners. One of them was Warren Earl Vaughn. In the book entitled Flyboys by James Bradley, Nobuaki “Warren” Iwatake, an American citizen who was drafted by the Imperial Japanese Army to serve as a radio operator and communications intercepter, shared how the truck with five navy men came to take 24-year-old Vaughn who even shook his hand to bid goodbye. He was taken to the rim of the bomb crater and was beheaded in front of 150 people.

Beheaded, Dissected, And Served

The last flyboy left at that time was pilot Floyd Hall, whom Iwatake recalled telling him that he wanted to marry his sweetheart once the war was over. In the book, it was said that Hall was friendly to his Japanese captors and even learned a few Japanese words, and that,

“Floyd attended parties and drank sake with his captors. When American bombers appeared overhead, Floyd ran into caves along with the Japanese. Floyd had always been clever—this was a guy who had worked his way up from enlisted man to officer, from cook to Flyboy. Now he was teaching himself the Japanese language and customs well enough to use chopsticks and joke with his captors. Maybe he would be lucky.”

But luck didn’t find him, as an order was issued to execute Hall, too. The Japanese officials who became friends with Hall avoided being his executioner, but in the end, he was beheaded, too, just like the other Americans that were executed before him. As if that was not enough, Hall’s body was dissected by their island doctor so that they could examine his innards. His liver and thigh were removed too. At night, the liver was “pierced with bamboo sticks and cooked with soy sauce and vegetables.” and served as a delicacy along with alcohol.

Lloyd Woellhof, Grady York, James “Jimmy” Dye, Glenn Frazier Jr., Marvell “Marve” Mershon, Floyd Hall, Warren Earl Vaughn, and an unknown airman were all victims of cannibalism, with the mastermind being Major General Yoshio Tachibana.


In  August 1946, Tachibana and other 11 Japanese were tried for the execution of the US airmen but not for the gruesome acts that they did but for murder and “prevention of honorable burial”. According to an article by ATI, one of the senior officers defended their cannibal action by saying, “These incidents occurred when Japan was meeting defeat after defeat,” he insisted. “The personnel became excited, agitated, and seething with uncontrollable rage … We were hungry. I hardly know what happened after that. We really were not cannibals.”(Note:If you eat human flesh even once, you are by definition, a Cannibal) In the end, 30 Japanese soldiers were prosecuted after the case was investigated in 1947 in a war crimes trial. Some were sentenced to life imprisonment while others, like Tachibana, were hanged.

In 2003, James Bradley published his book Flyboys: A True Story of Courage.