February 7, 2019

1945. Downs Writes Home from Postwar Asia

Letters from Asia After the Japanese Surrender
Bill Downs' Noncombatant's Certificate of Identity issued on July 17, 1945
Bill Downs wrote these letters home to his family in Kansas City, Kansas while touring across Asia in mid to late 1945 with an airborne press corps led by Tex McCrary.
October 3, 1945
(Over the China Sea en route from Singapore to Manila)

Dear Folks,

The past two weeks I have been completely out of touch, but now we are rounding up this tour of the Far East and I should be able to get this letter in the mail at Manila. It has been a damned interesting trip. We covered something like 8,000 miles in a couple of weeks...had the required number of adventures and got shot at a few times. This part of the world is not going to be peaceful for a long time.

When we left Tokyo we got caught in a monsoon in Okinawa that grounded us for two days...really a terrific wind that had everything but Dorothy Lamour...then we flew on in to Hong Kong. The city is very little damaged and the British are making the surrendered Japs work like hell...a good thing too.

From Hong Kong we really went into the tropics and landed at Rangoon in Burma. Not much of a story there, but one of the most fantastic pagodas in the world. Colorful and dirty. Then over to Bangkok in Siam where we had our first taste of a revolution. There is some shooting in the streets but not too much. Also had my first bona fide Chinese meal there. It consisted of 14 courses including shark fin soup, bird's nest soup, roasted sparrows, octopus and lotus seeds. Really terrific.

From Bangkok, where we were the guests of the government, we went to Saigon in Indochina. Jim McGlincy and I got into trouble there. You must have read his story and I hope CBS used mine so you probably know the details. The colonel that was killed was a hell of a nice guy...it was all very unfortunate. Thank God we were able to turn up a bottle of whiskey. It sure helps the courage.

I was damn glad to get out of Saigon and on to Singapore. There we met Lord Louis Mountbatten, stayed a day seeing the sights and went on to Batavia in Java where they are working up another revolution. There it is the Indonesians, a nice quiet little people who're ready to start shooting any minute. They don't want the Dutch colonists back, but I'm afraid they're going to get them anyway. There wasn't any shooting in the capital and we had a quiet time. Found a full-fledged night club going complete with a native boogie-woogie pianist.

However, the most fantastic thing about the trip are the Japs. Their behavior has been perfect. Where they are still armed, such as in Indochina and Java, they are helping the Allies to preserve peace. In most places they outnumber our troops by a hundred to one, and if they wanted to turn on us it would be slaughter. But thus far they have been exemplary in their behavior. You would never have known they had been fighting us.

We are heading back to Tokyo now. I don't know what the future plans are. I would like to return to New York with this junket, as I think there will be another attempt made to fly direct to New York from Tokyo. However we are getting short-staffed out here with people going on vacations and it looks like I will stay around this part of the world for a while.

I'll let you know what my plans will be as soon as I find out myself. I undoubtedly have mail from you waiting for me in Tokyo. I have come through this thing so far in good health, even losing some weight. But that happens all the time in the tropics. They can have the equator...it's simply too damn hot.

Take care of yourselves and let me know the news.



October 12, 1945

Dear Folks,

Back in Tokyo and working like hell again...and glad to get out of an airplane for a while even if it is a B-17. Have been having typhoons all over the place that have been keeping us well dampened, including the rice crops that have been flooded pretty well into the sea. It's going to make a great difference in the food situation here this winter...and some estimates are that already one million people are due to die in this country from starvation.

I hope I get transferred to China...will be more pleasant there. Incidentally pardon this typewriter but it's a Jap job and the only thing available. My typewriter and files and checkbook and even my passport were stolen out of our plane in Manila. Now I'm back starting from scratch again.

Have been feeling pretty low lately for some reason. Don't like this part of the world mainly and have been feeling sorry for myself. But I'm over it now and feeling better again.

Incidentally, I heard the other day that Chris Cunningham, who now is in China, will be heading up Tokyo way. Bill Dickinson should be back in the States now. He said he would give you a ring when he passed through KC.

I hope to do an article for Collier's if they want it. The proposition is still in the air.

Right now we are living in a big office building...the Tokyo Electric building. We sleep in the accounting office on army cots...not very comfortable but better than a tent. Hope to get lined out in a hotel soon.

I have been out several times to Japanese dinners. They do their cooking over charcoal braziers right in the dining room. I am getting stiff legs from the floors and am running out of clean socks from walking around without any shoes on. All very interesting, but sukiyaki will never replace beefsteak. There is plenty of Jap whiskey around...not very palatable but the beer is not bad. The national drink, sake, is hard to get as all rice is needed for food, but served hot with a meal it is pretty good stuff. The country has to make its bread out of rice flour which is not very successful.

But the army messes here are exceptionally good. They are always around headquarters outfits. I have been trying to pick up some souvenirs worth keeping or sending to you but there is very little of value to be had. We burned too many places and the artisans haven't gotten around to making much of any worth yet. Will keep my eyes open.

Glad to hear that Glen is back. Keep me filled in on how they are doing and if they need any help.

Take care of yourselves and keep writing. The damn typhoons have stopped all our mail for the past couple of weeks...no planes can get through, but it looks like clearing now so should be hearing from you.