The Lost Radioman

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The Lost Radioman

by: Norio Muroi | .
Stripes Korea | .
published: December 07, 2016

Lost among the many stories commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks is a story of a U.S. service member, a knife and the effort to reunite a family with a piece of its history.

The service member was U.S. Navy radioman ARM1 W.L. Paulissen, who was downed on an air-raid mission over an aircraft factory in Japan in 1945.

Grumman TBM No. 315, with Paulissen aboard, was shot down by an anti-aircraft unit over Ota city during a mission destroying an aircraft factory on Feb. 16, 1945. The plane wreckage was found on the shores of the nearby Watarase River. The crew included pilot Ensign Richard Brothers and Paulissen who were found dead, while gunner AOM3C. Edward V. Andriso was transferred to Tokyo for treatment after the crash, but later died from his injuries.

The remains of Brothers and Paulissen were cremated by the Japanese and buried at Jukaku Temple, before being moved and re-buried at the Yokohama Foreign Cemetery and eventually transferred to the United States.

Isao Arai, an 82-year-old retiree, has been dedicated to researching downed B-29 Bombers.

During Isao’s research, he learned of two B-29 Bombers that crashed Feb. 10, 1945 from the book of “Danger’s Hour” written by Maxwell Kennedy (a son of the late Robert Kennedy). When Isao stopped by a history museum in Ota city to do some research, he was advised by a curator to contact Kousaku Okawara.

Isao reached out and a month later received a response from the son of Okawara, as Okawara had died in 2008. 

Isao and the son, Yoshio Okawara, a 70-year-old real estate agent, exchanged information focusing on downed B-29 Bombers in Ota. Isao was told by Yoshio of the existence of emergency items from a crashed Grumman’s crew member at the Okawara family.

Kousaku Okawara was an Army Captain of the Shimo Kobayashi Troop, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) from 1944-1945. He left a diary describing on events of Feb. 16, 1945, saying “We shot down ship-based aircrafts which was sent out on the day. My subordinate brought items from the downed airplane, including a parachute, in order to confirm the shoot down. There were food, personal favorite food, medicine, anti-shark attack arrow, whistle, magnifying lens and other regular items. Also cross necklace containing the crewmember’s mother’s photo, survival knife carved on the initial WP. The crewmember’s name was Walt Paulissen. The knife was in a leather sheathe. It smelled of perfume.”

Okawara kept this to commemorate the war victim’s spirit. All goods, other than some of the food, were sent to the military police for their information and assessment.

Kousaki Okawara wished that his son Yoshio could return the items to the family of the deceased.

When Isao began researching the whereabouts of Paulissen’s family in early May 2014, he sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, requesting help in the search. Isao also contacted Rick Feldman, a friend and a historian in Arizona, for help.

Rick randomly called five times to a Walter Leonard Paulissen in San Antonio.

Eventually, Feldman was able to reach a Bud Paulissen, who was puzzled when he received the unexpected phone call. Feldman asked him, “Are you related to another Walter L. who died in the War?” Rather taken aback to hear such a question from unknown person, Bud Paulissen answered “Yes, I’m his nephew.”

For Bud, it was awe-inspiring that Okawara kept his uncle Walter’s survival items for nearly 70 years, and that a family member would sure that they were returned to a family member of a complete stranger.

The package, including a survival knife, and others provided by Navy, was delivered to Bud Paulissen in San Antonio late October 2014.

Isao received email from Bud Paulissen that he was happy to have his uncle’s items together in a custom handcrafted wooden box with “In memory of a Hero. May His Soul Rest in Peace” engraved on the top. Isao also learned from Bud’s email that prior to being shot down, W.L. lost half of his foot in 1943 with a group known as “ACORN SEVEN.” He was then released by the Navy because of his injuries, but refused because he would not go live at home in peace while his country was at war.

Through the tireless efforts of Isao, Feldman and others, a strong wish to return the relics by the Okawara family was accomplished.

Bud Paulissen expressed his full gratitude to Isao and the Okawara family, because the entire story from the enlistment of his uncle, his injuries at Guadalcanal, to his death, and the recent return of the survival knife, sheath, and other items has evoked incredible gratitude and other emotions in him.

On March 21, 2015, a ceremony was held at Seiganji Temple to honor Paulissen, Brothers and Andriso. About 200 guests including Col. Douglas DeLaMater, 374th Airlift Wing Commander, his staff members, military band and local residents unveiled a memorial stone with the three names engraved. The stone is near a memorial for 23 other service members who died in B-29 crashes during the war.

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