Arthur Lasker was a World War II fighter pilot with the US Army Air Force. When the U.S. dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945, many believed the war was
over. Arthur E. Lasker, a young pilot from New York who was serving with the 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group certainly thought so. He had left his studies at NYU in 1942, a year short of his degree, and he was ready to get back home to pick up his peacetime life.
The joy he and his buddies felt was short-lived. On August 9th the 75 P38s of the 8th Fighter Group were ordered
to Ie Shima, a tiny island a couple of miles off Okinawa coast. On arrival, their CO, Army Air Force ace Emmett “Cyclone” Davis, was ordered to Okinawa for a headquarters briefing. He returned with sobering news: the group was to load every airplane that could fly with napalm, and do a low level high-speed fire bombing attack on Kumamoto, a Japanese city on the island of Kyushu about 100 miles southeast of Nagasaki.Their main target was a weapons manufacturing plant.
At daybreak on 10 August, 62 Lightnings flew up toward the Japanese mainland. The instructions were simple; follow their CO Davis, a Utah farm boy who had been one of the few US fighter pilots to get into the air during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Lasker, a flight leader on the mission, did not know the attack plan except to “follow the leader.” The original plan was for the pilots to fly up the coast south to north, pass the city on their right, turn in to shore, go down through a mountain pass and bomb Kumamoto from the north going south.
As Davis later said, “For some reason or another I got the strangest feeling that I really should turn early and go in
and attack from the south going north.” He waggled his wings when the city came into sight to signal a change of direction and led his squadron inland. Since the orders had been to “follow the leader”, the maneuver went off without a hitch. As they completed the turn the pilots saw the sky ahead of them turn black with antiaircraft fire, right at the altitude at which they would have crossed the beach If they had continued on their planned course the planes would have flown directly into the flak. That last-minute change of direction allowed the squadron to dive down virtually unopposed and complete a devastating raid on the weapons plant and surrounding area. As Davis recalled, “Fire bombing is much more effective if you can deliver it at a low level and at high speeds; it sets on fire everything it touches…when you drop them from fighters as we did you really destroy a lot…”
The group successfully complete the mission without the loss of a single plane. That was Lasker’s final mission. Japan threw in the towel three days later and on August 15th the news of the unconditional surrender was announced. Since Lasker had been a relatively late arrival in the combat zone, he spent most of 1946 assigned to Occupation Forces at Fukuoka and Ashiya Field on Kyushu, Japan.
Lasker, a 1939 graduate of Curtis High School on Staten Island, had entered NYU Commerce that same year and left
in 1942 to go to war. After receiving his orders to head home, he picked up his studies and graduated in 1947. He went on to NYU Law School, married and began a family of three daughters. He eventually became a municipal court judge.
Lasker moved to Bristol in 2005 and appreciates the fact that RI is the only state that still celebrates Victory Day.
There is really no way to determine the real impact of that final mission. However, Japan had not surrendered before that raid and did so immediately afterwards. As Cyclone Davis said, “I kind of smile when I tell my story that the two big bombs got their attention, and my P38s brought them to the surrender table.”
“My last mission in WWII was without a doubt the most important mission that my buddies and I ever flew.”