Date of Interview
Robert Michelsen was born 15 November 1925 in Minneapolis; he attended South High School, graduating in 1943. Soon thereafter he volunteered for the US Army Air Forces, and after Basic Training was sent to gunnery school. By mid-1944 he was training to be a crew member on a B-29 Superfortress bomber. In April 1945 his 11-man crew, with Captain Dick Mansfield, was stationed on the island of Guam, from where missions were launched against mainland Japan. The crew flew ten missions over the next six weeks, striking urban areas as well as military targets. On 25 May 1945 Bob's crew took off in the B-29 Arkansas Traveler, part of a five hundred-plane mission to Tokyo. Loaded with incendiary bombs, the Arkansas Traveler was beginning her final bomb run when she was hit by Japanese ground fire; with the plane going down, the crew was forced to bail out over Tokyo. Bob was captured as soon as he hit the ground, blindfolded and beaten, then taken to a nearby detention facility of the Japanese police, the Kempeitai. Over the next three months, until the end of the war in August 1945, Bob and scores of other captured B-29 crew members were imprisoned at this facility in small cells, where they endured interrogations, physical and mental torture, sickness, and starvation diets. They were kept separate from other POWs, for the Japanese did not consider them normal military prisoners but rather, because of the nature of their missions against civilian targets, war criminals and thus not deserving of human treatment. Only in mid-August 1945 were Bob and the other surviving internees from his prison taken to a regular POW camp, which soon thereafter was liberated by American forces. Bob spent many months in hospitals recovering from his ordeal, finally being discharged in May 1946 from Hines VA Hospital in Illinois. After the military Bob attended Augsburg College in Minneapolis, graduating in 1950; he then spent several years in Montana before returning to the Twin Cities in the mid-1950s to get married and raise a family. He worked many years for the publisher W B Saunders, retiring in 1985. At the time of this interview (November 2001) Bob and Gladys Michelsen lived in Apple Valley, Minnesota.
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Saylor, Thomas, "Oral History Project World War II Years, 1941-1946 - Robert Michelsen" (2001). Oral History Project: World War II Years, 1941-1946. 49.