When Taos, Missouri, native Donna Boyd began the process of pursuing a family history project, she did not realize it would lead to friendship with a museum curator in a foreign country and a glimpse into the character of an uncle killed before she was born.
“I heard stories about my uncle’s military service and was researching information on him for a project I was working on,” stated Boyd.
She soon located an online blog containing information regarding the crash site of an American plane during World War II. The blog showed photographs of a museum display in Takachiho, Japan, containing information about her uncle’s service. Boyd was able to make contact with the museum’s curator, Shunsuka Ogata, and began sharing information about an incident that had occurred several decades earlier.
Graduating from St. Francis Xavier School in Taos in 1941, Boyd’s uncle, Alfred F. Eiken, spent a short time working in St. Louis. A year later, only five months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he made the decision to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
“He didn’t talk much about it,” stated Francis Eiken, Alfred’s oldest sister. “He just went and did it.”
After finishing his intial training at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Eiken went on to complete bombardier training in Texas in 1943. He then finished additional levels of flight training in various locations throughout the United States before his transfer to India in November 1944. A year later, he was sent to Tinian Airbase—a location from which the B-29 Bomber he was assigned completed 28 successful missions.
“From my communications with Mr. Ogata and my research, I found that my uncle’s final mission occurred on August 30, 1945 during a POW relief supply run,” stated Boyd. “The wing of their B-29 Bomber clipped a mountain causing it to crash.”
After the crash, the military classified the airmen as “missing” since the crash site had not been located and they were unable to confirm their deaths.
“Western Union delivered my parents a telegram stating that Alfred was missing,” said Sister Francisca, Eiken’s sister. “Mom told me to run up to the church to tell the priest and he came down to console the family.”
However, a few months later the family received a second notification containing the final determination by military authorities.
“When the second telegram came we thought that it would say he was coming home,” recalled Francisca. “But the telegram stated that he had been killed. That was truly a sad occasion for my parents.”
According to documents from the Takachiho Community Center (the Japanese museum displaying information on the crash), Eiken and eleven of his fellow aviators lost their lives the day of the crash and were buried in the United States Armed Forces Cemetery in Yokohama, Japan.
Lt. Eiken’s remains, however, were returned to the family in 1949 and re-interred in the parish cemetery at St. Francis Xavier in Taos.
Growing up and hearing bits and pieces of information about her uncle’s sacrifice, Boyd was excited when the curator of the Japanese museum agreed to share articles with her regarding Eiken’s service.
“I learned that not only is there a display recognizing those killed in the crash, but the community holds a special ceremony every year and has constructed a memorial site to honor their sacrifice,” Boyd remarked.
Boyd has also sent the curator photographs to be used in the museum’s display and in return has received pieces of the plane that previously rested atop remote Japanese mountain as a hidden testament to her uncle’s service.
“It was fascinating to learn that they have a memorial over there that we had no knowledge of,” stated Ed Eiken, Alfred’s younger brother.
Even though Boyd has only recollections and historical documents through which to learn of an uncle she never met, she is hopeful that his sacrifice will serve as an inspiration to others.
“To discover that a country we were once at war with has honored the deaths of my uncle and his friends is heartwarming,” Boyd said. “It is nice to know that this has led to a promotion of goodwill and peace between our two nations while helping us share memories of a family member who never came home.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.