The foreword to Relentless Pursuit was written by Rhode Island's Historian Laureate Dr. Patrick Conley.
This volume was inspired by the grisly, horrific death suffered by Lt. Robert Thorpe, a downed and doomed American pilot, at the hands of his Japanese captors. Although this atrocity occurred long ago on the other side of the world, for prolific author and playwright Ken Dooley it hit home. The Thorpe family of Cranston, Rhode Island had been Dooley's neighbors and friends.
Lt. Thorpe met his fate stoically and heroically on a beach in New Guinea in May 1944. He was beaten, used for target practice, beheaded, and then his tormentors desecrated his lifeless body. Dooley, using the original court transcripts, describes the post-war trials of the sadistic naval officers who perpetrated this act. Three of those involved met more merciful deaths - two by suicide, the other by hanging. Four more were jailed for their crime.
The cold steel of battle nearly always pierces the thin veil of civility that masks human barbarism and brutality. This exposure of our primitive instincts is the great tragedy of war.
In the process of uncovering and relating the travails of Bob Thorpe, Dooley describes the litany of war crimes committed by the Japanese against military captives and civilian populations throughout East Asia. They rival those of Hitler. However, the focus on American prisoners of war discloses one irony - despite Germany's monstrous madness towards Jews, Russians, and Polish Catholic civilians, its treatment of American prisoners of war was far less barbarous than the actions of Japan. A sitcom like "Hogan's Heroes' is inconceivable in a Japanese concentration camp setting.
A far greater irony demonstrating the folly of war is that West Germany quickly became a leading American ally in Europe, and Japan, under the effective stewardship of General Douglas MacArthur, became America's most important East Asian ally after the fall of China to Communism in 1948 - the year that five of the officers accused of murdering Bob Thorpe were tried and convicted.
Dooley's gripping and meticulously researched tale goes far beyond the tragic fate of Bob Thorpe. It is a detailed account of American airmen in a vital but somewhat neglected theater of the Pacific War - the East Indies (present-day Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It not only relates their amazing exploits but also describes in minute detail the technology of the planes they flew, the terrain they traversed, and the daunting difficulties they encountered, and overcame. Dooley not only learned aviation technology, he spanned the country to interview surviving pilots of Thorpe's unit (the 39th Fighter Squadron), and waded through thousands of pages of records generated by the war crimes courts. As Rhode Island Historian Laureate, I am inclined to comment upon Rhode Island's earlier contacts with that area of the world where Bob Thorpe was assigned and met his dreadful demise.
Captain Robert Gray of Tiverton, the first American to circumnavigate the globe, sailed his ship Columbia just north of New Guinea on his triumphant 1790 voyage. This intrepid navigator took the same route again in 1792 on his second global circumnavigation after exploring America's northwest coast, and named its great river, the Columbia, in honor of his sturdy vessel.
Merchants from Rhode Island families such as the Browns and the Ives and other traders like Edward Carrington repeatedly dispatched their sailing vessels from Providence to the Dutch East Indies in the early 19th century. These ships, called East Indiamen, acquired sugar, spices, and large cargoes of coffee from Java and its surrounding islands. This trade returned profits to these entrepreneurs that earned them and their descendants places among Rhode Island's economic and social elite.
Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, a Newport native, visited Japan in 1853 and again in 1854 with his black-hulled fleet, He pressured that nation into accepting the Convention of Kanagawa, a consular treaty with the Empire of Japan, giving the United States access to the ports of Hakodata and Shimoda and opening that then-feudal nation to western influence. For the past thirty years the Newport chapter of the Japan-America Society has celebrated this achievement with a gala Black Ships Festival.
Brown University alumnus John Hay, as United States Secretary of State, proclaimed an "Open Door Policy' for China in 1899, an ex parte pronouncement (which annoyed the European imperial powers and Japan) stating that all nations have equal trading rights and commercial opportunities in China.
For decades before and after World War II, the Catholic Columban Fathers, many of whom have retired to a home in Bristol, brought the message of Christianity to numerous Far Eastern countries.
These Rhode Islanders, native and adopted, were motivated either by fame, fortune, or faith. Thanks to Ken Dooley, another Rhode Islander, this one who was motivated by fearless patriotism, receives the recognition due to Thorpe. Though buried unceremoniously in the sands of a remote New Guinea beach, the exploits and the memory of Lt. Robert Thorpe are no longer buried beneath the sands of time. His life and his heroism have been duly noted for his posterity to acknowledge and admire.
Dr. Patrick T. Conley