No, The President’s Uncle Was Not Eaten by Cannibals . . . Seriously – JONATHAN TURLEY

President Joe Biden has been long accused of false stories that have ranged from an invented arrest with Nelson Mandela to a zombie-like train conductor. Some are more serious like lying about influence peddling by his family or constitutional norms. However, as a military history nut, one new story stood out this week. President Biden suggested that his uncle Ambrose “Bozey” Finnegan may have been eaten by cannibals in World War II. What is striking about this story is the specificity of the key facts … and the fact that they are entirely false (other than his uncle dying near New Guinea).

During a stop in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Biden told the story of how Bozey may have been consumed by the natives of New Guinea.

“He was a hell of an athlete, they tell me, when he was a kid. He flew those single-engine planes as reconnaissance over war zones, and he got shot down in New Guinea. They never found the body because there used to be, there were a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea.”

The account appears in the official transcript of Biden’s remarks. He added “They never recovered his body, but the government went back when I went down there and they checked and found some parts of the plane.”  It is not clear when that search occurred and where the additional plane parts were found given that it crashed in the ocean. However, it suggests that he later (as senator, Vice President or President) followed up on the story with the military in locating confirming wreckage).

The alternative would be to rely on a witness. Yes, there was a survivor who gave a detailed account, including how Finnegan and the others remained in the plane as it sank.

The more glaring problem is that Bozey was not flying a plane and was not shot down. It was not a single engine plane but a Douglas A-20 Havoc with two Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior 9-cylinder radial engines. He was not the pilot but a passenger on a plane. (Indeed, he was not referenced in the official report as a pilot but a staffer at the Headquarters of the Fifth Air Force). The plane had mechanical problems and crashed near New Guinea. He did not disappear in a sea of cannibals but the actual sea when he and other passengers failed to get out of the wreckage.

“On May 14, 1944, an A-20 havoc (serial number 42-86768), with a crew of three and one passenger, departed Momote Airfield, Los Negros Island, for a courier flight to Nadzab Airfield, New Guinea. For unknown reasons, this plane was forced to ditch in the ocean off the north coast of New Guinea. Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft’s nose hit the water hard. Three men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash. One crew member survived and was rescued by a passing barge. An aerial search the next day found no trace of the missing aircraft or the lost crew members.”

That was not the only false claim made by the President in his remarks. However, the fake story led me to look into whether there were any accounts of pilots being eaten by cannibals. Surprisingly, there are accounts of Japanese troops engaging in such cannibalism.

One of the documented stories of Japanese cannibalism involved another president. George H.W. Bush was a combat pilot in World War II and  survived being shot down over the Pacific during a raid on the island of Chichi Jima in September of 1944. He was not alone. Nine other airmen went down, but only Bush was able to evade capture because he bailed out over the sea. Nevertheless, he only survived because other pilots gave covering fire as he paddled away in a life raft.

The other eight were not so lucky. James Bradley’s book Flyboys: A Story of True Courage details the tragedy that unfolded. They were beaten and tortured and eventually beheaded.  Major Sueo Matoba then had their flesh prepared for an officers’ feast and a party in his quarters. Also Captain Shizuo Yoshii hosted a similar feast and both General Yoshio Tachibana and and Rear Admiral Kunizo Mori, the army and navy commanders of the island,  reportedly partook in the meals. The four airmen used for the meals were Marve Mershon, Floyd Hall, Jimmy Dye, and Warren Earl Vaughn.

Ironically, there are also stories of native cannibals rescuing downed pilots and, rather than eating them, helping them survive and make it back to their commands.

As is often the case, the White House simply refused to address the false claim and made it sound like reporters were denigrating the service of his uncle by asking about the cannibal story. White House spokesman Andrew Bates declared “President Biden is proud of his uncle’s service in uniform” and emphasized that Finnegan ”lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea.”


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