Martin L. Zapf, 82, of Yardley, a retired Burroughs Corp. executive and a World War II veteran whose B-29 crew members were the last U.S. airmen to be captured by the Japanese, died of cancer Dec. 21 at Chandler Hall Hospice in Newtown.
After graduating from Princeton High School in 1943, Mr. Zapf joined the Army Air Corps. He trained as a radioman on B-29s and was assigned to an air base in the South Pacific.
On Aug. 8, 1945, his plane was hit while flying its 17th mission over Japan. He and the other crew members bailed out over the Sea of Japan. The pilot was killed, and the 10 surviving men shared life rafts, a few pints of water, and a handful of hard candies, he told an interviewer for the Rutgers Oral History Archives. After seven days, they were picked up by fishermen and turned over to Japanese soldiers who drove them to Hiroshima, which had been bombed on Aug. 6.
Though their emperor had announced the end of the war the day before, on Aug. 15, the Japanese soldiers wanted to execute the crew because of the atomic bombing. A Japanese officer named Fukui who spoke English persuaded the soldiers to spare the Americans' lives. When the Americans were driven through Hiroshima, there was nothing left but the smell of burnt flesh, Mr. Zapf said in the Rutgers interview. Eventually the crew arrived at a prisoner-of-war camp, which was liberated in September.
After his discharge, Mr. Zapf earned a bachelor's degree from Rider University and went to work for Burroughs, now Unisys. He spent 20 years in international positions including general manager of subsidiaries in Jamaica, the Philippines, Norway, Germany, Mexico and Japan. Mr. Zapf returned to Japan in 1965 and found Fukui. He had several reunions with Fukui over the years.
Mr. Zapf was the last surviving member of the B-29 crew. He was diagnosed with lymphoma 35 years ago, said his wife, Jutta C. Zapf, and had undergone chemotherapy for 15 years in medical facilities all over the world. He suspected that his cancer and that of several other crew members was caused by their exposure to radioactive fallout in Hiroshima, she said.
Since retiring in 1985, Mr. Zapf had been a volunteer with the International Executive Service Corps in Zimbabwe, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. He was also a volunteer with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) in Fairless Hills.
In addition to his wife of 41 years, Mr. Zapf is survived by daughters Martha, Susan and Mariko, and a son, Peter. He is predeceased by his former wife, Doris Hunt.
A military burial will be at 1 p.m. today at Highland Cemetery, Hopewell, N.J. A memorial service will follow at 2 p.m. at the Nassau Club, 6 Mercer St., Princeton.