A terrible winter produced crop failures and famine in Japan’s northernmost major island of Hokkaido. Mr. Shintaro Fukushima, president of the Japan Times newspaper, organized a campaign called Rice for Hokkaido that caught the attention of Maj. Gen. Russell L. Waldron, commander of the 315th Air Division, stationed at Tachikawa AB in Honshu.
General Waldron sponsored an airlift of rice from Honshu to Hokkaido. Dubbed Project Gohan (gohan is the Japanese word for rice), the operation involved three 315th Air Division aircraft: two twin-engine C–119 Flying Boxcars and one four-engine C–54 Skymaster. Waldron piloted the C–54, which he borrowed from the 6485th Operations Squadron. Col. Leroy M. Stanton, commander of the 483d Troop Carrier Wing, and Col. Francis W. Williams, commander of the 374th Troop Carrier Wing, flew the C–119s. The three airplanes transported 21 tons of rice from Tachikawa AB to Chitose AB in Hokkaido. Greeting the planes as they landed was Toshifumi Tanaka, the governor of Hokkaido, who thanked the Americans for their help. Japanese trucks distributed the rice from Chitose to villages farther north.
Personnel of the 315th Air Division also contributed 360,000 yen to buy more rice for the people of Hokkaido, and General Waldron presented a check to Mr. Fukushima, leader of the Rice for Hokkaido campaign. The money was enough to furnish the people of Hokkaido with two boxcars of rice.
The humanitarian airlift inspired others. In January, a Royal Thai Air Force detachment stationed with the 374th Troop Carrier Wing at Tachikawa AB flew about two tons of rice from their own food supplies to Chitose AB on a Thai C–47.