Posted by: SJS | April 28, 2014

A grisly war trophy

war trophy

Among the treasure trove of photos that Mike Nixon shared from his father’s time in PT Squadron (Ron) 27, was this harrowing shot of an islander holding what appears to be the severed head of a Japanese soldier. There was no information on the back of the photo, so my best guess is that Jim Nixon or one of his buddies snapped this shot somewhere in the Philippines or perhaps Borneo.

The photo is a stark reminder of how vicious the fighting was in the South Pacific and the PT sailors found themselves in the middle of it day in and day out. This arresting image gave me pause. Young Navy hands like Jim Nixon, Red Stahley, and Tom Saffles and their crewmates no doubt saw more gruesome things that we can even imagine. And most of them saw these horrors long before they reached their twenty-first birthday.

Their service to our country is a debt that we could never repay.


  1. This photo is beyond words. The images you include in your blog do an excellent job of telling a story that most of us only have a surface understanding of.

    • Dudley,

      I had the same reaction to the photo when I first saw it. The image makes the reality of war so graphic and sobering that it is impossible to escape. There are probably hundreds of thousands of photos like this that are tucked away in albums or stored away in dusty attics; photos that have been long forgotten. Here’s hoping that they’ll be found and shared widely to serve as compelling reminders of the horror of war.



  2. I have seen several copies or nearly the same photo in collecting photos from WW2 PT Boat veterans. One plausible explanation I was given is that during the war,the Headhunter tribes in New Guinea were encouraged by the Allies (Aussies mostly) to declare open season on the formerly prohibited practice of headhunting on the Japanese invaders. There was a standing monetary reward (I think it was $500) given to the headhunter tribes in New Guinea for every Japanese Head turned in to the Allied Forces. This photo shows one such head. Evidently it was not uncommon to come across this grisly form of total war while stationed in New Guinea. The practice was quickly stopped after the Japanese Surrender.

    • Jerry,

      Thanks for this background information. This really is a grisly example of the “total war” concept. These days, it really takes a lot to provoke a reaction of shock but this photo certainly had that effect on me. I appreciate your input.


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