VMB 423 Memoirs, Book 1, Part
A Crate of Eggs and a Carton of Tomatoes
A Crate of Eggs and a Carton of Tomatoes
By Leo Kruise
I do remember several things that happened back then...
We were returning to Green from a strike one day, and from my station in the tail, on my knees, I kind of hunched back to rest my back. All of a sudden there was this big cloud of white smoke, and a few seconds later Jim Dunphy was blasting me with the fire extinguisher! What happened was the buckle from my right leg strap on the parachute harness came in contact with terminals mounted on a rib of the aircraft. The terminals were a power source for heated flight suits. Outside of a cold and wet backside not much damage. It burned a hole about the size of a half dollar in the skin of the aircraft.
When MAG_14 moved out, the flight crews moved from Pilots' Camp into the MAG-14 area. About the second night in the new area there was a big disturbance in our tent. There was a lot of grunting and hollering and something or someone hit the center pole, knocking it at an angle and making the tent collapse about half way. We finally saw the source of our trouble__an old sow with her three sucklings. We eventually got them out and maybe a few shots were fired in the general direction of their leaving.
Now I can't say for sure if what I say next has anything to do with the previous story -- draw your own conclusions. A couple days after the departure of the sow and the sucklings there was a very bad smell around, mostly in the mess hall area. Finally someone sent a couple island natives under the mess hall and they came out with a pretty ripe old sow. They cut a limb from a tree and tied the sow to it and two of them carried it away to their village to hang in the sun longer to ripen more. Then they would have a feast. We were told not to kill the pigs because they were sacred to the natives. Anyway they were tubercular. We might believe the first part but not the second.
Remember the supplemental food runs to Townsville? One of which I was very much a part of occurred the night of the day we returned with the food -- a crate of eggs and a carton of tomatoes. We stayed up until we had eaten them all.
We didn't steal the eggs and tomatoes. The crewmen in the back of the plane paid for them and had them delivered to the Great Northern Hotel where we were staying. They came with us the next morning to the airfield and we kept them with us in the back of the plane.
The bread from the mess hall was made with the New Zealand flour with wheat weevils in it that made it look like raisin bread.
In the tent next to ours was an aircrewman by the name of Johnson. I think his first name was Bill, but I am not quite sure. Anyway he had someone drive a nail through the lobe of his ear and he took a couple threads of parachute silk and threaded it through the hole. He kept working the threads until it was all healed and he had a clean hole. He then attached a tooth to a wire and hung it from the ear. He claimed it was a Jap's tooth. He had been on one of the ferry missions taking F4U's up through New Guinea and the Philippines, so he could have picked one up there. He was from Brooklyn and with a front tooth missing, a burr head, the earring, and a three_day growth of beard, he looked like a mean fighting Marine.
Most of the ground crew and the early replacement gunners should remember the ship we came home on. We left Manus the middle of June 1945 and arrived in San Diego around the first of July. The food, what there was of it, was terrible. The only meat we ever had was Vienna sausages from the can, watery powdered potatoes, green beans, and those big purple plums from a can. The men complained so much to the people in Diego that they investigated the ship's captain and found that he had sold all the meat on the black market in Hawaii.
There was a man on board who had a ruptured appendix and the sea was too rough for a PBY to land, so we made port at North Island San Diego.
We had one other thing happen about the eighth day out from Manus. One of our men, Roy Lutz, was chinning himself on the outside of the ship on the chains that are there to keep you inside. The chain broke and Roy was in the drink. Several life preservers were thrown to him and one did float and he managed to get to it. The alarm was sounded, the ship turned, went around, stopped, and took him aboard. Later the captain called him to his quarters, and told him he was one lucky boy. Twelve hours earlier he would not have stopped.
That fall Roy made the Cherry Point football team. One game I remember
watching, they lost to North Carolina State at Cherry Point.
The Finest Marine...
Interview of Elvin Krumsee
"This is Mike Miller, senior archivist at the Marine Corps University at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia on October 6, 1998. We're doing war history interviews here at the Ramada Inn where VMB-423 is having its reunion..."
Q: What made you want to be a Marine ?
A: Well I guess the idea came from reading the newspapers, finding out what the Marines were doing. My father had been in the Army Engineers in the Philippines before WWI and he said no kid of his was going in the Marine Corps. So one day I got dressed up to go to work and my mother wondered why I was so dressed up. I said some of us guys are going out after work. I went to work at the shop and told them I was going to enlist. I signed up downtown at City Hall in Chicago, and came home in the afternoon. My mom wanted to know why I was home so early. I told her I enlisted in the Marines and I'll be leaving in two weeks. When my father got home that evening he didn't have two feet inside the door and she said "Elvin enlisted in the Marines and he's leaving in 2 weeks!" I walked right out. I didn't see him till the next night. He tried to get me to admit I was sorry. I never was. I enjoyed it. But if I would have had any regrets I would never have admitted it.
Q: When did you go into the Marines, do you remember the date?
A: Yes, I was sworn in on October 1st, 1942
Q: What was the mood of America at that time, what with the Battle of Guadalcanal, the Germans, etc.
A: Everybody was pretty high to get it taken care of. Chicago was one of the best cities in the country for the servicemen when they were there -- they had a good attitude about it.
Q: Did you realize you'd go to the Pacific when you joined the Marines?
A: Oh, yes.
Q: How about your buddies? Did any of them go with you?
A: No. No one else that I knew went with me.
Q: How old were you then?
A: Twenty-one. We got on the train, went to San Diego, and had 8 weeks of boot camp.
Q: How about your experience on arriving. Were you greeted by the DI?
A: Yes. A bunch of guys were nearby saying "You'll be sorry!"
Q: And then did the DI come on the bus?
Q: Did you think then you'd made a mistake?
A: No, and I never did think so.
Q: How tough was it? How tough were the DIs?
A: It was tough. But from what I've seen since, boot camp is lot harder now than it was then. 12 weeks now compared to our 8 weeks then, etc. But it was rough and they kept you busy.
Q: What was the hardest part about boot camp?
A: One thing I always remember was... out in the boon docks we had to run till we dropped. And if somebody dropped, the DI'd come over and give him a kick in the ribs and tell him to get going. The other thing I remember, while I was in high school I took up fencing, so I had the foot work. The instructor demonstrating judo picked me out as a guinea pig - in nothing flat he had me face down in the sand and I turned my head around and I said, "Take it easy." He took me by the hair and pulled my face up and said, "What did you say?" and shoved my face back down in the sand. I had my mouth open and I got a mouth full of sand.
When I got out of boot camp I wanted to go to Carlson's Raiders. But I had machinist experience, so they sent me to Great Lakes machinist school for 16 weeks. After that a month's guard duty. When we got back to San Diego they had too many machinists. They didn't know what to do with us, so I went to the B-25 school in Inglewood ,California. That was six weeks, I think.
Q: How many Marines went up there with you?
A: I don't remember. It was an Army school
Q: Did you have any desire to fly?
A: I was interested in flying but I enjoyed mechanic's work, too.
Q: On liberty, having the Marine uniform on, how were you treated by the public? Did you have any conflicts with other servicemen? Were there jealousies between them?
A: Of course there was always some feelings like that between sailors and Marines.
Q: At Great Lakes, was it a Navy school?
A: Yes, but Marines were all in one barracks. We had our own classes. The machinists course was 16 weeks. One day a week we had 1/2 day of math, the other half was ....steam fitting, as aboard ship. The math I always thought was a joke. 16 weeks, and math 4 hrs a week starting with simple arithmetic, then algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus and logarithms and the last day we had a test on all of them. There were a lot of guys that didn't have much on their test paper.
Q: Did many fail? How did you do?
A: We all finished. I came out as a PFC . A few made corporal, some came out with no stripe.
Q: What happened to you at B-25 school?
A: Classroom and working on B-25s.
Q: Did you learn the tricks of the trade? What was emphasized?
A: Well, working on the engines, also some sheet metal work and all-around working on the whole plane.
Q: Good instructors?
A: Very good. Very good.
Q: What happened when you finished?
A: We went back to San Diego, then to Cherry Point, North Carolina . That was my first time back east, beyond Chicago and Great Lakes. We joined VMB-413, and then I got an attack of appendicitis and had to go to the hospital to have my appendix removed. Fortunately I had an excellent surgeon. He was from Mayo Clinic, and then I was in the hospital for a week. I went into VMB-423 then. I was put on "light duty" for a while in the pilots' ready room, making coffee and stuff for the pilots.
Q: What was your first experience with VMB-423? Can you remember who you met?
A: Yeah, I met the crew chief and the crew I was going onto when we were assigned. Then we went up
to Edenton, North Carolina. We stayed there till December, 1943.
Q: How many mechanics does it take to take care of a B25?
A: There were 5 of us. Crew chief, assistant crew chief and the mechanics.
Q: All do the same thing?
A: Some would work at night, for the night raids.
Q: What were some of the hardest things you had to work on, on a B-25? Did things keep breaking down?
A: Yeah. The exhaust on the number 1 cylinder kept breaking. We had to drill the studs out and replace the exhaust stack. And the plane that I was on always seemed to have electrical problems. It had that as long as we had the plane.
When we left Edenton we went to El Centro, California, to practice torpedo runs. One day while we were there, I happened to be at lunch in the mess hall and one of the guys said to me "Hey, your plane's burning up!" I guess some gunner didn't clear the guns when they came in and somebody from ordnance set off a round. It burned to the ground.
Before I ever went to Great Lakes we had SBDs in our group. I'd never been up before, and I always wanted to go up, and a guy who had been there a while said to me "What ever you do, don't tell this major you've never been up before." The major was one of the first Marine pilots in the Marine Corps, he'd been a flying PFC for nine years. We came out and he asked me "You ever been up before?" I said, "Yes Sir." We take off, he goes up to 10,000 feet. We had water bombs. He nosed the thing down and leveled off about 300 feet above the water. Then he climbs back up, we went up to 12,000 feet, were flying around, then, instead of nosing it down he went like this (a wing-over up-side-down dive) we went down till we were 50 feet off the water. I wanted to die. I didn't throw up but oh, I just felt so sick. We landed back at North Island, he got out of the cockpit and I just sat there. He put his hand on my shoulder and said to me "Son, next time don't lie to me. I knew you were lying to me."
Going back to the ground crew at El Centro, we went up to Alameda where we got the ship to go over to New Hebrides before the planes arrived. The planes flew over.
Q: What were you feeling by this time? Were you anxious to get in the war?
A: Yeah, we were anxious. We got out there and then the planes arrived.
Q: What time period was this? '44?
A: Yeah, early '44.
Q: When did you first feel like you were in the war, or in the war zone?
A: It was when I was on Green Island. I used to love to go up. As a mech I didn't have to, but I used to go up. One experience we had, the plane got hit. I was sitting behind the co-pilot, and the pilot thought the navigator had been hit because there was hydraulic fluid shooting all over the place, which was red. Then, when we came back in we had to crank the landing gear down by hand and when we landed I was kneeling between the pilot and co-pilot's seats, behind the seats, with no harness. He had to use the air brakes; he came in much faster than he generally did; he gave the air brake one yank, that slowed us down to about 90 knots... He said "Hang on!" over the intercom. I was holding on over head. He hit the air brake. Well, I don't think we went more than 200 feet. It took the tires off the bottom of the wheels. That coral chewed them off, so I knew then I was in the war zone.
Q: What were you hit with, shrapnel, flak? How close to you was it?
A: Yeah, shrapnel. Maybe 3 feet away from me.
Q: What kind of a mission was it? Over Rabaul?
A: Over Rabaul, yeah.
Q: How many missions did you fly?
A: I don't know. I had another experience too, when I went up. This pilot was very good with his strafing, he would concentrate his fire power and when the tracers came up on the target he would drop his bombs. We were flying wing on the commanding officer, Col. Anderson, at the time. The co-pilot was pointing out the targets to me that the other planes were going to hit, when we looked forward and there was a palm tree... we hit the tree ... with the right nacelle. The bottom of the nacelle was caved in and the back rudder was dented ... later, another pilot said when we hit the tree it looked like we actually stopped in mid air and then surged forward. If we had caught the tree a little further out on the wing it may have spun us around or torn off the wing. The amazing thing is when we got back, the nacelle was full of wood, but when we took the prop off and tested it, it was still in balance.
After that I went up on a night raid and it was the first time I ever felt scared. I was never one to pray, but I think I prayed that night. It was supposed to be a hot target, but they didn't shoot anything at us at all!
Q: How about losing planes, accidents etc.
A: We had one shot down. Some were hit with flak and some had bullet holes.
Going back to when we were at Edenton, North Carolina, we had one of our planes blow up in the air. I never saw a report of what happened but the engines were a mile and a half apart. A buddy of mine was on it. Chuck Schweiman. I brought his body home. That was a sad experience, the day his mother got the telegram. It was her first day out of bed after a long illness.
Q: What kind of a guy was he, was he a good Marine?
A: Yeah. He was a gunner. When I got to Chicago with his body the brother and brother-in-law met me. They asked me what happened. I told them they never did find his head. It was a sealed coffin. They asked me not to tell his mother what happened. When I got to the house she was in bed. I sat down on the edge of the bed with her and talked to her. She'd ask me questions, "Was he burnt?" "No." "Is he in one piece?" "Yes." Finally I said, "Mrs Schweiman, I have to tell you now, you can't see his body because it's a sealed coffin." It took me about a half hour of continuous talking to quiet that poor woman down. When I got up I had a sister on one shoulder and a sister-in-law on the other shoulder, crying. So that was that. Later, they sent a nice letter to the commanding officer about it.
Q: Did you know him before you joined the Marine Corps?
A: No, we met there at the squadron. He was a good kid. I liked him a lot.
Q: What about other casualties?
A: As I was saying before, one of our planes was shot down, the crew were in a raft in the water, the Japs were shooting at them from the shore. Major Anderson was flying cover for them, he did not want to abandon his men. He had to be ordered back. Finally a PT boat got in there at night and got the guys out, brought them back.
Another plane we lost at Green ... there was an aircraft tender for refueling PBYs that land in the water ... the PBYs didn't have landing gear. The PBJ pilot mistook the lights on the tender for the end of the runway ... it was maybe 200 or 300 yds from us to the tender. The guys took off to help... everybody thought maybe it was a PBY that crashed, they ran out there ...anyway, the PBJ flipped over and burned... everybody got burned. That was a messy situation, bringing the bodies out.
Q: What about during your time on Green Island, what was morale like at that time. How did you keep yourselves up and going?
A: Just by working. Some of the guys played cards at night. There was no real entertainment.
Q: How long did it take to get a plane back up in the air? Was there ever a time when you couldn't fix a plane?
A: No, sometimes it took a little longer or if they got shot up, then they had to be patched, but mechanically on the whole it wasn't too bad. Of course the different inspections would take a little longer to do. You had the 25-hour, the 50-hour and the 100-hour inspections.
Q: When did you come back to the States?
A: I landed in San Diego on June 30th of '45, We were told we'd be in different outfits and be back overseas again in 6 months.
Q: What kind of celebration did you have when the war was over?
A: My buddy and I took off and went to Greensboro, North Carolina for a couple of nights. We had off. There was a lot of celebrating at Cherry Point. The band was marching up and down the street. Everybody was pretty happy about it.
Q: When were you discharged?
A: On November 2, I was discharged. I didn't have any intentions of coming out but when I was back at Cherry point, I had been engaged, and I got a Dear John letter; then my father wasn't well. He'd been in the hospital several times in the past year. If it hadn't been for that I would have stayed in. I liked it. To this day I wish I could have stayed in
Q: Okay, ending questions: What does being a Marine mean to you today, looking back on it after all those years?
A: I' m very proud of it. I belong to the Marine Corps League. We get together all the time. I go to a couple of meetings a month. I visit Marine patients at the Vets' hospital in North Chicago once a week. I'm just very proud of it and proud of the tradition.
Q: Who's the finest Marine that you saw during your service during WWII? Maybe you could name a couple that you might think of.
A: Well, there's two people. One, he was killed in New Hebrides. That particular night we were flying, too. The weather was real bad. From the cockpit you couldn't see the nose of the plane. We got our bearings from the Army Air Corps. When they told us we were over the field, we were fifty miles away. To this day I'm thankful that we did get back. The other plane was piloted by Lt. Lallathin. He's the one who, when I came out of the hospital and I was on "light duty," he was in charge of me. He would not let me lift anything. He told me right out, he said, if cases of coke have to be lifted, get these other guys, these officers, to lift them. They're no better than you are. His name was Lallathin. Everybody call him Lolly. He told me "when nobody else is around I'm Lolly, otherwise it's Lieutenant." He's the kind of guy ... ... well, that night, when they didn't come back, the ground crew sat out there around the taxiway. No one's talking, everybody's straining their ears, hoping and praying
to hear the sound of those engines. Finally, about one o'clock in the morning, the commanding officer, Colonel Winston, told us to go back, go to bed, get those planes out in the morning, and we'll go search for them. But here is an officer, can you imagine? ...it wasn't guys that were flight crews - they were ground crew! They liked him so much, they were just hoping and praying he'd come back. He was the Number One - one of best men I ever knew.
The other one, Major Anderson, later Lt. Col. Anderson, who later on became a Major General. We all had a lot of respect for him. He was an officer that was fair and who was really easy for the men to care for and respect.
Those are the two.
". . . Don't you want to go to war ?"
By Joseph A. Mahaney
In the mid_ winter of 1943_1944, I was told to report to the headquarters of my training unit at Cherry Point, N.C.. When I arrived and identified myself to a Tech Sgt., he said, "If you've got any clothes in the base laundry, you had better get them out, pronto."
I was puzzled and asked why. His response will never be forgotten. "What's the matter? Don't you want to go to war ?"
I was not an original member of 423 but, rather, I was one of the initial two replacement crews. Each crew had seven members, the seventh being a "back_up" radioman. I was one of those.
When we were in California, preparing to ship out, we were briefed on the plans to reach Hawaii. Each plane would be staffed by five crew members: pilot, co_pilot, navigator/bombardier, mechanic and radioman. The two ordnance men and the two back_up radiomen from each crew were to travel by ship.
We four "non_flyers" boarded the aircraft carrier, San Jacinto, in San Diego. (A few years ago, I learned that one of our shipmates was a young torpedo bomber pilot named George Bush.) We arrived in Hawaii ahead of our planes, since each required special fuel-accommodating adjustments for the long flight.
The evening that the planes took off, they were soon called back due to an adverse change in the weather. My crew, piloted by Charles Milone , landed safely, but the other crew crashed into a California mountain, killing all. A very sad beginning. The four of us in Hawaii were considerably shaken_up. Within a few days, the two crew members who had missed the fatal flight were transferred, and we lost track of them. (In the early 1970s, while working in Columbus, Ohio, I received a telephone call from Lou Euphrat, the other back_up radioman. Lou was employed by the same company as I, but he worked in Canton, Ohio. He had seen my name in the company's house organ. Since we had not seen each other in over 25 years, we had much to talk about. We got together a few times before Lou's untimely death in 1973. He was only 49).
Eventually our crew was reunited in Hawaii and we reached VMB-423 in June
1944. I immediately became a "bench_player", substituting for any
of the radio_gunners unable to fly with their own crew for one reason or
another. I still have my flight log book and it indicates that I flew with
these pilots: Milone, Taylor, Winston, Pritchard, Evans, Jones (R.P.), Lusky,
Ryan, Meyer, Griffiths and Lowell. In March, 1945 I was transferred back to
the states for six months of retraining. A return to the Pacific was
scheduled for September, 1945 . Do you need to ask what my reaction to the
August A_bombing was? I entered college in January, 1946.
The Lord Was Our Shepherd
By Kenneth Meyer
VMB-423 squadron, the Sea-Horse Marines', primary mission was to observe at night any activity, vehicle movement, or resupply from ship or submarine to the huge Jap Naval base at Rabaul. Rabaul is located at the northeast end of New Britain Island, east of New Guinea in the Bismarck Archipelago and northeast of Australia.
If we saw lights or signs of activity we would drop a bomb on the area. Other missions were medium-altitude bombing raids on anti-aircraft guns, some anti-submarine searches and once in a while a low-level search for targets at random hidden in the dense jungle.
The low-level bombing strike on the afternoon of October 3rd, 1944, was no different from several others we had been on. The crew liked them because it was a chance to legally flat hat, that is fly low over the tree tops. When we'd complete this mission the crew would have number 23. My crew had been together for a little over a year, and camaraderie and morale were high because Jim, my navigator, had just learned a few days before that he was the proud father of a baby boy. None of the other crew were married.
"Think we'll have our fifty by Christmas?" quizzed Mezzelo, the tail gunner. By fifty he meant 50 missions. That seemed to be the magic number after which some of the crews had been told they could return state-side, although none of the 27 crews had any where near that number yet. "It all depends on the operations officer," I said, "If he'll schedule us we'll fly 'em." A chorus of approval came from the entire crew, ending the conversation as we approached the blue camouflaged PBJ (Navy for B-25), parked along a white coral taxi strip.
Stepping out from the shade of the wing was a photographer with camera in hand, he saluted sharply and said, "Lieutenant I'm supposed to go along and take some pictures of any good targets we can find." "Fine," I said, "We'll see if we can find some for you."
After a detailed inspection of the plane, which involved checking that there were two engines, two rudders, and that the cowling was all on and the big holes were patched, it was a relief to get aboard and get the engines running to get some air moving to dry the perspiration. Gloves were necessary to avoid blisters when touching bare metal exposed to that tropical sun, since we were just a few hundred miles south of the equator. Getting airborne was even better and it was quite pleasant with the pilot's window open.
We were the second plane in line to take off. As the leader's plane lifted off the runway, I pushed the throttles forward for full power. At about 120 knots I eased back on the yoke and we were airborne. I gave the thumbs-up signal to the copilot and he pulled up the lever that raised the landing gear. As the leader began his 180 degree I took my place on his wing in the six-plane formation. Th
e leader was the assistant operations officer.
On this mission our area of search was on the island of New Ireland which is northeast of Rabaul. New Ireland is about 245 miles long with a mountain range down the middle full length. The island is narrow with heavy dense tropical jungle all over except for a few copra (coconut) plantations along the coast. Some of the plantations housed Japanese bivouacs.
As we approached the island a radio transmission from the leader to the other planes, "Good hunting" broke the formation into three, two-plane sections. Each section had an assigned area to search. Targets might be trucks, boats, storehouses, gun emplacements, bridges, etc. My leader Bill dropped down to about 50 to 100 feet above the treetops and began to snoop in the dense jungle and coconut groves, while I remained about a thousand feet above and to his rear scanning a wider area. Suddenly my eyes caught the glint of some faint red tracers leaving the base of a big banyan tree and arching toward Bill's plane. A quick call, "Hey Bill! Do you know you are being shot at?" "Negative" was his reply. "I've got him spotted!" I replied and I began my bombing run. I opened the bombay doors and toggled the switch that armed the bomb. In a hurry my dive was a little too shallow and my 500 pounder went skipping through the trees only to explode harmlessly on the sandy beach. So in the true spirit of a Marine (don't make the same mistake twice) I pulled up in a steep climb to come around and do it right. I could see the winking flashes of the machine gun and the tracers seemed to come right at the windshield but miraculously disappeared under the nose of the plane. I gave him a quick squirt with my five 50-caliber guns as I pushed the nose down in about a 500-foot dive and pickled off the second 500-pound bomb. That one stuck and the explosion covered the tree with a shower of sand and smoke. "I'll bet we scared him," piped Mezzelo from his tail gunner's position.
"Let's go" came the impatient leader's call. "Roger" I retorted and climbed up to look over the landscape.
The island is only about eight miles wide at this point, and we were at about the middle over the only road that creased the mountain range in the island's full length. There, over a deep canyon, was a freshly hewn log bridge. This bridge had been knocked out several times before by dive-bombers. This would be a prize target for my last 500-pounder and with a photographer along to get a picture to verify the destroyed bridge, what could be better proof for the decoration board? A hurried transmission to Bill, a swing to the left, then a sharp bank to the right, nose over and the bridge would be in my sights. This was fine strategy but at that instant things began to happen that drastically changed my finest plans.
There was a dull WHOOP! WHOOP! and several lesser explosions and the gallant PBJ lurched to the left. A glance out the open left window told me all I needed to know. An inside section of the left engine cowling was gone, along with the tops of two cylinders. I could see the pistons coming up and down as the propeller wind-milled. The left main landing gear dangled from the nacelle while a flaming inferno poured from a hole in the under side of the left wing between the nacelle and the fuselage. The left main fuel tank had been hit. I instinctively tried to feather the prop on the left engine but to no avail since there was no oil pressure or controls to do it.
"I'm hit! I'm hit!" was my urgent call to my leader, Bill. Subconsciously I trimmed the plane for single engine flight while heading for the closest water about four miles away. I never gave a thought to bailing out or crashing in the jungle for that was just pure suicide. The jungle was about 500 feet below and too low for the crew to bail out. The possibility of survival would be nil. The mountain under me was about 1600 feet above sea level. Something told me to use the 2000 foot altitude to gain speed and dive for the nearest water.
What I didn't know was that the water I was heading for was Namatanai harbor, bivouac for 15,000 Japanese troops in Namatanai village, just itching to have a party for us like the Kavieng post held for one of our previously captured crews. Tokyo Rose had told us over the radio what to expect. She said, "We'll behead any of you Sea-horse Marines we capture." From the intelligence reports I had learned this was what happened to one of our lost crews, and I liked my boys heads right where they were.
I tried to tell the crew in the back of the plane that I was going to ditch but I guess the intercom was out because I got no response. The bomb bay separates the front and rear sections of a B-25.
The crew in the aft section saw the flames on the left side and were preparing to bail out. They jettisoned the rear hatch, but all they could see was jungle just a couple of hundred feet below and they knew they needed at least 800 feet to have a chance of survival. They kept watching and the jungle seemed to be getting closer. Meanwhile I toggled the switch to open the bomb-bay doors, I didn't know if they opened or not without hydraulic pressure,
but I pulled the manual release to drop my last 500 pound bomb safe so it wouldn't come crashing into the cockpit when we hit the water. If the bomb-bay doors hadn't opened the bomb would break them open, anyway I'd be rid of the bomb.
"Can you make it home?" came the firm quiet voice of my leader over the radio. "Negative, I'm going to ditch, I'm going to ditch," was my reply as smoke was getting so bad I could hardly see the instruments.
A quick glance out my window toward the tail and all I could see was a flaming inferno and a long trail of black smoke tracing our path descending over the jungle. At that instant mentally I could see a short paragraph in the local weekly paper. The headline read, "LOCAL BOY SHOT DOWN. Son of Mr. and Mrs. George Meyer of Sutter lost in the South Pacific," etc. My crew and I had gone to Sydney, Australia just two weeks before for rest and recreation after our 20th mission. While in Sydney I had met this girl that I liked very much. We had some good times dancing and taking in the sights, and as I glanced again at the long trail of smoke a thought flashed through my mind "I'll never see Audrey again."
It wasn't long before the crew in the back saw water below the open hatch and they then knew I intended to ditch. They began to get into their ditching stations and brace themselves for that crashing impact. Harris the turret gunner braced himself against the turret mount armor plate with his hands pressing against the sides of the fuselage and suddenly his gloved hand went out through the left side of the fuselage. The aluminum skin of the plane was burned away leaving only the insulation and fuselage ribs on that side.
Smoke was coming in through the wing root and was getting so bad in the cockpit I motioned for W.C. my copilot to jettison the escape hatch over our heads, as it had been known to jamb on crash landings.
Sometime amid all this confusion, or perhaps he had stowed away from our home base, our unseen Shepherd had come on board and had taken over the controls and was making the decisions, for I shall not take credit for the miraculous turn of events that followed.
Jim, my navigator, yelled, "It's getting hot back here." Smoke by this time was nearly choking in the cockpit. A calm voice seemed to tell me, "This is it, set it in the water before it explodes and blows the wing off." I didn't have my shoulder harness hooked nor did anyone else in the crew and there wasn't time now. As I chopped the throttle on the right engine, W.C. the copilot crossed his arms in front of his face and leaned against the top of the instrument panel to brace himself for the sudden horrible crash we had been told to expect when you hit the water. Looking out the side window because I couldn't see out the windshield for the smoke, I proceeded to make a full-stall landing, much as I had done many times when flying PBYs (a sea-plane) when I was in training. I eased back on the yoke as the plane began to settle. I felt a couple of tugs like something was jerking us back when the tail drug over the tops of two waves. A quick yank on the yoke to ensure the stall and the "WHOOSH" and several barrels of water came pouring in the open hatch over our heads as the plane had dropped between two waves and gently slid under the wave. There we sat bewildered but unharmed with the cockpit half full of water as we bobbed back to the surface.
The crash had been so soft and smooth that I had to reach over and hit W.C. on the shoulder and yell, "Let's get the hell out of here, we're dead in the water." The missing hatch in the aft and possibly the open bomb-bay doors had scooped up several barrels of water and had slowed our speed appreciably, making the landing so soft that no one was injured.
This now was where our abandon ship drills in Tagen's Folly (old hulk of a wrecked airplane) paid off. I believe we set a new record in getting out. W.C. went first, then my navigator, and then me, out the top escape hatch. I took my back-pad and my seat, which was a one-man raft as did several other members of the crew. A quick glance and I could see no fire just a little steam but I could see the skin was gone off the left vertical stabilizer and I could see the ribs on the left side about three feet wide from the wing to the tail and the center of the left wing flap was melted away. The last couple men from the aft section came bobbing to the surface. They had to dive out the aft escape hatch which was under water.
Some one popped the emergency life raft door and the inflated raft popped out. The original four-man rafts were to have been changed to six-man rafts before the planes left San Francisco, but it was only a four-man raft and there were seven of us. I checked to see if everybody was all right. None were hurt but all were scared speechless and several were very pale. We inflated our Mae-Wests (life jackets) and began to paddle away from the plane which was starting to nose down by then.
Almost immediately as the plane sank from sight the first shells from the shore batteries began to land in the water near us. It was then that I first realized we were in a Jap harbor and only about a mile and a half from either shore. The crew started to get into the rafts but as more shells began to hit closer I told them to stay in the water. We could hear the guns fire salvos of eight shells as they were being fired before the shells arrived. Sound over water travels faster than the shells because they had to arch them to reach us.
As the "chaboom, chaboom" of the guns was heard, Mezzelo would say, "The dirty little sons-a-bitches, duck," and everybody would let out their breath and lay their faces down in the water to sink as low as possible. Only the arch of our life jackets were above the water exposed to shrapnel from the exploding shells. Several out of each salvo of eight shells would land within yards of us. By this time the other planes that had been with us on the mission were in the area. Several were strafing the gun positions on the shore. Several planes dropped one-man rafts, one nearly hit us. Mezzelo, the strongest swimmer, had just retrieved the last of these rafts when there was a loud "whoosh" like a freight train going overhead and about 200 to 300 yards out to sea there was a thunderous explosion and a geyser of water 50 or more feet high erupted.
"What was that?" quizzed the crew. I knew it was a big gun and told them so. Over the next few minutes two more shells were fired from the big gun but none landed closer than about 200 yards out to sea beyond us. The thought flashed through my mind how lucky we were because if I had held the plane out of the water a few seconds longer that gun would have blown us out of the water with one shot. I breathed a silent prayer with my face down in the water ducking the other shells. That shelling continued and several times as I raised my head I could touch the spot in an arms length where a 37mm shell had exploded, leaving a stinking brown spot in the water. It was then I noticed the big raft losing rigidity. It had been punctured by shrapnel and only the seat section remained inflated.
From the time our plane sank out of sight some of the other planes were making strafing runs on the shore battery gun positions. I asked the crew to make sure all the rafts were tied together and that each was tied to a raft. I didn't want everybody clustered together so if one shell hit some one it would only injure one and not several. About then I noticed one of the strafing planes feather one prop and I could hear the increase in the other engine's RPM and he went on single engine. Evidently he had been hit and lost an engine.
I had noted that my watch showed about one forty in the afternoon, when we were abandoning ship. I didn't remember any clouds in the sky .
We kept ducking the salvos of shells which would dot out right where we had been. The next wave would wash us further to the right and again the shells would land where we had been seconds before. This shelling and ducking continued over what seemed endless hours and I began to wonder how long we could be so lucky. About an hour into the shelling one of the crew told me that Harris had been hit. A quick check and I learned a piece of shrapnel had gone through the fleshy part of his index finger and had also gone through the one-man raft which he was holding on to. I gave them the first aid kit from my back pad. They wrapped gauze around it. I wanted to keep the blood out of the water because we were just north of the coral sea and that area is known to be alive with sharks. I knew that the exploding shells would drive all the sharks from the area.
Some time later as I had my face down in the water something went "fizz" and I settled 3 or 4 inches lower in the water, then about to my chin. A piece of shrapnel had punctured one half of my May West. I thanked God my head was down in the water or I would have gotten it probably in the neck.
Soon I became aware of some clouds casting shadows, causing us to shiver even though the water was a comfortable 75 degrees or more. Our hands and fingers were shriveled due to being in salt water so long. I also noticed the wind began to pick up and whitecaps began to appear. As the seas became rougher the shells became more scattered. Periodically a wave would slap over my head. Most of the planes had left the area as they would be low on fuel. The clouds became very low and darkness set in which, along with the white caps, caused most of the shelling to cease. A slight drizzle began to fall. We could hear one B-25 circling above the clouds.
The waves got much bigger and many were breaking over our heads. W.C. and Voss, my radio-man, had both swallowed quite a bit of sea water and were vomiting severely. The sea water and the fright were having a demoralizing effect and they were sure they weren't going to make it. I had to come up with a way to get them out of the water. I had them get into the one-man rafts, but the waves would upset them and they would swallow more sea water. Finally it dawned on me to have one man get on each side of the one man raft and run his arm through the two loops on each side. Their bodies hanging down in the water kept the waves from upsetting the raft and that took care of all six of them. I was left tied to the four-man raft. I was trying to find the holes but the waves kept crashing over my head.
With the men sitting up in the one man rafts they called it to my attention that we were drifting into shore. I immediately had everyone get into the water and we swam the side stroke away from shore. We swam until we were exhausted and then I had everybody get back on each side of the one man rafts with W.C. and Voss in the rafts. We had four one-man rafts and the one four-man raft. Two of the one-man rafts had been hit by shrapnel. We had screwed a wooden plug in the hole and it appeared to be holding.
I got the idea to cut two one-man rafts loose, one good and the other deflated, and let them wash into shore. The Japs might think they got us if a good raft and one raft hit by shrapnel washed into shore.
The drizzle became heavier and tended to smooth out the white caps. I worked feverishly trying to locate the holes in the four man raft. Somehow with my shriveled hands I opened my back pad and found the patching kit. I carefully handled everything so I wouldn't drop or lose anything and began to patch the holes. While the raft was deflated the hand pump, the emergency rations, and the flair gun were lost. All that remained was the two oars and the sail. As I applied the cement around the hole I was amazed to see the sea water run off like it was grease and I was more amazed to see the patch stick when applied. I had applied 4 or 5 patches and it occurred to me the only way to inflate the raft would be to blow it up by mouth, and this was a four man raft. This would take some time. About that time the crew called my attention to the fact that we were drifting substantially closer to shore. Again I had everybody get into the water and we began to swim the side stroke which was the only swimming stroke I could do as another lad named Arty Settle and I were the two poorest swimmers in the first class of 245 V-5 Cadets at Iowa University in 1942. We would count cadence very low. We must have kept this up for at least thirty minutes.
The men were winded so I had them take up their positions stabilizing the two rafts and I resumed patching the holes in the big raft. I would unscrew the valve and slowly blow my breath into the raft and cover the valve with my thumb to keep the air from escaping and take another big breath and blow it into the valve. It didn't take long before I began to get light- headed and nearly sick. I would hold the raft under water to find the bubbles at the hole and then I would patch it. A few waves still broke over my head since I had only half a life jacket, but the sea was getting calmer now. As I patched the ninth hole, the raft began to hold air. I crawled into the raft to get above the waves and it was a lot easier to inflate now. The clouds became very low and dark and about this time we could hear the sound of a different airplane engine. Finally we could make out the shape of a PBY, like the ones I had flown in training, just below the clouds, but he was circling a mile or so out to sea from us. I knew he was a rescue plane called the black cat. The rain nearly blotted him from view.
Looking toward shore we could see several bonfires on the beach. It was obvious we had washed in a mile or more toward shore. The wind and tide had taken its toll. Once in a while we could hear rifle shots over the roar of the ocean. Again, I had everybody get into the water and again we swam in low cadence for perhaps 20 minutes.
Finally one of the PBY's circles came closer to shore. I figured he might fly almost over us. How could I signal him because our flare gun was lost when the raft deflated. It then occurred to me that, against international law, I carried six tracer bullets for my Smith & Wesson .38 pistol. I remembered I had one in the cylinder somewhere. I pulled my pistol out of my shoulder holster and shook the water out of it, but would it fire? I knew that if I aimed right at the wing I wouldn't hit him. I pulled the trigger and BANG! it fired. I pulled again, and again, and there went the tracer between the wing and the tail about 20 feet out from the observation blister. I could see just how long it took the observer to tell the pilot, "They're right below us." The wing of the huge plane rocked in acknowledgment. He flew straight away from us out to sea.
The sea was calmer now and the rain a fine drizzle. Mezzelo came swimming over to me and asked if I had reloaded my pistol. I assured him I had and wanted to know why? He said they, the
crew, had been talking and none of them wanted to be taken alive. They doubted if their Colt .45s would fire after being submerged in the sea water for several hours. That had been the rumored history of the weapon. He said we know yours will fire and we don't have confidence in the co-pilot who also had a .38. "Don't worry fellows, I got you into this mess and I'll get you out," I assured him.
I had W.C. get in the tail one-man raft and the navigator and the photographer, since they both were small, in the other one-man raft. I had the others get in the big raft with me. I tried to use the oars to row the big raft pulling the others. It worked fine for a while then a big wave caught me wrong and I broke one oar. We then decided since there seemed to be an off-shore wind to rig the sail using the good oar as the mast and the broken oar as the rudder. Gradually the sound of the PBY grew louder and we could make out his image coming. Quickly I asked the radio man if he could send blinker (morse code by light) and he said he could. I took the little one-cell flash light from my back pad and held the yellow side of the sail around Voss and asked him to send "Seven OK." He blinked it out and to our surprise as the PBY turned sharply to the right, out the copilot's window a green Auldus light blinked, "Dit-da-dit" meaning roger we got the message. The PBY flew on away and only the drone of the B-25 bombers somewhere above the clouds could be heard. The sea was much calmer now and the wind kept the sail filled and a steady pull on the ropes tying the three rafts together. It made us feel better to know we had gotten the message to them that we were all OK.
Suddenly there was a lot of rifle fire on the shore and a lot of whoops and yelling on shore. I surmised the two rafts we had cut loose had washed into shore.
After that it became very quiet and very lonely. There wasn't much conversation because everybody was scared and were perhaps praying. I started a muffled conversation about when we would probably be rescued. I concluded that Island Command wouldn't come until about daylight to pick us up with the PBY. The nearest island with no Japs on it was Finney Island but it lay about 11 miles or more toward the northeast. I was also worried that since we were only about 90 to 100 miles from Rabaul they might send a torpedo boat to capture us. The crew's morale was very low as the hours dragged on. One thing did help, we could see we were getting further off shore. At the rate we were going I thought we might be two or three miles off shore by daylight.
Time dragged on so slowly in the following hours and conversation got even less. In the solitude I took time to thank our Shepherd for the signal and the patches that seemed to be holding excellently.
Several hours had elapsed when I got an uneasy feeling. I sensed something was in the area but I couldn't see nor hear anything. I told the men. I said, "Let's get out in the water quietly,
something is coming." After all were in the water I gave the instructions. "If there is a shot fired, duck under the water and swim out like the spokes of a wagon wheel as far as you can and keep on going toward Finney Island. I'll see you in the morning." It was about then I could make out the mast of a torpedo boat. There was a radar dome on the mast. The question was, could anybody remember from recognition class seeing a Jap torpedo boat with a radar on the mast? No one could remember seeing one for certain but there was one slowly coming toward us. I told the crew to get ready to dive, take a big breath of air. I took the little one-cell flashlight we had used to signal the PBY and made one quick on-off flash. Over the slight swish of the waves against the raft I heard, "Did you see that?" and it wasn't in Japanese. I quickly blinked two more times. I then heard, "Watch out, it might be a trap." As the torpedo boat slowed up to us I was looking up the barrel of the 40mm cannon mounted on the foredeck. The first words spoken, "Quiet." Then a rope ladder was lowered from the bow and the crew started to climb aboard. I came up last and pulled all the rafts up since they didn't want to leave a trace in the water. Upon scrambling aboard we were ushered into the cabin which was dark whereupon someone whispered, "Where's the pilot?" I said, "That's me." A firm hand grabbed my by the shoulder and pulled me through the cabin door. Once inside, the door closed and the light came on. The same firm hand spun me around and as our eyes met there was instant recognition. "Arty!" I exclaimed. "Kenny," he shouted, and the two grown men broke into tears of joy as they hugged each other. Neither had seen or heard from the other since that day in the Iowa University swimming pool where we both nearly washed ot because neither of us could pass the swimming test. Only by
the generosity of the program commandant, Navy Captain Hannerhan, who allowed we could pass if we could float for five minutes in the pool. He remarked, "That ocean is pretty big and no one has swam across it yet."
Arty and I had each gone to different "E" bases for flight training and had not been in touch since that day in July of 1942. Arty had washed out of flight training but had stayed in the Navy and become the second officer on a PT or torpedo boat.
After a minute or so hugging, Arty said, "I've got to tell the skipper who we've rescued. Here, get in this bunk." A boat crewman handed me a soup-bowl full of hot coffee in which he must have dumped a cup of sugar, it was like syrup. As I started to drink the coffee they fired up the other two engines on the boat and I had coffee all over my sea-soaked flight suit. I nearly fell to the deck but managed to catch the side of the bunk. The crewman who had given me the coffee took the bowl and refueled it and brought it back to me. Due to the speed we were going and the rough seas I spilled most of that. I crawled into the bunk but the pitching and rolling of the boat kept tossing me out on the deck. Finally the boat crewman put a sideboard on the edge of the bunk so I couldn't fall out. My crew had been put in other bunks somewhere but I knew they were being well cared for. It was a long rough ride the 190 miles back to Green Island. There was time for prayers of thanksgiving after which, in a state of exhaustion, I must have slept.
When we got to the boat dock at home base it was about daylight. There must have been fifty or more of our friends there, each of whom had a bottle of booze and wanted us to have a drink with him. The doctor or flight surgeon wouldn't stand for that so we were taken to sick bay which was a nice clean Quonset hut, compared to our quarters that were cargo tents stretched over a frame to hold them up in the wind and rain. There, each of us had to drink a little bottle of Lejeune brandy, that's the Navy's cure-all tonic.
It was hard for us to settle down or sleep because we were so excited at surviving that ordeal. I'll admit I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer thanking our Shepherd for bring my crew and me through this with no serious injury.
All of a sudden, "Caboom!" the quonset hut shook and all of us were sitting upright on our cots. A second, "Caboom!" and everything shook again. I never saw the doctor run so fast out the door. What was happening was an anti-aircraft firing drill. The 90mm anti-aircraft gun was only about 100 feet from the hut. They didn't know that we had just been rescued and of course stopped when told of our experience. That scare had excited us so much there was no way we could go to sleep now.
In an hour our skipper, Lt. Col. Anderson and several other officers came in to see us. After finding us so wide awake and in good shape the doctor said, "If you're not going to sleep you might as well go back to your areas," which is what we wanted to do anyhow.
When I got to officers' country I learned the thrill to the whole squadron when the black cat relayed the message to the skipper in the PBJ and he relayed "Seven OK" to the PT boat. The black cat didn't have compatible radio frequencies and the skipper had relayed our position and all to the PT boat.
In the officers' club was an old radio taken from a wrecked plane. We often listened to Tokyo Rose because she had later news than we had, although slanted. The night before, officers and enlisted men were welcome in the club to listen to what was going on about the rescue. When the message "Seven OK" was heard the area went wild, and again when the PT boat reported all seven rescued.
I also learned that the PBY black cat was making its final sweep when I fired the tracer bullet that showed them where we were in the water. I also learned that it was my leader Bill who had to go on single engine because a .22 caliber rifle bullet had hit a return oil line and he lost engine oil pressure. It was a grand home-coming. Next morning at the mess hall many friends and pilots gathered to ask questions about what we did, thought, felt, etc. including Joe Foss. Kenneth G. Myer Maj. U.S.M.C.
Map is with photos
Memories of VMB-423
By Charles Milone, pilot
One of my most vivid combat memories was sighting an enemy airplane over Rabaul at night. Two things I'm sure of: we were over Rabaul and it was night. We were on a night heckling mission dropping our 14 one hundred-pounders whenever we saw a light, which presumably indicated some sort of activity by the Japanese. According to our briefings, the Japanese had aircraft and pilots, but very little fuel. So we didn't expect to encounter any aerial opposition.
However, in the midst of our three hours over the target area in the middle of this November night, my tail gunner, Ralph Love, called me on the intercom and said, "Lieutenant there's an airplane on our tail." Knowing that there were to be no friendly planes in the area, we assumed this was a "Jap." My response to Ralph was, "Keep an eye on him and if he comes any closer, open fire." Immediately I began evasive action of diving and turning. The evasive action worked. We never saw him again.
Of course, I never did see him but was convinced that Ralph did. It was not until after the war that I began to wonder whether Ralph actually saw an enemy airplane. I wondered if he became worried and "saw" the source of his worry. Or perhaps, his eyes were playing tricks on him. I haven't been able to discuss this with Ralph, because I lost contact with him.
Strangely enough, my mother wrote me a little while after this incident and told me she had awakened from her sleep one night about this same time with the premonition that I was in danger. My logical mind tells me she awoke because she was worried about me. If you believe that people, especially mothers, sense such things, you could conclude that I was in danger. The phantom sighting and her awakening could hardly have been at the same time, because the middle of the night in Rabaul would have been mid-day in Illinois. At this point it makes no difference what actually happened, but it's interesting to speculate.
Another somewhat similar incident happened to one of my squadron mates. I hope he tells the story, but if he doesn't, here is the story as I remember it. When one of our flight crews went on station for a heckling mission over Rabaul, one of his crewmen spotted a plane on their tail. The tail gunner opened fire and the plane turned away.
Only after they returned to Green Island did they learn what had happened. The plane turned out to be a Ventura Bomber (PV-1), also based on Green, flown by a New Zealand crew. The gunner had been very accurate. The bullets went through the windshield into the co-pilot's seat of the airplane. Fortunately, no New Zealander was injured, because there was nobody in the right seat. The New Zealand flight crew had only one pilot.
The rest of the story is that the New Zealand pilot for some reason or other stayed on target after he was supposed to leave. That seemed pretty dumb to us, because we knew that only one plane at a time was suppose
d to be on target. Perhaps he was new and had not been properly briefed. I'm sure he needed no further briefing.
There's another part of this story I still find amazing. I found myself admiring the New Zealand pilots for flying the PV without a co-pilot. I flew that beast in operational training and found it the most difficult airplane I ever flew, especially to take off, because of extremely high torque. It was even worse than the C-46, or R5C, as we knew it.
My Greatest Flying Experience
One of the biggest thrills in my flying career was flying the Pacific from San Francisco (Fairfield Suisun Army Air Corps Base). For a southern-Illinois farm-boy, who had never been more than 30 miles from home until he was almost through high school, flying across the pacific was momentous. My crew was one of the first to go overseas as a replacement crew. One year to the day after I got my wings, we took off from Fairfield Suisun at 9:30 pm April 27, 1944 with 1,650 gallons of gasoline at maximum gross weight of 34,500 pounds. The plane had been stripped of armor and armament to lighten it so we could carry full bomb-bay tanks of fuel.
Actually, we had tried April 25th. When we were about two hours out, we were ordered to turn around and return to base. The reason was they had calculated that the winds were too unfavorable and we might not have sufficient fuel to reach Honolulu. I was happy with that decision for another reason. We were to navigate by radio ships and the stars. We were flying in heavy rain which made celestial navigation impossible.
That first night was a tragic one for one of our flight crews. As we approached the coast on our return, we had been instructed to do a "dance" which was an identification procedure of prescribed turns for the controllers following us on radar. We did that and were instructed to fly between Sacramento and the Base for about three hours to lighten our fuel load to a safe landing weight. After landing at about five in the morning, we learned that George's plane had disappeared. It turned out that he did the "dance," but the controllers apparently didn't watch him any more. We found out six weeks later that the airplane had been found crashed in the mountains north of San Francisco.
I had my theory as to what happened based on my flying instrument training flights with George back at Cherry Point. He seemed to blank out every once in a while. I think he may have had a mild seizure disorder, which was undiagnosed. One thing I couldn't understand was how his co-pilot, a sharp pilot, could have let him fly into a mountain. Perhaps there was equipment failure instead of pilot error.
On the night we went, the skies were clear, a good thing, too, because we could not receive the radio ships' signals. My navigator, fresh out of navigation school when we left Cherry Point in early March, practiced a bit at El Centro on engine run-in flights. The Air Corps bomber crews flying to Honolulu were assigned full-fledged commissioned navigators from the Air Transport Command, their bombigators, as we called them, also commissioned, did not navigate their airplanes to Honolulu. The Air Corps pilots expressed some sympathy for us having to fly the ocean with such inexperienced navigators.
About half-way across I was reminded of their concern. Relying only on celestial navigation,
my navigator with some uncertainty said to me, "Lieutenant, according to my calculations we are 60 miles north of course." I suggested we hold the same heading and check our position one hour later. At that time he announced, with a fair degree of confidence, "We are now 100 miles north of course." He gave me a new heading and we hit Molokai Island as planned, precisely at the ETA.
The flight was successful in every way. The Army Air Corps controlled us completely and well. They assigned us staggered altitudes (8,500 feet for me) and takeoff times at fifteen-minute intervals. We were to maintain 175 MPH true airspeed for which they gave us suggested power settings. Our plane was able to maintain the prescribed airspeed on less than the suggested power settings. I cannot recall the exact power settings but near the end of the flight we were using approximately 22 inches of manifold pressure and 1550 RPMs. After 12.6 hours in the air, we landed about 7 am at Hickam Field with 350 gallons of gasoline, enough fuel for another four hours.
After our planes were re-armed and re-armored, we continued on, all daylight flights. Palmyra island was six hours south; Canton five hours southwest; Funafuti four hours southwest, and Espiritu Santos another five hours southwest. Canton is about 200 miles southeast of Howland Island, Amelia Earhart's destination when she was lost.
There's an interesting story about another PBJ crew on this same itinerary. A little after the point of no return to Espiritu Santos, one engine failed. To reduce weight so they could sustain flight, the pilot ordered all excess baggage including personal effects to be jettisoned. The co-pilot was in the navigator's compartment behind the cockpit throwing things out the bottom hatch. His fountain pen fell out of his vest pocket, and he dutifully and without thinking kicked it out the hatch.
We spent 10 days in Espiritu Santos with VMB-413; they were resting a few weeks after operating out of Sterling Island against Rabaul. On June 27th we flew to Guadalcanal, which we all wanted to see, refueled, flew to Sterling Island and on to Green Island to join 423. We learned soon after our arrival that Captain Edmonds and all his crew had been killed in a crash the night before on a landing approach. Captain Edmonds had been an instructor in SNVs, basic trainers (not so affectionately known as Vultee Vibrators) at Pensacola when I was there. He must have had a lot of single-engine time, perhaps too little multi-engine time.
Immediately upon arrival at Green we found out there really was a war on. At Barber's Point NAS, Honolulu, the Navy technicians had painted emblems on mine and Tom Taylor's airplanes. They each showed a bomb hitting a Jap in the belly. Our planes were named the Unexpected and the Uninvited. Those emblems were painted over. The Air Corps had emblems on their planes, but not the Navy or the Marine Corps. After a pleasant tour of the Pacific, we had joined the fight.
A Touch of Home on Green Island
by Marion Nicolodi
Enclosed find three pictures. The one with Bob's tent pals while in the service, the other of the reunion.
Bob was pleased and enjoyed all the reunions. He never spoke too much about the service.
One thing, his mother sent him petunia seed and he said they grew very tall and he had a lattice for them by the tent. I used to have a picture of it but can't find it.
I recall a very nice reunion at Pensacola.Best to all, Marion Nicolodi
By George (Phil) Phillips
As I look back on my experiences with VMB-423, I cannot disregard the good times I had when our crew visited Australia for the first of two trips. They were called R&R.
The stay consisted of a myriad of first-time happenings for many of us. They began from the time we took off from Green to our stopovers in Port Moresby and Townsville to our final destination at the cosmopolitan city of Sydney.
I think the hallmark of our stay was meeting the citizens of that lovely country. When we landed we did not look like the typical parade-ground Marine. On the contrary, we were weary, unshaven, had impetigo, yellow from atabrine, and our flight clothing looked unkempt. We were a disheveled bunch. But we were accepted immediately.
The one good thing we had going for us were great expectations. Why, I am not certain. But they were satisfied. The natives took us under their wings and by the end of our ten-day sojourn, we knew what friendship was all about.
As I look back I can see us paying for services rendered with cigarettes, boyish charm, and an unrelenting urge to have the time of our lives. I suppose what was one of the more important things was that the wistful memories of our family and friends back home were set aside for a few moments to enjoy life with newly found friends. The Australian people loved us and we them. George (Phil) Phillips, Corporal, USMCR
By Anthony Pusillo, Photographer
Big foot was a native coast watcher, and being a coast watcher it was his responsibility to notify the intelligence officer on the base of the movement of any enemy ships or ground forces in the area. The coast watchers moved around from island to island and were aware of more activities than anyone else. Big foot was a short, stocky, barrel-chested fellow, coal-black, and almost always wore a cheerful smile.
One time, Big Foot took me out into the jungle to teach me jungle survival. After a day's hard labor of pushing and hacking our way through jungle, stepping over roots and tree trunks and wet spots, I realized I was starving. I told Big Foot in the combined Pidgin English and gestures we used that I was hungry and there was nothing to eat around here, and that we should get back to the base.
Big Foot turned around and said to me, "Plenty of food here. Good food."
I said, "Show me," thinking he might shinny up a tree and throw down some wild fruit that I hadn't noticed, like mangoes or breadfruit or papayas
He walked up to a dead decaying tree lying on the ground, took out his machete and slashed it a couple of times.
He put his hands in the hole he had cut into the tree and pulled out a handful of something that I could not immediately identify. The proud look on his face said, "Lo and behold here is our dinner!"
Then I realized that what he held in his hands were beetle grubs. He saw that my expression was not one of joy, but something quite the opposite. He told me to try one, and demonstrated by eating first a single one and, apparently finding it delicious, he ate several massive handfuls of the white, writhing bodies and gestured to me to do likewise.
I regret to say that I then let out a curse word and told him where to go. I found it hard to believe that people would eat such creatures. Then, I told myself that I was mistaken about having felt starving a few minutes earlier. I was merely hungry. In fact by now I was just barely hungry.
When we finally got back to the base and the mess hall, I sat down and ate my fried bologna and powdered eggs, gratefully.
I have told this story since and some people say they would have tried the grubs. Others say "No way!"
What would you have done?
I was born and raised in Carteret, N.J. and still enjoying living here with my family and life-long friends.
Mary, my wife of 46 years, and I have a wonderful family, two sons - Anthony Jr. and his wife Donna and our handsome 22-year-old grandson, Anthony III [A.J.] -- and Wayne, our second son and his wife Lisa and our delightful 41/2-year-old granddaughter, Danielle.
Grandchildren have a special way of keeping our hearts young, even though the rest of our bodies don't always do the same.
Semper Fi to all my Marine buddies and may God keep you all well. God
bless you. Tony
We bobbed like a cork for thirty days...
By Al Rice
Some of the things I remember are...
We left San Diego Harbor aboard the SS Extavia some time in January 1945. 2,000 replacements headed for various assignments. Soon after departure we had a wonderful lunch and were enjoying smooth, comfortable ocean travel __ two hours later we passed the end of the breakwater and 2,000 fresh troops hit the railing. You have never seen so many sick men! We rocked and rolled for thirty days. The ship was a converted freighter and people weigh a lot less than she was designed to carry, so we bobbed like a cork for 30 days.
As we crossed the equator we were initiated into Royal Order of King Neptune's Court. (There is a name for this ceremony of equator crossing, which I can't recall.) This required crawling through a passageway and being blasted with a fire hose while those who preceded came back to whack you on the butt as you crawled into the blast. Finally, you were required to kiss King Neptune's big toe which was liberally coated with rancid grease.
Upon arrival at Green Island, as one of a group of replacement pilots, we were assigned to our quarters and we unpacked. Fred Reinmiller, (a tall Oklahoman who had been at Pearl Harbor 12/7/41 and then got assigned to pilot training) couldn't wait to go across the lagoon to find some native girls. He convinced Nicholas, from Iron Mountain or Escanaba, to go with him. They got a rubber raft and started across. Well, they had no idea how far it was nor how hot the sun was (or that native girls were off limits). Nicholas was okay, but Freddie was burned to a crisp. He spent 3 weeks in sick bay, not even being able to stand a sheet touching him.
An Aussie who was leaving the Island gave me a little Scotty dog, complete with her registration papers. She was a well_bred dog and a lot of companionship. I was sorry to have to leave her, either on Green or Emirau. I still have her papers.
I finally discovered at the last reunion how I came to fly as co_pilot on Col. Anderson's 100th mission. Al (can't remember his last name) was laid up in Sydney with the hives!
In August we took two old airplanes back to Ewa to pick up two new planes. I was asked to try to find whatever I could to help repair our ground vehicles. We needed tires, batteries, transmissions, differentials, carburetors, everything. I went from depot to depot all around Ford Island signing phony names and squadron numbers, telling everyone that my requisitions were lost or misplaced. I thought for years that if they ever caught up with me I would spend time in Leavenworth.
While at Ewa the war ended and I was able to call Ft. Wayne and talk to Laura. What a feeling -- and I can still talk to her every day! We had our 56th wedding anniversary 12/27/99. We are blessed!
We flew back to Mindanao (the squadron had moved up while we were in
Hawaii). While there I once flew Moose Krause, our group recreation officer
(later Notre Dame's Athletic Director), and our ball team up to Manila to
play Peewee Reese's team.
Recollections By Bill Rogers, Tail Gunner
The Order of the Thumb
One thing I remember is...
Col. Anderson was flying the plane and Ned Wernick, who was a turret gunner, climbed down from the turret and turned off the oxygen. Just then, Col. Anderson motioned to him with his thumb to get back up to the turret.
(Ned explains: I noticed the O2 regulator indicated that O2 was flowing. I thought that at 9,000 feet no one would be using it, therefore it must be leaking. So I turned it off. Immediately, I felt Col. Anderson's hand on my wrist and looked up and saw his oxygen-masked face. With his thumb he pointed up toward my turret. I retreated. End of story.)
High Protein Bread
I was a baker's helper when one day, to my surprise, I found little black bugs in the flour. I called this to the attention of the baker. He said, "Just mix the dough and forget it."
So you see you ate quite a lot of bugs when you were on the islands.
A Happy Christmas Memory
This happened after the war but is worth relating. Ned Wernick, then a
young Jewish lad from New York City and enrolled in college in the mid-west,
visited Helen and me and our very young son on Christmas Eve quite a few
times after the war. At the time of the first such visit, we were in the
habit of waiting until Christmas Eve to decorate our tree, so we invited Ned
to put the first ornaments on the tree. Helen and I opened the box of
Christmas tree balls and handed it to Ned. Ned looked at the ornaments in
the box, then looked at the tree, looked back at the box, back at the
tree... as he just stood there, we realized he didn't know what to do or how
to go about it, so we each took an ornament out of the box and hung it on
the tree, and then Ned was able to follow suit. He not only enjoyed helping
us decorate the tree that night, he even attended Midnight Mass with us!
By Ted Rundall
After boot camp, I was sent to radio school at Texas A&M College in College Station, Texas. It was a revelation for a kid from Queens to see this different world, where every passing Aggie greeted me with a friendly smile and a "howdy." To the best of my recollection, this was the first college campus I had ever been on. On Christmas eve, 1942, I was on guard duty outside our dormitory (barracks) at the college. It was dark, around midnight, and the sky was bright with stars. A train whistle blew in the distance, long and lonesome, and I heard a voice say, "Train goin' east." That sent a pang of homesickness through me that I still remember.
While at advanced radio school in NATTC Memphis, I reported to sick bay one morning with a sore throat. Everyone who did so that day, or perhaps that week, was examined for scarlet fever, which they had an epidemic of. That's what I had. I was out of commission for a month and worst of all, to me, I fell behind my classmates and had to pick up a new class. Looking back, I suppose if I hadn't gotten scarlet fever, I would have ended up in an SBD or TBF squadron or in VMB-413. Fate seems to play a big part in the life of a Marine.
My first flight ever was in a PBY, in operational training in Jacksonville. The pilots had just earned their wings and they were learning, too. The PBYs landed in and took off from the St. John's River, which ran right alongside the air station. Aircrewmen took turns acting as beaching crews. We'd push the PBY's big wheels from the parking ramp into the river and swim with them to the aircraft and attach them (there was a Port team and a Starboard team), so the PBY could be towed by tractor up the ramp and out of the water. I believe that to this day I still have some of that river fungus growing in my ears.
On that first flight, one of the more experienced crew members told me to give a test count on the intercom, and handed me the "mike." I thought it was a mighty strange mike, and before I got to "three" realized everyone was laughing -- I was talking into the relief tube.
Gunnery practice from the PBY was great. I remember standing out in the open at the nose gun, wearing goggles and helmet a la World War I, and being careful to shoot at the towed sleeve and not at the tow plane. We flew to Boca Chica and other islands in the Florida keys and I saw for the first time what the color aquamarine meant. The water was clear and beautiful. I was accustomed to seeing the dark murkiness of Jamaica Bay waters and was amazed by this!
After joining VMB-423, we spent a lot of time on the flight line before each flight, at least while at Edenton. Some of the activities I remember were draining water out of the fuel lines through petcocks, safety-wiring the petcocks back into the closed position, opening and closing cowlings with Zeus fasteners - everything we did and saw was new to us. And pulling the PBJ's props through on a cold morning was real exercise. We stood by with fire extinguishers while the engines were started because fuel leaking out of the exhausts would sometimes ignite. Once, I was standing by with the fire bottle and as the engine caught, flames came out of the exhaust. In my haste to use the extinguisher, I started to run through the spinning prop. Someone grabbed my arm just in time.
I remember, during training flights, cruising near beautiful, towering formations of cumulus clouds, colored every shade from white to pink to purple by the slanting sun, and being entranced... and getting caught and tossed around in a thunderhead and hoping the wings wouldn't come off... the difficulty of sending morse code when going through turbulence... flying down inside the the Grand Canyon, below the rims... and the mixed feelings of dread and excitement when I sat in the PBJ's plexiglass nose during a landing... and being airsick time and time again and fighting it by concentrating on the radio or radar.
While we were in El Centro, an ordnance man was boresighting a machine gun in the nose of a PBJ and inadvertently fired a round which struck another PBJ that was parked on the ramp. That PBJ burned to the ground and left nothing but a pile of ashes.
The tent our bunch lived in at Stirling, recently vacated by VMB-413 crews, had a sign on it that read "Tortilla Flats." Having been a John Steinbeck fan, I thought that was neat.
For a while we used to take a case of empty beer bottles along on our night heckling missions and drop a few from the rear hatch in between the real bomb drops. It was said that the bottles made a whistling sound, and could be demoralizing to the Nips below. Actually, who knows? Nowadays I wonder if those Nips thought we were drinking on the job.
Sometimes on heckling missions there were no signs of life in the target area. On one such mission, our pilot turned on his landing lights to see what would happen. It quickly brought the searchlight and AA crews into action! That experiment wasn't repeated.
Medium altitude bombing missions, flown in formation, were to me the most harrowing flights of all. We had to maintain a straight and level course for several minutes so that the bombardiers could get the bombsights lined up with the targets, and that's when the anti-aircraft gunners would zero in on us, especially over Kavieng, where the AA always seemed the worst. It was scary to be flying into and around the little black puffs of smoke. I remember being surprised that you could smell the gunpowder from the bursts so strongly. The Chaplain who said "there are no atheists in foxholes" could have added "or in bombers under fire."
Low-altitude missions were exciting -- things seemed to happen faster and you could see in close-up detail what was on the ground, even though it was streaking by the waist gunner's window so fast. On these missions, we all got to fire our machine guns at targets of opportunity and, being just boys, we enjoyed that thoroughly.
One of our PBJs disappeared on a night mission and our crew was sent up to try to establish communications or to see what we could see, but for some reason during the entire search I could never contact the base at Green. Even though I checked and double checked, I've always suspected I was transmitting and receiving on the wrong frequency. In any case, our silence caused a lot of anxiety back at Green, and I was a very unpopular radioman, and a very glum one, when we returned to base.
One time, we were returning to Green and had feathered one prop and were having trouble maintaining altitude. The pilot told us to jettison everything heavy we could. Reams, Klepaczyk and I worked as fast as we could to throw things out the rear hatch -- machine gun barrels, radio receiver coils and anything else we could detach from the plane, heavy or not, except our parachutes and survival gear. The guys up front did the same. We just made it back.
After a mission, we'd be "issued" a coke and a one-ounce bottle of brandy. I'd always trade my brandy to Lefler for his coke. It was my preference, but he thought that was a real cool deal.
During spare time between missions, in addition to doing our laundry and making the camp comfortable, many of us explored what we could of the island, played cards, shot the breeze, cleaned guns, played softball and volley ball, fished, swam, visited the radio shack, etc. But my favorite spare time activity was reading. Some organization, I don't know which, provided us with hundreds and hundreds of paper-back books; everything, I think, from classics to mysteries to adventures to westerns. Those books provided a welcome escape from boredom and from depressing thoughts.
While we were at Green, I heard that Captain Wilhite had become eligible to join the quarter-century club. I was amazed to learn what an old guy he was!
Something we brought back with us, besides memories and experiences, were friendships. We shared laughter and sorrow and fears and boredom and frustration with guys who were very different in superficial ways (city boys and country boys, northerners and southerners, easterners and westerners), but sharing and reacting to the same experiences made us realize that we had a lot more in common than we had separating us. Sometimes, however, the superficial differences were quite significant. For example, a lesson I learned early in my Marine Corps career was never to sit in on a poker game among guys with southern accents. They look and sound so friendly and innocent!
I can never reminisce about those days without thinking about the boys we left behind. These are sad memories and the same old questions echo in my mind, over and over again: Why? Why them and not me? Those questions never really go away, but I realize now that that is as it should be. The highest tribute we can pay these young men, our friends and comrades, is to remember them and to think about what they gave their lives for.
Memories of VMB-423 Photo Lab
by Paul R. Schell
The VMB-423 Photo Department was formed when the Squadron was commissioned in 1943 at Cherry Point. Photo officers were 1st Lt. Michael J. Bosak and 1st Lt. Ralph P. "Bubba" Jones, both pilots. The original photographers were harry J. "Pat" Ryan, Edward J. Leonard and Paul R. Schell, all graduates of the Naval School of Photography at Pensacola, Florida. Their job was to take pictures of Squadron activities and personnel, and accompany the crews on their flights and record the bombing missions, and then process the photos for official reports and records. Most of the missions were over Rabaul and sections of New Ireland and we had our share of dodging the "flak" and an occasional Jap plane.
We worked and spent much of our extra time together, even going on liberty together - - if and when we could get "cut loose" from the Photo Lab. Lt. Bosak had secured a Photo Trailer for us and we used it for mixing chemicals, processing the films we shot and making prints for the records. We had a tent attached to the trailer and it was used for drying the long rolls of aerial camera film and prints and keeping records, and generally lounging around.
We were joined at Green Island by Paul Lantzer, who transferred from the VMB Photo Squadron at Guadalcanal. Also joining was George Yates, who was classified as a "striker" and he filled in on missions and did extra work around the Lab.
We accompanied the planes and crews, mainly on daylight missions, both Medium Altitude and Low Level runs.
Eddie Leonard was on the plane when 1st Lt. Kenneth Meyer and his crew were shot down during a low-level run on New Ireland and ditched in the ocean. All got out before the PBJ sank, and they floated on their rafts for several hours until being rescued by a PT Boat that came all the way from Green Island. It was probably the most harrowing experience any of the photographers had.
We all had our R&R leaves to Sydney, Australia, and joined with other crew members in having great times and seeing another section of the Pacific.
When the replacement photographers were assigned in December, 1944, we were rotated back to the United States in January, 1945, along with other crew members. After our 30-day leave we were assigned to various Marine Air Stations where we spent the rest of our time until the War ended and we were discharged from the Corps.
The tour of duty with VMB-423 was a truly wonderful experience. I cherish my memories of the great times I had with members of a great Squadron.
Semper Fi ---
...Friends Through the Years
By Trudy Sheckler
Please excuse printing as I do not have a typewriter - So hope you can read this.
Enclosed are pictures sent to Ken at our home in Scottsdale, a favorite visiting place.
The Nicolodi family (Mr. & Mrs.) visited in Scottsdale a couple of times.
Of course the O'Shaughnessys are living in Sun City. Dick Shepherd did live in Mesa but we have not seen him in years - just visited him at his home at that time.
Remained friends with these folks thru the years.
Loren was always known for "brushing his teeth" and he joked about Nicolodi grinding his teeth in his sleep.
What year pictures taken - unknown.
Seasons Greetings, Trudy Sheckler
The Worst Landing ...
By Richard Shipley
Charles Milone told me about the recollection he contributed to the VMB-423 book of memories. My story is a continuation of one of his: On one of our night_heckling missions, our tail gunner, Ralph Love, reported a strange aircraft on our tail. Charles immediately took evasive action _ there were lots of clouds _ and asked me to radio in a bogey report. We never saw the bogey again and were never sure whether Ralph was imagining things or just wanted to liven up the evening.
That was the end of the tale for me until on board the USS Young America, returning home. During a conversation with an Army Lieutenant, he brought up an alert incidence relative to a "bogey report". We compared dates and it had to be my radio message back to Green that had been picked up on Bougainville. They thought the bogey was following us into Bougainville, put the whole island on alert and shut everything down. Ever since, I have had the satisfaction that, in our own small way, we contributed to the Army's war preparedness. Charles and I thought this would be a fitting sequel to his portion of the story.
Another small incident that remains in my mind _ we had been out on a skip bombing and strafing mission over New Ireland in which one of the planes had been shot down and was in the water being shelled. One plane had an engine shot out and was limping home. We were low on fuel so were returning to Green as fast as possible to gas up and go back. The co_pilot (to be nameless) was landing the plane and as I understand it, decided to drop it and flare only once just above the runway. Unfortunately, we didn't flare and the first bounce seemed forever. When we came to a stop, the fuselage was buckled just aft of the wing and the tires were all blown, but luckily we didn't cart wheel.
We all got out of the plane, happy to be in one piece, when Lieutenant Colonel Anderson drove up in his jeep. In what I considered a masterful understatement, his only comment before driving off was, "That is the worst landing I have ever seen."
By Frederick Stay
It's been so long that I really don't know where to start, so I guess I'll try to just start from the beginning. On November 24, 1942, along with my younger brother, I joined the Marine Corps. He was 17 years old and I was 19 years old. Together we completed Marine boot camp at Parris Island. I was selected to go to ordnance school in Memphis, Tennessee, and he remained at Parris Island. This is significant because I never saw my brother again after leaving boot camp.
My brother, Walter, later completed Marine Paratrooper training and became a Para-Marine. He took part in several South Pacific Island engagements against the Japanese and was killed in action in the invasion of Peleliu Island -- on September 28, 1944. A campaign that was, I feel, unnecessary and a waste of a lot of young men.
In the meantime I was completing ordnance school in Memphis, Tennessee, gunnery school in Norman, Oklahoma, aerial gunnery school in Jacksonville, Florida and then to Cherry Point, where I was assigned to VMB-423. I don't remember when we were assigned permanent crew members but I eventually ended up flying as tail-gunner for pilot 1st Lt. Lynn W. Griffiths and co-pilot 2nd Lt. Edward G. Powers. I'm ashamed to admit that I can't remember the name of our bombardier/navigator. However, I do remember that we lost our original bombardier/navigator when he substituted for another crew on a training mission and they crashed with all hands lost. John Phillips was our turret gunner and Stanley Shaffer was our radio gunner..
Oh, how I remember some of those long submarine search missions over endless miles of water, freezing in the tail of that plane and dreaming of a good hot cup of coffee. On return to base at Green Island, going to the mess hall and taking that allotted 2oz bottle of brandy and having what we called a Coffee Royal.
As I mentioned earlier, we lost our original bombardier/navigator on a practice mission. Well, if you look in the VMB-423 Seahorse Marine Squadron book, on the first page of the flight crew photographs, in the lower right hand corner of the page, you'll see that our crew photograph is the only one with only five members (no navigator). All the rest have a complete crew of six members. When the pictures were taken, we hadn't been assigned a replacement bombardier/navigator. I'm kneeling to the right and John Phillips is kneeling to the left (looking at the photo).
Another thing that stands out in my mind is when we flew those night harassing missions over Rabaul and we had dropped a few bombs here and there to keep them awake and a little nervous, they would turn on a few search lights and probe the sky for us. When they finally found us
in their light beams it was bright enough to read a book in the plane. Kinda scary! Waiting to see if you would be hit next, with flak.
Then, there were those medium altitude raids where, as you approached the target area, you'd see this huge cluster of little black puffs of smoke all around you. Then, you really knew that those damn Japs were trying to kill you. I can remember, at that moment, wondering if and when, kneeling as I was in the tail end of that plane, I was going to get hit, by some of that flak, up my butt. Weird, the things you think about at times like that.
There were times when things seemed not so hectic or scary. Like the time we were returning from one of our missions. I got to wondering what would happen if I reached out and, unexpectedly, manually activated the plane's elevator. I didn't just wonder, though. I leaned out the open end of my plexiglass housing, just barely reaching the edge of the elevator and pulled up on it just enough to make the plane climb a little. Then I heard, over the inter-com, my pilot, Lt. Griffiths, asking our co-pilot, Lt. Powers, "Ed, did you see that?" "What are you doing back there, Stay, having a party or what?" I told him what I had done and he asked me to demonstrate what I could do. I carefully went through some little climbs and dives and he seemed impressed. He jokingly told me that if we ever got our controls shot out that I could bring us in for a landing.
Everything wasn't all bad. When we weren't flying, there was the volley ball games, played by most, with the many skinned knees and hands from falling on the coral ground. Also, the many card games played in the evenings after a shower under the oxygen tank hanging from a tree limb. How about all those little salamanders and lizards that used to run and climb all over and around the tent poles and rafters! No one seemed to mind as long as they didn't get under your netting and into your sack.
Our crew flew 47 combat missions and shortly afterwards was returned to the States where I was given a 30-day furlough and spent a joyful reunion with my family - a mother and father and 11 (eleven) brothers and sisters. Of course, I really didn't see my brothers, for, as I mentioned earlier, one was a Marine killed in action and the other three were still in the service - one in the SeaBees, one in the Army and the youngest brother in the Navy.
After my 30-day furlough I returned to duty and was assigned to a dive
bomber squadron as a rear gunner in a Navy SB2C. I trained for several
months and was preparing to be sent overseas again when the war ended.
Shortly after, I was discharged on February 18, 1946 from Bainbridge,
Maryland, with the rank of Sergeant.
Things I remember
by Richard Stewart
I remember vividly my first sight of Espiritu Santos. I was so impressed, and the impression stayed with me for so long, that in 1986 I wrote to their chamber of commerce. My letter included the following paragraphs:
One day, early in 1942, I was standing on the deck of a ship that was anchored off the shore of Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. Our ship approached the island on a night that was stormy, with heavy rain. In the blackness, there was nothing to be seen.
As daylight approached, there was a cloud cover that hung over the area like an umbrella. Beneath it we could see the shoreline which was covered with lush vegetation. It seemed somehow unreal to see what appeared to be a tropical paradise while the world was in a state of war with much sorrow and unhappiness.
We landed on the island and found the people friendly and the countryside incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay very long but moved on to places less beautiful and less pleasant. That all happened a long time ago. But, through the years, I always thought that one day I would like to return.
I would be extremely grateful if you would find the time to send me whatever information you may have regarding visitors' accommodations. It would also be greatly appreciated if you had available any pictures, maps, historical background, and information on your becoming a republic which I understand occurred in 1980. Congratulations.
Here is their insightful answer:
Tuesday, 11th February, 1986
Dear Mr. Stewart,
Thank you for your interesting and unusual letter of 28th January 1986. It deserves an answer on a personal note and the writer will endeavour to supply it. Although having served in a different theatre of war, we have the same nostalgic memories of places visited a long time ago. Our experience, on revisiting these places has invariably been rather disappointing. Is it because we tend to embellish the object of pleasant memories, or have things changed? Or, maybe, we have changed ourselves? Probably a mixture of all three.
Whatever the cause, Santo, especially the town of Luganville, has changed. Many people, mostly French, have left and many plantations have
been abandoned and are returning to nature. Luganville has become a phantom town.
But the beauty of the island is still there and had it not been for the present economic depression and the decline in tourism (partly due to the high rate of the Vatu to the Australian dollar), Santo might well have its share of tourists. The "Hotel Santo" is a good place, not quite of international standard, but clean and with good beds. The (French ) restaurant of the hotel is excellent. There is no other comfortable accommodation. Across the Channel, on Bokissa Island, is a resort hotel of which people speak well. There is no luxury, but the people who have been there and stayed in one of the bungalows and have eaten there, are full of praise.
If you are a diving enthusiast, Santo is the place for you, especially the wreck of the "President Coolidge", a wartime relic. Other points of interest:. Champagne Beach and Million Dollar Point, where the U.S. Marines drove their trucks and other heavy equipment into the sea rather than abandon it intact.
Air Melanesiae has several flights daily to and from Santo. The Company uses small piston_engined Islander, Trilander, Twin Otter and Bandeirante planes (one hour from Vila to Santo).
In the way of literature we cannot offer you anything but the Vanuatu Trade Directory (published by this Chamber) which contains many articles on the history, geography, the people and the economy of Vanuatu. It will be airmailed to you on receipt of your bankdraft (payable in Vanuatu) for US$ 7.00 (postage paid).
If you decide to make the trip, we shall be pleased to receive you at the Chamber's offices.
One thing I remember about Espiritu Santos was going to a place called Charlie's where you could have a steak. It was com- pletely unexpected in that kind of setting.
Helping Lew Merritt build a washing machine that shredded your clothes...
Lifting weights with Val Stachowski and Jerry Hicks... Dynamite fishing with Jerry Ross and Leo Kearney... The day Lt. Beinor used aviation gas instead of kerosene to burn out the heads and near blew himself up.
Writing these recollections has stirred up many humorous and fond
memories and I am grateful for that. I lived and worked with a bunch of
wonderful guys in VMB-423.
INTERLUDES WITH THE U S MARINE CORPS 1942_1964
AND THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY 1942_1977
By Harold R. Sweet
On December 7, 1941, I was a senior in the Aeronautical Engineering Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y. RPI did its part for the growing war effort by graduating the Class of '42 a few weeks early. Thus I graduated in May 1942 with a BS in Aeronautical Engineering.
Two of us from the Aero class of '42 had accepted offers from North American Aviation (NAA), Kansas. With degrees in hand we boarded the trusty New York Central RR for the first lap of our journey to Kansas City and NAA Kansas positions as engineer trainees. Naturally this carried with it a 2A draft status, a situation that within a few months was to cause a problem.
NAA Kansas was building B_25's and also had a contract for hundreds of B_29's. Work was not far advanced on the latter program and I suspect the reason for the large number of trainees was that contract. Somewhat coincidental with our completion of the trainee program (with a presumed knowledge of how NAA functions) the B_29 contract was canceled. The Navy had dumped a Boeing flying boat project which made a Boeing plant available and the NAA B_29 program superfluous; this then permitted increased B_25 production, including deliveries to the Navy/Marine Corps. This change had a major effect on subsequent events in my career.
After completing the trainee program,
five of us were assigned to the night shift in scheduling. Over the next few months the Iowa State member of this crew and I talked each other into joining the Marine Corps via their OCS program. At that point I ran into a small problem over the 2A status. The head of the draft board was a friend of my father's and although his son was at that point a senior at West Point, he
had a stated position that no engineer should be in the military. After several exchanges of correspondence I received a telegram from the draft board advising that for a period of 24 hours my draft classification was 1A. Within the 24 hour allotted period the two of us were in the Marine Corps although it was to be November before we reported to Quantico, VA.
In mid_November 1942 some 200 of us Marine "boots" arrived via RF&P (Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac) at Quantico in the middle of the night courtesy of government- provided transportation. Greeted by the DIs we were marched to barracks for the start of a 10-week program to turn us into officers and gentlemen, followed by a 10 week program on how to be an officer. My memory says the Executive Officer, Lt. Col. Bertrand Fay, of this Reserve Officers school was an RPI graduate. Completing this program in early April 1943 1 received orders to Marine Aviation and to the North American Aviation B_25 Field Service School at the plant in Inglewood, California. At this point I will switch to the Navy/Marine designation of PBJ (PB for patrol bomber and J the symbol for North American arising I believe from Berliner Joyce a predecessor company).
The Field Service School was approximately 3 months in duration and hopefully would provide all information on maintaining the PBJ's coming into Marine service. In addition to the maintenance officers attending, there were a large number of Marine NCO's and others being groomed to be PBJ mechanics. Life was difficult for us officers _ we lived on per diem at a Hollywood hotel on Vine Street with an NAA car picking us up each morning and delivering us "home" in the afternoon.
Upon completion of the NAA school, orders sent me to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS), Cherry Point, North Carolina. Reporting in at VMB_413 (V for heavier than air, M for Marine, B for bomber, and 413 the squadron number of the first of the PBJ squadrons commissioned 1 March 1943), 1 found something like a dozen engineering (maintenance) officers, perhaps a similar number of pilots, several NCO's and few enlisted personnel and not more than one airplane. But almost immediately things started moving rapidly. MAG 61 (Marine Air Group) was commissioned 13 July 1943, as the administrative focus of all PBJ squadrons. The surplus engineering officers were transferred to MAG 61 where I immediately acquired a secondary MOS (military occupational specialty) of Motor Transport Officer. Troops, pilots, equipment, and PBJ's arrived daily. VMB_423 was commissioned 15 September, 1943 to which I was transferred as Engineering Officer and Motor Transport Officer, and since the latter function included a fire truck, another title of Fire Marshall was added. In the time between coming aboard VMB_413 and the commissioning of VMB_423, considerable time was spent in Link trainers
Operational training continued at Cherry Point, then transferred to MCAS Edenton, NC, then over Christmas/New Year 43_44 the squadron moved to MCAS El Centro, California. Here, in addition to continued operational training, a number of NAA engineers and mechanics were around making modifications to our aircraft _ the primary one being the addition of four 50 caliber gun packages on the sides of the fuselage. In a round_the_clock marathon all engines were replaced. Bomb bay tanks and crawlway tanks (the bombardier's crawlway space) were added for the additional fuel that would be required for flying the aircraft to Hawaii and on to Espiritu Santo. The ground crews made the move to Espiritu Santo aboard a Jeep carrier.
Next move for the squadron as a complete unit was to Green Island, a small spot of coral north of Bougainville. This move found the Supply Officer and Motor Transport Officer with most of the motor transport crew tasked as rear echelon bringing up all the squadron's gear in one of Henry Kaiser' s best. This was a memorable trip because the Captain of this Liberty Ship had sailed under von Luckner in the German raider Seeadler during World War I. On the bridge every evening he entertained his passengers with tales of those sailing days. Because the cargo had not all been properly loaded in inverse order of unloading and our gear was first on last off, we spent 6 weeks up and down the Solomons with ports of call in order of the required unloading. Upon arrival at Green the Captain looked at the high seas outside the lagoon, decided valor was the better part of discretion, and took his ship into the lagoon _ the first of that size and as far as I know the only one to be anchored in the lagoon. A year later when we left, we loaded outside the lagoon with 8 _ 10 foot seas.
Loading the larger vehicles offshore like this had its exciting moments such as the fender bending incident between our fire truck and a ship's raft support. The distance between these raft supports was not much greater than the vehicle width. For this move to Emirau (north of Green) the transportation troops were again the rear echelon. I have memories of eating a lot of cherries in the time period we were waiting for our cargo ship and loading. Somewhere, someone had found a number of 5 gallon cans of pie cherries.
In mid_July I was eating breakfast one morning when word came that the CO (commanding officer) wanted to see me immediately. In the dark as to what may have been screwed up, I headed to the Colonel's office in high gear. There I was greeted by a smile and the announcement that my orders for stateside were in hand and a flight for Manus (the Marine Aviation Transient Center) was leaving in 10 minutes. Would I be able to make it? I assured the Colonel I would be on that flight. My 2 sets of greens (Marine winter uniform) and a couple bottles of scotch were thrown in my parachute bag, my Marine Corps property dumped on the Supply Officer, and I climbed on board that C47 (DC_3) with time to spare.
Arriving at Manus I found a considerable backlog of personnel awaiting transportation. Within a week, this became sufficiently severe that someone up the line must have taken notice. Anyway, two C46's (Curtiss Commando) were dispatched from MCAS Ewa. By luck of the draw or whatever, I was assigned to the C46 whose pilot was on his final trip before stateside rotation. For this reason he had been given a somewhat free hand as to his routing. The other C46 went directly to Ewa with one stop en route. We lucky ones spent a night at Guadalcanal, a night at VitiLevu in the Fijis, a night in American Samoa (the first white female seen since leaving Santo), a night at Palmyra, and a night at Johnston before arriving at Ewa. The ones on the fast flight were still waiting at Ewa for stateside transportation. Once again, lady luck must have stepped in because while most of those waiting were placed on surface ships, in less than a week I was on a PanAm clipper headed for San Francisco. Arrived there on a memorable date, V_J Day. However, Department of Pacific in San Francisco would not let me out on the street. Instead they loaded me on a train headed for MCAS Miramar (near San Diego). So V_J night was spent on that Southern Pacific train. Took a couple of days at Miramar for the next set of orders to show where I was headed. Back to MCAS Quantico!
Transport to Quantico was not without incident. Government provided transportation selected a TWA Boeing 307B Stratoliner 4 engine aircraft departing Burbank for New York via Chicago. For whatever reason, they blew a main gear tire on landing in Chicago. So I had the pleasure of a night at the Palmer House courtesy of TWA. Next morning the Boeing was still not in service. TWA loaded a B_17 flight crew headed for England, myself, and a considerable amount of cargo on a DC3 which allegedly was headed for New York, but because of fog landed in Philly. After that Murphy's Law went to sleep and without further incident, I made it home for my leave, bought a car, and headed off driving to Quantico. Now in retrospect, with ten 307's built and with only five of the B's going toTWA, and being the first pressurized commercial transport, this flight east may have been more significant than thought at the time.
Upon reporting in at MCAS Quantico, it was finally revealed what was to be my immediate future. In addition to the normal processing paper mill, the new form listing the number of points earned toward release from active duty was completed. Total points indicated a logical expectation of almost immediate orders to inactive duty. Not so! I was assigned to A&R (Assembly and Repair _ a major overhaul facility) as Assistant Engineering Officer replacing the previous Officer who had been released from active duty. Additionally, I was informed the Corps had made a unilateral decision that my retention was essential to the conversion of A&R to Marine Corps Aviation Technical School. So much for the point system.
A&R was still going full bore with overhaul programs. The rush to convert to Marine Corps Aviation Technical School seemed to be abating. As far as the Colonel commanding A&R could determine, I was still declared essential. As time went by, the activity at A&R did begin to slow. It wasn't until March 1946 that I managed to promote orders to inactive duty. The time at A&R must have gone quite smoothly because I remember nothing peculiar or spectacular from that time other than being attached for administrative purposes to an Aircraft Engineering Squadron whose primary function at that time was discharge processing of aviation personnel. That did not take much time except for the times I was tagged as paymaster for what could be several hundred transients being processed through. Interesting spending a large part of the day counting money.
One reason for frequent duty as paymaster was there being only two semi_permanent officers present most of the time in that AES (Aircraft Engineering Squadron). Besides myself the other was a captain in the processing system for a regular commission. We played a lot of golf on the Quantico course (as I recall there was only one snowfall that winter) and went two evenings each week to classes at George Washington University in D.C. Even though I had expected inactive duty at an earlier date the tour there was really rather pleasant.
One evening at the BOQ bar the station adjutant was bemoaning his wedding anniversary coming up and he had drawn OD duty for that day. Being unmarried it didn't make much difference whether I slept in the BOQ or the duty shack so I offered to switch with him which we did. Over the next months I took a number of his OD watches. This paid off in a big way as spring approached. The previous year reacting to the point system I had contacted an aircraft company and had received a job offer. Of course it was not open forever and by late February 1946 it appeared "essential" was forever. So one evening at the bar I was beating my molars to the adjutant. His response was refreshing - that he had a couple of buddies at Headquarters in Washington and he would see what he could do. Shortly I had orders for inactive duty.
By the time orders for inactive duty arrived at Quantico, the only aircraft company with an opening in the specialty I wanted was Curtiss Wright Airplane Division, Columbus, Ohio. The position of engineer in the Flutter and Vibration Group (at that time that was the usual moniker used although they were frequently in jest referred to as the shake and shimmy group) was accepted and the car headed to Columbus.
In reality, the Corps did me a great favor with the "essential" deal. Because of that delay in returning to civilian life my career was positively altered. Without that time delay I would not have gone to Columbus; without going to Curtiss I would not have met my spouse nor headed west to NAA in California. So I long ago accepted that the Corps was wiser than I was.
INTERLUDES WITH AEROSPACE AND USMC RESERVES
With my arrival at Curtiss in mid March 1946 I was introduced to the XF15C_1 T_tail on which I embarked on my first flutter analysis. It rapidly became apparent that having been away from this type activity for four years since graduation, further formal education in the dynamics field would be of great value. Hence I applied for and was accepted for the September semester at RPI's Grad School. Housing accommodations had been found in a private home rooming with a structures (stress) engineer at Curtiss. Shortly after meeting him he advised that the Structures Department had a dance planned for early April _ did I want a date? My response was "how about the blond in armament." From this I was introduced to Rachel Johnson, a Purdue Curtiss Cadet, who was generating pursuit curves. Briefly, a pursuit curve provides data on the question: can I turn inside my opponent. Today this is undoubtedly done in a simulator, but in 1946 it was a Frieden (desk calculator) and graph numerical integration process. On September 1, 1946 Rachel and I were married and headed off for RPI a week later.
Come June 1947 between semesters I was headed for MCAS Cherry Point. Reporting in at A&R MCAS Cherry Point for the two weeks active duty, no time was wasted in taking me out to the shop and introducing me to my project. This was a sickly looking F7F that some unlucky pilot had been lucky enough to pick a real soft spot in the North Carolina swamp for bouncing his aircraft off of. Props were bent, hundreds of rivets popped, skin crinkled and torn, major structure buckled. It seemed impossible that it could have been flown back to the base runway. Assignment: prepare the repair orders for a tear down and rebuild. So another increment in the learning process. Never did hear how the repairs came out.
When I arrived at NAA, I had planned on becoming associated with another Marine squadron at NAS (Naval Air Station) Los Alamitos. There were no open billets in any of the several Marine Squadrons, resulting in my becoming part of the volunteer reserve instead of the active reserve. As Rachel says, Monday nights then became my "lodge night," attending the Reserve meetings. This was a very fortunate event because had there been an open billet in a squadron I would most assuredly have been in Korea. Which came next: the F86E or the FJ_2 (essentially the navy version of the F86) I cannot say. Nor do I remember any attention-provoking events associated with them as flutter project engineer. Sometime after the FJ_3 entered the picture, the Navy Plant Rep dropped in for a chat about active duty. This was during the Korean action with several members of my Monday night club disappearing for points unknown. The apparent upshot of that conversation was shortly afterwards being assigned a new MOS as Aeronautical Engineer and notification that I was not considered available for active duty. Despite this, at a later date in the 50's and 60's for many years I carried what were termed 'hip pocket orders" calling for me to report to the 4th Marine Wing at El Toro MCAB (Marine Corps Air Base) upon declaration by Congress of war or national emergency.
With the first powered flight in 1960, the X_ 15 program ran from approximately mid 50's to mid 60's. I must say this was the most enjoyable program I was involved with. The X_15 was a Mach 8 research vehicle launched from a B_52 and with most of its flight path well above normal aircraft flight altitudes. Propulsion was a rocket engine by Reaction Motors using LOX and fuming nitric acid. The engine was throttleable.
In the early 60's the Los Angeles Airplane Division was split into the B_70 Division and the Research Division. A number of the dynamics troops including myself went to the Reseach Division where life became both hectic and rewarding. The major aircraft program was NAA's entry in the SST (Supersonic Transport) program.. Considerable effort was devoted to acoustic noise, both engine and sonic boom. During all this period at NAA the Marine Reserve activity continued although frequently NAA responsibilities took precedence. For a number of years the weekly reserve meetings were held in a Naval Reserve Armory close to the NAA plant. Canned lectures provided by Marine Corps Schools were the training medium. Several times a year we would obtain active duty for training orders without pay for use of the range at Los Alamitos NAS. The weapons used were from the Naval Reserve Armory. The Armory thought this arrangement was great _ it expended their ammo allocation and kept their weapons in Marine Corps condition. Eventually the reserve meetings were changed to one weekend per month at Los Alamitos. This was not as convenient as the local armory. Conversely the training program improved with qualified instructors. Overall it was an improvement except for no longer having range duty. I went on the Reserve retired list in 1964.
Subsequently the B_1 contract departments were again shuffled and somewhere along the line I became chief honcho of Structural Dynamics, now consisting of the flutter groups, vibration and acoustic groups, fatigue and associated specialties, ride quality group, and the structural test program group (the interface between the stress department and the test division). Here the Marine Corps time paid off because the Director was a retired Air Force Officer. Most of his managers had a rough time but I knew how he thought and we got along fabulously...it was in this position (that)... I retired. The long drive from Los Angeles to Montana coupled with disenchantment with the new way of aircraft design by committee prompted me to retire. So on February 2, 1977, I said goodbye to Rockwell International and headed for the State of Washington. One of my supervisors at Rockwell later claimed I must have had an in with President Carter because I was about the first of management to leave prior to the B_1 cancellation.
Living in the Los Angeles area while at North American, we started looking for a place out in the hinterlands where Rachel and the children could spend the summers away from the big city atmosphere. This search was limited to the time of our annual autumn hunting trips. We started with Colorado, moved to Wyoming, then Idaho and finally in Montana found our Shangri-La in 1962. With 2 miles of frontage on a river subsequently included in the Wild and Scenic River program and with Glacier National Park across the river, it was a place Rachel dearly loved.
Two years after we purchased, the county changed the classification from agriculture and timber to suburban lot. Taxes? You bet! We joined some 300 others similarly affected in suing the county. In the local court we prevailed. Naturally the county appealed to the state supreme court where we lost with the landmark ruling that in the absence of a demonstrated use to the contrary it is logical to classify on the basis of highest and best use.
So we went into the cattle business and became tree farmers managing for timber production, not for Christmas trees. This regained the old ag_timber classification, but demanded much more attention and longer visits. Things were great until all the children left. No longer any cheap labor for haying! The cattle business slowed down with a change in mode of operation to leasing the fenced pastureland. If you happened to catch the movie Heaven's Gate in the week it was showing (supposed to be Cimino's repeat of "Deer Hunter" success, but instead it broke United Artists), major portions were filmed on our ranch.
1990 brought a cash offer for the Montana place that could not be refused in light of only one of our children having any interest in the place. With that sale we gained a lot of freedom and now spend our time dancing (average 4 times a week), attending ElderHostels, and hiking around Mt. Rainier, Heli_Hiking in British Columbia, and attempting to keep Medicare processing correctly!
While at NAA/Rockwell we became active as staff members for the Sierra Club's Basic Mountaineering Training Course. This ended with my Rockwell retirement and leaving the Los Angeles area. We have lost track of the number of times we went through lessons #1 in mountaineering, rock climbing, snow travel, and ice axe drill.
We have four children. The oldest is in the building business in Salt
Lake City; number 2 now has a small publishing business, prior to which he
was head of the computer net for Western Library Network; the oldest
daughter works for the Dept. of Agriculture in rural development (water and
sewer). Unfortunately, none of these went to RPI. The youngest daughter
refused college in favor of horses. She and her husband are trainers usually
among the top in number of winners. For anyone following the ponies the name
A U.S. Marine Revisits the Air War in the South Pacific
WW lI, 1942_1945
by Robert C. Vernon, former Master Technical Sergeant, U.S.M.C.R.,
VMB 423, Marine B_25 Bomber Group
"The Valley of the Shadow"
Let me commence this recollection using a few words from a favorite song during World War II that was made famous by Dinah Shore. You will remember how vibrant and energetic Dinah's singing was, and I still remember hearing this song while en route to the New Hebrides Islands sailing the South Pacific in early February, 1944 on board the U.S.S. Prince William, a converted aircraft carrier. The first few words of the song went like this: "Long ago and far away I dreamed a dream;" This recollection that I'm about to describe occurred 55 years ago (which is long ago and far away), and as the song goes on to say, "that dream is here beside me" as I try to recollect the big picture of this event that has controlled my life ever since.
My name is Robert C. Vernon, former Master Technical Sergeant, VMB 423, Marine B_25 Bomber Squadron assigned to the South Pacific theater of operations from February, 1944 to July, 1945. One of the so_called "Hollywood Marines," since my "boot camp" training was in San Diego, California in late 1942.
But, before I continue with this remembrance, you need to become more acquainted with me and how the Military shaped this young Marine, not only in body but in spirit.
During our difficult 3_month boot_camp training, each of us had the opportunity to meet and talk to other Marines who had, not many weeks before, stormed the beaches of Guadalcanal. Most of these men had only recently returned to the United States, living in tents on the edge of the San Diego Marine Boot Camp training center and were waiting to be processed for their
leaves or discharges. When our boot camp training duties allowed for a few minutes of free time, many of us would converge on the Guadalcanal Marines and try to talk about their experiences. These men were chronologically my age, but I could not believe what I saw. What should have been men full of young energy, were men that were psychologically dazed and some were physically destroyed from the experience they had just endured. This was my introduction to the island-hopping combat Marines. As it turned out, my civilian training as an aluminum hand_forming specialist in aircraft construction was to lead me toward different battles and under quite different circumstances than the so_called line_company, Guadalcanal, beach-storming Marines.
After boot_camp, aircraft schooling followed at Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois, graduating 06 August, 1943, but not before meeting Roni, the little girl from Chicago who was to share my life following my return to the United States and our marriage in July, 1945.
My next assignment, after aircraft school (and nearly all of my Marine Corps career), was with Marine B_25 Bomber Squadron VMB 423. The squadron was commissioned 15 September, 1943 in Cherry Point, North Carolina. At the time I didn't realize how lucky I was to be chosen one of the first of 12 men assigned to the squadron in August before the squadron was commissioned. During the next several weeks, Marines, who came from homes located in the north_eastern states began to assemble in great numbers until we reached a 200_men enlisted force, plus 50 commissioned officers, with fifteen Billy Mitchells, PBH and PBJ model B_25s. You might be interested in why I was chosen as one of the original twelve and placed in charge of the structural repair for the squadron. I'm sure I thought it was because of my grades in aviation school (since I graduated Honor_Man of the company), or my civilian training in aircraft aluminum hand_forming, or any number of ego_building reasons. One day while overseas, I spoke with my engineering officer, Lieutenant Harold Sweet, and asked him that important question. "Why was I chosen for this squadron?" He said, "Sergeant Vernon, you were chosen from all of the men available, because yours was the only name I could pronounce." That honesty on his part was deflating at the time, but the experience and knowledge I gained by having been given this responsibility was to help shape my work ethics, my integrity, and my honor for the remainder of my adult years.
Our flight and ground training continued, while we learned to live and work with each other, moving from Cherry Point, North Carolina, where the squadron was formed, to Edenton , North Carolina, where we worked during the winter months, and later to El Centro, California, where it seemed to be the hottest daytime and coldest night_time desert in the United States. From there we traveled by train to San Francisco, California, sitting up the entire time since we had no sleeping accommodations. Our back_packs, with all of our personal gear and rifles were always nearby or strapped to our backs, and upon exiting the train, we departed the good old USA in the rain, with full winter uniforms, 19 February, 1944, for the South Pacific theater of operations on the U. S.S. Prince William, a small converted Aircraft Carrier. Our duty on board ship was excellent. We had no KP (kitchen police) duty but occasionally took our turn standing guard duty, did physical and running exercises to keep us in shape, constantly played poker, had good food (when the cooking odors mixed with the ship's structural_steel_oil didn't turn our stomachs) and often slept on the flight deck tied by our belts to the aircraft guy_wires. Thirty days later we were on the island of Espirito Santos in the New Hebrides, an island chain some 6000 miles from San Francisco, on the other side of the International Date Line, near Australia. What a long way to go to fight a War.
Finally, on land, the ground crews passed the time getting accustomed to the climate while our personnel grew to approximately 450 men, including pilots and flight crews. While we waited for our aircraft to arrive, our days consisted of baseball, volleyball, sweating, reading, very little strenuous physical exercise if we could help it, writing letters and wondering where the squadron assignment might take us. When our aircraft did arrive, the assignment was Green Island in the Solomon chain just 200 miles northwest of Bougainv
ille, a place one_half mile wide, eight_miles long, shaped like a horseshoe and unknown to most of us. We began our combat flight missions from this island in April, 1944. The squadron soon became known as the "Night Blockers of Rabaul." As you continue with this remembrance, you will understand why we were given this title.
Our missions involved the following:
1. We performed skip bombing and strafing over Bougainville, New Ireland, New Britain, and Rabaul.
2. We flew weather hops for the island.
3. We flew our own photographic reconnaissance.
4. We flew enemy submarine searches and sector searches for lost aircraft.
5. And we often had the distinction of flying as a utility aircraft for such flights as ferrying the "big brass," carrying shoes to the Army, and going bi_monthly to Townsville, Australia for fresh foods, such as steaks, milk and eggs.
(As noted on pg. 61 from VMB 423's "flight_log and war-diary " in the Marine Air Archives, Washington, DC).
"On 17 May, 1944 the assignment of the squadron was clarified by an Airmail_gram from Commander Aircraft, Northern Solomons listing priority of work as follows:"
Propose the following priority of work for VMB 423:
(1) Maintain three aircraft in readiness for anti_submarine work Comair Munda to make requests direct to you.
(2) Maintain cover over Rabaul airfields and Simpson Harbor during hours of darkness. Bomb any activity on airfields with particular attention to those fields known to be serviceable, or activity relating to water landings in harbor or elsewhere around coast in Rabaul area. Heckle same at end of period on station.
(3) Heckle Kavieng with one plane once a week on irregular nights.
(4) Be prepared to execute day missions once in four days...
Stateside aircraft casualties
The squadron had several stateside flight difficulties while we were in training. One plane was shot down on our own flight line at El Centro, California; another cracked up on take off at San Francisco; one pilot bombed the wrong target and got a court martial; another dropped his waterfills in the bomb bay, had a fire in the plane, and lost his rear hatch, although his crew refused to bail out. (Note._ The previous data was taken from the squadron's flight log.)
Stateside flight_line shoot down recounted
The shoot down on our own flight_line was especially revealing and you might be interested in this short recollection. Since the squadron had been in training during the winter months in Edenton, North Carolina, all aircraft were still equipped with de_icer fluid. During one afternoon, while several aircraft were situated in groups on the flight_line, the ordnance staff began clearing and cleaning each of the 50_caliber guns. One munitions_man, sitting in the turret gunner's position, expecting the chamber to be free of ammunition, pulled the trigger, and to his astonishment the 50_caliber fired. Three bullets, it is said, left the chamber. One, probably a tracer bullet, entered the starboard engine of the aircraft in front, severing the de_icer line and the liquid burst into flames. Within 30-45 minutes the aircraft was a molten mass of aluminum lying on the concrete during which time each marine near the aircraft was ducking the exploding ammunition that seemed to be flying everywhere. Needless to say, this munitions man was brought before the Navy Brass and, during a muster of the entire squadron, was reprimanded and reduced to the rank of private, probably never again to receive a promotion.
We lost our share of aircraft and men during our early combat missions, but as Marine General Harris said in a letter of commendation to Colonel Winston, our commanding officer, on 30 May, 1944: "Upon the eve of my departure I wish to tell the men of VMB 423 what a fine job your squadron has done since its arrival in the combat zone. I was somewhat apprehensive about assigning the job of 'night blockers' of Rabaul to your squadron as I feared some operational losses. However, the opposite has been true and I consider that your nightly bombings have saved hundreds of enemy missions by your constant disruption of their flights from Rabaul, In addition, you and your squadron have flown nightly anti_submarine patrols with equal success and efficiency, " sincerely, General Harris, U. S. Marine Corps.
From November, 1943 to December, 1944, the squadron lost 36, men, mostly pilots and flight crew along with their aircraft. There are no additional records of combat casualties throughout the first_half of 1945. However, to help in filling this void in our squadron records, I have received 220 out of approximately 700 pages of flight_log and war_diary data now housed in the Marine Air Archives in Washington, DC. This will be reviewed later and the casualty list updated.
Battles, Damage and Maintenance
My personal involvement in the squadron was as non_commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the sheet metal shop originally consisting of twelve men. Later (while overseas) our shop personnel was reduced to seven men, since new B_25 Bomber Squadrons were being formed by using the extra men from the various departments in our squadron, as well as VMB 413, to act as the nucleus for each new outfit. The first Marine B_25 Bomber Squadron to ever see combat in the history of the Marine Corps was VMB 413, then closely followed by VMB 423 (our squadron), and continuing through 433, and 443, as well as another group of Bombers identified as VMB 611, 612 and 613.
My initial duty, not only in the States but in the combat zone, was to help train and determine the abilities of the men in our shop in aluminum hand_forming, welding and methods of repairing the aircraft during combat. While in the States, our duty was to secure and maintain sufficient tools and material that would carry the squadron throughout its 18_month tour in the South Pacific. Today, I have trouble imagining young men of 18 to 20 years of age having sufficient experience to project the repair needs of an entire squadron for this amount of time. Those of my generation in 1941 could not do this either. Consequently, we took everything we could requisition or get our hands on.
(As noted on pg. 32 from VMB 423 "flight-log and war-diary"in the Marine Air Archives, Washington, DC)
"Marine Bomber Squadron 423 shared quarters, hangers and other
facilities with Marine Bombing Squadron 413 at Edenton. When these two
squadrons were alerted for overseas duty they both became extremely eager to
acquire as much gear as possible which might be useful to them overseas.
Both squadrons practiced the time-honored Marine Corps midnight
requisitioning procedure. It was even contended by Lieutenant Colonel SALMAN
of Marine Bomber Squadron 413, that when they opened one of their crates in
the South Pacific, they found one of Marine Bomber Squadron 423s guards
inside. Fortunately, or unfortunately, both squadrons came out of the
exchange with about the same amount of gear as when they started...
While in the South Pacific, we began by making modifications to the aircraft as requested by the manufacturer who was, at that time, unable to complete this work before transferring the aircraft to the military.
These combat modifications included the following:
1. Fabricating and assembling, from pre_engineered plans, a device that was used for aligning the side-mount 50_caliber package guns ( we had two 50_calibers mounted on each side of the fuselage for a total of four and, in later models, had an additional two parallel rows of four 50_calibers each in the plexiglass nose, as well as the turret gunners double 50_caliber, making for a considerable amount of fire_power facing forward).
2. With the pilot's help, we designed and assembled a sighting guide that the pilot could use when aiming these 50_caliber package guns. (You might remember most of the pilots used dirt specks, scratches, or other marks they had placed on their plexiglass windshield to aim these package guns. Obviously, the dirt and scratches didn't work too well after the windshield was cleaned).
3. We also assembled a stopping mechanism (but never used it) that would prohibit the photography gunner from firing through the tail assembly when he needed to use his 30_ caliber, side_window weapons.
4. During early experiments with the B_25 H models (20 mm cannon included) we were required to strengthen the aluminum skin around the cannon area by adding one extra layer of aluminum and heavy rivets to reduce the effects of cracks. This extra skin didn't help the situation and, therefore, the cannon lasted but a short time, and we continued to use the "J" model (without cannon) throughout the remainder of our combat flights.
Although the above modification list seems small (there were others, but I can't remember more at this time), these changes were completed on 15 current aircraft, as well as replacements for those lost and damaged during our 18_month combat tour. We were daily repairing combat damage to all parts of the aircraft caused by small arms fire, anti_aircraft fire or mechanical problems that caused aluminum damage to the aircraft skin. Many of the combat repairs were simple to complete, but occasionally an aircraft would return with 100 or more anti_aircraft wounds to the skin, and where one of the more extensively damaged aircraft caused the death of a tail gunner, a badly injured turret gunner, and where this aircraft required several days of working round the clock to put the aircraft back into flight rotation. I can still remember working on this aircraft for 36 hours without a break. And where my assistant, Sergeant Roland Seckinger, who was working with me, continued working while I took the first rest. With men like Seckinger, is there any reason to doubt we would win the war?
The majority of our combat missions were completed with great success, during which time I remember that many of the pilots were aware of their ground crews concern, and would buzz the field at the end of each flight (this is true, and is depicted many times in Hollywood movies). To a man, we would count the number of buzzes to determine whether they matched the number of aircraft for that flight. If the buzzes matched, we relaxed. If not, our thoughts were on that missing crew and which crew was overdue. Most often, the missing aircraft was only late and would buzz the flight_line upon its entry over the island.
Those of you who were part of the flight crew, such as navigator/bombardiers, gunners, radio men, photography men, or ground echelon on flight pay, recall we needed a minimum of 4_ hours in flight per month to receive the pay. For ground personnel on flight pay this quite often meant taking combat flights at the end of each month to satisfy this 4_hour requirement. NCOs in charge of the different departments, occasionally had the added responsibility of flying with each test hop when their particular maintenance group worked on that disabled aircraft. One such test hop involved a B_25 that had made an emergency landing on Manus, an island northwest of the Solomons, in the Admiralty Group, some five hundred and forty miles from our home base. This aircraft needed mechanical, hydraulic and several structural repairs. The island of Manus, known as having the finest repair facilities in this part of the South Pacific, was an ideal place for the aircraft to land. However, the back_log of work for the island's maintenance crews suggested a delay of several weeks before this aircraft would be ready. Our squadron's engineering officer, in addition to Master Sergeant Bender, decided that we would send our own personnel to complete this work and move the aircraft into combat duty faster. Among other department heads, I was assigned to make the Manus flight, repair my area of responsibility to the aircraft and return to base with the crew. It was several days before all of the departments completed their work, and at that time we took off for our return flight to Green Island. The early part of the flight home was uneventful, but then some ninety miles from Manus, the aircraft again experienced engine and hydraulic problems, with a complete shut_down of the starboard engine. According to Master Sergeant Lee Bender, the lead member of our repair group, we dropped from 9,000 ft. altitude to within 1000 ft. or less of the ocean. Close enough, it seemed, that we could get a cup of water. Our descent was, in part, due to the propeller on the damaged engine which could not, early_on, be hydraulically feathered.
I remember sitting in the tail gunner's position, that of kneeling with your chest flat against the back_side of the tail gunner's armor plate. Your body is hidden, except for your head, and in this configuration, you are shielded from incoming small_arms and anti_aircraft fire that is directed toward the rear of the aircraft. Your head can be raised above or ducked below the armor plate, as needed, while your arms are in a hugging position around the armor plate, thus permitting the tail gunner to fire his own 50_caliber weapon.
Lieutenant Bates was our pilot, Sergeant Gus Hunka was the crew_chief, Master Sergeant Lee Bender was the squadron_chief and Master Sergeant Bob Vernon was the structural repairman. There were others aboard, the co_pilot and radio man, but their names don't come quickly to my mind at this time. Master Sergeant Bender (the other living member of this flight crew) and I have discussed this flight in the last several years and both agree that an unusual event occurred that day and our lives were forever changed. I don't pretend to understand the religious significance of this event, but I will, to the best of my recollection, describe what I actually saw.
Before we began our descent, the crew received the pilot's radio call that we had a problem and ditching in the ocean might be one of our alternatives. So the pilot gave us instructions that, before we took to the water, he wanted those of us in the rear compartment to lighten the aircraft, not only to provide us with more time to stay afloat, but if possible, to maintain our meager altitude and perhaps limp home for a landing just above the palm trees. With the aircraft losing altitude, we couldn't get to the equipment quickly, but when we could get to the items that would lighten our load, such as: 1. all of our personal gear (suit cases, tools, extra shoes, or what have you) were thrown overboard; and 2, all of the radio equipment was cut away from the fuselage with an ax, and any other loose or removable items of weight were jettisoned through the bottom hatch. This even included our sextant, so you know how concerned we were for weight.
Those of us in the rear compartment (Sergeant Bender was forward) were instructed, as soon as we could get our bodies moveable from this descent and after removing the heavy equipment, to assume the position for ditching, where each man sat cradled between the legs of the one behind, with the last person's back braced against the armor plate located on the aft side of the bomb bay opening, all men facing toward the tail end of the aircraft. Our boots, watches and bulky wearable clothing were removed and held in our hands or tied in a bundle and placed around our neck for quick departure through the small photographer's window, a window of approximately 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet. If we needed to ditch, the aircraft would probably stay afloat 10 or 15 minutes, so a quick exit was mandatory. We waited for the pilot to give us the signal which would it be: an ocean crash at fast velocity, a slow velocity ditch in the ocean, or continue the flight back to Manus regardless of the conditions. First, the pilot needed to get control of the propeller problem, which came near that 1000_feet elevation and then, finally, the words came across the intercom that we were going to stay with the flight until the last moment.
We all said our share of prayers, whatever our religion, during these moments of uncertainty, but with the help of a great pilot, and our personal faith in the Almighty, the pilot turned the aircraft around and our course bearing was directed back toward the island of Manus.
But, before the pilot made his decision to return to Manus and while we were losing altitude, let me tell you what I observed and why I call this remembrance, "The Valley of the Shadow."
The weather that day was beautiful. I was in the tail gunner's position and looking aft into the open sky. There were a few white fleecy clouds in the open blue_blue sky that only those who flew in the South Pacific can remember, with nothing for us to do but day_dream, think of our families, our wives and girl friends, and anticipate the war to be over and we could return to the good old USA. The whole flight environment seemed natural, the aircraft was on course, we had just spent several days' of hard work on the repair of this fly_bird, and no one anticipated that an unusual event was about to occur.
While I was looking toward the rear from the tail gunner's position, the call that I spoke about earlier came from the pilot that indicated we might be having trouble. Several events happened at that very moment in time: one, the aircraft began to shake violently; two, the aluminum cowling on the starboard engine began to lift; three, one of the cylinders shot through the cowling; and fourth, I noticed, off in the distance, a dark shadow that had not been there before. As we continued our descent, that dark shadow that was forming in the clouds began to take on a form. Not the white fleecy irregular clouds that I had seen earlier, but a dark, clothed form, far in the distance. The object appeared in frontal view, or an object without depth, within a hooded cloak, having outstretched arms to the side, with the cloak draped from the arms to the body, and forming a cross.
The aircraft continued to lose altitude, since the propeller was not yet feathered, and during this time of descent, the form came nearer. Our descent was probably rapid (I never knew the exact time... I was too busy with other thoughts to think that clearly) from that 9,000 ft. to 1000 ft. altitude, but to me in the aircraft, it seemed like an eternity. My body was pushed against the armor plate through gravity forces, and it was almost more than I could do to move. Near the bottom of the descent, the pilot, or co_pilot, was able to feather the prop and eliminate the immediate danger of a high velocity crash into the ocean. Simultaneously with the leveling_off of the aircraft, the dark cloud with the outstretched arms faded away, not to be seen again, since I moved from the tail position and into the radio and photography section of the plane where we began to jettison our equipment and gear. However, this incident was not yet over, we still needed to maintain our altitude, and pray that the port engine would sustain us for the remainder of the trip back to Manus.
When the aircraft leveled_off, we took our ditching positions and waited eagerly for the pilot to give us some indication that "all is well" and that a water landing would not be necessary. I recall now that at no period during the return trip were we confident that our aircraft would return safely. Each minute in the air brought us closer to seeing the island and that beautiful landing, if it was to be. We all rejoiced as the island came into view, but we were quickly brought back to the seriousness of the situation when we saw, lined_up on each side of the runway, all of the available firefighting equipment and white ambulances with crosses on the top that were ready to transport us to the hospital should an emergency landing inflict casualties. The pilot, Lieutenant Bates, skimmed across the palm trees, aligning us down the middle of the emergency equipment, and dropped us slowly to the concrete deck. Safe at last, we were provided with the traditional 1_ounce bask of spirits (more, if we wanted), asked our medical condition, taken to the mess hall, provided food and finally debriefed by one of the officers on the base.
On the following day, preparations began to finish the repairs on this beautiful fly_bird, the B_25 that held us, in GOD's hand, for an unforgettable amount of time. Silently, we all probably offered our prayers to the "God of our Salvation" regardless of our faith and, again, silently, kept this unusual event in our thoughts and memories until another day. The War would continue tomorrow and as Marines and members of VMB 423, we must carry on the great honor, to never dishonor our Country and uphold the Marine's motto, "Semper Fidelis" ( "Always Faithful" ).
As I said earlier, I did not have then, nor do I have now, the ability to describe, in religious terms, what miracle had occurred, and why to us. However, during the following Sunday's Church Service, I lingered back following the end of the service, to discuss this event with the base chaplain while it was fresh in my mind. It was the base chaplain's interpretation that our crew was visited by the "shadow of death " and that we were spared by the hand of GOD.
A post script: the aircraft was scrapped and pirated for parts, but never to be used again as a single aircraft in combat.
Robert C. Vernon
A Tribute to Richard E. Voss:
Our Husband, Father, Hero!!
By His Wife, Pauline and their Children
Richard Voss joined the Marines on October 30, 1942 and was discharged on November 20, 1945. After finishing boot camp, he was trained to be a radio operator, radar operator and aerial gunner, and served in that capacity for the rest of his hitch. He flew over 50 combat missions in the South Pacific with VMB-423. On October 3, 1944, his aircraft was shot down while on a low-level bombing raid over New Ireland, in the Bismark Archipelago. Richard was in the back of the plane with gunners Tony Mezzelo and Dale Harris. He told us that as the plane was being ditched he jumped out the window while Tony and Dale exited the plane seconds later through the bottom hatch. Dick found himself alone, a long way back from the crew, as the plane had skipped across the ocean quite a ways before the others came out. The ocean waves were large and Richard almost didn't make it to the life raft. Tony Mezzelo swam to him, punched him, and dragged him to the raft with the rest of the crew. Tony saved his life. Richard laid in the raft, ill from swallowing sea water, until they realized they were drifting toward shore. From the shore, the Japanese were shooting at them with various kinds of cannon and perhaps rifles as they floated in, or held on to, their rafts. Richard and the others jumped out of the rafts and into the water as the artillery shells came their way. He said he got well real quick. They were allowing parts of damaged rafts to float away towards shore so the enemy would think they had been hit or sunk. Dale Harris, the turret gunner, was hit in the finger by a piece of shrapnel. They held his bleeding hand in the raft so that the blood would not attract sharks. It became foggy and the crew was getting very tired from attempting to stay afloat, avoiding the enemy's gunfire and keeping from drifting into shore. A PBY black cat rescue plane flew over and Richard was able to send a message "7 OK" in blinker code to it's crew, u
sing Lt. Meyer's flashlight. When this message was relayed to Green Island, everyone there cheered loud and long. After almost 12 hours in the water, they were picked up by a Navy PT-boat and brought back to Green Island. The ordeal was over and they were all thankful that none of the several dire fates of injuries from the crash, being hit by enemy gunfire, being captured, being attacked by sharks or drowning, had come to pass. Later, Richard wrote to his home-town newspaper about the incident. The letter was published at the time, and then re-published in a retrospective article:
A letter to the Folks Back Home
Local Historian takes a look back at Holt, Michigan, in 1944
Reprinted from the
Holt Recorder, Dec. 14, 1944
A letter from S/Sgt. Richard Voss, USMC, reads as follows:
"We received a load of boat mail a few days ago and with it came most of the Recorders from the last five months. I have been reading them over and enjoying every bit of them, especially letters from the boys in service.
"We've been out here in the S. W. Pacific for nearly a year now and I still don't like it. Most of our time has been spent in combat flying and we've had a few close ones, but our crew always comes out alright.
"A few months ago we were shot down in flames about a hundred and fifty miles from any friend. We made a perfect water landing offshore and were under shellfire for three hours.
"Our raft was hit in nine places, but we stayed under water all we could and only one of the crew was hit. Lots of crews have the record for raft time, but we have the record for under raft time, I think. We were picked up eleven hours later and for the first time were glad to see the Navy.
"I've been on or over most places out here and so far have ran across Leonard Quemby, and Roy Walters more recently. It was sure swell to see them.
"We have had two rest leaves and were flown across Australia to Sydney. That is a place I'll never forget.
"They sure raise beautiful kangaroos there, too. Those people down there love Americans and many of them told me that Australia should become part of the U.S.
"We're on one of these coral rocks and it's really hot here all the time as far as the weather goes. We have an ocean breeze most of the time and we do a lot of swimming so we get along pretty good.
"I'll close now wishing the boys in service, and especially in the
Corps, good luck."
By Tom Wallimann, Radio-gunner
Mix Well and Toss
One morning before we went overseas we were flying a navigational hop out of San Diego or El Centro and we were over Nevada or Arizona at the time. We happened to spot a couple of P-47 Thunderbolts and Hazlehurst thought it would be good practice for the entire crew to engage in a simulated dog fight with them, pretending they were Jap Zeros. Somehow he managed to get the Thunderbolt pilots to go along with the idea. Then the fun began.
We all manned our stations - as they say in the movies - and tried to shoot the two of them down. They in turn were trying to knock us out of the sky.
I don't know if it was because I had one beer too many the previous night or because Hazelhurst was flying the B-25 as if it were a P-38, but I got sick, really sick, and threw up all over the back end of the plane. I felt sorry for the other 2 gunners in the back with me, Earl Johnson, tail gunner and Jake Conner, turret gunner.
When we landed, Hazlehurst said to me, in a not too flattering tone, "Go back to the barracks. We'll see you tomorrow." This is known as getting the afternoon off -- the hard way.
A Delicate Landing
On one of our medium-altitude bombing missions, we got hit while over the target and when we returned to Green Island the nose wheel wouldn't come down. There was a manual control in the back of the plane and Jake Conner, the turret gunner, and I tried together to operate it but it wouldn't budge. Col. Anderson ordered our pilot, Lt. Ed Hazlehurst, to throw everything out he could that was in the front of the plane and have Fred Okon, the navigator-bombardier, go to the back of the plane to get as little weight as possible in the front of the plane and as much as possible in the back.
Fire engines and an ambulance, etc., were standing by just in case the nose came down and we did a couple of somersaults.
Fortunately, Hazlehurst made a good landing under very difficult
circumstances, keeping the nose off the runway. The tail dragged along the runway till we came to a stop, just as he tried to do.
If you remember, there were two small windows in the back of the plane - one on each side, for the radio-gunner. As soon as the plane came to a complete stop, Jake went through one of those windows and ran like hell down the runway. I thought 'he knows something that I don't know - I better follow him. His shoulders are twice the size of mine and if he can get through those tiny windows, so can I. I'm outta here.' It hadn't dawned on me that with the tail dragging along the concrete, sparks could cause one huge fireball. Anyway, we all survived to fly another day, as they say.
Forty-four years later this mission was written up in the publication "Warbirds," thanks to Tony Wojnar.
The Weekend That Wasn't
My co-pilot overseas, Joe Egan, was from my home town of Schenectady, New York. After we had come back to the states and were stationed at Cherry Point, Joe Egan arranged a "navigational" overnight hop to Albany, New York, ten miles from home. He asked if I wanted to go with him. Silly question! Anyway, we took off Saturday morning July 28, 1945 and as we were flying over Washington, D.C. the plane seemed to be making a U-turn. I got on the intercom and asked "what's happening?" Joe said, "New York State is socked in pretty good, weather wise, and we have to go back to Cherry Point." I said - well, you don't want to know what I said. Anyway, we went back to Cherry Point and missed a nice weekend furlough.
The next day we found out that an Army B-25 crashed into the Empire State
Building in New York city about the same time we were turning around to go
back to Cherry Point. Besides the crew of 3 who were killed instantly, 11
workers on the 79th floor died. When I heard this, all of a sudden missing
that weekend at home didn't sound too bad. I'm thankful that somebody had
the good sense to tell us to return to base. On the 50th anniversary of the
crash, the story was re-printed in our local newspaper here in Myrtle Beach
- "The Billboard Capital of the World."
(Like Pearl Harbor, it will be long remembered)
by Ned Wernick
The night before being inducted into the corps, June 8, 1943, we had a practice air raid drill in New York City.
The drill was: all lights would go out, the radios were to be turned off and all automobile traffic to either be stopped or run with their lights out and subway traffic was to be stopped until the drill was over.
My brother, a teenager of 14, and a wise-ass to boot, insisted on playing the radio. We tried to reason with him and when I went to get his attention he ran into the bathroom with me following him. As he shut the door my hand met the plate glass window and broke it, severely cutting my hand. I was bleeding like a stuck pig and was in shock and couldn't move my hand. What to do? My family of women were not equipped to handle the emergency so I went into the street to hail a cab to take me to the emergency room. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity I was able to induce a cabbie to take me to the hospital. Every few blocks we would be stopped by either the police or air raid wardens. I thought I had it bad with a severely cut hand but nearly wound up in the morgue with near-accidents with other cars running without their lights. Once I got to the hospital I found I couldn't be treated by the doctors until the lights went back on. Wait, wait, wait. What a nightmare! I finally got treated, sewed up and found that I couldn't move my fingers since they had to sew up several tendons that had been clipped and I was still in shock.
Got home after the treatment with just enough time to shower with one hand, pack my bag and take the subway down to the induction center. My mother, who went with me to see me off, had had a brother in the first world war and wasn't too keen about me going into the Corps, asked to see the military doctor to see if there was any way of my getting out of having to serve. Unfortunately he said there was nothing he could do and the recruiting sergeant said if my name was on the list I was going. They literally grabbed me away from my mother's bosom. I still remember my mother's copious tears as we left on the bus to board the train to Parris Island.
The trip down was what I thought was hell but I really found out what hell was once I met my drill instructor on the drill field at P.I. For the next week I was making sick call twice a day and barely
able to keep up with those things that required me to move my hand and fingers. I know he must have thought I was the biggest goof-off in the platoon. Ultimately my fingers and hand healed, though I lost the full extension of my middle finger. Thankfully it wasn't the trigger finger.
Did You Know I Was a Sky Diver?
Prior to departing Miramar MCAS in August 1944, one of the final exercises they gave us was abandon ship drill. We were to climb this high tower which, if my memory serves me rightly, was about the height of a 20 meter diving board (60 ft) . We were to stand at the edge of the platform and with one hand pinch our nose and with the other hand grab our crotch and jump off feet first yelling 'Geronimo!' and swim the length of the pool. As I got to the edge and looked down, ready to jump and simulate abandoning ship, I thought I was looking into the bowels of the earth and couldn't jump and backed off. They started jumping down with me standing on the side. Our section went thru, then the next and then the next and I realized I was up there by myself, trying to get courage to jump off and looking into the pool. All of a sudden I felt a size 12 shoe into the small of my back push me off into the air. Unlike those who went feet first I found myself flat out with my hands flailing and my feet kicking. I was airborne for what seemed like an eternity before I hit the water in the biggest belly whopper out.
Little did I realize at the time that I was inventing sky diving. You know, to this day I can feel the smarting of hitting that water flat out. Luckily, on going over on the USS Munda CVE 104, we never had to carry out that drill or I might have gone down with the ship.
How I Became a Gourmet
When the replacement Mech_Gunners arrived in Dec 1944 to relieve the original turret and tail gunners, we were billeted with the regular enlisted personnel, but we ate in a special dining facility called pilots' camp. This dining hall was very special since the bill of fare usually was steak and all the better goodies. Wow, this was pretty neat. After a while, you might not believe this, we longed for a hamburger. We came off the cloud when MAG 12 moved out and they built a new dining hall for the enlisted men. What a come-down. My first recollection was picking the flour bugs out of the bread. When we were through picking, the slice looked like a piece of Swiss cheese with more holes than bread. After a while we missed the flavor of the bugs and said "what the hell." Talk about deterioration of food quality.
Since I flew with Andy the boys said to me why don't you say something to him about it. The opportunity came one day in the mess hall when he was making an inspection and he stopped by me and asked me how was the food? Have you ever been tongue tied and couldn't utter a word? Well I looked at the food and looked at him, looked at the food and looked at him and shook my head and couldn't say a thing. How embarrassing.
The food was really bad. You ate the stuff to fuel the body's need. Believe it or not, we had a guard on our warehouse of foodstuffs 24 hours a day. Who would want to rob any of it?
The low point came when a merchant marine ship came into the harbor and we were assigned to unload the 250 and 500 pound bombs. After completing the job we went up to their mess hall for a cold drink and noticed that they had finished dinner and there were some meat balls left over from their spaghetti dinner. The steward looked at us and said we could have them if we wanted. Without giving it another thought we dove into them with bare hands and proceeded to devour them almost like animals.
And I remember powered milk, and dehydrated eggs and potatoes, smelly mutton from Australia (if you could get it past your nose). Then take your atabrine and salt tablets so you wouldn't come down with malaria or become dehydrated from all the perspiring in the heat and humidity. I remember those Sunday evening meals, lunch meat and cheese sandwiches with coffee.
When we returned stateside I went thru the chow line in Treasure Island and walked right past fresh milk, thinking I would be drinking that good powered stuff. Went back after I was told it was fresh milk and drank two cups of it and wound up with diarrhea because my body was unaccustomed to it. Nothing like the good old days.
The Day the Can Was Burned
As in any organization, there are always duties that are inherent for the orderly operation of the unit. No one is permanently assigned to do those duties. It would fall on the NCOIC to assign those duties on a daily basis. These details were usually assigned to aircrew members who were not flying that day. As an example: "dive bombers" to police the area picking up all foreign matter. "KP" to handle the cleaning of the kitchen pots and pans and the many other jobs that abound around the kitchen. Guard duty to walk your post so that we would be prepared in the event of a Japanese attempt to take back our little atoll, and to protect our aircraft and our stores of foodstuffs. And, last but not least, latrine duty. Our latrines were literally chiseled out of coral. There is a regulation as to length, width and depth, with a sufficient number of portholes being constructed to fit the hole. A structure was built over this to protect you from the elements and covered with mosquito netting to keep away the mosquitos and flies. The person detailed to latrine duty had not only the job of keeping the structure clean but he had the added duty of periodically burning out the accumulation of waste product. This was done by pouring a petroleum product - kerosene or gasoline - on the bottom of the hole and firing it with a match . I don't know whether the individual assigned to this duty one particular day felt that if a quart was required to do the job a gallon or two would do it a whole lot better, or maybe the cap came off the container of a 5 gallon jerry can. Anyway, when he threw the match to it you can imagine the conflagration that ensued. We had people attempting to douse the fire with helmets full of water. It was some time before it was repaired, and during the interim period we had to use the one other one available to us. Can you imagine the personal problems that arose from having to stand in a long line waiting your turn? Don't know who the individual was nor what happened to him as a result of his actions.
The Self-Described S.O.B.
I shipped over on CVE 104, USS Munda August 14,1944 from North Island. Eighteen days later we landed in Espiritu Santos. We gradually worked our way north by plane and ship, landing on Guadalcanal, the Russell Islands, Bougainville and finally hitting Emirau, where we joined MAG 61. I was assigned to VMB 443. Did nothing but detail work, waiting for assignment to an outfit in flying status.
December 26,1944 we flew down to Green as replacement mech_gunners, relieving the original aircrews who had come over in Jan 44. We were told on deplaning to choose our tents, draw our pads and linens, get something to eat, have the rest of the day off and report to the operations Quonset hut at 0800 the next day. We, the more than 20 of us, did so and waited in the hut. "Ten_hut!" was the next sound we heard as the first sergeant led the way, followed by a Major Arthur C. Lowell. Following the introduction and giving us a little pep talk, Major Lowell stated that there were two people in the outfit we should be mindful of. One was the commanding officer and the other was the son of a bitch. Lt. Col. Norman Anderson was the commanding officer and he was the son of a bitch.
Well how do you do. Nuff said.
Home Away From Home
I shared a tent with my tail gunner William Rogers, and with William Holsinger and John Hart, who were part of another crew.
We lived in tents about 12' X 12' that housed four individuals. We slept on cots on each side of the tent. Somehow we managed to have a table in the middle next to the center pole. They issued us pads that were about 11/2 inches thick, and pillows. Don't remember if we were issued linens. The tent was constructed on the ground on the dirt. We had to keep it clean, raked and ready for inspection at all times. The tent didn't have any sides to it but we did have mosquito netting for use on our cots. When it rained, invariably the roof leaked and then our helmets came into good use. Sanitation could be a problem if we didn't exercise good judgment. What with malarial mosquitoes and other crawling bugs and insects we had to take care of ourselves. We had to take atabrine and salt tablets daily. We lined our shoes up under the cot in front of our rifle that was slung under the cot for ready use. That piece, above all, had to be kept clean, oiled and ready for use at all times. We were located just below the equator where the humidity was quite severe and that, coupled with the rainy season, produced conditions ideal for mildew. Our clothes smelled and it was a job to keep everything from turning green. We had a catch-basin to collect rain water and we used that to shave and bird bath until the water ran out and then we went to the general showers which had salt water piped in. You felt just as clammy after taking the shower as you did before. The soap wouldn't lather and you were just going through the motions. Our outer steel helmet made an excellent bowl to use as a sink.
When we weren't at the slop chute putting our brew or soft drink away we would be at the movies seeing some old or B movie. There were times we were so hard up for entertainment that many a night we would watch the movies in the rain, wearing our ponchos. Now, the beer we were getting was what the beer drinkers called green beer. They must have just ran that stuff thru the coils and into the bottles. Rolling Rock, Blatz, Lucky Lager are some of the names that come to mind. Never could go past the first one. We could buy our allowed amount of 9 bottles per week. Now, Bill Rogers will tell you that he taught me how to drink that stuff. He would tell everyone that after a while I was not only drinking my 9 but getting into his 9 as well. Don't believe him.
That slop chute served as the BX as well. We could buy our necessaries there when they had them. It was a big night when the plane came back from the Sydney R&R run with that good Australian beer. Bottles of scotch or the like might bring $40 for the person who wanted to bring it back and sell it. Cigarettes would go for $.50 a carton at the exchange. How I really enjoyed smoking those Lucky Strikes. In fact from the day I started smoking at the age of 14 until I quit on the first smoke out day in 1978 I smoked about a pack every 2_3 days. I threw my last pack into the waste container and I have never had another one in my mouth. And I have never missed them. I can see where the cigarette companies hooked many a serviceman on the weed because of the price and the need to have something to relax with.
It seems to me we had one bulb in the center of the tent hanging from the ceiling and that was what we used to read and write letters. In addition, when the slop chute was closed or the movies were being passed up, we would play 4-handed pinochle. For us, this was a real cut-throat game. I can't remember what the stakes were but they couldn't have been too high since the better part of our money was going home for what was called allotment to our families. We would play it night after night when we had free time. Bill Rogers and John Hart would say they could read my face and tell when I had a good hand by the expression on it. You know, since I got discharged, I have never had a deck of pinochle cards in my hands.
When we got shipped home in August of '45 we spent 21 days on the deck of the troop transport playing pinochle. Somehow, sitting in that dirty deck, I wound up with a case of the crabs that I just couldn't get rid of. Try as I might using every imaginable medication those little suckers would stay with me. Sure ruined my social activity. Eventually, using extreme measures I was able to rid myself of them.
Now it might seem to the reader that all we did was live the good life. Not so. We were flying every 3_4 days on either 4-hour heckler raids over Japanese-held territory, out on patrol for enemy submarines or shipping that would reinforce the enemy on the by_passed islands, or flying low level missions in support of the American or Australian ground forces who were advancing on Bougainville. This was a slow process and the allies never did take the whole island back from the Japanese. Rabaul was another story. This city was a metropolitan community and it was protected by many airfields that the Japanese had built after taking New Britain. It wasn't until after the war that we learned that the Japanese, who had suffered so many aircraft losses in 1942 and 1943 and early 1944, had moved their aircraft up to Truk. We were always doing damage to their airstrips so that they would be made unusable. In early 1945 two planes from Rabaul flew to Manus in the Admiralty Islands and bombed what they thought was an aircraft carrier. Didn't do too much damage. Turned out that it was a floating dry dock for the repair of allied ships. What the Japanese had done was to cannibalize component parts of various planes and put together 2 flyable aircraft, undetected. Can't say they did too good of a job though. From after-action reports we found out that only one made it back. But it scared the brass into thinking they had somehow been reinforced and the picture sure changed rapidly in the amount of flying we were doing. We had those planes flying day and night. Flak was a hit and miss proposition. Some days we would get some and other days we wouldn't get any. Seems that the resupply never did come to pass and they must have had ammunition in some locations, but not all. Our aircraft had a goodly number of hours and missions on them. Can't give enough credit to Lee Bender and his maintenance crews. They often worked nights and with limited resources to keep those aircraft flying. The ordnance people had their work cut out for them too, when they had to wait to learn what sort of ordnance to load in the bomb bays and to clean the .50 caliber machine guns and replenish the ammunition in the planes. We turned some planes in early in 1945 when we got the J-model, which was configured as a flying gun ship with 18 guns on it. When we went down on low level bombing and strafing we surely had the brass flying and the plane literally stopped momentarily. Glad the war ended so we didn't have to return and fight on the Japanese mainland.
The Night I Spent in Jail
On one of my R&R trips to Sydney we landed in Townsville, which was a community out in the boonies. However, it had a landing strip to handle aircraft coming in from the islands. When we landed there were no military facilities to put us up and hotels were practically non-existent, so where do we park our weary bones? Don't know who had the brilliant idea of asking the local constabulary to put us up for the night. It was a sack and the jail doors were not locked but it sure felt good to get off our feet after a long flight from Green. Can't recall if we had an opportunity to take in a pub and enjoy that 10% Aussie beer.
Do You Think They Can Call Me Back?
I shipped home from Manus on an APA personnel carrier August 7th, 1945. Just 7 days out we received news of the dropping of the A bomb. We landed in Treasure island outside of Frisco August 21, 1945. I had spent exactly 365 days outside of the states. Shipped down to Miramar for processing, getting some new clothes, pitching the cut offs and baseball hats and getting some of the rough spots knocked off of us, realizing we were back in civilization. Went home for the 30-day leave and wound up back in Cherry Point. With the war being over we were assigned the job of removing the ordnance from the PBJs on the flight line, taking it to the hangar, dipping it in paralketone (similar to cosmoline) for preservation. Here were those brand new planes right out of the factory with less than 25 flight hours on them. What we wouldn't have given to have them back in Green Island.
They started a process of discharging men by the point system. You would total up points for number of months of service time, number of months overseas, number of battle engagements etc, etc. Here it was late October and I didn't have enough points to get out. They started out with some number, let's say 75, and periodically, based on some time frame, would lower it. Adding up all the points for this and that, I had amassed a total of 49 points. The days and the weeks went by. Thanksgiving had come and gone and we were getting near to Christmas and I was still stuck there. The points for discharge were now down to 50. So near and yet so far.
Out of the blue someone said to us "They are giving points for the liberation of the Philippines, were we ever there?"
Now when MAG 12 moved up to Samar in January 1945 they needed PBJs to do the navigating and to fly cover for them since they had to remove all their armament to make the long flight over water to New Guinea, to Pelelieu and to Samar, P.I. Our CO, Norm Anderson, led a flight which landed there on January 12th. We were concerned with the safety of our aircraft since the island had only recently been liberated and we didn't want to spend any more time there than was necessary. We were on the ground exactly 90 minutes, just enough time to gas up, do a bit of trading with the locals and get out of there.
When I went to the separation people and told them that I had been in the Philippines, they referred me to our people for substantiation. I showed one of the pilots my log book and he signed off that I was indeed in the Philippines. I was finally separated December 28th, 1945.
In 1997 I was doing some research in the library of the Museum of Naval
Aviation when I came upon something mighty interesting. To be awarded a
ribbon for a campaign one must have spent a minimum of 30 days in the battle
zone. Wow, how did I get away with that? I hope they don't find out I was
discharged under false pretenses, they might decide to call me back!
Wernick, Rogers, Dunne
HERE, THERE, DOWN UNDER AND BACK
RECOLLECTIONS OF MY TOUR OF DUTY
IN THE PACIFIC DURING WORLD WAR II
[as remembered 55 years later]
By Paul White, tail gunner, VMB-423
Our contingent of Marine Bombing Squadron VMB-423 went overseas on the escort carrier Prince William. The hangar deck was loaded with all kinds of stuff and airplanes held in place by steel cables attached to the deck. None of our North American Mitchells (called B-25s by the Army Air Corps and PBJs by the Navy) were aboard. We enlisted men slept on the deck amidst materiel, planes and cables. It was fortunate that we rarely had to get up during the night because it was one helluva time finding our way around in the dark.
The ocean was a bit rough west of Alcatraz. Eating our first supper was a new experience. When the ship rolled to port or to starboard, the dishes would move, making it possible to eat someone else's meal. And vice versa!
The next day, right after breakfast, all enlisted men aboard the carrier heard the bosun's whistle over the intercom, that anachronism from the tall ships, followed by "Sweepers, man your brooms! Clean sweep-down fore and aft, ----- ----- ----- ----- !" There's a remote possibility this message is not heard by officers as they don't sweep or swab. I never counted how many were held each day but a guess of six does not seem unseemly. When sweeping is not involved, the intercom blares away "Now hear this ----- ----- ----- ----!"
The ship's crew, who showered and ate before us, had their duties to perform. Being passengers, we had nothing to perform, not even calisthenics.
We picked up an escort west of Hawaii: one (1) sub-chaser! Soon we were sunning ourselves in the near nude on the flight deck as we neared the equator. There was nothing to see but sea and sky and our busy little escort going about its business of protecting ship, passengers and cargo. We crossed the international date line and the equator on our way to the south seas paradises. Each of us was given a simple statement certifying when and where we crossed these imaginary lines. The ship's crew, which provided so much for so many for so long, did not get the pleasure of initiating a sizeable contingent of Marines.
Weather permitting, and it often did, a few groups of two or three swabbies spent several hours a day chipping paint. A chipping hammer, unlike a ball peen hammer, has a lengthwise and a crosswise chisel edge. The U.S. Navy, to its credit, is obsessed with neatness and cleanliness. Those enlisting in it because it is clean discover who keeps it so clean. Some decks are swabbed daily with a swab (mop)
from which swabbie comes.
All day long the ship's crew had almost unlimited access to hot coffee. The alternative, water, is available to everyone at fountains. Coffee is served with meals and water is obtainable.
Finally we arrived at Espiritu Santos in the New Hebrides on a bright sunny morning. A few days after settling into our quarters, each of us was issued a khaki sleeveless sweater, courtesy of the American Red Cross. We were obliged to sign for them. I don't know whether or not I ever wore mine.
You could tell when someone just arrived overseas because he would somehow manage to knock a coconut off a tree and then try to cut the husk of with a bayonet, a dangerous undertaking. A native takes a coconut in both hands at the points, brings it up over his head and then down onto a sharp stake he has in the ground and then rotates the coconut around its axis to pry the husk off. He makes it look so easy, taking less than one minute. We were told that coconut milk is a very potent laxative. I believe we all heeded that warning.
Surprise!!!! Four gunners were promoted to Staff Sergeant shortly afterwards: Bernie Vanden Avond, Bill Lindley, Frank Light and Paul White. A few buddies pulled my rank on me! They browbeat me until I treated them to ice cream.
Several times we were cautioned not to keep a diary. Guess what!! I didn't. Nothing was going to make things tougher than they had to be, if I could help it. Amazingly, no check was ever made to see if anyone had kept one. If I had a diary, there would be more to this and it would be in better order. On the other hand, I might have gotten caught and still be in the brig in Portsmouth, NH.
Our planes arrived on Espiritu Santos, with full crews, at least a full month after we arrived. All the planes had been flown from California to Hawaii where some modifications were made. To the best of my knowledge, they crossed the great Pacific Ocean without incident or accident, stopping on little islands like they were stepping stones. There is no doubt whatever that they merited a certificate for crossing the international date line and the equator but never received one. A simple case of T.S.
One Sunday I discovered the Dixie, a repair ship, anchored offshore. I went aboard and visited my Navy brother, Charles. After dinner, he took me to a tiny island the Navy was using for recreation purposes. A prudent jarhead always accompanies a swabbie, speaks softly, and presents a low profile when visiting any place where there are lots and lots of swabbies. There were a few horseshoe pits, a baseball diamond and plenty of cool beer, and some coconut trees, of course. Sitting under a coconut tree may be hazardous to your health -- coconuts in their hulls are big and heavy and hard.
The following Sunday, three buddies accompanied me to visit aboard the Dixie. We had some really good meals on this ship including pie a-la-mode. When others heard about it most of them would not believe it. We went two more Sundays. One buddy invited himself along even though he and I were temporarily not on good terms. I had made disparaging remarks about a grass skirt (Hawaiian type) he had bought somewhere: he paid too much, it was a fake, it actually stank, etc.
There was an incident involving a buddy which gave everyone a good laugh except him. He invited himself to accompany me on a visit to a couple of Army nurses I knew from back home. It was all so spontaneous! He had misheard what I said and everybody else went along with it. You should have seen how he dressed up. He was always clean and neat. It is absolutely true he once shaved twice the same day overseas.
I gave my brother a map so he could visit me, picking a day he would be off duty. Unexpectedly, I was put in charge of a detail that day, fouling up our plans, so I left a note for him with the Marine guard at the entrance to our area of the island. Along came my brother in his navy duds wearing his
P!$$-pot white hat. The guard asked him if he was White. He was given the note. A short distance
beyond this checkpoint, "Hats" (S/Sgt. Alfred J. Hatzman, turret gunner, from Ossining, NY), who was Sergeant of the Guard, came along in a command car and brought him to our camp. Another buddy, "Buck" (S/Sgt. Lloyd W. Rogers, tail gunner, from somewhere near Rochester, NY - Potter Swamp, to be precise) was off duty and saw them arrive. Buck brought Chuck to where I was with the detail and took my place, freeing me for a couple of hours.
I managed to get CW his first ride in an airplane at a nearby Marine Torpedo Bomber Squadron. He got a hop in a Grumman Avenger made by Eastern Aircraft near Trenton, NJ where my mother worked. For buying a war bond she got a ride on the test run of a plane she had helped to make. Those Gyrenes scared the hell out of CW but he enjoyed it, especially when he got back on the ground.
I took my brother to our mess hall for some real Marine chow. It included Vienna sausage, as it often did. His question: "How often do you get $#!+ like this?" My answer was truthful: "It's rather good today." So much for real Marine chow!
We had classes in airplane and ship recognition. We also had to learn semaphore and the Morse code although we never had occasion to use either. It must have been something to keep us occupied and in good mental condition. There were some lectures on survival at sea, tips on sailing, fishing, catching water, protecting against the sun, using the Gibson Girl transmitter and signaling with the metal mirror with a hole in it. Lectures on land survival told how to avoid capture, how to contact the coast watcher, what fruits and berries to eat. Birds and fish can be eaten if they can be caught and cooked. Otherwise, observe the monkeys. What they eat is fit for human consumption, and the monkeys are too!
We went to the movies every night. The alternatives: reading, BSing, playing cards, writing letters, etc. On Espiritu Santos the rain almost knocked out the cinema one night, the only time it ever happened. It was a beautiful technicolor picture starring Kathryn Grayson. The rain caused the speakers to get weaker and weaker. Many left before it was over. Those who stayed sat on their ponchos in a couple of inches of water up close to the screen. We never saw this picture again.
At this theater the projectionist read the news of the day, before it got dark enough to show movies, telling about military action in nearby areas. We did not know what was going on anywhere else. There were three good movies we saw five or six times each: Sergeant York, Gentleman Jim and Sahara. Months later, when lousy pictures were shown on Green Island, I think every one of us wished we were on heckling patrol instead, to catch a good picture tomorrow night, perhaps. I have VCR tapes of these three good movies and I sometimes watch them, as well as others, when TV programmings are unpalatable, which is not such a rare thing.
On Espiritu Santos we had to guard airplanes in revetments at night. You have seen movies where sentries pace back and forth and say "Halt, who goes there?" to intruders. That is incorrect. To say "Who goes there?" makes no sense. If the intruder had halted, he is not going anywhere, though he might have been going somewhere.
A sentry should call, "Halt!" If the intruder does not halt, he should call "Halt!" again. If the intruder does not halt, he should call "Halt!" a third time. If the intruder does not halt, the sentry gets to shoot him dead. Sorry, but that's how it was!
Whenever I had the pleasure of guarding a plane, I never paced back and forth. That's okay in the movies. I hid in the bushes and kept still, looking around all the time. If an intruder showed up, I would have shot him dead. What is the chance of anybody understanding "halt?" A sentry could get himself killed if he didn't watch out for himself.
We had guards posted to safeguard equipment and supplies where the ship was unloaded. There was a rumor one of our guards prevented an Army guard from walking his post because it bisected or overlapped our post. The Army Officer of the Day admitted we had good guards.
During unloading, one of the "medical supplies" crates was dropped and the odor of alcohol was detected. Some officer must have noticed an enlisted man act like he was under the influence. Then, the officers recalled they had secreted hooch amongst the medical supplies. When they got there, the cupboard was bare. Then, they thereupon suspected enlisted men had hi-jacked their alcohol. An unexpected search of sea bags was conducted by the officers. A few gunners were caught red-handed but, wisely, were not reported. Not much was left.
At the first Pensacola reunion, Ed Huie handed out one-ounce bottles of booze to each officer present saying, "I'm buying the drinks this time." It was well received. I was at the table with the officer who had been in charge of loading squadron supplies aboard the Prince William. He quite prudently had the Navy personnel weld the door shut after our supplies were stored in the hold.
The tail gunner is at the far rear of the fuselage in a tiny cubicle he gets accustomed to. It is less than three feet high, less than two feet wide, and less than two feet long. There are padded arm rests on each side and pads for the knees and shins on each side, a few inches above and aft of the area his toes occupy. There is a seat, similar to a bicycle seat, on a short hinged post which he uses part of the time. And there is a piece of half-inch armor plate, approximately twelve by fifteen inches, in front of his chest, which he leans on at times. A tail gunner spends about four hours, on average, in a prayerful posture, shifting weight frequently to keep from losing feeling in some parts of his body.
A fifty-caliber machine gun having a maximum rate of fire of 450 rounds per minute was cradled in a shock-absorbing mount. Close to 500 rounds of a mixture of armor-piercing, incendiary, general purpose, and tracer ammunition, which could be expended in less than two minutes, was all he had to defend the plane with. There were three ring-sights at the rear of the barrel, one upright, one canted left and one right, enabling the gunner to aim when the rear of the gun is swung to one side or the other. The inner ring "cuts off" thirty-five feet, the wing span of a fighter plane, at a distance of a thousand feet. The gunner uses the rings to determine distance and direction of enemy planes.
There is a headphone jack at every manned position in the plane giving access to radio frequencies and the intercom. Crew members usually stay on the intercom to keep abreast of important messages directly affecting the safety and operation of the plane and its crew and the mission. I did not occupy the tail during take-off or landing.
The clock system is used to help the crew locate objects outside the plane. The plane is at the center of an imaginary, humongous clock laying on its back, flying toward 12 o'clock, giving positions 1 to 5 on the right and 7 to 11 on the left. Objects above the plane are high and those below the plane are low. A tail gunner always flies backwards like the fabled Killylou bird who only wants to see where he has been.
A ground crewman was along on one particular flight to qualify for his "flight skins." Everything went well until near touch-down when he suddenly developed an eruptive stomach condition. He took off his P!$$ cutter and turned up the cuff (cuff? I don't know the nomenclature of the garrison cap), and almost filled it to the brim with instant vomit. With great care and skill he held it in his hands until he exited without spilling any in the plane. Lucky lad - no mess to clean up.
Our early missions were staged out of Stirling Island. VMB-413 ground crews serviced our planes. We arrived in groups of crews, not all at once. Early arrivals greeted later arrivals with tales of combat. I don't recall arriving at or leaving Stirling. It wasn't by water, so it must have been by air somehow. We had more crews than we had planes. I believe our ground echelon went directly to Green Island, whereas all flight personnel had arrived at Stirling by May 14.
When, where and why we were in need of a radioman escapes my old and aging memory. When this opportunity arose, a certain ground-based gent from the land of the razorback got himself appointed to a crew which found him A-OK in every way. S/Sgt Jack W. Brun, from Ft. Smith, AR, was now an airborne radioman, sending Morse Code with a Dixie accent.
Water on Stirling was horrible -- we got two beers or two cokes in the evening, gratis, I think. Once, I accumulated six cans of beer and had myself a one-man beer party. The beer was warm as P!$$ and I never did it again.
Bougainville is an island in the northern Solomons group. Vaguely, I remember its being the first target bombed by our crew. The U.S. did not take the whole island -- just a perimeter which it held till the end of the war. On another occasion, our crew landed in the perimeter and we ate there. The mess hall had no tables or chairs. Shelves, on which trays could be placed, were suspended from the roof. There was no dawdling here. When mess was over, cleanup was simple and fast.
We had been issued classy, one-piece khaki flight suits, like the officers had, having a number of handy pockets on arms and legs with snaps on some of them. I preferred our two-piece utility trousers and jacket, and planned to claim I was a ground crewman if captured, as the Japs were meaner to flyboys.
Each of us carried a message in Pidgin English (showing U.S. and British flags in color) to read with care, expression and gestures to the natives in case we parachuted or crashed. The natives would lead us to Australian Coast Watchers who were positioned on many of the islands throughout the Pacific. When not arranging for pickup of survivors by PT boat, sub, or PBY (Dumbo) flying boats, they reported Jap air and ship movements, weather, etc., etc. These were damn good men.
Some of us played cards, New York Hearts mostly, while waiting for it to get dark enough to show movies. One evening, Commander Eddie Peabody, the Banjo King, gave a concert before the movie. He was all there was to the troupe, the only one to come to Stirling Island while we were there.
"Tobacco Road" was a dead-end dirt road on the edge of the jungle, having one bright blue tent amidst the usual drab green ones on one side of the road only, the other side being jungle. A group of gunners at one of the tent residences in or near the blue tent sang a number of good old gospel hymns one night.
A softball league composed of six teams from the six positions on the plane was organized. The only time I watched, my co-pilot, 1st Lt. George Higgins from Seaford, DE, was at bat. I yelled, "He's my co-pilot, he can't hit $#!+!" He couldn't, because he was laughing too much. As soon afterwards as possible, I told him, "I'm sorry -- I don't know what came over me." His answer: "Forget it. It was nothing." If it had been the pilot, I would have been in trouble.
Several gunners had their "six-shooters" and holsters stolen from under their bunks. This necessitated borrowing from others who were not eager to lend. Later, Colt .45 automatic pistols were issued as a replacement. A knife and sheath were issued to each crew member.
I wore a cartridge belt to which I attached a canteen of water and a hunting knife in a sheath. The pistol was in a shoulder holster under the Mae West life jacket and parachute harness. (Mae Wests and harnesses are kept in the plane and readjusted by the wearer). The parachute is at a regular place where it can be quickly picked up and snapped onto the harness after emerging from the tail position when the order comes to bail out. This order would not be given if the plane could be set down on land or water, preferably water. This is safer and keeps the crew together.
I used a throat mike kept in place by an adjustable elastic band. I need only push a button to use it. The aviation helmet had a built-in headset. I had GI sunglasses for use during the day as there's a terrible glare when over miles and miles of ocean, when the sun is bright. Last but certainly not least, most gunners had a home-made machine-gunner's handy tool which they always carried on flights - don't leave home without it.
One day a gunner was lying on a big stone sunning himself when he was washed into the water by a big wave. It was in a hilly, wooded area with a steep, rugged coral reef at water's edge. In a matter of minutes a large number of us were cheering him on. Someone got an inflated life raft and tried to launch it. Hats attempted to board it but it got punctured as soon as he put one foot in and was lucky to get out of it. A PBJ was soon at the scene dropping inflated Mae West jackets. In over an hour no other big wave occurred. The man we lost was Roderick "Skinny" Herndon, a nice guy.
M-1 carbines were issued for use on the ground if and when necessary. These were suspended horizontally alongside our bunks in two string loops. One day we fired these at the range -- it was not an impressive weapon. It would take a well-placed shot at close range to stop a Jap.
We were based on different islands and different groups of islands. The longest stay was on Green Island, a small atoll with a lagoon. It was close to the equator and south of it, being constantly hot with occasional wet spells which didn't cool things off for long. Mold and fungi were common.
The natives on Green Island were relegated to an area not needed for military operations. They were very fond of betel nut and had big unsightly smiles to prove it. They also used it for hair dressing engendering the precursor of a full bouffant hair style, the Afro, now almost passŤ in the USA. They didn't wear much clothing and went barefoot. Ugly sores were common on their hands, arms, feet and legs. It was extremely unlikely that any Dorothy Lamour types were on that island.
We lived in three pyramid tents attached together and erected on a roughly-sawn mahogany deck. We credited the CBs but we never knew for sure who had set up the camp. Each triple tent was home, sweet home for eighteen enlisted aircrewmen.
Halves of bamboo trees, about six inches in diameter, were suspended at the eaves as gutters to catch rain and transport it to old open-head 55-gallon drums. Each man had his very own drum and tank. A tank, used for showering, held about 21/2 gallons of water when full. It was hoisted up by a rope and the man stood under it controlling water flow by removing or replacing a wooden plug at the bottom. It was not necessary to heat the water. When it did not rain for a week or so, you started to use less.
Our bunks were folding canvas cots with wooden "X" legs at each end and in the middle. The mattress was a cotton pad, one inch in thickness when new. The sheet was a khaki-colored piece of thin canvas-like material. Blankets were unnecessary.
Each bunk had its own mosquito netting, put up before retiring and taken down upon arising. This net was suspended over the bunk from short poles inserted at the four corners which were put up or taken down the same time as the netting. Every once in a while, I would awaken when it was dark and quiet and would reach out to see if the mosquito net was there. It being there meant it was not a terrible nightmare -- it was terrible reality.
We kept everything in our sea bags (similar to the Army duffel bag) under our bunks. We never had to lug our own sea bags when being relocated. A detail of Marines always took them to where whatever truck, train, bus, car or plane was involved. At the destination, the sea bags were taken by another detail to our billets.
The head was in the center of this camp and would accommodate ten or twelve persons at one time, should the need arise. The bottom half was like a rural out-house. The upper half was screened in to provide ventilation and to keep out mosquitos, bees, gnats, flies and other flying creatures. Creeping creatures were everywhere: toads, frogs, spiders, snakes, lizards, etc.
My Army brother, Raymond, wrote that he was in a hot, dusty and dirty place called Arak, Iran, near the oil wells. There were Russians recuperating from wounds received on the German eastern front. He said he could buy a Persian rug direct from a private weaver. Without hesitation I sent him a money order for fifty Yankee dollars.
This brings me to the point where my memory is acting strangely. I cannot recall actually buying a money order to send home, one to Iran and one to Sydney, later on. I cannot recall pay days, actually getting paid, but I can recall wondering why they weren't run from Z to A every other time as everyone had to stay in line until paid but after being paid was free to go. I cannot recall getting haircuts although one never saw a shaggy Marine in 423. It mystifies me that these recurring events are being suppressed or censored by my own memory.
Less than a city block away there was a water-distillation unit adjacent to the mess hall. This water was cold and tasted good. Before the evening meal an atabrine tablet was placed on your tongue by a Navy medical corpsman whose assistant was a big sailor wearing a cartridge belt and pistol to ensure you swallowed it. To aid in swallowing you got a conical paper cup containing water, as atabrine had a bitter taste.
We were fed plenty of New Zealand turkey (mutton) which turned some guys off lamb for good. Otherwise, I suppose, our meats were the usual: overcooked and under-seasoned. Then there came those new-fangled dehydrated beets, carrots, potatoes, even milk and eggs. Often this dried stuff was borderline edible. If you were good 'n hungry you might even like it.
In a way grits were like Kilroy - wherever we went grits were already there - for breakfast - for ever. It's a form of hominy, made of corn in case you didn't know, a good food but not very tasty or popular. Every once in a while we got SOS ($#!+ on a shingle) which many of us didn't mind, in fact, we liked it. Decades ago a recipe for SOS was printed in the Leatherneck. (I lost it). Nowadays, SOS, aka creamed chipped beef, can be found ready-made in the frozen food section of the super market. Heat in the microwave and provide the shingle of your choice.
Back home after the war, a neighbor who had been a cook in the Navy told how they made raisin bread whenever weevils were found in the flour. When at sea, what's a baker to do! We never had raisin bread, or raisin cake, or raisin jack. Raisin jack is a hazardous alcoholic drink clandestinely concocted of whatever ingredients are available and not shared with anybody. My Navy brother recently told me they frequently found insect parts and other foreign matter in their bread; it was accepted as unavoidable.
There was no store, or garden, to supplement your diet. If you caught fish, you would have to cook it yourself. I can not recall greens. There were dried beans. We had fresh-baked bread by non-union bakers. There was no ice cream. Later, there were fresh eggs sunny-side up, served with grits and bacon for breakfast. There was always coffee, never tea of any sort. There was no soda, beer or Coke but there were free life savers and Chelsea brand cigarettes in a small sealed can like salted peanuts are sold in. Supposedly, the flight crews had better food than the ground-bound people.
"Officers Country" was more luxurious, of course. The tents were not attached and were located amongst trees instead of being in the heat of the noon-day sun. It was also the location of one of the bulletin boards. Some kind soul regularly thumb-tacked the Blondie comic strip on that bulletin board.
Most of us made sandals out of an old pair of field shoes and made shorts out of an old pair of pants. That's all we wore when off duty to minimize our laundering. We had no laundering facilities. It was necessary to use a scrub brush and hang wash on a line. On duty, we wore the newest and best we had, just in case. In the evenings, it was compulsory to wear long-legged pants and long-sleeved shirts to attend the movies, with the ever-present bugs.
Muster was held daily in officers' country. One day an O.D., or some other official, told us our dress was too unmilitary. The following day the tail gunners wore an assortment of clothing. We were a sight! We got reamed out good for insubordination. There was no disciplinary action.
There was an occasional inspection of quarters and/or clothing and equipment. Most of us had a copy of the red handbook showing how to display stuff on our bunk. On one occasion a certain gunner put only three or four items on his bunk. The inspecting officer asked, "Where is the rest of your gear?" Answer: "The bastards have stolen it." He got away with it.
Naturally, after a couple of months overseas, it got very hard to find something to write home about. Guys often addressed an envelope and started a letter and then could not think of anything to write except they were well. Early on, I developed the habit of carrying a pencil and a scrap of paper with me at all times. Whenever something I could write about occurred to me, I jotted it down. Each correspondent had a number on a "control sheet," and I entered the subjects on it so I would not repeat myself. As time passed, correspondents got engaged, married, disinterested, tired, bored, did not write often, diminishing one's mail call. I wrote to every nice girl I could think of. It was not much of a success. One of my best correspondents was a buddy's sister.
A certain tail gunner got one of those infamous "Dear John" letters from his fiancee. A number of gunners wrote her nasty letters making him and them feel better.
Crews got "the duty" in rotation. Officers were "Officers of the Day" (O.D.) while the rest of the crew were "Masters at Arms" (M.A.) the same day. It involved office duty as well as errands with the command car, a vehicle bigger than a jeep but sluggish and cumbersome.
There were people I owed letters to. I would compose a letter suitable for all of them and when I got access to the typewriter, I would type V-mail forms with several carbons. That left just the recipient's name and address to type in separately. It also made the time pass faster, especially after midnight.
A few gunners composed a letter to someone back home. They cut out sentences, parts of sentences, phrases, words till it looked as if an unusual moth had all but devoured it. The censor passed it. I never heard how the recipient reacted to this bit of exaggerated censorship.
Mail was sorted out by tents and delivered to us in our tents. Outgoing mail was censored by officers. Censored mail was returned to the writer with the objectionable parts noted, to be re-written.
The CO and his crew did a lot of official flying around. His radioman was in our tent. He seldom received any mail but always asked for it when he returned. He'd ask me, I'd tell him "George had it." George would say, "Joe had it." Joe would say "White had it." He fell for this every time. He never lost his temper -- he just stomped off somewhere.
Baxter would awaken me with the words "Wake up - gotta fly." He assumed responsibility to get me to the plane on time and I appreciated it.
It was probably on our first heckling patrol that three powerful searchlights had us triangulated in their beams. I was temporarily paralyzed with fear and wished to reach out and push them away. After they had demonstrated how good they were at keeping us in the spotlight, they shut them off, leaving us in the dark. Now we could do what we came to do: buzz around like a monstrous mosquito, drop calling cards at random addresses. We had invented junk mail.
On another heckling patrol the pilot may have pulled up a bit steeper than usual and leveled off fast, causing a weightless sensation back at the tail section. For a moment, I felt I might just float right out of the plane. When I was back on my butt, I figured it would be impossible to do that, given my dimensions and the space available. Not to worry.
I feared flying into the side of the volcano at Rabaul when we were down low having an "unscheduled" look around, especially after our time over the target had been completed. There's a degree of superstition there, but I'll not go into that.
Another night, while over the Rabaul area, a fiery ball, or phosphorous projectile about three times the diameter of a Roman candle, reached its peak and was arcing over to begin its descent. It was going in the same direction we were and, for a moment, I thought it was going to get into my cubicle with me. I watched, fascinated and helpless as it fell short a couple of feet. Considering we were at 10,000 feet, making maybe 150 knots, it failed to do so by only microseconds.
For a few raids on a heavily defended target on New Britain Island, we were joined by one Army Air Corps and two Marine Corps squadrons coming from various locations within a viable radius. (I did not forget where they were based, I never knew). We orbited several minutes in the vicinity of the Duke of York Islands in the southeast section of the Bismark Archipelago, quite some distance from our objective, awaiting the arrival of the others, unavoidably alerting Jap ground gunners for miles around. It was the only way to achieve a concentrated drop over a large target.
Many of our daylight raids in the Rabaul area were made between the hours of 1030 and 1300, for reasons I never learned or inquired about. The runs were made at slightly different speeds and altitudes to befuddle the Japs. That worked quite well as they were often wide, high, low, ahead or behind with their ack-ack. Flying tight formations presented smaller targets for them to shoot at.
On at least one occasion the target got closed in by the weather and orders came from headquarters for all nine planes to drop their entire bomb loads "safe" into the ocean. We were not far from enemy installations at the time. This did not make sense to me, but then, neither was I privy to the facts involved in such a decision. Maybe there was a hospital or other target they didn't want to drop bombs on. Let it remain a mystery.
Many daylight raids were above 10,000 feet, out of the range of automatic weapons fire. FLAK is a German acronym for ack-ack. Shells have a device to determine when they will explode, hurling metal fragments with great force in all directions. First, shrapnel; second, turbulence; third, a puff of black smoke like a small cloud; fourth, the noise (BANG!). The puffs of smoke indicated where shells had already exploded and were now harmless. Victims killed instantly never hear what hits them.
Gunners test-fired their guns after becoming airborne, before joining the formation. On one occasion test firing revealed bad ammunition. The bullets were coming out of the casings before the cartridges entered the firing chamber due to lengthwise cracks in the casings. Again and again I removed cartridges, linkage, bullets and casings, only to have it recur. A gun was not needed on this raid or I would have had to fake it.
Navy Lt. A. F. Bozic was in charge of the medical unit with a staff of eight medical corpsmen. When attached to a Marine unit, corpsmen wear Marine uniforms with Navy ratings in Marine Corps colors. For a while, good ol' Doc Bozic , from Pittsburgh, PA, gave small bottles of hospital brandy to those returning from a daylight raid. This charming custom ended as unexpectedly as it began, no reason given.
Because they had no bombsight at the time, an RNZAF squadron flew with us several times and everybody dropped bombs when the lead plane dropped. A member of their organization had teapot tea, not tea-bag tea, ready for them when they returned. They all seemed to enjoy it so much -- it was only tea. I never saw any crumpets.
Our CO, Lt. Col. John Winston , from Gladstone, NJ, had the only regularly assigned plane. It bore the name BAYBEE in 3" white block letters under the cockpit window on each side. None of the other planes had names or pictures emblazoned on them except for "The Uninvited," a replacement plane which joined the squadron with a full crew. All planes had little yellow bombs painted on them denoting raids in which the plane had participated, regardless of which crews flew them.
The Mitchell was a tough, dependable airplane, albeit a mite rough on the ears of its crew. Unavoidably, while awaiting parts, a couple planes were "cannibalized" for parts for other planes, becoming "hangar queens," hangar or no hangar. It seemed to me the number of active airplanes hovered around eleven. With nine flying every day, four or five every night, and one often used on official business, it was obvious the ground crews were doing a terrific job.
Once our crew waited for a plane to return from the last heckling patrol, so we could fly it with eight other planes on an early daylight raid. It was refueled and reloaded with bombs and ammunition in a few minutes, like it was a pit stop at Indianapolis. The take-off was not delayed - we flew tail-end Charlie once again.
On daylight raids it gets hot enough before take-off to make sweat run down one's body. This felt icy as the plane gained altitude but it dissipated by the time the plane was two miles up. There is a real glare up there. When the sun shines, it's beautiful! It's big and lonely, too.
Several indignant Navy aircrewmen came right into our tent one morning and accused one of our crews of being trigger-happy, firing on them, knowing it was them. The response: "Your plane was where it wasn't supposed to be!" Those of us not involved in the "discussion" stood around while the participants had their say. The Navy plane had not been hit, had not returned the fire, had promptly left the scene. My opinion is their pilot kept mum, but his crew didn't. It was uncanny how they found our gunners. Nothing further came of the incident to my knowledge.
The remains of a Mitchell bomber in close proximity to the tarmac was dubbed "Tagen's Folly" in big red letters. Most major components had been removed, leaving the basic fuselage quite suitable to practice abandoning ship in the ocean. At a signal, crew members left their stations, divested themselves of the parachute harness, and assumed their "ditching" positions. At another signal which indicated the aircraft was ditched, crew members took certain gear and left through escape hatches. Momentarily, positions were taken preparatory to boarding inflated rafts, as land planes don't float for long. Long enough for trained crewmen.
On a certain daylight raid, one of our aircraft sustained serious damage but managed to fly out to sea where it was neatly ditched by 1st Lt. Kenneth Meyer, pilot, from Warsaw, IL, assisted by 1st Lt. William A. Carlson, co-pilot, from Marshaltown, IA. Sgt. Edward J. Leonard, photographer, from Philadelphia, PA was aboard, making it a seven-man crew on this occasion. T/Sgt. James Cameron, from West Brooklyn, NY, Nav-bomb., S/Sgt. Richard E. Voss, radioman, from Holt, MI, Sgt. Dale Harris, turret gunner, from Prescott, AZ, and Sgt. Anthony C. Mezzello, tail gunner, from Ebensburg, PA made up the rest of the crew. All hands abandoned ship and got into the rafts and/or water where they spent some long and anxious hours under sporadic fire from Jap shore guns. All were rescued and taken to Green the same day (by then it was night, actually), and were ready for their next turn when it came. I think after that we all paid a little more attention at future sessions with Tagen's Folly.
Our Mitchells were tied down near a road traveled by other military units. Occasionally, a driver would stop to look at the plane and often tried to charge a 50-caliber machine gun. Little gunners could charge it effortlessly, while big, strong drivers could not. We never leaked the secret.
A Lister bag was maintained in this area for ground crew, as well as others, primarily to quench a thirst but also to help cope with the hot and dusty environment of this tropical paradise. You had to be thirsty because water in a Lister bag does not taste good, although perfectly potable. A Lister bag is a rubberized canvas bag with spigots and is hung from a tripod with a hood to shade it from the sun. The Marine Corps originated the water trailer - a small tank of water mounted on a small trailer to be pulled by a jeep or any other military vehicle.
VMB-423 did not have an official insignia or name, so a contest was held with all hands encouraged to participate. It turned out to be no contest. One man submitted half a dozen good designs, while the rest of the outfit submitted five or six designs none of which had a remote chance of winning. The design voted winner was of a stylized seahorse riding the crest of a wave and carrying bombs, with a machine gun firing away forward and one firing aft. The designer was W. T. Phillips, from Memonis, TN and the best-liked man in the whole squadron. We became known as Seahorse Green (we were based on Green Island), other PBJ squadrons were referred to as Seahorse Red or Blue, etc. Their insignias are unknown to me.
Each crew's official photo was taken by the squadron photographer. Our crew's photo failed to get into the "year book" which was published months after our separation from the USMC.
Al Hatzman, Jim Cameron and S/Sgt. Fred Cross of Martinsville, VA, saved a fighter pilot from drowning in the ocean off Green Island after bailing out of his plane. "Hats" was awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Medal some time after he returned to the States. I presume the others were awarded likewise.
A few guys managed to capture a little black pig they named "Porky." Somehow they fed it until it could drink milk out of a helmet. It got daily shampoos as well as hair brushings. When held on a lap, the piglet would root with his nose, a natural instinct. They soon captured a female pig they named "Eleanor" after FDR's wife. She made it miserable for poor Porky, being slightly older and bigger -- barnyard pecking order.
At one time I figured we had 27% or 28% dead in my category. Most of us were quite healthy in every way. There was no cowardice, self-inflicted wounds or insanity. I went through the whole war without being sick, injured or wounded. I did get good 'n scared more than once, bored and tired on occasion as well as hungry and thirsty. It was too hot at times and plenty cold other times.
Every once in a while I got the feeling the war would go on indefinitely. I would go to the beach and look out to sea. There was nothing to see but sea and sky, as usual, and there was nothing to do but go on and on. Returning to quarters and buddies, I promptly forgot it.
One day our turret gunner, S/Sgt. Joseph A. Parisi, from Flushing, Long Island, NY, gave me a V-letter and envelope all folded up. Our CO had received it and gave it to our pilot, 2nd Lt. Keith Clark, from Darien, CT, because Clark knew me personally. Clark gave it to "BJ" because Joe knew me better. Parisi gave it to me with the explanation of how he got it. It was an unpleasant task. He didn't know how to tell me. It reported my father's passing on. He had been in failing health and my mother went to the Office of Civil Defense and asked them to notify me as she didn't know how to tell me, either. No one else learned of my misfortune, or didn't let on that they did. I had been expecting such news so it was no surprise and I accepted the bad news calmly.
We had been on Green Island for some time before a long tent with canvas walls and screened-in windows was erected in a vacant spot in the midst of our tents alongside the lane to the movies. It was to be our "Flight Enlisted Men's Club" for the purveyance of pogie bait, smokes and what liquid refreshment was available. In other areas of the island were a "Ground Enlisted Men's Club" and, last but not least, the "Officers' Club." The FEMC had tables and chairs but no deck except for the ground. The photographers made enlargements of choice pin-up girl pictures to give the joint atmosphere. The place impressed a few outsiders who on occasion came to see the movie we were showing when the movie they were showing was unpalatable.
Poker and twenty-one games were rampant on payday. The second day there were fewer players and the third day there were only a few real gamblers left. My gambling was confined to an occasional wager on a sure thing. That's real gambling - sure things are not really sure things.
There was a big square stage in the front of the movie screen for visiting performers and entertainers to use. Once, a ballet troupe played at our theater. Everybody liked it better when the lights went out and another light came through from the back, outlining the dancers. As luck would have it, when I was on R&R the Jack Benny troupe showed up and entertained the island.
One of our heckling patrols was aborted before it was airborne so we did not fly that night, or get to bed that night, either. In taxiing to the runway, the right wheel got too close to the edge of the revetment. Fortunately, the plane was stopped before a truly serious problem developed. Meanwhile, the Japs were probably more bemused by our absence than anything else. Sometimes they ignored a nocturnal visitor and refused to turn on a single search light. Other times, they tried their damnedest to shoot him down.
The tail gunner does not see tracers, but crewmen facing the other way saw plenty on this particular after-midnight patrol. A member of the crew that relieved us over the target told me the next day that the sky had been lit up all around us. Only the rear of tracers are visible. It gives gunners in the plane, or on the ground, an indication of where the shots are going. I never ever slept in the tail, or any other place while airborne, for fear of never waking up again.
The first heckler took off about dusk and circled the target area for three hours, dropping a bomb every half hour or so. It was relieved by another PBJ which did the same thing. This took at least four planes and four crews every night, weather permitting, of course. For some unknown reason our crew was usually assigned to a watch after midnight. Going on heckling patrol meant you would not go on a daylight raid the next day. I preferred heckling to daylight raids.
I ran across a couple of enterprising swabbies with artistic talents and noses for money. They had made Christmas Greetings on a stencil and ran them off on V-mail forms. These sold for only a nominal sum so I got some.
After months of daily bombing missions and nightly heckling patrols, five or six crews went on Rest 'n Recreation (R&R) in Sydney, NSW, Australia. The trip began in the military version of the famous Douglas DC-3 passenger plane, (C-47 to the Army Air Corps and, I believe, R3D to the Navy). The seats were long, fold-up, uncomfortable-as-can-be, along the sides of the fuselage. In flight you could see the wing tips bending up and down slightly.
The longest leg of the journey was by flying boat, probably a PBM Mariner, to and from Noumea, New Caledonia, a French colony. On this flight a middle-aged civilian initiated some of us into his Short Snorter chapter. I started mine with a U.S. one dollar bill having HAWAII imprinted in big, black-outlined block letters across the width of its green back. This character might have been one of Tokyo Rose's agents -- aiding and abetting the enemy wold be a trifle more serious than keeping a diary. Well, this fine fraternity fizzled out -- never ever heard of it again.
The last leg of the journey south was via another DC-3. Enroute to Sydney we stopped at the Woodlark Islands, perhaps only to deliver or pick up something, or both - mail, for instance. It was fast. Next we stopped at Rockhampton and Townsville and remained overnight at one of them. Baxter and I took in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. The DC-3 also made one of those quick stops at Brisbane.
The government was providing only the transportation and our needs enroute, so we were on our own in Sydney. Our R&Rs were financed by taking a sea bag full of cigarettes, available to us at 50¢ per carton, and selling them to a black marketeer for an Australian pound.
An Australian woman opined how American money was funny, being $3.26 for a pound, which has twenty shillings, each worth 12 pence. You get a lot of coins when you break a bill. Australia no longer has the pound, shilling, pence system.
On the return trip we brought back whiskey available on the black market for about $10 and selling it "up north" to anybody willing to pay $50. Johnny Walker red label was all I could get. It was not as popular as regular whiskey and sold for less even when it was all that was for sale.
Our crew was in the last batch to R&R. I borrowed a set of tailor-made greens from Buck (good fit). Being last, we had scoops on what, where, who, etc., etc.
In Sydney we stayed with people who catered to "Yanks" for a fee. Aussies referred to all Americans as Yanks to the displeasure of certain Rebs who endeavored to educate them otherwise. A lot of guys stayed with dance-hall girls from the Trocadero. We heard and reheard those exploits, which got embellished with each telling. I never paid much attention to their stories.
I paired off with our navigator/bombardier, T/Sgt James R. Baxter, from Paris, TN, some of the time. He was happily married, a gentleman and a Christian.
Bax and I went into the large Roman Catholic church in Sydney and found a lot of the congregation entering and leaving, going up front and returning, sitting, standing and kneeling. I did not understand what was being said so I sneaked out, leaving Bax inside. Another Sunday, Bax and I ran into a couple of officers from 423 at a Methodist church, a pleasant surprise for the four of us.
Sydney was a big city by any standards and not way-behind-the-times. I got a haircut in a barbershop. The two of us went to a Turkish bath -- I never felt so utterly relaxed in my whole life. You could tell where Americans were sitting in a movie house -- in the best seats, and Yanks laughed at different things than the Aussies. We visited the great zoo and aquarium, a koala bear farm and a kangaroo ranch. We saw a stage play.
The most popular meal with 423 was steak and eggs sunny side up, pronounced styke 'n eyeggs. There was a limit on how much could be spent on a meal. Once Bax and I had lunch, including a bottle of Penfold's wine, which was so good we wanted a whole 'nother meal including wine. It was necessary to get up and sit at another table and order like we were a new customer. Pretty tough law, huh?
I made friends with Cpl. Harold Ring, a "digger," of the Australian Army who claimed he had been at El Alamein. He introduced me to two lovely girls. The four of us did a few things as a group. I treated them to a farewell luncheon at a ritzy restaurant. The Aussies did not have much money but they were good, friendly, fun-loving people.
I had my picture taken at a studio in Marine greens wearing a garrison cap and another in Ring's jacket and hat. He gave me his hat, one of those felt jobs with a large brim with one side pinned up by a large flat emblem.
In Sydney, I purchased some books to study when I got back up north. I bought a rubber stamp and ink pad to personalize my stationery. I was already taking correspondence courses with the Marine Corps Institute and the Armed Forces Institute thanks be to the taxpayers.
Baxter bought a developing tank, developer, fixer, paper, etc. in Sydney. In the same shop, I bought a used English-made camera requiring odd-sized film. It just so happened the shopkeeper had considerable stock of that particular size and was happy to part with as much as I wanted. Film was not plentiful, you know. We Yanks lucked out now and then.
Baxter explained the f-stops and shutter speeds to me. I took pictures in Australia, on Green, and on the trek to the Philippines. Whenever Bax developed film, he let me have seconds on his gear. On a dark night, under two green woolen blankets, on my bunk, I managed to get the film into the developing tank. Such darkrooms get very hot very quickly in a very warm climate. Believe it or not, those pictures are still good. They jogged my memory and those memories begat still more memories. If you don't remember how you looked in '44, get out a wartime photo for a pleasant surprise.
Aussies drove a real potpourri of British-made automobiles, most of them black or dark colored, quite a number of them being quite old. Some had a big, flat gas bag about two feet high the width and length of the roof held up there by a metal framework. Some had a kind of boiler or converter mounted behind the trunk producing fuel to operate the vehicle. Most of them had neither of the foregoing solutions to the petrol problem.
Australians were heavy smokers. Some of them broke cigarettes in two, doubling the number of smokes. More than you would think carried a little, flat, metal pill box into which they put their butts after carefully removing the burnt part. New cigarettes were rolled at home using this salvaged tobacco. Cigar butts were finished by sticking them into a pipe and smoking them to the very end. Do folks have smokes, or do smokes have folks?
Saturday was race day in Australia and probably still is. Large numbers of people took the trains right to the entrance of the track. The horses ran clockwise - opposite the American way. I bet on every race and lost every bet. On the last race I laid bets to win on three favorites knowing I was a loser before the race began. Surprise! One of the favorites won, enabling me to collect "winnings" at the window - a pyrrhic victory. This was my first and last visit to a race track.
The last batch to R&R in Sydney did not return as scheduled. We were getting new departure dates every couple of days. Then an unusual thing happened -- I, Paul E. White, S/Sgt, serial number 451377, was flat broke in a foreign country a helluva ways from home. The good old American Red Cross loaned me fifty bucks for which I signed a promissory note. It was paid back ASAP. From the outset I had an allotment deducted from my pay and sent home with the government adding to it.
The shortage of funds changed our M.O. Now we ate at facilities under American auspices. After one of these mediocre meals we decided to have a bowl of cherry-vanilla ice cream. We thought it was good until Bax found a dead weevil in his and could not eat any more, feeling a little queasy. "How can you continue to eat that?" he asked. My response: "It was just fine until you encountered that bug -- it was in your ice cream, not mine."
Returning from Australia we overnighted at the "Hotel de Gink" on Guadalcanal, a hotel in name only. It was a collection of Quonset huts sprawled under palm trees. A coconut falling on the tin roof can startle you plenty.
I inquired and learned my brother's ship was anchored near Tulagi, another island in the Solomons. The "taxi" service on land and the "ferry" service on water were not easy to utilize and I dang near got left behind. That would have been a regrettable development, to say the least.
One of these ferries was a mine sweeper and the other an Armored Patrol Craft (APC) skippered by an Ensign and manned by a crew of six and a cook who could really cook, as well as tend to all galley activities. They ate off regular plates! I thought this would be pretty good duty in a way, but boring most likely and One of these maybe movies would not be every night -- and it would still be USN meaning you would have to wear a Donald Duck suit and a P!$$-pot white hat to keep "squared" up.
One crew had returned from Sydney with a Great Dane puppy which had a slight blemish making it ineligible to be a thoroughbred in a kennel club and have papers. I don't know what became of it but it was growing. A Great Dane gets to be a great big dog, with a great big appetite and with great big bowel movements. Watch your step!!!
As for the FEMC, it now had a Wurlitzer type juke box. One day it malfunctioned big time, and many records were destroyed by the machine.
General Douglas MacArthur called for help soon after his promised return to the Philippines. I believe our crew received the honor to be the first to navigate a squadron of F4U Corsair Marine fighter planes up to Leyte. Enroute, the fighter planes were all around us like we were a VIP they were protecting. Truth is we had the only guns in the lot. The fighter pilots had put their clothing and belongings where the machine guns should be.
First stop was Hollandia, New Guinea, where many ships lay at anchor in and around the port. All I can remember about this impressive place is that we stayed overnight and dehydrated foods were the biggest part of the meals. We left in the morning with fewer fighters than when we arrived as some needed attention.
Next stop, Peleliu. Only "a handful" of Japs were taken prisoner at Peleliu in the Palau islands, according to a program on the History Channel on TV. A lone, uninjured, unwounded Jap, nude except for a sort of G-string he wore, was incarcerated in a wood and wire enclosure about the size of an average room, out in the open in plain view. He was young, about five feet tall, about one hundred twenty pounds and was oblivious to spectators who were few in number and did not abuse or laugh at him. He seemed to be unguarded but most likely was under surveillance by unseen guards. After the island had been declared "secure," the Japs had made a banzai charge as the unarmed Marines were watching an outdoor movie.
I believe it was at Hollandia, New Guinea or Peleliu in the Palaus, but it might have been going to, or returning from, Australia that I was pleasantly surprised to see uniformed Red Cross personnel in a kiosk serving donuts and coffee to tourists like ourselves. I declined. I went through the whole danged war, and then some, without ever drinking coffee. I had no Ovaltine, either.
An unknown number of Japs were in caves on Bloody Nose Ridge and were being bombed by Marine fighters based approximately a thousand yards away. Napalm was found to be more effective than other bombs in this rugged terrain. Pilots would strafe and bomb without ever retracting their landing gear, land, re-arm and do a repeat. This was one of the shortest bombing runs of the Pacific war. Everyone in our crew had ample opportunity to look at the remains of Jap aircraft in the junk yard. Strange, but I cannot remember if we even went into a mess hall let alone report on the chow. I was in a large tent serving as a hospital for those with minor wounds and/or complaints where I talked with an Army infantryman who had seen action on Anguar, a lesser island very close-by where Jap resistance was quickly overcome. He was being treated for "jungle rot," something they were learning to deal with. He showed me how to open a tin of rations without a key. He held the tab between his teeth, pulling
away from his mouth and simultaneously rotating the tin. I tried, but not very hard as I had visions of this little ol' tab wreaking horrible damage to my gums and lips. Besides, I wasn't hungry and it wasn't a delicacy.
S/Sgt Raymond K. Coulter, a crew chief, from New Castle, PA, accompanied us on this trek to service the plane and make any necessary repairs. A Marine stopped where our plane was "parked" and offered to sell a Jap battle flag for only $50. It is doubtful the seven of us had that much money amongst us as ordinarily Uncle Sam provided all his nephews and nieces with everything. All we were supposed to have with us were dog tags. Somehow, I induced our new friend to take a picture of the seven of us and his flag. We landed at Leyte on a strip running parallel with the beach across the strait from Samar. A metal landing strip had been laid but it soon sank into the ground and another strip had been laid on top, and other strips from time to time as necessary. There had been considerable rainfall and it was still coming down, on and off. It was so muddy in the "roads" that the mud was the consistency of pea soup. It came up to the bottom of the doorway of the jeeps and could come in on the floor if you weren't careful. Little Filipino girls (women?) came along selling fresh fish or sex, or both.
The mess hall, set up for transients, was a pavilion tent without side walls and with a dirt floor. There were only a few tables and chairs, a water trailer and a coffee maker. Chow was crushed pineapple served up in the large tins in which it had been canned. They were opened for us and we were given spoons. When you're genuinely hungry, almost anything is welcome.
After we had been airborne a few hours on the return trip, the fog and rain became so dense the lights on the wing were not visible from the tail gun position. I never saw the after-section of the fuselage leaking so badly. The damp air was refreshing. Since visibility was so poor, our only dangers were a collision, or malfunction of the instruments, or the plane itself. Within an hour we were back in the clear again. I can't remember where we stopped on the return trip except for the last one: good ol' Green Island. We were tired, hungry, dirty and unheralded, but we didn't mind. Bax had done a great job.
The USMC decided to provide its own close support when it became a tad dissatisfied with what the Army Air Corps and Navy provided. Marine F4U Corsair squadrons were put on board carriers for that express purpose. If you want something done right, do it yourself!!!! The program included PBJs practicing close support. We were never called upon to provide it.
A volleyball court was beyond and to the left of a tent occupied by aircrewmen of the Navy. They rarely played the game, perhaps because there seldom were enough of them present at one time. On the other hand, many of us enjoyed one or more games every day, except when it rained. The swabbies shipped out, taking their net and ball with them, ending our volleyball sessions. C'est la guerre! We absorbed this loss in stride.
After a midnight (unusual for our crew) heckling patrol, I overheard the pilot tell the co-pilot he was going to get one of Nixon's hamburgers. I tagged along, uninvited. Up in the control tower a swabbie was cooking them to order: "Medium rare, please." It was served without ketchup. It hit the spot - it really did. Actually it was only mediocre but very welcome being so long since I had the last one. I never use ketchup - it's for making food that does not taste good taste like ketchup.
Sometime before we gunners were rotated back to the States, Green Island reverted to Australian and/or New Zealand control. Regardless of whether or not U.S. vehicles outnumbered theirs ten or twenty to one, it became mandatory to drive on the "correct" side of the road. The right side had become the wrong side.
Back on Green Island, when anyone was the last to arrive for transport to the flight line from pilots' camp, someone, or a chorus, would yell, "You're holding up the war!"
Whole crews were lost. As far as I know, our only living Purple Heart recipients were two gunners: Sgt. Edward C. Huie, turret gunner, from New Bern, TN and Dale Harris.
Taking off is one of the most dangerous parts of a flight, especially when loaded with fuel and bombs. Landing is another hazardous part of a flight, especially when visibility is not 100% , pilot tired or wounded, the plane itself damaged in some way, and those island landing strips being much less than perfect.
After daylight raids, the CO asked that we fly over Green Island in a good, tight formation, putting on a little show for the boys on the ground.
On one occasion, flak and turbulence were so strong, I failed to observe and report whether we had hit the target. I had instinctively given a quick look around to see whether the airplane was OK.
Two days before Christmas our daylight raid experienced strong, accurate anti-aircraft fire. When we were back on the ground, the co-pilot asked me how I felt. I answered "Okay. Why?" He asked, "Isn't that the position you usually have?" For some unknown reason our crew was usually relegated to the ninth position, whereas we were assigned to the sixth position this time. That is how Willie Phillips, tail gunner, was killed instantly and I was spared. Six of the nine planes in the formation were "holed" by anti-aircraft fire. Willie's plane was holed over 100 times.
We gunners were the first groups replaced. Replacements came before Christmas and I think we were relieved before the New Year. I believe none of us wanted to fly with our replacements on hand (mass superstition?) but we did, several times.
In due time we were transported to another island geared to handle returnees waiting for transportation back to the states. That island shall be anonymous due to my memory being unable to come forth with that info, covering our boring, lazy, uneventful sojourn. I made friends with a 423 gunner from AZ or NM I hadn't met before. He was a pre-war hot-rodder and told me what they did to increase horsepower and decrease drag on automobiles to increase speed, a great way to spend time where there were no volley ball courts or basketball hoops.
Just before leaving, one of the Rebs got himself bitten by a puppy dog. He wanted to leave with the rest of us so they gave him a hypodermic needle together with serum, alcohol and whatever else was needed. He had to administer anti-rabies shots to himself daily for at least a month, I think.
We boarded the only carrier without an island, the Long Island, and left for Hawaii, stopping at Oahu. We had an opportunity to go ashore, after a number of us had the pleasure of moving some ammo and cargo about for the crew. It was necessary to borrow items of clothing from several buddies in order to be in uniform. The Shore Patrol and the Military Police were making drivers of military vehicles give rides to men going into town and also when returning. We were informed that the island was tame compared to what it had been. There used to be three kinds of lines of servicemen in town: 1. at the whorehouse (there were more than one); 2. at the pro station (there were more than one); 3. at the tattoo parlor (there were more than one). There were no lines at the saloons.
On the journey home we had no escort whatever. Apparently everyone was satisfied with his tan as no one sunned himself on the flight deck. My memory blanks again. I cannot remember if we slept on the hangar deck or on bunks. There was crowding but no complaining. Army vets from New Guinea, some as old as 40, were amongst the returnees, a number of whom wore bandages or casts. And, believe it or not, I don't recall the bosun's whistle and his sweep-down order. There must have been at least one because the Navy loves tradition.
It might be my imagination but it seemed like we got more grits aboard the Long Island than aboard ol' Green Island. They've a long shelf life and, surprise, require no peeling. The same goes for rice and for beans, a staple in all branches of the military. There is a navy bean!
The old sayings were to go on liberty -- and get screwed, stewed, and tattooed, but not necessarily in that order. Early in '43 a buddy talked me into getting a tattoo so one evening we two went into Jacksonville, FL for that express purpose. Both of us were cold sober but the tattooist had been imbibing for some time. That didn't faze us. After my buddy had had a Marine emblem needled onto his left shoulder, I had a similar emblem put on my left bicep. Although it was apparent the tattooist was definitely not an "artist" I could not back out. It's still there, mellowed a bit by time.
I found a store in Honolulu selling ladies' clothing and bought a blouse for my kid sister, Lorraine, 14, with three brothers in three branches of the armed forces. I must have gotten something for my mother, too, but I know I brought Mom what she really wanted -me, alive and well.
We sailed back under the Golden Gate bridge and were stationed nearby briefly. Everybody who wanted to go ashore could do so by "donating" to "Navy Relief, $4.25 for Staff Sergeants, please." Many preferred to stay aboard and forego liberty rather than contribute. The Navy just can't help being chicken $#!+!!! I have been to San Francisco since, but my policy of going ashore when the opportunity arose was not wrong.
We left for Cherry Point, NC by troop train. Going that distance on those seats day and night was a form of torture. Stops made in the desert for no apparent reason were somewhat of a relief. The chow was below par - we had better food overseas except when we got Vienna sausage on Espiritu Santos almost daily.
At Cherry Point I was issued new clothing as my sea bag was elsewhere. That meant personal stuff was lost, too. Midway through my 30-day leave the wayward sea bag arrived. I did not report that because I am a great believer in not making waves.
The rug arrived, too. It was beautiful and of very good quality but was only about 40 by 60 inches in size, rather small. With the "excess" cash, Ray got me a pair of shoes, like they wear in the Arabian nights, with the sole coming to a point, going up and over the toe. They, too, were too small. The carpet didn't fly and the shoes didn't fit!
When I left for Parris Island, I left my 1936 Ford V-8 phaeton behind and brother Charles used it until he went into the Navy, the engine in need of repairs. I rode around Flemington on Lorraine's bike seeking an automobile. The only one for sale in the whole town was a good-looking 1938 Plymouth sedan. I snapped it up for $500. After a week I figured the block was cracked. The Nash dealer who sold it to me was a World War I Army vet. He gave me a story about sharing the cost of parts and labor. I decided it would be out of service too long.
I drove to NYC in a light rain. For my car and $250 I got a 1939 Chevrolet coach at a "Smiling Irishman" used car lot. It didn't look as good but it ran good.
Then, I became the tail gunner for Captain Parker, who was training his crew to go overseas. I was just about back to "square one" - just about ready to embark on another tour of duty in the Pacific. Then "they" changed their minds! No more crews!! No more war!!! Who could ask for anything more?
I could -- an honorable discharge ASAP.
F I N I S
This is to acknowledge, and to thank, ye olde and venerable T/Sgt Ted Rundall, radioman,
who enlisted from Woodhaven, NY, for his help in completing this memoir.
White has photos of Green I theatre and natives
by Anne Winston
Ned asked me for any remembrances I might have -- I obviously remember Cherry Point well - We were one of the first to move into "Snooty Loop" -- after about a year and a half we went to Edenton -- I slept in B.O.Q. for the first 2 nights -- I remember driving into the base with Norm in an open jeep -- we came to the sentry's and Norm says "Duck!" -- Can you imagine a 5' 9" female trying to get under the dashboard of a jeep? However, the sentries were very good natured -- or blind -- and it became a normal happening - but you can imagine the picture!
And nobody could forget El Centro. The tawdry town, and the drug store that provided breakfast. And the duck pins. I won't forget umpiring the on & off pilot shift in baseball -- John always said I was prejudiced against him on strikes (not so!)
His most embarrassing moment was landing in Hawaii after two aborted attempts -- John came in for a landing with most of the squadron watching and the almost empty PBJ bounced up and down the runway, much to their delight -- They had probably done the same, but he never heard about that --
I remember Robbie, Sig, JR, Monnie and Lud very well -- and Sgt. Major Woody Woodson who hid me from time to time - And Norm, whom I love -- The Winstons and the Andersons shared a bedroom in El Centro for a couple of nights -- so I know him well -- Also Joan came home with me for Christmas and we went to California on a troop train -- it took forever -- I also have fond recollections of our reunion at Mt. Paul (our farm).
A wonderful group!
+ 0 +
Best to Everyone
P.S. I now have 11 grown grandchildren and 111/2 great grands and I'm old
The Cherry Point WINDSOCK, March13, 1964
Station's First Adjutant Visits Point
One of the first tenants of this Marine Corps Air Station and its first adjutant (April, 1942), returned as a visitor 22 years later, but this time as BrigGen. John L. Winston, USMCR. (Gen. Winston has been selected for major general).
Gen. Winston and his wife paid an unofficial visit here Mar. 5 to visit old friends and his former executive officer in 1943, and now Commanding General of the Air Station, BrigGen. Norman J. Anderson.
BrigGen. Winston, a decorated combat aviator during World War II, was commissioned in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1932. He was promoted to his present rank in Nov. 1959.
In 1940, Gen. Winston, then a Captain, was ordered to active duty at his own request, and remained throughout World War II.
He assumed duties as the first Station Adjutant In April, and later was the commanding officer of H&HS here until 1943.
In 1943, at Edenton, N.C., Gen. Winston Joined VMB_423, as commanding officer where he met his former executive officer, Gen. Anderson, then a major.
Gen. Winston earned the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" for exceptional meritorious service in the capacity of acting Group Commander of MAG-12 in the Bismark Archipelago and Philippine Islands area in 1944. His citation states that the then Lt. Col. Winston "contributed materially to the success of squadrons under his command in the sinking of two enemy convoys consisting of sixteen vessels attempting to reinforce the beleaguered Japanese garrison at Leyte... (and) aided materially in coordinating the efforts of Marine Aviation with that of Army air and ground forces in the capture of Leyte."
He returned to the United States in June of 1945, and in October the same year was released from active duty.
Gen. Winston has been active In the Marine Corps Reserve, serving as a member of the Reserve board which was instrumental in organizing the VTU program, a volunteer training unit for Reserve officers. In 1958, he was elected to a two year term as National President of the Marine Corps Reserve Officers Association.
An agriculturist in private life, Gen. Winston is the owner_manager of a dairy farm and cattle_breading establishment, and makes his home at Mount Paul Farm, Gladstone, New Jersey.
Memories of Green Island
By Anthony Wojnar
A close friend, Richard Hohman, had a lister bag near his tent that provided us with a refreshment he referred to as Raisin Jack. On one sampling session I saw one of his guests sitting on a bunk take several pulls from his canteen cup and five minutes later he fell forward flat on his face, out like a light. Needless to say, a few sips was all I wanted.
Richard had another "deal" where he could get us a ride on one of those PT Boats. I thought this would be fun till I found out that the boat we were to go on would sneak up a river on a Jap-held island in the dark of night, and when daylight came, they would race down the river, shooting any targets in sight. I declined that invitation, not wanting to be a target myself.
I lived in a tent up on the road that had a view of the lagoon and Wally Hillmer lived in a tent halfway between the road and the mess hall. Every morning on the way to chow as I got near his tent, I would rattle my mess gear and holler,
"Hillmer, hit the deck, it's time for chow."
Having been brothers-in-law for almost 52 years, he still remembers the
A Bittersweet Memory
By Melvin Wolf
An event happened to me in April 1945, the day President Roosevelt died, which I believe was the 12th of April. I was ensconced on Bondi Beach with another VMB-423 buddy, John Emmel. As you know, the seasons are reversed there, so it was somewhat overcast and cool in Sydney. We had come down from Green Island for a so_called rest leave. We had a car, we had eggs, steak, the finest of whiskeys, beer, and other foods, living the life of Riley.
My landlady knocked on the door, opened it, and with tears dripping from her cheeks, announced the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. It was a truly a traumatic event for the Australian people and needless to say for those of us who served. She consoled us and we consoled her.
Later that day, I put on my flight jacket and my pisscutter and went to reflect on the tragedy that had occurred. I walked to the beach. It was quite desolate. Cloudy, overcast, and cold. Waves breaking against the shore. As I strolled along, I was approached by a little old lady who somehow noticed I was a Marine, an American, and quickly opened her arms and caressed me with tears in her eyes, saying how sad she felt at my loss. It almost felt like a mother telling her son that his father had passed away. I still see her glistening eyes and feel her caring caress. It was a simple moment in the life of a Marine who would go back to Green Island and do his duty for love of country and one and all.
Within a day or two of President Roosevelt's passing, a memorial parade was
held in downtown Sydney. Our crew participated and British Admiral Lord Bruce
Fraser led the parade. There was also a small contingent of Australian and US
The memory is everlasting.
WILLIAM W. WOOLMAN, USMC
WORLD WAR II
On October 25, 1942, I left Watonga, Oklahoma and headed back to school at Tonkawa, Oklahoma, where I was enrolled in Radio Engineering. When I got to Enid, Okla., I stopped in at the U.S. Marine recruiting office and decided to enlist. The Recruiting Sergeant took me on over to school and I got checked out. He then took me all the way back to Watonga along with all my belongings, finished completing all the final papers, and told me I would be notified when and where to report.
About four days later I was ordered to report to the Oklahoma City Recruiting Station on 2 November, 1942. When I arrived, they gave me a paper to take to a small, old hotel. This was my ticket for a bed and meals until we were to be sworn in on 3 November, '42.
When we arrived at the P.O. on 3 Nov., we were all put into a large room and a Marine Major and a Sergeant gave us a briefing on the Corps. Following this we were sworn into the Marine Corps and told that we would leave by train at 1600 hrs. for San Diego, California, where we would be met by some other "nice" Marines and escorted to the Recruit Depot to start our seven weeks training that would make us "REAL" Marines.
We were turned loose at this point and most of us spent the rest of the time with relatives getting our "goodbyes" said. Following our last meal in Oklahoma for a very long time, we loaded up and spent about 30 hours on a coal-burning train before we reached Diego. When we got within about 100 miles of the coast, they made us close the black-out curtains so the enemy couldn't see us "Boots" and shoot us before we even went to Boot Camp. Needless to say, it began to get mighty warm in the closed car as the only air conditioning we had was through the open windows.
When we arrived at the station in Diego, we unloaded, and the first word we heard in this new Marine language was "FALL IN!" I looked for some place to fall into and then was asked "nicely" to get my butt in line with the rest of the meat heads. Boy - some welcome to beautiful California! We were loaded up like cattle and taken out to the Marine Base. After lining us up around the walls of some large rooms, they put several barrels in the middle of the floor and told us to put all knives, candy, gum, and anything else we had to eat and anything sharp in the barrels and we would not be getting any of it back. Luckily, I had been warned by the recruiter about this so didn't lose anything of much value.
Although we arrived about 1930 hrs, we didn't get to our bunks until almost 0130 hours on 4 Nov. '42. Our day started promptly at 0430 hours with some big Sergeant bellowing something I won't repeat. He really meant for us to get our feet on the deck and said something about grabbing something. I didn't quite understand all the words but I could tell by his inflection that he would be quite perturbed if anyone tried to stay in the sack. We did get to clean up and then had what they called breakfast.
Later that day after we got shots, more shots, a new kind of haircut, all of our clothes, plus a bucket which every Marine knows is as important as life itself, we were assigned to platoons. I was put in platoon 1025 and lived in an 8-man tent as did the other 47 men in 1025 for the next seven l-o-o-o-n-g weeks. We all worked from almost daylight until almost dark and then sometimes our DI (drill instructor) would wake us at 0200 and see if we could make our bed up in the dark. I really didn't care for that part of the game. Most of us made it through everything they threw at us including the long hours on the rifle range. Through thick and thin we did it all as a well-oiled team. At least we lived through it.
This boot camp training was rough and rugged but as I look back on it I feel that short time was the most impressive period in my life.
Following boots, we were all assigned to various duties, details, or schools, and most of us did get to go to further training. I was sent to North Island, off the coast at San Diego, and put in the Navy Aviation Radio School. We spent from 2 Jan '43 till about 10 Mar '43 completing this "A" school. We studied Morse Code, theory of electronics, troubleshooting receivers, transmitters, frequency meters and other lab problems.
A friend of mine from New Orleans, Frank Treuting, and I were the only ones in the class to go through the entire school and have a perfect 100 on all code tests. That made us feel mighty good for there had been hundreds go through that school.
From here some of us went to the Naval Aviation Technical Training Center at Millington, Tenn., just a short way from Memphis. Here we worked on advanced theory, troubleshooting, more code, and then introduced to RADAR. This really fascinated me. The hardest part of learning "Blipology" was interpreting just what those blips on the screen meant. While we were in the RADAR lab we were required to have a dosemeter in our shirt pocket to determine if we were getting any radiation from the radar units in the lab. They checked these every 30 minutes. Luckily, I never had a bad reading on mine. I really liked the challenge of this job and probably spent more time studying about RADAR than anything else to this point.
While at NATTC I was selected to play bugle in the station Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. This automatically gave me every week-end free and any nights I wanted during the week. One big performance I remember was when we were invited to perform at the opening home game of the Memphis Chicks baseball season. Following the game we were treated to a steak dinner as guests of "Boss" Crump, known as Mr. Memphis, and known widely in politics. That was a real treat for all 25 of us in the Corps. I still have the Marine banner that hung under our bugles. We were promoted to PFC at the end of the course.
After "B" school was completed, some of us were sent to the NTTC at Purcell, Oklahoma. Here we were going to learn to be aerial gunners. This class started about 1 July '43 and we spent 4 weeks doing physical training, firing 12 gauge shotguns on the skeet and trap ranges to learn how to lead or lag a target or adjust our sighting to the change of direction of our targets. We spent a lot of time in the gym learning some more judo and paired off for boxing and wrestling. As I had wrestled in high school, the coach talked me into wrestling on the Wednesday night smoker. They had 10 boxing bouts and 2 wrestling bouts. I drew a sailor who had been state champ in Kansas 2 years earlier. I used everything I had ever learned and finally pinned him just before the bell. My Marine training along with some judo came in handy that night.
During this month I did not get to go home once. We were released at noon on Saturday and had to be back by Sunday evening at 1800 hrs.
This was the only time I got home before I came home from overseas. Before we left Purcell some of us were promoted to Corporal. Boy, that $12 a month really came in handy. I was now making $66 per month plus my room and board. What more could you ask for? This was a lot more than the $50
a month I started with nine months earlier. Remember, there are deducts each month for insurance and some other incidentals I'm not sure they told us about.
About half of the 25 Marines in my class were sent to Jacksonville, Florida to Operational Training in PBY Catalinas. This would be the first time we actually flew and did our aerial gunnery. We were each assigned a color and when we went up to shoot the 30 caliber machine guns at a long sleeve being towed by another PBY, they dipped the tips of our ammo in our color. When we fired at the sleeve, they could come down later and count the hits each gunner got by checking the color around the bullet holes in the sleeve. I was one of the few who was rated Expert Aerial Gunner. We also had to go through the Navy training to become a qualified Aviation Observer. When we finished this course we were given Observer Wings.
Most of us liked this phase and especially the flying. None of us had ever flown off of water so this was also a new experience. All the pilots were also doing their operational training and some of them seemed to spend more time off base than on. A few of them would come out to the flight line just before takeoff, jump in the plane, get a good sniff of oxygen to wake them up and were ready for a 4 or 5 hour hop.
Once while we were there, a hurricane warning forced us to fly about 100 PBYs up to Lake Erie for a day. That seemed like a very long flight when you cruised at about 80 knots.
We finished up the training with a three-day, three-leg cross-country flight. The first leg was to Key West where we spent the night on the plane but did get to go to town and get some good chow. These planes had a fair galley in them and when one went on an extended trip, they packed the cooler with very good food. We even had steak twice on this hop.
After we landed at Key West, we divided the crew into thirds and one third would be on the plane while the others went ashore. However, I still have a scar from scrambling up on the wing float when a barracuda came after me. I tore the skin on my left hip bone on a rough edge on the joint on the float. Had a hard time getting up on the wing but made it by using a rope a crew member dropped down to me. Another experience....
The second leg took us to Charleston, S.C. where we landed on the river. After spending the night ashore, we left on the third leg which was back to Jax and our regular landing area - the St. Johns river. I guess we all passed this phase for some of us received orders in a few days to report to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C.
After being processed, we were assigned to the first Marine Bomber Squadron, VMB-413. For the first two weeks of September 1943 we trained with VMB-413 and then on 15 September VMB-423 was commissioned and most of us new people were transferred to this new PBJ squadron. The PBJ (B-25) is a medium altitude bomber that is quite versatile in several other ways.
For about a month we just hoped for general training. At this point in October they moved our squadron to Edenton, N.C., a small airfield where we finally were put into permanent crews and started to work as a team. Before assigning crews, all radio/radar men were tested on their ability to use both media, plus work in gunnery.
On one night mission, I was assigned to the squadron commander's crew. Lt. Col. John L. Winston flew out over the Atlantic for miles making circles, climbing turns, and other maneuvers to try and confuse me. I was to keep the radar off and I wore a hood so as not to be able to see out of the window. When he was ready, he called me on the intercom and said to turn on my magic radar box and take us home. I had to give him headings, so gave him the first one which should turn us toward land and checked my map against what I saw on the scope. My radar had a range of 120 miles. Of course he knew this and it looked like we were about 90 miles east of land.
By using check points on my map, I was able to make two more changes in headings and told him we should be about over our field. He laughed and asked if the radar would also land the plane. We were right on target. I guess that's why I was assigned to the Commander's crew.
After all crews were set up, we drew training missions both day and night, medium altitude, low level and all in between. Some flights were fun and others very boring.
Our PBJ crews consisted of pilot, co-pilot, navigator/bombardier, radio/radar, top turret gunner and tail gunner. All guns were 50 caliber and the pilot had 7 50 caliber guns firing forward that he could control.
In the Army Air Corps, the navigator and bombardier were all commissioned officers but in the Marines most of them were enlisted men. Our squadron had one 1st Lt. who was in charge of that section and the rest were S/Sgts, T/Sgts and M/Sgts. There was one who had been a S/Sgt but got into some kind of trouble and was busted back to PFC. He stayed that rank until he got back from the Pacific and then was given back his S/Sgt stripes.
Back to Edenton... We had several incidents during our stay here. One plane I was supposed to go on for a special flight blew up in mid-air. No one ever knew why this happened. I was pulled off just before takeoff to fly another navigation hop. The man who replaced me on the fatal flight was a good friend of mine and had volunteered to take it. Makes you wonder, doesn't it... Another plane crashed in a tobacco field but no one was killed. One plane was burned on the ramp when someone in another PBJ facing it hit the trigger button on the yoke and four 50 caliber machine guns fired a short burst. The tracers in the belt of ammo set fire to the plane and it was a total loss.
On Thanksgiving day 1943 a German submarine was spotted off the coast. All bases up and down the seaboard were alerted. It was a cold, rainy day and we had all planes on standby with the crews at the ready. Our turkey and fixings were brought out to the flight line and we ate under the wing. We were never sent out but all planes were manned in 8-hour shifts for 24 hours. Some more fun...
Other than these untimely things, our crews were doing a great job and when we were alerted for movement to the West Coast I think we were all ready to make the move. This move involved taking everything with us. For about two weeks we packed wooden boxes and then had to pack all of our personal gear. We were to carry some of ours on the plane and the rest was to be loaded on the train and moved with all the rest of the squadron. On 28 December 1943 the ground crew loaded on a train and headed West for El Centro, California. On 31 December the flight crews took off. When we reached Barksdale Field at Shrevesport, Louisiana, the weather was such that we had to spend New Years Eve there. Tough duty, huh... We took off on 1 January 44 and landed at Biggs Air Base at Ft. Bliss, Texas to refuel. One of the planes had a problem and had to spend the night at El Paso. The Commander decided to stay with that plane and send the rest on to El Centro. My Dad was stationed at Ft. Bliss in the dental lab of William Beaumont Hospital. I got to spend the night with my folks and sister and since they knew we were coming through about this time they had left the Christmas tree up and I got my gifts that night. Of course, no one knew that we would be able to spend the night so the folks had planned to bring the gifts out to the flight line and give them to me. After it turned out as it did, they just put them back on the tree until after Mom's delicious home-cooked meal. We had a great but short visit and I remember it very well. We left El Paso about 0830 the next morning and the rest of the trip went without incident.
When we landed at El Centro the temperature was 100º. We were on the edge of the Mojave Desert and it was warm to hot all the time. We quickly set up in a tent city with 6 men per tent. They tried to keep each section together as much as possible. The Bombagators were put four to a tent. Guess they needed more room than the rest of us. Our training continued with medium altitude bombing of targets floating on the Salton Sea. We also made skip-bombing and strafing runs of the Salton Sea targets. We worked on coordinated strikes with a squadron of Marine fighters -- the F4U Corsair -- and on one occasion we flew to North island and spent two days of coordinated flying missions out over the Pacific with both Army and Navy fighters. We actually did some night formation flying.
One incident that occurred here was the bombing of the Salton Sea targets while civilians were working on them. Although neither the first pilot nor any of the crew knew there were workers down there, the first pilot was court martialed, fined and frozen in rank. He was a 2nd Lt. For a long time.
About the middle of January we were told we would be sent to the Pacific around the last of February. I had become engaged several months earlier to Jerry Riker of Bethany, Oklahoma, so called her and we decided that if I could get leave we would be married in El Paso, Texas where my folks lived. I requested a 15-day leave, really expecting to be turned down. Lt. Wick, our Adjutant, said it would be up to the C.O. to make the final decision. I was called in later that day and handed leave papers for 7 days plus two days' travel time. The dates were 30 January to 8 February. I called my fiancee and we set up the wedding for 3 February at El Paso. I then called my folks and gave them the good news. Mother thought that was really fast to make plans but she understood the urgency.
Jerry and her mother arrived on 1 February and we spent two fast days getting everything we needed according to Texas law. On 3 February we were married in Asbury Methodist Church in El Paso. We took the folks' car on a fast honeymoon to a Spanish type inn at Ysleta, Texas. We returned on 5 February and spent about 2 days sight-seeing around El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. We all went to a supper club in Juarez one evening and Ginger Rogers, the movie star, was there with her escort. I was in dress blues and the only Marine in the house. We thought we got some special treatment including a bottle of champagne. They found out we were just married so we thought the Club had sent it to us but after Ginger Rogers left, a waiter told us she had sent it over to us as a wedding gift. Another experience... The next day I left for El Centro and got back with less than two hours left on my leave. The final training days were shortened so that we could start taking the planes apart. Yes, we had to strip everything we could get out to take off as much weight as possible. The top turret, radar antenna, tail gun, some armor, and lots of smaller pieces beside the seven 50 caliber guns that fired forward. This plane wasn't supposed to fly as far as Hawaii non-stop, so several extra gas tanks were installed in the areas that had been cleared out of the regular equipment. They put a 110-gallon tank in the radar dome area where the antenna had been. This would give us a little over 1 hour flying time. The bomb bay tank was filled as were the wing tanks. Since the wing tanks were made of heavy rubber, they would expand. The gas crews would come back about every four hours and top off those tanks. It's a wonder they didn't explode.
The strip at Fairfield, California was the longest on the West Coast and it was pointed toward the west. This kept planes from wasting gas having to make unnecessary turns. This was where we were to take off from for our trip to Hawaii.
The last of February 1944 we flew all planes to Fairfield and they spent a couple of days making final checks on everything including topping off the wing tanks. It was planned for half to fly out one night and the rest the next night. At the final briefing they gave us our power settings and altitude that would best conserve fuel. We then went to our planes and found a little fairy had been there and left two box lunches per man. We had to fill our canteens to have something to drink on the long trip. Some of us actually filled ours with water. On our first try we got about 11/2 hours out and the ice forming on the wings was pushing us down. After we lost almost 2000 feet we decided it would be safer to return to base at Fairfield and try again later. Our assigned altitude was 8000 feet and we turned around at 5600 feet. I radioed the home base that we were returning because of icing conditions. We had to wait for three more days before the weather was such we felt we could make it. We flew at night because the weather was usually better this time of year and also we didn't have the heat to help evaporate fuel.
There were two ships stationed at a and b of the way across that formed a lane for us to fly down. We had to check in with the first ship every hour until we reached its position and then reported to the next one until we passed its position. From there on we reported to a base station on Hawaii. The second ship could also monitor our reports and know where we were.
When we got within range of the tower at Ewa Field on Barbers Point we requested landing instructions. With no more fuel than we had, they gave us a straight-in approach and permission for immediate landing. The trip took about 12 hours and we had about 25 minutes of fuel left. We left the states at night but landed with plenty of daylight. As we drew close to Hawaii we saw Diamond Head during the sunrise and it was a very beautiful sight.
We spent six weeks getting the planes re-outfitted and made some training flights. We really didn't get to town much and when we did you had to be back through the gate by 1800 hours. The only way anyone could be out over night was to have a relative living in Hawaii. I had a cousin there who was editor of The Pearl Harbor Bulletin so I did get to be gone on two weekends. His home was situated in the area of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel. You walked out the front door and looked to your left two blocks to Waikiki Beach. He had two orange trees, one lemon tree and one grapefruit tree in the back yard, and in the front had a large cocoanut palm on either side of the sidewalk. He got me into places the regular servicemen couldn't get into. The one I remember best was the Hawaiian Palace with the statue of the King on the front lawn. The throne room had lots of gold trim and a gold rope about 2 inches in diameter draped all around the room. This was very ornate. I didn't even have a camera.
We finally got orders to move so here we go. Our first stop was an overnight fuel stop at a typical movie South Pacific island. Palmyra was owned by a British lady who had used it as a resort island. It had a hotel, a private beach with a pier and a typical bar that was a frond-covered hut.
The next stop was a bummer. The island of Canton was nothing but white coral with only two stunted palm trees. We did get some box lunches and filled our canteens with fresh water and refueled. Funafuti, the next stop, was a jungle type island that had a big problem. They had cleared an area about 100 yards wide as a buffer or no-man's-land all across one side of the island. Those with elephantiasis stayed on one side and everyone else stayed away. We stood on the clear side and watched some of those poor folks all swollen up so bad a lot of them could hardly walk. Bad deal...
We finally landed at Espiritu Santos in the New Hebrides and this became our home for a while. This is where they sent our ground crews from San Francisco on two ships with all of our boxes of equipment. After joining up with the ground crews, we again had to check all planes and add back some more equipment that had been taken off back in El Centro.
Some training flights took place while we waited to see which island we would be sent to, to operate from. The orders came and we were to take all flight crews to Sterling Island where VMB-413 had been. About the middle of April we headed out for Sterling by way of Guadalcanal and Henderson Field.
We started making bombing runs on Rabaul on New Britain Island for a while, staging through Green Island. The VMB-413 ground crew took care of our planes, our equipment, and their metal shop patched holes we got from anti-aircraft fire. They tested radio and radar gear and did general maintenance on engines.
We worked with other units from the Navy, the Army, New Zealand, and some ground forces. We bombed a fuel dump on Bougainville at the request of a New Zealand infantry unit. They reported that six 500-pound bombs landed on the target area doing a lot of damage.
Numerous missions were flown besides bombing at medium altitude. We did sub searches, searched for downed aircraft, did photo recon, and sometimes evacuated personnel to rear echelon islands.
We finally moved to Green Island which was closer to Rabaul and New Ireland. They had sent our ground crews to Green from Santos and they were there when the first of the air crews arrived. We are now all together once more. We continue our almost daily and/or nightly bombing missions of Rabaul, Bougainville, Kavieng air field area and Namatanai airfield, both on New Ireland Island.
In early May, 1944, some of us were called into headquarters and told we had been chosen for a "special" mission. It seems about 35,000 Oklahoma City school children had each donated a dime to buy a new transport plane, "The Invasion Chief," for the Marines to use to bring in much-needed supplies. After they paid their dime, they signed their name on a sheet of lined notebook paper. After all had signed, it was decided to glue all the sheets onto a long sheet of butcher paper. They put two pages side by side on the long paper and then decided to put a heading on it. Someone drew pictures of Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini and since Italy was already out of the war they put a big "X" over Mussolini. They then wrote an ultimatum to the other two and attached all this to the top of the long list. Someone got the idea for this scroll to be delivered to the Japs. By going through the local recruiting office, it was decided to have the scroll delivered by a Marine bomber with an all-Oklahoma crew. Since our squadron was operating from Green Island and almost daily bombing Rabaul on New Britain Island we were chosen for the "Mission." But -- there weren't six crew members in the outfit from Oklahoma. Lt. Dick Morgan and I were the only "Okies" in the unit so it was decided that the rest of the crew would be adopted "Okies" for the day. When we finally got everything organized on Green, it was decided by the "Higher Headquarters" that we would fly to Bougainville and begin the flight from there.
When we arrived at Piva Field on Bougainville, they gave us the scroll and said to go deliver it. We unrolled said scroll and found it was 65 feet long. We attached a large flare parachute to it and then decided that it needed more weight added so it wouldn't drift too far. We found an old burned out 30 caliber machine gun barrel and rolled the scroll on it and secured everything to the chute. With everything now ready, General Mitchell, 1st Marine Air Wing Commander, told Lt. Morgan he was the command pilot and that I, as the other man from Oklahoma, would be the one to throw it out to the Japs. After looking over the area round Rabaul, we decided to make our drop on Rapopo Air Field, one of the five airfields that tried to protect Rabaul. With a four-plane flight of Marine Corsair fighters covering us overhead we made our run, dropped the scroll and a load of bombs on the target and circled to observe the outcome. It was noted by several that the scroll floated gently down on the middle of the strip and the bombs left several craters farther down the airfield. I radioed back to base that "Scroll and bombs right on target." I have wondered all these years what went through the minds of the Japs who had to retrieve our message. (See follow-up report at end of this story.)
This became part of the squadron history and we got a lot of good-natured ribbing about all the Japs that were 'shot' with the old machine gun barrel.
I found out when my granddaughter Robyn was in Junior High School in Amarillo, Texas her principal was one of the 35,000 who signed the scroll. Wonder where the rest of the signers are scattered...
In July 1944 Lt. Col. Winston was moved to General MacArthur's special staff. He was the Liaison Officer for the General for all Marine Air units in the Pacific. Lt. Col. Norman Anderson took command and he became the only Marine pilot to have over 100 missions in a PBJ. Of course our crew was broken up and we were all hunting a new home. Lt. John Cline at this point was in need of a full crew. I talked to my gunners and a bombagator who was available at the moment and we decided to volunteer as Lt. Cline's crew. When we approached him with the idea he thought it was great that we would do that. So, with Lt. Howard Armstrong as co-pilot, Devins Simard as bombagator, Cheney and Burke as gunners and myself as radio/radar we flew 30 combat missions together. I had flown 27 missions with Lt. Col. Winston and his co-pilot. Paul B. Robison, so had a total of 57 missions plus special hops.
The word came down in July 1944 that instead of relieving us, they would be sending five crews at a time on R&R to Sydney, Australia. We would take off from Green and fly to Noumea, New Caledonia, a French group of islands, spend the night there and go on to Australia on a big PBM Martin Mariner. We landed in Sydney Harbor and checked in to the Naval Headquarters on the dock. From there we were on our own for the time allotted. Some times we got 8 days but on one instance they had problems getting transportation back for us and we stayed for 12 days. Some of us went broke and borrowed $50 from the Red Cross. When we got back to our base we got together and sent all we owed back at once.
My first trip was the last of July 1944 and the second was in late September. This time we landed at Townsville and spent the night, then on to Sydney next day. We did a variety of entertaining things such as go to horse races, spend 3 days at a Dude Ranch, tour the immediate area in a rented old touring car, eat, eat, eat, visit some of the local shows, clubs and pubs. There were four of us who stayed together and seemed to get along OK on making decisions as to what was next on the agenda. We went to the theater and before the movie started, there was 30 minutes of organ music. At first we heard the music very faintly but couldn't figure where it was coming from. The sound began coming from the stage and the organ and organist were coming up in the middle of the stage. It starts in the basement and they raise it up to the stage. Very unique and he was really good on the organ.
We got back to our island and continued flying missions. Once in a while we would get a low-level strafing and skip-bombing mission. That's when I got the chance to fire the side window 30 caliber guns. These flights put us down right over the trees and if you weren't very careful, you could get some green on your belly and props. Some fun...
Christmas 1944 found us still on Green Island and from somewhere they came up with a good meal. It wasn't the traditional kind but very good and a welcome change. Ordinarily, we got a lot of Australian "lamb." They told us it was lamb but most of us figured they had thinned out all their old goats and sheep and sent them to us to enjoy. We found out the best way to eat it was in stew and cooked for at least 1/2 a day.
For showers, we put a 55-gallon drum on a four-legged stand higher than our tallest man. We found a spigot that could be screwed into the top we could use to turn the water off and on with. By cutting out the bottom of the drum and turning it upside down on the stand, we could fill it by handing buckets of water up to a man on top and he would pour it in. We made a large cone-shaped, canvas-covered frame over the drum and when it rained, we could catch a lot more than we could just with the open-ended drum. Sometimes the sun got the water too hot but at least it was fresh water. We also put a board trough along the eaves of our tent and by putting a barrel at both sides, we caught rain water in them. Of course the mosquito spray crew would come around often and spray oil on top of the water so that no mosquitoes could live in it. To get fresh water without oil in it, we put our helmets down below the top of the water and by bringing it up fast, the oil ran off and back into the barrel.
They gave us some salt water soap and said we could bathe in the ocean. Sometimes we would do that and then rinse off in our fresh water.
There was a large distilling unit that desalinated sea water for drinking. It had four spigots on the holding tank that we used to fill our canteens. The pipes were so rusty you had to let the rust settle to the bottom of your canteen before you could take a drink. We definitely didn't need any more iron in our diet...
In early January 1945 they picked four crews to shuttle some equipment from Manus to Samar in the Philippines. As one of the first to go, we went to Manus, got loaded, then on to Peleliu in the Palaus group. There was much evidence of land war there. Since we were spending the night plus getting refueled, we were able to go out on a point that had a very large bunker on it, made of cocoanut log and rocks. The Japs had had it well stocked with ammo and other supplies. Evidently this bunker was taken by Marines using flame throwers and was breached by putting a shaped charge on the top and blowing a hole large enough to drop grenades through. There were still parts of clothing that had been blown into pieces laying around and one pants leg still had a piece of the leg still inside. Not a pretty picture but then war never is.
We went on to Samar and landed on a very narrow strip cut out of the jungle. A metal landing mat was laid down to give a hard surface for landing. However, two of our planes hit a wing tip in the limbs of trees on landing and had one tear and a lot of green on the blue paint. We unloaded quickly and after getting some good chow from the Sea Bees who were building the strip, we were off for our return to Green Island, making stops at all the same places we hit on the way to Samar. I made only one trip but some crews made two. I remember that just about an hour before we got to Samar, Sgt. Cheney, the top turret gunner, spotted a 9-plane formation of Jap bombers about 7 to 8,000 feet above us. They appeared about 30 degrees to our left and evidently didn't see us or they weren't interested in us. We felt they may have radioed their base to have fighters attack us but we didn't see any more Jap aircraft.
Anyway, we made it back and continued our harassing flights to Rabaul. For a while we set up a schedule of flights that kept a PBJ in the air over and around the Rabaul area for two hours at a time. We were loaded with fourteen 100-pound bombs and would fly over the town and airfields and drop one or maybe two at a time. Of course, when we approached the area the Japs would turn on the search lights and you could read a book at 12,000 feet by their lights. Also, after they got the lights on us they started shooting anti-aircraft guns at us. We got a few holes in us but luckily no one was injured. I did get a hole in my flight suit leg but didn't know it until we got back to our base. It was rather nerve-racking to sit up there knowing any minute you could get killed. At a scheduled time as we were leaving the area another one of our planes would take over for a two-hour tour. I guess we at least kept them awake all night as the last tour of 2 hours ended around dawn.
We had been hearing about a point system they were using to determine when you could go back to the states. Each medal counted 5 points. The Army Air Corps got an Air Medal for every five missions but we didn't get any. They started rotation of those who had 120 points or more. Here we sat, watching Army guys going home with less time in the islands than any of our guys. I had over 90 points as did some of the others in the squadron but didn't get rotated until they were down to the 70-point people. Some justice...
Anyway, the last of February 1945 they called about 25 of us in and said to get packed for going HOME. We flew up to Los Negros in the Admiralty islands and spent three days being harassed by some Army Colonel who thought he was God himself. We saw him jerk the stripes off 5 Sergeants and Staff Sergeants just for not having their sleeves rolled down. This area was a replacement center and there were men going and coming all the time.
On the third day after we arrived, we were loaded up with our bags and taken down to the docks. There were two ships tied up there waiting. The cargo ship was unloading supplies and equipment and the other ship was a CVE loading on supplies. This was a small carrier and was to be our transportation back to Pearl Harbor.
We went aboard and were led by a sailor to the hold assigned to us for quarters. There sure wasn't much room to move around in. The bunks were steel frames with canvas laced on and so close together you had trouble getting in and out. They were stacked 5 high and I was lucky enough to get the middle one. They were probably from 15" to 18" apart so you felt like you were in a drawer.
This ship was the USS Thetis Bay, CVE-90. About half way to Pearl Harbor we overtook another ship. This was our sister ship the CVE-89 and she had a problem. She was making slow progress for there was a torpedo hole in her side at the water line as big as a truck. We stayed with the 89 for a few hours and then returned to our cruise speed and quickly lost sight of her.
Since it was so crowded in our quarters, most of us would go up on the flight deck or the hangar deck or up on the bow under the flight deck. There was a 5-inch gun on the fan tail (aft) and on two different days they had gunnery practice with it. They would drop a 55-gallon gas drum over the side with a little gasoline in it and when they were quite a way from it they opened fire. We saw them drop six drums over and they hit all of them within 4 shots each.
We could go up on the flight deck and lay in the sun if we wanted but were told to lay close to one of the in-deck plane tie-down rings. This was so that if we started rolling in the sea and it got too rough we would have something to grab hold of to keep from sliding off.
One day while I was up on the flight deck sunning, the deck was going up and down so far in a fairly rough sea that one time it went so far down that a wave came clear over the end of the flight deck. That was the only time I had to hold on to the tie-down ring. We did get wet when the bow rose and the water came rolling on down the deck.
The chow was better than what we had been getting in the islands. One thing about being on board ship, they have better food and have a place to store all they need.
When the sea is rough, it is sometimes hard to eat without getting your food or someone else's in your lap. There is a raised edge on the tables to help keep everything from sliding off, but if it is bad enough the food just spills over the sides of plates, cups, and/or bowls. It makes it hard to walk on the slippery steel deck and you'd better hang on to something or someone or wind up on the deck with all the food and liquid. It can get real messy, but we were told it was a lot worse on the ships used to haul large numbers of troops.
On the elevator there was a basketball half-court marked on the deck and we got to play there when the crew was not using it. What made it kinda different was that if you went up for a lay-up and the ship went down at the same time, it was a long way back down to the deck and really took you by surprise. Of course the crew knew this could happen so got a few good laughs at the Marines falling all over the place. I believe we were cruising at about 18 or 20 knots.
Since we had to sail in a zigzag path, it took a lot longer for the trip. It took us about 12 days to get to Hawaii and when we arrived at Pearl, we tied up in the shadow of one of the largest carriers. I thought the CVE-90 was big, but it was about half as long as this one. The same class as the Enterprise.
We spent three days waiting and then were put on the APA-102 for the trip to San Francisco. This ship didn't make as many knots as the Thetis Bay and took us six days to make the trip to the good old USA. Life on this one was not as good, either.
When we reached Frisco, we disembarked and were allowed to make a quick telephone call and then loaded on the train for Camp Miramar, California. When we arrived there we were shown to our barracks and told we would be free until noon chow and then in the afternoon we could get some new clothes and shoes if we needed them. We could get a free haircut at the first chair in the barber shop. After doing all of the above, at about 1600 John Hanczyk and Steve Sullivan went with me to the PX. When we found it, there was a line waiting to get into the building. We found out there were so many new people in that day they had to only let in as many as came out. While we waited we visited with some of the guys in the line. All of a sudden I saw a big tall Marine come flying out of the line up ahead of us. After a double-take I realized it was Orley Shamburg. Orley and I graduated from high school together and some months after I joined the Corps, he decided to join up also. He went to boot camp in Diego, as did all who came from Oklahoma, and was sent to Miramar. He played the clarinet in the high school band so tried out for the Base band and was accepted. That's as far as he got from home during the war. He later married a woman Marine (BAM) from Idaho. Anyway, I went up to him and he was really surprised to see me. We went to the slop chute and visited until chow time. He was busy that evening so Hank, Sully, and I went into town. We visited a few places, saw some old friends, ate a steak, and were back at camp before 2300 hours.
The next day we were processed individually and asked if we wanted East coast or West coast duty. We had heard that if you said West coast you could be sent back to the Pacific within 3 to 4 months, but if you took East coast you were guaranteed at least 6 months in the states. Every one but Mervin Schneider took East coast. Merv was a lawyer from los Angeles and wanted to stay there. The rest of us were assigned to MOTS 814 at Cherry Point, N.C. We liked this assignment. Late that afternoon they had our 30-day leave orders and transfer orders ready for us and when we got these we split up real quick and headed home.
This was about the end of March, 1945. My Dad had been transferred from Ft. Bliss to Camp Robinson at Little Rock, Arkansas, to the dental lab there. That was in September, 1944. They had Italian prisoners of war there and some of them worked in the hospital and around the labs. All the windows and doors had bars on them. All this was somewhat unnerving to the Americans who worked there for they never knew when the prisoners might attack and kill them and then try to escape. Dad put up with this until about 1 March 1945 and then submitted his resignation. He had made a trip to Watonga a month earlier and had agreed to buy Service Cleaners if the Army accepted his resignation. When they accepted it he called the guy in Watonga and closed the deal on the cleaners. The folks immediately moved back to their own home and went to work cleaning and pressing clothes.
I had given Watonga as my leave address and got there less than a month after the family moved home. The thirty days went real fast as we were spending part of the time at Bethany. I went on to Cherry Point by myself and after I got situated with my new assignment, told Jerry to come on out.
Jim Young, Ross DeLong, Ben McGee and I, with our wives, couldn't find any place nearby to live, but the Atlantic Beach Resort Hotel made us a deal by the month. It was still high but it was all we could find at the moment. Later I found two rooms for two couples in a private home in Morehead City. We took one of them and the other three guys flipped a coin to see who got the other one. Jim and Nita won so we moved in that next weekend. We also found a boarding house that sold meal tickets by the week. As we only needed the evening meals and weekends, she let us have two tickets for $7.00 each per week. Not only was the price fair, the food was home-cooked and we got all we wanted. When she had fried chicken, she would tell me to go out to the kitchen and get what I wanted. I always thought this nice lady gave us a special break.
I was assigned as an instructor in the radio/radar school on base. Had to teach everything the school covered from morse code to voice procedure, troubleshooting receivers and transmitters, radio theory, radar theory and operation of both. I must have been doing OK for the next month the senior NCO in charge was transferred and I was given the job.
We had to make flights in PBJs and PVs to do aerial checks of radio and radar gear so I used these flights to get my 4 flying hours a month so I didn't lose my flight pay. A staff sergeant got $96 base pay per month and if he were on flight pay he drew $144 a month. A master sergeant's base pay was $124 a month and a 2nd Lt.'s base pay was $150 a month. Big money, huh?
Since we lived in town, some 18 miles from the base, the three of us with cars took turns driving every three weeks. We had a service station about half way out to the base and all of us used it regularly. On 13 April 1945 I was driving and needed gasoline badly. I stopped about 0700 to fill up and the place was closed up tight. Since the folks who owned it lived in the back, I went around back and knocked on the door. He hollered through the door that his President had died and he was closed. I told him I needed gas bad and couldn't make it to the base without it. He said to put $5 under the door and there was a 5-gallon can of gas in the front. I bought can and all. Gas was selling for about 30 cents a gallon then.
Yes, our President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died on 12 April 1945 at Warm Springs, Georgia. He was the only President to be elected four times - 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in immediately and the war continued.
The Germans surrendered on 8 May 1945 and after two atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, on 10 August 1945 the Japanese surrendered on the Battleship Missouri. General MacArthur took the surrender and the whole war was now over.
We still ran the school until the current class graduated in October and then they closed us down. On 30 Oct 45 I received orders to report to the discharge section on 2 Nov 45 for discharge. This didn't take very long and as soon as we walked out of that building we were civilians. I went to Morehead City, we packed all of our belongings in our 1937 Packard Convertible and headed for Oklahoma and civilian life.
I was proud of that ruptured duck on my uniform.
FOLLOW-UP ON THE OKLAHOMA SCROLL
The following story was issued as a news
release on June 18, 1944:
Bougainville __ (Delayed) -
High in the clouds over the Jap fortress of Rabaul, the ambitions of 35,000 Oklahoma City school children were realized today.
A scroll, 65 feet long, bearing their signatures as a symbol of their spirit, was dropped _with a load of bombs - on the Jap airfield of Rapopo, one of the five fields protecting Rabaul.
The students had each contributed 10 cents to defray in part the cost of a Marine transport plane, named by them "The Invasion Chief" to be used by the Marine Corps. Although this type of plane is not used in combat, another Marine plane was used to drop the scroll.
Flying through intense ack_ack in defiance of the Japanese., the Marine Mitchell bomber, piloted by a Tulsa., Okla., Marine 2nd Lieutenant Dick Morgan, dropped the ultimatum, and then a load of bombs, a taste of what the future will bring.
After observing the descent of the scroll and the bombs, the plane headed back towards its American base.
And a drama prepared months earlier in Oklahoma City was ended. A representative section of American youth had spoken its mind.
The ultimatum signed by the children read as follows:
"We Americans were a peaceful people, You forced a war upon us... we did not want it, but we did not run from it! We are all fighting ... even we the school boys and girls of Oklahoma City...and every one of us will fight you every way we can until you are defeated so our fathers and brothers can come back home to us."
The scroll and the "Invasion Chief" were delivered to the Marine Base at Camp Kearney in April with the request that the ultimatum be dropped over Jap territory. It was then forwarded through Marine channels to Marine Major General Ralph J. Mitchell, Commander Aircraft Solomon Islands, who presented it to Lieutenant Morgan with orders that the request be carried out.
Flying with Lieutenant Morgan as members of the crew were two other Oklahoma Marines, Staff Sergeant William W. Woolman, 21, 502 North Prouty Street, Watonga, radio gunner, and Sergeant John R. Bullard, 20, Tallala, turret gunner. Lieutenant Morgan lives at 2501 East 17th Street, Tulsa.
Photographs of the flight were made by a Marine photographer, Technical Sergeant George Circle, 21, of 1015 North Lee Avenue, Oklahoma City, Okla., who accompanied the mission.
Before turning the scroll over to Lieutenant Morgan, Major General Mitchell, Major General Oscar W. Griswold, USA, commander of allied troops on Bougainville, Major General Robert B. McClure USA commanding officer of an Army Division on Bougainville, and members of the crew, signed it.
The flight took off from Bougainville airstrip and rendezvoused with a four-plane fighter escort which accompanied it on the mission. As the Marines approached their target, the Japs sent up a heavy barrage of anti_aircraft fire. No fighter planes rose to meet them.
Lieutenant Morgan, dodging between the clouds brought the plane through the ack_ack and over the Jap airfield. Staff Sergeant Woolman tossed the ultimatum through an escape hatch on the side of' the plane. A minute later Lieutenant Morgan ordered bombs away and the Japs received a sample of what the Oklahoma students promised them.
The plane circled over the airfield and the scroll was seen to land in a camp area close to the airstrips. In the distance the sky was black with ack_ack bursts as other Marine planes were striking at Jap installations.
Lieutenant Morgan turned the plane towards home base and Staff Sergeant Woolman radioed, "Mission completed. Bombs and scroll dropped on target."
Other Marines participating in the special mission were First Lieutenant C. V. Burlingham, 24, 1116 Tower Road, Winnetka, Ill., co__pilot; Staff Sergeant J. P. O'Donnell, 21, 27 Stuyvesant Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y., navigator; Sergeant F. G. Williamson, 21, 1594 Darwin Avenue, Akron, Ohio, movie cameraman; Staff Sergeant Howard M. Heck, 20, 2141 Ryons Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, rear gunner; and Staff Sergeant Chester L. Smith 22, 2159 West Market Street, Pottsville, Pa., cameraman who flew in an escort plane to take pictures of the flight.
What ever became of the scroll?
5/27/44 Scroll dropped on Rapopo Airstrip
7/16/96 Letter from Ned Wernick to Papua, New Guinea's representative to the U.N. asking for any information available on what happened to the scroll. (No answer)
Letter from Ned Wernick to Henry Sakaida, author of "The Seige of Rabaul," asking if he knows what happened to the scroll, or if he would be interested in investigating. (Sakaida is also an aviation historian and collector of Japanese militaria) Sakaida's 1st answer, if received, cannot be found.
2nd letter to Henry Sakaida - His e-mail answer:
I checked with both Cdr Tomoyoshi Hori (Navy) and Major Saiji Matsuda (2nd in command, Army Kempei Tai or military police). Both said they knew absolutely nothing about this scroll. So, you may assume that it landed somewhere in the jungle and was never found and turned in.
The Japanese Navy and Army very rarely cooperated, unlike our military. They did not share intelligence information. If the Navy found this scroll, they would not inform the Army, and vice versa. Major Matsuda would certainly have known about this scroll if the Army found it, because the Kempei Tai (military police) also did military intelligence.
I wish the container had been found! What an interesting story it would have been!!!
We honor the Marines of VMB-423 who gave their lives for their country
James P. McCullough 11/1/43
Charles E. Schwieman 11/1/43
Thomas S. Szymanski, Jr. 11/1/43
Irving R. Werner, Jr. 11/1/43
Anthony J. Gallo 3/3/44
James W. Lee, Jr. 3/3/44
Robert W. Lide 3/3/44
Bert C. Sanders 3/3/44
Henry E. Seeman 3/3/44
Thaddeus H. Banachowski 4/20/44
Alden R. Carlson 4/20/44
John T. Gunn 4/20/44
Raymond T. Marks 4/20/44
Reber H. Smith 4/20/44
Clyde E. Yates 4/20/44
John A. Donovan 4/22/44
Dwight D. Ekstam 4/22/44
Wayne R. Erickson 4/22/44
Laverne A. Lallathin 4/22/44
James A. Sisney 4/22/44
Walter B. Vincent, Jr. 4/22/44
John D. Yeager 4/22/44
Roderick H. Herndon 6/2/44
Thornwell Rogers 6/22/44
Clifford S. Buckley, Jr. 6/22/44
Jewel T. Hawkins 6/22/44
Vernon R. Kistner 6/22/44
Richard B. Lucy 6/22/44
Edwin J. McDowell 6/22/44
Winton G. Walk 6/22/44
Richard A. Edmonds 6/29/44
Dewett T. Greene, Jr. 6/29/44
Raymond M. Hallbauer 6/29/44
Roy H. Morrison 6/29/44
Nimrod C. Olinger 6/29/44
Loren N. VanBuskirk 6/29/44
Willie T. Phillips 12/23/44
Excerpts from the official
VMB-423 War Diary
9/15/43 Squadron commissioned at Cherry Point, N.C.;
Lt.Col. John L. Winston, USMCR Commanding
10__/43 Squadron transferred to Edenton, N.C. Crew training in ship bombing, free gunnery, medium and low altitude bombing and strafing, night navigation and night formation flying.
11/1/43 Unexplained crash of PBJ killed all aboard: 2nd Lt. James P. McCullough, 2nd Lt. Irving R. Werner, Corp Thomas S. Szymanski, Jr., and PFC Charles E. Schweiman.
11/6/43 PBJ crashed. No serious injuries. Plane surveyed.
12/30 Ground echelon departed Edenton for El Centro
12/31 Flight echelon departed Edenton for El Centro. Training in over-water navigation, low level bombing and strafing, formation flying, skip bombing in the Salton Sea.
1/--/44 PBJ crash. No personnel casualties. Plane surveyed.
2/--/44 PBJ crash. No personnel casualties. Plane surveyed.
2/__/44 Ground echelon left West Coast via USS Prince William and USS Hammondsport, arrived Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 3/11.
2/23/44 Flight echelon left California in stages, and arrived at Ewa where the planes were fitted for combat. Last stage of flight echelon arrived Espiritu Santo 4/10, after stopping at Palmyra, Canton and Funafuti enroute.
3/3/44 PBJ disintegrated in the air 10 miles NE of MCAS, Ewa, crashed and killed the crew, 1st Lt. Harry Seeman, Jr., 2nd Lt. Bert C. Sanders, S/Sgt. James W. Lee, Jr., Corp. Anthony A. Gallo and Corp. Robert A. Lide.
3/16/44 Squadron transferred to MAG-11. (Same entry recorded in diary on 4/26/44)
4/20/44 PBJ crashed just after takeoff on night navigation flight. All crew killed: 1st Lt. Alden R. Carlson, 2nd Lt. Thaddeus Banachowski, S/Sgt. CLyde E. Yates,
Corp. John T. Gunn, Corp. Raymond T. Marks, Corp. Reber H. Smith.
4/22/44 PBJ crashed into the side of a mountain. All crew killed: 1st Lt. Laverne Lallathin, 2nd Lt. Dwight Ekstam, T/Sgt. Walter B. Vincent, Jr., Corp. John A. Donovan, Corp. Wayne R. Erickson, Corp. John D. Yeager and radio maintenance man T/Sgt. James A. Sisney.
5/1/44 Diaries beginning this date show VMB-423 under 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Air Group 14. Date of transfer not indicated.
5/13/44 First combat mission for squadron, a day strike against Namatanai.
5/14/44 Flight echelon arrived Stirling Island in the Treasury Group. Night bombing and heckling missions on Rabaul commenced. Submarine searches commenced.
5/17/44 Night mission - 3 planes harass Rabaul area - 2 planes on submarine search. 2nd plane on submarine search, after five hour flight through thunderstorms, made night landing on instruments. As he landed, left tire blew out. Plane bounced and as a result, engine mount bent, fuselage and wing wrinkled, due to skid. Plane surveyed.
5/23/44 PBJ landed short of runway at Stirling, ground looped, twisted fuselage and tail assembly. No one hurt. Plane surveyed.
5/27/44 An all-Oklahoma crew dropped a scroll on Rabaul, signed by 35,000 Oklahoma school children, who had collected enough money for war bonds to pay for a Marine aircraft. Six centuries were also dropped.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
At the end of May, squadron had 53 officers and 93 enlisted men in flight echelon and 11 officers and 316 enlisted men in ground echelon.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
6/2/44 Sgt. Herndon, tail gunner, drowned while swimming in ocean at Stirling.
6/11/44 Ground echelon departed Espiritu Santo, embarked aboard USS President Tyler enroute to Green Island. Arrived Guadalcanal on 6/13. Arrived Munda, New Georgia on 6/16. Arrived Torokina, Bouganville 6/18. Arrived Green Island on 6/21.
6/21/44 Part of flight echelon left Stirling for Green Island where it was re-united with the ground echelon which arrived the same day. We are now part of MAG14. Heckling raids decreased but continued. Medium altitude bombing raids increased.
6/22/44 PBJ took off from Green on combat mission and was not heard from again. Pilot 1st. Lt. Vernon B. Kistner, co-pilot 2nd Lt. Richard B. Lucy, navigator/bombardier S/Sgt. Clifford S. Buckley, Jr., radioman Sgt. Winston G. Walk, gunners S/Sgt. Jewel T. Hawkins and Corp. Edwin J. McDowell and passenger 2nd Lt. Thornwell Rogers of Air Intelligence.
6/24 Dumbo picked up flight jacket of 2nd Lt. Lucy 9 mi. N. of Duke of York Island.
Remainder of flight echelon arrived at Green.
6/29 PBJ crashed returning from heckling mission. Crew killed. Pilot, Capt. Edmonds, co-pilot 2nd Lt. Olinger, navigator/bombardier S/Sgt. Van Buskirk, radioman Sgt. Morrison, gunners Sgt. Hallbauer and Corp. Greene.
7/7/44 Commendation for meritorious service and heroic conduct in connection with crash of PBJ on 6/29/44 were bestowed on Corp. G.A. Richards, Corp. Robert A. Thomas, PFC Michael V. Alaimo, PFC Louis J. Chichelo and PFC Alphonse H. Salkauskas, by Lt. Col. Carleson, CO, MAG14.
7/16 9 planes and crews of VMB-433 arrived at Green Island. Last portion of ground echelon, two officers and twenty enlisted men, with transportation and other gear, embarked aboard the USS J.S. Hutchinson at Espiritu Santo enroute to Green Island.
7/17 More flight crews of VMB-433 arrived at Green. Serviced by ground echelon of VMB-423 during stay at Green.
7/19 Lt. Col Winston detached from squadron to assume new duties of Exec. Officer of Mag 12 at Emirau. Succeeded by Lt. Col. Anderson, formerly Exec. officer of squadron. Capt Pritchard, formerly Flight Officer became Exec. Captain Lemke became Flight Officer.
Recommendation for Air Medal for seven pilots submitted: Capt. Edmonds (posthumously): Capt Lemke; 1st Lt. Burlingham; 1st Lt. Cannon; 1st Lt. R.P. Jones; 1st LT. Kistner (in absentia) and 1st Lt. Meyer.
7/29/44 Recommended for DFC: 1st Lt. Hopper.
Recommended for Air Medals: Capt. Wilhite, 1st Lt. Bates, 1st Lt. Friedman, 1st Lt. Griffitts, 1st Lt. Hazlehurst, 1st Lt. Martin, 1st Lt. Ryan, 1st Lt. Weaver.
8/8 1st Lt. Sweet and 16 enlisted men in ground echelon, who had been left behind in Espiritu Santo, arrived at Green.
8/14 Crews of 2 PBJs over Rabaul sighted enemy plane with running lights on. The 2nd PBJ over the target opened fire. The lights of the enemy plane went out and the plane disappeared from view.
8/26/44 PBJ operations combine VMB-423 and VMB-433 under Lt. Col Adams, CO of
VMB-433, as senior squadron commander in charge.
9/1/44 Diary for this date is first indication that VMB-423 is part of Marine Air Group 61. Many of the diary entries for August are illegible. Diary entries from September 1 - 16th are missing.
9/30 S/Sgts. Cannon, Cross and Hatzmann rescued an F4U pilot who came down in
water off Pilots' Camp. The men, immediately upon seeing the plane hit the
water, secured a life raft, rowed out to him and brought him back to shore
before any other rescue facilities arrived at the scene.
10/3/44 Six PBJs, in three 2-plane sections, engaged in a low level bombing and strafing raid against targets on New Ireland. One plane, maneuvering to attack observed gun positions, was hit by heavy, accurate, enemy fire. At least six hits were scored on the plane. A large gaping hole was caused in the horizontal stabilizer, on the port side, the radar was set on fire, and four hits were scored on the port engine nacelle. The hydraulic system was hit causing loss of all hydraulic fluid, and causing the landing gear to drop from the engine nacelle. The gear did not lock up but just hung loosely from the plane. Other hits on the engine nacelle hit the cylinders and severed the oil and gas lines and the engine burst into flames. Lt. Meyer, pilot of the plane, decided that his only alternative was to ditch. He brought the plane into the water about 21/2 miles off the coast from Cape Namaroda. The water landing was an excellent one and all seven men in the plane (pilot Lt. Myer, copilot Lt. "Bill" Carlson, navigator/bombardier Jim Cameron, radioman Richard Voss, turret gunner Dale Harris, tail gunner Tony Mezzelo and photographer Eddie Leonard) came out of the plane uninjured and got themselves into the large emergency life raft. The Nips opened up on the men in the raft from shore positions with machine guns, automatic fire and three-inch shells. The fire was intense and peppered the water in the vicinity of the raft. The raft was punctured several times and one piece of shrapnel went through the right index finger of Sgt. Dale Harris. In order to present a smaller target, the men got out of the raft and covered it with a blue sail cloth and hung on the raft by the sides. During this period, the other PBJs strafed the gun positions that were firing at the men in the water. One of these PBJs was hit by ground fire and returned to Green on one engine. Other PBJs kept watch over the raft while rescue efforts were being coordinated. A Dumbo arrived on the scene but could not land due to roughness of the ocean. A section of PT boats arrived in the area but did not effect a rescue until 2230 hours. The men had been in the water for approximately ten hours. The PT boats docked at Green at 0405 hours, October 4. The men were placed in charge of the flight surgeon. Apart from the wound of Sgt. Harris, the men were uninjured and were suffering only from exhaustion due to the nervous strain and their long period on the water. *
[*Sources in addition to the war diary were used in this account to provide more complete information. Also, see Ken Myer's first-person account of this incident, "The Lord Was Our Shepherd"].
10/8/44 Three planes sent to Torokina to pick up crews on R&R who had been stranded at Torokina. 1st Lts. Friedman and B.M. Jones and their crews returned on these planes
10/9/44 Day raid with 9 planes did not reach primary target due to weather and instead hit Halis Plantation gun positions on New Ireland. These were the gun positions that shelled the crew in the water on 10/3.
10/12/44 Low level bombing and strafing raid over New Ireland with four planes. A change of tactics was employed for this strike. Previously these low level raids had been over targets of opportunity with planes searching for targets circling, then bombing and strafing. Since it was determined that low level raids against anti-aircraft opposition would have to rely on speed and surprise for a successful operation, it was decided to abandon these target of opportunity strikes where no element of surprise was possible. Tactics employed in future low level strikes were to pick a definite target, plan a route taking advantage of defilade as much as possible, come in, hit the target and get out without staying around the area.
10/15 Recommendations for Navy and Marine Corps medals submitted for S/Sgts. Cameron, Cross and Hatzmann for rescue of F4U pilot on 9/30.
11/10/44 Low level bombing and strafing raid on Manauangahurl Plantation with
four planes. On this raid two planes were hit by anti-aircraft fire. One plane
piloted by Major Pritchard receiving a three-inch hole in the starboard
ammunition box. The other plane piloted by First Lieutenant Evans picked up 13
7.7 and 12.7 holes knocking out the elevator trim tab control and hydraulic
system. An emergency landing was made successfully without further damage to the
11/19 PBJ #35138 flew its 100th mission this date, flown by Lt. Col Anderson. The
CO of MAG14 was present when the plane landed and extended his congratulations to crew chief S/Sgt. Leon P. Peterson.
11/21 Recommendation for Purple Heart submitted for Sgt. Dale Harris.
11/26 Formal Air Medal presentation to 15 pilots.
12/23/44 Daylight raid on Vunakanau target number 5, with ten planes. Raid was coordinated with New Zealand PVs from Green Island and PBJs from Emirau. On this raid six planes of VMB-423 were holed by intense accurate heavy AA received from positions north of Vunakanau, killing tail gunner PFC Willie T. Phillips and slightly injuring turret gunner Sergeant E. C. Huie. Philips' PBJ was holed over 100 times.
2/12/45 Squadron arrived Emirau.
6/1/45 PFC William T. George, ordnanceman, lost three toes of his left foot when a bomb fell while de-bombing the planes.
7/4/45 Lt. Togerson got off course returning from the heckle and when over thirty minutes overdue, Major Lowell took off to guide him into base. Lt. Togerson pancaked safely a short time after Major Lowell took off.
8/--/45 Squadron ordered to Malabang, Mindanao.
10/18/45 1st Lt. Keith crash landed at Dansalan, Philippine Islands, on the island of Mindanao. According to his statement after the crash, 1st Lt. Keith attempted a landing at Dansalan, which he believed to be the Del Monte airstrip. Due to the fact Dansalan is 2700 feet long, a dirt strip, and muddy from the rains of the night before, Lt. Keith failed to become airborne at the end of the runway after an attempted pull-up. With gear and flaps down, the airplane struck a tree just off the end of the strip and severely damaged the leading edge of the left wing. With the stalling speed increased considerably, and being unable to bring up the wing with aileron and rudder, Lt. Keith crash landed approximately one mile south of the Dansalan strip. No one was injured in the crash. The passengers and all but two of the crew* were flown back to Malabang by a TBM from Headquarters Squadron, MAG-12.
*See Peter Dunne's account of this incident, page 33.
11/30/45 After returning to the U.S., VMB-423 was decommissioned.
The following officers have commanded VMB-423:
Lt. Col. John L. Winston, USMCR-- 15 September 1943 - 18 July 1944
Lt. Col. Norman J. Anderson, USMC -- 19 July 1944 - 16 August 1945
Lt. Col. Louis L. Frank, USMC -- 16 August 1945 - 14 September 1945
Maj. Harry W. Taylor, USMC -- 14 September 1945 - 30 November 1945