The Military Experiences of George Ehrlich
A Memoir Compiled in 1982
My recent experiences in
doing archival research have made me extraordinarily conscious
of how dependent we are on what often are casual statements made
long ago, which now are rich ore to be mined by the scholar.
I have no illusions concerning my significance, or my
experiences, for some student viewing my life at some distant
future time; but insofar as they illuminate a period—and a
shared experience—my recollections merit recording.
I have chosen to try to
reconstruct my life in the military for several reasons.
First, it was a shared experience that is now—in the case of World War II—nearly forty years old, and thus corroded in our
memories through exposure to certain standard images found in
the press, film and publication. Second, my experiences
were without feats of bravery, high adventure or remarkable
events, hence typical of so many. Third, my years in
service illustrate the role that luck or chance plays in the
life of the soldier. Finally, it might be useful—while I
still can remember much of the details—to answer some of the
questions that some day someone may wish to ask, when it will be
too late or too difficult to reconstruct those events.
What I shall record then is
that which I feel illuminates a period and way of life as seen
through youthful eyes, but tempered with several decades of
being a working (art) historian. It is not a record of two
wars, for the narrative does continue, albeit interrupted, until
1953. It begins in 1943.
Kansas City, MO
30 July 1982
I guess the logical place
to begin is with "Pearl Harbor Day." I was a senior in
high school and quite aware of the war and the
the United States would be drawn into it. Thus, when a
friend called me on Sunday (when precisely I cannot recall),
December 7th, 1941 to ask if I had heard the news—which I hadn't
yet—I wasn't surprised. While the news was of major
interest to my schoolmates, we were not directly affected other
than where relatives or acquaintances had been called into
military service, or volunteered. The
draft had been in
effect for some time, but not close to our age group. I
would not be seventeen years old until January 28th, 1942.
completed high school
and in the fall of 1942 entered the
University of Illinois as a
student, hoping to pursue a degree in
something else appropriate for young lads of the day.
Every male had to take ROTC training at Illinois, and having had
four years of
junior ROTC in high school, I was familiar with
the routine, including the wearing of uniforms, close order
drill and such. But now it was a bit more serious, even
though the theory and the activities were largely
extensions of World War I and twenty-five years of "peacetime"
By the time I reached my
eighteenth birthday in 1943, the draft age had been
eighteen, and after registering it seemed only a matter of time
before I too would be called up. Attending classes,
especially during the second semester of '42-'43 at the university,
was a mentally debilitating experience. People—males—just
disappeared. Each week saw fewer attending class,
And it was not the case of the attrition of poor scholars.
Virtually no class or person seemed immune.
I received notice to report
for induction physical (or whatever) in April as I recall.
I went up to Chicago to visit the draft board and to request a
postponement to complete the semester of school (about six more
weeks as I recall). This was granted. The semester
was concluded, but my performance was below my capabilities.
Both chemistry (the academic course) and the immediate present
had lost their attractiveness; it was the uncertain future that
commanded attention. The
news from the several war fronts
hardly encouraged one, but youth is naive, and the placidity of
ROTC training (now of five years duration) had a quieting
To go into military service
had seemed inevitable, and had been for a year and a half.
Not to go seemed undesirable or some sort of blemish difficult
to explain. Thus, I was relieved when finally I was
up. It was a scant two weeks or so after concluding the
I reported to an assembly
point in Chicago on the 23rd of June 1943, where I was
We then went by chartered streetcar—a motley group I remember
only as shadows—to one of Chicago's railroad stations.
Soon thereafter I was en route to
Camp Grant in Rockford,
Illinois. How we got from the train to the camp I do not
recall; probably the train went directly into camp on a siding.
As we straggled off in our casual summer civilian garb,
clutching little canvas zipper bags with a change of underwear
and toilet articles, we were greeted by heads coming out of
windows in double-deck wooden barracks left over from World War
I. "You'll be sorry," the heads chorused. And "You
should have been here when we got here."
The remainder of that day,
as with so many other days in the service, I do not recall, nor
are they worth noting for this memoir. Suffice it to say,
the day ended as I stretched out on the upper level of a double
bunk, in one of the barracks that was—it seemed—filled with such
bunks. Wires stretched alongside, to act as clothesline
for the wash. It was lights out, snoring filled the room,
and as I lay there I thought of little other than that I was, in
fact, in the Army. A new way of life had
The principal activity of a
reception center was to convert civilians into soldiers—at least
superficially—and to test them. My conversion, along with
so many others, occurred when we entered a warehouse, stripped,
and eventually exited in green denim fatigues and with a
skull-close haircut. After a couple of days of "knowing"
one's companions, it was curious how everyone had "vanished"
after we exited into the light of day. One learned very
quickly how clothes differentiate people and how uniforms—a
wonderful word in this case—served an important function.
It was minimum gear
available for the summer, and for most of the next three years
it was mandatory that uniforms be worn. It seemed that
whatever I had was not enough, ill-fitting, and usually in need
of laundering. The last could be accomplished in one of
two ways. One could do it yourself using the wash tubs
(typical old fashioned basement types) using cakes of yellow
soap, or use the base laundry. At the reception center one
could not use the latter because our stay was of uncertain
duration, so we went unlaundered (having so few clothes we had
no spare to wear while washing). Only underwear and socks
had a chance.
There was other activities
designed to keep us busy and to convert us.
barracks—using the yellow soap and scrub buckets—was a weekly
chore. There was guard duty, which consisted of walking a
fixed path at night amidst a forest of grid-placed barracks.
And there were the immunizations and other medical-related
activities. Most of it was quickly submerged from my
conscious memory. Only one person emerges now—as a
smallish shadow. He was an older man who had been in the
Marines(?) [sic] who had gone into
Honduras in the 1920s (or was it
early 30s?). In any case he was older and—in a service
sense—wiser. He adjusted easily. In fact he had
volunteered. I recall him showing me a picture of himself
from that earlier service. And wasn't he also some sort of
boxing champion then? I'm no longer sure. But I do
recall, he showed me how to put on my leggings when I pulled
The testing was all
routine, simple enough and designed I guess to identify those
whose intelligence (as it could be approximately measured)
suggested special service opportunities such as officer
training, which included flying-status officers. The
results were such that I was asked if I wanted to take
additional test, these for the
Taking paper tests was much
more pleasant than the other activities so far provided, so I
agreed. There was also a physical exam connected with this,
but that bothered me not at all. In fact I knew I would
fail the physical and so the whole exercise was a way of
avoiding KP or whatever menial drudgery was standard for new
And why was I so certain
that I had no chance to pass the physical? Well, back at
the University of Illinois, knowing I would end up in the
service, I elected to take what was called Military Athletics,
an approved option for the compulsory physical education.
It was really beyond my capabilities at the time, but it
probably did move me in the right direction toward survival (at
something I have no aptitude for). Part of that was also
extensive physical tests and measurements. One test I was
told was a standard Air Corps test, namely how quickly one's
heartbeat rate returned to normal after exercise. My pulse
remained too high too long. Thus I "flunked" that test.
And thus I knew I would flunk the test for real.
Results of our Air Corps
testing were not immediately available, so those of us who had
taken the tests were in a status limbo. Meanwhile, nearly
everyone else among the new recruits were suddenly shipped out.
The camp was for a short period nearly vacant. The rumor
we heard was that a new infantry division was being created, to
receive its training in Australia and to participate in the
sweep up the islands to clear out the Japanese. If that
was true, and it easily could have been, there but for a delay in
reporting our test results was I—on my way to who knows what
danger. But then my turn would come once I cleared my
It couldn't have been more
than three days, or four at most, and orders were issued.
I was being sent to the Air Corps because I had passed the
tests. I was one of the "lucky ones," for it also meant
officer training and undoubtedly a pair of wings to wear on my
left breast. Envy was expressed for the few fortunate
ones. I, who really didn't want to be a "flyer," was
caught in a seat of circumstances over which I had lost
control—except by failing some program.
I was sent to
outside of Madison, Wisconsin, now being an Aviation Student
appointee. Or was it pre-Aviation Cadet training status?
The exact designation on the orders meant little unless I
survived a variety of other activities and evaluation pending my
acceptance in cadet training. And at this distance from
the situation, little else about my brief stay in Wisconsin is
remembered; it was a transition place.
If Truax Field is
remembered by me it is because here I learned the true horrors
of what KP (Kitchen Police) could mean. As things would
turn out, I did comparatively little KP, but my indoctrination
came with duty on "pots and pans" the day we had pork
I did not serve the food; rather I had to scrub up the cooking
utensils. I was caked in grease past my elbows.
I also recall the
extraordinary (in the Army) situation of unlimited amounts of
milk at meals. Truax was also the scene of a siege of food
poisoning I escaped (since I had trouble comprehending much less
digesting the food that was served). I have always
hesitated to eat strange-looking food, and I skipped some
strange Spanish rice one evening. Good for me!
I also recall going onto
the U of Wisconsin campus, climbing the hill to
Bascom Hall, and
wondering a bit at how changed my life had become in a few weeks.
Miami Beach FL
Orders were issued; it was
to be Miami Beach for basic training. I assume we went by
troop train, for we went on nearly every transfer by this mode
of transport. However, I recall absolutely nothing about
that long journey. Generally there was nothing memorable
about such a journey. They were usually in coach cars,
often quite ancient. Anyhow, I arrived in Miami and
thence, by truck probably, to Miami Beach. It was July
My status was that of a
pre-Aviation Cadet, and though we were in fact privates in the
Army, assigned to the Air Corps, we had a designation as heading
eventually toward the opportunity of candidating for flight training and officer rank. To single this out, we were all
of the same category in our basic training unit, and we were
given old fashioned campaign hats (without any braid or
insignia) to wear. These were the "Smokey Bear" type hats.
Perhaps the concept of
basic training had been explained to us, but from this distant
(and more knowledgeable) vantage point I see it as having only
two functions. First, it was to harden us through
extensive physical training. Second, it was to instill
discipline. As for the martial arts or weapons training or
such, I recall none.
We were billeted in
second-class hotel rooms, six to eight in a room. Our
drill fields were the former golf courses and the beaches.
Our drill sergeants were, it seemed, characters of low
intelligence and limited experience and education, drawn from
the rural hinterlands such as Appalachia. Their one
virtue was the ability to be heard at great distance or against
background noises. We ate in a communal mess hall erected
in some convenient vacant ground, and some four thousand of us
In the midst of this
contrived army base, or perhaps I should say scattered in and
around it, was the resort of Miami Beach still functioning even
though reduced in patronage by the constraints of a wartime
economy. It was a bizarre and uneasy relationship of
uniform and mufti, especially with the fact that prices were
geared in the private sector to resort clientele. Thus,
Army privates had little chance at recreation beyond the beaches
and the swimming pool behind our hotel (the Embassy, by the
Since I was already
reasonably disciplined and familiar with the rudiments of
military jargon and routine, thanks to the ROTC, I was there to
get hardened. And I was learning how to survive in an
alien environment, where one never knew what prejudice, bias,
stupidity or attack on one's sense of self and dignity might
occur. Privates though we were, there was absolutely no
privacy except within one's mind. And with a very tired
body the mind was hardly treated to any stimulation.
Memories of military life
are laced, for me, with the desire to be away from others—at
least for a little while. Whether the need to evacuate
one's bowels, to bathe, to sleep, eat or whatever, it had to be
met as a public occurrence, with witnesses. And often
commentary. While I managed—obviously—I never could accept
fully the concept of being only a part of a large organism.
I wasn't cut out for tribal life as a permanent lifestyle.
What can one recall from
three months in Miami Beach as a neophyte soldier/airman?
Drill sergeants could not pronounce my name. Roll call in
the early morning required a rundown of the roster.
Periodically there was a hesitation that meant a "difficult"
name. I was, inevitably, a hesitation followed by a
questioning "Ellrich," or something like that.
The food was barely
acceptable, It was in basic training that I discovered how
good fresh tomatoes could be, since everything else had been
manipulated for thousands. Bread, jam and tomatoes were the
best items. Milk was usually sour. I was never a
gallant trencherman, and in fact was a finicky eater with
numerous avoidances. Eating—and digesting—in the service
proved to be a difficult matter for me for most of my military
I believe it was in
September of 1943 that there were enemy submarine scares along
the coast. We were blacked out at night, there were armed
patrols on the beach, while we recruits did
backup guard duty on
the streets with billy clubs and whistles. One night, some
artillery was heard (so we believed) being towed along the
fashionable Collins Road. But we [neither] saw nor heard evidence of the torpedoing that in fact was occurring, and no
saboteurs were landed in our domain.
Basic training was
something like four weeks—or perhaps longer. Anyhow, the
day came when it was concluded and we were mustered to receive
shipping orders. After all the names were called, some of
us were still in place waiting. I was one of them. There
were no orders for Ehrlich, or Ellrick (with hesitation).
So those remaining went
into advanced basic training. As I recall, the only
difference was practice in throwing dummy grenades.
there were other niceties. By now, I could catch an
instant ten-minute nap when we were given breaks from our
endless routine, pillowing my head on a sandbag or street
One aspect did not change
from basic to advanced basic training. That was the
singing while marching. We were encouraged, were required,
to sing. And we did it at the top of our lungs (as they
say). They were the old standbys, such as "Wait Till the
Sun Shines Nellie" and "Give My Regards to Broadway," and that
new one, the Air Force
[sic] "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue
Yonder." And so forth. One day, when not singing
while marching somewhere, a jeep pulled up to our formation and
some officer shouted at the sergeant. Essentially he
wanted to know why we weren't singing. Were we not happy?
Happy soldiers sing, and he would not tolerate unhappy
soldiers. Therefore we had to sing. We sang.
It was also during these
weeks that I discovered "ringworm" and "athlete's foot" and
other shared skin ailments. Iodine became my home remedy.
I also was badly sunburned because we had to engage in some sort
of exercise shirtless. Since I tanned easily, the burn was
not evident until I blistered, so I wasn't allowed to put
covering on my back. If I had a sunburn, I should be red,
but I was brown, so . . . Drill sergeant logic.
Eventually advanced basic
training was concluded, and another muster to hear orders came
due. Once again names were called and once again I was
left standing—now nearly alone. This was totally
unexpected on my part and on the sergeant's part. They
were used to people being held over after basic training, and so
advanced (sic) basic had been created. But everyone got
orders after that. Well, nearly everyone.
It was funny, even to me
then. They had me, didn't want me, for they didn't have any
contingency to deal with "leftovers."
I cannot recall how long it
was, perhaps two weeks, while a search for a reason was
instituted. Meanwhile, I sort of loafed around. I
even taught myself to swim, sort of, while waiting. At
last I was "found" and given orders to head out. It seems
that my papers had been misplaced. And [had] been for some time.
There was a lesson in that, one I learned more than once.
You could get lost in the system simply by getting into the
wrong stack of papers: that is, your file could be misplaced and
in effect you were in a partial limbo. You existed, and
this was known. You could eat, get paid, and could not
leave the base without severe penalty unless you had a pass or
permission. But you couldn't be moved in the system
without a file that represented you. Misplace a file and
the machinery of movement stopped.
Well, at the end of
September or very early October, I was found and shipped out.
I was to go to Arkadelphia, Arkansas from Florida, southern
Florida, by a troop train that had ancient day coaches with
If memory serves me
correctly, it was this trip that went by way of Cincinnati, but
it makes no difference. The ride was interminable and
sleep was virtually impossible. It was like riding an
ancient streetcar with soot coming in the windows.
We dismantled the car,
taking the seat backs out and using them to bridge the space
between seats. On these improvised and irregular shelves,
we tried to sleep. The only virtue was that we were
leaving Miami Beach and basic training(s) behind. And I
was certainly entering a different lifestyle when I arrived at
Aviation Student Training:
I was in the "aviation
college training program at
Henderson State Teachers
College for four months. It was here that we were
introduced to a cadet-style program, albeit a bit like a
southern military school than an academy.
Arkadelphia was a small
city that was home to two colleges, the other being Ouachita
Baptist College. Each college had a 250 or 500-man (?)
training program, taught largely by the civilian faculty.
We were domiciled in dormitories largely empty due to the war,
instructed in the college classrooms, fed in the cafeteria and
paraded on the athletic field. There were students at the
schools who were not in the service, but segregation was
rigorously maintained except at certain off hours and Sundays.
But there was little to share.
We had "student" officers
who wore button-pips, and we were under a cadet-type discipline
that included demerits and punishment tours (more on that
later), and meals were eaten in silence and plates had to be
cleaned—no food to be thrown out—etc.
The purpose of this program
seemed twofold. First, it provided rather elementary
instruction in a variety of academic subjects, such as geography
(and I suppose math, history, etc.). I remember the
geography because the teacher
Otis Whaley—O.W.—could draw a
perfect circle on the chalkboard with one sweeping rotation of
his arm. Second, we were made conscious of being on the
first rung of a cadet program whose goal was to produce flying
officers. In this respect, we also received ten hours of
actual flight training in
Piper Cubs; and that was memorable for
Since I was a person who
had some college training/education, I was skipped past the
first month of the five-month program. I think a second
year would have reduced my stay another month, etc., except I
don't remember the rule. For a variety of reasons,
this four-month period is memorable. The reasons follow
but in no special order.
It was here that I was
hospitalized for a week because of malnutrition. As I said,
we ate in the college cafeteria the food prepared by the college
cooks. Alas, whatever we took we had to eat or be punished.
One breakfast was interesting: it was early in the program when
I was still unfamiliar with the food. I asked for the
cooked cereal. We asked by pointing. I got a plate
of cereal and lo and behold they put something brown and liquid
on it. I had gotten grits with gravy for breakfast.
A city boy raised by Central European immigrants didn't have a
chance here. Another breakfast I pointed
to pancakes, that was obvious, and syrup was poured over them.
Only, the syrup was sorghum molasses. Ach, this too had to
One lunch consisted of
turnips and turnip greens with white bread. A fried
chicken dinner I recall was so crisply fried I couldn't sunder
it with my teeth. Apparently I began to ask
for less and less, and of fewer things to protect my
inexperienced digestive tract. The Miami Beach mess hall
was a four star restaurant in comparison. Mind you, this
was what the college students were fed.
One day at physical
training I collapsed. The Army doctor had his clinic at
the other college and I was sent to him. He asked me when
last I had had a bowel movement. I couldn't recall, I
actually couldn't. I was given an enema (the first I recall
having) and was put in bed and fed a special diet, heavy on
vegetables and other digestible food. After a week I
returned renewed to my activities.
It was here too that I
contracted impetigo, a skin disorder that causes blisters on the face, or wherever else the infection
caught. Mine was in the area of my beard. The doctor
treated this with a
purple substance and in stubborn cases—such
as mine naturally—with silver nitrate. Unshaven, purple
and metallic glittered stain was my lot for quite a few days,
with raw patches of pink skinless flesh peeping through. I
was finally ordered to shave. The painfully achieved
result was not much of an improvement.
It was while I was in for
one of my daily treatments that I felt faint and asked if I
could go outside for fresh air. OK, the doctor said, and
out I went, only to be brought back in on a stretcher, having
passed out and having hit a piece of moulding near the door,
with my head, on the way down. Perhaps this was connected
with my pending malnutrition episode. I don't really
So there I was, rainbow
face with a gash over my left eye. A stitch was put in and
a collodion patch was placed over it. I now know that this
could have led to gangrene if left in place too long, but neither
my medical officer nor I was then concerned with that.
I also suffered, as did
dozens of others, from sinus headaches. I am now prepared
to believe everything wrong then was diet-connected, but in 1943
it was simply the river bottom location. The medical
officer used nose packs to drain the sinuses. The sight of
half a dozen of us sitting on a bench in the clinic with cotton
dangling out our nostrils, dripping into kidney shaped porcelain
dishes, must have made a pretty sight.
In all of my many dealings
with this med officer, I sensed nothing but compassion and an
inadequacy in dealing with the complaints of his thousand-plus
charges who trooped in large numbers to sick call. And
then I heard the rumor that he had made advances to one of the
lads while being examined. It was rumor but firmly
believed. It was my first, fleeting contact with the
subject of homosexuality in a real situation. But as
always since then, never directed at me. But then perhaps
I never was aware I was being approached in this way. But
I think not.
I mentioned the fear of
punishment. It meant loss of private time on the weekends
(Saturday afternoon and Sunday) by being confined to quarters
and having to walk tours. Tours were given once the number
of demerits in a given week exceeded some number.
Inspection was a good way to pick up demerits, for dust,
misplaced or irregular placement of personal effects, the making
of beds, etc. Haircuts (given by an incompetent civilian
at 25¢ per) were required weekly. And so forth.
Tours were one hour per, marching a rectangular (and by my time
a deeply rutted path) in full uniform with gas mask (we had no
packs) carried in its case on our side.
I lost out once, got one or
perhaps two tours. Some miscreants managed to have very
little free time.
What did we do on free
time? There wasn't much. I recall seeking food
(hamburgers) at some local place. A friend I made,
[Eriksen], who had two years of college and had studied
architecture, and I would "do" what little was to be "done" in
the form of appreciating Arkadelphia's recreational resources.
Gordon liked to
he decided it would be fun to be able to join a church choir.
So each Sunday he and I went to a different church in town.
There were a surprising lot of them. This was my
introduction to Protestant theology and liturgy—largely southern
style. To my ear, none of the singing was exemplary,
though sincerity couldn't be faulted.
One day, after such a
service, we were approached by a nice lady who asked us if we
would join them for Sunday dinner. "Them" was a husband
and a fair daughter. Neither Gordon nor I was in pursuit
of girls (we were usually too simpleminded and unfocused
for that), but this was a promising development. So we
We joined the family in
their mid-nineteenth century house with its Victorian-Edwardian
furniture (as I now see it, but then it all just looked "old").
The black woman who was the servant brought out a roast chicken,
rice, etc. I eyed the rather small bird, figured various
cuts and how they would be distributed to serve five people, two
of [whom] were ravenous for real food. Papa carved the
bird, placed the white meat on the platter for serving and sent
the dark meat back to the kitchen—food for the servant but not
Alas, it was a sparse meal
More enterprising and older
souls in our detachment headed whenever they could to Hot
Springs. There "booze and broads" were available. We
innocents remained in town.
One day, in December I
believe, it snowed. It had been years since there was
enough snow to permit snowballs, sledding, etc. The
college students went crazy, rolling in the snow. They
were all area students, and some had no memory of real
about then that I
heard for the first time Bing Crosby's recording of "White
Christmas." There, in a an alien (for me) land, away from
home, where snow did come, but only rarely, the song had the
poignancy that ensured its clutch on my (and so many other)
We were able to gain
a three-day pass for or in conjunction with the Christmas
period. Some headed to Hot Springs. Gordon and I
headed to his home in Lawton, Oklahoma, where his father, an
engineer, worked for the Army at
Fort Sill. We had to take
a bus south to Texarkana, another bus across north Texas to
Wichita Falls, and a third bus to Lawton to the north. It
was an endurance trial, crossing Texas at night in the
equivalent of a school bus. But we made it, spent about a
day, and returned.
Perhaps the most memorable
experience of the four months was the
flight training. The
instructors were a gruff-rough lot, veterans of the
seat-of-the-pants type of piloting. Mine was a sour type
who hummed, whistled and sang truculently while watching me make
a fool of myself. He periodically would scream at me
through the one-way acoustic earphones and he pounded his fist
into the panel in front of him. He had the front seat, I
the rear, so all his behavior was visible.
The first time up he did a
few acrobatics, and when he put it into a tight spin, I managed
to throw up in my part of the plane. I think I had to
clean up the mess once we landed, but the rest of that day was a
I had been up in an
airplane only once, a five or ten-minute ride my father took
with me, in an open cockpit
Stearman when I was ten or twelve
years old. I did not realize I had a decided proclivity
for airsickness. From that first flight in Arkadelphia, I
fought airsickness on virtually every other flight I took in
Arkadelphia, and throughout my flying duty until Dramamine was
created and available to me (in 1951). But curiously enough
I never threw up again. I developed a host of stratagems to
avoid it, and found fresh air the best—not always available.
But in Arkadelphia, we kept a window open for me and so I
I never soloed, for that
was not part of the program, but I did garner about ten hours of
pilot experiences in 1943 in an ancient
Piper Cub. It was
that experience that confirmed for me that I should not
try to be a pilot. I was not really a natural flyer.
What else about
Arkadelphia? Well, there was the fact that I was a member
of the Book of the Month Club, and I received books in the
service (until I went overseas). After reading them I sent
them on to either my
folks or my sister. I recall the look
on an officer's face during inspection when he saw Jane Eyre
and Wuthering Heights neatly arranged alongside my
geography and other schoolbooks. He stared at me, as he
fingered the quartos with their fancy binding. Then he
went on. Perhaps he said something in a kind way to
acknowledge that he too read books. At least I think he
Well, the time came to move
on. It was February, we "graduated," and headed to San
Antonio to the classification and preflight center (at what is
now Lackland AFB I believe). Here we would begin our
serious training, though still on the ground, for flight duty.
Randolph Field, San
We simply called it
Preflight, and we considered ourselves to be "in San Antonio,
Texas," though we saw precious little of that city.
My recollection of the four months (from February 1944 to June)
of my training is curiously amnesiac. Preeminent is my
recollection of learning the Morse code—much dit-dah-ing—constant
physical training (could it have been twice each day?), and
being quarantined for six weeks because our barracks suffered
from outbreaks of chicken pox and mumps. Everything else
is a blank or dimly remembered (imagined) experience. Of
the latter, I'm relatively certain that it was here I first had
firearms instruction, with the rifle, carbine, pistol (.45
automatic) and submachine guns.
The Morse code training was
a curious experience insofar as one went from the conscious
translating of each letter, to aural recognition of a letter as
a pattern of sound, to recognizing groups of letters together,
though we were given totally random six-letter "words." I
became tolerably proficient, but since I never really had to use
it, it left me in time. Today I have no recollection of
the code. So much for bravely communicating with fellow
prisoners in some bad novel or TV show (or comic strip).
I suspect it was also in
Preflight that we were taught aircraft recognition, using models
but mostly brief flashes of silhouettes or actual photos.
Apparently that too was satisfactory.
Physical training was
constant. It was essentially calisthenics, obstacle
course, and constant running (in our GI shoes). We ran
miles, in formation, here there and everywhere. Given my
natural incompetency as an athlete, it is surprising that I not
only survived, but did adequately. It did harden me and
improve my stamina, but not especially my disposition. One
can get a bit belligerent as one becomes more physical in
The exposure to firearms
was not totally novel, since I had used a .22 rifle at the U of I in
conjunction with ROTC, and had handled rifles since high
school—handled but fired only blanks. But using worn out
.30 caliber Enfield rifles, .45 automatics and a submachine gun
were new experiences. Curiously, I did best with the
submachine gun. I had miserable success (if that is
the correct term at all) with the pistol. It was one hand
only, and I couldn't control steadiness. And to think
that was to be my "protection" if I became a flying officer.
As for other instruction, which I am sure I received, I recall
nothing as this is being written.
As for the quarantine.
That was an overriding experience which may account for the lack
of clarity of other events.
Once a contagious disease
was diagnosed, we were isolated from the rest of the camp.
We lived in a double-barracks, and so I suppose there were about
120 of us in double bunks on the two floors. Once in
quarantine, we ate in isolation and quite separate from others,
we took our schooling and physical training separately, and so
forth. We could not attend the post movies [or] go into
town, and I believe any toilet articles we wished to buy were
bought by a deputy who ran these errands. We were in
forced training without any safety valve.
Each time the quarantine
neared its end, another "case" was reported, and the quarantine
was extended. As I said, it was at least six weeks
Finally, things began to
turn ugly. Initially pranks were played, by one floor of
the barracks vs. the other. Raids were mounted to create
havoc—and to let off a dangerous head of steam/frustration.
Then, disagreements on a floor began. We lived in a kind
of open cubicle, where four bunks (two double-deckers) and a
table and open closets formed a "bay." The bay was "home,"
and even this last retreat began to disintegrate. We were
arranged alphabetically, so Gordon [Eriksen], my good friend from
Arkadelphia, was in my bay. Yet he and I began to quarrel.
It got to where I automatically sprang at him over the table in
utter frustration at what I am sure was a totally trivial
matter. That was a sobering experience for me, and such
incidents must have finally reached higher echelons. Special efforts were
suddenly expended to provide us with entertainment and
diversion. And believe me, even a soldier or officer with
some sort of advanced parlor trick or routine was wildly
Finally, there were no more
cases of disease. We were out of quarantine, and could
begin to act like all the others, go to the post movie, the PX
and even into town. A now totally faded photo shows three
of us in the front of the Alamo. A street photographer
doing a cardboard version of the tintype (with inadequate
fixing) took "instant" photos of soldiers and tourists in front
of the Alamo.
The experience of the
quarantine gave me lasting insight into the thinness of the
veneer of our civilized behavior. No wonder prisons don't
rehabilitate. And it was only for a relatively short
period; yet dehumanization, building on the depersonalization of
the military life, was quick to set in.
There is one silly but true
story of my Preflight days that deserves mention, since it was
so outrageous in many ways.
It occurred while I was
involved in one of the regular PT sessions. I was called
out of formation and told to go to some company/squadron office.
So, sweaty and alarmed, I reported in. I was told a man
wanted to talk with me. This obviously was a deeply
serious matter. An older, distinguished looking civilian
ascertained if he had the correct Aviation Cadet—namely me—and
then informed me he was the Encyclopedia Britannica salesman.
Some time earlier, exactly
when I don't recall, I had found a coupon in some magazine or
something, and sent it in hoping to discover how much a
Britannica set would cost. I had been elevated from
$30/month to $50 when I became a cadet in San Antonio, and I was
saving money via war bonds, but felt I could handle payments to
I had wanted such a
treasure for years, and I guess the ad I answered said easy
payments over 18 months (or two years or something) would buy a
set. And perhaps there was a GI discount too, to sweeten
the offer. So, I wanted to know more. I expected to
get a brochure, not a civilian invasion of an airbase.
I never learned whether the
military was aware of this salesman's objectives, or
perhaps he lied and told them that he had to bring me a personal
message. Or very possibly the military found it so
unbelievable that a cadet on his way to combat—sooner or
later—was going to buy a twenty-four volume set of an
encyclopedia, they said why not.
So there I stood, dripping
sweat, smelling of heavy exercise, listening to the full pitch,
for Britannica salesmen went through these elaborate,
routines. It was, I thought, a fair deal. I got a
coupon book, and after payment of the last coupon, the set would
be delivered to my parents for
I paid off eventually, and
still have the encyclopedia.
Finally it was time to be
classified as being admitted into some program: pilot,
navigator, or bombardier, or being washed out. We had taken
various tests, and had gone through Preflight. What the
criteria was to pass or fail, or to be assigned to a given
program if a "pass," I never learned. Our preferences were
solicited by rank-ordering the three programs.
Nearly all of my fellows
wanted to be pilots. I don't recall anyone wanting to be
a bombardier. I, and perhaps a few others, preferred
navigation school. In fact, I put pilot last.
Then, finally, the lists
were published. I was
classified for navigator, as was
Gordon [Eriksen]. But first we were scheduled to go
to gunnery school. Bomber aircraft had had their armaments
increased once the United States had gotten deeply involved in
combat. Nose and chin turrets had been grafted onto the
heavy bombers, beside other weapons. Bombardiers and
navigators were being pressed into service as
gunners when the
need arose. So off to aerial gunnery we went.
Harlingen TX and Matagorda Island
Gunnery School was near
Harlingen, Texas, very near Brownsville and thus the mouth of
the Rio Grande River. This was about a six-week program,
four on training devices and learning how to handle and clean,
etc. .50 caliber machine guns. Two weeks were out on the
gunnery range on
Harlingen is fixed in my
memory—the base, not the city—as the most roach-infested place I
have ever been. That and black widow spiders were
everywhere, and we learned to shake out our boots [and] shoes
before fitting them on, and keeping [a] hand on our drinking mugs
while eating to keep the roaches from going for the sugared tea
or coolaid [sic].
The training devices, a
type of film projection with simple ways to determine ability to
lead and track, were sort of fun and frustrating. The
session out at the gunnery range bordered on the edge of
The island was infested
with rattlesnakes and scorpions, among other vermin. The
guns were so worn they refused to shoot straight. The
aircraft—B‑24s—were so decrepit they were usually unavailable
for flying duty. The only potable water was at the mess
hall. We carried canteens to last the day (one quart).
While there were
lister bags in the field, the water was so
doctored as to taste dangerous (though we were told it was
We discovered how dangerous
shotguns were, and we had to use them to learn about leading and
tracking moving targets—clay pigeons at first. Then we
learned to use the weapons while riding on a flatbed truck which
went around a track: the task of hitting moving targets
from a moving platform.
We shot pedestal
guns at targets. We learned about turret mounted guns.
And finally, we had a little bit of time in a tail turret on a
B‑24. I recall doing that only once, but it was enough.
Between the placement and my propensity for airsickness, I
preferred midships and lots of air from the side openings where
pedestal guns were placed.
Somehow or other, I
survived it all, and even managed to get into
for part of a day. Some of my associates hurried to visit
the red light district to see the fabulous Rosita, who put on a
display that exhibited her anatomical parts most calculated to
satisfy the simple enthusiasms of young airmen. Others of
us, more moral or more naive, or even more frightened, did the
more benign tourist bit. I even bought
When gunnery school was
over in July, it was the end of a series of experiences
preparatory to the "real thing." Next would be flight
training of some sort, which if successfully completed would
result in a commission.
Unfortunately, some did not
complete gunnery school in a satisfactory fashion.
Basically, poor marksmanship could wash you out of the entire
program. One so caught was Gordon, and when we parted we
never saw each other again, nor was there any correspondence.
The impact of the division and the life afterwards brought this
temporary friendship, like so many others, to an abrupt and
One episode at Harlingen is
worth mentioning. It was soon after we got to the base,
early in June, that there was unusually heavy air traffic—transports—that
was remarkable due to its density. Soon we heard of the
invasion of France; there must have been some sort of
Furlough to Chicago
It had been thirteen months
since I had been drafted. I was now nineteen and a half,
and had survived all sorts of things. But nothing really
bad happened to me. And, while at gunnery school, no
one had been killed (to some astonishment since accidental
deaths there were not uncommon). We discovered that we
could obtain a brief furlough before starting navigation school,
and I finally had a chance to go back home.
A more seasoned member of
one group, who had been in the service about eight to ten months
longer, having switched to the cadet program, advised us on
furloughs. He had had at least one. He said his
furlough began as soon as he exited the gates of the base, and
that every moment had to be savored.
He was a very wise man.
But I had not learned very much about how to live it up, and I
was about to go from the tip of Texas to Chicago by train—a
civilian train. It was wartime and the invasion of France
had begun. It was really a matter of surviving difficult
travel circumstances, crowded and ill-kempt.
[remember] fragments of
experiences of traveling by civilian trains during the war, I
cannot link but two to specific trips. On one I recall
arriving in St. Louis, having to catch a connecting train.
The two trains were at opposite ends of the platform that crossed
the ends of the tracks like the bar of a T. I raced
madly, dragging my barracks bags (I guess), and just barely made
it, entering the last car by the rear door as the train was
ready to move out.
The congestion and
confusion—and a rather bittersweet sense of romance—infiltrated
all train travel to where it was always a sense of ordeal,
adventure, the thrusting together, briefly, of disparate lives.
I think I sat on someone's suitcase for most of one day—possibly
on the trip to Chicago from Harlingen.
Well, I did
arrive, in late July, knowing that in a very few days I had to
return most of
the trip to go to San Marcos, Texas, where I would attend
photo-scrapbook that my
father made for me contains a few
pictures from that visit.
It shows a thin, yet young and awkward cadet, who was not really
back home, but only visiting family, relatives and a few
I recall, vaguely, that one
or another of my former high school friends was in town, perhaps
still civilian. I don't remember. But we went out
together. He knew some girls and we had a truly innocent
evening of sitting on the beach somewhere along the lake.
A little innocent boy-girl interaction that now seems
depressingly like a bad beach movie of the 1950s. I was in
uniform, had learned how to shoot a variety of guns, and had
learned how to run miles and to eat totally unpalatable food.
And perhaps six or more months later I would be in combat,
probably as a replacement for a navigator lost over Germany.
And I was still a wet-behind-the-ears kid. Circumstances
were outstripping my personal development. Maybe that is
why young boys make the best soldiers. That is, they are
the ones who haven't yet developed a sense of self, or thought
seriously about the meaning of the particular situations
In rather short order I was
heading back to more training, but now much of it would be in
San Marcos TX
The airbase at
Texas was one of a great many in that state. San Marcos is
midway between San Antonio and Austin. We were scheduled
to start our training [in] the first part of August 1944, and it
was a fifteen-or-sixteen-week program. We would graduate,
if we survived and did not "wash out," the end of the third week
of November, or close to that day.
The first four weeks were
day and night [classes] and no passes to leave the base. Our
instructors were a combination of former combat navigators who
[had] completed tours of the 8th, 12th, etc. Air Forces, and were
rotated back to the U.S.; and bright recent graduates who either
filled gaps before they went to join units, or who were
otherwise pulled out of the direct line of operational work.
I still have my notebook
and navigator's information file from that experience. The
lessons covered a variety of fundamental subjects and practical
We flew regularly, about
100 hours of air time, usually in four-hour training missions.
There were three student navigators, usually an instructor, and
a pilot. We were in twin-engine
My propensity for
airsickness stalked me on every flight. I obtained a
gallon can from the mess hall, fitting a twine handle to it, and
used it as a "caddy" for pencils, dividers, etc. I figured
I could dump them quickly if I needed to throw up. Perhaps
having that "security can" meant I was less tense, and despite
frequent bouts of nausea, I never threw up. Once or twice
I stretched out in the narrow aisle to recover my internal
equilibrium, but I managed to get through each mission.
Why did I continue if I
knew I'd get sick? First, I guess I'd seen enough to
realize I'd rather be an officer than an enlisted man.
Second, the theoretical aspects of navigation really interested
me. And third, I guess I was afraid to make waves by
violating the rules of the game. They could wash you out,
but you didn't quit. And you avoided volunteering. A
low profile was the key to survival.
Survival didn't mean
avoiding "flaming death." Survival meant staying out of
trouble, any kind of trouble, whether from one's "mates" or from
the establishment. Your mates—so to speak—could turn on
you pretty quickly, and it was easy to learn what bothered
various people. If you didn't want problems, your avoided
the actions that caused them. As for the establishment, you
did what you were told to do and tried to remain anonymous.
Some people "stuck out" for one reason or another, and so those
of us who didn't could be even less evident. And that
meant survival, or the least amount of hassle.
If I became airsick,
especially violently or frequently, I would become vulnerable in
two ways. I'd become a recognizable individual in a world
where it didn't pay, and I would become a questionable cadet.
So I carried my security can as a
We were all issued
briefcases and watches and with blank charts, maps, instruments
and all such, the clutter of a gallon can was not significant.
And it served a useful purpose so it caused no comment.
As I said, I found the
theoretical basis for navigation interesting, and it wasn't
difficult to master—on the ground when not moving. But in
the air it was increasingly difficult to stay ahead of the
inexorable clock. While we flew at only about 130
it was possible to take too long to calculate a time to make a
course change and thus fall behind, sometimes to disaster.
Combat aircraft would be faster and thus there had to be speed
and accuracy if one was to guide the aircraft rather than track
This really came to a head
when we got into night celestial navigation, perhaps the most
challenging aspect of the program. I had learned my stars,
and I could make fairly good three-star fixes in ground
exercises. I recall the first time I got into the
astrodome (or rather looked out of it) to locate my first star
for my first fix. I was awestruck by the rich field of
stars, a veritable carpet of twinkling lights far greater in
number than I had seen on the ground in the middle of the
airbase. I never made any sextant shots because I couldn't
locate the stars. The background interference was too
great. Eventually I got acclimated. But then there
was the need to "shoot the star."
We had three different
sextants, only one [of which] was reasonably accurate to use if a neophyte.
But we used all three. The first two required an averaging
based on making marks, the third was self-averaging (a
mechanical computer using a clockwork). However, using a
bubble for a level, and centering the star from a platform that
moved in four different ways, was a time challenge.
We had a training device (a
kind of planetarium setup) which we used, and this proved to be
as difficult. But the extent we could master this set us
apart from the pilots who all seemed to feel that navigation was
easy—and it was, for pilots who flew over the same terrain day
after day (or night) and learned every visual or radio landmark.
And in the clouds, we were all dead reckoners or users of the
But there was more to
navigation than knowing where you were. We also had to be
able to reach a particular point at a predetermined time.
We also had to determine the degree of drift caused by the wind,
and if possible, through two wind-drifts readings, to correct our
Even today, as I write
about this thirty-eight years later, I find it the most easily
remembered aspects of those years. I wouldn't try to use a
sextant to calculate a position now, but the reasoning—the
need—is still clear.
The pressure to learn it
all, to get through in time, [was] acute. The war in Europe
was far from won, though now being fought on the continent in
Europe. In the Pacific, no end was in sight.
Presumably we would be in some combat unit early in 1945.
So it was push, push, push. Consequently the details of
one mission or another, or one day's lessons, are not
remembered. The pressure though is vividly remembered.
And interruptions in the routine.
One occurred around the end
of the third month. We were in a competition for an extra
day off or something tasty like that, and the squadron with the
best performance in getting out, etc. etc. (in military routine)
would win. It was possible that we could win. Being
out promptly—as near instantaneously as possible—for formations
was a factor. So we were all clustered by the barracks
door poised to spring out. And on the signal (a whistle?)
we poured out. I was literally propelled through the door
by those behind me and pushed off the porch platform (about
16-18 inches high) and landed in a strange way, to the sound of
a loud "crack." But the need to make the formation kept me
going. I think we did well. [But] by the evening it was
mighty difficult to walk, for my ankle (right one I think) had
The next morning I was
virtually immobile in that I could put no weight on my foot.
The ankle was the size of my calf, or so it seemed. I was
clearly injured, and perhaps the ankle was broken. Ah me.
The charge of quarters (CQ)
or someone called for an ambulance to take me to the hospital
for sick call. I hopped out and into the ambulance, a
creature filled with pain and despair. I hopped into the
sick call room where I sat on a bench waiting to be called.
Finally I saw the flight surgeon—or whoever—and he asked me what
was wrong. I showed him my gross ankle and told him the
bare facts (I was pushed by accident off a porch). He
agreed it might be broken. An X-ray was needed.
So where was the
wheelchair? There wasn't one. Where was X-ray?
A very long walk down long corridors. How do I get there?
That was my problem. And good cadets don't make waves.
I figured I could crawl, but using the wall I slowly balanced
myself down the corridor, and finally reached X-ray. And
no one thought it strange that a presumed ankle break was on foot
(truly singular) on the way to confirm it.
Well, it was a
bad—bad—sprain, not a break. I was hospitalized for a
week. More than a week and I wouldn't be put back in my
program for a month.
It was like being in a
strange college dorm. The ward was large but there were
only about eight or ten of us. The nurse was very
unmilitary, a kind of older sister-type. She actually made
fudge for us once.
One of my ward companions
was an older man, a cook, who had hurt his back and being
overage was likely to be discharged. He was Greek and
proudly proclaimed he know the
Andrews Sisters. He told us
a story. When he was cooking for enlisted men, he was
distressed by the regulation supplies for seasonings (basically
salt, pepper, and onion). So he arranged to use some
special funds to buy some herbs and spices to make things taste
better. And of course they did. In fact, they tasted
so good the officers transferred him to their mess. And
now he was going to return to civilian life because of his back.
In many ways it seemed fitting. Well prepared and good
tasting food was out of character in the military.
And that brings me to a
recollection of packages from home. Somewhere, in some mad
genius of a public relations/advertising person's mind, the idea
that fruitcake was ideal to send to the men in service had been
born and spread. So regularly my associates received boxes
in which one found, often in a can, a leaden fruitcake.
Whatever the condition of our normal mess, a fruitcake (usually
commercially prepared to ensure its heaviness) was not welcome.
The undigestibility, the cloying sweetness, the quantities made
fruitcake less appetizing than the Army's bread pudding (a
On the other hand, on those
rare occasions I received a package, what was there to find?
Little pastries with homemade jam, covered with chopped nuts.
plain cookies my mother made were flaky and moist.
My mother was a fabulous pastry cook. She was OK but not
distinguished in her other culinary work, but she was from that
part of Europe where pastries were an art form. Her
recipes were ordinary and frequently American; her results were
When I got a package, I was
a most popular fellow. I had to share for practical
reasons, but the good will was also worth the effort. I
suppose my mother's pastries made my life much easier in the
service because I gained a wide respect because of my potential
for delectable largess.
In the course of writing
this current material I have had occasion to read some material
relevant to the events of World War II. It was/is purely
coincidental, and not particularly germane to my experience
except insofar as the sequence of great events in the war [is]
concerned, such as the invasion of France in June 1944, etc.
But as I read in that
memoir of the 1940s, I am struck by how insulated I was from both the news
of the day and the public's reaction to it. I now realize
I seldom read a civilian newspaper, almost never heard the
radio, read very few books, and only an occasional magazine
(like Yank or Time). What I know about the
progress of the war was in the form of briefings by public
information officers and prepared films to alert us to the
nature of our enemies and our successes in the field (or in the
air—[or] at sea).
We were kept so busy (often
with busy work) and so tired that the subtleties of life and
politics outside the base were of no interest. And even
though I had been well sensitized by a high school teacher in
matters of International Relations and the League of
Nations and such, and even though I had followed both domestic
and foreign news when I was a high school and a neophyte college
student, I was now quite ignorant.
We were largely too young
to vote (under 21) in the units I had been assigned to, and too
programmed by the military to be reached by those interested in
persuading us to vote in some way. And so we were truly
ignorant. I think I can safely assign my ignorance also to
others, for I recall no meaningful discussions of policy or
politics until after hostilities ended.
It was thus that I approach
the conclusion of my training as an aerial navigator. Near
the end of our formal schooling in this specialty it was clear
that we would graduate. The only critical questions were:
(1) whether we would graduate (individually) as Flight Officers
(equivalent of Warrant Officer) or as Second Lieutenants (the
distinction was important); and (2) where would we be sent.
We were issued money for a
uniform allowance and placed orders through the post
exchange for officer's clothing. Near the end of our
training, we also took
a curious test. It was a visual
discrimination test, where we had to pick out numbers and
symbols in a circular field from a "background" of visual
interference. It was a black and white variant of the
color blind tests. I'm not sure we were told what the
significance was at this time for the test.
Finally, it was time to
graduate. Just prior, it was necessary to have still
another physical examination. I then discovered that I had
an impacted lower left wisdom tooth. And it had to come
out. Filled with considerable uneasiness—actually fear—I
went for the mandatory extraction. It was done swiftly,
with little discomfort, and the worst part of it all was the
horrible sounds of cracking, splintering and the like which
filled my skull. A squadron
picture shows me tight-lipped
and swollen, but scheduled to graduate.
And in the third week of
November, I was discharged as an enlisted man and appointed as a
second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps.
the base theatre, was a simple formality, with envelopes
containing the requisite documents and a pair of
wings. Some salty older officer (the base commander or
such) addressed us. The gist of his remarks [was] that
though we might think we were hot shot aerial navigators, we
best not think that way because we weren't. Put simply, we
were not very good and certainly not experienced, and if we
wished to survive we had best remember that. Prophetic
words then scorned.
One of the last activities
we had as a student squadron about to graduate was an overnight
pass to have a party—in Austin. The memory of that party
is dim for two reasons. First, I suspect it was a rather
trivial kind of "being let out of school" high jinks with
nothing notable happening. Second, there was booze being
dispensed. Where it came from or who paid for it I cannot
guess. I suspect we all anted up an amount for the party
that someone managed.
It was then common to mix
cheap blended whiskey with Coca-Cola or ginger ale as a
"highball." A sweet but killer beverage. I, who had
only occasionally tasted a little wine, usually sweet, or a
little beer, was now being handed sweet-tasting highballs.
Whatever I had was too much. I have a vague (then and now)
recollection of throwing up in a janitor's slop sink off the
corridor of the hotel. At least I had a hangover the next
day to ensure just punishment for such bold behavior.
But then I would soon learn
to hold my liquor and even to need it to fend off the incredible
boredom that would accompany so much of my remaining military
Boca Raton FL
I was graduated, but where
was I to go? We knew we were either to go into a
replacement or an operational training unit. If the
former, we were scheduled to end up going to a unit already
operational, needing navigators to replace casualties or men
who had completed their twenty-five combat missions. If
the latter, it would be to join a unit that was being assembled
for the first time to enter combat.
The former could mean
either Europe or the Pacific; the latter, the Pacific only in
My orders, and that of two
others in my squadron, were instead to be assigned to still
further schooling. The orders read (and I am looking at
them as I write this) that I was assigned to
Boca Raton Army Air
Field for assignment to
Radar Observer (Bombardier) Training.
So that was what the visual
discrimination test had been for. And off we went, back to
Florida, though this time in the late autumn—a not particularly
nice time of the year in Florida, but better than summer.
Boca Raton had been the most
exclusive resort club on the Florida Atlantic coast; between
Palm Beach and Miami Beach, it presumably had the advantages of
both. We, however, arrived too late to be housed in the
club building. It was now off limits and we were in
some rather wretched tarpaper-covered wooden one-story barracks,
heated by two [coal] stoves. And as things turned out, we
needed them. So, though officers, we were housed as
enlisted men, and perhaps the only acknowledgment in the housing
was the use of single cots instead of bunk beds.
Airborne radar's early
military history was not too clearly known among us. It
had been kept secret, to the extent that the code term "mickey
mouse" had been used in overseas communications. Thus, my
reference to the radar set was the "mickey set" or such.
Radar operators were "mickey operators" or "mickey men."
It was still largely this jargon that was used in our training
in late 1944. All our materials were classified either
secret or at least confidential, though surely by now the
Germans at least had captured sets from shot-down craft.
Presumably the sets were to be destroyed if such disaster befell
a crew. The key, as we understood it, was the development
of a comparatively compact unit with adequate power source,
including the small but powerful magnetron that produced the
radar beam that was then directed by a rotating disk antenna
that replaced the belly gun turret in
B‑17 bombers. The
radar operator shared the radio room (windowless) just behind
the bomb bay.
The radar set was capable
of a 200-mile range (minimum) and with a 3° beam, definition was
coarse. (All of these figures are from memory, now rather
vague about such details.) As I recall we had a five-mile
"scope" with a repeater forward for the navigator to look at and
thus see whatever the operator placed on the screen. It
was actually a navigational tool first; but with care, one could
identify on close range details of the terrain and the built
environment such to bring one's aircraft over a target.
There were some range markers which, in conjunction with tables
used by the actual bombardier, could be used to feed info to the
bombsight so one could correct for speed over the ground such to
hit (one presumed) the target with a bomb load.
In many ways the entire
activity was much like playing with a wonderful toy that,
however, tended to malfunction a great deal. Coupled with
now being an officer who could leave the base with some
frequency, life was considerably improved. We went into
Miami Beach about once every three weeks for a weekend. We
stayed in small second-class but nice hotels and generally acted
as grownup and world experienced as actual age and experience
allowed for new—very new—officers.
We did our flying in B‑17s
and one can only say that they were undoubtedly the last large
military aircraft that was designed first as a flyable aircraft
rather than as a platform for heavy loads and too much
Training on the ground was
largely how to use the equipment and to understand the
principles behind the apparatus. Air time was devoted
largely to learning how to interpret the scope and to learn how
to manipulate the controls to adjust antenna, intensity, etc.
Actual electronics or the care and feeding of the instrument was
left largely to the technicians.
I fell into the company of
more sophisticated people, and I think one had a car (or how
else did we get to Miami Beach?)—I simply don't recall except
as sharp as a nineteen-year-old could in belted trenchcoat and
"crushed" cap. The sophisticated ones went looking for
girls as well as drink. I was still learning how to drink
whiskey (usually Scotch with soda—what else?). Messing
around with girls was obviously something that occurred after I
learned how to be "a man" in a bar.
Since I tended then to look
less callow than the other nineteen-year-old servicemen who
were still untested by the strain of combat, I guess I passed
muster. Certainly no one ever questioned my age, but then
considering the city and the places we frequented, no one cared.
And curiously enough, I was never solicited by a woman (or a man
for that matter) even in places where certainly such creatures
were around. Either I had a barrier of an attitude or of
I should add here that I
did talk with girls, with women, and continued my modest "beach
party" ways of being a wholesome kid away from home. Furthermore, almost
everyone I knew in the service at this time was much the same.
There was plenty of talk but very little action or even dating.
We were transients and strangers.
One day there was a notice
of a dance being given by a nearby girls school (was it Palm
Beach?) and officers were invited. Off we went to mingle
with Miss Peach Blossom (or Cotton Boll) who was in a
finishing-type school. It was deadly, though everyone tried
to be just perfect.
Mickey Rooney and
Rutherford were as alien to our lives as Irene Dunne and Cary
Grant. We seemed left out of some sort of normal
development, and I more than most, I suspect. I had always
been awkward with the girls, though I bravely tried. My
father arranged for
dancing lessons when I was early in high
school (or late grade school). Then in high school I
attended the ROTC Military Balls, and took dates and danced.
But I somehow lacked either the skill or the zest and it was a
chore rather than fun. In my one year of college, there
were similar affairs of dances, etc., but I found them lacking
in appeal. It wasn't that I had missed puberty; I seemed
unable to put into pleasant action what healthy young
Nonetheless, I worked at
being—as best as I could—a young flying officer about town.
It was a
dance in Miami, I think, where
Louis Prima was the band
leader, that I was mingling and dancing (as best I could) with
the nice young girls who were being hostesses for this affair.
"And where are you from?" the sweet young thing asked as we
danced. "Chicago," I replied. She was so horrified
she stopped dancing and pulled away. I assured her I was
not a gangster.
The officers club—a
miserable affair—on the base was a place to pass the time,
improve on one's skills with slot machines and in drinking
capability. It was here—in December 1944, I believe—I
heard "Lili Marlene." It seemed singularly fit as a song
of the period, and it along with a number of others, whose names
I cannot recall, are immediate triggers that send me back
fleetingly for a déjà vu memory when heard again—though
heard only rarely now.
APQ‑7: The Eagle
Our flights took us over
water a great deal, and one became familiar with the appearance
of the Bahamas and even Cuba. In a very brief time, about
two months, our training on the
AN/APQ‑13 radar set was
completed. But then a number of us were told we were to
continue for another month and be trained on the
Perhaps it was about then I realized I was slated for B‑29s and
the Pacific. I'm no longer very clear when first I knew
this, but it must have been at about this point. I have no
idea why I was selected, perhaps it was simply a count-off of
some sort. In other words, somewhere in the months
previous, a projection had been made that for the developing
strength of the
20th Air Force, which was made up
[of] wings, each
with groups consisting of
a certain number of flying personnel with certain "occupational
specialties" were needed in accordance to a calendar for getting
the squadrons prepared. Thus when it came time to
integrate X number of radar operators (or whatever) into the
flow of personnel, X number were
expected to be ready. In the case of radar operators,
bombardiers and navigators were sent to a two-month training
program such to produce the requisite personnel on time.
If one thinks about it, it
is much like following a recipe for a multi-course meal.
You have to assemble your ingredients and process them in a
certain sequence such to have everything ready at the same time.
In our case, quality of ingredients was less critical than a
sufficient quantity. So I must have been in one sense
surplus as a navigator (re: total needs as Europe began to "wind
down") and had graduated when the need for radar operators was
growing. So off I went to Boca Raton. Another class
earlier or later, and who knows where I would have gone, or even
if into radar.
So why wasn't I heading to
a replacement or operational training unit after finishing my
two-month APQ‑13 training? As I learned later, this was
the standard aerial equipment. Why training on the APQ‑7?
The AN/APQ‑7 set was a
radical change from the APQ‑13. This set for training
purposes was installed on B‑24 aircraft. The antenna was
not a disk that rotated, but rather a wing that was placed under
the fuselage just before the bomb bay. It was, if memory
serves me, about eighteen feet long, and thus rather prominent.
It did not rotate. The scan was sixty degrees forward, and
the movement of the beam was accomplished by a
compression-expansion of the wave guide. At least that is
how I remember it. The operation of this antenna was
rather complicated and I never really understood it. And
neither did a great many who were expected to maintain it in
correct operating order. So why was it used, and why were
we now asked to learn how to use the set that displayed its
In contrast to the APQ‑13,
the APQ‑7 had a rather narrow beam. It thus permitted, in
contrast, remarkably fine definition. The distinction is
much like trying to print a meticulous still life using either a
large or a small brush. The small brush provided a way to
execute precise lines, edges, etc. So with the
transmitting beam. The thin beam sweeping past a fixed
reflector was in the "light" only briefly and thus sent back a
reflection of shorter duration. Since the beam swept
across the reflector we got a "point" reflection (or
non-reflection) instead of a "bar."
The set in the ship was
basically a large box with scope included, accompanied by
smaller power units below it. The Q‑13 had scattered
components with the scope hanging from a bucket. The sweep
on the Q‑7 was much like watching a windshield wiper work, with
the bearing at the bottom. But in contrast to the curved
top of a wiper track, this was squared off such that one had
area-distortions the farther from "dead ahead" one got. It
was a bit like the
Mercator projections distortions as one
reaches the higher latitudes. All of that seemed clumsy
and inadequate when it came to the APQ‑13. But there was
Because of the narrow beam,
the APQ‑7 could produce an image that had such incredible
definition that in the terrain one could trace small streams and
see relief impossible on the Q‑13. As for a built
environment, one could actually see the runways of the airfield
and each individual aircraft on the ramp or moving on the
taxiways. Whatever its problems and limitations, we had a
way of seeing the ground in great detail in the dark or through
clouds. And those were the safer conditions for the
aircrews. We had an instrument that might permit precision
bombing at night if the crews could learn how to coordinate to
do so, and if the radar operator could obtain the correct image
definition and interpret it.
As I write this in 1982, I
can't help but think I was playing the first video game and
didn't know it. Here, speed too was important, but gaining
definition of detail and interpreting visual data had to be done
before one could attempt to hit the target. Sitting in the
dark, high in the air, with one's nose and eyes buried in a
radarscope, twiddling knobs, only occasionally glancing at
dials, maps and such, talking to one's colleagues by microphone
and earphones, does turn the deadly business of dropping lethal
explosives into a game-like situation. And in training,
the exercise was much like shooting at targets with beams of
light, for we dropped very few practice bombs. Cameras or
ground radar tracking stations were used most of the time to
tell us how near or far we were from our targets when "bombs"
The training was about four
weeks, and during that time several things stick in my mind.
One was getting lost over Florida at night. Two radar
operators were aboard for training missions. If a mission
lasted four hours, we would alternate two hours as navigator-bombardier
in the nose, and two as radar operator in the radio/radar area
behind the pilots. One night I started at radar, and when
we switched, I thought I knew precisely where we were.
Only nothing I could see out the windows made sense.
The city lights inland, or the navigational light beacons,
seemed totally wrong for where we were. I had no radar
repeater (none was used with the Q‑7) which by now I could read
like a whiz. So for two hours I labored, hoping to locate
finally where we were. I never succeeded. So the old
colonel at San Marcos graduation was right: I wasn't
really ready to navigate a ship. Of course the situation
was a bit like having been blindfolded for about five to ten
minutes after looking out at a lighted terrain, and discovering
we not only had moved perhaps thirty miles but it was now pitch
dark. And every five minutes that went by, we were another
twenty or more miles farther away. It was a humbling
Another was nearly falling
out of an airplane while not wearing a parachute. We were
equipped with chest packs. That meant we wore a harness to
which we attached with clips a pillow-like bundle that was the
parachute. Because it rested on one's chest, it was
difficult to impossible to work with our instruments, equipment,
etc. while wearing the parachute. So we unclipped the
pack, but kept the harness on. That habit extended to even
when we did not have the excuse of working. I recall being
in the waist of the B‑24 one day, perhaps it was after bombing
practice over an island in the Bahamas, looking out the open gun
bay, when the pilot put the ship into a tight turn. That
momentum required the plane to bank steeply and there I was,
more or less standing horizontally, poised over the large open
waist window with only centripetal force keeping my position
fixed so I was attached to the floor (that now was vertical).
And of course my parachute pack was out of reach. The fact
that we were over water made no difference to what would happen
if the pilot let the plane slip in its turn. Out I'd go
and after several thousand feet, water or earth would be
immaterial to me as I landed without benefit of an open
After surviving that moment
of insight as the turn was completed properly, I was rather
unwilling to be a bold but foolish airman. I wore the
parachute pack or kept it in hand or touching me at all times if
it was possible.
My third related experience
was having to participate in a search for survivors of a ditched
aircraft in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida. As we
tracked back and forth in a defined pattern over our assigned
section of the ocean, I realized how hard it was to be sure one
did see everything one was supposed to see. No one in our
group of aircraft saw any signs. Much later, when in the
Pacific, I read some reports that stated that virtually no downed
airmen were found once twenty-four hours elapsed after going
into the sea. The finding of
Eddie Rickenbacker had been a
statistical impossibility. I realized slowly but
inexorably that danger was not necessarily direst during action.
One could simply have equipment failure, or run out of fuel, and
have to bail out or ditch an aircraft.
I had absolutely no desire
to "bail out" and never, never did want to or have to Crash
landing or ditching was, for me, a better alternative, though
that caused considerable doubts when rehearsals were conducted.
Fortunately, that too I avoided.
I have one
other memory of my stay at Boca Raton that might be worth noting
within the context of this narrative. It got cold that
winter, and there were several below-freezing nights. I
recall ice on puddles. We ran the coal potbellied stoves
at full blast. They were cherry red, and I'm surprised we
didn't burn down the barracks. Nevertheless we were
cold cold [sic].
I dug out my retained enlisted men's long john underwear,
wore them with socks, gloves, and put my coat over the blanket
while trying to sleep at night. And I remained bitter
cold. The anomaly of being the coldest I had ever been
because of inadequate blankets, etc. while in southern Florida
was one that had a deep impression on me. Only one other
time since then have I been so chilled that I had trouble
thawing out, and that was in California in 1951. That too
was service-connected and the
story belongs to a much later episode
in this narrative.
Two Leaves in
Well, training was
completed, and I was to report to an operational training unit in
Nebraska where I would join a B‑29 unit. But I was
permitted to go by way of Chicago and enjoy a few days of leave.
It was early in March.
I obtained the necessary
railway tickets and went out to the base platform that served
Boca Raton as the station area. Finally the train ground
to a halt (it could not have been a regular stop for the
streamliner) and as I pondered where I was to enter, a door
opened—a single door—I was told to hustle over to it, and as
hands haled [sic] me up while I clutched my
B‑4 bag the train began to
move, I doubt that it had stopped even a full minute.
With this second visit
home, I'd been in the service about eighteen months. I was
twenty years old (barely, since my birthday was at the end of
January and it was now only March 1945) and a rather freshly
minted second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, fully entitled
to wear a pair of wings over my left pocket. I had also
managed, by the strange lottery of how assignments were made,
[to] remain in the comparative safety of the United States and its
training bases. So my parents had been relatively free from
the worries of those parents whose sons were "overseas," as was
the case with my cousin
Ernest Temmer, who was in the Pacific
area and had been for two years or so. And I was an
officer, which I think pleased my father greatly, but that was
never overtly shown by action or deed.
I have no real recollection
of the specifics of that brief stay. Apparently I had a
photo taken at a professional photography studio, and
undoubtedly visited with family. By then, all my
acquaintances of my age were in service or dispersed—or
forgotten. I do recall, however, walking up to my high
school to look around. Possibly I went there before, after
graduating in June 1942, but I doubt it. Now, approaching
three years after and everything quite different, I ventured in.
I guess I thought the uniform and the increased age would
isolate me from that former life to where I could be just a
visitor. Perhaps I saw several of my former teachers, but
I recall only one brief contact. That was
math teacher whom I knew through the "math club," and perhaps
one course in geometry (it isn't worth trying to discover when
and what). The result of my brief visit to say hello, and
the discovery that I was a navigator, led to my doing a brief
chalkboard talk for her class on the geometry of correcting for
wind drift while flying.
As I write this, I realize
that that may well have been my introduction to being a
classroom teacher (in contrast to making a report in class).
Wonder of wonders that I see it so now. Obviously I
enjoyed showing off my new knowledge as well as my status as a
As things would turn out, I
was back in Chicago in May on leave, and so I'm not sure whether
the events of that leave are not intermingled with the March
"delay-en-route" to Nebraska. In any case, I think the
abovementioned wind-drift lecture belongs to March, as does a
"night on the town," provided me by my parents and the Ruhigs
(Rose and Bela Ruhig, Rose being my mother's first cousin and
important support in the 1920s for the immigrant arrivals that
were my parents and sister).
It was dinner at a
Hungarian restaurant that my memory insists was called the
Danube, though that may be a pure invention on my part.
Actually there was a fairly large party of people, and lo and
behold a young lady of suitable age (and background) was present
with her parents. Rose Ruhig, I suspect, was the key
instrument in all of this, but someone (perhaps the girl's
parents) was arranging a match. I recall her name was
Mildred Butkin. She was a comely brunette, but from
another world in many ways. We were very nice to each
other, and made thereby all the elders (whom I realize were
younger then than I am now) happy that we got along so nice.
If I am correct that this
occurred in March it helps explain a couple of dates I had with
her in May, because I doubt that I would have worked that fast
at being a swain. But maybe it was all crammed into the May
One other Blue Danube
restaurant memory (the only time I ever went to the place) was
seeing a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy across the way, or
perhaps he was a full lieutenant in the Navy. It was Eddie
Albert. I gathered from the knowledgeable elders that he
Hungarian. I wonder if that is true?
But it is now time to board
the Denver Zephyr and to head to McCook, Nebraska, via Omaha.
McCook's distinction is that it was founded as a railroad
division stop midway between Omaha and Denver. Its
population then was about 8,000 and though it was a county seat,
it was without much attraction to the airmen at the airbase.
North Platte, sixty-five miles to the north,
was far more attractive as a lure to lonesome soldiers; but more
on that later.
I arrived at McCook to join
an aircrew that was waiting on me (as were others waiting on
their radar operators) so training could be completed before
heading to the Pacific to take part in the great air assault on
Japan prior to the
invasion of those islands, after the B‑29s
had done their job. Of course that sort of knowledge was
not mine at the time. All I knew was that I was going to
see close up, and actually be a crew member on, the
biggest bomber operational.
point in my narrative of recollections, I have the benefit of a
history of the 331st Bombardment Group (VH) [Very
Heavy] that I received in November 1945. Thus recollection
is reinforced by a compact record. I rely on the latter,
since it ensures accuracy where now it is of some importance.
If earlier I was vague, or perhaps inadvertently inventive, it
changed nothing concerning the intent of this story (which was
to illustrate the life in the service of the ordinary
individual). I did check my scrapbook and my personal file
to confirm approximate dates and the like, but I've tried to
avoid making too much of the eyewitness aspect of this sort of
exercise. It really isn't important today, nor for anyone
who might later read this.
As for the "official
history" of my Bombardment Group, it is important as a source
only to the extent that it enables me to place my late arrival
in it, and some subsequent events, into a proper perspective.
Them, I knew little of the earlier or correlative stories, and
cared less. Now, it helps me to understand some things.
assigned to the
Squadron, and the
331st Group was part of the
315th Wing of the
20th Air Force. As it turned out, that Wing had been
assigned a very special
task, which had not been transmitted to
the Group until it arrived at McCook, Nebraska in late 1944 to
begin its operational training on B‑29s on the 1st of January
Instead of being a
conventional B‑29 and crew unit (eleven men, five gun turrets,
and the APQ‑13 radar), this 331st Group and all of the 315th
Wing was to fly stripped down (only tail turret) ships with
ten-man crews, and the APQ‑7 radar set. The Wing's mission
was to fly at night and destroy Japan's oil refinery
capabilities using radar-directed bombing. That and
nothing else. Stripping down the ships lightened them, and
thus they could fly farther (and return) than conventional B‑29s.
The tail guns were retained, I suspect, because of psychological
benefit, to reduce a sense of being vulnerable fighters.
The tactics as they evolved had ships flying serially one by
one, over the same bombing point, so we did not use formation
flying. How this was to be ensured so there was no midair
collisions at night, after reaching a target after eight to nine
hours of flying, I don't recall, or I doubt I ever really knew.
The ships took off thirty seconds apart!
Anyhow, there I was,
arriving after the crews had been flying together for several
months, two [months] in B‑29s. The remaining part of this training
period was to do the simulated and practice radar-controlled
bombing. It had to be done in about two and a half months
time. So I was the new (and last) kid to arrive on the
block, and I was the one who had the baseball, so to speak.
They all knew each other, but I was the one who made the crew
whole, who was key to the success of the crew's bombing accuracy.
airbase at McCook was a
tarpaper village of no redeeming qualities. Southwestern
Nebraska was an eroded, unattractive terrain, especially at the
tag end of winter. But my crew proved to be pleasant folk,
who seemed genuinely glad to get, finally, their radar operator.
Shortly after settling in, they were scheduled for a night
training mission with no radar requirements. Indeed, it
was as I recall on a standard B‑29 with the APQ‑13 located aft
of the rear turrets and the fire control station in the rear
pressurized cabin. I was invited to go along for the short
ride (I think it was making practice landings or some such).
I still did not know my
fellow crew members, and so I was really a passenger on the
flight. I had a chance to see the rear compartment as well
as grasp the enormous (then) size of the craft in contrast to
the B‑17 or B‑24 aircraft I knew in Boca Raton. The APQ‑13
radar section was quite large, actually lavish in a sense, with
a substantial deck and ample room to store my gear. This
was on the port side near the rear hatch of the pressurized
cabin. Opposite, on the starboard side, were two bunks,
simple canvas shelves that could be folded against the bulkhead.
B‑29s were long-range aircraft, designed to fly at least
3,000 miles without refueling and to carry a ten-ton bomb load.
Meant to be a weapon to weaken Japan by flying from distant
island bases, it was in some important ways more sumptuous than
other bombers, if the word sumptuous even applies. The
interior was "upholstered," padded may be more correct, to
deaden sound and I suspect for insulation. The two cabins
were pressurized, so oxygen masks were unnecessary even at high
altitudes [of] 30,000 feet or more. The cabins were
connected by a tunnel over the bomb bays and the wing. I
seem to remember 38 feet was its length, and one had to crawl on
one's elbows and knees. Near the front cabin, which housed
the bombardier, two pilots, navigator,
flight engineer and radio
operator, was the astrodome, so one sat in the tunnel entrance,
feet dangling, to sight the sextant. The rear cabin
sheltered three gunners and the radar operator, and there was a
tail gunner in his own but isolated pressurized cabin. At
least, this was the conventional arrangement.
On the modified ship, the
radar operator was forward, we had two "scanners" rather than
gunners, and a tail gunner in the rear. The bubble gunner
windows on top and sides of the rear cabin were removed.
No projections existed and small circular windows in the side
permitted the scanners to check engines, gear, etc. from their
position. The four remote gun turrets were gone as well as
the gunsights in the bubbles, further stripping the exterior of
resisting projections. Indeed, this was the only way to
get a seventh person (radar) in the forward compartment.
The rear compartment was quickly named the ballroom, being
The former gunners, now
scanners, had various technical assistance duties both aloft and
on the ground, but they were without much to do during the
missions. The tail gunner stayed with them until time to
serve as rear lookout and to man his turret when near or in
areas of possible fighter interception. His was a very
lonely position, truly isolated when back there in flight.
But back to my first
onboard experience. I stood much of the time while the
shop was flying, and looked occasionally at the instruments by
the Q‑13 radar, to check altitude. I wasn't listening to
the intercom, I guess I didn't yet have a headset, but then I
was a "passenger." Suddenly, as we passed below 2,000 feet
we touched down for a landing. Oh yes, to my great
surprise, we landed at well over 1,000 feet of altitude.
I, who had just come from Florida, where we flew out of a base
at about twelve-feet elevation, was suddenly introduced to the
All I got out of this
unexpected landing while standing was a rude surprise, and no
injury. Another crew about that time, flying in a B‑17 from the
Gulf Coast or such, forgot and literally flew their ship into
the ground, as the latter rose up to their attitude (perhaps
1,200 feet). No one was killed, fortunately, but it was a
grim reminder that navigators had all sorts of responsibilities,
even when flying in the friendly beacon-equipped U.S.
The Members of
What was my crew like?
As I eventually learned, aircrews were roughly in the
20-to-26-year age bracket. I think the oldest regular crew
member—a sort of gramps—was 29 yeas old. While I was only
20, I was not a baby, though I was one of the smallest among the
personnel in general. I base this on parachute sizes,
since we now wore backpacks, and in training used stock issue
picked up before each flight. They were organized by size
of the harnesses which (while adjustable) were sized.
Later, we would have our own, with a quick release latch for
overwater use. These were all "one size" but easily
adjusted. I mention size, because my
crew had, I guess, the smallest of the aircraft commanders, and
the largest of the pilots (pilot and co-pilot). It was a
true Mutt and Jeff combination.
The aircraft commander was
Hercules Pettis, a Greek-American married to a Greek-born wife.
He was short, thin and wiry. He was a first lieutenant
when I joined the crew. He was from Florida.
The pilot was
Clawson, Jr. He was 6'4" tall and weighed about 225 lbs.
He was then a Flight Officer. A frustrated fighter pilot
inside, his size made that impossible. He was from
The navigator was
Archer. He had some art and industrial arts training,
though I'm not sure he had a degree. He was married and
had a very small/young daughter. He was from Minnesota or
Wisconsin (the former I believe). He was a second
The bombardier was
MacFarland, a person who had been in the service much longer
than I had been, as had Pettis, but was also then a second
lieutenant. He was from Seattle or thereabouts. He
had somehow managed by the luck of the bureaucracy to miss being
put on an aircrew headed for combat until now. He used to
say, "Stick with me and we'll never go overseas." When
that occurred, he switched to, "Stick with me and you'll never
see combat." As it turned out, he was nearly right in both
cases. It was uncanny.
The flight engineer was
Donald E. Allen. The radio operator was
Charles V. Badger. The scanners were
Robert W. Phill
Lester H. Raven. The tail gunner was
Edward E. Thomison. Because of the segregation of
enlisted men (the last four were corporals) except when
flying, I never really got to know them very well. As I
think on this, it was sharing quarters, not duty, that made for friendships—at least to where
one knew people as people, not as positions.
Before going overseas,
Clawson was made a second lieutenant and MacFarland was promoted
to first lieutenant.
The nature of our special
mission made it imperative that the five-officer crew work very
closely together to guide the ship in its bomb-run, and to get
us to the initial point for it. In the revised interiors,
the navigator shifted to where he sat on the hatch to the nose
well, facing to the port, and used the navigator's station (on
the old arrangement) sideways so to speak. The instruments
were rotated for his use. The radar man sat facing
backwards where the navigator used to sit, and his equipment
filled the space to the rear of the compartment. With the
turrets gone, this freed space for personal gear that hitherto
filled the space "behind" the navigator, now occupied by radar.
The arrangement gave radar the window formerly available to the
navigator, who [now] had none.
The configuration meant
that if I rotated on my tiny "typing" swivel chair seat, I could
face forward and talk with the navigator. On the other
side was the radio operator. Sort of across from where the
navigator now sat, but a bit forward, and with a window, was the
flight engineer, facing rearward, but that had not changed.
In a forward and somewhat lower level was the flight deck for
pilots and bombardier. They could be isolated at night by a
blackout curtain permitting us to use small lights to see and
work by. They needed night vision, we didn't.
It was a strangely cozy
arrangement, and made life more bearable since we could have eye
contact with several people, though conversation without
intercom was extremely difficult.
So, in March I was phased
into crew life, flying the B‑29, and filling in the squares that
showed our training accomplishments. We had a variety of
exercises of all sorts, including some navigational work by me,
to conclude. When all was concluded, we would be ready to
A key aspect of the B‑29
missions was to master economical (for these craft) fuel usage
while toting heavy bomb loads long distances. Indeed, in
retrospect, this may have been the most difficult aspect, and
one I was not involved in, in our training. One could get
to target easily enough, but there had to be fuel to return to
base. A lot of the effort was in dealing with rpm,
altitude, air speeds, climbing ratios, etc. None of this I
understood, but I observed the procedures to where I could
appreciate the problems the pilots and the flight engineer
faced, and their capabilities in meeting them.
We flew at first on the
3,000 miles using bomb-bay tanks, thus ensuring a reserve (and a
simulated bomb load) and then a way of seeing if the crew could
cope with not needing them. The problem was a real one, and
capture of Iwo Jima was not only security for damaged
aircraft, but for those in danger of not having adequate fuel to
reach Tinian, Saipan, or Guam, the island farthest south.
Vernam Field had been
loaned to the U.S. by the British as part of the
destroyers deal (or so we were told). Our crew went to
Jamaica to carry down a load of forms—paper forms—and other such
"critical" supplies. When we arrived, having left Nebraska
in the chill of late March, we were shocked by the tropical
lushness. It was a curious experience, and then to our
surprise we learned we were not to return immediately to
Nebraska, but stay. However, that decision was not made
for five days. Thus, each day and night in our perceived
tropical paradise was one long party prior to departure.
By the fifth day we were tottering for lack of sleep, and no
doubt proper nourishment. How we could have flown safely
back is questionable. Perhaps it was our dissipated
condition that argued we stay and run through the
Force program. The local rum mixed with
Coca-Cola was the mixture that was favored. It tasted like
Coca-Cola but not with its rather benign effect. But we
adjusted, reduced the party aspect and returned to training.
My, we were hardy and resilient when we were so young.
We bombed with practice
bombs, and did various other
chores, none of which remain clear
in my memory. I do recall rather vividly seeing the
several Caribbean islands on my radar scope. I also recall
one hair-raising experience of doing a practice bomb-run at
30,000 feet (with 100 lb bombs) when to our pilots's horror
another aircraft was doing exactly the same but from the other
direction. We had morning and afternoon directions to
avoid the glare of the sun in the bombardier's eyes. The
other aircraft had failed to switch to current direction.
The pilots of our ship
could not maneuver, not knowing what the other pilots would do.
Drop our nose, our tail would go up, and so forth. Closing
on each other at near 700 miles per hour there was nothing left
but to hope out altitudes were sufficiently variant. The
other craft skimmed over us, and a shadow was cast by it within
our cabin; it was perhaps fifty feet above us.
Pettis, out aircraft
commander, was absolutely livid with rage. Once calmed, we
returned immediately to base to lodge bitter complaint. How
it turned out I recall not, but it was brought home to me again
that danger was not a factor of only enemy action. Danger
existed where we least expected, and often we could do nothing
While in Jamaica, we had
one trip to Kingston. A small gasoline (diesel?) powered
trolley-type car ran as a train into the capital. We
boarded with much anticipation, only to receive a handout of
contraceptives and prophylactic materials. This heightened
anticipation for some. I, however, was still sexually
retarded, though I had been treated to numerous verbal accounts
of exploits by my experienced colleagues. I also had been
instructed with intense frequency on the dangers of venereal
disease. I was even familiar with the anatomy of the
female, but little else. So I felt more like a tourist
than a stereotypical serviceman heading into Sin City (which I
gather Kingston was).
We did see Port Royal (the
harbor area) and a friendly cab driver knew a club to take us
to. The Springfield Club was, I gather, a classy brothel
associated with a bar. But despite the obvious temptations,
we were largely immune to the blandishments of the ladies.
One young girl, Irma, was a very attractive creature. She
refused to be photographed but talked freely of her choice to be
one of the most popular whores of Kingston. Perhaps
eighteen years old, she explained that in any decent job
(presumably as a clerk or secretary), she would have to "put
out" for the boss to get and keep the job. The pay was not
much, and she would be providing sexual favors for free.
So she decided she might as well get paid for the favors, and
paid well, and pick whom she wanted to bed. And young
American airmen were more to her taste than the local
It was then—and remains—a
Well, we returned to base
wiser but not necessarily more experienced.
Maxwell Air Base:
After a month in the
tropics we were scheduled to return to McCook. Our orders
were to do so via
Maxwell Air Base near Montgomery. After
arriving (it is now
late April 1945) we went into town. I
recall visiting the Alabama Capitol building, and going up to
the interior of the dome. All sorts of initials had been
written on the base of the dome, usually in lipstick. When
I mentioned this to the guide/guard, he shrugged. He said,
it was their capitol, so why not?
That evening (or the other
way around, with the capital experience the next day—I don't
remember) we went into town to eat. Pettis was looking for
a Greek restaurant. Whether he had a contact or not I
know. But he said he could tell a Greek restaurant by
name. He found one, and we trouped in. He asked the
waiter to call the owner, and when the latter arrived, Hercules
spoke to him in Greek. After that, and we never knew what
tale Herk told, we were ushered into the owner's office and
drinks of Canadian Club whiskey were provided. That was
hard to come by, and was clearly private stock. Then we
were feted with a steak dinner.
I learned another valuable
lesson, about the sense of kinship some ethnic groups have, and
especially the Greeks. We were strangers, and only our
leader was Greek, but we were all welcome and treated with grace
and courtesy If anything, I appreciate that experience more
today, now thirty-seven years later, than then.
Back to McCook and
back to McCook it was
more training flights. We had two brief interludes then or
later on, of going to Denver one weekend by train, and to North
Platte by bus. Denver I recall only in
that we visited or stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel, and we
looked at the Rockies from an observation deck on some building.
North Platte was memorable
for all the wrong reasons. The U.S. highway was a gravel
road. We had heard that the Pawnee Hotel was filled with
willing young girls. But I think we stayed at the Cody
since the Pawnee was filled. Or something like that. I
had heard of places where young girls threw themselves at
servicemen, to do their part for the war effort—making soldiers
happy. Perhaps so, but I certainly saw little of that.
Indeed, all the crazy activity tended to be isolated cases of
women who seemed anxious for permanent arrangements with
officers. One such case at McCook had a heavily endowed
but plain woman who had followed "her man" to Nebraska, and all
he wanted to do was dump her. She hung on.
It was hardly an attraction
for the inexperienced Romeo such as I was. All of my
contacts were more like bad Andy Hardy films without the charm.
I was awkward as a swain and the girls were equally simple.
Either that, or I wad the least perceptive person in the
military. Perhaps the latter, but I think not. Those
were more innocent times than today, though I was undoubtedly an
extreme case then—and even now I suppose.
We knew we were soon to go
overseas. We had missed
VE Day while in Jamaica; we were
not so taken by that war ending because we knew our destination
was with Japan. We had no wild parties or anything.
More memorable was the
death of FDR while we were in Jamaica.
The announcement interrupted a theatre performance—some sort of
USO troop as I recall. That raised all sort of questions
concerning the unknown new President—Truman—but the end of the
war in Europe seemed unimportant.
Well, men going overseas
were given free embarkation leaves. So home to Chicago I
went in May. Perhaps this was the trip on which I went to
the Blue Danube, but I'm certain I did visit with Miss Butkin on
this leave. We went to the circus with [her]
sister. We also visited a couple more times. She was
a nice girl, and we got along, but there was no opportunity for
a meaningful friendship to develop.
She had some sort of small
party for several of us. I recall I had purchased
somewhere a striped tee shirt, in red and white, to wear.
I could do so only under my uniform shirt, but it gave me a
sense of daring to be different. We simply were forbidden
to be out of uniform, or whatever issue clothing was correct
(e.g. flying suits). I recall taking off my
jacket and shirt to be, in the privacy of Mildred's house, a
"civilian" in my tee shirt. It was the first break in two
One of the friends at the
party was a very attractive girl named Francine. I recall
nothing other than she did catch my eye, to the comparative
disadvantage of Mildred. I suspect I thought Francine was
a stunner. But she had a boyfriend somewhere. And
soon all of that evaporated when I returned to base and thence
eventually overseas. Perhaps Mildred and I exchanged a
couple of letters and then that was
It was on this trip home
that I gave my father a present. I was long aware that in
Europe he had owned an Omega pocket watch, "the size and
thickness of a silver dollar." He had sold it along with
other valuables to muster passage money to travel to the United
States. His memory of that watch was one that touched me
deeply. So when I saw such a watch in the PX in the base
in Jamaica, I bought it. It cost the equivalent of $40
American and it was both duty-free and with a military discount.
It took almost all the cash I had on hand (since I hardly
anticipated staying in Jamaica when we flew in, and besides,
what was there to buy?). But this I had to have.
My presentation of the
watch I think took my father totally by surprise. He was,
I think, deeply touched. But he never wore the watch, or
did so very seldomly. Once, long ago in Europe, he was a
clothes horse, a fashion plate. Now, he was [as] remote
from that as hardships and years of toil could bring him.
He almost never wore a suit (though he had one or two).
And he claimed the watch would be damaged by his working with
furs. So the watch remained in a drawer.
Much later, around 1954,
when I decided to get a pocket watch because I was bothered by a
wrist watch when working at a drafting board, he insisted I take
the Omega. After all, he said, if he had the original
watch he would have given me that. So why not this one,
That was my father. I
carried that watch for years, but it began to need repairs
regularly. And it was expensive to maintain. Finally
I put it away as a keepsake. It is perhaps the most
telling relic of the curiously distant but close relationship I
had with my
troubled and disappointed father that I could ever
have. At least he lived long enough to see me a university
professor, married and with two sons. In those ways I had
earned my Omega if not before.
(Eventually) of Training
But now I was due back at
McCook Air Force Base and to conclude training.
We were, so
we were told, scheduled to be one of the first crews to get our ship and
for the Mariana Islands. But then there was a discovery
that I had not made my necessary Loran fixes.
Loran was a navigational
system that was very important when flying over the vastness of
the ocean. As it happened, I had made my fixes and many
more. But someone had failed to fill in the square.
So we were delayed in our departure. Once again "fate" had
intervened in my military career.
With hindsight I can see
that the clerical error, and the need to have extant logs
proving that I had made the "fixes" using Loran, nearly kept my
crew out of combat altogether. I did not then, nor can I
even guess now, know who had "goofed up." It wasn't me,
for we turned in our logs as a matter of procedure. But
now we were shifted in our placement on some master list from
the top to the bottom.
We remedied the errors
easily. We went up and flew around while I took fix after
fix on the Loran set. There must have been twenty, one
after the other. This entailed calibrating the set,
adjusting knobs to bring in the signal and to measure the
correct blips against a scale electronically displayed.
Then it was necessary to find the correct curves displayed on a
map/chart, or to interpolate between them. Two readings
gave a fix. If done accurately, it was the best way to
locate oneself when away from terrain features, or unable to use
the stars (or when one didn't have a correct time back to
compute celestial data).
It was then all so
meaningless. But the irony of the whole thing became
known, one day, not too many weeks later, [when] I did in fact use
Loran over the Pacific Ocean and discovered that we had been
blown hundreds of miles off course by a typhoon that was where
it wasn't supposed to be. But I get ahead of myself.
Army Airfield KS
The ground support people
had left in April to head to our combat location using surface
vessels. The air crews, and their ground crews, were sent
a few at a time to pick up their aircraft, check them out, and
then fly them to Guam. I note we received our orders in
late June to go to the staging area at Herington Air Field in
Kansas, not too far from Wichita, where the Boeing Plant was
building B‑29s. By then, the first ships of our group
(minus Pettis and his crew) had arrived in Guam.
Herington, Kansas, had
nothing to recommend it to us. We met, finally,
and went through the rituals that made her ours. We were
in Herington long enough to be thoroughly bored, and I recall
taking the bus into town, getting off, looking, and taking the
next bus back. The base was more rewarding to the
itinerant airman than the town.
Our orders came and we were
finally headed overseas via Mather Field, California. From
Mather we headed out over the Pacific Ocean, heading first to
Hawaii (Oahu), thence to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, and
thence to Guam. Perhaps it was only then did we know which
island was to be our destination, when we attended briefings.
Regardless, the key experience was departure.
We left at night, to be
sure to arrive in daylight—and plenty of it—and as we sat in the
darkened cabin, screened from the pilots, and unable to see much
at all from our window, it was much like any training flight.
We could hear the pilots's comment on seeing Oakland and San
Francisco, but then they too could see nothing ahead.
Finally, the tail gunner, who had gone to his position for this,
reported that he had lost sight of the lights of the
coastline. (I guess by then blackouts were not being
So there we were, droning
along on a course set by the navigator, nothing to see on my
radar screen for hours yet. I think we sensed—I know I
did—that a great adventure had started. But it was not
without fear of the unknown future, or for that matter the
knowledge that our wellbeing depended on this unfamiliar, to us,
aircraft. While all seemed serene, a very large ocean was
below and ahead of us.
It was with considerable
relief that we finally sighted our destination, Oahu and then
Our stay in Hawaii was
brief. I seem to recall we got a chance to go into
Honolulu, and my impression of the portion we saw was that of
any service-dependent city, with a fair amount of sleaze.
I say I seem to recall, because I stopped there one other time
(this for sure) on returning to the U.S., and such experiences
intertwine where I'm no longer sure what I saw on an individual
visit. I also seem to recall going down to Waikiki Beach
near the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The most clear memory,
however, was a view of a heavy woman in in Gypsy-type dress,
smoking a cigar. If not a Gypsy, she had all the stock
Once more though it was
time to be airborne. We passed Johnson Island, heading for
Kwajalein. It was this time I think that Archer, the
navigator, and I ran a noon-day fix. This used only
sun-lines before and after noon, a shift that permitted crossing
sun-lines instead of the usual parallel ones. This was my
only real-life experience with using a noon-day fix, a type of
fix common to seafaring, sailing-ship navigation, where one
traveled 200 or 250 nautical miles a day rather than in an hour
We finally made our
landfall in the afternoon, since we were chasing the sun, and
that was my one and only experience with an honest-to-goodness
atoll. The island we landed on had been stripped bare by
the assault and then later construction. It was a grim,
austere and lonely place. I saw nothing to suggest the
fierce battle that took place other than a fragment of a
Japanese sneaker, with its separated toe. We were entitled
to very little as transients, but we were allowed to buy one
beer each. It was warm and wet, but little else. As
I stood there looking out over the lagoon, sipping the beer, I
sensed that "going overseas" was not all high adventures or even
exciting, It had nothing of the films we saw to "inform" us
of the progress of the war, or how Marines assaulted islands or
the Army mopped up. What we had was a shabby, lonely
backwater that was critically important as a transient airdrome
but nothing else—now. Yet, I was overseas. I was
secretly glad I was not stationed there, and [glad] when we left.
Were we there overnight? I think so, but it doesn't
matter. We headed for
Arrival on Guam
The airfield on Guam was
Northwest Field, and it had been scratched out of the
"jungle" very recently. It was one of two 10,000 feet
two-runway strips that served the
315th Wing (or were we all at
Northwest Field?—who knows), on the north end of the island of
Guam. The pilots were effectively directed by the tower,
and we landed. We followed a jeep that guided us to the
taxiway and then the revetment that was to be "our home" for the
aircraft. Engines were cut, the post-fight checklists were
completed, and we piled out. We then boarded a truck which
took us to—what?
We were in a
clearing with tents. We were processed in, and issued a barracks
bag that contained our overseas gear, including a steel helmet;
and we were directed to two-man tents These were for
arrivals, not our permanent use. We must have then had a
simple meal off tin plates, and then returned to our tents.
It then began to rain, and water ran through the floor of the
tent (we had canvas army cots held above the muddy "floor" by
scraps of wood—from bomb crates?). We then discovered our
bags contained one bare (in ticking) pillow and a blanket; this
was our bedding. We also learned what the candles we found
in the bag were for. Nightfall crashed suddenly. The
candles came out, but where to put them? Our flight bags
were above the mud on their thin-board supports, and I recall
[that] balancing a candle on the "spine" of the bag was so placed to
keep the candle vertical. All in all, it was the most
wretched sleeping arrangement I had seen in my two-plus years in
We had been on Guam only a
few hours, and we were wet, depressed, uncomfortable, and
disoriented. Happily, we weren't in danger from the
Japanese, but then nothing like that really entered our minds.
Rather, it was all so wretchedly crummy and so non-technology
that it was ludicrous, for us who had arrived in one of the most
sophisticated airplanes then flying.
Chuck Clawson, the pilot,
the big fellow who wanted to be a fighter pilot and dreamed of
heroics (and even had a white scarf), was not pleased with our
circumstances. He looked around and said slowly, "I don't
think I'm going to like this."
As Sherman said,
hell. Only hell is not just the terror and shock of
combat. It is also tied to the realization that "little"
things like food and accommodations are part of what makes life
bearable or unpleasant. And there [on] Guam, on the first
night, it was very, very unpleasant. Suddenly it had hit
us, we were—for us—in a combat zone, though 1,500 miles south of
Japan. All of the spreading boredom of training was to
prepare us for this stage.
Naturally I didn't reason
it out that way then, but the awareness was there nevertheless.
In a few days, a couple of weeks perhaps, we might be flying
toward Japan carrying ten tons of high explosive. It was a
Life on Guam, Part
Our first weeks on Guam
were devoted to sent [sic] work and preparation for combat flying.
But first we had to set up tents in a cleared area to serve as
our accommodation. In fact the entire base was moving
closer to the airways. We, as newcomers, got the job of
putting up two-man tents while our more seasoned colleagues flew
missions. Officers put up officer-tents; enlisted men
their tents. We did this for several days of arduous
labor. This time we could try for some amenities, but few
were possible We did have mosquito nets, but happily there
was no malaria. Also, no poisonous snakes or fierce
animals. But there were all kinds of flying creatures.
Periodically, the island was
DDTed, but things flew nonetheless.
Food was not very good, and
we ate in segregated mess halls, officers and enlisted men
separately. The food was equally ordinary to bad.
Officers could buy a bottle of whiskey a month in addition to
beer at their "club." Enlisted men were restricted to
beer. It too was rationed for all. Thus whiskey
became a much desired "currency," and beer too could buy things.
There was a whiskey/beer ratio for exchange, much like gold and
silver, and more on that later.
Latrines were grim eight-holers,
screened on the sides with a shed roof to shield the ever-present
rain showers. There were outdoor urinals that were pipes
stuck into pits of crushed coal. The pipes had funnels
attached to their service ends. They were of different
heights to accommodate various heights of people.
But we were there also to
prepare for missions and a series of flights were taken for
that. First, there were orientation flights to give the
pilots experience in taking off and landing at our field, and to
allow us to discover it under varying conditions. Then we
had a bomb-run mission using the next island north,
Rota was still in Japanese hands, since it was too small for
B‑29 airfields, and why bother [to capture it?] There was a short runway
on the island and a wrecked Japanese plane on it. This was
used as a target for our practice bombs. It also was
supposed to keep the Japanese there intimidated.
Next, we were scheduled to
bomb some installation on the island of
still in Japanese hands, and had been bypassed, though it had a
major harbor. This was not a practice bomb-run, though it
was a sort of training mission. We attacked at night, just
as we would Japan, and our briefings, etc. were "for real."
We went off on the five or
six-hour mission, knowing that there might be some flak but not
fighter interception. We also were harassing a large enemy
establishment that presumably might be a problem if left totally
alone. This was in fact a bona fide combat mission, #1.
By this time we had a
number for our plane. We were Slicker 31. Slicker
identified the Group, and we were ship 31. We had in time
a large triangle painted on our tail with the 31 on the side of
the ship to permit aerial identification. The undersides
were painted black, to be non-reflective for searchlights.
So off we went to Truk,
combat for real, with Mac and I getting ready to do our
coordinating act between bombardier and radar in dropping our
bombs. It was then that a totally new experience re: the
radar set occurred. Suddenly the sweep reversed its
position (it now pivoted at the top of the scope) and I lost the
"picture." Nothing like this had ever happened before, nor
had I ever heard of it. Nothing I could do worked.
For one brief moment the set corrected itself and I saw the
characteristic return for Truk. I relayed this information
to the pilots (giving us a sort of fix) but then the picture
went out. And stayed out. What to do?
We tooled along on course
until we were near our ETA for the target, and on a guess, the
bombardier dropped our bomb load. There is a characteristic
"lift" as the load is released, and the radio operator and
scanners told us that all bombs were indeed dropped And I
hadn't done a thing to guide them. So much for high
technology and months of training.
. . .
The problem with my radar
set was to continue for as long as we had that aircraft. I
never fully grasped what was wrong, and I gather the ground
technicians didn't know either. As best as we could
determine, at altitude (which was never exactly the same, but
about 8,000 feet) there was condensation inside the presumably
sealed antenna, and this shorted something. On the ground
the set behaved perfectly. In the air, no one could get at
the antenna. Once, a technician opened the antenna on the
ground and water drained out. But that therapy was not a
permanent cure. I ranted and raved, even argued with
superiors to tear the damned thing out and give me at least a
place to lie down on the mission. But no, ineffectual
treatments continued. The only thing that seemed sure was
that at low altitudes I had a functioning set.
Back at McCook
[where] we had been
trained for 30,000 feet altitudes, the fierce jet streams had
actually "stopped" planes re: ground speed. On the other
hand, bombing accuracy at high altitudes was not what
LeMay (General) wanted. So altitudes were being
It was a "crap shoot" if I would have a set operating on a
mission. There was no replacement set or antenna, so there
It was, as I see it today,
a totally typical Army way of dealing with a real problem.
The aircraft carried the equipment. It checked out on the
ground, so there was no problem to repair. No repairmen
went up on a flight, so it was only our written report (and
verbal anguish falling on deaf ears) that proved there was a
problem. And if the ground condition was different, there
was no problem whatever the reports said. You can't fix
something that isn't broken, and on the ground it wasn't.
Another example of this was
the fact that our Group had a combat strength of 45 aircraft.
We thus had 45 crews, and each one had signed out an aircraft at
Herington, Kansas. 45 crews left the United
States but 46 aircraft arrived on Guam. The colonel signed
(?) [sic] for an aircraft, and command people or someone flew it over.
Actually, we never knew how it got to Guam, but it was the
colonel's plane. But we had only 45 numbers to assign our
aircraft. So the colonel's airplane had two zeros.
An army solution. We were Slicker-three-one. The
Slicker-zero-zero, and we violated no numbering
order. And no one seemed concerned over a "lost,"
Our "training" was
concluded, and we were scheduled for the next mission over
Missions had been flying
regularly since we had arrived on Guam. We watched them
taking off, about a minute apart, alternating on the two
runways. The heavily loaded planes needed all ten-thousand
feet of runway and then just barely cleared the trees. The
base was about 600 feet above sea-level and the planes would
actually drop about 300 feet to help gain airspeed once they
cleared the edge of the cliffs. We never lost an aircraft
that way, but we did hear of cases where they dropped and
continued into the sea. At our vantage point we could only
see the "drop," and then there was the interminable wait to see
if it would reappear in the distance. As each of our crafts
went down the runway, John the chaplain
blessed each craft.
More on Father John later.
"A New Type Bomb"
We had arrived in Guam in
late July. On August 7th (Guam calendar) we heard an
announcement on the P.A. system strung in the trees. We
heard that a single B‑29 had dropped a new type bomb that had
the force of 20,000 tons of TNT. That translated to 2,000
B‑29s carrying full bomb loads. Since the 20th Air Force
could not muster [even] 1,000 B‑29s over Japan for a strike, the
concept was beyond belief.
We talked about "the bomb,"
but we couldn't comprehend it as something real. Words
coming from a speaker in the trees did not erase the reality of
250 and 500 lb bombs filling the two bomb bays of a B‑29, and
trying to visualize one bomb being the equivalent of 2,000 such
loadings was beyond our imaginations.
One missions continued.
Curiously, I don't recall if we heard about the second "bomb."
If we did, it carried no real impact, but we realized by then
that Japan had a decision to make. If it chose not to
surrender, we would be continuing our missions, and to support
an invasion. This we all knew.
We were scheduled to fly.
It was to be a
maximum effort for the Group, all available
aircraft. It was
scheduled to depart (Guam date) August
14th and to attack an oil refinery in [the] far northern [part
island, at Tsuchizaki. This was to be farther than any
Marianas-based aircraft had flown.
briefing was a
spectacular display with ultraviolet lights to cause displays to
[?fluoresce] and be clearer. We took our notes, checked
our charts, photos, etc. Then finally it was
our turn to
make the long, laborious run
down the tarmac toward the end of
We were airborne, and began
the deadly boring run toward Japan, nursing our fuel, climbing
ever so slowly to altitude. I seem to remember that it was
8,000 feet. And miracle of miracles, the radar set behaved
and I had a picture.
As we neared the island,
and it was now night, we prepared ourselves. Mac the
bombardier and I went into the front bomb bay to pull the safety
pins on the bomb fuses. Midway, we looked at each other
across the bomb bay and grinned. It wasn't a grin of glee,
rather in mute recognition that Mac's pledge to keep us out of
combat had finally run out. In the rear bomb bay, the two
scanners were pulling pins. The tail gunner got into his
Back in position, we
prepared ourselves. Order were that we wore flight
helmets, oxygen masks and goggles to protect faces from flak
fires. We wore gloves as well. There were then
flak helmets on top of the flight helmets. Hinged earflaps
adjusted to our earphones. I sat on a piece of a flak
curtain and tried to keep a flak suit snapped together over my
torso. My parachute plus my movement kept unsnapping the
precaution, attaching a one-man raft as if it were a seat cushion to my
parachute harness, was impossible. That put me so high on
my chair I couldn't operate the set (my position was so cramped
under "normal" circumstances). So there we were, all in
bizarre and totally ungainly gear, ready for the "real thing."
It was a deadly real masquerade show.
As I recall, we ran up the
east side of Honshu, offshore, then crossed to the west side to
hit our IP (Initial Point of the bomb run), then head for the
target. The pilots said they saw searchlights in the
distance but none near, nor was there any flak or fighters.
The assumption was that the Japanese could not believe that
northern Honshu was in our range, and thus were not prepared for
so far north an attack. Perhaps this was true. But
then too, they were on the edge of surrender, unknown to our
As we turned on our bomb
run, my set was operating perfectly—well, almost so. I
switched on the markers that I would use to call angles for the
bombardier. It was a multiple position rotary switch, with
degree marks. I switched but no mark appeared on my
screen. Nothing I did worked. All I could do [was]
correct for course, to ensure we would go over the target.
The bombardier had fires
[on the ground] to
suggest the target, and so between us—I correcting the course by
feeding data to the pilots, the bombardier trying to adjust the
bombsight for range using fires set by
earlier bombs—we made our
run. Finally, it was "bombs away" and we turned to head
for safety and home.
And that was as close as I
came to doing what my position and training called for.
Ironically I had never controlled the dropping of bombs except
in practice missions. Here, over Japan, I only guided by
indirect means the course of the aircraft. So much for
The flight back, past Iwo
Jima, was a deadly game between the plane and the pilots and
flight engineer. Would we have enough fuel? If not,
we could stop at Saipan or Tinian islands, but Guam was beyond
Tinian by a hundred miles, and that was what we wanted to
Finally we were near, and
we had no recourse but attempt Guam. The flight engineer
was not overly optimistic, but we went through the turns that
brought us to the runway approach, and finally we landed.
My flight record shows that we were airborne 16:45 hours.
Add about six hours preparation beforehand, and now a couple of
hours of debriefing, and we were tottering with fatigue.
Red Cross ladies (gals) had coffee and donuts, but bed was
preferred to chitchat and such.
Would there be more
missions? Not to drop bombs. For the next day, Japan
indicated it would
The End of the War
Once it dawned on everyone
that the war had for us come to an end, there was a bizarre and
dangerous celebration. Liquor was widely available and
then people began shooting off flares which all of us carried on
flights to serve in case of ditching. Flare guns were
removed from aircraft, with flares. Our crew behaved
itself, though we may have shot a handheld flare or two. I
didn't; I was a terribly correct soldier.
Then the real guns began.
We all had some tracer cartridges along with standard
ammunition. The tracers were for signaling in case we were
"down," and sought to alert rescuers. People began firing
pistols to see the tracers, and to make noise.
Many of us cowered in real
fear of being killed by drunken Americans celebrating the end of
the war. We did survive.
Mercy Mission: The
Life on the base became
curiously fragmented and indolent. We had no direction for
some time, and then we were alerted to prepare for a flight to
the Philippines. Though the war was over, large sections
of the Pacific area were still in Japanese hands and control.
Ground forces were slowly moving in to assume command.
They were also releasing prisoners. We were scheduled for
a mercy mission, to fly supplies such as blankets, etc. to
released prisoners, etc.
Using platforms to carry
loads, these were hoisted into bomb bays, and on September 8th we
headed west to the airfield on the
Because things were still so unsettled, this too would count as
a combat mission, despite our totally benign load in the bomb
bays. Our only caution was to reach the correct island and
airfield, and not overfly.
The flight to Luzon and
then Bataan went without a hitch, though I believe another
aircraft managed to go astray and
strike the highest mountain on
Formosa, or was that on another occasion? Why the hazards
re: flying to the Philippines? Simply, we were totally
oriented toward Japan in our wing, and thus maps, navigational
aids, etc. were for the north-south, not the west-east runs.
Well, we found our
destination and landed on an otherwise barren runway. I
cannot recall seeing any buildings, and I have no idea of
whether it was a Japanese or an old American airstrip. We
taxied to a parking area and our load of blankets, etc. was
removed and dispersed. We were scheduled to remain one day
and then return to Guam.
I decided I would try to
find my cousin Ernest Temmer, whom I had been informed by mail
from home was in the Philippines and on Luzon. So I and
some others began hitchhiking to Army Headquarters in Manila by
grabbing a truck ride going that way. I had, for a map, an
"escape and evasion" silk map of the western Pacific area to
guide me. Actually I got to Manila very quickly, in about
two hours. I had Ernie's
APO number so I thought I could
identify his whereabouts. However, the exercise was
fruitless, and I managed to get a
C‑47 flight back to my
airstrip. That was my only Army Air Force flight in the
venerable "Dakota," with bucket seats along the fuselage.
The round trip lasted a
good part of the day, and I saw a wild pattern of images,
ranging from Igorot tribesmen with bows and arrows, to small
donkey carts and the debris of war, and the mixture of our
ground forces and native population.
Back at our strip we had
cans of food, C-rations and some gallon cans of fruit. We
gathered in the shade of the plane to eat, and soon we were
being watched by a group of young children, all male as I
recall. There was perhaps a dozen. Each had an empty
tin can and they were waiting quietly for our scraps. The
very youngest wore only shirts; the older ones had shorts as
well. While waiting, they sat on their small tin cans.
The bare bottomed ones had imprinted pressure circles.
That was the most
intimidating meal I have ever eaten. Cold C-rations were
no treat, [but] were satisfying when hungry, which we were.
But our rations were now delicacies to the children and we knew
it. The rations also meant avoidance of starvation for
them. Presumably they were orphans; we had no way to
communicate with them, for they knew
Tagalog, and English and
Spanish on our part would elicit nothing.
Well, we ate enough to
reduce our hunger. We then opened the gallon can of slices
of peach. We each had a few and then we indicated that the
children could have the leftover peaches and anything else they
wanted. One of the boys was the leader, and he then
apportioned the food in a careful and equitable manner to each
of the others. It went into their cans. Then they
quietly withdrew to where they left us alone and then ate their
The image is still vivid to
me, nearly forty years later. As Air Force types, we were
really quite immune from the physical ravage of war. I
knew it only through the newsreel. This overnight flight
to Bataan had been a new and unforgettable experience.
While I had been hunting
Ernie (who by the way was stationed on my route to Manila, and I
actually passed through his area—I learned this after the war
was over and we were both back in the States), our navigator had
obtained some local "brew." As it turned out, its effect
was not to be felt until the next day, when he became deathly
Sleeping was to be a
problem, as were toilet facilities. The latter consisted
of [a] half-drum with a hole, placed on a hole in the ground.
A small canopy was over the [?entry], but it was supported on
four poles. Toilet paper was on a stick stuck in the
ground. While we were used to such "necessaries," we were
not used to finding them in areas where a mixed population of
natives could stand in attendance. As it was, the
"natives" simply squatted wherever they were, so to speak.
Women simply hiked their skirts somewhat.
I'm not sure any of us used
the can [under] the canopy. I believe we retreated to behind
some trees. The bowels that time around for me behaved,
and my intimidation at defecating before women offset my usually
fluid stool. Urination is more a matter of "turning your
back," and thus it was.
As I said, sleeping was a
problem. We had brought nothing and nothing was furnished
at this desolate strip. So we dispersed ourselves in the
plane, heat and all. It was safer and more comfortable.
I slept in the tunnel with my head under the astrodome and near
the opening of the tunnel. The pilots slept in their
seats, and I'm not sure about the others.
Touched by a
The next morning we headed
back to Guam. The navigator, Archer, upon waking was
clearly very ill—the "home brew" we assumed. But we worked
together well, and we got a good fix as we departed land and
headed over the ocean. Unfortunately we could not obtain
by radio, or locally, an accurate time-back, thus we were
probably as much as two minutes off on time accuracy.
Celestial fixes then were virtually useless given our speed.
But there were other ways, and there were two of us to navigate.
But Archer was getting sicker and finally we just let him curl
up on the one-man rafts and other gear in the forward
compartment, and I took his seat. Radar was useless over
So we headed east, but
found ourselves in the clouds, and remained there hour after
hour. My flight record shows that we were on instruments
3½ hours. I used dead reckoning and waited patiently to
get within Loran range of Guam.
I finally was able to get
signals and took a Loran fix. It was so far off course
that clearly it was wrong. This was not 30 or 50 miles, it
was more like 350 miles. So I recalibrated the set, took
another fix and received about the same results. I was
getting rather perturbed. I waited awhile, recalibrated
the set, and took another fix. The three fixes were all in
an arrow—straight line, which headed toward Iwo Jima, not Guam.
That meant we would be 750 miles off course at my
That was so far off it was nearly impossible—but not absolutely
I informed the airplane
commander and told him I would take a couple of more fixes over
the next half hour or so to check our direction and airspeed.
This I did and confirmed our course and our growing divergence
from destination. So, whatever the reason, we had been
blown off course, probably while we were in the dense clouds.
A typhoon had been reported to us before our departure, but it
had been hundreds of miles off our projected track. So that
presumably could not have affected us—or had there been an error
in its presumed location?
Anyhow, I had to give a
course correction, and I calculated a new course and new ETA.
The correction was something in the order of a 70° turn to the
right, something that was hard for all of us to accept. We
were by now out of the clouds and all we could see was the
Pacific Ocean stretching out in all directions. But turn
we did and droned on toward, I hoped, our destination.
I recall I had calculated
we would be going near either Saipan or Tinian, the most
northerly of the Marianas, and also Air Force bases. So I
determined when we would see—I think—Tinian. Near that
time I went forward, and stood between the pilots. Finally
I said something like, "In ten minutes, Tinian." And then,
sure enough, under its canopy of clouds, there it was. We
now knew our correction had been correct, and the pilots were
now able to hone in on the radio for Guam. I had brought
It is ironic it was the
Loran set that had saved us, and my use of it, for that mixup
over my proficiency with it had delayed our departure overseas,
and reduced our combat missions by nine.
After landing and reporting
all of this, we learned that the
Typhoon had been indeed much
closer to our track than the Philippine weatherman had known,
and it was the culprit. We also learned that the B‑29 that
had taken off right after us, to head back to one of the
Marianas (it too had been on a similar mercy mission) had
arrived. It too must have been blown off course, but
either their Loran hadn't worked or they didn't believe it.
It was a humbling experience.
Support Mission: Japan
Life returned to its
Boredom was epidemic and all we had to do was make
physical improvements to the base and to while away the hours.
John the chaplain wanted
his church, and we all pitched in to help build one, complete
with steeple, painted white, and with colored paper "stained
glass" windows. Where the lumber came from I don't know,
but it must have been scavenged from the Navy as was the paint.
An internal battleship-gray market [sic]. We also
built an officers's club the same way. Wind-driven washing
machines, boats, etc. were built or scavenged and assembled.
Movies and drinking and cards and singing filled the evenings.
We also did do some
training missions to retain our competency as a combat crew.
Almost all of this is erased from memory, except for a
scheme that our general had that involved us in another trip to
Japan. Here there is some confusion in the records and I
hesitate to guess the dates and the details, other than it
occurred in October. We flew about mid-October to Iwo
Jima, and from there to Japan carrying all sorts of supplies in
our bomb bays. This was to support the flight of a single
B‑29 from Japan to the United States, nonstop. The flight
was to take place from the
only airbase for such a heavily
loaded aircraft. Apparently the Japanese had once planned
to construct some aircraft that would fly (one way) to Seattle
to bomb the Boeing plant and naval yards, but nothing came of
The base was on
the northernmost island, near
Sapporo. We arrived after an
uneventful flight, but one where we had a marvelous opportunity
to see Mt. Fujiyama over the clouds as we coursed north along
the coast of Honshu. We landed and remained a relatively
brief time while they embarked.
The whole thing was
bizarre. Apparently the Air Force had arrived there before
any land forces, so the Japanese naval base (for that was what
it was) commander surrendered to the totally surprised Air Force
colonel or general. We arrived a few days later. The
only people we saw, except for a few Americans, were Japanese.
They were still mounting guard over ammunition dumps and
equipment. I noticed that crates had English labels (booty
from Singapore? Perhaps).
There was complete order
and no discipline problems. The implacable enemy, once he
had been told by the Emperor to stop the warfare, had become
totally docile—at least toward us, their late enemy.
We wandered around a bit,
saw a few vandalized Japanese aircraft, and little else.
It was, for me, bitter cold. If I read the records
correctly, and if they are correct, this would have been late
October, the 25th. However, the orders sending us on
to Iwo Jim were cut on October 9th. I believe the
correct for the trip to Japan.
Standby: Iwo Jima
So we flew in, and flew
out, back to Iwo, the same day. Then we were told to wait
at Iwo Jima. And wait we did. We were there
something like nine days. We had flown in only underwear
and a flight suit; we also had flight jackets. We carried
no changes of clothing or shaving or washing gear. And
there we were, growing rank and surly to boot.
We explored the island,
which was in the Navy's hands. We bought some skivvies and
dungarees from Ship's Stores so we could have a change of
clothing and thus do laundry. We explored some more,
including some of the caves that the Japanese used in resisting
the invasion. I did not climb
Mt. Suribachi, but otherwise
went wherever we could, including the invasion beaches.
The island was nearly bald;
very little vegetation remained. It was a grim cheerless
place that was close to driving us, who had nothing to do,
crazy. That led us to climb a cliff and explore the
manmade caves. Going up was easy, coming down was
perilous—for me. A nervous experience I care not ever to
repeat. The caves were incredible holes which swallowed
the light of our flashlights.
Pettis found some large
artillery shells and insisted on bringing two back to decorate
our tent. I was—typically—worried for fear that they might
be armed and thus lethal. Pettis was less conservative,
Our tent with army cots was
nothing much. It sufficed in a boring way. At least
it was boring until one of our party became the victim of a
truly savage attack of insect bites/stings. He had to be
sent to the infirmary. It was bedbugs in the joints of the
folding cot. He alone had sustained a mass attack.
Some months later, back on Guam, I met the critters and I could
sympathize firsthand. Then it was a case of pulling
everything out and breaking down each cot to make sure the
infestation was stopped.
While on Iwo, there were
two incidents. There was a typhoon somewhere, I believe on
October 30th, and a B‑29 caught in it limped into Iwo to land.
It had lost both ailerons, and thus could not maneuver very
well, especially for a landing. The success was testimony
to pilot skill. We marveled at how much had been taken
from the wings. We had never seen a B‑29 without its
Then there was the P‑47
that crashed instead of landing. What happened we knew
not. We saw him on his final approach and then the sound
of a crack and a plume of black smoke. When we arrived the
flames were out but the pilot was dead, still strapped in his
seat. Suddenly I was closer to the hazards of war than
earlier, when the war was underway.
Finally we were told to go
home: the flight from Hokkaido to the U.S. was on its way, and
we were no longer on standby.
We discovered on our return
that several of us had been promoted. I was now a first
lieutenant. A bit more pay, but otherwise it wasn't much
of a difference. My bars were silver, gold-plated, so I
polished off the gold of the second lieutenant bars to get the
silver needed, and that was that.
And it was back to the
incredible boredom, which included the food. It was
wretched and monotonous. One period of about two weeks,
all we had for meat was canned salmon, which was served in
various forms, none memorable except for a sameness of taste.
For one brief period we had
a "mess officer" who insisted that good food could be prepared,
even grilled (fried) steaks. To prove it, he took the meat
the usually ended up as stew and had it cut in slices.
Then by having orders placed while standing in line we got ours
cooked to order. The mess officer was everywhere and as a
result proved his point. But then it was back to the
nearly indigestible sequence of meals that did so much damage to
my bowels. Of course, the poor beer and worse whiskey that
we drank daily didn't help.
What do you do with the
troops when a war is over? The point system had been
established as a formula to determine the order of return.
This was by individuals, not units. Time in service and
time overseas were the dominant factors, and that would mean the
most senior and experienced would go home first. But
before that, we continued to "perfect" the base.
Flying was now reduced
considerably, to just enough to maintain proficiency. And
we all got ground-related jobs to augment our duty. I was
attached to "personal equipment," which basically was parachutes
and Mae Wests and rubber rafts. I had little to do, but we
were instructed to build some
Quonset huts to shelter them.
I guess previously they were in a less durable arrangement, part
canvas. Elsewhere, wooden
barracks were constructed for
housing. The barracks were built by others, but we helped
with the Quonset huts. About all I was useful for was to
help set the floors, which consisted of 4'x7' and ¾" plywood
panels that were nailed into the joints of the metal frame.
The task went forward, and
did ease our boredom. The site was near the revetments and
thus near aircraft. While working one day, the ground crew
ran up the engines of a B‑29. At full power, the four
"fans" generated a great deal of noise and prop wash. I
recall turning my head to see what happened to cause the noise
so suddenly, and saw instead sheets of plywood sailing through
the air—at us.
A stack of plywood was
close enough to the plane that the wash was literally flipping
the sheets as if they were cards from a deck. Several of
us got hit by the wood. One sheet struck two of us.
In my case it hit my left shoulder first and then my head.
I was knocked to my knees by the blow, and stunned. I
remember being unable to move, though still on my knees, and
then seeing people run toward us, one carrying a first aid kit.
I finally got some
sensations back and was quizzed, as were other injured people,
as to how I felt, could I move, did I have special pain, etc.
Since I could see, hear, talk and move, though I did hurt, I
said I was OK. Then I discovered my sunglasses had been
broken. These were the famous glass "aviator style" that
were standard issue. They had a bow to conform to the
curvature of the brow. Mine still did have the bow, but
now it went the other way. I had taken the plywood on my
shoulder and the bridge of my nose. My shoulder and my
neighbor had reduced the impact just enough to have saved my
head, or at least my eyes.
My treatment consisted of
some antiseptic and a bandaid for the bridge of my nose.
There was a deep gouge where the glasses had cut while bending
the other way. Why none of us chose to see the flight
surgeon or seek any kind of medical aid I don't know.
Youthful stupidity I guess. We had simply been knocked
down, bruised, scraped a bit and had a few cuts. So that
was all. Of course I now have a bump on one side of the
bridge of my nose: my war wound (along with my loose bowels).
I did get some new sunglasses, but it was quite a while before I
could wear them with any comfort.
While working in Personal
Equipment we had occasion to see some Japanese prisoners of war.
They were required to do heavy manual labor. A trench for
some purpose was being dug, and since the soil on Guam was only
a few inches deep, set over coral, digging was difficult.
Jackhammers and dynamite were needed (the latter was for latrine
pits: an explosion was "another latrine for victory").
The Japanese had a
jackhammer and in the tropical sun he had to break rock. I
heard the hammer regularly chattering away. I looked out
once, and I saw him but he could not see me. He would look
around to see if the guards could see him. If not, he
simply leaned back and pressed the "trigger" on the hammer,
which was lying in the trench. The sound was enough for
the guard who remained (where?) sheltered from the sun.
For a fleeting moment I
thought I ought to do something to correct this abuse by the
prisoner, but then I couldn't help but see his side of that
wretched situation. The "fanatical Jap" was a very human
being, and a typical put-upon soldier. I could relate to
that and so I simply smiled and turned my back, as had the
and Submariners Aloft
My references to "personal
equipment" remind me of one training episode which occurred soon
after arriving on the island. We were trucked to a
harbor—not the big one at
Agana, but on the east side of Guam.
There we were to board a landing craft - infantry (LCI).
This was an ungainly ship with two long ramps, one on each side,
which could be lowered to permit getting on and off the vessel
from a beach. It was not at all like the ones used for
assault that one sees in the films. This was an oceangoing
Why were we to board it?
Our first task was to wade
out and board. Off we went. Unfortunately the tide
had come in, or the ship anchored too far out. The water
at the end of the ramp was over six feet deep. The last
few yards had to be swum, and then there was the nearly
impossible task of dragging myself up on the ramp, heavy with
sodden clothing. Well, I finally managed it and was on
We then put out to sea:
perhaps a mile or so. Then, one by one, we were put
through the following routine. We got into a parachute
harness that was attached to a cable. We then were hoisted
up into the air and the boom swung out over the side of the
ship, and we were then told to prepare for release. We
were suddenly dumped about twenty feet into the water. We
had to get out of the harness (which was like our quick-release
models), inflate our Mae West, and get into a five-man raft
nearby. It was really a very sensible training exercise,
since we all were subject to ditching and needed to have some
insight into survival techniques.
Well, it was my turn.
I got dunked, got out of the harness and inflated my life vest
and got into the raft. Great, I could do it.
Unfortunately, a raft-eye view of the sea—and the motion—was too
much. I promptly got seasick and simply stretched out on
the bottom of the raft and stayed there until we were returned.
Back aboard the large vessel, I recovered.
Seasickness at sea in a
raft did not worry me however. As a person who paid
attention to "the facts," I knew that the ditching reports said
that if you weren't found in the first 24 hours, you likely
would never be found. The Eddie Rickenbacker saga of (was
[it] 31?) 31 days was so unlikely as to not count.
To help recover ditched
crew members, submarines were on station between the Marianas
and Japan, and they were the best chance of recovery. When
allowed back in port, the submarine crews seemed all to want a
chance to fly, to see "the other side" of the experience.
We once took several of them up on one of our training missions.
I think there were about three up in our cabin. It always
was crowded, but now it was jammed.
They were intrigued by the
experience but they noted it felt like being in a submarine in
the air. The many people, too much equipment and not
enough room. But they enjoyed it. But we did have a
On either side of our
entrance to the tunnel that connected the fore and aft cabins
there were two sets of handles. One set was to help pull
yourself up in or out of the tunnel. They were like the
C-handles on a screen door. The other handles were larger,
shielded by a guard and painted red. These were to release
the life rafts above the wing on each side. One of the
submariners was returning through the tunnel and was trying to
ease himself out of the tunnel and reaching blindly for
something to grab. I saw his hands reach for the wrong
handles and I leaped screaming to stop him. He must have
thought I was insane, until I explained what almost happened.
The danger was that the rafts would hit and damage our tail
assembly and thus our ability to control the ship.
Two things I never wanted
to do [were] to bail out or to ditch. But if I had a
choice, it was ditching. I think all of my crew felt that
way. At least then we would likely be together.
Whether it was our charity
toward the Navy in giving them a ride, or whatever, we got an
invite to Agana to have dinner with some Chief Petty Officers
there. We, of course, went. They had a pyramidal tent,
but just for two people instead of eight. A cargo chute
hung as a ceiling. There were electric lights. They
had an honest to goodness electric console phonograph with great
records, and electric cooking utensils. They served steak,
French fries, beer, and a superb time was had by all. The
tent was screened on all four sides for air, but it also
provided a view of the harbor. As night fell, the
twinkling lights of the harbor gave us the impression of being
up high overlooking a city. It was [like a] penthouse overlooking
Manhattan, and with the music [and] the drinks, the illusion was
absolutely true. A memorable experience. But then it
was back to our regular life and our barracks.
Life on Guam, Part
Movies were one of the few
entertainments, but the quality wasn't much. They were
shown in improvised outdoor areas. Seats were either
directly on the ground or on the small metal frames which
protected bomb fins in shipment. We used them as stools.
It usually rained, so ponchos and helmet liners were standard
gear. As I said, the movies were not very good. One
was so bad that, bored by life as we were, we finally left.
That must have been an incredibly dreadful film which I
nearly every day. In the rainy season, it rained more and
harder. Mud was everywhere. Things grew fungi and
rotted rapidly. Our clotheslines were of braided cotton
rope, and this disintegrated [at the] most unexpected times. A perfectly sound
line would suddenly part and catapult the wash into the red mud.
We all worked on keeping
clean, and laundry was a daily chore. I acquired a
five-gallon square food tin for my washtub. Washboards
were few and so we improvised. A board wound with
clothesline was a model which worked moderately well. Some
invented windmill-driven washing machines.
Water had to be trucked in,
so showers were the pull-chain type. Wet down, soap up,
rinse. If water was in short supply, no showers or
laundry [were] permitted. On some occasions we washed
ourselves in the rain, standing under the eaves of the barracks
to rinse. To wash our hands and face, use a toothbrush and
shave, we used our steel helmets. A wash rack was built which had hand
faucets to fill the helmet and this was placed against a brace
on a shelf. A board above carried nails, on which we could
hang a mirror. Usually this was the signal mirror we
carried with our "escape and evasion" gear.
We explored Guam, at least
the parts permitted. We'd get a jeep and the five officers
piled in and drove around the island. One day clockwise.
The next day counterclockwise. On Sunday, we made both
tours. It was thus I learned how to drive—first in a jeep
and then a weapon carrier.
The barracks (wooden)
two groups of officers from flight crews. Ten in
all. We built some furniture. Eventually we had
electric lights from a diesel generator that powered the base.
Before that, it was gasoline Coleman lanterns.
"The Wheel and Skull
began to catch up with our Group, and as men left for the U.S.A.
it was time to
consolidate the remainder and to close down half
the airbase. We were shifted to the 501st Group on the
other side of the base—or perhaps it was to North Field.
Regardless, it was to wait there until the list got down to my
number of points, so I could return to the "Zone of the
Before all this happened,
we were at such reduced strength that I was, for about one
month, the Executive Officer of our squadron. Merely
In the 501st, we were
grouped into Quonset huts. Ours was decorated on the
outside with a wheel from a wagon, over the door. Someone
then found a skull in the jungle, Japanese? It was
added to the exterior decor, and informally it was the "wheel
and skull house." There must have been an ex-fraternity
member in the group. Our shift occurred on the 17th of
February, after one month's service as an executive officer.
From then until I left Guam there was nothing notable except for
First, there was a typhoon.
It was plotted to go directly over Guam. There was much
scurrying around, boarding up things, securing the base as best
we could. Then the trucks arrived. What were they
for? To evacuate us! Where to, we wanted to know.
We were on an island, and while large, it wasn't that big.
Finally someone in charge saw the nonsense of the evacuation
order. It was rescinded.
In our hut we decided to
cope by making whiskey sours by using powdered lemon flavor,
sugar, water, and blended whiskey. They were dreadful, but
had the desired effect. Then we put our possessions into
foot lockers and under our cots. Ponchos went on top of
the cots We went under the ponchos. And the storm
arrived. There was a continuous
screened "window" along each side of the hut. The rain
blew in one and horizontally out the other, but a good portion
did make it to the floor.
Nature called—it always
did, about three times a day (except when flying). I had
to get to the latrine. So off I went. Sitting alone
in the eight-holer, I saw the horizontal rain clearly and
received its force. I also watched parts of the camp go by
horizontally. Yet there was no severe damage. Back
to my poncho-covered cot to wait. Obviously, we all
Second, there was the
arrival of new, permanent, replacements. I guess we were
at North Field, now
Andersen AFB. These were personnel who
had not yet been overseas, and they were either regular army or
wanted to stay in. They were to take over as we departed.
They arrived with such strange gear as pajamas and bathrobes.
They were nice fellows, but those in our hut were aliens, for
our vision was directed to getting back home.
Third, I had the
opportunity to go once again to the Philippines. A colonel
was being transferred there, and we were to fly all of his
household gear—it was peacetime now—sort of. This was a
Thursday trip to Clark Field, in mid-April 1946. We had
ample time for sightseeing, and it was extraordinary at how the
place had changed since last October. Now one could buy
anything. How it was obtained in that broken
country—especially devastated Manila—is testament to men's
ingenuity and the marketplace (black/gray/other).
I got some odds and ends to
carry back, including a bottle of good Scotch whiskey.
That was to celebrate our/my orders to go home.
The Voyage of the
Finally, not too long after
our return from Manila, the orders were received. We
boarded an old excursion/inter-island boat to go to Saipan: the
first stop. This was almost at the end of April. In
Saipan, we had the option of flying a B‑29 back to the U.S. or
taking a troop ship. Everyone I knew, including me, opted
for the troop ship.
We had been hearing rumors
that the ones who elected to fly back were having problems.
Aircraft were now badly maintained; the most experienced
mechanics had all gone home in the first groups to return.
Crews were arbitrarily patched together, and thus did not have
the experience of flying together. The flight to
California, with one or two stops en route, was ever so much
more dangerous than my recent flight to Manila. That was
in a plane they intended to keep in Guam, and there was greater
control over what was going on and in crew selection. Not
so in the case of those planes heading back to the U.S.
One count we heard had about ten aircraft lost, with most of
their crews. I wonder if that was true?
It certainly must have had a kernel of truth, but it would be
almost impossible to confirm.
Troop ship it was—and
officer class wasn't so bad. Not if it was available.
But the flying part of the Air Corps had too many officers, and
troop ships had not expected that ratio. There wasn't
enough space for all of us. We had the option to wait on
space, or go now in what was called "troop class."
I wanted to go home and
return to civilian life, so I said I'd go troop class. And
so I boarded the
SS Cape Mendocino. [insert:
We embarked April 28th.] A
liberty ship, designed for
cargo, but converted to accommodate about 1,200 troops, the
Mendocino was a far cry from the Queen Mary-type
troop ship. It was my home for eighteen wretched days.
Our ship was quickly
retitled the Mendocino Maru. The choice was
natural. While waiting for our departure, we saw a
demilitarized Japanese cruiser (?) which was repatriating
Japanese personnel who had been bypassed in the island-hopping
invasion; I suspect they were from Truk. That vessel was
brim full with people. We were told that each person had
the space of one
tatami mat, and every horizontal space on that
ship was assigned. It looked, in the harbor, as if it was
infested with people/vermin. Everything was crawling with
people. It was a wretched sight, one I still see.
And since "Maru" was the second half of the binomial identifying
Japanese ships, that vision plus our experience on the SS
Cape Mendocino led us to see ourselves as the U.S.
equivalent. So Mendocino Maru it became.
there were only about 530 of us onboard, almost all officers.
I no longer recall whether we began in the rear or forward hold,
the only difference was we shifted to the other in Hawaii when
they loaded another group, filling the vessel. In the one
hold we were five deep, in the other three deep. The bunks were
pipe frames, less than six feet long, to which a canvas pallet
was attached with rope lacing. Distance between bunks was
18". This was no bedding, and life preservers were the
pillows (sic) [sic].
was carrying cargo, small arms ammunition, in the bow, and thus
was strangely balanced. The ship pitched wildly, such that
the screw regularly came out of the water. When it did the
entire vessel shuddered. Add the rolling [and] it was
surprising we didn't become motion sick, but fortunately the
weather the entire time was benign.
it that the vessel's captain was a former POW, and this was his
first command since release. I correct myself. He
was a civilian, so the term should be "internee."
about 300 nautical miles a day (we usually did that in our
aircraft in an hour), and so we began to go "loony" wanting to
get across the Pacific. There was nothing to do, and not
much space if we wanted to. Cards, chess, etc. occupied
time. We got two meals a day, standing at tables in the
"mess room." The food was impossible. One memorable
day we got, for one of our meals, a slice of head cheese and two
pieces of white bread. That was the meal.
were malfunctioning, and there was very little toilet paper; we
used tissue paper [that had been] used to wrap fruit, [of] which (as I recall) we got
one piece a day. Showers were salt water, of course, and
for that we used a special soap. People took to "doing
laundry" by tying a line through a trouser leg and shirt sleeve,
and throwing it over the side to be towed. And so it went,
day after day.
arrived at Oahu and were given a day's leave, a delegation of
"passengers" complained to someone in charge about the ship's
condition and the food. For the last leg (to San
Francisco) things were better on that score, but we had a full
ship then, and that provided other problems. Before
recounting them, to return to our day's leave. We went
into Honolulu, rented a car and drove around. We went over
the Pali (I drove down!) and in general spent the day
sightseeing. In Honolulu I recall very little (was it then
I saw the Gypsy woman, in costume, with a cigar?). The
switchbacks on the Pali I remember.
onboard the Mendocino, we watched them load about 1,000
enlisted men. It turned out these were reform school
types who had the option of being freed if they enlisted at age
eighteen. So they did. They were untrained but
uniformed, and they were being sent to the U.S. for training.
We were engulfed by a bunch of delinquents, and suddenly nothing
on the ship was safe. Anything could get stolen, and was.
Arrival and Departure
was another five days and we went under the Golden Gate Bridge.
There was an interminable delay getting us debarked.
Photos were made of the ship in port with us aboard. The
wildly cheering group are the delinquents from Hawaii. The
glum group are those who boarded in Saipan.
By the time
we finally got off, there was no evidence of any reception party
(if there was one to begin with). We crossed the pier to
get aboard a ferryboat, to go to Oakland. This was, I
gather from my orders, the 18th of May.
started out across the bay, we saw two vessels collide, in broad
daylight, in the harbor. So much for pilots and
navigational aids. We finally got into Oakland and were in
some sort of a processing center.
a bunch of us went into San Francisco. We felt cold, so we
wore our flight jackets (which we were allowed to keep) and
scrungy suntans and GI shoes. We were not elegant; we were
returned-home veterans, and while not particularly combat weary,
we were fatigued but ready to party.
So we went
on a pub crawl in Chinatown. The temperature was probably
in the low 60s, but we were wretchedly cold after months in the
tropics. The entire "adventure" was less than exciting,
but it was a celebration of sorts.
Oakland, we were put on a train to go to
Camp McCoy in
Wisconsin. I suppose we were sent by regions of residence.
Camp McCoy would be my separation center. There, on the
25th of May, I was given orders sending me back home. I
had 28 days of leave accumulated, and on the expiration of that
I would be a civilian officially, but for all practical purposes
I was through once I left Camp McCoy.
By one of
the ironies of my ongoing experience with the military, my
separation occurred on June 22nd, completing exactly three
years. So there I was, finally a civilian, 21 years old,
and back in summer school at the University of Illinois.
however, one additional factor I should mention. At Camp
McCoy I was asked if I wanted to join the Air Corps reserves.
I decided I would. Perhaps that way I could keep current
on radar and navigation, and make a bit of money on the side in
two-week summer camps. It was not a clear mission to my
mind, and more a case of not losing the few positive features of
my three years of service. Comradery was one of them.
But how was I to know that the entire reserve program was a dud,
and that in fact I got absolutely nothing positive out of it?
Indeed, I never did anything nor was there an opportunity, until
it was for a totally different type of setup.
But I get
ahead of myself.
to civilian life was relatively painless. I returned to
the University of Illinois to start a program in architectural
design. The summer session was expanded to
(and 12 credit hours) and I was deep into it along with quite a
few other returned veterans, including my roommate.
Straus had returned from Europe a bit earlier and had obtained a
room once again at the Granada Club (where we had been in
1942-43) and once again I was his roommate.
uniforms sans insignia, plus the benefit of the
(for education) and savings accumulated over three years of
service meant a civilian life sustained in part by my military
of that period, wherein I obtained bachelor's and master's
degrees, are not pertinent to this account except for several
minor aspects. Besides, that has been recounted in a
memoir dealing with why and how I came to UKC/UMKC.
of the years 1946-1951 was the early realization that reserve
status in the Air Force (now a separate branch of service) was
meaningless. There was absolutely no activities or even
loose ties to keep me linked. Perhaps I should resign?
I debated that and decided that instead I'd let the commission
lapse once the five years were completed, which would be in May
1951. Resignation might be viewed by some as a blemish on
an otherwise "honorable" period of service.
aspect was the fact that I discovered the discipline of art and
architectural history, as well as the joy of making sculpture,
and thus had evolved out of architecture into
art and art
history. I also got bitten with the "bug" to become a
college-level teacher in some aspect of this newly acquired
knowledge and skill.
the Korean War was abruptly begun in 1950. What an
appalling change. Would this effect me in any way?
While brooding over that, among other things to occupy my
attention was the problem of finding work after the completion
of my MFA.
graduate work in the autumn of 1949 (or was it the summer?) and
received (unsolicited) a graduate teaching assistantship.
That helped me to stretch my GI Bill and savings to cover the
graduate degree. But all three were due to run out at the
end of May or June , when I would get my MFA.
for work was complicated by the fact that the start of the
Korean War coincided with a general departure of the GI's from
the college campuses. Enrollments were declining rapidly.
Jobs in teaching at the college level were extremely scarce.
This situation has been fully described in the UKC/UMKC memoir
already mentioned. For here it is enough to note I was
becoming truly desperate; what should or would I do?
President Truman froze all reservists in their status;
terms of appointment would not end as scheduled. And then
of course it happened. The day I succeeded in getting an
appointment to a college faculty was the day my orders to report
for processing for return to active duty were received. So
instead of no job, I had two, and one I could not refuse, though
I would sure try. I wanted no part of going back into