Charles "Chuck" Palmer
The following two letters and the personal stories came from Charles "Chuck" Palmer one of our WWII 57th TCS veterans and his wife Vanett.
While the 57th and its brother squadrons were not the “Slap & Dash” units that got all the attention it seems to me that they were the “back-bone” of the area. To put it in today’s vernacular, they “had the backs” of the “Slap & Dash” guys.
For years I have been listening and writing down stories from Chuck, my brothers and brothers-in-law and have watched them try to hide the tough times they went through. Even after all these years, their voices and eyes change.
What you are doing by keeping their memories alive and passing on their stories is a really great thing. It may be ancient history but it is still history.
Again, thank you,
Hope that you can use some of these memories I wrote down years ago. There were some bad times. There were the times we had to flying and pick up the seriously wounded men and fly them and the nurses back to safety. Also, the times we had to drop the paratroopers in enemy territory and just hoped and prayed that the grasses weren’t so high that they got lost.
Or the time we dropped all kinds of supplies to an outfit trapped behind enemy lines in Northern New Guinea. We didn’t have chutes and just had to watch them drop and bounce. At that time, there were no air strips.
One time the Aussies brought a Japanese Officer in that they were planning to question and he looked so lost and afraid I gave him a cigarette and he bowed low and thanked me. I wonder if he ever made it home.
We tried not to dwell on the bad times and remember the light things that kept us human.
Let me know how this works out.
16325 El Molino Ct
Fontana, CA 92336
Personal stories from Charles "Chuck" Palmer
December 3, 1921 - September 7, 2014
SMALL ADVENTURES IN OKLAHOMA
This all started with a small notice in a private newsletter. It said that the 57th and 58th Squadrons of the 375th Air Force was being “retired” but that its history of the WW II squadron was being taken over by the 57th and 58th squadron at Altus Air Force Base in Altus, OK. Chuck has an original album printed by the Air Force that shows the entire history of their service during the war. It has names, pictures, songs, maps and all types of information. Over the years it has been read and enjoyed by countless people of all ages. For the last few years he has wondered what to do with it. No one in the family seems to want it so when the notice appeared he felt he had the answer. We weren’t able to contact the author of the notice so we went to March Air Force Base in Riverside, CA. They gave us a phone number at Altus Air Force to call.
When we called Altus we were connected to their officer in the historical department. The sergeant was politely interested in the album even when he thought it was just a “home-made” book that Chuck had made up. However, after we started to tell him everything that was in the book, with names and pictures and he asked if the Air Force had printed it, he was extremely interested. He said that so was lost during that time that names and ID was so important. Chuck asked if he would be interested in having it donated and the Sergeant couldn’t believe that Chuck would be willing to do it. Of course, he said, yes and when would he do it. The Sergeant wants to make a small ceremony of this and arrange a tour of the base for Chuck so it was set that we would be there in May. When we were setting up a time and place we found that the Sergeants last name was Guinan. We jokingly said, “As in “Texas Guinan”? He was so surprised, he said that yes, she was his great, great, great aunt. He didn’t think anyone remembered her. She was a singer and speakeasy owner during the 1920’s prohibition era. After we hung up the phone we remembered an old movie called “Incendiary Blonde” starring Betty Hutton based on the life of “Texas”.
We called all of the video stores to see if we could get a copy, but no one could get one. We went to the public library, but no luck there either. We did find that it had been made in 1945 by Paramount Pictures.
Next we called Paramount and spoke to a representative and she told us that they no longer held the right to that movie. A great many films had been sold to Universal. She gave us a number to call but she thought of somewhere else that might be able to help us, Eddie Brants, in North Hollywood. We called them and they knew the movie and yes, they could give us a copy. So in a few days we will drive to North Hollywood to get the film.
Well, went and picked up the film and a picture of “Texas Guinan” and went back to Altus, OK. The trip back was excellent with great weather. It took us two days to drive.
We met Sergeant Guinan at the main gate of the Air Base on Monday morning (May 2002). He had a driver and a van to take us all over the base. He took us on a tour of a large C-141 plane. The crew showed us how it was operated and the different things it could do and how it is used in combat. All the crew members asked all kinds of questions about the C-47s and about World War II.
Later Sergeant Guinan took us to his office and talked with us for about two hours asking about the book.
It was a wonderful day. Chuck was invited back in September for Air Force Day.
We drove back to Oklahoma in September. Rich met us on Saturday morning and gave us a private preview. Chuck got to see a vintage C-47 fly in and land. He also got to watch the big planes and fighters do their fly overs. Rich introduced us to the Wing Commander of the base. Rich wanted us to stay longer but we had to get back to California.
A few years later (2009), Chuck sent his original flight jacket back to the Sergeant. He was so pleased it went into the archives. Later all of the things were being sent to the Military Museum in Washington, DC where it will all be safe forever.
Charles Palmer’s “Secret Mission”
Chuck was a plane mechanic on the C-47s in the South Pacific during WWII. One day the orders came to him to get the plane ready for a night flight. He had to put in extra gas tanks. That evening the pilot, co-pilot, radioman and Chuck took off. No one knew where they were going. The pilot had sealed orders and opened them after the plane was in the air. The orders gave them the directions to find the island they were to land on. They flew about two hours until it was dark. When they reached the island, two fires were lit to show them where to land. As soon as the plane was on the ground, the fires were put out. It was so dark that they could see nothing around them. A Dutchman who owned a plantation there came out to the plane and took a small briefcase away. The fires were lit again until the plane took off and as they looked down on the island the fires were put out. During this time most of the islands had secret “spotters” hidden that spied on the Japanese movements. The crew never did find the exact location of that particular island.
Chuck and His “Boat”
One day when Chuck was off duty in New Guinea it was so hot and he just wanted to get away for awhile. So he took his home-made “boat” out. He had taken a gas tank off a wrecked plane and turned it into a boat of sorts.
Chuck was just drifting along and hanging over the side looking at the beautiful fish and strange shapes of the coral also the huge holes that dropped bombs had left in the ocean floor. It was so peaceful, a warm breeze was blowing and he just dozed off for a light nap. Suddenly he realized his feet and seat were getting awfully wet. His great boat had sprung a leak! It was just about the time that he also realized that he was about a mile from shore. He had never swam that far before and he was about to find out if he could! It was a good thing the water was so calm but he did loose his shoes and he hated walking barefoot. Chuck never did rebuild his “boat”.
We had one fox hole for everyone at the camp. It was deep enough and safe enough. The only problem was that it rained nearly every day. This meant that the fox hole filled nearly full of water so none of the regulars ever used it if an enemy plane went over.
A new bunch of guys were transferred in. One day a couple of planes went over and the alarm sounded so everyone went for cover. We tried to tell everyone not to use the fox hole all but one of the new guys ran the other way but the one really short guy panicked and insisted on jumping into the hole. He almost drowned before we could get him out! Everyone was laughing and he was sputtering and swearing!
Afternoon Japanese Attack
During the whole time stationed in New Guinea the closest to actual combat was every afternoon around 2:30 pm. A Japanese plane would fly over the camp and drop a bomb!
Let me explain the situation. The plane was a 1920’s model, the open cockpit with the pilot completely visible. He would fly very low over the camp, wave at the guys and fly way beyond the camp and drop his one single bomb over the side of the plane. Yes, I said he would drop the actual bomb by hand! Making sure that it did not hit anything but the jungle.
At the same time the anti-aircraft guns were being manned by our guys and ready to shoot the plane down. However, the guns were aimed anywhere but at the plane.
It was quite a sight all the guys were sitting around like spectators at a sporting event.
Coca Cola Run
One day one of the officers came running up to the plane saying they had to make a fast run to one of the other islands.
The pilot, co-pilot and I jumped into the plane with the captain and took off. When we landed, there was a crew waiting with four large crates. They were unmarked and heavy. We loaded them on the plane and took off for home. When we got back the whole crew was waiting, it was the crew from the bar and the bartender. It seems the huge crates were full of coca-cola, the bar had run out and they were going to have a big party. So much for emergencies!
Chuck Palmer turned 90 years old on 3 December 2010