Woodruff (Woodie) Benson
My 57th Squadron Memories
By Woodruff (Woodie) Benson
Born: September 4, 1920
Residence: Media, Pa.
Branch of Service: U.S Army Air Corps, 5th Air Force, 54th Troop Carrier Wing, 375th Troop Carrier Group, 57th Troop Carrier Squadron.
Service Time: January 29, 1942 until December 24, 1946
Family: Wife June (Deceased), Daughters: Linda and Pamela, 3 grandchildren, 7 Great grandchildren
I was born in Philadelphia but lived most of my life in the suburbs. The depression made a lasting impressions upon me with the lack of jobs, people starving etc. I graduated from high school in 1938 when the unemployment rate was 25%.Very few of my class went to college. The effort was to get a job, any job. I started working for a car dealer doing handy work for the salary of $10.00 a week. When the draft started in 1940 we realized that eventually we would be called. In September 1941 I started going to a class to prepare for the exam to become a Flying Cadet, later changed to Aviation Cadet. I was to take the exam in early 1942 and upon passing would be enlisted; however, December 7th changed all that. The exam became much easier and I waited for a call up. I was sworn in on January 29, 1942 and sent to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama.
Army Air Corps
They were not ready for us and we did a lot of drilling but not much else until April when we took a lot of tests, both mental and physical. My physical records were misplaced, so instead of being in Pilot Class 43A beginning May I had to wait for Pilot Class 43B in June. After Pre-flight, In July we were sent to Dorr Field, Arcadia, Florida for primary training. I was among the first ten in the class to solo, which proved to be my undoing. Each instructor had 5 cadets to train. Being number one in the group he left me alone to practice the 20 hour check. I had 30 flying hours when I had my check ride and was told to do not only to do the 20 hour but also the 40 hour check which I hadn't prepared for. I became a washout as did 65% of my class (the simple truth was they did not have enough facilities to take most of us (Later, I had an opportunity to go to pilot training when I came home from the Pacific which I turned down)). The day I met the washout board, only 7 of the 23 had a chance for further officer training and I was one of the seven. Fortunately my test scores were high enough that I could go to either Navigation or Bombardier training and I chose Navigation.
My navigation training was with Pan American Navigators and it was all over water which taught us the value of celestial navigation. I graduated on June 5, 1943. That night, having volunteered, I flew with a group to Fort Wayne, Indiana to navigate the 375th Troop Carrier Group overseas. We met our pilots who would became my tent mates and best friends. I was fortunate to draw Glenn Miller and Tony Mance, among the best pilots in the squadron. Before flying to San Francisco we were briefed that we were flying to the South Pacific, all over water. I don't believe the pilots were too happy to draw a bunch of navigators fresh out of school with no further training.
Off to the War
We left Hamilton Field in our C-47s about one A.M. June 17th, 1943. The planes were equipped with cabin tanks to help us make the 2400 mile trip to Hawaii. It took our plane 14 1/2 hours to reach Hickam Field in Honolulu around 3:00PM. The 57th had about 14 planes as I remember making the flight. I never worked so hard in my life as during that flight. When we had stars I got fixes about every half hour, during daylight I shot sun lines and even got a moon shot and a noon sun line which gave me a fix. We stayed overnight in Hawaii and toured Pearl Harbor the next day and as much of the city as we could.
Our next take off was for Christmas Island about 11:00PM on June 18. Christmas Island (called Kiritimati Island today) was about a five hour trip. We were warned that the troops stationed there were "island happy" and would try to buy any toiletries that contained any alcohol. A guard was put around the planes; however, our crew chiefs were always the wisest of the crew, sold our de-icier fluid since we would not need it where we were going (de-icier fluid is mostly alcohol). A small island and a lonely place.
The next stop was an atoll called Canton Island. Very small, that had been used by Pan American as a stopover to Australia. Canton is a little south of the equator. An atoll is very low on the water which you can't see until you are almost over them. It seemed that there was always a little cloud above the atolls. We gassed up there and headed for Viti Levu in the Fiji’s. During this flight we crossed the International Date Line and lost a day, not getting it back until we headed home. We overnighted there and headed for Noumea, New Caledonia, where we spent the night in tents. One incident took place caused a lot of commotion. One of the pilots while cleaning his Colt 45 accidently fired it barely missing another pilot. The following day brought us to Ipswich, Australia, which is outside of Brisbane. They put us in Quonset Huts which were cold as June is winter there. We gathered outside since it was warmer outside than in the huts.
On June 28th we finally arrived in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua, New Guinea. Moresby was quite civilized. The natives were educated by missionaries and served us our meals. That was good since our ground forces didn’t leave the States until June 27th. We stayed with and trained with the 374th Troop Carrier Group which had been there for some time. It was hot and we were introduced to mosquito netting, a necessity because of malaria.
Only two of the navigators were retained, Al Stillo and me. A mystery to me why we were selected. We were asked our preferences, my being for the Bomb Group. The other dozen or so were transferred. I got a break being named 57th Squadron Navigator. Port Moresby is on the western side of New Guinea and our missions were over the Owen Stanley Mountains. We had to fly 16,000 feet to clear the mountains which was close to the ceiling that the C-47 could fly when loaded. We would take off early in the morning in order to get back before the cloud buildup. Our missions was to drop supplies in the mountains around Salamua to Aussie and American infantry. Salamua was south of Nadzab. The back doors of the planes had been removed and we usually had Australian soldiers do the pushing (getting the cargo out the door). The drop was 500 feet or so and if we missed the target supplies could go down the mountain and the Japs would get them. On these missions we had fighter cover, usually P-39s. In the first two weeks we lost a crew, the pilot was Foster, a popular guy. It made us realize this was not all fun and games. We lost another crew later on during a missions in this area. The crew chief and two Australian pushers made it out alive, the rest were killed. Several times the fighter cover drove Japanese planes away.
We did not get any mail from home until the middle of July. That was a problem every time we moved. All our mail was censored with the officers censoring our enlisted men’s mail. Far different than today. We were not allowed to say we were in Port Moresby although the Japanese knew. The second night we were in Moresby, we were listening to Tokyo Rose who greeted the 375th Group to Port Moresby and reminded us that our wives and girlfriends were going out with civilians at home. She played big band music and we ignored her talk.
On August 3, 1943 our group was transferred to Dobodura, which was on the eastern side of the island and the other side of the Owen Stanley’s. This was near where the battle of Buna was fought from November 1942 until January 1943.The Japanese had established a beachhead to allow them to launch an overland assault over the Kokoda Trail to Port Moresby. If we had lost this battle the Japanese could have bombed Australia so this was a major battle. At Dobodura we were on our own. When we first saw our camping site we discovered a large field with Kunai grass eight feet high and muddy. We immediately started to put up our 16 by 16 four man tent. The place was full of rats as big as cats, snakes, mice and other critters so we set out trying to raise the tent off the ground. The wood shortage was solved by a couple of crew chiefs who had found that if you went to the docks at Buna and bribed the truck drivers with whiskey you could get lumber. Several of us would get on the back of the dock truck and throw lumber off while it was still moving down the road. Others would follow in one of our trucks and pick it up. In this manner we were able to build a platform roughly four feet off the ground. The next step was to raise the center post and put a parachute overhead to serve as a ceiling and help with the heat from the sun. Sides were also built. It was quite an operation. Every time we moved we took our lumber with us. Of course, we slept with mosquito netting. Eventually we added a porch and put screening all around. Unfortunately, we barely got it finished when we had to move. While in Dobodura we experienced an outbreak of Maleria, Dengue Fever and Typhus, putting a lot of the crews in the hospital. Tokyo Rose had told us that the Atribrine that we took for malaria would make us sterile. A number of the troops would not take it. Poor Dr. Paoline had to physically place the Atribrine in our mouths at mess call and make us drink water to swallow them. This proved to be a false rumor since several girls in Sydney got pregnant.
On September 5th we dropped the 503rd Parachute Regiment at Nadzab which was the first airborne operation in the Pacific. Actually it was quite uneventful. We had fighter cover, much of it around General MacArthur’s B-17 at 9000 feet. We dropped these tough troopers from 500 feet. Upon landing they met very little opposition and had secured the area by nightfall.
In September I navigated a plane to Brisbane and Townsville to get supplies. We not only got the supplies we were supposed to get but also crates of eggs, which we didn't get in New Guinea. We were under Australian rations with little fresh fruit or vegetables, no milk and bully beef almost three meals a day. We ate a lot of canned peaches that we got at the Aussie PX. A lot of time on this trip was spent buying booze, anything with alcohol. We finally got enough for two bottles for each tent, officers and enlisted men both. It was sold to the squadron at the price we paid. Of course the crew kept a little extra. We all agreed to save the booze for a party to celebrate our three months overseas. It was quite a party, and included fights, broken bones when guys fell out of their raised tents and hangovers. However, it probably brought us all a little closer.
Our combat leaves to Sydney started also in September. Every three months or so, the flying crews would get either a week or ten days (It changed). We would act as a ferry crew to take fighter pilots and bomber crews with us as well as the 57th flyers. It would take two days to get there with us usually stopping at Brisbane. The first crews, both enlisted and officer, rented large houses so we had places to stay during our leave. It worked out well. We all chipped in for the rent. Our house was in Rose Bay, a suburb on top of a hill. When the incoming crew arrived in Sydney the pilots would fly low over the house and gun the engines so that the outgoing crew would know to go to Mascot Field with a car that we also rented. The new crew would go back to the house and the old crew would fly home, always with a lot of booze. There was usually two crews in Sydney at one time. There was a catholic school and church across the street from the house. One day a priest visited us and wanted us to know that while pleased that we were there, he asked couldn't we fly higher over the house as we scared the devil out of the kids and adults when we gunned the engines. I don't think we ever were able to stop it. We had great times, eating steak and eggs every breakfast and sometimes for dinner also. The female natives were friendly also. The car would be fueled by gasoline that we brought with us. Our lousy diet made seeing dentists a high priority. The dentists would try to do everything in one visit. I had my four wisdom teeth that had come in incorrectly, pulled in one day.
The New Guinea natives' culture was quite primitive. They chewed beetlenut which gave them a mild high and made their mouths appear to be bleeding. The use of human fertilizer prevented the Americans from using their crops (there were some farms controlled by Australians that did not use human fertilizer). They talked a Pidgin English which we tried to use with varying degrees of success. The women were bare breasted which the nurses tried to change by giving them bras. The native women would put the bra around their waist and use them as pockets. There are many tribes in New Guinea, all with different cultures. When we landed at Wau or Bulolo in the interior, the natives were less civilized and we had to put a guard around the planes to prevent the natives from walking into the props. Apparently they thought the plane were some kind of god. On April, 1944 we flew over several high mountains to Dutch New Guinea which was on the western coast. The city was Merauke and the population consisted of New Guinea natives, Javanese, Malay sailors, Chinese, Australians, and Yanks. Some of the natives had been cannibals a short time ago and they wore very little clothing. The men had a shell over privates or had wrapped their penises with some kind of strips. The women wore grass skirt only.
Around base some of the enlisted men made extra money by cutting hair. Washing our clothes was a challenge. A 55 gallon drum would be cut in half, filled with water and soap and set over a fire of an inflammable liquid mixed with sand and allowed to cook. Occasionally we would stir. The results were a dingy gray which we would set out in the sun to bleach. Our dirty clothes were usually taken on a leave to Sydney to be washed properly. We also went to the barber for the full treatment.
Shortly after we arrived at Dobodura we experienced our first bombing raid. Although directed to dig slit trenches very few of us did and those that were dug were not very deep. The bombing changes all of that. It seemed that we would get bombed every moonlit night which encouraged more and deeper digging. No bombs ever hit our camp but a few were fairly close. Their targets were the airfield or the harbor. Our flights were to Nadzab, Lae area and also to Bougainville and Guadalcanal in the Solomon’s.
Gary Cooper visited us one time. The night that his group was to appear, they were bombed and they got muddy from seeking shelter under the jeeps. He was accompanied by Phyllis Brooks, a big-busted glamour girl and Una Merkel, a character actress. I talked to them several times and had my picture taken with Miss Brooks arms about me. I wonder what happened to those pictures.
One night coming back from seeing a movie at another outfit, our flashlight caught a glimpse of a large snake. We broke the record for the standing high jump and ran. After calming down we returned and saw a dead boa constrictor. It was eight to ten feet long and thick. After our return to camp our story about the snake was widely circulated. I was helping censor mail at that time and read that the size of the snake had grown, up to 32 feet. One brave man had personally killed the snake with only a knife.
On December 20, 1943, we moved back to Port Moresby. The 374th Troop Carrier Group consisting of the 6th, 21st, 22nd & 33rd Troop Carrier Squadrons had gone home. Our flights to Sydney were shorter but the flights north were longer and over the Owen Stanley’s. These mountains caused problems we sometimes had to abort missions because of the cloud buildup. The squadron started a weather ship and a navigator had to be aboard. Since there were only two navigators I got a lot of flying time during that period. We would get up at 3:45 AM, take off in the dark and fly to the mountains where we would observe the clouds, precipitation, visibility, ceiling, etc. The navigator would encode the information, give it to the radio operator and send it back to the base. Missions were scheduled or canceled relying on this information.
Our first Christmas in New Guinea was not a happy one. Presents from home were late in arriving and morale was not high. Some presents didn't arrive until spring. Apparently there must have been articles in the papers back home as to what to send the troops overseas. They must have emphasized fruit cakes because we got lots of them. I never realized how many types of fruit cakes there were. If they were delayed coming to us they were often moldy when received.
We saw the same faces day in and day out. Other than flying to Australia we did not see people who was not in our squadron. No civilians and no place to go other than some other outfits movies. The flyers had a break getting combat leave. The others did not get that break. Different soldiers handled this in different ways. Several got "Section Eights"(crazy.) Later on several pilots got "combat fatigue" and were sent home. For the most part we were not allowed to write home about our missions.
Port Moresby had its advantages. Our tents were already on a platform and screened; however, our tent was on the top of a steep hill and it was very hot and damp. One day I collapsed with a sunstroke which bothered me for many years after.
At the end of February, 1944 our squadron had a mission to Fenton, Australia which is next to Darwin, at the northern end. We flew first to Cooktown and from there we flew low level to Fenton. We saw a lot of the middle of Australia which is desert- like with very little population. Our plane had a problem during this flight. Because of a hydraulic leak we couldn't put the landing gear down. Fortunately, we were able to crank the gear down and our landing was ok. At this time I had about 300 hours, both combat and non-combat.
On April 22, 1944 we moved to Nadzab in the Markham Valley. This was a welcome move as we were further north and we no longer had to fly over the Owen Stanley’s. It was also cooler with a nice breeze at night. I had been on detached service there prior to our move. Nadzab was founded as a Lutheran Mission in 1910. It is near Lae, a bigger town and the place that Amelia Earhart had taken off from on her ill-fated flight. The Fifth Air Force was bombing the big bases of Wewak and Hollandia into oblivion. On just one day the Fifth AF had destroyed over three hundred Japanese planes in their revetments. I had a flight to Hollandia shortly after and could see the destroyed Jap planes.
About this time our squadron got a B-17. This aircraft would be used on missions where we could not have fighter cover but could expect Japanese attacks. Our pilots and crew chiefs had very little training time before we started using it. We would carry gunners and the navigator assignment was in the nose shooting a 50 caliber machine gun. Some of our most interesting missions were in the B-17. One of our early missions was to drop supplies out of the bomb bays to troops near Hollandia. The missions to New Britain were the best and challenging for the navigator. The biggest Japanese base in this part of the Pacific was at Rabaul, which was on the northeastern part. B-24s and B-25s constantly attacked it and lost many planes doing so. We finally bypassed it. Australian coast watchers were positioned near Rabaul and reported their findings back to New Guinea. Our mission was to fly low level (500 feet) to get under the radar, hit a spot at a certain time and if we saw signal fires, drop all we could in one pass and get out of there. We never saw the signal fires until we were almost on top of them.
The flights to the Admiralties were also interesting. The First Brigade of the First Cavalry Division had landed on Los Negros on February 29, 1944. Later on they also took another island, Manos. These islands were important as it virtually sealed off Rabaul from being supplied. It also made shorter flights for us for points north. The fighting was intense and a number of casualties were realized by both sides. Using the B-17, the first day of our mission we dropped ammunition, grenades, blood supplies, etc. and machined gun the other end of the strip (later named Momote) where the Japs were hidden in a swamp like area. The next day the strip was under American control. Our mission that day turned out to be exciting. As we were dropping supplies one of the engines quit. This engine was feathered to prevent wind milling. At that time the crew had very little experience in a B-17. In attempting to transfer the fuel from the bad engine, we lost a second engine. With only two engines the pilots decided to land on the small strip. The plane was dropped from a height to shorten the landing. After getting down safely we set about fixing the plane. The commander of the Brigade, General Chase, invited us to lunch. They told us about the invasion and the fighting. The Japanese had tried to recapture the islands but were beaten off. We were told that their battle cry was "to hell with Babe Ruth." Before the war American ball players, including Babe Ruth, had toured Japan. After the B-17 was fixed, General Chase asked us to take a Japanese prisoner and a sick American officer back to Finchhaven, where we were on detached service. Chase was afraid that the prisoner would not survive the night because of the bitterness of the GIs. We agreed to do so but cautioned that we had far less takeoff room than normal. As we were getting to depart, GIs approached us with a helmet full of money that they wanted to give us if we would throw the prisoner out of the bomb bays but of course, we could not do that. Using all his skill, the pilot got us airborne. As an aftermath of our landing, on a later mission to Wewak, the landing gear buckled and we spun through a bomb dump. No one was seriously hurt but it was an exciting few seconds. That was the last of the B-17 in the 57th squadron. I had flown about a 100 hours in her and was sorry to see her wrecked.
After getting back from detached service with the Sixth Army, my tent mates and I started to build another house at Nadzab. With our experience at Dobodura behind us, we did a better job. Empty 55 gallon drums served as the base for our 16' by 16' house. Next we put in a floor and screened in the house, including a door. This did away with the mosquito netting. At this time we only had three of us in the tent, Glenn, Tony and me. I never had better friends. Each bed was positioned so that we had plenty of room with a reading lamp behind them. Shelves and a writing table was built with a yellow parachute for our ceiling.
In May 1944 I went on my third leave to Sydney. About that time I had about 400 hours of which 160 were combat. Combat hours were given to areas where the Japanese planes could be encountered. We were strafed several times while on the ground at Nadzab. Colonel Pitts, the Group CO's plane was hit but no one was hurt.
During this time we played a lot of softball, usually the enlisted men against the officers. The enlisted men had a professional ball player from The American Association and we had a left handed professional soft ball pitcher. Games were played every day in the heat with teams changing due to flying schedules. A combination of both teams played other units. I don't remember us ever losing against other teams. War had its good moments.
On May 27th, the 41st Division invaded Biak, an island about one degree south of the equator. We started making flights to Biak and brought back wounded with the help of evacuation nurses. We lost a plane about that time. By the end of June 1944 the island had been secured, although there were pockets of Japanese left over living in the many caves on Biak. The first tank battle in the Pacific occurred there. Also in June I was awarded my first Air Medal (I eventually got four.) Dad received a letter from General George Kenney, head of the Far Eastern Command saying in part "for participation in aerial flights in the Southwest Pacific Area from July 18, 1943 to March 9, 1944, your son took part in sustained operational flight missions during which hostile contact was probable and expected."
On June 6, 1944 the invasion of Europe began. We had radio broadcasted on loud speakers so that we could hear the progress. Much of the news we got from other sources was old (news print & letters) so the radio was great. The bombing of Japan started and the war was definitely turning our way. Rumors were being spread about going home. We had been overseas more than a year and had done a lot of flying. I thought I would get home by Christmas of 1944. Actually it was almost Christmas of the next year. I finally made First Lt. on July 9th, 1944 just when I thought I would never make it.
On July 4, 1944, I went on a very interesting trip. As I mentioned we had very few fresh vegetables. There was a mission up in the Chimbu Valley that had a number of native gardens overseen by Australian’s and no human fertilizers used. The 54th Wing, our parent wing, was making almost weekly visits and taking home the crops. We felt that we also were entitled to them. My buddies Glenn, Tony and Bill Murray the squadron supply officer decided to see if we could make a deal with the Aussies. Armed with whiskey, cartons of cigarettes and determined not to take no for an answer we took off at 8:30AM. It was an hour flight into the interior. There was a cloud layer below where we though the gardens were so we had a problem finding them. Finally diving through the clouds we discovered we had entered the valley. Even from the air it looked different than any part of New Guinea we had seen. It looked civilized, not wild or jungle. Native villages and gardens were numerous. Finally we sighted a grass strip and landed our C-47. The name was Karawga, indicated by a sign at the end of the strip. After landing we were worried that the natives would walk into the props which was a concern in Wau and other locations. Not to worry, we had a greeting committee of about 100 natives and one Aussie. The native were small but very sturdy looking. We noticed a number of sweater girls but no sweaters, actually nothing except a grass skirt. Nurses had given some of the native girls in other locations bras. The native girls put them around their waists and used them as pockets. Pictures were taken and I still have some. The Aussie took us to his house and I mean house. It had carpets, furniture, curtains, etc. There was a beautiful stuffed bird-of-paradise on a table. Bargaining with the Aussie was fun. We exchanged our whiskey and cigarettes for a planeload of fresh corn, beans, lettuce, cabbages, sugar cane and a native fruit that looked like a lemon and other items. After the bargaining was done we got a tour of the area. It was a beautiful spot. Quite high, with about 5300 feet, mountains in the background. Most of the natives lived elsewhere and came to work every day in the gardens. If a native got sick they had their own doctor boy who could put them in a hospital, if necessary. There was a school with the teachers being other natives who had been taught in a mission school. Arizona Glenn and Texas Bill spotted a horse and had to ride him. Back to the house for tea and strawberries with real cream!
The natives had their own marriage traditions. A fellow could have as many wives as he could afford. Of course, the best looking girls bring the highest prices. A prospective suitor spies a girl he likes, takes a pig over to the father and the pig is then killed. The suitor, father and girl then eat the pig. Then the bargaining begins on the price the suitor must pay for the girl. If the suitor can't meet the price, the father keeps the girl until the suitor can meet the price. Of course, the suitor has to sleep with the young lady to see if everything is ok. The Aussie told us that for a pinch of salt he can get us a "quickie" or for a machete, a wife. We turned down his kind offer.
The squadron had fresh vegetables for several days. Several days after returning the four of us were called into CO Ben King's tent where a very irate bird colonel met us. He wanted to know what right did we have to take their, the Wing's (54th), produce. Innocently we thought it was for all the squadrons, not just the wing. After yelling some more he left. Colonel King thought it best if we gave up all thoughts of returning but we did go back later.
On September 14th a few of us were transferred to Biak which was the largest of the Schouten Island Group. It was owned by the Dutch so our pay changed from Australian currency to Dutch Guilders (later it was Philippine pesos). I played a lot of poker so I quickly learned the value of each. During this time I was also Squadron Weight and Balance officer so I was able to arrange for the moving of our house and its contents from Nadzab to Biak. Water on Biak was a problem. It had been our practice to dig wells at the various locations for cooking, washing, showers, etc. On Biak we went down some distance without reaching water therefore water had to be brought in. Biak's APO was 920, Port Moresby was 929, Dobodura’s was 903 and I cannot remember Nadzab's. Old age, I guess. Incidentally my wife, June, was stationed on Biak at an Evacuation Hospital. I did not know her until my trip home.
I navigated the lead plane into many of these locations, sometimes with Colonel Pitts, the 375th Group Commander. The Colonel liked to be in the first plane to land, so it was when we flew to Moratai, in the Halmeheras. This was a 1300 mile round trip from Biak and all over water. There was a shortage of navigators although we had added a few. Therefore I started flying a lot and my other duties were transferred to others. The Halmeheras were used as a staging area for the Philippine invasion.
On September 15th the marines invaded Peleliu in the Palua Islands. The purpose was to give us a stop on the way to the Philippines. On October 15th I was asked to navigate Colonel Pitts on the first 5th Air Force plane to Peleliu. The purpose was to plan for future 5th Air Force planes to land there. On board were 4 full colonels and one light colonel, all command pilots. It was a trying mission with the colonels always looking over my shoulder and Colonel Pitts asking me whether to fly right or left of the cloud bank, as if I cared. Flying over the equator was a problem in itself. There is a wind shift before the equator, another one in the middle and another one on the other side. It was a cloudy day so a Celestial shot was out and It was all dead reckoning. We arrived ok although Colonel Pitts was not happy because I missed my ETA by about 6 minutes. Frankly, I thought I did a good job. After arriving the bigwigs left the crew chief, radio operator and me to shift for ourselves as we were to stay overnight. The island was not fully taken and we could see ridges that were being shelled, all lit up as bright as day so that the Japs could not sneak out of there. It was called "Bloody Nose Ridge." After dark I tried to get the three of us some food, so I left the plane. Not a good idea as shortly after starting out I heard a rifle being cocked and a voice saying "Stop, advance and give the password.” I had no idea what the password was and I was scared to death. There had been a lot of casualties and they were trigger-happy. Fortunately, he didn't shoot me and I was able to convince him that I was not a Jap. He gave me the password and directions. I got some food for us and we slept in the plane. Not too much sleep with the shells and lights going off all night.
The Philippine invasion started on October 17th at Leyte (Leyte is an island in the Visayas group of the Philippines). The battle of Leyte Gulf was October 23, 24, 25 and is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history. The Group was dispatched to Anguar, which is an island next to Peleliu in the Palua Islands. The stay there was several days waiting for the sea battle to be over. Cots were put under the planes for sleeping. Our food was ten-in-one rations (10-in-1 ration was a field ration prepared for soldiers of the United States Army, intended to provide one meal for 10 men). One night a Japanese blew up a makeshift flight tower killing an American soldier and himself. From then on we maintained a guard. Finally we took off as the strip at Tacloban had been cleared of carrier planes whose carriers were sunk or damaged in the battle of Leyte Gulf. They did this by bulldozing them into Leyte Gulf. I was navigating for our CO, Major James Smith who was to lead the second element. Colonel Pitts was leading the first. I had assigned Charlie Reid, a good navigator, to fly with the colonel. As I mentioned flying with the Colonel was no fun and I took the easy way out. It was about a 6 hour flight and after about 3 hours into the flight I was alarmed as we were heading too far south. I alerted Major Smith and gave him a new heading. Radio silence had to be observed so there was no way to communicate. All the planes followed us except for the Colonel and his wing men. I thought for sure that Charlie would check his math and follow. It didn't happen. So I was in the first 5th Air Force plane to land at Leyte with Major Smith. After we were on the ground for about an hour Colonel Pitt's plane landed. He hardly was on the ground before I was summoned. He was angry. Why did I put someone else with him? From now on I was to navigate for him. Thank goodness, he went home shortly after and he only had a couple more missions. Air strips were improving as the strip at Tacloban was metal which had been put down by the Navy.
We started making regular flights to Leyte which was all over water. A number of new navigators was assigned, some good and some not so. There was a shortage and as a result we all did a lot of flying. I had my leave to Sydney canceled. In fact, I was on the plane with my good clothes and was taken off to fly another squadron's plane to Leyte. Boy, was I angry. Our biggest problem was the weather which could be stressful at times with changing winds and fronts. Our original pilots were being sent home and being replaced by less experienced ones. We were strafed at Tacloban twice by Zeros. When this happened you got away from the planes as fast as you can run. There were a number of multi-day missions where I could not get to my home base. This meant no showers, no shaving, lousy food and too much K Rations. It was the rainy season and the town of Tacloban was a sea of mud. Sometimes we ate at portable kitchens in the pouring rain. Nothing like having peaches over your potatoes that was full of water. We all jammed into tents for the night. I flew 120 hours in November 1944. I not only flew for the 57th but other squadrons as well because of the shortage of navigators.
In December I was asked to fly for a General Prentis from the 54th Troop Carrier Wing to Leyte. The pilot was a colonel and the co-pilot was a major. There were a scattering of Colonels aboard including a Colonel DuPont of the Wilmington DuPont’s. When the flight was over the pilot drove me back to my outfit and told me I did a good job.
I finally got my leave in late December which included the Christmas Holidays. Before leaving I had been on a flight to Mindoro in the Philippines, where we were jumped by Zeros. Our escort shot a number of them down. It was big news in the Sydney papers which was exciting to read. Jim Smith suggested I stay a few extra days in Sydney since I was quite tired and this I did. I stayed an extra week. Unfortunately I neglected to sign the manifest on the plane I was supposed to be on. This created problems since I was declared AWOL. The AWOL notice went from Far East Command to 5thAir Force to 54thWing to 375th Group and finally to 57th Squadron. The 375th Group CO, now Colonel Wiley, and my 57th CO, Major Smith were not concerned about where I was. But were angry at me for not signing the manifest. My Captaincy was going through channels at that time and had to be withdrawn for about another three months and that is why I was the last remaining of the original flying officers still overseas. It turned out for the best. I would have missed some of the best excitement and would not have met my future wife. It was fate.
When I returned I was sent on detached service to Peleliu so that our flights to Leyte could be made in one day. Food was lousy, mostly 10-in-1 Rations. When possible we ate at the Seabees mess. We did have an opportunity to tour Bloody Nose Ridge which was honeycombed with caves. Some of the caves were sealed with concrete with the Japs still in them. There was a lot of Japanese equipment lying around which we were warned not to touch since some of it was booby-trapped. Also a few dead Japs that had not been buried. While on Peleliu, a group of Japanese came down from another island to kill as many of us before dying. It was a harrowing few hours before the army captured or killed them. In January of 1945 I flew 20 straight days,
On one of our missions, Bill Fotis, a new pilot, was first pilot. The weather was rough leaving Peleliu and we had to go through a front. Our altitude was 11,000 feet, the plane was being hammered and we were being tossed around. Bill started to turn to go lower which caused the plane to go into a steep dive, pinning me to my seat and I couldn't move. Finally at 1000 feet Bill was able to pull us out. The rest of the flight was at low levels where we were knocked around a bit but nothing like we had gone through. When we got to Leyte the plane was inspected and grounded because of the stress it had undergone. The paint had come off the nose and the leading edge of the wings were pure silver. We deadheaded back to Peleliu.
Another flight from Leyte to Peleliu was also eventful. Because of weather we had to take a longer flight path at a lower altitude which caused us to run low on fuel. It was a beautiful moonlit night so we thought we could ditch ok if we had to. Peleliu was alerted and they sent out a PBY to escort us in. Our pilot, maintained a higher altitude than usual so he could dive at the strip. Just as we landed the engines quit. We were lucky.
At this time we were changing from C-47s to C-46 and our pilots were being replaced. An island close to Biak was Owi (Owi Airfield is a former World War II airfield located on Pulau Owi island in the Schouten Islands, Indonesia), much smaller. A new crew was bringing about 21 soldiers from Owi to Biak in a C-47 when they lost an engine on their final approach. Apparently the pilot increased the speed on the good engine and it turned and crashed into a hill. I was on the strip at the time and was one of the first to arrive. There was little fire. The plane split apart at the door. All were dead except for three that we took out of the back. I'm sure one of them died later. The co-pilot had just moved into my tent as Glenn and Tony had left.
In February 1945 we were transferred to San Jose, Mindoro, APO 321, one of the 7000 Philippine Islands The Sixth Army was attacking Manila from the south and the First Cavalry from the north. We landed in a rice patty near a town named Imus that had been liberated the night before by the Sixth Army, to pull out the wounded. The entire town came out to greet us. We gave them all our cigarettes and rations for which they were grateful. A week late we landed there again and they only wanted Lucky strikes, Camels and Chesterfields. No Raleigh’s for them. They learned fast.
At this time we were almost flying nothing but C-46s. Coming back empty from Clark Field, where we had undergone a mortar attack, we flew over Manila which was burning, enroute to Mindoro. We got a call from a walkie-talkie asking us if we could land and take former civilian prisoners to safety. They had been freed the day before from Santo Tomas University. The Japanese were shelling the University and although the University had walls completely surrounding it they were trying to evacuate as many as possible so they would not be injured or killed. Our pilots decided to try it and we landed on Quezon Boulevard in our C-46. We loaded as many as we could, children, women and men. The adults were skinny so we got a lot abroad; however, taking off from the boulevard was scary. The pilot pulled the wheels out at the last moment. The former prisoners told me many stories. A Boston priest told me when they first saw American planes they cheered. For that act the Japanese made them stare at the sun. One of the women on the plane was ostracized as apparently she had had a Japanese boyfriend. We landed there a few days later and visited Santo Tomas. An USO show was going on at that time. This was a very interesting experience.
In April 1945, I navigated a plane to Sydney, taking three days to get there. It was an unexpected vacation. The first leg was to Port Moresby, the second to Brisbane and a shorter leg to Sydney. The CO Jim Smith came down two days later and switched me with his navigator so I spent a few extra days. While we were there President Roosevelt died. Australia went into mourning. They would come up to us, sometimes crying and expressed their sympathy. At that time there were few Americans in Sydney as it was no longer a leave town. On the way home the plane's brake assembly broke so we spent a few days in a hotel in Brisbane. While there Australia celebrated Boxer Day, with parades which we were able to view from our hotel. Americans, Australians British and New Guinea natives marching in their bare feet. They were the best. We finally got home after being away for 18 days.
When I back to base Colonel Wiley asked me to be the 375th Group Navigator. Since I had been the acting Group Navigator it made little difference. It meant conducting classes and a lot of paperwork, we had about 18 navigators in the 57th alone. VE Day came on May 9th. We did little celebrating as finally the emphasis was going to be on the Pacific Theater.
On May 19th we were transferred to Porac, Luzon, which is Clark Field. Differences were noticed right away; our house was 20 by 20, not 16 by 16; the food was far better and was served by Filipino mess boys. I was promoted to Captain on May 25. In June I was on the first Fifth Air Force plane to land on Okinawa. We stayed overnight and what a night it was. Japanese planes attempting to land in order to do as much damage as they could. The ships surrounding the island sent up a smoke screen so thick you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. We had been sleeping under the plane but decided to find a better shelter. Explosions were seen and heard, flak was coming down and shots were being fired. It was a welcome sound to hear the all clear.
On June 3rd General Prentiss presented me with an Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. He remembered me from the previous December.
In July we went on maneuvers with the 503rd Parachute Regiment in preparation for the invasion of Japan. A Pathfinder group would parachute in in advance of the army with radar to indicate the landing area. The expected time was November 1945. Many casualties were expected on both sides. The Japanese civilians were expected to fight also as they were being trained to resist by using any weapon they could get their hands on, to include bamboo poles. The 57th squadron was expected to participate. My orders to go home was scheduled to be put in during early August so I did not expect to take part.
The dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6th was a complete surprise to all of us. Another year of fighting was expected at the very least. "Golden Gate by 48" was a slogan being passed around. When Japan sued for peace on August 15th it meant a lot of flying between Manila and Okinawa ferrying men and equipment to administer the peace. All fighting stopped by August 17th.
The 57th was transferred to Okinawa on August 20, 1944 from Porac, Luzon (Clark Field). On August 28th we took 250 specialists and equipment to Atsugi Air Base near Yokahoma, Japan. Our orders were to land, unload and get out of there as quickly as possible. They did not want any incidents. When we took off from Okinawa our engines did not check out properly but we decided to go anyway otherwise we would have had to abort the mission. After all this time in the Pacific we did not want to miss this climax. After landing we decided we had pushed our luck enough. One of the other pilots was told about the parts we needed which would be brought in on August 30th, when General MacArthur would arrive with the 11th Airborne. Soon a Colonel Johnson came storming over to our plane and told us to "get our asses in the air." Since I was the ranking officer, he addressed me. I told him the plane was unflyable and we needed parts. He threatened to court martial us if we didn't get in the air since we got there we better get out of there. He was told he could fly the plane but we were not. Finally he calmed down and told us to put the plane in one of the hangars, which we did. It turned out that the colonel was Robert Johnson who had been an ace in the European Theater and had just been transferred to The Pacific Theater.
We stayed two nights sleeping under the wing. The fact that there was only 250 of us caused some uneasiness. This was not helped by having a Japanese platoon drilling outside of our hangar during the middle of the night. There were grutteral commands followed by hitting soldiers when they made a mistake. Our Colt 45’s were not much of a defense. A Corsair (F-4U) pilot landed off a carrier and stayed with us the second night with us.
Finally the 11th Airborne came in on the 30th bringing our needed parts. Many reporters of different countries including Japanese, arrived with them and interviewed us but I never found any references to us in any of the papers we read. Alas, our 15 minutes of fame vanished. General Douglas MacArthur arrived in a C-54, standing at the top of the stairs, looking around and finally acknowledged General Krugar at the bottom. A historical moment. Shortly after, the plane now repaired, we left for Okinawa.
While awaiting orders to go home I made several flights to Japan. About September 18th, a typhoon hit Okinawa with winds up to 120 miles an hour. After our tent blew down, we spent the night in caves where the Okinawans bury their dead. Several planes were damaged. I left for Manila a couple days after that and the squadron went to Japan. I was the last of the original flying officers to go home. Over three weeks were spent in a Repo-Depo in Manila. It wasn't pleasant as cots were jammed so tight that there was no place to put your feet except at the end.
Finally the orders came in. We left the camp early in the morning and stayed in busses until 5PM when we boarded the USS General A. W. Brewster for the welcomed journey home.
The next morning we learned that a contingent of nurses had boarded during the night. There were 100 nurses and only 50 officers so we thought the voyage would be more fun if we met some of them. The ship had just got under way and we were passing Corregidor when we went topside. The nurses were from the 503rd General Hospital and had been stationed on Biak. To make this story shorter I got friendly with the best looking of them, June Parr from Republic, Washington. The voyage lasted 18 days and at the end I asked her to marry me. Not much privacy on the ship with 3000 GIs and Eskimo, etc. aboard so she was surprised. However after thinking it over for a day, she said yes. Our marriage lasted more than 65 years so I guess we knew what we were doing.
I finally got home about November 15, 1945. I had not been home since January 1942, a long time. I developed malaria which caused problems since the local doctors did not know how to treat it and I wasn't about to spend my Christmas in an army hospital. June came east to marry me and brought Atabrine which solved the problem. I stayed in the Air Corps through 1946 stationed in Greenville, North Carolina, Ellington Field, Kelly Field and Amarillo, all in Texas. Finally went to Chanute Field, Illinois, where I was to go to school to become a supply officer, no longer flying. That and other problems caused me to get out at the end of 1946. After leaving the service I got a job with The Atlantic Refining Company working at various positions until finally becoming a computer systems analyst. I attended Wharton Evening School at night, finally graduating in 1953. I worked 18 years for Atlantic and left to take a lead system analyst position for Sun Oil at an increase in pay. I stayed with Sun for 19 years with my last job being Manager, Records Management. I became a national officer of the Records Management Association, winning a number of awards. After retiring from Sun I worked as a consultant for about 8 years.
My military career lasted almost 5 years. While overseas I flew 1400 hours with a little over half combat hours. Those hours included 1000 in the C-47s, 300 in the C-46 and 100 in a B-17. I was awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, eight battle stars on my Asiatic Pacific ribbon, American Theater, WWII Victory Medal, Air Force Longevity Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Medal and a Good Conduct Medal (when I was a cadet.