Republic of Korea Service
Just as I was finishing the second year as an instructor, I was recalled into what had become the Air Force, a separate service. That meant buying new uniforms because blue had replaced pink & green. My first assignment was to a B‐29 unit at Barksdale AFB, LA. A few flights were made there, but only one stands out in my mind. On that flight, while plotting a run, I laid a pair of dividers on top of a switch box that was not entirely enclosed. The vibration of the aircraft soon caused the dividers to fall into the wiring of the box. That shorted out the whole system. I delved into the area under the floorboards and was able to locate a fuse that was causing the outage. Correcting that got the system back into operation, and we were able to complete the mission. The next morning when we landed, I called home and was informed that my first child, a son, had been born just about the time the radar system had been knocked out.
ASSIGNMENT TO KOREA
After a very short time at Barksdale, I was selected with eight other "triple‐rated" observers, to go to Korea. My assignment was to the 95th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Group, which was stationed at a location designated as K‐9, about six miles north of Pusan. It was a B‐26 unit, which meant a new experience in a different aircraft, but one suited to our training. The B‐26s that we had were formerly designated the A‐26, Douglas Invader. Most of the planes were painted almost completely black because most of our missions were at night.
There were two types of nose configurations. One was a "glass nose" which had a bombsight for bombing, and the other was a "hard nose" with eight 50 caliber guns in two vertical rows. There were four potential crew positions in the B‐26, with a pilot flying in the left seat, of course. A navigator might fly in the right seat, and, in the glass nose, a bombardier might fly in the nose position. There was a separate compartment in the rear of the aircraft, and that might be occupied by either a "radar observer" or a gunner. The radar term was used loosely, because the system installed in the B‐26, actually was a Shoran system. Since I could fly in any of the observer positions and was not assigned to a specific crew, I flew a great deal. Often my missions were with the squadron or group commander, because neither had a regular crew. Sometimes there was a necessity to fly in place of another observer who had been incapacitated in one way or another.
The K ‐9 base had just one runway, one end of which pointed out to the ocean. The other three sides of the base were surrounded by high mountains. The planes took off out over the ocean and landed in from the ocean. Because of the high mountains the "go around" procedure essentially was to "pull up and pray". One foggy night a pilot missed his approach and pulled up, but he either did a vertical 270, or he could not maintain flying speed. We lost a crew right at the field. There were five types of missions flown by the B‐26 crews. One was the well‐known formation mission. There often were escort aircraft on those missions. I believe they usually were P‐51s or F‐86s, that might be flown by Americans or Australians. Both would chase the Migs, but the Aussies came back relatively quickly, while the Americans chased the enemy as far as they could. Close to the target the worry was the anti‐aircraft batteries. I feel fortunate in that many of the batteries that I encountered seemed to be inaccurate.
On one formation mission I was in the bombardier position in the number two aircraft and could see the "golf balls" going up between us and the lead aircraft. That never varied all the way down the bomb run. Any variation would have got one of us. On another such mission I could look down and see the explosions a relatively safe distance below, and they never varied. Another type of mission was the bomber stream. I flew in the lead aircraft with the Squadron Commander, LTC Ben West, on one mission of that type. The procedure was for the lead aircraft to identify the target and drop fire bombs. That aircraft then would climb to a higher altitude. As the other aircraft, on a fixed separation, called in over the "IP", the crew was directed to drop at a position relative to the established fire or fires. I also remember an instance when I was a bombardier in the bomber stream. Coming in on the run I could actually see houses in the light of the fires. We had been told that the people had been told to leave, but, "What if they didn't?" That is the only time that I can remember having to force myself to make a drop.
The other three types of missions were single plane sorties. One was the reconnaissance type, where the crew was searching for targets of opportunity to destroy. Primarily, that meant truck convoys and trains, especially the locomotives. The latter were considered quite a prize because they could haul such huge cargos, and they were quite hard to find. One reason that locomotives were especially difficult to find was that they often could hide in one of the many tunnels. I vividly remember one of the night "recce" missions that I flew. I was in the nose position with Col. Bill Lindley, the Group Commander, as the pilot. For one thing, early in the mission we saw a bright light that looked like a locomotive headlight, and Col. Lindley headed for it.
I recalled that we had lost a plane in that same vicinity the previous night. Over the intercom I asked, "Sir, when did you ever see a train up here running with its light on?". He immediately turned off, realizing that it probably was an ambush. Later that night we did spot a locomotive. Unfortunately it was located at the bottom of a high cliff on one side, and an anti‐aircraft battery of the other. The Colonel decided to come in over the cliff and then encounter the gun fire when he could maneuver, on the way out. It was the right decision, but it presented a problem for me. I needed to drop two 500‐pound bombs exactly at the edge of the cliff in order to hit the locomotive, but if I was too short, we would be the victims. Luckily, the bombs cleared the cliff and went up under the locomotive. Steam went soaring skyward, and we managed to escape.
A fourth type of mission was called a "radar" mission. I flew on some of those, operating the Shoran set in the rear compartment of the aircraft. Two of them I remember very well. On one the flak was getting quite intense but I started preparations for the drop. Unexpectedly, the pilot called, "Bombs away", salvoed the bombs, and got out of there. On another, we were in exactly the same kind of situation, but that pilot was more dedicated and elected to continue through the flak. Because he did, I was able to blow up an ammunition supply depot. Although we were not in a position to completely enjoy the sight, we were treated to the biggest and best "fireworks" display one could imagine. We survived, and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The last type of mission that we flew was called a “tadpole" mission. "Tadpole" was short for Tactical Air Direction Post mission. I flew on eight of those, but each one only earned half a mission credit toward the required "fifty missions" to go home. A tadpole mission was a low‐level mission over the front lines, during which a Forward Air Controller gave specific directions for the bomb drop. Actually, in a way, those seemed more scary than others because we were at low level, in the dark, over enemy lines, and under someone else's directions. On all of my missions in Korea, I must admit that I was more apprehensive in my approach to the missions than I had been during WWII. It may have been because I was older, or because I had a family, or something else, but I did notice a difference.
A VISIT TO JAPAN
I was given an "R&R", or break, part way through my tour. I went to Japan and experienced one of the more interesting trips of my life. I had heard about historic Kyoto and decided that I should go there. I went to the railroad station but had an extremely difficult time trying to buy a ticket. It all happened because I was saying, "Keeyoto", when the station people needed to hear "K‐yoto". On the early phase of the trip I encountered a man across the aisle of the car, who never would talk to me. However, we passed notes, in English, back and forth. His questions were simple ones such as: What nationality was I?, Was I married?, Did I have a family? We carried on that correspondence for quite some time and toward the end everyone in the car was gathered around that man to find out about me.
Finally, I showed him my ticket, and everybody around seemed to get excited. They pushed me to the door, and one young man made it known that I was to go with him. Very soon the train stopped and, when the door opened, the young man started nudging me along to a fast pace, shouting, "Hubba, Hubba". We traveled the full length of the platform, over an overpass, and down another platform to where there was a car with an open door. He pushed me through the door, just as it closed. I never would have made it without his help. On the second phase of the trip an older lady, across the aisle, leaned over and said something simple, that I don't remember, but I had a phrase book and looked it up. I found an answer of sorts, and we carried on a "conversation", one word at a time.
At one point, for want of something to say, I said what I thought was the word for train. Everybody in the car must have been listening, because they all burst out laughing. The old lady leaned over again and said the word for electric train. In error I had said the word for steam train. That was a very enjoyable trip. I spent some time there in Kyoto, and visited many of its points of interest. I even happened onto a shrine that was being reconstructed. To finance the work they accepted donations and allowed the donor to write his name on one of the shingles. My name may be on a couple of that shrine's shingles.
I completed the required missions in only about six months and was transferred back to the "States". My assignment after returning from Korea, was to Harlingen AFB, TX, as a Navigation Instructor‐‐again. When my time was up, I again became separated from active duty, and went back to college for another degree. I did remain active in the USAF Reserve and retired in 1972.
Lester Snyder is far right