When the United States entered World War ll, after Pearl Harbor, I was in the employment of the Army Ordinance Department, at the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts. The job, as an apprentice machinist, consisted of creating items from metal. It was challenging and also allowed attending night classes at MIT. The position was a draft deferred one, desired by many, but I soon learned that it had a downside. As the country began to get deeper into the war effort, I began to feel that I should be doing something more obvious to help my country. I wanted to join the military, and I could not, due to the draft deferred position. It was necessary to obtain an official release.
A request for a release was submitted but it was refused. A week or so later, another request was made, with the same results. The efforts became continual, and increasingly more frequent. Eventually I was appearing before the commanding officer every morning. Finally he consented, the release was granted, and I enlisted in the Army Air Forces. I became an Aviation Cadet, and it was off to Basic Training at Greensboro, NC. When I reported for duty I took nothing with me, as instructed. However, we were issued nothing for about two weeks. I tried to keep my clothes washed, but after train rides and drilling, my clothes obviously were not clean.
Basic was followed by College Training Detachment at Michigan State College. That was followed by the Classification Center at San Antonio, TX. At that time the Medical Center there was requesting volunteers for experiments concerning "explosive decompression". The object was to determine how the human body would react when instantly changed from a pressure equal to 8,000 feet of altitude to that at 40,000 feet. I volunteered to be one of the "guinea pigs". There seemed to be no adverse effects. However when the simulated decompression occurred, the body involuntarily straightened as contained gasses expanded. If an oxygen mask was put on relatively quickly, one could continue functioning in a normal manner.
Following the classification testing, I was given a choice of training as a pilot, navigator, or bombardier. My choice might not be considered rational to those who know the status of the pilot in the Air Forces. However, my reasoning was that navigation training might provide at least some training that could be related to engineering, my ultimate goal. That choice made, my next station was Selman Army Air Field at Monroe, LA. There I finished Preflight School, eventually becoming a cadet sergeant. Navigation School, where I became a cadet captain, was completed at the same location. At graduation I was selected as one of eighteen, of the class of 320, to go to Instructor School, still at the same location. Following that, I remained at Selman AAF at a navigation instructor, but only for a month or so. At that time all navigation instructors were given a test, and 75, including me, were chosen to attend Radar Observer training. Victoryille AAF, CA, became my new home for a few weeks. One thing that comes to mind about that period concerns an incident on a training flight in a B-24.
On the return from a bomb run I relaxed by sitting on the floor and leaning back against the front wheel, which retracted into the nose compartment. About that time the pilot decided to lower the gear, even though we were at cruising altitude. I felt the vibration and immediately rolled away from the wheel. In doing so I accidently unplugged my "intercom" cable. The pilot immediately realized that he should have notified the nose compartment. He started calling on the intercom and, of course, got no reply. Thinking the worst, he came crawling through the passageway. He was relieved, and I learned about my disconnected cable.
After graduating as a radar-navigator-bombardier, came assignment to a B-29 crew and stationing at Clovis AAF, NM, for training as a crew. A B-29 crew consisted of eleven members. They were separated into two compartments, with a connecting "crawl-tube" over the two bomb bays. The aircraft commander was the oldest of our crew, at twenty-three. The youngest was the tail gunner at seventeen, although the pilot was only nineteen. The crew finally was declared ready for combat and we picked up an aircraft to fly to the Pacific theater of operations. We flew out over the Golden Gate bridge and made landings at the islands of Oahu, Kwajalein and Guam. At Guam we were assigned to the 1st Bomb Squadron, the 9th Bomb Group, the 313th Bomb Wing. We were stationed on the Island of Tinian, about a hundred miles north of Guam, in the Marianas Islands. Tinian was not a very large island. It was approximately twelve and a half miles north to south and maybe six miles wide at the widest part.
There were two airfields on Tinian. The 58th Bomb Group occupied the "West Field". Their tail insignia consisted of a large circle around an "R", like that on the tail of the B-29 at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. The 9th Bomb Group occupied the "North Field". That tail insignia was a large circle around an "X". The 9th Group possessed 45 B-29s supported by 2200 men. 111 members of the 9th Group were lost during the operations against Japan. In the latter weeks of the war the 509th Bomb Group also was assigned to North Field. That was the unit which had been trained for handling and delivering the atomic bomb. North Field had four parallel runways, which ran east and west as far as they could, across the north end of the island. It would have been more ideal had they been longer, for a loaded B-29 did not have quite enough flying speed at the end of the runway. Fortunately, they ended at the top of a very high cliff. The height of the cliff allowed the aircraft to nose down to pick up the necessary speed. The length of the runways never caused any serious problems.
Some takeoff problems did occur with aircraft carrying mines which were intended to mine Japan's inland sea. The mines were very sensitive and two planes had explosions during takeoff. One was rather minor and the pilot was able to abort the mission, but on the other the plane was blown apart. The tail gunner was blown clear in his compartment, but the others were killed.
The B-29 was designed for long-range missions, the type being flown between the Marianas Islands and the Japanese Empire. The minimum time for that trip was seven hours each way. My longest mission was nineteen hours. The seven hours, covering about fourteen hundred miles, was all over water. Mechanical and navigation problems had to be overcome in addition to possible enemy inflicted damage. There were a few submarines stationed along the route, but they move rather slowly and some luck was necessary for one to get to the aid of an aircraft in trouble. However, one crew from the 1st Squadron was picked up by a sub and they only lost one crew member. It wasn't that they weren't grateful, but the crew was picked up at the beginning of the sub's two-week tour and found the two weeks of "confinement" to be very trying.
When the airfield on Iwo Jima was secured from the Japanese, B-29 crews had another alternative when the trip home had to be cut short. The distance to Iwo from the Empire was about half that of the trip to the home island. A crew from the 1st Squadron, Malo's crew, was the first to use Iwo. Unfortunately, that entire crew was lost about six weeks later. Another 1st Squadron crew, the crew of the Mariana Belle, all jumped over Iwo Jima, because their aircraft could not be safely landed. I believe that my crew was the last to land at Iwo out of necessity. I have written a separate account of that experience (see Korea). On that mission, Japanese fighters caused an explosion in the bomb bay which almost ripped the plane apart. There also was a subsequent fire. The Bomb bay doors were blown back on the hinges so that they could not be closed and the drag on the aircraft was severe. That, along with the loss of some fuel and hydraulic fluid, meant that we were barely able to reach Iwo Jima. Our lives were spared, although there were a couple of wounded.
The radar observer on the B-29 had a three-fold duty. The first was to assist the navigator whenever necessary, or to take over the navigation completely should it become necessary. That did happen for a short time on the mission mentioned in the previous paragraph. A second part of the duty was to assist the bombardier, or to drop the bombs if weather prevented him from seeing the target. A third part of the duty was to be in charge of the rear compartment of the aircraft. Although Radar was a great development, it was still in its infancy. Images on the approximately eight-inch screen of the APQ-13, were not highly defined. However, water showed black and thus shorelines were fairly easy to interpret. Land gave a comparatively light (green) return, and buildings provided a brighter return.
By adjusting the brightness and the range, an operator could do a reasonable job of pilotage over land, and also get quite close in bombing. Normally, one could interpret images up to about fifty miles, but there also were beacons which sent back a signal that showed as a symbol on the screen. Beacons normally could be received up to about 300 miles away. The beacon which was located on Guam was a real help to me on the return trip from one mission. The navigator lost all means to navigate. All the radio and Loran had malfunctioned. Celestial navigation was impossible because of an overcast, and he could not determine the wind from the waves because it was night. That made the crew somewhat apprehensive over a 1,400-mile trip. However, I was able to detect the Guam beacon at a distance of 312 miles. The aircraft was only forty-one miles off course, but the crew was thinking about the amount of water south of Guam. Another capability the radar observer had, was to detect when turbulence would be encountered. That seemed to impress the pilots on our crew.
Some people might be interested in the living conditions and the activities other than flying combat missions. There was a considerable amount of spare time and I remember the weather as being fairly pleasant. There were no mosquitos with which to contend because the island had been sprayed with insecticide. That did not seem to affect the ants. Sweets could not be kept for any great length of time. One fellow received some sweets in a round metal container. He decided to tape around the edge of the cover and tie the container to a rafter with string. Unfortunately, when he opened it, it was full of ants. We also had to contend with rats. There were rats of all sizes, up to the size of a large house cat, in my experience.
One night, while I was writing a letter and eating a chocolate bar, I laid the chocolate on the cot beside me for a few seconds. When I reached to retrieve it, a small rat was eating it. In another incident, we were awakened one night by the screaming of a man across the Quonset from me. He had been awakened by a rat biting on his ear. Many types of traps were made or obtained in some way. I had a couple which were set near my cot. One night, after retiring, I heard the sound of the trap being activated. A short time later there was sound of the trap moving. I grabbed my flashlight, which always was handy, and discovered a larger rat was trying to carry away a smaller dead rat, trap and all. The biggest danger the rats generated was when someone got so angry that he started shooting with a forty-five. Then everybody looked for a hiding place.
There was quite a bit of spare time, and much of it was spent trying to improve conditions in and around one's Quonset. Some decorative additions and signs were added. Time was spent making tables and chairs from empty bomb crates. One man even made a bed also using tire tubes and bottle caps. There was an open-air theater and almost everybody went there every evening. The seats were empty bomb crates. One always brought a raincoat and a flashlight. It was sure to rain after the movie started, and it was dark going home. It also was a sure thing that "A Sentimental Journey" would be played after the film ended. There were other activities, such as exploring the island, indulging in swimming, and some sports.
Much of the shoreline was made up of what was referred to as "coral", but actually was solidified lava. I presume that its condition was caused by the hot lava coming into contact with the ocean water. The lava was formed into cup-like shapes the vertical edges of which were extremely sharp. For that reason, "GI" shoes were worn whether one was hiking or swimming. There were a few sandy beaches, but even there, the sharp lava was usually encountered. One of the sandy beaches was close to the 9th Group area, but the living area was on the top of a high cliff. We built a stairway down the side of that cliff for easy access to the beach. Often an air mattress was taken along to the beach to permit floating around and peering down at the beautiful tropical fish. They were truly exotic, with very bright colors.
When the war ended many things changed. Where T-shirts or no shirts had been allowed, proper uniforms were required. Vehicles posed a problem in that they would have to be returned to the United States. That would be expensive and time consuming. All sorts of vehicles began disappearing over the cliff. One small Crosley-made vehicle that had been used for transportation on and around the huge airfield, did not make it over the cliff. Somehow it ended up in my possession. Basically, it consisted of a low platform on four small wheels. The engine was at the front with a housing similar to a jeep. At the rear was a trunk, which formed the back of the double seat. Several weeks after the war ended the 9th Bomb Group was ordered to transfer to Clark AAF on Luzon, Philippine Islands. The information received was that ground facilities and support personnel were in place. The B-29 crews loaded their personal gear aboard their aircraft, plus other cargo. My crew was able to hoist my "Peep", as we called the Crosley, into the front bomb bay. We had over twenty-four cases of medical whiskey in the rear bomb bay. Thus it was, that we left Tinian for the last time.
What greeted us at Clark Field was considerably less than had been expected. There were ground facilities, in the form of tents and equipment. However, there were no support personnel to be found. In order to function, the 9th Bomb Group had to be transformed into a rather unorthodox military unit. The enlisted members of the aircrews all had maintenance qualifications which were needed to ensure that the aircraft were always ready to immediately take to the air. That meant that support activities had to be performed by the officers. Thus it was that Second Lieutenants were placed on "KP"; First Lieutenants were assigned to drive trucks and other equipment; and Captains could be found spraying and policing the area.
However unorthodox, the arrangement worked and there soon was a well functioning base. I made about fifteen flights while at Clark Field, plus a couple of trips to Manila in my Peep, with a buddy. After a few months on Luzon I was transferred stateside on a troop ship, the "Sea Barb". We sailed into the San Francisco harbor under the Golden Gate Bridge. Although it was August, I was so cold that I wore my heavy flight jacket all the time. I was subsequently separated from active service and proceeded to finish my BS in Mechanical Engineering. Then, when I graduated I was asked to stay at the college as an instructor.