Monday, December 6, 2010

What it Means to be American

World War II Memorabilia

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Flying With the Hell's Angels

"Flying With the Hell's Angels" is the story of Dr. Sam Fleming and his experiences during World War II as a B-17 Flying Fortress Navigator, 303rd Bombardment Group(H) Eighth Air Force (1943-1944). Ed Y. Hall took Fleming's story and turned it into the book.

Many of Sam's friends suggested that he dictate a summary of his experiences during his tour of duty in the Army Air Corps during World War II, but it took him years to make the decision. Much of this book is based on notes from his small diary, his memory, military records, friends and input from crewmates. This book is his memoirs of the long experiences as a young navigator on one of the greatest war planes to ever fly against an enemy - the B-17 Flying Fortress.

Dr. Sam Fleming evidently knew my grandfather, John Paul Deffinger, and included a note in his book that he gave to my grandmother, Genevieve Deffinger (Jenny). I've been told that my grandfather's nickname was "Deffie". ---Michelle Deffinger

Dr. Sam Fleming's quest began when he left Lanford Station to attend Furman University. After graduating from Furman, it was clear to Fleming that military service was inevitable. He had heard that the Army Air Corps had a special program providing medical training, the 22-year-old aspiring physician paid a visit to a Spartanburg recruiter. "That recruiting sergeant must have needed a few more bodies to make his quota," Fleming muses, "because he signed me up, assuring me that even though he'd never heard of the medical training program, that he was sure someone at my first duty assignment would be able to tell me all about it."

On Aug. 1, 1942, Fleming reported to active duty at Fort Jackson. When he left the military on Oct. 7, 1945, he was still looking for someone who knew something about that elusive medical program.

Fleming had kept a diary during his months in Fortress Europe, despite warnings that doing so was inadvisable, and his family and friends had often urged him to "decipher" the personal account so others could read it. Hall, a member of Wofford College's administrative staff, had already published an account of his own tour of duty as a military adviser in Vietnam, titled "Valley of the Shadow," and was immediately fascinated with Fleming's story.

"I was struck with the uniqueness of Sam's experience," he says of their first conversation. "He was flying at one of the most dangerous times of the air war. It was like Russian roulette every time he went up. He was spinning that cylinder with each mission." Although the memoir provides background, the narrative focuses on the three-month period from Jan. 29, 1944, to April 27, 1944, the 87 days in which his 10-man bomber crew completed 30 missions over the European theater of war. As part of the 303rd Bomb Group, dubbed "The Hells' Angels," the crew was based in Molesworth, England.

This 87-day period included the eight days known as Big Week, a round-the-clock air offensive against the German aviation industry. The aim was to knock the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) out of the air, giving Allied bombers free reign to destroy military targets.

Fleming remembers the campaign vividly. With losses high on both sides, the life of a bomber crew was estimated at 15 missions.

On one mission alone, 69 Allied bombers were shot down, each with a 10-man crew aboard. Three times Fleming returned to his barracks to find that his crew members were the only ones to make it back.

Even now, almost 50 years after the fact, he remembers the feeling of living from mission-to-mission.

"You got to where you didn't want to get to know anybody too well," he recalls. "If you made friends, it made it even harder to handle the losses."

Precision Bombing At It's Best

But the common bond that danger and uncertainty forged proved to be a strong one for the young aviator and his fellow crew members. He says of the six surviving members of his original crew, "We're closer together than people I've known my whole life, and we didn't know each other but about nine months."

On his 26th mission, Fleming was hit in the right leg by a piece of flak. He received his Purple Heart in the mail in 1984. "It must have taken them that long to decide if I should have a Purple Heart or not," Fleming laughs. "Then again, it could have been mailed in 1944."

On fire, a brave B-17 Flying Fortress crew hold their position and bore into the target at all costs (Berlin, 6 March 1944)

When the young Lt. Fleming - in his mid-20s the "old man" of his group - arrived in England, an instructor told him that he'd never live through his 30 missions. The odds were that was an accurate prediction.

Reflecting on all the near-misses he experienced, he attributes his survival in part to luck, "being in the right place at the right time." But he also credits his survival to his dreams. "I had hopes and plans," he says. "I think that's what kept me stable in a situation that many others did not survive."

"Pneumonia Hill", Molesworth, England (home away from home)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Doing the Impossible

From the book "Flyboys" by James Bradley

If there's any of you who don't want to go, just tell me. Because the chances of you making it back are pretty slim. ------Jimmy Doolittle quoted in the Los Angeles Times.

On December 21, 1941, just two weeks after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt met with his masters of the land, air and sea. There were challenges everywhere for an America that had been caught off guard with the sixteenth largest military in the world.

The U.S., like Japan, had two basic types of aircraft in its arsenal: land-based and carrier planes. Carrier planes were small and light; they could take off and land on short aircraft carrier runways and their size made them useful as fighter planes and small bombers, but they couldn't match the bomb loads of their larger cousins. The bigger and heavier land-based planes were able to travel farther, but required longer airstrips to get lift; if a land bomber attempted to land on an aircraft carrier, it would crash through the wooden landing deck.
Several of the missions sixteen B-25B bombers are visible. That in the foreground is tail #40-2261, which was mission plane #7, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson. The next plane is tail #40-2242, mission plane #8, piloted by Captain Edwards J. York. Both aircraft attacked targets in the Tokyo area.

USAAF aircrewmen preparing .50 caliber machine gun ammunition on the flight deck of USS Hornet while the carrier was steaming toward the mission's launching point. Three of their B-25B bombers are visible. That in the upper left is tail #40-2298, mission plane #6, piloted by Lieutnenant Dean E. Hallmark. That in top center is tail #40-2283. It was mission plane #5, piloted by Captain david M. Jones. Lt. Hallmark, captured by the Japanese in China, was executed by them at Shanghai on 15 October 1.

Japan's Pearl Harbor strike force had gotten away unscathed because of surprise. With Japan now on the alert, Yankee aircraft carriers would be detected and destroyed if they dared approach the Land of the Rising Sun. And while U.S. land-based planes could reach Japan from airfields in Far Eastern Russia, Joseph Stalin had kept the USSR neutral in the fight with Japan and refused his Amerian ally permission to originate from Russan territory. The coastal areas of China were all in Japanese hands.

But what if....what if long-range army bombers could take off from an aircraft carrier. All military experts (Japanese and American) had simply assumed they could not.

The Billys (the twin-engine B-25 Mitchell army land-based bomber) were too big (50 feet long, with a 67-foot wingspan) and heavy (14 tons) to launch from an aircraft carrier. But if they could.......long-range punch combining land-based bombers with an aircraft carrier would catch the Japanese with their guard down.

Such a complicated and dangerous mission called for a combat leader who was an inspiring commander, a methodical thinker who could anticipate and solve myriad problems, a scientific mind who could weight the odds, and a strong personality who could bull his way through the layers of somnalent bureaucracy. Only one person came to mind. He was none other than the Babe Ruth of Flyboys, the irrepressible Jimmy Doolittle.

At the age of 45, American's preeminent Flyboy was as old as flying itself. Jimmy had "won nearly every aviation trophy there was." A fearless daredevil, a crowd-pleasing barnstormer, Jimmy had been generating headlines and thrilling world audiences with his acronautical aerobatics for twenty years. Jimmy regularly set and then broke international racing records. He had been the first to fly coast to coast in less than 24 hours and then first to do it in less than 12. Jimmy was a short, muscular fireplug of a man with a confident grin above his cleft chin. His nose was a little crooked from having been broken on his road to becoming a boxing champion. He was just 5 feet 4 inches tall and never weighed more thatn 145 pounds, but he was a giant who reached the clouds.

Once Jimmy was at a party in Argentina, where he was in an air show. After a few too many tequilas, he was demonstrating handstands on a high balcony when the balcony gave way and Jimmy broke both his ankles. He still flew the next day. His doctors protested, but Jimmy strapped his aching cast-encased feet onto the rudders. Even in casts the work his feet had to do in piloting made him almost black out a number of times from the pain. But Jimmy looked at the bright side: since his feet were strapped in and he couldn't get out in case of a crash, he could leave his bulky parachute behind.

Jimmy was a military and commercial test pilot before wind tunnels enabled aeronautical engineers to predict how much an airplane could withstand before disintegrating. That meant he found out personally by pushing himself and his flying machines to the limits of new destruction. He crashed on numerous occasions and parachuted three times to save himself. But it was not all spectacular feats of risk taking. Jimmy was the first to be awarded a Ph.D. in aeronautical science from the Massechusetts Institute of Technology and was the brains behind the development of hte high-octane gasoline that powers all planes today.

Once Jimmy was on board FDR's secret plan, a group of army Flyboys training in Oregon was given the opportunity to volunteer for a "dangerous mission that would require you to be outside of the United States for a few months." All 140 signed up and transferred to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for training in February of 1942.

Taking off on extremely short runways at bare minimum airspeed was he exact opposite of how they had previously flown. Abruptly pulling up a heavy bomber with the tail almost dragging on the ground was unnatural to them, and a harrowing experience. It could be done as long as an engine didn't skip a beat.

On March 3, 1942, the Flyboys finally met their commander. Until then they had never heard his name and his identity was kept a secret.

In the large meeting room the air was abuzz when the great little man himself walked in and announced, "Doolittle is my name." They knew exactly who he was as he was already a legend. They knew they were in for something big and that this mission was very important if he was involved in it.

Then, and several times over the next 45 days, Jimmy reminded his young volunteers that this vital mission would be dangerous. "If anyone wants to drop out, he can. No questions asked." Not one Flyboy ever accepted his kind offer.

It wasn't until the USS Hornet and Doolittle's Raiders were safely out into the Pacific that it was announced, "The target of this task force is Tokyo. The army is going to bomb Japan, and we're going to get them as close to the enemy as we can. This is a chance for all of us to give the Japs a dose of their own medicine." Cheers filled the air and sailors jumped up and down like small children.

Lileutenant Colonel James. H. Doolittle (left front), leader of the attacking force, and Captain Marc A. Mitscher, Commanding Officer of USS Hornet pose with a 500-pound bomb and USAAF aircrew members.

The key to the mission was the innovative idea of combining an aircraft carrier with the Billys. Japan assumed itself safe from air threats because land-based U.S. Army aircraft couldn't reach the homeland from Hawaii or Midway. And if the U.S. Navy was foolish enough to move an aircraft carrier within effective striking range of Japan, the American force would be obliterated. No one in Japan imagined that heavy land bombers could lift off from carrier decks - even some on the USS Hornet had their doubts.

The plan was simple. The Hornet would sail within four to five hundred miles of Japan and the 16 Billys would launch in the afternoon. The Hornet would then skedaddle back toward Pearl Harbor as the raiders dropped their bombs over the cities of Japan at sunset. Then they would fly on to China (the bombers were too heavy to land on the Hornet), where homing beacons would guide them safely to an airfield in Chuchow, beyond Japanese control.
As the Hornet headed for history, a typhoon-force wind buffeted the ships. Howling winds and sheeting sea spray had deckhands crawling across the deck on all fours to keep from being washed overboard.

Early on the morning of April 18, 1942 two Japanese ships observed the American fleet and radioed a warning to Tokyo. Unknown to the Americans, the Japanese had stationed a string of 50 civilian-manned, radio-equipped "picket boats" 650 miles out in the Pacific.

USS Nashville firing her 6"/47 main battery guns at a Japanese picket boat encountered by the raid task force.

U.S. destroyers were ordered to sink them. A sailor recalled watching and thinking, "That I will never forget or feel good about this until the day I die. They are shooting at women and children screaming and running around. Inside your mind you think what the hell happened to the Ten Commandements? We're not supposed to do this to one another."

"They know we're here," the Hornet's captain told Jimmy. It was time to roll. Takeoff now, 8 sailing hours and 200 miles short of the intended launch point, suddenly transformed a dangerous mission into a suicidal one. With the element of surprise lost, it was a good bet Jimmy and his boys would be shredded by opposing fighter planes. Even if they survived Tokyo's antiaircraft guns, the extra fuel expended to get that far ruled out reaching the do-or-die Chinese airfields. One pilot remembers, "Cold chills were running up and down my spine....I don't think there was a man leaving who really believed he would complete the flight safely."
The plane at right has tail #40-2282. It is mission plane #4, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Everett W. Holstrom, Jr. during the raid, in which it attacked targets in Tokyo. Note protective cover over its gun turret, and wooden dummy guns mounted in its tail cone. The plane at left is warming up its engines, as was done periodically during voyage.

That's when Doolittle called all hands on deck and said, "If there's any of you who don't want to go, just tell me. Because the chances of you making it back are pretty slim." And nobody batted an eye.

They were going to strike right in the middle of the day and the Japanese had been tipped off. Everyone assumed they would not survive this mission. First, they expected to encounter a swarm of fighters coming after them and Second, if they got to the targets and got out, they could not make it past midpoint in the China Sea and they would have to ditch the planes in a Japanese-controlled area. Nevermind being captured as a prisoner of war. To add to all that the men would face a 24-knot headwind all the way to Honshu.

Navy crew and army pilots slipped, slid, and crawled across the heaving drenched deck to the planes. The Hornet was being tossed about in 30-foot swells, rocking and rolling up and down and from side to side. Gale-force winds made it difficult to stand on deck. It was zero weather conditions.....ZERO! That means they couldn't see acrss the table. The 30-foot sea was 70-feet from the water to the top of the ship and the bow of the ship was going down and picking up water and throwing it over the deck.

USS Hornet as seen from the USS Enterprise.

The Flyboys were forced to take off by speeding down the deck directly into the trough of a huge wave. The Hornet was bobbing up and down like a cork. The trick was to time the launch so that the Billys reached the end of the deck as teh carrier peaked in its upward movement. Each pilot would get the go signal as the front of the ship tilted into the churning foam. Then he would speed down the deck, seemingly headed into the bowels of a howling sea.

As Jimmy prepared to launch he was captured on film. "I knew hundreds of eyes were on me," Jimmy remembered, "especially those of the B-25 crews who were to follow. If I didn't get off successfully, I'm sure many thought they wouldn't be able to make it either."

Could the heavy planes with a bomb load of two thousand pounds get to Japan and then make it to the nearest safe landing point in China? Even before that, could such heavy planes designed for long landing strips get off a short carrier deck?

At that moment Jimmy was a lone Flyboy whose mission was to do the impossible. Jimmy's roaring engines pulled at his brakes "like circus elephants against their chains." The signalman watching the pitch of the carrier signaled "NOW!" The king of the air began his roll. "A navy pilot shouted to anyone within earshot: "He won't make it! He can't make it!" But as Jimmy's navigator later recalled, "We were particularly confident since we had the best pilot in the Air Force flying with us."

Doolittle's plane taking off from the USS Hornet at the start of the raid, 18 April 1942.

Unique view of Doolittle's plane taking off from the USS Hornet.

They watched him like hawks and the boys on deck saw America's premier Flyboy take off with yards to spare. The entire convoy shouted in a surge of relief, a cheer so loud and throaty and ecstatic that the crewmen could even hear it above the roar of their props.

Following Jimmy's lead, the other Flyboys wrestled their fifteen Billys up. Now that they had mastered their dangerous takeoff, they flew for hours just above the angry waves as they contemplated the wiles of the wind. The wind slowed the 'Raiders' down, consumed their fuel, and messed with their follow-the-leader flight plan.

As they feared, their gas gauges confirmed they were on a suicide mission. Being over 600 miles away from Japan when they launched, it was pretty obvious that it wasn't going to fit. The willingness of American boys to risk their lives for their country was not what the Boy Soldier in Tokyo had expected. Rather than stay home in their shells like cowed "merchants," these Americans had as much "fighting spirit" as the Japanese. But they didn't call it that. The Flyboys called it "balls".

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Damaged B-17 Lands Safely After German Pilot Declined to Shoot it Down

This is a painting of the incident - read on .......

Look closely at the B-17 and note how shot up it is - one engine dead, tail, horizontal stabilizer and nose shot up... It was ready to fall out of the sky. (This is a painting done by an artist from the description of both pilots many years later.) Then realize that there is a German ME-109 fighter flying next to it. Now read the story below. I think you'll be surprised ....

Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England . His B-17 was called 'Ye Old Pub' and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.

Charlie Brown
After flying the B-17 over an enemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Stigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17. When he got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he 'had never seen a plane in such a bad state'. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose was smashed and there were holes everywhere.

Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown, the pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.

Franz Stigler
Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to, and slightly over, the North Sea towards England . He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to Europe . When Franz landed he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it.

More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved the crew. After years of research, Franz was found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions.

They met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who are alive now - all because Franz never fired his guns that day.

(L-R) German Ace Franz Stigler, artist Ernie Boyett, and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown.

When asked why he didn't shoot them down, Stigler later said, "I didn't have the heart to finish those brave men. I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do that. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute."

Research shows that Charlie Brown lived in Seattle and Franz Stigler had moved to Vancouver, BC after the war. When they finally met, tey discovered they had lived less than 200 miles apart for the past 50 years.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

By James Bradley, Little-Brown

Ths is the true story of the events in the lives of a handful of very young flyboys (WWII pilots and airmen) in the waning days of WWII in their march toward Japan’s home islands; the prices paid and the lives forever lost or changed. One of those flyboys was a 19 year old future President of the United States, George H. W. Bush.

Bush piloted one of four Grumman TBM Avenger aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima. His crew for the mission, which occurred on September 2, 1944, included Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White. During their attack, the Avengers encountered intense anti-aircraft fire; Bush’s aircraft was hit by flak and his engine caught on fire. Despite his plane being on fire, Bush completed his attack and released bombs over his target, scoring several damaging hits. With his engine afire, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft; the other man’s parachute did not open. It has not been determined which man bailed out with Bush as both Delaney and White were killed as a result of the battle. Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft, while several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine USS Finback.

Future President Bush flew 58 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and a Presidential Unit Citation (U.S.S. San Jacinto). While you may not have agreed with his politics, you have to give the man credit for his remarkable bravery and dedication to duty. President Bush’s adventures were only a small part of this interesting book, yet an impressive part.

The rest of the book tells the stories of the ordeals of other young flyboys who weren’t as fortunate as Lt. (jg) Bush. They were captured, systematically tortured, eventually executed, then suffered the ultimate indignity… they were butchered and eaten by a handful of sick, misguided Japanese officers.

Mr. Bradley sympathetically and poignantly describes the small-town teenage backgrounds and aspirations of several of the American flyboys, and how they came to enlist in the Navy. He also interviewed several aged, repentant Japanese veterans who were willing to tell how they were brainwashed and forced into barbarous acts because of the Japanese military culture of obeying without question.

Additionally, it documents Japan's rise to power from 1849 to 1941, analyzes the rise of the airplane in warfare, and the military establishment's failure to heed the 1920s warnings of General Billy Mitchell that the American military build up its air power. The book analyzes various cruelties, hypocrisies, and war crimes of the Japanese and its government. It compares the atrocities Japanese troops committed on a large scale against Chinese civilians, with similar atrocities committed by American forces against Filipinos during and after the Spanish-American War, and earlier by American troops against native American Indians. Both the American and Japanese populaces were arrogantly indoctrinated that their national cultures were uniquely superior, which gave them the right to impose those cultures through imperialism on other weaker countries, whose people were viewed as subhuman.

As U.S. Marines in 1945 invaded Iwo Jima some 150 miles away, U.S. warplanes bombed the small communications outpost on Chichi Jima. While Iwo Jima had Japanese forces numbering 22,000, Chichi Jima's forces numbered 25,000. Additionally, Iwo Jima has flat areas suitable for a naval invasion, while Chichi Jima's geography included hilly terrains and unsuitable coasts. According to one Marine (who Bradley does not identify), "Iwo was hell. Chichi would have been impossible." Assumedly, it is because of this that U.S. pilots, known as "Flyboys", were needed to neutralize Chichi's defenses.

Nine crewmen survived after being shot down in the raid. One was picked up by the American submarine USS Finback. His name was Lieutenant George H. W. Bush, who later became the forty-first President of the United States. The others were captured by the Japanese and were executed and partially eaten as POWs, a fact that remained hidden until much later. Senior Japanese Army Officers hosted a Sake party for their Navy counterparts where the livers of American POW's were roasted and served as an appetizer. The Navy officers subsequently reciprocated by hosting a party where they butchered and served their own American POW's.

The book also documents Japanese cannibalization of not only the livers of freshly-killed prisoners, but also the cannibalization-for-sustenance of living prisoners over the course of several days, amputating limbs only as needed to keep the meat fresh in the harsh jungle environment. It also cites cannibalisim of Allied soldiers killed in action and of Japanese dead, wounded and by lot drawings.

These atrocities on Chichi-jima, were discovered in late 1945 and was investigated as part of the war crimes trials. In 1946, 30 Japanese soldiers were court-martialed on Guam and five officers (Maj. Matoba, Gen. Tachibana, Adm. Mori, Capt. Yoshii, and Dr. Teraki) were found guilty and hanged. All of the enlisted men were released within eight years.

Steve Hopkins, April 23, 2004

Some will expect a story similar to "Flags of Our Fathers", but while a major part of Flyboys describes the courage of nine airmen who were shot down over the island, parts of the book will disturb or disgust some. Ethnocentric propaganda led both Japanese and American soldiers to consider the other as subhuman, leading many soldiers to despicable acts of torture, mutilation, and murder. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of chapter 14 “No Surrender,” pp. 202-210:

Meet the expectations of your family and home community by making effort upon effort, always mindful of the honor of your name. If alive, do not suffer the disgrace of becoming a prisoner; in death, do not leave behind a name soiled by misdeeds.
- “Imperial Japanese Army Field Service Code”

In the European war, Germany did not surrender until Allied troops invaded its heart. But Japan would be defeated by Flyboys. The begin­ning of the end for Japan came on February 16, 1945.

On that Friday morning, the largest and most powerful naval attack force ever assembled, with more than twelve hundred planes, launched the first carrier raid on Tokyo since Jimmy Doolittle’s almost three years before.

It was a dangerous mission. Three days earlier, the air group com­mander on the USS Randolph had assembled all his Flyboys and an­nounced, “Fellows, we’re on our way to Tokyo.” There was a moment of silence as the thought sunk in. Then the Flyboys broke out in loud cheers and applause. A moment later, a pilot turned to Bill Bruce and said, “My God, why am I clapping?”

That wintery day’s weather was murky, cloudy, windy, rough, cold, and wet. Flyboys like Bill Hazlehurst and Floyd Hall now appreciated all the damp flying they had done in Oregon.

The strike force lifted off early, plane after plane aloft with clock­work precision. Gunner Robert Akerblom did not fly that day, but he listened for news of his buddies’ progress. “Our ship piped a Japanese radio station through the loudspeakers,” Robert said. “Our first wave was supposed to hit Tokyo at six A.M. At exactly six A.M. they went off the air. We cheered.”

The Flyboys came in low, within antiaircraft range, and they took a heating. “Charlie Crommelin had over two hundred holes in his plane when he returned,” remembered fighter pilot Alfred Bolduc. “He had fifty-four holes in one gas tank.”

With so many planes over Tokyo that day, there were close calls. Fighter pilot M.W. Smith was strafing a train at an altitude of one hun­dred feet. “The fellow behind me shot his rocket right as I was going over that train,” Smith recalled. “He shot three holes as big as fists in both of my wings.”

The Japanese were surprised and unprepared. As a result, the carrier planes wreaked havoc on factories, shipyards, supply depots, and rail­road yards. But bombing the Japanese mainland still brought a special terror. “We were scared,” said Hazlehurst. “It was disconcerting bombing Japan in part because there wasn’t open water to ditch in. You had to crash over land, and that meant you’d probably be cap­tured.”

Charlie Brown was caught when his two-seater SB2C Helldiver was shot down near Tokyo. “We were bombing a factory,” he told me later. “We got hit; the engine was on fire. I saw a lake and made a wa­ter landing. As the plane was sinking, my crewman, J. D. Richards, was already in the life raft.” A farmer in a rowboat came out. Charlie and J. D. got into his boat. When they reached shore, another farmer Swung a club at Charlie’s head. “If he had hit me,” Charlie said, “he would have killed me.” Some Japanese soldiers appeared with a thick rope. “Oh, my God!” thought J. D. “It’s a lynching!” But the soldiers merely tied their prisoners together and marched them along a road. The procession would stop from time to time to allow women to beat the flyers with their geta — wooden shoes.

“Americans would be hitting just as hard if the situation was re­versed,” Charlie said with a chuckle years later. “Emotions run high in the immediate area; people get upset when they’re bombed.”

Eventually, the party made its way to a railroad station. His captors took Charlie outside and made him kneel in the dirt and lean forward. “I had seen the photo of the Australian pilot about to be beheaded,” Charlie said. “Someone shoved me so my head was parallel with the ground. Then I heard sharp orders. I thought I was about to have my head cut off.”

But Charlie Brown would live to see another day.

Because the weather worsened around Tokyo on February 17, the car­rier force headed south to pound Iwo Jima. Then they sailed to bomb Chichi Jima the next day.

On a cold Sunday morning, February 18, five Flyboys awoke ready to tackle their first combat missions. This was the day they had pre­pared for. In the month they had been at sea, they had had plenty of time to think about what that first taste of combat would be like. Now they were about to learn.

On the USS Randolph, pilot Floyd Hall would wing into action with his gunner, Glenn Frazier, and his radioman. Marve Mershon. On the nearby USS Bennington, radioman Jimmy Dye and gunner Grady York readied for their flight. Jimmy, Glenn, Marve, and Grady were all just nineteen years old. Floyd must have been one of the “old men” to them, because he was already twenty-four.

The boys were briefed on the day’s target, the airfields and radio stations on Chichi Jima. “Chichi Jima was a mean place,” said pilot Phil Perabo. “They had very good gunners there. When you hit Chichi, you were hitting a valley between two mountains.”

Fellow pilots Leland Holdren and Fred Rohlfing would fly into bat­tle with Floyd that day. “Floyd, Fred, and I were a division of three,” Leland told me decades later. “This strike on Chichi was our first time in battle. We were greenhorns. You can imagine our anxiety.”

The winter sun did not rise until 7:12 A.M. on the morning of Feb­ruary 18, 1945. The USS Randolph began launching her planes at 10:54 A.M. The plane carrying Floyd, Glenn, and Marve was in the last group and launched after noon. They flew off into rainy, overcast skies.

Over on the USS Bennington, Jimmy Dye and Grady York were in their ready room being briefed on the same target. They would fly that day with pilot Bob King. “Our mission that day,” remembered Ralph Sengewalt, “was to bomb Chichi Jima’s small airstrip. They said we’d have limited opposition.”

February 18 in the Pacific was February 17 back home, and it marked two years to the day since Jimmy had enlisted. “We hadn’t been in cold climates until then,” Vince Carnazza remembered. “I had a black navy-issue sweater and Jimmy asked if he could borrow it. I gave it to him and said, ‘If I don’t get that sweater back, it’s your ass.’”

As they were headed out the door, Jimmy did something that Ralph Sengewalt will never forget. “Jimmy stopped at the door,” Ralph told me, “turned around, and with a smile, tossed his wallet to someone who was remaining behind. As he did it he called out, ‘Just in case I don’t come back, see to it that my mom and dad get this.’”

Kidding was one thing, but Flyboys almost never spoke so directly about death.

“When Jimmy said that,” Ralph recalled, “I had a strange feeling then and there. We never talked about not coming back.”

The assault two days earlier on Tokyo had been considered dangerous. but that day’s strike against Chichi Jima was anticipated to be rela­tively easy. a “milk run.” That’s why so many of the inexperienced airmen, like Bob King, Jimmy, and Grady, were heading out. But Jimmy must have had a sixth sense about the danger that awaited him. And radioman Ken Meredith learned that Grady had had his qualms too.

“When Grady and I shook hands on the flight deck,” Ken recalled, “he said. ‘I’m really scared.’ Grady always smiled when he talked. But at that moment he wasn’t smiling. Just then I felt Grady had a premo­nition. Even at that young age. I could feel it.”

Jimmy had tossed his wallet, but he did keep something for good luck that day. His girlfriend, Gloria Nields, later told me: “In the last letter I got from Jimmy he wrote, ‘I am flying off now with your white scarf on.

With that, the three American boys took off in their Avenger, pilot King. radioman Jimmy, and gunner Grady. Two of the three had sig­naled that this flight held special danger for them. King, also on his first combat flight, had not expressed any qualms. Only one of them would return.

The briefers had been wrong. The antiaircraft opposition was fierce that day.

“The antiaircraft fire was very heavy and very accurate,” said gun­ner William Hale. “There was black smoke everywhere, and we were getting bounced around with the concussion of the shells. I was facing aft with a pair of machine guns in my hands, looking for something to shoot at and wishing we could get the hell out of there.”

“It was overcast over the island,” remembered pilot Dan Samuel-son. “There was a hole in the clouds. A lot of the planes were going through that hole, and the Japanese gunners just plugged that hole with antiaircraft fire.”

One after another, the carrier pilots made their glide-bombing runs over Chichi Jima. Pilots Leland Hoidren, Fred Rohifing, and Floyd Hall — the “division of three” — circled above, waiting their turn.

“The most dangerous time is when you’re just hanging out, going slow,” said Robert Akerbiom. “Once you’re in the dive, you feel the speed and it relieves the tension.”

“We had to keep circling until the others made their dives,” Leland Hoidren said. “As you circle, you fly away from the optimum point from which to make your dive. If you dive relatively straight down over the target, you go in fast. But we were circling wide, and when it came time to make our dives, we dove in a less severe angle and didn’t generate as much speed as the guys before us.”

Leland began his dive into the flak with Fred Rohlfing and Floyd following behind. “When the antiaircraft fire comes up,” said fighter pilot Alfred Bolduc, “you see little red dots. When they get closer, they’re about the size of a baseball bat diameter. They’re coming at you by the hundreds.”

Two of those hundreds of red dots found their mark: Both Fred’s and Floyd’s planes were hit. Rohifing’s Avenger burst into flame and he, radioman Carrol Hall, and gunner Joe Notary never made it out.

Floyd’s plane did not catch fire, but it was fatally damaged and it was all he could do to make a safe water landing. Leland had flown off at the completion of his run, and since Floyd’s was the last plane, no one saw him or his crew land in the water. Letters from the navy to the parents of the three downed boys would later say that the probabilitY of their having survived the landing “was extremely low.”

But Floyd, Marve, and Glenn made it out of the plane safely and in­flated their Mae Wests. They were wet, cold, and scared, but they were alive. They had landed between Chichi Jima and Ani Jima, a small un­inhabited spit of land hardly big enough to have its own name. For some reason, Glenn split off from the other two and made his way to Ani Jima, while Floyd and Marve swam to Chichi Jima.

Floyd and Marve were now in the same general area that George Bush had found himself in six months earlier, though George had landed a bit farther out. Soldiers standing on the same cliffs where Nobuaki Iwatake had observed George’s rescue now saw Floyd and Marve in the water. Fisherman Maikawa Fukuichiro and Warrant Offi­cer Saburo Soya were told to bring the Americans in. They paddled out about a hundred yards and found Floyd and Marve in the frigid water, ~almost half paralyzed and.. . on the point of sinking,” as Fukuichiro later recalled. “Their lips were blue and they looked cold.”

On the beach, the boys were allowed to warm themselves by a fire. Floyd was dressed in his one-piece flight suit and Marve was down to his white woolen long johns. Warrant Officer Soya told Fukuichiro to phone the headquarters of the 308th Battalion. The officer on the other end of the line ordered the flyers brought to the 308th, which would get credit for their capture.

At the 308th Battalion headquarters, the soldiers searched the pris­oners and relieved Floyd of his pistol and Marve of his survival knife. These trophies were dispatched to Major Matoba.

But soon everyone on the island had to take cover once again. More waves of Flyboys were approaching. Floyd and Marve were bundled into an air-raid shelter.

Major Matoba retreated to his cave. As the falling bombs exploded in the sunshine outside, Matoba examined Floyd’s pistol and Marve’s knife. In the blackness, the major ran his hands over the Flyboys’ pos­sessions as he drank and thought.

The swarms of carrier planes kept the island hopping that day.

“The February eighteenth raids were the fiercest air raids we expe­rienced,” said antiaircraft gunner Usaki. “During the day about a thou­sand planes raided the island. As antiaircraft personnel, we were almost always at our battle stations and at night we also had to go to battle stations. We were very tired and every chance we got we slept in the quarters but stayed on the alert.”

The gunners were tired but dedicated. “We often had to eat our meals at our positions,” said Lieutenant Jitsuro Suyeyoshi. To the Flyboys, it seemed the emperor’s gunners didn’t pause for a bite. “There was so much flak, you could walk on it,” said Robert Akerbiom. Ralph Senge­wait added, “It looked like every tree on the island was firing at us.”

And still the Flyboys came. Pilot Jesse Naul was flying behind Bob Cosbie’s plane, which in turn was to the right of Bob King’s Avenger, with Jimmy Dye and Grady York aboard. Jesse later told me what hap­pened:

We came in at about nine thousand feet and we were getting ready to go into our dive. I was behind Cosbie’s plane. Suddenly, antiaircraft fire shot Cosbie’s right wing off. His plane went into a clockwise spin, spinning clockwise down toward the right, where his wing had been.

Cosbie’s plane flipped upside down and went sideways. It slammed into King’s plane. Cosbie’s left wing hit King’s plane between the turret and the vertical stabilizer. At the same time, Cosbie’s propeller hit King’s left wing and chewed off four feet of it.

King’s plane then went into a spin. King thought they would crash, so he told his crew to bail out. Jimmy and Grady bailed out. My crew yelled, “We see two chutes.”

King had his seat belt off, fixing to bail out, and to his surprise, he got the plane straight. He “caught it,” meaning he caught the spin and righted the plane. He kept flying.

As Grady and Jimmy bailed out, Cosbie’s Avenger went into a fatal spin. Cosbie, gunner Lou Gerig, and radioman Gil Reynolds never made it out. Jesse Naul speculated on what their last minutes might have been like:

Cosbie went into his spin at nine to ten thousand. His plane just spun and spun. Let’s say they were all alive when the plane went into that spin. Even though they were healthy American males, the centrifugal force would have pinned them to the wails and they wouldn’t have been able to get out.

If they were conscious, they knew what was happening and were fight­ing to get out. They’d be trying to unhook their seat belts and pop the doors off, but they wouldn’t have been able to get out of their seats.

When a loaded seventeen-thousand-pound plane is spinning, it creates a lot of force. It’s like a saucer at an amusement park that is spinning and pinning you back. It’s the same thing. The force of the spin would force them to remain in the position they were in when they started going down. Finally, they smacked into the water and that was it.

Jimmy and Grady floated down in the midst of exploding shells. ~Their chutes were surrounded by antiaircraft bursts,” recalled Joe Bonn. “1 dismissed them as shot up, dead.” But amazingly, the two crewmen landed safely just off shore.

“We flew down to drop them a life raft,” Ralph Sengewalt said, “but we didn’t drop it because we could see Jimmy and Grady in knee-deep water, walking toward the shore. We thought they’d be prisoners and they’d be safe — at least that was our hope.”

Now there were four Flyboys in Japanese hands on Chichi Jima — Floyd Hall, Marve Mershon. Jimmy Dye, and Grady York. Glenn Fra­zier was huddled in the bushes across the channel on uninhabited Ani Jima.

Floyd and Marve were held at the 308th Battalion headquarters for the rest of the day and overnight. Jimmy and Grady were captured by the 275th Battalion and taken to General Tachibana’s headquarters.

Captain Kimitomi Nishiyotsutsuji remembered that General Tachi­harm encouraged anyone who wanted to beat the two bound nineteen­year-olds to do so. The general further warned that anyone who protected the boys by putting them in an air-raid shelter, or was lenient with them in any way, would face his wrath.

The next day, Monday, February 19, Jimmy and Grady were taken to Major Yoshitaka Hone’s headquarters. Major Hone could speak some English and he intet-rogated them. Glenn remained hidden in the bushes on Ani Jima. At night he must have shivered in the winter cold. He had a canteen full of water, no food, and only a little hope.

Early in the morning of the nineteenth, Floyd and Marve were taken from the 308th Battalion to General Tachibana’s headquarters, with a Stop to visit Lieutenant Jitsuro Suyeyoshi’s regiment. Suyeyoshi and the 308th both had a claim on the prisoners and they would later discuss who got to kill which one.

Floyd and Marve were tied up outside a guardhouse for three and One half hours, from 6:30 A.M. to 10:00 A.M. There, anyone who Wanted to absorb some Yamato damashii kicked and slapped the two defenseless boys.

Lieutenant Suyeyoshi admired the way the two Flyboys stoically endured their punishment. He ordered his men to assemble in front of the prisoners. “I offered them a drink of whiskey from my hip flask and a cigarette” Suyeyoshi said, “and then I turned around to the en­listed men in the crowd and told them, ‘These two flyers were work­ing for their country and they are brave men, and I expect all of you to take an example from them.’”

But respect did not mean mercy. American bombs had killed some of Suyeyoshi’s men the day before and he wanted revenge. Later that afternoon, Suyeyoshi spoke to Matoba about the casualties and the major promised retribution. “Lieutenant Suyeyoshi wanted a flyer to execute in order to show his men that they were personally responsi­ble for shooting down a plane or a flyer, and to give them more fight­ing spirit and to build morale,” Matoba said.

Floyd and Marve were loaded back into a truck and taken to Tachibana’s headquarters so the general could get a few licks in. But before he had a chance, an air-raid siren sounded and Tachibana turned to scurry to his protective cave. One soldier moved toward Floyd and Marve to untie them and bring them into a shelter. General Tachibana noticed and barked. “Why are you fooling around there? We do not care if they die or not.”

Later that day. Floyd and Marve were moved to Major Hone’s headquarters for interrogation~ where they joined Jimmy and Grady.

Floyd and Marve had flown off the USS Randolph, Jimmy and Grady belonged to the USS Bennington. Here they would meet for the first time, tied up and watched by guards. They were four kichiku in Japa­nese hands — four Flyboys in big trouble.

Bradley noted at the end of the book that proceeds from the sale of Flyboys have been used for scholarships for American high school and college students to study in Japan. From understanding, the events recounted in Flyboys are less likely to reoccur. In the spirit of achieving understanding, even with discomfort, I recommend reading Flyboys from cover to cover.

Sorties Into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima


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