The past week has dragged its weary way through the annals and passages of time.
We left Vella Lavela and flew into Stirling, which is one of the Treasury Islands. It’s quite a place, high bluffs, green gems falling slowly into another gem, the pacific blue. There’s a blue lagoon that’s a treat to the eye and the coral lies beaten white under the sun. The glare, as a result, is terrific. Stirling is hot in the daytime. Men’s hair has turned corn colored. There’s a permanent squint to eyes of both ground and airborne men, tiny crow’s feet that indicate age.
A devil may care attitude among flying personnel is detectable; but it’s a pure sham. Underneath, each man is a bundle of nerves. As the time runs on their irritation increases and their devil may care attitude strives to conquer. There’s often a blow up, when every man is pulling his hair and his frantic mind is boiling over with irritation and condemnation of C.O., Sqdn. and Group. A barracks resounds with their steam. A solid mass of sound fills the neighboring space.
The first day we were assigned to the 70th, the second to the 75th Bomb Sqdn.
I checked in at the dispensary because of a boil, which developed infection; and was promptly placed in the hospital for four days. That’s both a good and a bad memory. Good, because the bed had a mattress. Yes, an honest to goodness mattress, and I was worn out. But along with it, there were heat packs, numerous and much too hot. The worst thing was that I couldn’t write letters, which is indeed a loss to me. If I can write, my nerves are steady. The buildup lessens as I write. Wrote Bonnie a left-handed letter that seemed to take hours. I missed her so, that I couldn’t wait until my arm was well to communicate with her.
Rumors fly thick and fast here. A lot of conjecture has been caused by the U.S. bombings on Truk and our invasion of Palau1 500 miles from Mindanao of the Philippines, 900 miles from Manila, fifteen hundred from Tokyo. The saying is ”Mc Arthur in Manila by Christmas”. The rumor is also that this group will be withdrawn and sent to another area. I say New Guinea with eventual movement to Palau. The general consensus however is Burma or China for a drive against the Japanese there. The reason for this conjecture is that Rabaul is supposed to be a dead issue. All the Jap planes have been destroyed in this area. We are keeping them off by planting 500 pounders2 on all the air strips there. Lakunai, Vunakanau, Keravat, Rapopo, Tobera know the wrath of the 42nd Group.
We are now assigned to the fighting 69th. The outfit is steeped in historic effort against Kahili, Rabaul, Vella Lavella, Munda, New Britain, New Ireland. Need I say more?
Bomb carrying P-38s could probably keep aerial warfare on this front dormant. They attach 1,000 lb bombs to themselves and strafe heck out of lots of places. The new area will be tough but that’s the only way wars are won. Get there “furstest with the mostest” as Bedford Forrest,3 I believe, once said.
It’s been a historic week, landings on Palau, the beginning of Truk’s decimation. Reports that all Jap shipping west of Truk and east of Palau, 1,000 miles of ocean and islands, has been sunk. Oh Yes, Henry Ford predicted the war’s ending in two months.4 Charlie Chaplin acquitted of rape,5 and I made my first mission today.
Took off from Stirling at 8:10. 2nd element, right wing ship, equipped with 6 five hundred pounders, nose and tail fused, two fifty cal M.G.s, a flak suit and lots of nerves, a veritable bundle to be sure. Destination Lakunai.6 Scanned the sky anxiously for non-existent Zeroes. Hit the airstrip on one end, all bombs pitting the runways. Exactly at 10:10 am. Flak popped all around, very thick. Black umbrellas blossoming in the blue sky. Deadly for all their beauty. We got away from that quickly, as we ducked into a cloud cover and “scrammed out of there”, as one boy said. Another said, “getting was gone before got”. We landed at 12:10 hurried to the dispensary and partook of a buck up shot of [indecipherable] scotch. That is all but me. I donated to Doc Burrows from Jersey. A fine fellow whose lip whiskers chomped up and down over the 2 ounce shot glass.
Tonight we saw a show. Taylor and Lamar. Not bad, Hedy!7
Letters from Bonnie and Mom, Dad, Bob and Birthday and Easter Cards. I’m close to my wife tonight. Am closing to begin a letter to Bonnie and to savor her presence. Goodnight to all.
Notes & Commentary:
1 For the attack on Palau, see http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/P/a/Palau_Islands.htm.
2 “500 pounders”, 500 lb. bombs.
3 Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate General and first head of the Ku Klux Klan. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Bedford_Forrest.
4 See “Henry Ford’s End-Of-War Prediction”, The Advertiser, Adelaide, South Australia, 21 March 1944, p. 1, col. 9; digital image, Trove, National Library of Australia (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/48789364 : accessed 26 March 2014).
5 Chaplin, charged under the Mann Act, was accused of transporting women across state lines for sexual purposes. The case went to trial in March 1944, and Chaplin was acquitted. See “Legal troubles and Oona O’Neill”, Charlie Chaplin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Chaplin#Legal_troubles_and_Oona_O.27Neill).
6 Despite Wayne’s anxiety of about missions, he casually acknowledges the date of his first combat mission. The center of Lakunai Airfield was bombed by 24 B-25s of the 13th Air Force on April 8, 1944. Of the 144 quarter ton bombs dropped, 30 fell on the strip. The remainder fell in patterns near the strip in dispersal and repair areas. The attack was staged at mid-morning and from medium altitude. Periodic Activities Summary, 1 April 1944 – 31 April 1944. Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), 1 May 1944, microfilm B0131, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frame 1604.
See http://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/lakunai/missions-lakunai.html. Lakunai Airfield had been the base of the 204 Kokutai, an A6M3/A6M5 Zero unit. The following link, http://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/png/lakunai/1944/rabaul_kokutai.html#axzz2yGSNeriy, provides a video of aircraft of the 204 Kokutai taking off from Lakunai to engage American aircraft.
Wayne’s first combat mission is the first time since the Civil War that a member of his family had served in combat. Wayne’s brother, Verne who served with the Colorado National Guard prior to World War II, held the distinction of being the first member of the family to serve in the military since the Civil War. Their great grandfather, George W. Roberts (1839-1912) served with Company E, 12th Illinois Cavalry. His unit, together with elements of the 8th New York Cavalry, the 3rd Indiana Cavalry and the 8th Illinois Cavalry were the first to confront Confederate forces during the early morning hours of the opening day of Gettysburg. Their great, great grandfather, Enoch Thomas (1813- 1897) served in 27th Regiment of Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War in 1832, and their fourth great grandfather, Darius Ainsworth (1738 – 1818) served with the 11th Connecticut Militia at the time of the Lexington Alarm in 1775.
7 Although not specified in the journal, the movie was likely Lady of the Tropics released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Loew’s Incorporated in 1939. Lady of the Tropics starred Robert Taylor and Hedy Lamarr who played a French Indochinese half-caste beauty. With the film starring Hedy Lamarr, I doubt that any of the troops complained that it was a five-year-old movie. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031549/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1.