The past fifteen days have gone like wildfire.
Russell was evacuated to Finschafen for hospitalization, and I went to Sydney, Australia on my rest leave of six days. Spent most of the time wandering around the town and doing some drinking. A lot of drinking, I should say. Stayed at Mom and Pops (Mr. & Mrs. Zuckerman’s at 52 Beach Road in Bondi, Sydney N.S.W., Australia.) It was just like going home.1 They were so very good to us. In turn, we gave them candy which Aussie civilians can’t get and flowers.
The trip was unforgettable but not much good on the nerves. A 6,000 mile round trip. We were just over the first half of the journey when we turned around and came back. Rest leaves cut to six days so all men can have one. Took 8 months to get the first one. Hope the next one comes a little sooner.
The 5th Air Force boys go every two months and they also go home at 45 missions. We are lucky to go home at 65. A lot of men in this group have that many and are still awaiting the day without much hope. It’s tough, but we asked for it although not in such huge gobs. No ratings, no rests, no missions. Nuts! Life in New Guinea goes on and on.
The boys had excitement while I was away. Nine Jap air raids. Hunting the foxhole at all hours of the night is no fun. Have had two since my return on Oct 11th.
While in Sydney, our anniversary came up Oct 4th. Went down to the beach and sat alone with my thoughts. This is how they ran:
I must go down to the sea one night where the ocean foams and stars are bright. The lights twinkly on the hillside near, and my yearning heart has no fear. With peace in the night and love on the wind, the beat of my heart and chills tingling my spine. Love of my dreams though far away that encompasses me. My lonely heart call out to thee; my baby who lives far, far over the sea. There’s surf in front and sand behind. The surf is white, the night is ours. Love on the wind from you to me. Kisses in the breeze from me to you. Thoughts in the night deepen my love for you and only you.
But this makes me oh so lonely for you, Bonnie mine.
Took another below the belt blow on return. Three friends of mine, Staff Sergeants Engineer T. N. “Red” Sutton, Radio Operator N. J. “Nick” LoPresti and Gunner R. J. “Dick” Joyce were out on a night nuisance raid with Lieutenant Colonel Truman A. Spencer, Jr., of Group and failed to return. All so mysterious. The night swallowed them and though we’ve searched diligently, nothing has come of it except the rescue of a Dutch crew and two fighter pilots.2 That alone was worth the effort, but it still doesn’t bring those three buddies back. Please God that they be safe wherever they may be. They gambled for their kind of life and lost theirs, perhaps, that we all might live. They are listed as missing and many of us are praying for their return soon.
Another dreadful accident occurred today. A B-25 blew up after it caught on fire during its landing. Four 500 lb bombs went off due to the heat.3 The blast caught at least 50 men who were watching the blaze; 25 are believed dead. The old saying curiosity killed the cat is certainly true in this case.
War is hell. Am too sensitive for this kind of business, but will stick if it kills me. Eight months overseas and 27 missions, average of 3.? per month? Oh God, will the day never come when we’re all able to go home again? That’s enough for tonight or my dreams will be as horrible as on the two preceding nights. I love you, angel face, and your love is the courage that maintains me. Amen.
In relation to the plane that blew up, a conversation that I had with our intelligence officer, Captain Taylor4 comes to my mind. We were sitting in S-2 section one day looking to the west. “You know”, he said, “back in the states I had a dream. In the dream, I was sitting at a table looking toward the west, just as we were doing when the plane came in for a landing, stopped, caught fire and blew up!” Is there something to dreams after all?
My dreams of the past two nights were very odd. It seems I was in the jungle and sensed that I was being surrounded. Upon observation, the very trees were closing in upon me. The next dream was much the same but instead of the surrounding influence of trees, a more horrible thing appeared. Great masses of jungle fungus were closing in around me and little tongues like unto those of snakes were licking out toward me. On both occasions, I awoke at the last possible moment in a cold sweat, just escaping these forces. The second dream awoke the rest of the boys in the tent. I yelled, “Joyce, Joyce, the fungus is coming. Look out.” Joyce is one of my friends who is missing in action since the other day.
Needless to say, I hope these dreams don’t come true and my trust lies in our heavenly father, the commander in chief of all things that come to pass. That is reassuring enough to me that we all shall be protected.
Notes & Commentary
1 The Zuckerman’s residence at 52 Beach Road in Bondi was a brick bungalow. It was described as follows in a mortgagee’s auction notice in 1940:
Attractive Bungalow of Brick, tiled roof, having Lounges and Dining Rooms, 3 full Bedrooms, Kitchen, Tiled Bathroom, Front and Enclosed Rear Verandahs. Occupied by Tenant. Land: About 43 feet by 157 feet (car entrance).
The property was offered for sale at public auction in the morning of December 18, 1940.
“Real Estate Auction Sales”, Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 7 December 1940 Trove. (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page1097003 : accessed 06 October 2014). p 22, col 3.
Over the succeeding years, the property’s owners rented out rooms to lodgers with advertisements such as the following appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Bondi. 52 Beach Road. Nice Accom. excellent table, surf, bus, tram.
“Apartments, Board, and Residence” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 22 November 1941. Trove (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page1106108 : accessed 06 October 2014) p 20, col. 3
Bondi. 52 Beach Road. Rm. or Rm. and Bkfst. also small S.C. Flat. min. beach.
“Apartments, Board, and Residence” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 28 January 1943. Trove (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page1090695 : accessed 11 October 2014). p. 8, col 5.
Rooms at the 52 Beach Road property had long been rented out to lodgers. An advertisement in 1936:
Bondi. 52 Beach road. — Vacancy, two gentlemen friends. share room. moderate tariff. Phone FW2658.
“Apartments, Board, and Residence” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 15 August 1936. Trove (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page1189545 : accessed 11 October 2014). p. 5, col 2.
2 Mission number 187, on 5 October 1944, charged the 75th Bombardment Squadron with providing two B-25 aircraft to heckle Haroekoe and Ambon Town from medium altitude between 2200 and 2400L. The plan of attack was for the two aircraft to heckle Ambon Town and Haroekoe with bombs and beer bottles at optional altitudes and airspeeds. The bomb load for each aircraft was four 500 pound general-purpose bombs and six cases of empty beer bottles. Each aircraft carried a full load of machine gun ammunition.
The two aircraft took off from our airfield between 1906 in 1907 local. Ideal flying conditions were reported.
One aircraft ( 833) some was over Haroekoe, Kairatoe, and Liang Air Fields between 2030 and 2245L at an indicated altitude of 9,500 feet and at airspeed of 190 mph. Three bombs were dropped on Haroekoe and one on Kairatoe. Beer bottles were dropped at each of these as well as at Liang. The results were unobserved due to cloud cover. There was no antiaircraft fire.
Aircraft 962 was last heard of by aircraft 833 when sending in his in-flight report at approximately 2400L.
The crew if aircraft 962 consisted of Pilot Lieut. Col. Truman A. Spencer, Jr.; Copilot 2nd Lieut. Joe D. Ivey; Navigator Lieut. J. N. Burns; Bombardier Lieut. Mark J. Ingram; Radio Operator S/Sgt. N. J. LoPresti; Engineer S/Sgt. T. N. Sutton; and Gunner S/Sgt. R. J. Joyce. Also aboard was Intelligence Officer Lieut. C. A. Fiezl.
Aircraft 833 arrived at base at 0037 on 6 October 1944.
Lost plane procedure for aircraft 962 was put into operation 8 minutes after the expiration of its estimated time of arrival (ETA). Other than the above mentioned radio report nothing further has been heard of the missing aircraft.
Mission Report, Mission No. 187, 5 October 1944, 75th Bombardment Squadron (M). Office of the Intelligence Officer, 5 October 1944, microfilm A0565, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 903-904.
Beginning at 0530 on 6 October a total of 25 42nd Bombardment Group B-25s from its five squadrons searched for the missing aircraft. The search results were negative.
Consolidated Mission Report #576, 6 October 1944, Office of the Intelligence Officer, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), 6 October 1944, microfilm B0131, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frame 2130.
The following day, 7 October, 20 B-25s from the 42nd Bombardment Group’s five squadrons searched for the missing aircraft. The search results were negative
Consolidated Mission Report #577, 7 October 1944. Office of the Intelligence Officer, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), 7 October 1944, microfilm B0131, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frame 2133
Again on 8 October, 20 B-25s from the 42nd Bombardment Group’s five squadrons searched for the missing aircraft. The search results were negative
Consolidated Mission Report #580, 8 October 1944. Office of the Intelligence Officer, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M),87 October 1944, microfilm B0131, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frame 2140
On 9 October, 14 B-25s from the 42nd Bombardment Group’s five squadrons searched for the missing aircraft. The search results were negative
Consolidated Mission Report #586, 9 October 1944. Office of the Intelligence Officer, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), 9 October 1944, microfilm B0131, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frame 2146.
Searches were also conducted by 42nd Bombardment Group B-25s returning from combat missions.
At about 1230L on 7 October, B-25s returning from an attack on Ambon Town sighted a crashed P-40 and a man at Zeven Island. The man was sitting on the beach without his shirt and with a life raft pulled up on the beach. The P-40 was identified as being that of either the Australian or New Zealand Air Force. A radio report was made of the sighting. Two aircraft dropped cigarettes and a jungle kit, which were retrieved, and circled the area for 35 minutes.
Consolidated Mission Report #575, 7 October 1944/ Office of the Intelligence Officer, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M),7 October 1944, microfilm B0131, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 2128-2129.
An expanded version of the P-40 pilot’s rescue is given in The Crusaders:
The effort put forth produced another rescue not counted upon, when Lieut. John R. Sathern of the 69th, returning from Ambon, sighted a wrecked P-40 on tiny Zeven Island. “This island was so smalL” one of Sather’s crew commented, “that the fuselage and wings divided it into thirds.” An emaciated naked figure jumped up when he saw the Mitchell overhead, and, evidently a modest man, disappeared into the brush, re-emerging clad in blue shorts and waving. Sather’s crew bundled chocolate bars, cigarettes, jungle kits, and even a “Reader’s Digest” with a note wishing the downed flier a pleasant time in Sydney on his furlough after the rescue, and Lieut. Leland M. Swanson employed his bombsight to drop the package within a few feet of the survivor. Sathern’s radio report brought a PBY quickly to the scene.
United States Army Air Forces, The Crusaders: a history of the 42nd Bombardment Group (M). (Baton Rouge, La.: Army & Navy Pictorial Publishers, 1946). World War Regimental Histories. Book 113. p 120 : digital image (http://digicom.bpl.lib.me.us/ww_reg_his/113 : PDF download 12 October 2014). p 120
3 The explosion of the B-25 on takeoff was described in a press release of the 390th Bombardment Squadron:
HEADQUARTERS, 13TH AAF, SOUTHWEST
PACIFIC.-Three members of a fire-fighting unit who were critically injured and burned in the freak crash of a bomb-laden Army aircraft at a New Guinea airfield, owe their lives to the quick action of Capt. Albert H. Meyer of Brooklyn, N. Y., Flight Surgeon in a medium bombardment squadron of the 13th AAF. Though himself injured by flying shrapnel, Captain Meyer remained at the scene of the accident with two medical corpsmen, rendering aid to other victims until ambulances arrived.
The accident occurred as a flight of Mitchell medium bombers was taking off for a raid in- the Netherlands East Indies. Captain Meyer was standing by at the take-off with two medical corpsmen, S/Sgt. Eldon 0. Iverson of Papillion, Nebraska, and Pfc. Charles V. Crooks
of Manhattan, Kansas, when the last bomber in the formation blew a tire as it was about to leave the ground. The airplane careened to the left across the runway, and Captain Meyer immediately started for the scene in a jeep, followed by his assistants in an ambulance. They arrived on the spot as the plane crashed into an embankment at the left of the runway, bursting into flames.
Leaving their vehicles, the Captain and his aids approached to within 30 feet of the plane as a fire-fighting crew attempted to repel the flames of burning gasoline sufficiently to permit the crew of the plane to escape. The plane carried a ton of high explosive bombs which all knew would be set off by the flames in a matter of seconds. -The fire fighters succeeded in driving the flames to the forward end of the ship and Captain Meyer and the men closed in, hoping to assist the plane crew to escape through midship and tail hatches. Airfield workers who did not know that the plane carried bombs also approached to help, and about 30 persons were in immediate vicinity when the bombs exploded.
The Doctor did not know at the time that the airplane’s mid-section had broken apart on the opposite side from his position and that this fortunate development afforded the plane crew an extra means of escape which all were able to use before the detonation.
The blast of the exploding bombs threw the aid party and bystanders to the ground, all receiving wounds from flying shrapnel. Captain Meyer received a fragment in the right shoulder which twirled him around and threw him to his knees. Iverson and Crooks were also caught by shrapnel, another fragment opening a deep four-inch cut in Crooks’ back.
Captain Meyer was the first to recover, and disregarding his own injuries, assisted Crooks and Iverson to their feet and hastily ascertained that their wounds, while bleeding profusely, could be treated later. The three immediately set about rendering first aid to the other injured. Their ambulance and jeep had been demolished by the explosion, but another soon arrived on the scene and Captain Meyer dispatched the most seriously wounded to a field hospital, continuing to aid other injured until more ambulances and another physician and assistants arrived to take over. Private Crooks was also sent to the hospital, but Captain Meyer and Sergeant Iverson declined to go, and accepted treatment themselves only when the other victims had been attended.
There was an ironic twist given to this mishap, for after the crew got away safely, four bystanders were killed outright when the plane exploded. Another Crusader standing by for “rescue-duty” was Pfc. Thomas Day. Although hurt by the blast, Day stayed on the job assisting in attending the wounded. He was later awarded the Soldier’s Medal, while Captain Meyer, Sergeant Iverson, and Pfc. Crooks received letters of commendation from General Kenny, Commanding General of the Far Eastern Air Forces.
United States Army Air Forces, The Crusaders: a history of the 42nd Bombardment Group (M). (Baton Rouge, La.: Army & Navy Pictorial Publishers, 1946). World War Regimental Histories. Book 113. p 128 : digital image (http://digicom.bpl.lib.me.us/ww_reg_his/113 : PDF download 12 October 2014). p 128
4 Captain Arthur G. Taylor.