April 8, 1945

Sunday

Still on Palawan, Wayne waits to go home . . . . .

Flew a couple for days ago to get my flying time. Found my nerve to be completely shot on the buzzing and nearly so at medium altitude. Right engine smoked all the way. Evidence reported that a couple of the cylinders in the right engine blew out. The “hot rock1” pilot made three 180s2 into this engine at varying altitudes causing more grey hair to stand on end. At end of 1 hour 15 minutes, we landed. Myself very happily. Immediately proceeded to Operations and told them “you can stuff the fifty bucks, 3 don’t schedule me for any more time. I’m through! I mean just that.” This is not meant to be for playing around.

Bad luck continues to dog the outfit. On the 6th, two more buddies and an officer were killed. Crawford and Heitz are gone and F/O Strong. It happened over Borneo when Lt. Rae, cruising along, spotted a couple of Jap barges in the bay. He peeled off and went after them. The other ships saw him cut loose on them, as he hit the shore. A moment later, he called over VHF, “I’m hit. Going to try for a water landing, my compass reads north.”

The other planes of the 100th and those of the 69th, immediately began a search to no avail. One last ship was on the way back to base when the pilot happened to glance to one side and caught a green flash of sea marker. He peeled off and sure enough, there were three men in the water with only their Mae Wests holding them up. They reported the position and began dropping equipment to them. In the meantime, several of the other planes returned and also dropped equipment to them. At the base, the position report was screwed up. The PBY couldn’t find the boys until it was too late because of darkness. Therefore, their rescue was in doubt and they were reported missing in action until the next morning.4

Yesterday, Jimmy Higgins, my good friend the Irishman from [illegible] gave his version of the story.

We saw those barges and dove on the target. After hitting them we kept climbing to a higher level to evade enemy fire. A hill loomed in front of us with a larger one just behind it. A bigger one arose higher than the others around it; and blended so well into the background of the next hill that we didn’t even see it until we hit. Upon contact the plane began to vibrate badly and it was a wonder it even stayed in the air. Rae and Phillips both throttled madly to keep it in air. Looking to the right, I saw our right engine nacelle was half torn off and the wing was cut half way back to the rear edge and the right prop blades were bent. It was a miracle that we could still get a bit of power from the engine which was a good thing because we were too low to feather the engine.

Old big shot me, didn’t even have my Mae West on. During the short ride to the water, I had a chute on twice, off again and the Mae West on. Strong up front was dragging ammunition out of the nose guns and pushing them back through the crawlway. I intended throwing them out of the hatch.

At that moment the pilot ordered ditching preparation to be carried out. Strong began to crawl out of the nose and I stepped up to get behind the pilots’ seats and at that moment we hit. The parachute harness saved me by taking the impact of a loose piece of equipment. The turret fell in on Strong. Rae and Phillips jumped out the hatch and I began to follow but water came through the hole in such a gush that it knocked me down. I was out for a second and came to coughing from water in my lungs. That hurt like hell, and I fought toward the light and tried to get out. After twelve eternities I emerged from the plane swam clear as the plane sank. Phillips said it took fifteen seconds to go down. I looked around me and saw Rae and Phillips. Rae’s Mae West had screwed up and he was having a hell of a time staying up. There was no life raft. In back no one, Crawford and Heitz had gotten out alive. We got as closely together as we could and tried to hold Rae above water.

It wasn’t long before we heard engines and six B-25s passed over us. We emptied two packages of sea marker; but they didn’t see us. Our hearts sank. No more planes were seen for nearly an hour, but for what seemed like a year. Then we spotted one some distance away and we kicked and splashed and opened our last sea marker. Rae was getting weaker and so were we. This was probably our last chance. It was a desperate one; but it paid off. Through the whole ordeal, prayers had been running wildly through my mind. What I prayed I didn’t know. I remember saying over and over please turn. Then his wings dipped and his nose turned our way. Thank-God; thank-God.

He buzzed us once, made his turn and came over again. A one-man life raft dropped from the rear hatch; but was too far away and sank before we could get to it. The second almost brained us, but I swam and got it before we sank. Lt. Phillips helped Rae.

The covering hadn’t opened as it hit as it was supposed to and it almost sank before I got there. I activated it quickly and returned to the others. The boys all clung to it as the plane returned again. It dropped another right in our laps. I just reached out; and then we had two. Then the sky was filled with planes who’d picked up our position report. Rafts, rations and small radios were dropped by the dozens it seemed. We retrieved the “Gibson Girl” emergency radio set and two boxes of K rations. We were disgusted as the water got in and spoiled the crackers and one package of cigarettes. The other package was all right and contained a pack of Player Fleetwoods which we smoked to they were gone and the cussed all night because that “Fleetwood” was the best tasting cigarette we ever smoked. The one large raft we got was a god send. We inflated it and tied the one-man rafts around it and climbed aboard.

Time passed until there was just one plane in the area. He, too, finally dipped his wings and left. He hadn’t even gotten out of sight when the raft hit something in the water. “Oh my God”, I thought, “a man”. It turned out to be a shark; however. It zigged, went under us and rubbed its back on the bottom of the raft. I grabbed a paddle to smack him if he came nosing around again; but he left us alone.

We anchored the raft with the bucket anchor; and after the last plane left, big sea flowers began to come to the surface where the plane had gone down. Just a short time later, a leather jacket came up torn nearly in half with one sleeve missing. It bore Hertz’ name; and we were a pretty sorrowful bunch after that.

We sweated out the PBY; but it never came; and darkness descended upon us. It was wet and cold as hell. A storm came up and it rained all night. The waves began to be mountainous in height. All that saved us were the three one-man rafts, which held us stable. All night long, lights blinked messages to us from the shore. We were sorely tempted to answer; but couldn’t be certain if they were Japs or low flying planes, so we didn’t return the signals. Just sweated the rain and the waves out. I went to sleep a little; but the other fellows couldn’t sleep.

Morning came and with it a PBY. That’s the best looking sight I’ve ever seen. We crawled into it, removed out clothes and bundled into dry blankets. God but they felt warm and fine. When we arrived at the base, we crawled out of the PBY. We must have looked as bad as jail birds and were caught by a photographer who took a dozen pictures of us.

Rae disclosed that when the Doc asked Higgins how was he? His answer should rank among the greatest:

I had a rough night.

On the 8th some more boys went down. Our C.O. and his crew were on a flight to Leyte with another plane when decided to do split S’s. He peeled off and into his routine, as he called his wing on the radio. He said “Peel off and follow me”, and seconds later he disappeared into a cloud. The second ship followed. The second ship broke out of the cloud just in time to see a huge splash in the ocean below. Circling, they saw a bunch of debris; Mae West’s and scrap covering the water.5 That is all.

Sometimes I wonder why these things happen but they do. Why do men go out like this? Is there such a thing as fatalism? Is life really predetermined? Does accident bring these things to pass? I believe in the former because I believe in Jesus Christ. Though fatalism used to be a fetish with me. Each day we learn from living. The lessons are sometimes hard and fast, sometimes hardly leaving an impression. One conclusion I can come to: Life is good. Life is sweet. Live it fully and clearly in preparation for the future that follows, which is the real future of mankind, material less and purely spiritualistic. Seek ye after the Spirit, the flesh is mortal and will but drop away with death.

Notes & Commentary

1 hotrock adj. [1940s—50s] flashy, arrogant, aggressive. Jonathan Green, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang. London: Orion Publishing, 2005. p. 746.

The “hotrock” pilot to which Wayne was referring was 2nd Lt. Bartel F. Visser.

Operations Order, No. 81, 06 April 1945, 100th Bombardment Squadron (M). Office of the Operations Officer, 06 April 1945, microfilm A0577, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1972, frame 511..

2 180⁰ turns causing the aircraft to reverse the course i. e., the direction of flight.

3 Monthly flight pay.

4 On April 6, 1945, four aircraft conducted a shipping sweep along the northwest coast of Borneo. The flight leader was Lt. Rae flying B-25 #43-28105. This was the Mission #301 for 100th Bombardment Squadron (M). The shipping sweep was led by four aircraft from the 75th Bombardment Squadron. The mission aircraft took off from Palawan at 0810.

At 1110, a twin-masted schooner was sighted in the Brunei River just south of Brunei Town, and Lt. Rae, the flight leader instructed the flight to remain in formation while investigated. He peeled off and made a run, immediately after which he disappeared from sight as he was flying on the tree tops in heavy haze. At 1112, Lt. Rae called the flight and said he was going to ditch. He had struck a tree during his low level attack on the schooner.

The flight had no idea as to his location and immediately initiated as Square Search in the center of Brunei Bay. Bombs were jettisoned to conserve gas for the search. The search of the bay continued for two hours without result. Then it was decided to make a pass over the target on the same heading on which Lt. Rae had flown and to continue on that heading as long as possible.

At 1315, Lt. Goodrich noted something in the water approximately 10 miles off his left. The proved to be three men floating with Mae Wests inflated. Life rafts were dropped and one five-man life raft was recovered by the men. Running low on gas, the rest of the planes left for base at 1340. One plane with the largest gas reserve stayed and orbited the area until 1510. The aircraft had been relieved at 1508 by two B-25s from the 390th Bombardment Squadron which remained on station over the men in the life rafts until 1745.

It was thought that Lt. Rae and Lt. Phillips were two of the three men seen swimming around. One man was apparently hurt as he was floating on his back and the other two kept pushing him around to steer him to the dinghy. An oil slick was the only remaining evidence of the ditched plane. The coordinates of the ditching were 05 10N 115 03E, approximately 10 miles offshore. The three men were in the life raft when the planes left the area.

The crew of the ditched plane were:

1st Lt. Ward D. Rae, pilot
2nd Lt. Joseph Phillips, co-pilot
F/O Robert E. Strong, navigator
T/Sgt. Harold T. Crawford, radio/gunner
S/Sgt. Norbert Heitz, armorer/gunner
Pfc. James R. Higgins, engineer/gunner

At the time of the mission report was filed, the names of the survivors were not known. PT boats had been contacted in an attempt to make a rescue. P-61 Black Widows were scheduled to cover the position during the night, and PBYs were scheduled to cover the area in the morning if the men had not been rescued by then.

The three crew members which survived the ditching were rescued by Dumbo in the early morning hours of 07 April, but not before three B-25s from the 69th Bombardment Squadron were dispatched at 0435 to fly cover for them. At Brunei Bay, the three aircraft from the 69th reported showers and lightning with 8/10 towering cumulus with bases at 2,000 feet and tops at 10,000.

Final Mission Report, Mission No. 301, 06 April 1945, 100th Bombardment Squadron (M). Office of the Intelligence Officer, 06 April 1945, microfilm A0577, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1972, frames 515- 517.

Standard Mission Report, Mission No. 42-1195, 06 April 1945, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), Office of the Intelligence Officer, 06 April 1945, microfilm B0132, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1972, frames 1669-1672.

Standard Mission Report, Mission No. 42-1196, 06 April 1945, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), Office of the Intelligence Officer, 06 April 1945, microfilm B0132, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1972, frames 1673-1674.

Standard Mission Report, Mission No. 42-1197, 07 April 1945, Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), Office of the Intelligence Officer, 07 April 1945, microfilm B0132, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1972, frames 1675-1676.

5 On a routine training flight to Leyte on 08 April 1945, B-25 #43-36015, piloted by the 100th Bombardment Squadron commander, crashed in the water while practicing operational maneuvers. The deaths of the crew of six men were listed as accidental. The members of the crew were as follows:

Capt. Robert D. Smith, Squadron Commander
2nd Lt. Robbie Peel
2nd Lt. Thomas V. Smith
2nd Lt. Joseph L. Johnson, Jr.
Sgt. James E. Levin
Cpl. Wynn W. Daily

100th Bombardment Squadron (M) Historical Report, 1April 1945 – 30 April 1945, Office of the Commanding Officer, 1 May 1945, microfilm B0577, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1972, frame 409.

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5 Responses to April 8, 1945

  1. Sounds like they had a lucky escape!

    Like

  2. suchled says:

    Now I know what it’s like. What a fantastic description

    Like

  3. jfwknifton says:

    “Life is good. Life is sweet” It is such a great pity that so many young men and women have to lose theirs to defeat such forces of darkness as the Japanese of the1930s and 40s. Thanks a lot, I really enjoyed reading this story.

    Like

  4. Mustang.Koji says:

    That one hour must have been most depressing… To be bobbing out in the Pacific and an injured buddy to boot… And would you know what sea flowers are?

    Like

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