[AVweb's reprint of A Pilot's History began with Chapter 1.]
At Hickam Field, Honolulu, I was a part of a small unit flying westward to the new war fronts, as we battled against the enemy to reclaim the vast section of the world it had conquered. Our assignment, in a nutshell, was to fly cargo and personnel out and evacuate the wounded back to the hospitals in Honolulu.
After being housed in a nice but crowded apartment with three other pilots at Hickam Field, I was assigned as a co-pilot for a C-54 trip to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, via Johnston Island, an interesting Navy-controlled island that lay a four-hour flight southwest of Honolulu. Johnston Island was a low patch of coral rock that had been extended to form a 5,000-foot runway, which started at the water's edge, ran the length of the island, and ended at the water's edge. A nighttime takeoff made me appreciate what a Navy pilot went through on a carrier takeoff. In the shower room, a sign said, "Conserve water. It takes one gallon of fuel to make four gallons of fresh water out of salt water."
After fueling, we would take off for another eight-hour flight to the Kwajalein Islands, a large atoll with a rock runway on the largest motu (islet). At one time, it had been covered with tall coconut trees and tropical brush. After enduring several days of firing from Navy ships, the trees were shattered and only a barren, windswept island was left. I was told the Army took the island by setting up artillery on a nearby island and our losses had been very light. Next to the tent where I slept was a common grave with a marker indicating that more than 1,200 Japanese were buried there. Unfortunately, the waters of the lagoon would occasionally uncover a body or two.
Our return flight to Honolulu was normally a little bit slower than the westward flights because of the trade winds. We tried to stay at 7,000 to 9,000 feet for the sake of the wounded, which consisted of Army, Navy, and Marine personnel, without discrimination. It took about a month for the chief pilot to give me a check flight, at the end of which he said, "We had better get you a promotion," which he did, to 1st Lieutenant. I was reassigned as captain on the C-54s.
We flew a lot of flights to Kwajalein Island. Once we took eight Japanese prisoners to Honolulu for interrogation, along with the 24 soldiers that guarded them. These Japanese men were the few survivors of the thousands who had died on that island. What I was seeing and hearing on the front lines was conflicting with the propaganda put forth by our military. There was no word in Japanese for surrender. The prisoners were hard, dedicated soldiers.
My co-pilot and I, with a few hours to kill one day, caught a Navy boat across the lagoon to a Navy-held motu to look around. At noontime, we followed the Navy officers into a Quonset hut for lunch. There we found air conditioning, tables for four, linen tablecloths, silverware, fresh fruit, fresh meat, and a staff of waiters. Our motu was dependent on the Navy for its supplies, and we were limited to one canteen of water per day and two daily meals of concentrated C-rations in the mess tent. On this neighboring oasis I could hardly enjoy what I was eating.
The battle for Saipan was under way, and it was a fierce battle, for it had belonged to Japan for too long a time; it was not a recent conquest. Saipan was an island with hills and caves and a small civilian population. The Army troops were taking over one end, and the Marines another section, and the great difference in fighting techniques spawned a great deal of dissention. There was a lot of mad howling going on by the Marine general, which did not help the war effort. There is an old saying: "The Army does the work, the Marines get the credit, and the Navy gets the pay."
Saipan had a lot of Japanese civilians, mostly contract workers and their families. After the fighting, the percentage of prisoners in concentration camps was very low. Many civilians, including women and children, jumped off seaside cliffs, a 200- to 300-foot suicide drop to the rocks or ocean below. They preferred this fate to being captured.
If ever there was a theater of war tailor-made for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to show the world what they could do, this vast Pacific Ocean dotted with islands was it. Here, we took aboard large numbers of Navy sailors badly burned by flash fire or by fuel mixed with salt water, a bad chemical combination. The injured sailors had been cautioned not to talk, but it was obvious there had been a naval disaster.
We were also extracting the wounded from the southwest Pacific areas. Hard-won islands, such as Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, were used as staging bases for gathering the wounded to await our pickup. I had heard that the old fighter wing I belonged to was once on Guadalcanal, but I couldn't find any trace of their earlier presence. I stayed in a tent by the side of a river not far from the airstrip.
(After I retired, about 28 years after the war, Jeanne and I sailed into Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, in a small boat that we had sailed from Miami, Fla. I looked in vain for the site where my tent had been pitched. The airstrip and tower, yes ... the right river, no! Our memories play tricks on us, and things do change, too. But being on the island again brought to mind a long-forgotten story of when we caught some Japanese soldiers going through our chow line one night. After being cut off in the jungle, they were hungry.)
Back at Tarawa, things had not gone well during our invasion, when the landing barges hung up on the reefs. There was talk of the tides being miscalculated. Having sailed in the area in the intervening years, I can vouch that the tides are not dependable or wholly predictable. Our forces eventually took the island, and it became a fueling stop for us during the war. It had been a very costly operation.
On long trips and when duties permitted, I encouraged the crewmembers to talk to the passengers and the wounded. Many of them were very comfortable with their injuries, but the young ones who were missing a limb or two or who had disfiguring facial injuries were very apprehensive about how they would be received by their sweethearts or wives. Some had already received "Dear John" letters. Some worried about holding a job or having to live a life of dependency. One young fellow, a very small guy, was on his way to Washington, D.C., to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. He had manned a machine gun on Guadalcanal to save his buddies against overwhelming odds and a hand grenade diminished his eyesight. These were the fellows that were paying the price of war.
On one trip we flew from Guam to Kwajalein with a load of troops who were due for rotation or rest and recuperation (R&R). The unusual thing was that they were all black and appeared to be well, but they seemed strung out, possibly due to their war experience -- or maybe this was simply their first plane ride. In spite of our good weather forecast, 50 miles out we hit a wall of cumulus clouds. As we proceeded, the turbulence increased, lightning flashed wildly, and we could hear vicious thunder above the roar of the engines. At first we tried to climb above it, but that proved impossible. Flashes of lightning seemed to envelop us as we bored a hole through the dark night. Sheets of rain pounded the aluminum skin of the aircraft, the sound varying in intensity as we traveled through distinct rain cells. The autopilot couldn't handle the turbulence, so one of us had to hand-fly the plane, while the other pilot sat with eyes closed so that if the working pilot became blinded temporarily from the lightning strikes, the other would be able to take the controls.
Our very worried navigator was holding his octant hour after hour, waiting to get a star sight to fix our position. We had slowed the aircraft down with a power reduction to ease the strain in the turbulence. After a few hours of this, we came to a smooth spot and a small section of sky appeared before us, so the navigator got a single star shot before we were thrust back into rain, turbulence, lightning, and heavy cumulus clouds. The navigator pondered his chart, reduction tables, and star charts longer than usual. Then he reported to me that he'd gotten a shot of only one single star, and it gave him a line of position 150 miles to the south of our intended course. At first he thought he must have misidentified it, but there was no other star it could be. "Could we be that far off course?" he asked incredulously. He was a meticulous navigator with seven years of university behind him, and he had proved himself an excellent celestial navigator numerous times with me. Actually, he was the best I had ever met.
When we had hit the clear spot and then once again flown into the soup, I knew we had hit a rip-snorting typhoon. I discussed the situation with him and continued on our same heading, counting on the opposite side of the typhoon to bring us back on course. This typhoon was the most violent and largest I had ever flown through. Our radio operator had been able to make only minimal contact with those on the ground at Kwajalein, and the meteorologist there claimed to have no knowledge of any bad weather. After a few more horrific hours, the weather improved and we found ourselves almost on course.
I took a walk through the cabin to find a group of very subdued men, most of whose previously dark faces had become very pale, tinged green with airsickness. When they got off the plane, a good many stumbled around, others pounded on the ground, kissed it, or just lay down on it. One corporal asked if flying was always like that. I told him, "No, sometimes it gets pretty rough."
The meteorologist at Kwajalein pointed out that the typhoon must have moved up from the Japanese-held Caroline Islands. As it was more than a thousand miles in diameter and so strongly developed, I was surprised to learn that naval reconnaissance had no knowledge of it. Perhaps they did and were keeping it a secret. We made a full report and saw the typhoon on the charts at the meteorologist's office the next day and for many days thereafter.
Into the Deep
My co-pilot and I met a naval submarine officer at Hickam Field and were invited to go on a test run the following day aboard Sea Horse, a sub with an enviable war record. Early in the morning, we were rapidly brought aboard and sent below, and I noticed how tight and crowded she was, with about 68 people on board. Trips to the Philippines or to the Japanese coastlines from Pearl Harbor were taking 58 to 68 days. During this time, some men were sharing their bunks with a torpedo and a few would be "hot bunking" (men on different shifts using the same bunk). On this test-and-training voyage, reaching deep water with our destroyer escorts, we dived and played a cat-and-mouse game while the surface vessels tried to depth-charge us with practice charges. When we tried to hide from the sonar finders, the motors were shut down, and no talking or movement was permitted. The worst thing was that the ventilation system had to be shut down, too, making the battery-acid fumes choke us and causing our eyes to shed copious tears.
The charges dropped on us brought about compression and shaking of the sub, resulting in the breaking of glass in numerous instruments. In order to get away, the skipper dived to 525 feet. When a torpedo-tube gasket blew, water shot into the vessel in a straight line about 30 feet and hit against a bulkhead next to where I was standing. Then all hell broke loose. There were bells, whistles, and bodies in quick motion, and the bow rose at a very steep angle as I struggled to stay on my feet. The leak was stopped, the sub leveled out and the game went on.
In talking with the officers, I learned that the one thing they worried about when running on the surface to charge their batteries, either in enemy territory or in friendly waters, was friendly aircraft fire. The crews were very well treated when ashore between trips; they had hotel rooms on the beach, free time and lots of parties. I was impressed with their entire operation and with the deadly effect they were having on the enemy. My concept of their lives while submerged was drastically altered as a result of my brief experience aboard Sea Horse.
Friends and Foes
A routine trip from Guam to Kwajalein took about eight hours of flying time. One moonless night we were running in and out of clouds, the passengers quiet and the crew softly performing their duties. On approaching, within 75 miles of Kwajalein, we were asked to check our IFF (identification friend or foe) device, which emitted a radio-coded signal that changed daily. We checked the code and found it to be correct; according to the radio operator's report, the set seemed to be working. After some hesitation, we were asked to turn 90 degrees right and hold that heading. A few moments later, there was a request to turn 90 degrees left. We did so and proceeded to land, at which time I was given a phone number to call. It was answered with a brusque "Fighter command." When I identified myself, a high-pitched, excited voice obviously belonging to a young man came on and said, "I am the Black Widow night fighter pilot who picked you up without an IFF signal on my radar scope. I had my guns charged and sighted and my finger on the trigger, and by God I was hoping you wouldn't make that 90-degree turn and I would get to blow you to hell." I told him how many I had in my crew, how many nurses and other medical professionals, and more than 40 wounded military men on board. After that, I told him what an SOB he was, and I added a few other fancy terms of endearment. I could understand someone doing his duty and shooting down the enemy, but to sneak up behind him to shoot him in the back -- and to enjoy doing it -- is to this day beyond my comprehension. The operations people, who had been nearby while I was on the phone, treated me with kid gloves after hearing my side of the conversation. Fixing a shorted-out IFF antenna cured our problem.
While I was on a layover in Saipan, a Japanese Betty made a low-level bombing run on the airstrip. Our tent was close to the sea and the runway. The alert sounded and the pilot dropped his bombs, passing about 500 feet away from our tent, at treetop height. My co-pilot was in the outhouse when it all began, and he could not run very fast with his pants around his ankles, as he dashed frantically from foxhole to foxhole, only to find them all occupied. On the next raid, he was the first one out of the tent. He dived into a hole, but, unfortunately, a very heavy someone jumped in on top of him. My co-pilot's knee was damaged in the scuffle, but he would not ask for medical treatment for fear of being grounded and left in Saipan. We all told him, "Too bad we have to leave you," just to hear him plead for mercy. The next day, we carried him aboard, and the flight engineer sat in the co-pilot's seat. Years later, I would remember that flight when I flew another C-54 (DC-4, four-engine) on a short trip as the sole occupant on board.
The co-pilot was soon returned to flight status and made several more flights with me. Flights from Guam were virtually indistinguishable from Saipan flights: lots of injured sailors, some from hospital ships, who needed quick attention for medical treatment at the Honolulu hospitals. There were always a couple of blankets, a deck of cards, and some chips, and men with bandaged bodies, some missing arms or legs or an eye, joking to one another about their injuries. I mentioned this to one soldier who was missing an arm and had a bloody bandage over a stump. "Here, we can always see someone worse off than we are," he told me. "It gets worse when we think about our reception at home."
I was given many a souvenir; a Japanese flag, a bayonet, a cap, and -- once -- a clean Japanese lower jaw with a lot of gold-capped teeth. (I left this last on a shelf above the washbasin in the Honolulu officers club, just to shake up some of the pencil pushers.) On one flight from Saipan, I was shown a collection of gold teeth by an infantryman. Mostly, the men told me stories of their company's happenings or related their personal histories. These narratives, in conjunction with what I saw in my wide travels to the different fronts, enabled me to patch together a realistic perception of how the war was really going. I came to develop a viewpoint of what the Japanese soldier was like that was quite different from what I saw in print. If many of the characteristics that we denigrated in the Japanese had been apparent in our own troops, we would have applauded.
On a flight out of Leyte, in the Philippines, a soldier told me that when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, he and some other soldiers escaped to the jungles to live with the natives. They set up their organization to survive, even printing their own money on any scrap of paper or magazine page. He gave me some of the currency that I still have in my possession.
Frequently in Honolulu when I was walking around the base, especially near the hospital, I would pass pajama-clad patients wandering around the grounds. Sometimes, I would hear, "Hi, Captain! (Although only a lieutenant, I was a plane captain.) Do you remember me? You flew me here from Saipan. Thanks a lot." It made me feel good. Some of my crew reported similar experiences and we would always ask about their injuries.
Move to California
Our small contingent for evacuating the injured from the battlefronts was transferred from Hickam Field to Hamilton Field, at the east end of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Our missions to date had consisted of single aircraft going out alone. We carried no parachutes and no squadron flights, and had no fighter escort. Our instructions were to sneak into the airports, for we were sitting ducks: We could not have outmaneuvered nor outrun any enemy aircraft. On board, we carried no weapons, except a .45 automatic and a bowie knife. At first, our wing tanks were not even self-sealing. Operations did see to it that we were not sent in until it was reported that our forces had air superiority, there was adequate ground control at the airport and the airport was suitable for four-engine aircraft. Sometimes, I questioned the quality of the information on which they based their decisions.
The move to California would incorporate us into a larger transport group that, I was told, was expected to grow to a thousand pilots. I was not the type to spend any time at the headquarters building to find out if that information was reliable.
Jeanne came out of Miami and rented a small house for us. In the intervals between my trips out of the country, we enjoyed home-cooked meals, evenings at the officers club, and occasionally dinner at a fine restaurant. Sometimes, a day trip into San Francisco or a hike in the woods was a satisfactory break for us between my trips to the islands.
I was soon given orders to pack my bag for a temporary tour of duty to the Dutch East Indies. Biak, a small island off the western part of New Guinea, right on the equator, demanded the presence of half a dozen crews and C-54 transports. Some 51 hours after I received the order -- and having made a few stops along the way -- we arrived at this jungle-covered coral island. The Pacific is one big ocean, and we were in a far corner of it. Along the south coast of Biak were vertical coral cliffs facing the sea, a hundred feet tall and riddled with caves. This was an unknown fact and as a consequence, our troops suffered heavy casualties from enemy fighters who had hidden in the caves. It was computed that 14 C-54s could evacuate as many injured men as three hospital ships, a bit of information that explained the necessity of our presence.
We lived in tents pitched on hard coral rock, and a good length of the island's runway was made of the same material. This island was a staging area for men and equipment that would be involved in the invasion of either Pelelieu in the Palau Islands or the Philippines. Our main duties were to haul critical supplies and personnel to Leyte and to transport the injured out. There was also the job of hauling General MacArthur's headquarters personnel and equipment from Hollandia, on the north coast of New Guinea, to Leyte -- the general's famously anticipated "return" to the Philippines.
With a full load of cargo and passengers, we took off from Biak one morning, expecting a flight time of six hours to Leyte and another six to return. There would be no refueling. There was no briefing to give us any idea what to expect at Leyte. Upon approaching the bay on which our destination lay, the cloud cover gave way momentarily, enabling us to see hundreds of ships scattered off a narrow, low, coastal strip of land with hills in the background. Every type of vessel seemed to be anchored, and a number of small craft motored to and fro. But we saw no large, protective wall of Navy war vessels in place to protect these sitting ducks. We just assumed there was a protective ring of submarines, aircraft carriers and battleships out of sight. Little did we know that Admiral Halsey's protective fleet had been hoodwinked into chasing decoy Japanese vessels to the north while the attacking fleet of battleships, cruisers, carriers and destroyers was coming in from the north and south, using the nearby straits. Only the heroic actions of destroyers and small carriers -- plus huge mistakes by the attacking Japanese commanders -- salvaged the invasion of the Philippines for us.
The man in the control tower told us to orbit while he brought in some fighters and attack bombers that were low on fuel. The air was alive with aircraft, most of them waiting to land or taking off from a single, muddy strip of perforated steel mats that served as a runway along the edge of the bay. I bit my tongue, hoping our weight would not tear up the strip when I was cleared to land. A B-25 cut in ahead of me on the final approach, but having flown B-25s, I knew that plane would land faster than my C-54 would. The word at the operations tent was that this strip was busiest airport in the world for takeoffs and landings.
A pilot in a P-38 who was trying to get a sequence to land and was running out of fuel was told to fly over the bay and bail out; someone would pick him up. Meanwhile, in a small parking area, we were quickly unloaded, loaded and told to move it. A squadron of B-25s had landed in the opposite direction just as I was given permission to taxi to the runway in a light drizzle. A C-47 ahead of us cleared the taxiway ahead of me for the takeoff run in a cloud of mist and mud. The nose started up and climbed at a very steep angle and then the plane stalled out and went nose down onto the center of the runway. No one got out as the plane crumbled and the fire raged. Within seconds, fire extinguishers and a bulldozer appeared to push some of the still-smoking remains into the bay. The tower asked if I could take off and clear the remainder of the debris of landing gear and engines -- and possibly bodies -- still smoking on the runway. Closing the runway to clean it was not an option at that time.
I contemplated this and then briefed my co-pilot and engineer of some unusual steps. The taxiway was a little less than a 90-degree angle to the runway. With a blast of power, we gained speed on the taxiway. Using full power on the right engines, we turned onto the runway, accelerating until we were lined up with the runway, and then we advanced the left engines to full, to stop the turn and regain a forward course. I had not, however, anticipated how slippery the steel mats would be with water and mud, and we slid sideways across half the runway. A heavy truck was traveling down the edge of the runway with some troops on board. Seeing my wing and two roaring, hungry propellers coming for them, the troops bailed over the side of the truck. The co-pilot thought the driver had his door open and ready to jump, if necessary. With the extra speed we'd picked up on the taxiway, we were able to drop our wing flaps to get enough lift to hop over the wreckage. As we staggered through the air we quickly retracted our landing gear to climb out.
My crew and I perceived our own casualness toward the deaths of the crew and passengers of the C-47 and attributed it to the emergencies of war, knowing we could expect no more if we were the victims. We speculated whether the pilot's elevators had been locked, or his trim tabs were rolled back, or perhaps the plane's payload was too tail-heavy ... or some combination of those factors. The rapid tempo of this war and this place in particular could have played a part, too, especially if the pilot was fatigued or ill. We wondered if the truck driver had jumped out of the cab. We felt sure he would not drive a truck along the runway again.
No Atheists in a Foxhole
As time went by, Biak's equatorial location and tropical climates presented certain challenges. One night, we had a lot of thunderstorms and heavy rain. The next morning, I found my shoes 50 feet away, where they had floated during the night.
My group had acquired a wild-eyed tent mate who was awaiting transport to the Philippines. A protestant preacher and an army chaplain, he had a curious desire: He wanted to be on the front lines so he could kill a Jap. I wonder if he ever did what he wanted to do; I kind of thought he might end up on the receiving end instead.
It has often been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. It's true that a lot of people gained religion in a hurry when the shooting started; but on the other hand, when the horrors of war begin, many people also lose their religion as it was taught. War does odd things to people. A C-47 took off for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, loaded with Japanese prisoners and Australian guards. When the plane landed, there were no prisoners on board to question. I once watched a Japanese soldier come out of a cave with both hands, up only to be hit with a flamethrower. That was pretty bad to witness, but when one of the infantry squad chuckled, it sickened me. I understand that a flamethrower operator's wartime lifespan is about 20 minutes. I could never believe that killing was training to become a good citizen.
On one of my trips, the flight was diverted for an extra shuttle run between Hollandia and Leyte, making me a day or two late in arriving at my tent "home" in Biak. Tired and weary, I was looking forward to hitting the bunk. There were no bedclothes, no extra boots, no books and no clothes where I had left them. Tent mates and friends thought bad luck had caught up with me. I went for a shower and when I came back, everything had mysteriously reappeared.
There was a jagged hole on my side of the tent about six inches higher than my bunk -- a hole that hadn't been there when I had left a few days earlier. The explanation was simple: A bombing raid had taken place, injuring or killing a few people in the mess tent and a piece of shrapnel came through the open doorway and across the tent. What about anti-aircraft defense? There was none. The base colonel was using the searchlight generator to light up his tent. Morale and supplies for troops were the worst I would find on an island base.
Flora, Fauna and Furtiveness
Between flights, some of the crew and I would go swimming around the coral rocks in a deserted cove. It was a very good way to cool off and exercise. The fish and coral were fantastic. I had started a seashell collection from various islands, and here I was able to add to my store. Cleaning them was a problem. (Years later, I would donate the shells to the University of Florida.)
In the water, we had to be careful, for some of the troops were accustomed to fishing with hand grenades. The numerous caves we explored yielded cans of fish heads and mortar shells that had been stored there by the defeated Japanese troops. The fish heads were distasteful and were quickly discarded, unopened. The mortar shells, however, held a little more interest for the men, and when the fellows in my tent began to remove the fuse from a mortar shell and chisel out the explosive to retain the casing for a souvenir, I found it an appropriate time to leave the tent.
Walking along the base of the cliff on the island's south end, I could see some openings that might have led into a cave part of the way up the face. There was a lot of rubble in one place at the base of the cliff, and starting at that point, I scrambled up a steep incline. When I got near the cave's mouth, I heard a lot of scuffling. I took a very fast way down the cliff and continued my walk with a badly lacerated hand, which I had cut on the coral rock in my haste. Returning an hour later to the cliff, I found an infantry squad with the body of a Japanese soldier where I had fallen. The squad was on a routine patrol and said I was lucky to have avoided being shot. It was nice to think that he decided not to shoot me to avoid giving away his position.
My lacerated hand continued to bleed, and I had it doctored at the dispensary. It continued to bleed for the next day, until I was threatened with a blood transfusion. I was also given large quantities of some new stuff they called "penicillin" -- and that was when I discovered that I am allergic to penicillin. My left hand was a big bundle of bandages, but no one said anything about grounding me, and I wasn't going to be the one to broach the possibility.
Just A Little Scratch
I made another trip to Leyte and returned to Biak. After about 12 hours of flying, we taxied between two long rows of locally based C-47s that were used for the shorter runs, due to their lack of fuel capacity. It was a tight squeeze between the rows of aircraft, and it's difficult to judge the clearance when you have a 110-foot wingspan. No wing walkers were available, and there were no follow-me Jeeps. One C-47 stuck out farther by a few feet than the others, and I made an inexcusable error -- a taxiing accident. That is about equivalent to an admiral running his ship aground. I had badly dented the C-47's nose cone with my wing tip. With the wounded on board in the equator's hot sun, and no ventilation or air conditioning for the aircraft, I continued to our parking area. There was no damage to the wing of the C-54. I reported the incident and expected a reprimand.
The next day, the legal officer asked for me to pay him a visit, and I was notified that the colonel was planning to make an example out of me. I was expected to sign a statement attesting that I had carelessly and negligently veered off course at high speed and collided with a parked aircraft and many more false accusations. The aircraft I damaged had been dragged back into alignment with the others, where it could not have been hit without damaging those on each side. The maintenance officer would not acknowledge that fact; he appeared to be scared to death of the colonel.
When I refused to sign the statement as written but agreed to take responsibility for the accident, he said the colonel would court-martial me and then he proceeded to transfer out any witnesses whose testimony would be beneficial to me. Our group of C-54s was about to be transferred back to Hamilton and the colonel was angry about not being able to keep them -- and us -- under his control. From another outfit, I secured a legal officer who wasn't under the colonel's control and he helped pressure them to rewrite the statement. This new version still indicated that I was at fault, but it came much closer to the truth. No mention was made that we had been on duty for more than 18 hours, including 12 in-flight, nor that I was reacting to a penicillin allergy and significant blood loss. There was no way I could have benefited by a court-martial at Biak and -- being the pilot in command -- I really had been at fault.
The crews arriving ahead of me in Hickam had let out the news about conditions in Biak. There was an inspector general on his way to Biak shortly and we heard there was a very thorough dressing-down of the conditions at the base and a strong reprimand of the colonel in front of the officer personnel. So maybe our actions did help the troops who were under his command.
Upon arrival in Honolulu, en route to California, my co-pilot and I went to the officers club for a grand feast. In Biak, while eating dehydrated food, we frequently discussed the dinners we would put away when we finally arrived back in civilization. We ordered just about everything available, but after eating a fresh salad, we found that our stomachs had shrunk so much that we could not consume any more food.
Back in Hamilton, it was nice to be a husband again. I was having trouble reconciling the civilian life I saw about me with the lifestyle in the war areas. Seeing the results of war in the destruction of men and material, I tended to be serious most of the time, and I took my responsibilities fully upon my shoulders. It was difficult to party and dance while carrying around that kind of burden and I pretty much stopped laughing or even smiling. I had not yet reached my mid-20s. I knew that within a couple of weeks, I would be heading west once again to stop at some island in vastness of the Pacific. There I would unload high-priority cargo and personnel and load up with wounded sailors and soldiers from the field hospitals. Tired medical technicians and nurses would be taking routine care of the injured, hoping there would be no emergencies they could not handle before we landed. Usually we would head for Honolulu hospitals. Getting the wounded to these excellent treatment centers in a matter of hours must have saved countless lives, not to mention a lot of suffering. The memory of these lean, hollowed eyed troops would stay with me forever. The veterans would often have yellow complexions from taking Atabrine (quinacrine) tablets to ward off the effects of malaria.
[Continued with Chapter 4.]
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Last year's fire season in the West was among the worst on record and was a tragedy on many levels but it painted the sky in spectacular shades. It was a poignant background for a beautiful aircraft at Redmond Airport in Oregon.