By Jerome H. "Jerry" Goldwyn
The following memoir was written longhand by my father, Jerome Harold "Jerry" Goldwyn in 2002 at age 82 from his home in Pompano Beach, FL. Dad ended the war as a Staff Sargeant with the 461st Squadron. My Mom, Norma Goldwyn, typed and edited this memoir and I have abridged it slightly for this website. Born March 1, 1920, Dad died July 14, 2005 at age 85. This website is dedicated to his memory.
- Craig Goldwyn, Webmaster, 2006.
Texas, S. Dakota, Arizona, Florida
I began my Air Force career with the Reserves in 1938, when I was 18 years old. I was from Far Rockaway on Long island, and I had been to Penguin Flying School just outside Long Island City, NY. I learned how to fly up to 75 hp light aircraft. I had signed up for the Army Air Force to fly liaison missions, ambulance, air to ground, ground to air, and Air Force VIP flights.
I was called to active duty three month after Pearl Harbor on March 8, 1942. I must have flown out of 20 air bases, flying VIPs, spotters for field artillery, ground support, and liaison. I carried armament: a 45 pistol and a 30/30 carbine. It was sure death if a fighter spotted me flying 75 mph and practically on the ground. If attacked from the air I was to land near trees and run for cover, taking off when it was safe. One time I had to find a fence and rest the plane’s tail on it by throttle power. When I had enough speed I moved the elevators and ailerons to lift the tail off the fence and take off in 30-40 feet. It was scary but the only way to avoid being shot.
I got lucky and was transferred to a small air base in Plainview, Texas. It was heaven. The base personnel were all civilians. We were treated like princes. Plenty of invites for home cooked meals and parties. Because of the lack of males left in town, they treated us like their sons, brothers, and husbands. We stayed mainly in people’s homes and not on base.
After a stay at a base in Lemesa, Texas I was assigned to Shepherd Field, Texas. I ran into an old buddy of mine, Phipps. He arrived at Shepherd Field before I did. He had everything worked out. He finagled a deal to become supply Sgt. and when I got there I became a supply Sgt. too. He got a group together and they went to the train tracks and found track ties piled up every 10-15 feet apart. They built a shack that looked like the other stacks of railroad ties.
One morning when they called out assignments I hid in the railroad ties until roll call was over. I had company, so out came a deck of cards. Three of us played hearts. After a while more GIs arrived, so we changed to poker. There were four of us playing so we each made a tie pile to hide us, leaving us plenty of room. We had a guard who was assigned to guard the ties. He was our lookout.
The poker games in these RR ties were great. There was always a game going on. I only goofed off when camp duties were assigned to others. If you missed a flight it was like going AWOL and you were punished.
I had to leave my buddy, Phipps when I was sent to a base in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, better known as "pneumonia gulch." The buildings were built for a warm climate. Each had one pot belly stove for heat in a central space and none were insulated. You had to rotate to keep warm, with the area facing the stove roasting one side at a time. The temperature in winter was always around zero. The coal bins were close to the buildings. Some of the guys used the coal bins as urinals and when burning the soft coal the base smelled like a urinal. I caught pneumonia and spent time in the hospital.
Then I was sent to Yuma, Arizona. 110 degrees in the shade. Unreal! We stood watch at the airfield as the wheels of our planes settled into the asphalt. I needed help to keep moving the plane to another spot. This continued every day in the summer. One day I was out looking to see where we could move the plane. When I woke up in the hospital they told me I had passed out on the field in 103 degree heat.
My next assignment was Ft. Myers, Florida. I trained on a Wahler Trainer and they checked my ability with guns. Then I was able to teach air to ground, ground to air, ground to ground gunnery. I flew on B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, and later, B-29s, teaching gunnery to everyone from colonels to privates.
On base we had classrooms where we took all types of classes, including everything from the arts to classes for high school or college credit often taught by high school or college teachers. This held true overseas as well as stateside.
One big advantage to being in the Air force is that on some days you could get a flight to somewhere you wished to go, what we called a “buddy ride”. I saw a lot of the USA through these “buddy rides”.
Almost every town that had a base or airfield also had a movie house. We saw first run films for 10¢. There were also USO dances on base. Buses would bring girls in from town, as well as chaperones. The girls usually arrived around 8 p.m. and left about midnight. The townspeople would bring cake, soda, and fresh coffee. The smaller the town the more we were catered to. times you didn’t know where you would be going so you carried pistols all over.
I was assigned to Salina, Kansas, and then to Pratt, Kansas. While at Pratt I was assigned to an administrative flight to New York City. Before we left we went to the ready room where the Captain wrote orders for all of us saying that we would be on a training mission to NYC for a practice bombing mission. We assumed this would be a one day mission. Instead, we landed at LaGuardia Airport for three days for “repairs” so our Captain could visit his wife and new baby. We had nothing with us but what we were wearing. We all wore leather jackets, pants, boots, cap with ear muffs, all fleece lined, as well as our dog tags. I went into the city, where I got stopped four or five times by the MPs because I was out of uniform and without any orders.
Wichita, Kansas was near our base and we were able to go to the Boeing factory to watch them build planes. The people of Kansas were friendly toward the service men and women, and appreciated the fact that the Air force had airfields and airplane manufacturing plants in their state. A major portion of the population of Kansas worked for Boeing. Nothing was too good for us.
I volunteered for overseas and had my pick of a plane and crew. There was a crew of instructors being formed and I asked to join them. My ship’s first pilot was First Lt. Ball. I was really happy when I saw my name posted on the bulletin board as a member of Lt. Ball’s crew going into active duty. Before going overseas, and even while on Okinawa, we not only had flight time, we also had classroom sessions where each of us learned about every position on a B-29. Our assignment was in the Pacific islands in a new B-29 named “Never Been Tried”. Our B-29 was just off the line with all new equipment. The gunsights were all electric and had a screen that you looked into and that you could focus on your target. When the enemy got framed in your sights you could open fire and good-bye enemy.
My first assignment overseas was to the Puerto Rico. The island was still considered foreign soil and qualified as overseas duty, and we received overseas pay while there. We were based at Brinkin Army Air Force Base, about 90 miles west of San Juan, Puerto Rico. We were located in the southern part of the island in a town called Mayaguez, near Aguada, which was on the water. Both towns were friendly to US soldiers from the base.
We would go to Mayaguez, Aguada, Ponce, and San Juan on days off, wearing side arms or carrying carbines with live ammo. The people spoke both Spanish and some English. When we went to a bar the Puerto Ricans bought glasses of liquor while we “rich Americans” bought bottles. Some of our GIs received severe beatings when caught alone by the Puerto Rican men. We had been warned that they objected to their women going out with us, so we never went any place alone where we would be outnumbered by the Puerto Rican men.
The Ponce village square, like most every small town, had a fountain in the center. The chaperones sat on benches around the fountain. If you wished to meet, or talk, or walk with a girl, you had to speak to her chaperone first and get permission. The people of Ponce were wealthy and had big beautiful homes with lots of land. They were mostly of Spanish descent and felt that most of the Puerto Ricans were beneath them.
Once I was late and I knew that if I came back to base late I would be punished in some way. Maybe no pass to get off base for a while, or KP, policing the area, or standing guard. So I decided to stay in town. All the chaperones and girls had gone back to their ranches and the place was deserted. The town had no hotels, rooming houses, or inns. I slept in one of the fire engine seats in the ornate firehouse. In the morning I took a bus back to the base. I first stopped in Mayaguez at a barber shop, shaved, washed, and hung up my uniform to have the wrinkles fall out. Some of the guys I knew told me that when my name was called at roll call someone answered “Here” for me, so I was safe and not AWOL. Lucky me!!!!
Sometimes we flew simulated bombing missions. We would take off about 6 a.m. with our full squadron. We had escort fighter planes. We made believe that we destroyed New York, London, Paris, Berlin, or Moscow. Those would be 14 hour flights. We had two bunks in the rear of the plane that would be for wounded on a real mission, so we used them to catch 40 winks. We made believe it was real and dropped canvas bombs and fired ersatz bullets. If we were attacked by target flying planes our cameras took pictures of our hits and misses. After our flights our targets were checked to see how well we had done.
When we landed back at our field we would be debriefed. Then we usually just hit the sack. We would put up a sign on the bulletin board stating that we had just returned from a long mission and the number of hours we spent. At this stage of the war we generally had one day on and one day off, unless there was an emergency.
I left the States on August 4, 1945 with a squadron of B-29s for Guam. After a short stay we went on to Tinian, then finally Kadena Field, Okinawa on August 7.
[Editor's note: On August and 9, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan were destroyed by atomic bombs dropped from B-29s flying from Tinian. Japan surrendered on August 15.]
Our engineering group came over first by boat and set up an airfield and base for us. This included runways where our heavy bombers could to land. Our ground crews and engineers also set up areas where that they could work on our planes as soon as they landed.
Our quarters were laid out with about 20 pyramid tents for all the air crew, plus a mess tent, rec hall, briefing tent, headquarters, PX, and tents for all other personnel. It was called "tent city." Our living area slept six to a tent. Each tent had three double decker bunk beds. We had our “B4s”, which were like garment bags, and foot lockers near every cot. Our foot lockers were shipped before us and arrived at our tents before we did. The name footlocker came from the fact that these chests were kept at the foot of each bunk. Each footlocker was about 3' long, 18" wide, and 18" deep with a hasp for a lock. They were always kept locked.
The worst part was the smell of fertilizer mixed with human feces that the Okinawans used in their fields. It was so intense that we began to walk around with gas masks on. Every once in a while, even today, I will be somewhere and I swear I can still smell the stink of those islands. Our quarters and ready rooms (where we got our instructions), plus mess hall and rec areas were in a newly planted field that always had this wonderful smell of human fertilizer.
On some bases overseas as well as stateside we had what we called creepy crawlers on the floor, which were either dirt or concrete. To protect our beds we got whatever tin cans or containers without any holes that we could beg, borrow, or buy from the mess hall, or that we could find, and filled them with any kind of liquid. We put the legs of the beds in the cans. Anything that crawled up the cans would fall in the water and drown. This worked well until a couple of smart guys poured gasoline in the containers and set them ablaze in the middle of the night. The guys who did it stood by with buckets of water. The other tricks were to put bugs or snakes in a guy’s bunk when he was out late. But not in Okinawa. There were no snakes, so sometimes a rope would be substituted for the same effect. As a precaution against the creepy crawlers, we shook everything out before using it or putting it on.
Periodically we would get Red Cross packages which would contain a package of four cigarettes with a label (Camel, Chesterfield, etc.), a piece of cheese (like a rock), a piece of hard chocolate, and several packages of squares of toilet paper which we dropped in our foot lockers. When we had enough chocolate we would melt the chocolate into one big chunk. When you wanted a piece you took your knife and sliced off a piece.
At one end of our area, but in the middle of all the tents, was our toilet, a 20 holer. These were long planks of wood facing each other, chair height. They were set over trenches that had been dug to catch our waste. Each hole had a peg to hold your toilet paper roll which you brought with you. It looked really funny to see 20 bare guys sitting over a hole. When it rained, and it did rain, we'd wear ponchos, and of course, the toilet paper got all wet. So you would pay two or more cigarettes to have someone get you some dry paper. Between every two holes there was a tin of disinfectant powder which you would dump into your hole when you were finished. The urinal was just one big hole with a wooden walkway all around it.
We wore 45 caliber pistols and carried carbines wherever we went. We stood guard at our airfield, guarding our planes. We got word that the Japanese had a few tricks. They had captured and rebuilt a DC-3. They landed at our airfield and came out wearing white with white head bands, yelling “ bonzai”! They had belts on with lots of grenades. Then they ran to our planes, hugged them, and pulled the pins on their hand grenades. In order to protect our aircraft we had our engineering outfit make a sandbag fort on the side of the plane and we had to take turns standing guard.
When we flew we always had a guard stationed at our quarters. When someone was caught stealing they had the stuffing beaten out of them and a lecture from the crew. This usually worked and cut down on thefts.
Our crews came from all over. One of our ready room guys spotted a roster with a name from Far Rockaway on it. He knew that was where I was from. That’s how I found a fellow in our squadron who I knew since grade school. He was a mechanic, but not in any of our crews. What an unexpected place to meet. Bobby “Jay” Bayer and I were childhood friends. We went to grade school, high school, and even some courses at New York University together. But we only saw each other once.
We had a fellow in our ground crew who was originally from Chicago. He was called Chabina. Chabina used to brag that he was a Chicago gangster and he would show us a 45 caliber bullet hole he had in his stomach. He would also tell us to give him the names of guys we wanted taken care of. He and his gang could handle them for us. When we needed something we couldn’t get, Chabina could get it for a price. You name it, Chabina could do it, or get it. We never questioned his method of operation.
We adopted him into our crew. When we flew we had Chabina keep an eye on our quarters. We never had a thing taken when he was on guard. We heard of other areas that were broken into, but never ours. As a member of our crew we took him on missions with us as an observer.
One day Chabina didn’t show up at our quarters. We never found out why. Or what happened. We never heard from him, or about him, again. We inquired to no avail. He disappeared, and we missed him. His theme song was “Put a nickel on a drum, Chabina’s always on the run...”
We found out that that the service clubs in Manila had lots of booze. As we ran low we sent a B-29 to Manila to make deals for the booze. We had our supply ship come in with lots of food and those outfits in Manila needed the food. So it was food for booze. We also made deals with the Navy so they could enjoy our club as long as we could use their commissary.
The bombay areas of our B-29s were great storage spaces. They could hold tons of merchandise. The guys overseas bought everything in sight, regardless of price and brought their stuff to the base in their bombay areas. The profit went into the coffers of the Officers and NCO clubs to buy more supplies to make more money to buy more supplies to make more money. Business was always good, for even though money was allotted to go home, the little that was left was not spent. There was no place other than booze and PXs, (the GI’s “supermarket”). Everyone's foot locker was loaded with booze, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, candy and gum.
There were nothing to do off the base, no amusement areas, theaters, bars, gambling casinos, and no decent eating places. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It was the pits. Since we didn’t have too many places to spend money we would send an allotment home to our families. But we always had enough left to play poker or blackjack. We called it phony money. So if you lost it at cards, or purchased something at the PX, or spent the money some other way, it didn’t seem like a concern.
If you wanted anything to make things cheerful, all you had to do was see a Chaplain. Master Sergeant Fink, the Jewish Chaplain, helped me and others through rough times. He was a great guy. He was loved by all. When I first got into this outfit I went to check in at the ready room and Sgt. Fink was there. He came over to me and told me to follow him into his office. He pointed to his stripes and said he had earned every one in 27 years of service. He could have been out, but he asked to stay in service to help these new officers who knew nothing. I asked him if I should need him for a personal problem, would he help me out. He said absolutely, providing I was a good airman and a good Jew. He said he didn’t mean a religious Jew, but an honorable one. He told me he saw orders on me that I was getting another stripe. I had made Sergeant.
Our B-29 and our missions
Our B-29, called "Never Been Tried", at one time had a nude Petty Girl painted on the sides of our not so nude bomber. When we left the States we were loaded with bombs and bullets.
The interior of the B-29 was divided into three sections. The nose, or front was where the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, engineer, and radio operators were stationed. The midsection, or waist, is where the lookouts and gunners were. On top, above the waist, is where the central control gunner was. He could control top guns, bottom guns, and side guns. These were 50 caliber machine guns. The tail gunner controlled his own guns, either 20 millimeter cannon or two 50 caliber machine guns.
Lt. Bill Ball was out pilot. Our radio operator was a Mexican-American named Alfonso Torres. He also handled a gun in the front turret. Tom Joynt, a state trooper back home, was our central fire control gunner, using the gun on top of the waist. I was a Sergeant, and handled a waist gun, also called side guns. Sometimes I was central fire control gunner. Our tail gunner was Sgt. Jon Piazza. There was a co-pilot, navigator, bombadier, engineer, a belly gunner near the rear, and another side gunner. Our guns were on the outside of the plane and could only be checked or loaded from the ground. If a gun malfunctioned we could only repair it when we landed.
To get from the nose of the plane to its waist there was a track with a 2' by 2' little platform on wheels which you needed to use. You couldn’t stand up in the tunnel, so you lay down on the trolley on your stomach or back, putting your hands on the walls and pushing or pulling your way through the tunnel. You went feet first so that you could stand up when you got to the other end. We would then hang the platform on hooks to be used for the return trip. On the other end of the tunnel we had a bucket which we used as a toilet.
We ate well, although the food was a little too greasy. When we flew through lunch hour we were given box lunches on board, plus a couple of gallons of coffee to help us stay awake on a 14 hour plus, mission. After every flight someone had to empty the “bucket”. Usually someone who fouled up got the job.
Our missions started at 4 a.m. We were up, washed or showered, shaved, and chowed down. We wore our flight suits, which were thick lined pants, jacket and boots. Our helmets had headphones and microphones built into them. When we got to our station we plugged them in.
Before every flight we had a briefing, telling us what was expected of us. This is when we were told about our mission, or told that we would receive closed orders to be opened when we were in the air.
We would get to our ship about 5 a.m. We did a visual check of the outside of the plane. We had to pull the propellers through 100 times to warm up the engines. We would do this every time as part of our pre-flight check of the plane. After we pushed through the 100 times the pilot would turn over the engine, let it run a while, then turn it off. Then we would go to another engine. We had to do this for all four engines.
We got on board after we did our preflight check, and took our stations. Our engineer checked everything out on our plane and we were ready to start our engines and take off. Our ground crew stood by as we did our check out. We checked all our guns on pre-flight on the ground. Then, as soon as we were in the air we all tested our guns again and made sure everything was OK. We had enough planes and crews so that we didn’t have to double up on missions.
Some of us felt our tailgunner, Piazza, was crazy because he loved his spot. When an attack came, it often came from behind. The attacker would start shooting from the front of our plane all the way back to the tail. All concentration of enemy firepower ended up in the tail. Formation flying was designed to give us maximum firepower. It was quite a thrill to fly in a formation, knowing the firepower we could generate.
We generally flew with a crew of 11, but we could fly with as few as eight. The central control gunner could control all guns electrically throughout the plane. So could the right and left gunner. They would just have to press buttons. When you had framed an enemy plane in your sights you pushed the firing pin. Regardless of the direction or speed you were flying you would follow the attacking plane with your sight like a camera. Your sight adjusted for the pursuit curve and you would have a hit because the enemy plane would be in a vulnerable space and could be shot down.
The engineer knew everything about the plane: mechanical, electrical, etc. When hit, he would make the decision for the crew to stay with the plane or to jump. He had a panel in front of him where he could turn off power on any unit that was in danger of fire, etc.
Soon after we had gotten settled on Okinawa we began to fly missions over Guam to Japan. There was a P-38 fighter field along side our B-29 field, and when we took off on a mission they gave us an escort. But only for as long as they had fuel. It was a great relief to have an escort. The only problem was altitude. The P-38 couldn’t go to 50,000 feet, while that was a great altitude for us. So it was “so long escort”.
On one of our missions we had gotten close to Guam when we spotted three Japanese planes in formation flying about 1/4 mile above and behind us. We were told to fire when we had a shot. My position for this flight was central fire control, which put me in the bubble in the center top of the fuselage where I could see in every direction. One of our wing planes opened fire. This was like a signal and then all of our planes opened fire on the enemy planes. At the same time our escort planes came into the fray, and the Japanese took off like crazy.
On another mission over Japan we were in a three plane formation when we were attacked by five Japanese Zeros. Our tail gunner saw them first and called out that we had five bogeys on our tail. The Lt. called back to open fire. As soon as the Zeros saw us firing they broke out of formation and took off like scared rabbits. They were faster than we were so we didn’t give chase. Our radio operator notified our fighter plane air base and they took off and gave chase. We headed back to base and never heard what finally happened.
One of our spotters said he saw smoke coming out of one of the Zeros. We took that as “scratch one Zero” score and hand painted it on our plane. We changed our 29’s name to “Tried and Won”.
Although their ships were faster and lighter than ours because their cockpits were not as bullet proofed and reinforced as ours were, they were at a disadvantage against our fighters. They didn’t have superior numbers, and they usually headed for home when fired on. Our main concern was that they weren’t kamikaze (suicide) pilots. As the war was getting closer to an end the Japanese pilots were flying kamikaze missions. They tried to hit our planes with theirs. Therefore we had to knock them out of the air before they crashed into us.
I was never shot down, and never realized how close we had been, until the times when we returned from a mission and our mechanics would call us over and show us holes in the plane, either from ground fire or when we were having shootouts with enemy fighter planes.
We had several close calls. Our pilot maneuvered our B-29 like it was a fighter plane. It was very scary to see a Jap plane diving at us. Several of our ships were hit by a kamikaze and went down in flames. When something like that happens you start looking for a parachute and you start counting. You wonder if it’s a buddy who never made it out.
We flew from Okinawa over water to Japan, dropped our bombs, regrouped in formation, and headed back to Okinawa. When we landed we would go to the ready room, individually, to meet with an interviewer who was waiting for us. Each crew was also debriefed as a group. We reported what we saw, what happened, what we did, what we could have, or should have done, if we saw anything different, such as planes, tricks, maneuvers, etc. Also, the planes we thought we shot down. This usually could be confirmed by spotters on the ground or at sea. Debriefing was usually serious, but sometimes it could be funny, even ludicrous.
I remember a funny episode where we took off with everything checking out OK. But the heater inside the plane wasn’t working. As we gained altitude the interior of the ship got cold. We were all wearing suntans, (light weight summer uniforms). Usually the heat and the air in the cabin was a very pleasant temperature. But we were freezing. We were on a simulated mission and not having heat or air did not warrant aborting the mission. From then on the whole crew decided that we would need warm clothes on board. When you flew you could take the heat, but not the cold, so we learned a good lesson. After that episode we always made sure we had warm jackets with us when we went through our preflight check.
On one mission we were told that our new General leading our mission would be General Doolittle. He was replacing General Hap Arnold. We flew over Japan, dropped our bombs, and came back to base. A very uneventful flight.
For pictures of Jerry and his crewmates, click here.
End of the War
Prior to the War's end we listened to GI stations on our radios that gave us news and music. Every day, sometimes twice or three times a day, the loud speaker would say that peace had been declared and we could pack up to go home. Another day it was announced that a ship was waiting for us to load on to go home. All B.S. Several nights it sounded like the 4th of July. Guns, large and small shells were being shot in the air. Rockets were going skyward. There was cheering and screaming that the war was over and we were going home. This went on for a couple of nights, all false alarms.
Finally, on August 15, 1945, the war was really over. Although we still had duties to perform we had free time between missions. Smitty was a sergeant in another crew in our group. Our planes and tents were side by side. One day he said, “Why don’t we build a house for all of 12 of us to live in?” He had been a first class contractor and carpenter by trade before the war.
Of course we all agreed. We had booze from Manila, and that was a great trading item. The Navy had all kinds of material that we could get, as well as all the deals we could make in Manila. We moved the tents and planned to build the house where the tents had been. We got plywood and Masonite to build our furniture. We scrounged mattresses and pillows for the couches and took our bunks from the tents. The tents housed six, the house would hold all 12 of us. We lived in the house as we built it, covering it against weather with our pyramid tent.
We used stone to build a fireplace. When finished the house had a kitchen, porch, bunk beds, closets and lockers. The roof had overlapping sheets of plywood. We bought the windows from the Okinawans. We had two rooms, a living room with a big sofa, curved, that fit across the whole front of the house and faced the fireplace. We built tables and chairs and all our furniture with tools from the Navy or the Seabees. With Smitty’s expertise, we built what looked like a cottage. Click here for pictures of the cottage.
One day I got called into the Chaplain’s office, and he stated that he saw on my records that I helped establish some officer’s club and non-com clubs in the States. He told me that he put me in to help set up both a non-com and a commissioned officer’s club. What a sweet plum!
I was given a large truck and 20 Japanese prisoners to work and get things running. I picked a commissioned officer and a non-com and put them in charge of the two clubs. Working with them we put together two cooperating teams. When we left the States we had loaded plywood and lumber in our Bombays, so we had wood to trade and use. We also brought over about 50 cases of Scotch, Bourbon, and Rye. We bought that with our unit funds.
We took some of our booze and went to a Navy depot and swapped the booze for lumber. We had enough with what we had and what we traded to build the two clubs, using quonset hut material, canvas and lumber that we midnight requisitioned, traded and bought. It wasn’t long, like a week, before we had everything up and running.
The clubs were to be operated for profit. The bartenders received a salary as did the waiters, cooks, bus boys, etc. For food we made deals with the officers and non-coms. The profits went to all those who worked, and who were being paid.
We rarely left our base. Once in a while we got a fairly new movie from the USO. For excitement we went to other clubs to drink and get a snack. Sometimes a USO show came to Okinawa. There was a huge bowl shaped stadium, a crater like formation, we called the Okinawan Bowl. Rumor had it that it was a spent volcano. It was so large that many outfits could attend a show at one time. Most of the shows were USO coordinated. They would have a comedian or two, some pretty, young female dancers and several singers. They were geared to the service people and were good. One time Bob Hope came and put on a great show.
I was also made an editor of a paper we called the B-29’s. It was a tabloid. Everyone was a reporter and a writer. We put interesting articles and stories in the paper, and even pictures. We had a mimeograph machine and paper and operated in a tent. We tried to publish once every two weeks.
The Japanese on Okinawa
There were Japanese on Okinawa. They were holed up with their families in caves on the north and south sides of the island. We would get four of us together, take a jeep, and head either north or south. We took cameras to take pictures, and food to distribute. When we got into the hills the Japanese hid in their caves and we couldn’t entice them to come out. We showed them cameras, not guns, but they were leery.
They had been told that we were monsters and so they were terribly afraid of us. We did capture a few Japanese in a trip to the mountains by cajoling them, taking our GI shoes off our feet, and they would come to get them. We then could convince them that we were all at peace.
Whenever we enticed some of them to surrender we kept them as our prisoners of war. We gave them shoes and clothing and food which they squirreled away. They all had made, or were issued, ditty bags which they filled every day. Many hungry Japanese were found in our chow lines trying to get food for their families. The soldiers had no food nor did their families who were with them. Most eventually surrendered. We had about 100 prisoners in a large compound and after the war and they were eager to get out. We began taking them out of the compound for work details. They loved this. We gave them all kinds of non-security jobs, such as loading and unloading trucks, moving furniture, building, etc. The Japanese were proud people and when they saw an American soldier struggling to pick up or move a heavy object, they went to help. They always said “can do”, and they did. My crews treated them well, but some of them got treated very badly by some very bitter GIs.
We tried all kinds of tricks to test their skills. We’d fill four footlockers with tools. Two boxes had steel and iron jigs, dyes and tools. The other two had jigs, dyes, and tools all made of balsa wood. We called over a couple of strong looking Japanese, and a weak looking couple of GIs. We asked the GIs to move one box. We opened the box and showed it around. As far as you could tell it looked like it was loaded with heavy tools: hammers, wrenches, pliers, jigs, etc. The GIs picked up the boxes loaded down with the phony tools made of balsa and with a few grunts moved them about 10 feet and slowly put them down. The GI boxes weighed about five lbs. They then sat on the boxes. The Japanese then went to get their boxes and couldn’t pick them up. They could barely lift them. They were very embarrassed and chagrined and they never knew that they had been tricked.
I had a truckload of about 20 to work at the NCO club. They cleaned, painted wood work, etc. While a detail I had was working out of doors a delivery truck brought in cases of Coca Cola. One case fell off the truck and the bottle caps popped off. A couple of prisoners started to drink the Coke and got drunker than skunks. They kept calling it "whiskey."
There were pigs on Okinawa that had gained their freedom and turned wild. The Japanese who holed up in caves didn’t bury their dead. We heard these wild pigs were eating their dead.
The capital of Okinawa was Naha. After the war there was nothing left but rubble. They had a University in Naha, but everything was trashed. When our Marines landed on Okinawa they landed on the south side of the island. The Army landed on the north and destroyed everything in the middle.
Each village had a head man, a policeman, and a legal committee. They farmed rice if they were near water. They had some cows and some water buffalo. They used horses that were very small to pull their wagons. They wore dark clothes, never any color in their clothing, and clogs for shoes. The men wore skirts.
We had a young Okinawan man we hired to clean our tent and keep our area always ready for inspection. He had a family north of our base, but food was a problem. When we got Care packages from home he got his share. When we gave Joe something to eat he squirreled it away for his family. Joe kept our tent area spic and span, and we warned guys who left a mess not to leave their dirt for Joe to clean up.
The Okinawans understood nothing about speed, and what it meant. When they were picked up by a truck to go somewhere some elderly person would walk off the truck while it was traveling 40 or 50 mph.
Okinawans buried their dead in tombs that looked like a womb. After a period of time they would go into the burial cave and remove the skeleton. They would then fold it and place it in a large jar that would be sealed with some type of substance that made it airtight. Any Army, Navy, or Marine personnel caught trying to break into these consecrated areas was given jail time.
Okinawa had a suicide cliff. When troubles got too great they would jump off the cliff onto the rocks below. We had trouble stopping the women from committing suicide. They usually jumped, taking their children with them. All of those who jumped were dressed in white, including the white head band, all for purity.
A few rape incidents took place. They perpetrators were caught and court martialed. They got 20 years in prison.
The Typhoon of 10/9/45
We received a warning that there was a typhoon headed our way. The worst areas to get hit would be around Okinawa, the least were Guam and Tinian. Seven man crews were picked to fly their planes to Guam to protect them. The rest of us stayed to save our quarters, bases, and airfields. Our planes left within two hours, taking everything that might be destroyed. Seven of us from each crew were asked to save as much of the base as was possible. None of us had ever been in a typhoon before. We laughed, because we had been in storms before, and this didn’t sound like any big deal. We were wrong.
The storm was fierce. 100 plus mph winds, driving rain and hail, and it got cold. We dropped our tents over our belongings and tried to tie everything down. The ground was mostly sand and when it got wet it didn’t hold anything. The stakes we put in the sand to hold the tarps just pulled right out of the ground. As the storm progressed we just let everything go. Tents took off, flying in the air, and everything along with it. Big freighters in the harbor were pushed up on the beaches. We tried to salvage anything we could, and that was very little. The clothes we were wearing were soaking wet, so we stripped down to shorts and army boots.
When the storm was over everyone went from area to area looking for their belongings. Everything that was found dried fast once the storm was over and the sun came out. I managed to find almost everything.
The typhoon was so unreal in its force that news of it hit all the major newspapers and movie newsreels in the states. My folks had pictures of the destruction that they had cut out of the Washington, DC newspapers. They sent me the pictures of the damage: trees down, tents flattened, big freighters blown up on the beaches, overturned planes, vehicles and damaged buildings. It was a big mess and took a lot of time and effort to put everything right. Click here to see a newspaper clip of the typhoon.
Discharged: Home at last
When I had sufficient points and time in service I received notice of my discharge. I had over 25 missions and was scheduled to go home. The war being over the powers that be counted tours, length of time in service, action, planes shot down, time overseas.
There were ships in the harbor waiting to take us stateside. There were planes, too. I had the choice of coming back to the states by a 30 day freighter or ferrying a war weary B-29 home. I chose the B-29 which moaned and groaned all the way home. All 25 us on board, plus seven crew members, were going back to Sacramento, CA, to be discharged.
Besides my uniforms and other army clothing, my two transfer bags held a Japanese rifle plus 300 rounds of ammo. That was all I was taking home. I had plenty of other things, but we were told that they would check us stateside and confiscate them, so I left them behind. As it turned out, I could have brought a B-29 home for all anyone cared. I was really PO’d about this. Oh yes, I had my 45 pistol in my bag. It ended up in my friend Eddie Foster’s veterinarian hospital in Far Rockaway to put down horses, steers, and other big animals.
We left Okinawa on March 7. We stopped for a lay-over in Hawaii to check the plane before making the last leg to our Sacramento Air Base. Then a flight east and a base near home, Ft. Meade, MD on March 19. It was an eventful flight however. When we were over Dulles Airport in DC with an OK to land, our landing gear light didn’t come on, the hydraulic system had failed. We had to hand crank over 750 cranks to get the landing gear down and locked. We sweated out every crank until we were finally down and locked. We couldn’t tell whether we had it down until we actually had landed safely. Our last Army Air Force flight for all of us, 15 honorably discharged men, was almost our last flight.
The best decoration I received was called the ruptured duck. It was an eagle that showed that you were in service and were now discharged. You wore this on your left chest on top of all the other ribbons you earned. Each ribbon represented a medal that you had received for a campaign. But the best, and final one, was the ruptured duck that every soldier looked forward to from day one in service. I came into service as a volunteer from Ft. Meade, Maryland in May 1942. I was discharged from Ft. Meade in March 28, 1946.
Aside from my utility bag and B4 bag with some army clothes, that was it. I had enough ribbons and wings, plus five stripes for service, so I looked like a war hero. I was anxious to get home to my grandmother’s house in Far Rockaway, my home sweet home. I needed to buy a whole new wardrobe. I only had army clothes, shoes, belts, ties, pants, shirts, underwear, socks, etc. I had grown up in Far Rockaway and always felt that it was my home. Silver Springs, MD., where my parents lived, had been my permanent address, but wasn’t home to me. After I left my grandmother’s house I lived with my friends Eddie and Claire Foster, helping Eddie in his Veterinarian practice.
I met a lot of nice guys while in service. We all exchanged home phone numbers and addresses, planning to always keep in touch. I lost them all before I got home, as apparently most of the others did, too.
The GI Bill, marriage, and my last flight
My childhood friend, Buddy Cohen, came home two weeks after I did. I had signed us both up to be life guards at the Plaza, a private beach club at Atlantic Beach on Long Island. We had written letters to each other while in service about our future plans. We expected to meet a lot of pretty girls at the beach, and have a good time that summer, being that we were “heroes,” back from the wars.
One week later I met Norma, my beautiful child bride. She was sunbathing at the Plaza with a girlfriend, and Buddy and I were painting lockers and cabanas before the season officially opened on Memorial Day weekend.
We thought we had it all figured out. Meet plenty of pretty, wealthy girls and have a blast until the Fall. However, I met Norma, and that was that for me. We were engaged in August, and married in December. When we met she had just graduated from Pratt Institute with a degree in Art Education, which sure came in handy. I was going back to school, starting all over.
Our education was sponsored under the GI Bill of Rights, in which the government gave every GI tuition to return to school after being discharged from service. Buddy and I had gone to see a man named Burkander, who was helping and advising service men on how to put their civilian lives together again. He convinced Buddy and me to go back to school. He had a particular deal in mind, Cornell’s Ag school in Morrisville, in upstate New York, to take a two year program in food technology. They practically guaranteed a position upon graduation.
When we arrived in Morrisville in September, Buddy and I had a ground floor room together in the back of the dorm that faced the hills and woods. We would shoot targets and small animals out of our window. We had cut the barrel and stock of my Japanese rifle so that it no longer resembled any kind of recognizable gun.
One of the other ex-GIs at school had a convertible. Four or five of us would pile into his car and ride around the farms and woods shooting everything in sight that moved. We really didn’t want to kill or wound anything, just scare it away. We got caught doing this and were told to get rid of the gun. I knew the gun was illegal, and now the powers that be knew it. It was time to get rid of it, and I did. That was the end of my Japanese rifle and all the ammo for it.
Norma and I were married at the Hotel Pierre in NYC on December 14, 1946. We spent part of our honeymoon in Gatlinburg, TN, and the last week, over New Year's Day, in NYC at the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South. From there we left for Morrisville and moved into our first home, a GI barrack “Apartment”.
The Federal Government had provided GI housing for singles and married couples on college campuses. These buildings were former GI barracks that were converted to apartments and moved from their original army bases to college campuses. They each had four apartments, the two end ones were two bedrooms for couples with children. The two center apartments were one bedroom arrangements, which is what we had.
Our kitchen had an electric four burner stove with oven, and the refrigerator sat in the “pantry”, which was really a large closet. The refrigerator was made of heavy cardboard and required that the ice man bring in a huge block of ice every few days. For heat we had a pot belly stove that sat in the middle of the apartment in the living room. It required wood, coal, and/or paper to keep it going, and needed to be stoked regularly, and the ashes needed to be emptied daily. When I was in class it fell to Norma to tend the stove. The bathroom had a portable metal shower stall, and the doors of the bathroom and bedroom had open vents to allow the heat from the stove to keep those rooms warm. The metal shower stall would be freezing cold in the winter.
Morrisville was on the Cherry Valley Turnpike between Albany and Syracuse. It snowed from October until May, and was bitter cold in winter. Our bed was two metal framed hospital beds pushed together, high off the ground. Norma needed a ladder to climb in, and the bed frame was always ice cold. We didn’t have a freezer, and didn’t need one because we would wrap our meat that we got from Uncle Irv’s slaughter house in Cortland in plastic. Then we would hang it from the roof right outside our back door. With Uncle Irv we never went hungry, since my check from the government was about $120 a month. Our rent was $45 a month, which left little to splurge with. Uncle Irv never could get over the fact that when we went to his slaughter house Norma always walked in the area where the cattle were slaughtered, and the floor was covered with blood.
Although our army days were long gone, that last year in Morrisville, Buddy and I sneaked down to a civilian light aircraft airport near campus. We didn’t tell anyone, not even Norma. We were able to rent and fly a plane, a Piper Cub. We hadn’t flown that kind of light air craft for several years and so we were a little shaky. We bumped for a take-off and bumped and bounced in on our landing. Although we flew it, we were scared. Our piloting days were over. Our brave Army Air force days existed only in our dreams.