Pacific Phase by Harold E. Guetzlaff
By Harold E. Guetzlaff
After having spent about 17 months as ‘Base Personnel’ at Chatham Air base, Savannah, Georgia, I was informed of my transfer to the 319th Bomb Group while I was doing my job as a 911 aircraft armorer, working on the third shift. This entailed cleaning 50 caliber machine guns used by the crews of the B-24’s during their last stage of training. I was stuck with that shift because up to that time I had been working out of my MOS and the word came out that everyone had better be doing what they were supposed to be doing or they would be bait for the infantry. Anyway, that notification of the transfer to the 319th came near the end of March, 1945 and shortly thereafter those of us who received that assignment departed for Columbia, SC. When we arrived at Columbia Air Base, I don’t remember being greeted by any happy guys who had come back to the USA from the Mediterranean theater and who were staying with the 319th. Of course, us new guys were outsiders and were a long way from being accepted â€“ if we ever were.
I don’t remember much about Columbia except that during processing, I had two wisdom teeth pulled and the very next day my wife came to visit me â€“ maybe the the last time she would see\ me, she thought! She was with me about two weeks, leaving for home on April 12th the day President Roosevelt died. Preparations continued and were finally over and we started our long trip to Seattle, Washington. The train even went through my home town, Waterloo, Iowa but I don’t recall seeing anyone I knew while the train stopped for a short time at the station. Of course not one of us guys could get off.
One of the most disappointing incidents of this phase occurred in Seattle on May 7, 1945 while we stood in line waiting for our turn to mount the trucks that would take us to the dock where we would board the â€œAdmiral Cappsâ€ troop ship. That disappointment was the announcement that Germany had surrendered.
The second night out of Seattle a pretty storm hit us and the next day there were very few non-sick people on board. Even the crew (Coast Guard and Marine security personnel) didn’t make out too well. I participated also until I thought that maybe if I could get my mind off the situation and on something else, I would feel better, so when they were getting to the bottom of the barrel for duty, I decided to volunteer. The duty I was assigned was about the worse â€“ hauling out the garbage from the mess deck to the fantail and the garbage also included ‘lost cookies.’ Anyway, my idea worked and I didnâ€™t get sick again and it even carried over to the ship on which I came home after the war was over.
One of the groups that the ships PA system was always referring to was Sgt. Harrington and crew do this or that. As I remember the ship carried 5,000 men plus 50 Army nurses, my my!
Naturally, we didnâ€™t know where we were headed. First it was Pearl Harbor but that was only for a day. Then it was Eniwetok Island where we stayed about three weeks, if I can remember correctly. We were allowed one day off the ship for R&R on an island that didnâ€™t have a tree. Wasnâ€™t that great? We got to drink warm pop and beer that the Navy had stored there. I guess there were some Navy personnel watching the stuff. After that interruption we went on again and this time we anchored in the Ulithi Atoll near the island of Mog, Mog. Again, after due time, everyone was given the opportunity to go ashore and set foot on solid ground. Again, the warm Navy pop and beer. I guess the only good thing about that, other setting foot on ground, was that we didn’t have pop and beer on board ship for the troops. After everyone had their chance to go ashore, the ‘door was opened’ so that if one wanted to go again, he could. I went again and couldnâ€™t resist the coconut trees. I had seen pictures of how natives had no trouble climbing them, so I gave it a try. The consequences were that I lost skin at my arches making it difficult to walk for a few days. I also got bawled out by our flight surgeon.
It took 57 days to go from Seattle to Okinawa, all unescorted except for the last leg from Ulithi Atoll to Okinawa. I still remember that big tanker that directly followed our ship in the convoy. None of use could figure why a tanker would be placed so close to a troop ship. We arrived on the West side of Okinawa on the day the Ryukyuâ€™s campaign was declared over but someone with enough rank made it to shore that day, July 3, 1945, and as a result the whole shipload of us who were getting off get credit (a battle star) for that campaign.
It seems strange that the history of that campaign, to its finish, is not recorded in two of the books about WW2 that I have. The only reference that is made states that the battle of Okinawa was declared over on June 21, 1945. I guess historians didnâ€™t consider what happened between June 21st and the atom bomb to be very important because I havenâ€™t found any of the books on WW2 that mentions the activity of the 319th or that Okinawa was used to soften up the mainland of Japan.
We disembarked from the â€œAdmiral Cappsâ€ on July 4, 1945, 59 days from May 7th and Seattle and we set up camp between a coral reef and an area where Marines had been., It was my first experience on foreign soil and it was my first experience with a pup tent. It was also an unusual experience hearing occasional sniper fire, not too far away, knowing that our camp was completely in the open and that Japanese hold outs were still in hiding in the hills not too far away. We had carbines but no ammo. When we pulled guard duty at night, four rounds of ammunition were passed from sentry to sentry as he took his shift. I guess they didnâ€™t want any of us greenhorns to accidentally shoot someone. I donâ€™t know why they even bothered with the ammo.
We finally found out where we were going to be located relative to where our planes would be. Eventually the field would be finished (it was under construction) and would be called Machinato Air Field. We had time to do a number of things because our planes were being flown to Okinawa and they as yet had not arrived. Three man tents were issued and three were assigned to them. My tent was to be occupied by GE Brumbach from Pennsylvania, TW Daniels from Texas, and myself, from Iowa.
Since I had seen some other tents with identification (some cute or coined names) I came up with PATEXA, the combined abbreviations of our home states I still have that â€œshingleâ€ I made and on the back I had appropriately added the date of arrived at Okinawa, the air fields from which missions had been made, plus the period within which the missions were made We had time to put a wood floor and side supports in our tent as did practically everyone else I donâ€™t know how we got the lumber but I do remember that there were some pretty good scroungers in our squadron.
When our planes finally started arriving, they were parked at Adenauer Air Field where serving was done prior to any mission. The plane to which I was to be Armorer didn’t arrive with the first group so I was temporarily assigned to help CPL. Arthur Eckman, the only guy that was killed while the 319th was on Okinawa and that was an accident. At least he was the only casualty from the 439th squadron on Okinawa. I’ll always remember that accident, how it happened and how it could have been me instead of him because I could have been assigned to his plane and he could have been my helper.
After all of our planes had arrived at Kadena Air Field and had been serviced, missions were flown from there between July 15th and July 25th. Afterward, the missions were flown from the new air field at Marchinato until the end of the war.
The A-26-B that finally arrived was to be ‘my’ plane was No 434254, nicknamed â€œBillieâ€ by pilot 1st Lt. Ray Nash whose crew was the Gunner S/SGt Ray Rochan. Ground crew was crew chief Sgt PS Nettler and myself as armorer. This plane flew only nine missions between July 15th and August, 12th, inclusive, because of a mishap and the result of circumstances which followed. Here is the story as I remember it.
Somewhere near the end of July, a mission went up with a bomb load and 14 rockets under the wings. The bombs were dropped first then the low level rocket run was made. This plane ‘Billieâ€ happened to run into a brick that flew up and went through the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer The plane came home alright but wasnâ€™t allowed to go up again without being repaired. The vertical stabilizer was scavenged from a disabled plane with the result that ‘Billie’ no longer had a tail that looked like the rest of the squadron. Now the vertical stabilizer was silver and the rudder was blue with a big eight (8) on it.
After the vertical stabilizer was replaced, the plane had to be test flown. I requested passage on that test flight and was told to get to the field at a stated time and I could go along as well as the crew chief Well, I missed the time scheduled or, come to think of it, I think they took off a bit early deliberately. I was very disturbed that the pilot thought so little of his Armorer and I never got an apology or an explanation. They were supposed to be gone only a short time and that time lengthened into hours until finally word came that the plane was forced to land at the north end of island because of engine trouble. I have to say two things about that incident. Lt. Nash had to have been a super pilot to keep his plane from flipping into the water and I had to admit that it was probably fortunate that I wasn’t along as my extra weight may have caused the loss of the plane and everyone on board.
Anyway, an engine had to be removed from one of the disabled planes, sent to the north end of the island and installed. Then the plane had to be test flown again but this time it got back to home base. That’s why ‘my’ plane had only nine missions between July 15th and August 12, 1945.
I recall a number of other incidents that happened while I was on Okinawa. Some I can remember quite well and some a bit vague. I guess it was because I was with the 319th only about six months and I didn’t get ‘buddy-buddy’ with anyone in particular. Only one guy has kept on corresponding with me via Christmas cards over the years, Joe Strehlen, and I don’t even recall what squadron he was in.
Those of you that spent all that time together in the Mediterranean theater have memories that relate mostly to others in your squadron. Also those of you that were with flight crews were much more closely knit than those of us on ground crews. It’s possible also, the flying personnel didn’t relate too well with the ground support, especially the armorers. I don’t recall any effort made by Lt. Ray Nash in getting to know the man responsible for having ammo in his gun belts, that his guns were operating satisfactorily, or that the launching racks stayed with the plane when he fired his rockets. Of course, times have changed a lot of things since those days. Now praise is a requirement, but I guess back then it was considered a sign of weakness.
I assume many of the â€œnew guysâ€ still remember their experiences in Japan after separation from the 319th. I departed Okinawa on September 2, 1945 aboard a C-46. I fell into a pretty good job when they transferred me into an Air Transport outfit stationed at an airfield outside of Tachnikawa, near Tokyo. I was put in charge of the squadron PX, actually to equally distribute the field rations of cigarettes, candy, etc. The job blossomed into the purchase and distribution of allowable-per-man-quantity of Japanese beer. This meant I had to collect each guy’s beer ration money and then go to the central PX in Yokohama to pay for a beer voucher, and then go to a local brewery in Tokyo to exchange the voucher for the beer which the guys had already paid. It was quite an assignment, and to top it all off, I was then in the squadron with the old 438th (the 319th) First, mess and supply sgts and they held the same positions in that squadron, However I gave it all up when it turned out I piled up enough points for discharge. My ship home was the USS Bexar. We arrived in San Francisco Bay on January 5, 1946 and my discharge papers were signed five days later on Jan 10th at Camp Beale in California because that’s where my wife had been living with her family since October of 1943.