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James Myron Othrow
Estes Park, Colorado -
"After a few weeks I saw my name and beside it was APO 239! I was soon to find out what that meant. A guy beside me said, " You are going to the rock." I said, "Where is that?" He said, "Okinawa." Little did I know it was like being sent to Devil's Island!"
- Jim Othrow
My name is James Myron Othrow of Estes Park, Colorado. I was born November 21, 1932, in Milwaukee County Hospital, the son of Edwin Timothy and Ellen Victoria Carlson. That date was the date of the Irish uprising known as "Bloody Sunday" in the Irish War of Independence in 1920. I was named after my Uncle James. It's an Irish tradition among families to name their first son after an older brother. I don't recall much of my mother's family, but my father's mother (Regan/Mahoney) immigrated from County Cork, Ireland.
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, growing up on the near west side, 17th and State. We stayed in that house until World War II ended. It was located in a mixed neighborhood that was made up of middle class families at best. I went to public school for a few years, then my parents sent me to Gesu, a parochial school ran by Jesuit priests and nuns of the BVM order. I was an altar boy until I graduated and also sang in our choir. School was hard in that there was no nonsense in or out of the classroom. I finished my freshman year of high school at Boys Tech. I wanted to learn a trade, as in those days a skilled laborer could earn a very good living.
My dad worked as a common laborer, though he spent quite a few years working for the Schlitz Brewery in the bottle house. I remember in later years he held several jobs in construction. My mother always cooked, and the first job I recall was her working at a place called The Jiffy Cafe on 16th & State. She always worked to closing. She worked her entire life.
As for family, there was five of us, two boys and three girls--Mary Ellen, Michael, JoAnne, Kathryn, and me. I am the oldest. We were all born in Milwaukee. We kids all slept in one bedroom, and my mom and dad slept in the other one. You would think that was being close! However, to say that we were "close" would not be correct, as poverty in any form has a way of separating a person's interests. As the older one, my interests were different. I always had a job, no matter how small, as extra "change" wasn't available. If I wanted something, I went out and earned the money for it.
We had one bathroom and no TV or telephone. We had a radio on which we listened to WTMJ. We listened to all the Saturday mysteries--Jack, Doc & Reggie, Bull Dog Drummond, Jack Armstrong, The Lone Ranger, I Love a Mystery, Inner Sanctum, and all the rest. At Christmas we listened to "Billie the Brownie" to hear whether or not he got our letter to Santa! Radio provided what television and social media does today. Kids today have no imagination as we had to have while we listened to those programs during the years I was growing up. Radio was the media, followed by the Milwaukee Journal and the Sentinel.
Life before World War II seemed okay. I had the usual neighborhood pals--Joe Neibauer, a/k/a JoJo, Glen
Duff or Duffy, and George Hawthorne. Baseball, swimming in Lake Michigan, the Police Athletic League (PAL) and CYO
made up the entertainment. We made push carts out of orange crates. If we were lucky we owned a bike. My first
bike was a Shelby. I got it for grade school graduation and used it on my paper route delivering The Milwaukee
Journal. We had a small gang that hung out together. We called ourselves the 18th Street Bombers since all of us
lived between those streets. We even had a baseball team for the playground leagues.
Times were hard, especially the winters. Coal was delivered down a coal shoot to our basement. The usual quarantines were held when measles, polio, or any other ailment broke out. They nailed a sign on the house and those living there couldn't leave the front porch! I didn't know a lot of kids my age that had an abundance of anything but the basics. Food was a priority, followed by clothes. I don't think any of us thought of ourselves as poor. Rather, "we didn't have something" was just the way it was. I wasn't alone. We shared things. We made our own entertainment. We shot marbles, played kick the can, made wooden guns out of 1x4's and stretched pieces of inner tube over the front that we could shoot. When the ice man came, we all waited until he went upstairs and then we would climb on the back of the truck and chip ice. We sucked on ice all day (don't ask!). Same with the Luick milk man. If he delivered upstairs, he was going to be missing some chocolate milk.
The movies were the primary entertainment. Admission was ten cents before the war, and then eleven cents after the war started (tax)! To this day I watch two or three movies a week on Netflix. I would say that the guys I grew up with were close, and to this day I stay in touch with two of them who still live in Milwaukee. Though difficult as times were, I have fond memories for most of those years. I'm not saying life was a piece of cake, but we managed.
World War II
When World War II came along, that meant liberty to the thousands of sailors at Great Lakes. We were quick to get shoeshine kits, and on Friday and Saturday nights we worked the taverns, shining shoes to earn money for the movies. We also sold streetcar passes--anything for some change! I watched friends older than myself go to war. We all wanted to join. I remember the parades on Wisconsin Avenue, the VFW outings, war bonds, saving dimes at school, V for victory, and "loose lips sink ships"!
Life during the war was all about what we could not buy. There was very little candy, no chewing gum or butter. There were ration stamps for everything, including A, B, C stickers for gasoline. There were no new cars. We repaired our tires and made the most of what we had, as the war effort was the priority. As a youngster we were aware of this, but I don't think we understood the total gravity. We wanted our country to win the war, friends and relatives to come home, and things to return to normal. Our family, like so many other families, tightened its belt and made do with what we had.
I will never forget Victory in Europe Day. I was selling a special edition of the Milwaukee Journal with banner headlines saying the war was over in Europe. I was standing on the corner of 12th and Wells Street, and I could have sold any old paper because they were going as fast as I could collect or hand them out.
From Milwaukee to Elcho, Wisconsin
With the end of the war, the troops came home. With the shortages being what they were, we had to move out of our house, as we were renters. We moved to a little town in northern Wisconsin called Elcho. Actually, we lived a good distance from town on a lake by the name of Post Lake. I had completed my freshman year in high school in Milwaukee and now was about to enter my sophomore year as a complete stranger in a new school.
Growing up in Milwaukee, the biggest city in the State of Wisconsin--then, as it is now, our move to northern Wisconsin to a small town was a bit of a transformation, to put it mildly. We moved into a small cabin situated on the lower end of Post Lake. We were coming from a house with running water, plumbing, refrigeration, and natural gas to a small place that depended on well water, had no plumbing, and had a wood stove and an outhouse. Need I say more! The upside is the lake provided a place to swim, boat, and develop one's fishing skills. It was a resort area for the folks from Milwaukee and Chicago during the summer months. Cabin and boat rentals was the way of life.
There was a general store called Springer's where the upper and lower part of the lake divided. There was a series of taverns and the Bob O' Link roller rink where I spent many a Friday and Saturday night during the summer learning to skate. The center of town had a railroad depot for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, Palmer's General Store, a drugstore owned and operated by Mr. Carew, the Muskie Inn, and another bar called the Club House which had a small bowling alley. Next to that was another general store--Weavers. There were two filling stations in town--Standard Oil and a Texaco. Jake Krause ran the Texaco station and a fellow by the name of Bud Handyside ran the other. I got my first driver's license from Mr. Handyside. We had a dentist in town, although I don't know anybody that went to him. We had a general practitioner, Dr. Daly. He was a good doctor, who later removed my appendix and set a broken wrist. He lived in the big white house across from the school.
The economy was based on fox and mink farming or ranches, potato farming, and wood pulp. The closest town was Antigo, 28 miles south. It had a hospital, a movie theater, and the rest. My father was born and raised in that town, Antigo.
Elcho School System
The school system in Elcho was made up of a high school and the grade school. The grade school was significantly larger than the high school. The high school had an assembly room and three small classrooms all on one floor. What served as a lunchroom was in the grade school basement adjoining the gymnasium. As I look back, I find that it was a good school staffed with wonderful teachers and a great student body, but having just come from a high school with 1,100 students in Milwaukee, I was a little taken back.
There was six-man football and basketball that made up the athletic activities. We had the usual school dances and plays and our first junior prom. I had the honor of being elected as the prom king. My queen was a young lady by the name of Eileen Guth. I would later run into her 55 years after our graduation. I will never be able to say enough about what a great gal she was. I sent her a pink kimono from Japan. At one of our reunions I asked her about it and she said she had just recently worn it to a costume party. She never told me that she had received it. I reminded her of that!
Our teachers were Alma Miller for English, Ernie Ruple for history and geography (he was also our high school coach), Emma Rosthenberg for typing and shorthand, and Earl Nearing for science. The principal of the school was a man by the name of E.T. Carey. A more gracious and professional man I have yet to meet. When it came time to buy our class rings in our junior year, I did not have the money. Mr. Carey bought my ring on the condition that I would try and pay him back. I did pay him back and I still have my class ring. Today class rings cost anywhere from $200-$500. My granddaughter just got hers. I paid $22.00 for mine. They are still made by the same company, Jostens, out of Minnesota.
Buell Myers was our schoolbus driver. He was the driver who took the athletic teams to all the away games, which included almost driving into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They were long, cold, bus rides. One thing about a small town of 400 people is you soon get to know everyone. After World War II ended, a guy came back from service by the name of John "Brew" Robbins. How we became friends, I can't recall. He had a brother by the nickname of Chick. On those long and cold winter nights and after a basketball game, they invited me to stay at their house. It being very close to school, I accepted. The three of us slept in one bed--a tight fit, but warm. I have never forgotten their kindness to this day.
I graduated in 1950. I still enjoy talking and getting together with those classmates that are still alive--Patti McCabe, Shirley and Bill Weaver, June and Jimmy Rabideau, Pat Sprint, Mary Robbins, and Phyllis Hughes, to name a few. Sadly, Eileen Guth has left us for a better life. She is missed.
I graduated from Elcho High School in May of 1950. Elcho is in Langlade County in northern Wisconsin. I went to Milwaukee to find work. Finding none, I thought I would enlist! I was 17 years old and had zero job skills. At the time I had no girlfriend and my family was happy to have one less mouth to feed. I tried to enlist in the Navy, Great Lakes being close, but was refused. I assume the Navy had filled the enlistment quota. I didn't want to join the Army or Marines, thus I went to the United States Air Force recruiting office. They told me that because I was 17, I needed my parents' signature. Back I went to Elcho, got the signatures, and returned to Milwaukee, where I enlisted. It was June 20, 1950--the Korean War had not started.
Prior to enlistment I knew nothing about Korea. Two days later, the "war" started. President Truman immediately put an extra year on all enlistments, called the Truman extension! I spent the first night in the Milwaukee YMCA. The following morning we were bused to the Milwaukee train depot and were put on a train to San Antonio, Texas, picking up recruits along the way until we arrived at Lackland Air Force Base. I don't recall meeting anyone that I knew on the train to San Antonio. Although the food on the train was okay, the ride was long, it was my first time being away from home, and I didn't have a clue of what lie ahead.
Arriving by bus from the train station to LAFB, we were immediately greeted by other airman shouting, "You'll be sorry!" Then it was, "Line up, take off your civvies, and put them in a box. We will mail them home." We had to get in line and get our hair cut right to the scalp. We followed a painted line through the building to get our uniforms. They took our hat size, shoe size, and chest measurement, and then when they had us figured out they started handing out clothes and we put them in a duffel bag.
Then we lined up for vaccine shots. We were given a shot record and the medic told us that if we ever lost it we must get the entire series over. I kept it until I was discharged. After that we got a mattress, two sheets, and a pillow case. We were marched to our barracks. On the way our flight leader told us that if we dropped anything he would pick it up, but we would have to buy it back.
I took 13 weeks of basic training with 80 other young men. We were called a squadron. Basic training was hot, as that part of Texas in June, July, August is no bargain!
There was a strict daily routine:
One single "gig" and our entire flight would lose liberty. I was in Flight 5114. There was one black recruit in my flight. He was sent home early--why, I can't recall. Corporal Flint was our flight leader. He was a good man--a good-natured, tall, handsome guy, as I recall.
Our days were consumed by drilling, hiking, and the lack of sleep. On weekends we did our laundry and spread it out on the grass to dry in the sun. Church was always available.
After finishing basic we all were assigned to different bases for "specialty" training. It was Aircraft and Engine school (A&E). I was sent by bus from Lackland to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. I was assigned a barracks at Sheppard with some of the guys I had gone through basic with at LAFB. As I recall, the school was 20 months long. We were instructed both in a classroom using mark-ups and on actual aircraft and engines, which required both written and practical exams.
Upon graduation I was then sent by train to a specialist school at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois. I spent about 12 weeks in Propeller specialist school. Two guys who went through basic and A&E school, Jack Ogilvie and Chuck Rhinelander from Shell Lake, Wisconsin, also were sent there. I never have seen or heard from them again. I am not sure of their last name spellings.
Propellers were used on reciprocating engines. A B-29 had a 3350 engine with Hamilton hydraulic props. A B-50 had a 4360 engine. There are different sized engines for different sized airplanes, just like cars. All instructors had either performed similar duties or were trained by older, experienced men. Like college, the classroom was a mixture of film, lecture, and actual hands-on. All props need to be used or set at a certain pitch. Just like a windmill, it allows them to control the speed of an engine and can control the rate of climb and/or decent.
When I was stationed at Rantoul, we lived in old wooden barracks. This was in the winter of 1951. We had alternating duty to shovel coal into the furnace to keep the barracks warm. I got a job in the evenings as a short-order cook in the PX--anything for extra money. (I was a good cook and to this day I do all the cooking in our house, including the baking.) In those days I made $75 a month, of which I sent $50 a month home to my mother. There were seven of us growing up, and in most cases in very small rooms. My last three years in high school were spent without running water and the use of an outhouse. I have always been grateful for the food and care I received while serving in the Air Force.
On weekends we would catch the Illinois Central train to Chicago where we would hang around Walgreens downtown or see a movie. That was liberty in those days. Walgreens in downtown Chicago was a sort of meeting place for guys and gals. It's about what we could afford. There was a USO, but I never went to it. Remember, this was 1951. The only thing that I recall that was of any significance from my weeks in Rantoul was that being stationed there allowed me to go to Milwaukee on occasion.
Military training provided the skills needed for a particular MOS, which was a military classification of a job skill. I think I was a 53171B--a senior aircraft mechanic. You could put in for a higher MOS, but then you had to take a series of exams in your field and pass. A higher job skill could lead to an increase in rank, thus in pay. It was like taking an oral exam in college for your Master's degree.
After Chanute I was transferred to Norton AFB in San Bernadino, California. Another train ride, this time on the Santa Fe Super Chief. It was a two-day ride looking out the window at cities and Kansas prairie. Not a thing happened on the trip.
Norton was an Air Material Command. I was assigned to the propeller maintenance shop. Norton was a good base. I met lots of guys from the California National Guard doing temporary duty, and they took me into Los Angeles for weekends and I stayed at their house. It was fun, but I have no big memories of that time. I had no problems at Norton. I wasn't there long enough to explore the neighborhood.
I volunteered for overseas duty and was sent by train from Norton AFB to Camp Stoneman in northern California, where I awaited orders. I wanted to go to Europe, but I should have realized that in California I would be going to the Pacific. Thus, volunteering was not the brightest thing I did. Orders were posted by APO on a billboard each day. During that time I got up and went to work five days a week unless told otherwise. You have to realize that in the service, your job is much like a civilian job. You could find your name on detail, KP, or yard work. If you had money, you could take a bus into San Francisco. After a few weeks I saw my name and beside it was APO 239. I was soon to find out what that meant. A guy beside me said, " You are going to the rock." I said, "Where is that?" He said, "Okinawa." Little did I know it was like being sent to Devil's Island!
From Camp Stoneman, by ferry to the San Francisco Embarcadaro we all went--2,100 poor souls boarding the USMS Brewster. USMS meant that the ship was a United States Maritime Service (merchant marine) vessel. For 21 days we bounced around the Pacific heading for Oki!
Aboard ship we swabbed decks, played games, and watched movies on the fantail as the ship rocked back and forth. We ate all meals standing up with our tray on two rails. It allowed us to hold on to it, as again the ship was constantly rocking! Showers and sleeping six-high in canvas bunks was no fun at all. We were always careful getting in and out of our bunk, as someone in the bunk above us could vomit at any time.
Kadena AFB, Okinawa
After 21 days at sea we landed at Buckner Bay on Okinawa. From there, we were taken by bus to various barracks, at which time we got our primary assignments. The ride through the countryside of Okinawa was very depressing. Keep in mind that World War II had just ended five years previously. Poverty was everywhere, not to mention the smell of open sewage as there was no infrastructure at that time.
I was assigned to the Second Air Sea Rescue Squadron. We had Quonset huts for barracks that were remnants from World War II. The one thing I do remember about Air Sea Rescue was the chow hall. It was very small and intimate, and a guy could get his eggs cooked to order. There was an outdoor movie place right behind our hut, which stood beside the officers' club, and a guy could get a cheeseburger cooked to order through a side window--a nice treat.
28th Bomb Squadron
It wasn't long after that that I was assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron at Kadena, an area overlooking the hard stands and the runways. I was first assigned to a B-29 by the name of Tarzana. Tarzana was capable of carrying a 12,000-pound bomb used for breaking heavy installations, but before long it was rotated back stateside. After that I was assigned to a B-29 that had no special identification other than the tail number 042.
In those days there were aircraft with names like Top of the Mark, The Outlaw, Command Decision, and Four a Breast. (You can imagine what that picture looked like!) One I shall never forget was Hot to Trot. Its nose art was a nude picture of a girl lying down; however, it appeared in Stars and Stripes and I believe the unwanted attention was soon to lead to a bikini being painted over the gal. At that time there was a very talented guy on the flight line, another mechanic, by the name of Bob Harris. I believe he was from Glendora, California. Bob was the key figure in painting many of the B-29 nose sections.
I was part of the ground crew of the Lemon Drop Kid, which was one hard stand away from Command Decision and The Outlaw. The Lemon Drop Kid was a Model B-29-75-BW with the serial number 44-70042. How we arrived at The Lemon Drop Kid being painted on our aircraft, I cannot tell you, but its name was taken from a Broadway play that Damon Runyon wrote. The "Lemon Drop Kid" was one of the characters, as was "Apple Annie", as I recall. Bob Hope played that part in a movie, and thus became the Lemon Drop Kid.
Others on the ground crew with me were Dick Poland, Robert Gerardo from Los Angeles, John "Johnny" Marowski from Jersey, Frank Ellington from Alabama, Herb McMillan from Oregon, and Ed Kozak. The aircraft commander was A/C Captain Lovell and the crew chief was M/Sgt. Vaughn Dixon Hill. Bob Gerardo spent his down time singing popular Mexican songs. Herb McMillan was a great weight-lifter. Frank, Dick, Johnny and I just hung out at the "shack" we had built. Capt. Robert Sturges was the engineering officer for the 28th Bomb Squadron, as well as a pilot. He was held responsible for overseeing the entire maintenance program for the 28th.
I haven't seen or heard from any of the ground crew I served with, although I do know that M/Sgt. Hill died some years ago in 2000. He was from Wichita Falls. If I ever could see or talk to any remaining guys from our ground crew, that would be a special treat.
The 28th Bomb Squadron headquarters sat on a slight hill overlooking all the aircraft and the flight line. As we came into the squadron area, immediately on the left was the commanding officer's Quonset hut. In there was the CO, the adjutant, the first sergeant and the mail room. The mailroom was manned by a guy named Tiny Pannunzio. Needless to say, he was rather large. Tiny had a way of making us wait for our mail as a form of some kind of "get even" attitude. Continuing on was the engineering office and the engineering officer, who at that time was Capt. Bob Sturges. Across the area was armament and supply--two separate areas. A good friend by the name of Frank Havarilla, from Youngstown, Ohio, worked there. Another guy I remember was Al Frick from the Greater Philadelphia area.
Each hardstand had a shack that the ground crew guys had built from scraps of lumber. In it the crew members could store their tool boxes and sit out of the sun and rain. The ground crew was made up of a crew chief and four or five mechanics. As it turned out, I was assigned engine number 2 out of the four that made up a B-29. We performed routine maintenance, preventive maintenance, and major overhauls. It was the chief's responsibility to keep the aircraft in immediate flying condition. I don't recall any problem getting parts or having the equipment necessary to do our jobs.
We had two runways. I think there were 30 total aircraft in the 19th Bomb Group, 10 in each squadron--the 28th, the 30th, and the 93rd. Many of the aircraft assigned to this group had flown in World War II.
On mission day (which turned out to be every third day as aircraft were rotated for various missions over Korea), the flight crew arrived. First the gunners inspected the 50 calibers and gun sights, and loaded the ammunition. This was proceeded by the guys from armament who loaded either 100- or 500-pound bombs, depending on the targets. Next, the flight engineer ground-tested all the engines to be sure that they were in complete functioning order. Later in the afternoon, the crew arrived to do a pre-flight and a parachute check. A crewman opened the parachute on the guy in front of him and checked to see that it was packed right so it would open if it was needed. The engine check was simply running all four engines and the flight engineer monitoring all the gauges. The crew then boarded the aircraft and taxied to the flight line. The ground crew waited for their return. This usually was early the next morning, depending on the length of flight to and from their target. The flight was 10 to 12 hours R/T. The bombing missions over Korea were in conjunction with Strategic Air Command (SAC), which was on Okinawa.
I can only recall the name of one aircraft commander, and that was Captain Lovell. One thing I do remember is that the flight crew used to get in-flight lunches. These were K-rations from World War II. Not many of the crew members liked them, but the ground crew enjoyed certain parts of them. I remember the cheese coming from Plymouth, Wisconsin. I enjoyed the cheese, and to this day still do.
I believe there was one tragedy while I was on Okinawa. It involved one of the men assigned to the 28th. As I recall, a bomb fell out of the bomb bay, striking one of the workers on the head and causing a fatality. I am not certain of his name. He was a member of the armament team.
Daily Life on Okinawa
Okinawa, commonly referred to as "The Rock", was a large piece of coral sitting in the Pacific surrounded by water. If we left the base for villages such as Naha, Old Koza, New Koza and Tobaru, we immediately were surrounded by old huts made from anything. There were wooden homes, dirt streets, no running water, and no sewage system. It was a smell I soon got used to.
There, of course, were the native Okinawans. I believe they were called Ryukyuans, and they spoke with a Japanese dialect. On occasion a Japanese soldier would be found in a cave and surrender. The native population was very hospitable. Many had jobs on the bases. I, for one, had a houseboy by the name of Jimmy. I didn't smoke and I paid him two cartons of Lucky Strikes (cigarettes) to do my laundry every month. There were females in the service there--nurses and others doing such jobs that required a female. We had a base hospital and all the necessary medical attention that one could need.
As for entertainment, there was a gymnasium, two movie theaters, a huge PX, and several enlisted Men's Clubs--the Snake Pit, The Hideout and the Rocker Club. The last club was for first three-graders. Free drink night was always a big deal. It usually happened every Wednesday. We would send a guy from the barracks to each club, and when they announced free drinks it was his job to call the barracks and we would all go to that club, thus avoiding taking a cab from club to club. It was two hours of anything we wanted, so we would all order a beer, empty the beer, and use the can as a container to store harder stuff so that when the two hours ended we had a supply a booze!
For those that wanted, there was the ocean for swimming and fishing. We could also just tour the island. Every six months we were entitled to what was known as an R & R (rest and recuperation). I took two of them to Japan--one to Mount Fujiyama and one to Tokyo. The third I took to the Philippine Islands to Camp John Hay in Luzon and to the city of Baguio.
Life on Okinawa seemed to drag on occasion. If we completed our maintenance, there was nothing to do but hang around until the chow truck picked us up for lunch, and then wait for the chow truck to take us to supper and back to the barracks. All the living quarters were located away from the flight line for obvious reasons. Trucks were needed, as it was over a mile to the flight line. In the day room there were pool tables and ping pong tables and the usual card game.
Eventually we moved from the Quonset huts to modern barracks. This was an improvement to our living conditions because the new two-story concrete barracks were really nice. My roommate at that time was a guy by the name of Eddie Kozak. Eddie was from Blaisdell, New York. He and I spent about 16 months together on Okinawa before I was sent home. As for pals, my roommate and crew were my closest: Dick Poland, Bobby Gerardo, Herb McMillan, Johnny Marowski, and Frank "Duke" Ellington. We made other friends as groups of us went around the island or to a club, but those I mentioned were the closest.
I can't say that there was anything like home on Okinawa, but I believe the Air Force did everything possible to make us comfortable. The food was excellent, and then during holidays it was exceptional. There were many opportunities to learn language skills or other forms of entertainment. I managed to become an airman second class, and before I left I became an airman 1st class. All of that meant an increase in pay.
Weather was usually good. It was hot and sunny, but the occasional typhoon would require the aircraft to be evacuated to Anderson Air Force Base on the island of Guam. If the weather wasn't too bad, we would turn the aircraft into the wind and run the engines.
As for ships, they were on the other side of the island and we always had a supply of all materials necessary. I don't recall ever running out of anything, including food. Buckner Bay and White Beach were the naval bases. On that side of the island was a USMC base and a fighter outfit. I recall it being the city of Naha.
Life in the "huts" was not always entertaining. Rats ran across the ceiling and guys loaded their M1s and knocked them off. During typhoon season, water often float-ran on the floor and many a pair of flip-flops went bobbing by. We used empty ammunition boxes tipped up on end for lockers. We never went to sleep at night without a mosquito net, as we never knew what was going to fall from the ceiling.
All barracks, be it a tent, a Quonset hut or concrete barrack, had a barracks chief. He was in charge of everything, and what he said was law. If we didn't conform or keep our room or area up to snuff, he could take away liberty and confine us to barracks. The last guy we wanted on our ass was him.
We got up at a specific time, showered, dressed, and caught the chow truck. From there we went by truck to our outfit and began our day. Upon completion of our day, we reversed the process. After chow it was music on a 45 rpm player, ping pong, or reading, but that was the drill. Pay day saw poker and dice, and guys heading for clubs or into a village to find other sorts of entertainment.
Many guys lived with Okinawan girls to just keep from living on base. It provided a sort of income to the native population. Many married and brought them home to the States. Times were really tough for the native population. They had no money, very little food, and they had just survived an invasion by the United States. Before that the Japanese held the island and they looked down on these people. Needless to say, the last few years were no picnic!
As mentioned before, time had a way of dragging. We had football teams that were made up of volunteers who had played in high school. I remember a great kid from Miami, Oklahoma by the name of Dave Charloe. He was a pure blood Cherokee and one hell of a player for the 28th.
There were times we stayed in our bunk and talked with our roommate about his life and home. We often shared mail, as it seemed we never got enough. We found ourselves asking for photos of gals that our pals knew or their sisters, and we wrote to them so as to get a letter from someone new. On occasion a box arrived with homemade cookies and we all shared. A good pal and crew member, Bobby Gerardo from L.A., got homemade tamales and he shared. My first taste of Mexican food was from his mom.
Life then was as it is now. There were moments that we had only for ourselves, then the need for conversation or some sort of activity replaced our idleness. The thing that started out was the continued bonding that took place. The more that was shared, the more we shared, bringing a feeling of kinship. To this day I look in the American Legion monthly for names of guys I might know or served with.
TDY in Korea
I recall my trip to the Philippines. On the way back we landed on Taiwan, bent a landing gear, and I spent several days living on Grass Mountain waiting for a ride back to The Rock! I can also recall trips to Tachikawa with the flight crew that were done every six months. It was for weight and balance.
During my tour on Okinawa, our ship (B-29) took heavy flack and was forced to land at Kimpo. I was awakened in the night and told to get some clothes. A truck took us to the flight line and we were flown to Kimpo to repair our plane. We spent ten days in Korea. It was cold and there was not much to look at. A side bar to that trip was we lived in tents like the army guys did, but I slept in my clothes as I thought if we were ever to be overrun I would not be looking for my boots!
While on temporary duty (TDY) in Korea and at Kimpo Air Force Base to repair our aircraft, our evenings were free. That meant a truck ride into Seoul to sample the night life. We always traveled in pairs and always carried a side arm, usually a Colt .45. They were so heavy I would have probably shot myself in the foot!
We entered Seoul by crossing the Han River--the "bloody Han", and entered one of the four gates into the city. It looked like a movie scene with the bombed-out buildings, bullet holes in all the windows and walls, and the four gates in ruin. Curfew and no lights on a vehicle were the drill. I'll always remember a sign on the far banks of the river that was in chalk above a cave. It read, "Huba Huba laundry." Huba Huba meant hurry up!
The chow hall was a tent, and all military personnel ate there. It had good food, and since we were flying in Korea we did not carry identification, so that meant, as young as we were, we could use the Officers' Club as part of the flight crew. I tasted my first Salty Dog made of vodka and grapefruit juice. Yum.
There was a huge PX in downtown Seoul. Many Koreans stood outside and asked if we would buy soap and tooth paste and sundries. It was against military law, and even if they gave us their money, we would have been in deep dodo. Somehow I managed a treat or two.
The 4th Fighter Group was at Kimpo. It was made up of old Mustangs and F-4 Sabre jets, along with Navy Panthers used for aerial reconnaissance. There was also a great Australian outfit called The Flying Sergeants. They flew twin engine meteor jets and were hot pilots. When Lemon Drop was repaired, it was back to Kadena.
The entire time on Okinawa was spent performing my duties as an aircraft mechanic and making the most of idle time. It is safe to say that after a while we looked forward to going home or stateside. We had a saying when we got our orders: FUJIGMO!! (The polite meaning of that was, "Forget You Jack, I Got My Orders.") There was even a B-29 with that painted on the nose. They were the most famous words a guy could hear.
When we got our orders to go stateside, we started planning. We returned our weapon, checked in all the tools that we were issued, and any shortage or damage was deducted from our pay. We wrote the folks that we were on the way home. For me, that meant I hadn't seen a family member for over two years. I got my departure date and new orders for the next assignment. I had asked for Truix Field in Madison, Wisconsin, but no luck.
I rode the truck back to Buckner Bay and got in line to board the ship, the USMS Mitchell, a two-stacker. "Two-stacker" meant the ship had bigger engines and thus a faster trip home. (Remember the Brewster-a one- stacker and 21 days to Okinawa.) As we left Okinawa, many girls with tears in their eyes lined the dock thinking they were going to board. No such luck. Promises were made, but never kept.
On the ship I got duty and bunk assignment. No more six high bunks for me, but I was given pantry duty in the officers' mess. I outranked the cook and normally I would have spoken out, but, the pantry was where breakfast was prepared for the officers. That meant fresh juice, pancakes off the griddle, eggs to order, and milk. At lunch it was the same deal. At first and second seating, junior officers had pork chops off the grill. Trust me, I loved the duty and I ate the same things the officers did, including dessert! They had Filipino wait staff. They rang a dinner bell. Life as an officer was good. Down below it was rice and beans and a fresh piece of fruit. Many guys that shipped home with me hung outside the galley so I could slip them something good.
We learned as we went. Some guys who could cut hair became ship's barbers. If they were a Catholic and could recite Latin, they put in for chaplain's assistant. Anything to make life a bit easier. If someone played a musical instrument, they played in the officers' mess at their dances. All the talents were posted on a board, and if you were lucky, you got an easier ride home.
It took us 16 days to get home, with a stop in Yokohama, Japan. I had two days on duty with one day off. That meant that in Yokohama I got one night shore liberty. Wow! Drinking beer with U.S. Marines just back from Korea going home, lots of good-looking girls, and then back to the ship. Leaving Japan, the same scene as the one at the dock in Okinawa was played. There were many Japanese girls dockside with a lunch tied in a hankie. Some boarded and some waved goodbye, or, as they say, "Saynora". I could not help but feel a degree of sorrow for the many who watched the guys leave them behind. The ugly American.
There was a time I found myself with strong feelings for a girl I had met in Fugiyoshida. Her name was Yurico Ito. I'll remember her name until my dying days. But that was then and this is now. It is 63 years later and I have no regrets. So it was off to California with a banjo on my knee. The Mitchell got under way. As I watched the city if Yokohama disappear on the horizon, my thoughts were of the pantry and Home Sweet Home.
There is an old saying, "You either make dust or eat it!" I'll take that to my grave. When I was rotated off Okinawa I was sent to Park AFB in California. From there I had a 30-day leave at home in Milwaukee. Getting there was another story--two-plus days on a Greyhound, never again. After my leave I was assigned to an air refueling squadron at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, Ohio. By then I had made Staff Sergeant and lived in the NCO barracks. Life was better with access to the NCO club and NCO mess hall.
I was discharged in Columbus, Ohio after serving in the Air Force from 1950 to 1954. I returned home and worked in construction with my dad until I realized that it wasn't for me. I entered training at the Ohio State University Hospital to become an X-ray technician. Two years later I finished, but thought more about going to college.
I enrolled at OSU in 1957 as a freshman, but I was 25 years old and a tad behind when it came to remembering my math and English. I had used most of my GI Bill and had to supplement it by working. I had a job in the morgue at the OSU Hospital. I was a parking lot attendant at the Jai Lai Restaurant, and then landed a job at the South Heidelberg as a bartender until I got the same job at the North Heidelberg. I spent almost six years there and loved every night. I worked there two years after I graduated in 1961.
Herm Will owned the "Berg", and I have said countless times that if it weren't for him I might not have graduated. Later it was bought by a guy named Jimmy Ryan and we are still pals. We served 3.2 beer only. Food was barbecue ribs, chicken and beef, potato salad and beans. In the back room a guy by the name of Doug Schere played rag time piano and knew every college fight song in the book. Pete Regulis, Jimmy Waltz, Bob McMahan, Larry Spicer and I made up the gang. A guy by the name of John Fleishman (a/k/a Flash--a great guy) was the cook. Checking ID's at the door was Chuck Clark. He loved the job. Free beer and girls' numbers.
I got a Bachelor of Science degree in 1961 and then entered graduate school at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1963. I spent 35 years working for a brewery and now am retired. I had the pleasure of going on the Honor Flight two years ago. I am currently 82. What a trip! What a life!
The Lemon Drop Kid B-29 Superfortress was originally going to be called Clusterfobia. Bob Hope had visited Kadena during his Christmas USO tour at about the same time he was starring in a movie (1934) entitled, The Lemon Drop Kid, based on a Damon Runyon story. Starring Lee Tracy, it was remade in 1951 with Bob Hope (and I Love Lucy co-star William Frawley as a racetrack tout). It introduced the Christmas song "Silver Bells". The "Runyon Fund" was Bob Hope's favorite charity. It supported scientific research on the causes and prevention of cancer. (Runyon died of throat cancer in late 1946.) Thus, the artwork on the plane diverted from Clusterfobia to the Lemon Drop Kid. It featured Bob Hope in Santa attire, tending to the donation pot.
Following is the original flight crew list, as well as an incomplete list of known ground crew members associated with The Lemon Drop Kid during the Korean War years.
Bradshaw, Tom (AC)
Dino, Jim (radio)
Felton, Richard Philetus (died October 18, 2011?)
Foster, James W. (pilot) (died in 2007)
Gonzales, Horace (gunner)
Gray, E.D. "Gene" (engineer)
Gustine, Franklin (bombardier) (flew 26 mission from Okinawa 1951-52)
Harrison, Benjamin Rowe (navigator) (died April 06, 2005)
Hogan, Ben (radar)
Johnson, Melvin Victor (gunner) (died November 5, 2013)
Ratzburg, Bob (bombardier)
Runyan, Clarence "Lefty" (tailgunner)
Hill, Vaughn Dixon (died April 19, 2000)
Othrow, James (1951-53)
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