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Memories of Ralph W. Hayes

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Do The Right Thing Whatever The Cost!

[KWE Note: The following article was written by Ralph W. Hayes, and submitted by Bill Horney for publication in The Pyramidiers, newsletter of the 98th Bomb Group/Wing Veterans Association.  It is reprinted here with permission from Bill Seals, President and Editor.]

Some principles are difficult to learn because the cost may be great.  These principles, which need to become part of a person's life, are sometimes learned and applied more easily if taught through the modeling of them by a person with character.  I had the opportunity to learn one of these principles as a young man, and I hope this principle is one that I have demonstrated throughout my life.   The principle is, "Do the right thing whatever the cost."

On April 9, 1951, one month after my eighteenth birthday, I enlisted in the United States Air Force.  I was sent from St. Louis to Basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  Until that time my travels had been restricted to Southern Illinois, Eastern Missouri, and the western tip of Kentucky.  After eight weeks of Basic, I was sent to Lowery AFB in Denver, Colorado, for Technical Training.  Lowery was the home of the Remote Control Turret Systems Mechanical (RCT) School which was a prerequisite to the Aerial Gunnery School.

I arrived at Lowery on July 3, 1951, for entry into the RCT School and graduated on October 26th.  I, along with the other graduates of the school, entered Aerial Gunnery School in early November and graduated on January 1, 1952.  The next phase of our training was Combat Crew Training at Randolph AFB east of San Antonio, Texas.

When I arrived at Randolph I was assigned to a combat crew and a position on that crew.  The bomb team--which consisted of the aircraft commander, the pilot, bombardier, and radar operator--had previously been assigned.  The left and right gunners (also designated as scanners), the flight engineer, and the radio operator had also been assigned to the crew.  This group had been actively involved for several weeks in flying what was termed "transition."  This was primarily making takeoffs and landings.  The two unfilled positions on the crew when I arrived were the central fire control gunner (CFC) and the tail gunner.  Another gunner, Dick Stewart, who had been in gunnery school with me, was assigned the CFC position and I was given the tail gunner slot.

We finished Combat Crew Training in mid-March and were assigned to a Fox Crew at Lake Charles AFB in Louisiana.  While at Lake Charles we were assigned temporary duty (TDY) to Forbes AFB, and then bussed to Smokey Hill AFB at Salina, Kansas to practice at an OQ gunnery range.

The OQ gunnery ranges, one at Lowery and one at Smokey Hill were so named because the drone they used was a radio-controlled plane called an OQ-19D.  The drone weighed 350 pounds, was of aluminum construction with an eight-foot wingspan and was powered by a McCullough 0-100-1, two cycles, air-cooled, four cylinder engine which propelled the drone at speeds up to 200 knots at sea level.  Following the QC training, we were flown to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and assigned to Camp Carson for winter survival training.  Upon completion of classroom training we were taken into Roosevelt National Forest for the field exercise portion of our training.

Upon our return to Lake Charles we continued to fly missions on which we made practice bomb runs on targets all over the United States.  These missions continued until the end of June when we were assigned to the 98th Bomb Wing with orders to depart Travis AFB on July 16, 1952 for Yokota AFB, Japan. [Pyramidiers Editor's Note: The 98th had deployed to the Far East in late July, 1950, from Fairchild AFB, Washington.)

Crew of Lonesome Polecat II
(Click picture for a larger view)

When we arrived at Yokota we found that several of our crew members had been cut from our crew for some reason, and we were assigned new crew members to replace them. We flew our first strike mission on July 28th with a crew consisting of: Capt. Leonard L. Baber, Aircraft Commander (AC); Lt. Vernon E. Plass, Pilot; Lt. Edgar Root, Bombardier; Capt. James P. Keen, Navigator; Lt. Robert F. Beckman, Radar Operator; M/Sgt. Roy A. Maltby, Flight Engineer; A/1C H. Philip Little, Radio Operator; A/1C Richard E. Stewart, CFC; A/1C John M. Goodloe, Left Gunner; A/1C James V. Hansen, Right Gunner; and me, Ralph W. Hayes, Tail Gunner.  This first mission was a "Leaflet Paper Mission."  We made a number of runs on several targets and dropped leaflets that were designed to have a psychological effect on the North Koreans. Our crew had flown eight missions by October 2nd when Captain Barber's TDY orders were terminated, and we were assigned a new AC, Lt. William H. Roberts.

For the next couple of weeks the bombing team flew training missions to develop their skills as an integrated bombing team. We began flying combat with Lieutenant Roberts on the first of November.  Lieutenant Roberts was an excellent pilot which was quickly evident to the crew.  Bomb runs were made using shoran radar.  A TIME Magazine article dated March 3, 1951 explained it: "A bomber equipped to use shoran carries a radio transmitter that sends out short pulses of ultra-high frequency (above 300 megacycles) waves.  Two ground stations at well-separated points behind friendly lines pick up the airplane's pulses and echoes them back greatly amplified.  Apparatus on the plane measures the time it took for the pulses to make round trips to each of the stations and, therefore, its position on the map.  The system is accurate enough to show the position of the plane within 50 feet.

At a distance from the target area the Radar Operator would communicate with the A/C that they were coming up on "the arc".  Their communication would go something like this:

"A/C we are 50 miles from the target area and we are 1,500 feet outside the arc.  We are now 40 miles from the target area and 500 feet outside the arc and closing nicely.  We're closing quickly, slow it down.  We're 30 feet inside the arc, bring it back.  We're on the arc.  We're 15 miles from the target area and we are on the arc."

The bomb bay doors would open and the wind drag would send a vibration throughout the plane.  The idea was to cross the bomb-release-point on the arc.

On a particular night which I still remember vividly after all these years, the flak was very heavy.  For some reason or other, the bomb run did not go well and we were not on the arc as we approached the release point.  It was obvious from the tone of the A/C's voice that he was upset.  Just before we reached the target area he said, "Bombardier, hold the bombs.  We are going around!  Now let's get this right!  We re not going to fly deep into North Korea and drop bombs that are not on the target."

As a nineteen-year-old tail gunner seeing all the bright flashes of flak around me this decision was upsetting, to say the least.  I remember saying to myself, "Oh come on, and we made the run!  Get this thing out of here while we are all in one piece."

We went around and somewhere out there, at perhaps 50 miles from the target area, we picked up the arc again.  This time we did it right and dropped the bombs on the target area.  The flak was still intense as we made the second bomb run.  After bomb release, the bomb bay doors were closed and the CFC jumped down from his seat and looked into the aft bomb bay to be sure no bombs were hung up.  The radio operator checked the forward bomb bay to ensure there were no bombs hung up there.  At this point the radio operator looked up through the astrodome, and reported that he could see flak below us through the bomb bay and above us through the astrodome.  Because there were windows on three sides of the tail gunner's compartment, I could see flak on both sides of us and behind us.

Lonesome Polecat II
(Click picture for a larger view)

After bomb release we had to continue on a straight course until the bombs had fallen five or six miles to the target.  One of the bombs was a photoflash bomb that lit the whole sky to permit the camera on our plane to get pictures showing our bombing effectiveness.  After the pictures were taken, the A/C dropped the nose of our plane which was named, "The Lonesome Polecat II" and banked the plane as he began evasive action to try to get us home.

I have thought of this mission many times through the past fifty-seven years, and I know I learned a valuable lesson that night.  Lieutenant Roberts was a man of character and he taught me and the rest of the crew what was the right thing to do.  I came home that night with the determination to try to always do the right thing whatever the cost.

I have tried to locate Lieutenant Roberts through the years.  He came from southern Illinois, an area known as "Little Egypt."  He told us on our first meeting that his home was Harrisburg, Illinois.  I would love to find him if he is still alive to tell him the impact he had on a young man when he demonstrated the principle of, "Do the right thing whatever the cost."

[KWE Note: Lieutenant Roberts died May 06, 2004.]

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There Went the Runway

It was usually around 8:00 a.m., shortly after breakfast, that Capt. Leonard L. (Honcho) Barber stopped by the 343rd Bomb Squadron enlisted men’s barracks to inform them that they would be going that evening and must be at briefing at a given time in the afternoon. However, on October 8, 1952, something different was in the wind. Honcho informed us that our briefing was rather early that morning.

Robert F. Futrell’s book, The United States Air Force in Korea 1950-1953, refers to the damage inflicted on the Bomber Command’s B-29s by the MiGs, and this is confirmed on the website http:/Iaflira.maxwell.afmillkorean¬warlkorean-war-chronology/kwc.  Referring to the situation in 1951, the website states: “Then, in the last ten days of October MiG-1 5s downed five medium bombers and damaged eight others, forcing Far East Air Forces to end daylight B-29 raids.” When my crew arrived at Yakota AFB in July of 1952, all our missions were being flown at night.

When Honcho Barber told us to be at briefing early, we knew that something unusual was happening. On that day the 98th Bomb Wing B-29s were to conduct a daylight raid on the supply area at Kowon, North Korea, and we were assigned to go on that mission.

The briefing went as usual, and afterwards crew members had an opportunity to meet with their Chaplains before going back to the barracks to get ready to go. After finishing our pre-flight, we boarded the Lonesome Polecat II and fell into our slot to await takeoff. The old 3350 Wright engines seemed to be okay, and we finally started our takeoff roll down the 7,000-foot runway at Yakota.

Our crew was composed of:

  • Captain Barber, AC
  • 1ILT Vernon Plass, Pilot
  • 1ILT Edgar Root, Bombardier
  • CAPT. James Keane, Navigator
  • 1ILT Robert Beckman, Radar Operator
  • M/SGT Roy Maltby, Flight Engineer
  • A/1C Philip Little, Radio Operator
  • S/SGT Richard Stewart, CFC Gunner
  • A/1C John Goodloe, Left Gunner
  • A/1C James Hansen, Right Gunner
  • A/1C Ralph W. Hayes, Tail Gunner

My position for takeoff was with my back against the bulkhead in the aft unpressurized area. Lieutenant Beckman sat next to me on takeoff.  Because of my responsibility for maintaining the Auxiliary Power Unit, I always had to be able to communicate on the intercom.

About halfway down the runway the Left Gunner shouted, “We got smoke and flames from number 1!” Immediately, Beck and I felt the pressure on our backs as we were pressed against the bulkhead by the quick effort of the AC in cutting the power and applying the brakes. I yelled to Beck to let him know what was happening.

Just to the rear of the bulkhead was a very large and heavy camera. Beck told me to put my feet up on the camera with his to keep it from coming forward on him if we couldn’t get stopped in time. After what seemed to be an eternity, we felt a jolt and I exclaimed, “There went the runway; we’re on the overrun now!” Yakota had 7,000 feet of paved runway with a 500-foot overrun on each end. With a final jerk the craft stopped. Honcho shouted over the intercom, “Bail out! She’s burning!” We, of course, knew that in the bomb bays we had a lighter load than usual: 40 five hundred pound bombs.  However, the 16 five-hundred-pound we carried were proximity-fused bombs.

I jerked open the rear main entrance door, swung out, and made five steps before I even hit the ground. I nearly tore my ears off because I hadn’t taken off my headset. As I was running from the Polecat, I looked back and saw a ring of fire around the wheels. The main gear was on the edge of the runway and the nose wheels were on the grass beyond the runway.

The crew all got out in quick order, and, of course, we put distance between the plane and us. The fire trucks had been following us down the runway, and they foamed the engines and put out the fire. The report was that we were halfway down the runway at 138 miles an hour when the power was cut, and the brakes were applied.

My ears didn’t hurt long; the camera didn’t crush Beck; and Honcho got a commendation for stopping the aircraft and getting his crew out safely. The Polecat was out of commission for a few days, and we had to fly other planes during that time.


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