Topics - B-29s - John Baker

My Memories of Flying with the 98th Bomb Group
During the Korean War

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[KWE Note: The following short memoir was written by John L. Baker and published in The Pyramidiers newsletter of the 98th Bomb Group/Wing Veterans Association in its November 2014 issue.  It is reprinted on the KWE with the permission of Bill Seals, President and Editor.]
While reading Kenneth E. Ackerman's recollections of his service during World War II in The Pyramidiers (the August 2014 issue), memories of some of my experiences during the Korean War came to life in my mind and I was inspired to write some of them down.  I don't have a diary like Kenneth did, so if my remembrances don't jive with yours, or with history, I apologize.

I joined the Army Air Force on November 4th, 1943, which was about three weeks after turning 18.  I volunteered in order to select the branch of service I preferred.  I only knew of two men in our community who didn't serve in the military during World War II.  One man had polio and was crippled.  The other man had psychological problems.  Following training, I graduated from Aviation Cadet Navigator School at Selman Field, Monroe, Louisiana in March 1945, and received my navigator wings and gold bars.

I expected to be assigned to crew duties on a B-24 as I waited for assignment.  The B-29 had just come out (figuratively), so I was surprised and happy to find I was going to the 29.  They were new and hot, fast, and pressurized.  I thought only the elites got assigned to them.

I didn't go overseas during WWII.  The first crew I was with did go, but I had suffered a fractured right wrist during a practice drill and was replaced on that crew. That crew made seven or eight missions over Japan before the war ended, and made many reconnaissance flights over Korea and Manchuria before coming home.  I think those flights enabled us to have reliable maps of Korea during the later war.  Thank you, fellows.

The B-29 was quite a change from the B-24.  I hesitate to say "step-up", but it was more comfortable to fly in.  The three pressurized compartments--front, mid, and tail, meant we didn't have to wear sheepskin or heated clothing or oxygen masks--except over the target.

All our combat missions were eight to ten hours in duration flying out of Yokota AFB located in the northwest suburbs of Tokyo, Japan.  It was a longer mission out of Okinawa where the other two B-29 groups were based. [The Pyramidier editor: The other two groups were the 19th and the 307th.]  The 98th had three squadrons--the 343rd, 344th, and 345th.  All of our missions "counted double", just as the more dangerous B-24 missions had during WWII.

If I remember correctly, our bomb loads were typically thirty-eight 500-pound bombs.  [The Pyramidier editor: Per other sources, the normal load was forty 500 pounders which were filled with 250 pounds of RDX composition D explosive, which is more powerful than TNT.]  Quite some difference from the ten 500-pounders the B-24 carried on long missions.

All of our bombing missions were flown at night.  A B-29 would have been a sitting duck against a MiG in daylight.  As it was, only one B-29 from the 98th was lost to a MiG during our tour.  The bomber was caught in a searchlight.  I can still recall the excitement and anguish in Ed Loskot's voice over the intercom describing the sequence of events.  (Ed was in the top aft bubble.)  The navigator of that plane, Bob Bird, and his wife and two small daughters lived in a trailer across from ours in San Antonio while we were at Randolph Field.  He did not survive.  He was a retread also, having flown "The Hump" in WWII.  I understand only three crewmen survived the loss of their plane.

The B-29 carried an ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) operator.  These men flew three times as often as the other crewmen.  I think men with their skill were in short supply.  Their electronic equipment could be turned on to confuse the enemy radars and the proximity fuses on the anti-aircraft shells so they would explode at lower altitudes.  I can remember Don Dressler's (the bombardier in the nose) voice of alarm as he observed the rising altitude of the bursting AAA shells when the ECM Operator had to replace a fuse in one of the systems.  His panic would change to one of relief as the system resumed operation.  It was said that an ECM Operator's most critical skill was how fast he could find and replace a blown fuse.  They always carried a bag of spares.  Our plane, 61872, didn't have a skin puncture from AAA fire in the six months of our tour from June 1952 to January 1953.  Thank you, ECM!

We flew three types of missions: strategic bombing of specific targets, front line support of ground troops, and propaganda leaflet drops.  The ground support drops were controlled by ground observers and ground radar that directed us by radio to a specific location and heading and then gave us the command to drop a specified number of bombs--usually, three to five.  We would then circle back around and repeat the maneuver until our bomb load was gone.

Shortly after arriving at Yokota, while we were still in temporary quarters and before our crew flew a mission, there was an apparent max effort underway when a B-29 crashed on takeoff straight down the line of the runway.  It shook us "newbies" up quite a bit.  It was the only crash while we were there.

The propaganda drops were entirely different.  The "bombs" were hinged clamshell-type containers with tail fins.  They were filled with printed materials on toilet paper-sized leaflets, but the paper was too slick to be of practical usage.  These missions had as many as 17 plus or minus drop points all over North Korea.  Don Snyder, our Aircraft Commander (A/C), asked me if I minded these missions because of so many targets and heading changes.  I didn't.  I didn't think the Commies had so many defense assets that they would chase a solo B-29 while the rest of the group was hitting a single target.  In later years, I've wondered if all those containers only had propaganda leaflets, or did they contain other items too?  We sure scattered a lot of paper all over North Korea from 20,000 feet.

Twenty-five missions (fifty "counters") were required to complete our tour.  On three occasions we had to divert to an alternate airfield because of low fuel or engine oil.  On one mission we were forced to land at Kunsan, a base for F-84 fighter/bomber jets on the west coast of South Korea.  A regular preflight for the B-29 took four hours.  While we were preparing our plane for return to Yokota, an F-84 across the parking ramp taxied out and returned four times.  Someone inquired of a local maintenance man if "they were practicing touch and goes."  The man replied that they had completed four missions!  But, they needed 100 missions to complete a tour.

In navigation school they always emphasized that the navigator's job is not complete until the wheels touch the runway.  I endorse that edict wholeheartedly.  We were returning to Yokota with one engine feathered in weather.  We asked for a GCA (ground controlled approach) with a mayday priority heading.  They gave us one--but it wasn't correct (it may have been that they were looking at another plane).  If we had followed their heading we would have let down on a mountain top.  Thank goodness for that APN-13 radar.  With good maps it was almost like pilotage at low altitude in daylight.  We landed successfully (to the approach end of the runway) after a course correction.

As a lead crew, whatever that's worth, we often had senior officers aboard.  The lead navigator announced the time of arrival at the initial point (IP) for the bomb run based upon the coast in time of the other planes in the bomber stream and then radio silence was maintained until "bombs away."  The object was to close up to a point with about one minute spacing, although we took off with wider spacing.  The Radar Navigator passenger suggested a dog leg course to let the following planes catch up.  I declined the course change and the Commanding Officer, who was a passenger, suggested to the A/C, Don Snyder, to follow my course.  At bombs away, Ed Loskot, who was looking through the aft bomb bay window to observe our bomb impacts, saw some impacts that were ahead of the usual reference points.  It turned out that one plane had dropped ahead of us.  We were the lower altitude plane.  The entire bomb group dropped in about three minutes.  Near catastrophe?  Maybe, but I doubt that a dog leg route would have offered any safer outcome.

Our plane #61872  had some nose art when we were assigned the aircraft.  At our crew's request, a local Japanese artist everyone called "Rembrandt" changed the nose art.  Two versions of the art are shown on page 75 of the book Superfortress, the Boeing B-29, by Steve Birdsall.  The book is a Squadron/Signal publication, ISBN 0-89747-104-0.  I found the book at the Air Force Museum during a crew reunion, and all of us bought a copy.  We signed each other's copies as a memento of our crew.  Years later, B/G Paul Tibbets and some WWII groups were at an air show at Lunken Field in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the General signed my book over the photo of the "Enola Gay."  The book is an important keepsake to me.

The following paragraph was taken from the book B-29 Superfortress Units of the Korean War, by Robert F. Dorr.  This entry was made to identify a profile of the aircraft created by artist Mark Styling shown on page 40 of the book.  According to Dorr, the profiles were produced following exhaustive research of group records, studies, or original photos, and correspondence with veterans and their families.  The profile of 44-61872 shown in the book has the name, "ACE in the HOLE" and has a black underside.  Apparently it was done after the crash landing and the recovery of the aircraft.  Dorr notes that changes in the aircraft's name and other factors created some "confusion relating to the identity" of the aircraft.  [The Pyramidier editor: In my research of the history of the 98th, I have found that details are often confused.  Therefore, reader, beware of possible differences that may arise while reading the paragraph below.]

B-29 A-BN 44-61872, ACE in the HOLE of the 343rd BS/98th BG, Yokota, Japan 1952
(Click picture for a larger view)

B-29, 44-61872 was originally named ACE in the HOLE, but following the application of black paint to the undersides, it wore two versions of the name, "Sac's Appeal".  The bomber was damaged by flak on 22 April 1952 and crash-landed at Kimpo, in South Korea, without sustaining casualties.  Like many 98th BG aircraft, ACE in the HOLE was previously assigned to the 92nd BG.  Indeed, its nose art was applied by the same artist that had painted the group's B-29 44-69805 "DEAL ME IN."  In fact, he used the same five playing cards for both bombers, with the ace reversed in an attempt at subtlety.  The words "Deal Me In" also appear in small letters below the artwork, which has caused confusion relating to the identity of this B-29.

The navigator's position in the 29 is adjacent to the forward gun turrets.  There are four 50 caliber machine guns in the upper turret and two more in the lower.  All are remotely operated.  Luckily, we didn't have to fire them at any enemy aircraft; however, there were thousands of cases of 50 caliber ammunition remaining from WWII which we were directed to use to test fire the guns.  On the return flight from Korea, the navigator would announce over the Sea of Japan that the gunners were cleared to fire the weapons in a northerly direction.  On a couple of flights the gunners emptied their guns, and even though I knew the guns were going to fire, I couldn't help but jump when they did.

For crew safety, we had to make sure all of our bombs were gone before landing, and on one flight we had a 500-pound bomb hang up.  Don Dressler, the bombardier, asked our radio operator to go out onto the walkway to the bomb bay and trip the shackle holding the bomb.  As it happened, I needed a time back from Joe Kuchinsky, the radio man, which meant that Don would have to release the bomb.  So Don had to squeeze by the gun turret and crawl into the bomb bay himself.  When he was able to release the bomb over the sea, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Our crew was given an R&R (rest and recuperation) break in December.  I spent some time in Tokyo Christmas shopping, and then went o a military hotel on Lake Chuzengi, which was a very scenic location.  Upon returning to the base on a Saturday evening, I was told that there was a telegram for me at the telegraph office.  Unfortunately, the office wouldn't open until Monday morning, and I knew what the telegram had to be about.  My dear wife, Doris, had delivered our second child, a son, on December 5, 1952, in Cincinnati. Yokota had some pluses like  good mess hall with tasty food, but towards the first of December, I began to feel the stress.  It seemed even the mashed potatoes were getting hard to swallow. 

Eventually we finished our tour and flew back to Travis AFB on the same DC-4 that had taken us to Japan the past June.  Upon arrival, I declined to remain in the Air Force Reserves and separated from the service.  I took a train (three days) to Cincinnati.  Home at last!


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