"Aces of The Eighth" by Jack Fellows

World War II Memoir by Frank Cicerello

“I had just finished reading the latest 8th Fighter Group Association newsletter and decided to see what memorabilia I had while I was with the 80th Fighter Squadron in the States and overseas during World War II. I had kept a diary in part of my service experience, it is not a daily diary, but only excerpts of events that happened. So I decided to look and see what might be useful. Thus notations from diary are as follows:

While being a member of the 60th Pursuit Squadron at Mitchel Field prior to Pearl Harbor, I was sent to Scott Field for the Radio Operator and Mechanics school and upon graduation in November 1941 returned to Mitchel Field and was temporarily put in the 91st Air Base Group and then transferred to the 80th Fighter Squadron they were forming on 11/22/41.

After joining the 80th and before 1/26/42 when the 80th boarded the troop train, normal army life continued. As I had graduated from the radio school, I spent my time on the line maintaining the radios on our P-400s.

On my first Christmas away from home, I had a pass to go into Hempstead, the closest city near the airfield. It was Christmas Eve and I wandered throughout the town just looking at the beautiful Christmas lights. On Sunday December 7, 1941, 1 had a pass to go into town. As I started to go through the gate, I was stopped by the guard on duty and was told that Pearl Harbor was being attacked by the Japanese and that all passes were canceled and that I was to return to my squadron.

A few nights later, the whole barracks were awakened sometime after midnight. We all had to line up in front of our bunks. An officer and the first sergeant asked all the men in every other bunk to go back to their bunks. Those left standing were told to pack up their gear and to be ready to be shipped out. We never did know where they were sent but rumors later had it that it was possibly the Philippines. Shortly afterwards we were informed that our squadron would be leaving for Australia and until 1/26/42 we spent our time packing up all our equipment.

Between December 7th and our sailing we had a general meeting one day and our Co and first sergeant asked if there were any men from Pennsylvania that were deer hunters. Those of us who were sent to the armory to unpack some old Springfield rifles, clean them up, and be ready to use them if necessary. Slit trenches had been dug near the end of the runway nearest the ocean. We were told that we would be the front line defenders for a possible surprise attach from the German U-boats that were operating off our coast. This never happened but ships were lost.

On January 26, 1942, we left for San Francisco by troop train from Mitchel Field, New York. I remember the long boring ride, eating on the train, and stopping occasionally for exercises while crossing the country.

They assigned two men to the lower berth and one non-com to the upper berth. The two men in the lower berth, which I was one of them, were told to sleep head to toe. After a few nights, the odor was not very pleasant, especially for me, as the guy who was next to me never changed his socks for the duration of the trip. So I remember I was very glad the trip was over.

The food was not too great. It consisted mostly of food boiled in large vats that were installed into an empty boxcar which had been converted into a kitchen. I do not remember ever eating in the dining car. At least the enlisted men did not. Maybe the officers did, but I never did know.

As all troop train trips are dull or boring, we spent our time either reading or playing cards. It certainly was not like in the movies. There was no guitar playing or singing. the conversation was how good or bad it was in Australia, and if this was a one-way trip. I think most of us were homesick but such is life, and we all got over it. The excitement was ever present. I had never been out of my small Pennsylvania town, so it was a big adventure to me and I looked forward to seeing how the rest of the world was.

On 2/12/42, we sailed on the USAT Maui from San Francisco. I remember staying on an island getting shots in preparation for the trip, and lining up for our shots. While passing through the barracks, I remember seeing many GIs laying on beds in the rooms off to the side of the hallway. Many were really affected by the reaction from them. Fortunately I was not one of them. While sailing to the island I got my first glimpse of the famous Penal prison Alcatraz.

We called the Maui the banana boat, as we had heard it had hauled bananas between the states and Hawaii. Bunks had been installed below decks 4-high which were made of netting like sailors slept on. There wasn’t much room between them, but we had to put our B Bags and muzzet bag there and sleep there too. I remember you couldn’t sleep on your side, only on your back. Later on it became so hot down below, we decided to make up a bed on the deck. The bed was our raincoat for a blanket in case it rained and our life jacket for a pillow. The last 2 weeks we spent on deck, one had to be careful leaving your spot for fear of stepping on your buddy.

The only entertainment on board was card playing and the navy men shooting their guns for target practice. Halfway through the trip the food freezer broke down and they started to give out free ice cream. Funny, but I don’t remember them ever serving it for the first part of the trip. But from that day on they only served two meals a day. Breakfast consisted of coffee, boiled egg, toast, and oatmeal. But with no milk on board we knew of, we used canned evaporated milk mixed with water and lots of sugar and managed to eat it and later even enjoyed it. I also remember one time we were standing in line going down the stairs to the dining room, some Navy waiters were carrying some real goodies for the officers mess. They stopped going by us after we started raiding the trays as they went by us. We also heard there were some fresh oranges below deck that were being saved for the officers, so one dark night we went down to the food storage area and helped ourselves. They never did know or find out who took them. I remember the chow lines being so long (3,000 men on board) that after having breakfast, we would form another dinner line in order to make sure we got the full meal and the best of what they were serving.

On 2/21/42, we crossed the equator and everyone that could- be caught by the sailors would be initiated into Kin Neptune’s Court. Initiation consisted in being hosed down with sea water and your head being shaved. Somehow, I still have my certificate of initiation in the King Neptune’s court and which I finally put into my scrapbook I just finished. A lot of the men were very seasick, and the ships kept changing their courses to thwart off the enemy submarines we had heard were chasing us.

The showers below deck used only sea water and it was impossible to get lather out of our regular soap. We had to use special soap.

On 3/5/42, we anchored outside of the channel of Brisbane, Australia, the Kangaroo Country. What a relief it was to see land again after twenty-one days of sailing on the high seas. At 7:30 AM on March 6, 1942, we docked on the mainland. The Australians were glad to see us and we piled onto trucks and moved to the Ascot Racetrack grounds, where they had pitched tents over wooden floors. As there were no beds, we had to wait for army cots to be brought in.

On 3/7/42, I remember trying to learn about the Australian currency of pounds, shillings, and pence; their paper money reminded me of cigar coupons. We all were wondering when we would be shipped up to the combat area, but no one seemed to know what was going on.

On 3/10/42, we had a payday and we were paid in Australian money and we were allowed to send cables back home which surprised us. We also got passes into town. Transportation in town was by streetcars, called trams, and the town closed down at 11 PM and all day on Sundays. My first impression of the Aussie women, was that they were about twenty years behind the American women. They were still wearing real long dresses, used no makeup, and lacked good dental care. However they sure changed quickly with the arrival and the help of the Americans.

On 3/15/42, we moved to I believe Archer Field, just outside of Brisbane and into wooden barracks. After this normal Army life continued. On 3/20/42, I was assigned as a telephone operator as we had no radios to work on or maintain and very few airplanes, but first we had to lay the telephone lines.

On 3/31/42, we moved to Lowood Airfield, about 100 miles from the city. I remember I elected to drive one of the trucks rather than ride in the back and sit on the wooden benches. All the trucks were equipped with speed governors so forty miles per hour was our maximum speed. We had been told we had to protect Brisbane from the Japs. We now had P-400 airplanes to maintain. Also we heard that the 35th & 36th Squadrons were moving to Port Moresby, New Guinea. We were badly understaffed and without enough planes or equipment to make us really effective. We could not understand where all the planes and equipment were going to.

On 4/15/42, the first promotion list was posted for the enlisted men and we were advised that we would get an extra 20% of our pay for overseas duty. I had made corporal that day. Started working on the line as a radio mechanic at Lowood and was in charge of a flight of about 15 planes with two men under me to help maintain the radios. A Private Pinkerton was one of the men, the other I do not recall his name. I also was put in charge of the teletype machine as I had made the corporal list on that promotion list just posted.

On Easter Sunday we all went to the Sunday services in the town of Lowood. The town had about 10 homes and after the services the Priest took our pictures. I still have my copy. It was a nice group picture.

On 4/30/42, we had another payday and several of us rented horses from a nearby stable and I remember the one I was riding took the bit in his mouth and ran away with me holding on for dear life!

On 5/2/42, they posted the Air Mechanics rating lists. I had passed the radio operator and mechanics test with the highest test rating of anyone in-the squadron, and also had passed-the control tower operator test which I took on the spur of the moment back in the states. I was hoping for one of the ratings which would mean more pay. I eventually received a 2nd class

rating. On 10/9/42, at twelve mile strip in Port Moresby I was working on the line as a radio mechanic doing preventative maintenance.

On 11/1042, we had an air raid scare, as an unidentified plane flew over the strip at night. The searchlights could not pick up the Jap plane.

On 11/14/42, the rest of us from the 80th Squadron flew by transport to Milne Bay, New Guinea. This airfield was at the edge of the bay of water. The area was filled with coconut trees and plenty of aborigines. The airstrip was called the Three Mile strip. As the area had just been cleaned up of the Japs, there was still the stench of the dead from the nearby Jap cemetery. I remember the CO and his staff sitting around a circle of men on the ground negotiating with the aborigines and their chief to built us some grass shacks. The negotiations was in the form of canned beef, or bully beef. The shacks were to be built with palm leaves with thatch roofs.

On 11/17/429 during the day we had our first sight of three Jap planes that flew overhead at a very high altitude. They were not contested by us. On 11/29/42, a Sunday, our first bomb raid hit us at about 2:40 AM. One to three bombers, maybe Jap Bettys. They hit the next strip to us and caused a lot of excitement.

On 12/5/42, we had another air raid at 4:00 AM. We heard two planes before the alarm went off and they missed our strip again. On 12/10/42, another air raid that night. They liked to come at us at night whenever there was a full moon to see us.

On 12/17/42, we had more air raids that night. Usually at midnight, and 2:00 and 4:30 AM. I remember all of us wished we would move our camp which was at the end of the air strip and in direct line with the path of any bombs.

On 12/25/42, being Christmas, the Navy must have gotten us some special food for our big meal. We also traded and bought some booze and we had one heck of a party that day. For entertainment that day and other days, it was a constant pinochle game. We played for cartons of cigarettes which had been given to us from some agency. I also remember eagerly waiting for letters from home and any kind of reading material. We use to sit under the wings of the planes where it was cooler and shadier reading anything we could get our hands on. I remember always wanting something cold to drink, and we devised a scheme which was to tie a piece of wire on our canteen and hang it on the pet cock screw under the plane’s gas tank and let the gasoline drip on the canteen. The instant evaporation on the metal canteen acted as refrigeration and it made the water colder. The pet cock was used to drain the water off the gas tanks which would collect during the hot days and cool nights.

The only other time I remember a good meal was the time that a native cow wondered through our camp and someone shoot it. What a meal we had, meat for the next three days. I remember seeing the cook running after the cow and waving his knives and waving his arms like mad to stop the cow. Breakfast usually was powdered eggs and ham, coffee, and toast each day. One time I remember seeing what, I thought was milk at the end of the line and told them to fill up my canteen cup and started to drink what I thought was milk down fast so I could get a refill. What a terrible taste as it turned out to be powdered milk.

On 1/15/43, another promotion list was posted and I made sergeant that day. On 1/17/43, we had our biggest air raid to date. They hit us with 24 bombers and Zeros. There was a mixup on the orders as to whether only the anti-aircraft guns were to be used or if our fighter planes would be scrambled. I counted only two bursts being fired. When the Japs saw no other firing and no enemy interception, the planes dropped so low that I remember standing dumbfounded and I could see the bomb-bay doors opening and the bombs falling out. When they started hitting the ground, it sounded like some giant’s footsteps coming at me. All hell broke loose. As there was no opposition the Jap planes kept coming in at us time and time again. The raid lasted over two hours or so. It was almost the last of me I thought, but I remember hitting a slit trench near me and fell on top of some other guys. I guess I was so fascinated about the whole event that I kept standing up there like a fool and watching the bombs falling. I remember also something landing on top of me or another person falling on me, I never did know which. Whatever it was did not move. One guy was yelling “Let me get my A- in, let me get my A- in!” and I thought how comical it was. Afterwards I remember having a very painful backache.

The Japs had made direct hits on and destroyed two B-17s, one B-24, one P-39, and two Lockheed Hudsons, over 10,000 gallons of gas. Ammunition was exploding like mad from the ammo dumps nearby that had been hit, and kept exploding for a long time afterwards. Runways were damaged and shrapnel was flying all over the place. When the metal mesh runways were hit the pieces of the metal runway became like jagged pieces of shrapnel. They must have been using what we called Daisy Cutters. I remember seeing shrapnel go right through a truck engine, and saw that the piece of shrapnel had the words USA stamped on it. So I figured the Japs had got all our pre-war scrap metal and gave it back to us as bombs.

After the raid was over, we heard that one bomber was shot down. We also heard that the anti-aircraft gun crew was told not to fire as the fighter planes would intercept, but that the fighter planes were told that the anti-aircraft would fire and for them not to intercept. Thus confusion added to the events. I guess that is why only two bursts by the guns were heard. It was some experience laying there helpless. We had rifles, but had not yet-been issued bullet clips. When we first arrived in New Guinea each man was issued a 45 caliber pistol, but later had to turn them in for use by the infantry. I remember one time I was posted for guard duty at the ammo and gas dump and had to open a case of ammunition in order to see if the rifle was working. As I had used an old army rifle back in Pennsylvania for bear and deer hunting, I was familiar with its operation. I had never been tested at the rifle range during boot camp. Right after Pearl Harbor, the first sergeant asked for any deer hunters from Pennsylvania and we were issued rifles and we were used to protect the east coast from any submarine attacks which they expected but never came. The had dug slit trenches near the airfield and we were sent there. The rifles we used had been packed up in grease since World War I and had to be stripped down completely and cleaned thoroughly, before they could be used and even handled. Later on after I left the 80th and started flying as a Radio Operator and Gunner I did get some practice in firing 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. Also, back in the states I had the opportunity to be tested on the firing range and scored expert in the rifle and marksmanship with the 45 caliber pistol.

After the air raid, we counted between 150-200 bombs that had dropped on our position. The camp was practically demolished and had to be re-built. I remember looking into the bomb craters and thinking that a 21 ton truck would easily fit into the hole.

On 1/18/43, we had another alert at 2:00 AM, and another at 5:00 AM but only one aircraft came over and another alert at 12:00 noon with two Japs passing over. We figured they really were out to get us good.

On 1/19/43, we had another raid at 9:00 AM. Several bombers dropped a lot of bombs on us and then another alert was sounded and back to the slit trenches we went. On 1/20/43, there were no raids that day, but an alert was sounded at noontime. We were getting plenty of exercise jumping in and out of the slit trenches.

On 1/21/43, I was assigned the job of reporting unusual activities down on the airstrip. A slit trench was prepared off to the side near the middle of the runway, and I installed a transmitter and receiver radio set to report to headquarters any unusual activities. The installation included a PE75 power generator for the required power. That night, when the air raid started and when the bombs started to hit near my trench, the shock would knock out the generator and I would have to crawl out and wind the damn rope around the starting reel to re-start it. This happened more than once, I heard yelling and strange voices that seemed to me to be Japanese. Flares were being shot up in air like mad and here I was trying to report over the radio what was happening, being stopped in the middle of a transmission to have to crawl out and restart the generator.

The first raid lasted on hour and forty minutes. Another raid started and 12:00 AM and another at 2:30 AM. They dropped mostly 500 pound demolition bombs. The raid knocked out our bombers that were located there and disabled three fighters. It was the worst air-raid to date since the January 17th raid and the closest for me. While running back from restarting the generator during the raid, one blast nearby threw me back into the trench and hurt my back again.

It was impossible to finish the job of reporting as I could not get the generator restarted again, so the headquarters man and I jumped in our jeep and took off back to the squadron headquarters to finish our reporting and also to report the peculiar activity we had heard and witnessed. Whatever became of our information I never did find out. I do remember that our jeep stalled in the small river that separated the airstrip and our camp. We couldn’t restart it and had to leave it there and run the rest of the way to the camp headquarters. It was no fun sitting in the middle of the runway and in the center of the parked aircraft. We figured there were at least twelve bombers and probably Jap bombers of the Betty class. Total air-raid time was three hours and forty minutes which seemed like a lifetime.

On 1/22/43 we had another raid but the bombs hit the next strip. We later heard that some Australians were killed. The Japs made three passes over us but missed our strip in the dark.

On 1/23/43 another alert was sounded, but no planes came over us that time. However after this raid it was decided to move our camp to another location a little further from the airstrip and not in a direct line with the strip. I never could figure out why they put the camp at the end of the runway. I’ll admit it didn’t take long to get to the line, but all the Japs had to do was come in from the bay end, lay their eggs, and continue dropping them onto our camp. There was only a small creek or river separating the end of the runway and our camp. This time we set up our camp off to the side of the strip and at the opposite side from the ammo and gas dump.

On 1/24/43 we had another raid at 3:00 AM. We did send up three P-38s to intercept. The bombers dropped three bombs on our area. When they hit our metal runways, it made projectiles out of the jagged pieces of the metal and the force of the blast would drive the jagged pieces right through a-six inch tree.

On 2/5/43 the squadron moved back to Mareeba, Australia, the northern-most part of the mainland for rest and recovery. My back and legs were bothering me considerably and I figured I must have been hurt more than I realized during the air raids. While there I started working as a radio operator. We had set up as a base unit and were sending intelligence messages to the front and rear echelons. I had a crypto man decoding and coding the messages for me to send and receive. We got a pass into the small town. It was a small country town but with real friendly people. There were some girls there and they put on a dance for us. I remember one of the first things I did at arriving at the camp was to get a young boy to go into the town and get me some ice cream if they had it. He brought back a pitcher full of it and it was the darndest tasting ice cream I ever tasted. It was made of sour cream, but boy it was cold and refreshing, something I had not had in a long time.

On 2/8/43, we got another pass to go into the town and we went to another place called Atherton where they put on another dance for us and believe it or not I met a Red Cross girl from Philadelphia, Penna. Guess it was a small world after all.

On 2/19/43, I came down with a bad case of malaria fever and my back started getting worse. I remember laying on my cot deep in self-pity. On 2/21/43, I had another attack, became delirious and could not get out of my cot. On 2/25/43 I went on sick leave and was admitted to the 2nd Station Hospital in Mareeba with one of the worse cases of malaria they had to date.

On 3/18/43 was discharged, but was back in the hospital in the afternoon with another attack. On 4/6/43 was transferred to the 12th Station Hospital in Townsville to check out my back and leg that started bothering me again. We traveled by train to Townsville by the Australian small-gauge railroad. This was about the most uncomfortable train ride I ever had. Our former CO, Major O’Conner, was with us and we enjoyed his company. We had a few bottles of spirits to ease the trip, either through the courtesy of Major O’Conner, or another GI. The Major was really a nice guy, and down to earth soldier.

On 4/10/43, 1 was transferred to another hospital in Woodstock and eventually to a general hospital near Brisbane. This was the last I saw of the 80th Fighter Squadron, although I did visit the squadron one time when I was on a flying trip.

I was later discharged from the hospital on 5/17/43 and sent to a replacement depot, and later on 5/30/43, at the request of Major Paul Deems, the CO of Headquarters & Headquarters of the 5th Air Force located at Archer Field, near Brisbane, as a Flight Radio Operator.

This was the beginning of a new career and adventure for me, for on 8/l/43, I was assigned to the flight duties as a Flight Radio Operator. Subsequently I became the radio man for General MacArthur, his Chief of Staff, Lt General Richard Sutherland, and all the General Headquarters generals, and we had been transferred to a special detachment of the Headquarters Company of GHQ. We flew C-47s, B-25s, and B-17s, and routinely flew into the forward areas of New Guinea, and all the islands north of New Guinea.

Before I started flying as a crew member, I was sent to the armament section where I was instructed in loading, handling, and stripping of the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. For those missions into combat areas I was later awarded the Air Medal and was also promoted to Staff Sergeant by General MacArthur.

I flew with General MacArthur when he met with President Roosevelt in Hawaii. We left Australia on July 26, 1944 and arrived at Hickam Field and returned around August 1st. Also on one of the trips with the General he gave me his autograph, something he rarely did.

During my duty with GHQ, we had on board at various times most of the Generals in the SWPA. Our section also had General Kenny’s B-17, named Billy. When Dr Carl Compton, the President of MIT, came to Australia to discuss the A-Bomb with General MacArthur, I flew as the Flight Radio Operator. I also have the autographs of most of the Generals I flew for.

I was on flight duty for over a year with the 5th Air Force until I returned home on an emergency furlough with the option of returning by General MacArthur.

After graduating from more advanced radio schools, I was assigned to the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command, where I flew as the Flight Radio Operator. We ferried aircraft overseas to Europe, South America and India. We also flew sick and wounded back from Paris under the Crescent program. I stayed with the Ferrying command until my discharge at Indiantown Gap Penna.

I guess my experiences were unique in some ways, but I thought it might be of some interest from the enlisted man’s viewpoint, and not just from the combat pilots who share the majority of the spotlight, and rightly so. With them we won the war, and we enlisted men backed them up to. the hilt in whatever way we could.”

– Frank P. Cicerello

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