“I remember the first day I came into the 80th Fighter Squadron. I was a new pilot thinking I was pretty good. All of a sudden a P-38 came over on the deck and the pilot rolled it right over on its back and headed straight up. I asked who that was and one of the guys said ‘That’s Cy Homer, he’s just checking out that new P-38.’
The next day I flew over Wewak with Capt ‘Corky’ Smith. He told me to do the same things he did. So he feathered one engine, and so did I. He put that P-38 through every maneuver possible just to show me what a fine plane it was. I knew when we landed I had a lot to learn. So the pilots that we thought of as old showed us young fellows how it was done. I remember how I was so impressed with all the ability there was regardless of what everyone was doing. Everyone took us under their wing to help us and this I will never forget.
I soon learned we were in a deadly game as Bob Henry from our tent was killed on take off. I remember we went to Wadbi just after it was taken and Anderson who had been there a little longer than I had said, ‘Now Hatfield if the Japs hit us tonight I will come and get you and we will head for the woods.’ Well, the Japs did come and their bombs hit the other side of the strip setting some planes on fire. We were sleeping in hammocks between the tail booms so I jumped up to get Andy but he had already headed for the woods. I get there and find him all down behind a gas dump and as he got up he stepped in the middle of a decayed dead Jap.
We soon moved to Owi Island. I was a good friend of Cy Homer and I always shot the bull with him that I was the bravest adventurer of them all. So one day Cy and me and I believe someone else started out to explore a couple of small islands some distance from our island. We were using small rubber rafts. We had trouble reaching one of the islands due to currents and we noticed some planes circling and just as we got to the island we saw a PT Boat coming. We got under a ledge of rocks and hid, but the commander of the PT Boat called over his speaker saying that he had orders to pick us up. So we paddled out to his boat and he took us back to our camp. Our camp was right on the water so everyone saw us get off the boat. The commander of the boat was one of the Vanderbilt boys. I believe it was Alf the 3rd, Cy had met him on leave in Sidney. Major Robbins said he appreciated our spirit but since it cost the military $250,000 to get us home that he didn’t want any more of that stuff. Also, I caught Typhus and was out of action for five or six weeks. We flew a lot of good missions from this island.
We soon moved to Morotai and I began to think we were getting back to civilization as the country-side was so different. We started to hit the Philippines then. Here we lost some fine young boys-Ladd, Johnson, others. I came close once as I was coming in to land and a pin in the nose wheel failed and I scooted down the runway on the nose but luckily I scooted straight. I remember so well our first mission into Mindanao; we had just destroyed a truck convoy and as we flew up the road there was what looked like a Philippine family waving a large American flag. They proved very friendly as I recall. Damon was returned by them after many days when he was shot down. I had some experience with Jap ships, but the Jap ships we ran into in the invasion of Leyte were something else. We flew over, dive bombed, strafed, etc. I remember so well Calderwood being lost in this action. He probably should have been home as he was burned so bad on a crash up at Owi.
We slept between our tail booms on the Leyte strip-It was here I had some more luck. One day I was taking off and at about 110 miles per hour I lost my right engine-fully loaded. I dropped tanks and pulled wheels up and then hit the runway and started sliding on the metal strip. The plane stayed on its belly-it caught on fire but I got out just fine. There was an Infantry Captain who met me as I jumped off the wing. I failed to get his name. You know it took some guts to get that close to a burning P-38. Mike Weinrick was the officer in charge of the strip. I said; ‘Mike, what do you want me to do?’ He looked at the burning plane and said, ‘Hell, this is war, just forget it….’ I guess someone filled out the paperwork.
Our move to Mindoro was some move. Some way Anderson got in the way of some Jap guns and they caught one of his engines on fire. He came over the strip and the tower gave him a red light so he pulled up and bellied-in out in a field nearby. We were at a movie a couple weeks later and they showed fighting at Mindoro and here comes a 38 across the screen on fire-Andy was sitting there in a cast from his waist up-someone said there’s Andy and Andy said, ‘No, that’s not me, that’s my wingman!’ He had to be the luckiest man over there.
I remember an accident Campbell had-he went down near our field and there was just a ball of flames and we all thought he was dead, but a little while later he walked in! A couple of trees had separated the canopy from the plane and he had fallen out before it crashed!
The most dangerous mission I flew on was on the night of 6 Dec, 1944. Sixteen of us older pilots hit a group of Jap ships that had shipped to Mindoro to shell and we thought maybe they would try to land troops. It was dark and when you fired your guns it would almost keep you from seeing where you were much-less what you were shooting at. We dropped bombs and strafed and we did a pretty good job. As I remember most everyone got back to Leyte except O.J. Harris and I thought he had been killed because the air was full of flak and other planes. He got low on a pass and hit the top of a ship-went up in a ball of flames and somehow jumped out. Got down OK but there were Japs in the water and he could hear them talking around him. But he got to shore with a little help from some natives the next day. I believe his escape story is one of the greatest I have ever heard. Floyd might have had to bail out over the field that night but I am not sure. Harris is now blind but he is a good friend and was a good pilot.
There is no question the missions against shipping were the most dangerous that I flew. I remember coming back out from near China and one of the pilots called Cy and said, ‘Cy, I only have 25 gallons per engine left.’ and old Cy called back and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I only have 20.’ Both men made it just fine. You know I remember so vividly how well I was treated by the airmen or enlisted as it was then and also by the officers. An outfit like the 80th had so many outstanding people. I don’t remember his name, but one of the men that loaded our guns was a teacher-a lot older than me and I always called him mister.
Its been a long time ago but I will never forget the men-many I have forgotten their names, but not their deeds. As I look back the enlisted men did not get the credit they deserved. I thanked them all when I left, but that is so little for all that they did. You boys in the ‘JUVATS’ are doing a terrific job and I congratulate you.”
– Hugh Hatfield