An eager 18-year-old was sworn into the U. S. Army Air Corps on his birthday, June 4, 1942 as an aviation cadet and reported to the Santa Ana Army Air Base on January 3, 1943 for Preflight School.
That is when I met some future “Headhunters”: 0. J. Harris, Don (Deac) Logslett, Hugh Hatfield, and L. G. Johnson. We went through most of our flight training together graduating from Williams Field, Arizona as the class of 43-J. One of the big thrills as new P-38 pilots was flying in formation on a cross country flight with our instructor. He took us down near the deck skimming the tops of pine trees when all of a sudden the ground dropped away and we found ourselves flying in the Grand Canyon! Quite a thrill!
The four of us were assigned to a P-39 squadron based at Concord, California for gunnery training. After one month at Concord we were reassigned to Mills Field (San Francisco Airport) in December 1943, still flying P-39’s. We were not allowed to do any slow rolls, loops, etc. as the P-39’s had been losing the tail sections and or tumbling. So our gunnery training was straight and level out over the ocean west of the Golden Gate Bridge leading into San Francisco Bay. One day I got the urge to fly under the Golden Gate Bridge and did so coming back from gunnery training mission. Approaching the bridge the space between the bottom of the bridge and water below seemed to get smaller and smaller, but with about 125 feet clearance made it just fine. Later, after joining the Headhunters I found out that Cy Homer had “looped” the bridge spanning the harbor at Sidney, Australia in a by-wing trainer. It’s no wonder that “Uncle Cy’s Angels” (name painted on the nose of his P-38) shot down 15 enemy planes.
Coming in for a landing at Mills Field doing the usual “hot-dog” stuff of pulling up in a tight 360’ turn the propeller lost some oil which came back all over the windshield. Luckily I could see down from the side windows and was able to side slip between buildings to a safe landing. Little did I know at the time that the experience of not being able to see ahead while landing would happen again flying one of the P-38’s caught in that terrible storm over our base at Natzab, New Guinea, April 16, 1944.
While based at San Francisco Airport I met my future wife Evelyn Brugge. It was on a blind date New Year’s Eve 1943, which was set up by my buddy Deac Logslett.
Finally in February 1944 we were assigned to a P-38 squadron located at the Orange County Airport across the road from the Santa Ana Pre-Flight Base. This was great because my home was in Santa Ana and I got to fly over my folks orange ranch many times. I fell in love with the P-38 while working in the orange grove and watching them come overhead from time to time. Then we were assigned to a P-38 squadron based at the North Island Naval Aft Station, Coronado, California. During this time we often engaged in mock combat with Navy Hellcats and Corsairs which was fun and we thought that we did pretty good. Most probably the Navy pilots thought the same.
In March 1944 we were sent to Hamilton Field for transportation overseas. Originally we were issued cold weather gear for Europe, but then had to change for the tropics. I was on the first plane to leave for Port Moresby and felt a little lonely because the others: Harris, Logslett, Hatfield and Johnson might be sent elsewhere. The flight to Oahu took 13 hours at 150mph back then in a C-54. Then another 11 hours to Port Moresby. Happily the others arrived on the next plane. We were asked which squadron we wanted to be assigned. Luckily, we had heard that the 80th was a great outfit and chose to be Headhunter’s!
Joining the 80th Fighter Squadron on March 29, 1944 at Natzab, New Guinea we were immediately sent up in the combat ready P-38’s to get the feel of the heavily armed plane which was much heavier than the training ones. Three days later I’m flying on Capt. Robertson’s wing at 16,500’ over Hollandia escorting B-24’s and B-25’s attacking the airstrips. Our squadron led by Capt. Jay Robbins (only a Capt. at that time) encountered enemy planes and dropped tanks. A Japanese “Tony” came flashing across in front of us on fife with a long sheet of flame trailing behind. Robertson was getting ahead of me so pushed on more power to catch up and then realized-dummy! You forgot to switch from drop tanks to regular tanks. Caught up fast and flew with him as he was firing at a Tony ahead of us. All of a sudden Robertson broke off the engagement as the Tony split-S’d for the deck so I dove down after the Nip firing away. Robertson called saying he had lost a supercharger and for me to climb back up and escort him home, so I broke away and joined up with “Robby.” Don’t know if either of us was successful in shooting down that enemy plane.
The Japanese had a large base located at Wewak, some 400 miles from us that needed to be knocked out. Our CO Capt. Robbins devised a plan to dive bomb them with two P38’s making the dive bombing run together in tight formation. Each plane carried 2— l000# bombs in place of belly tanks. The bomb release was just a single wire cable coming up out of the floor attached to a wooden handle. The plan was for the flight leader to pick out the target and drop his bombs and for the wingman flying in close formation to drop his bombs simultaneously. Sounded good, but when you are flying in close formation with one hand on the throttle and the other on the wheel it’s hard to find that darn handle when your leader drops his bombs. Was flying on Robbins wing. He dove down with me keeping close formation, when he dropped his bombs it took a second or two to find that damn wood handle and release my bombs. Just as I’m pulling up out of there my plane is thrown all over the sky from the explosion of Robbins bombs and I’m praying the plane will hold together. However, we made it safely back to base no worse for wear, I thought, until a crew chief called out to me and said: Lt. Lloyd did you see this?” He took me back to the plane and pointed out several large holes in the wings and twin booms from the exploding bombs. The Good Lord was watching over me as always!
Dengue Fever is a tropical disease transmitted by a little mosquito and one of those rascals sent me to the base hospital at Natzab, New Guinea. The fever lasts about a week, which is too long, as it really makes your bones ache. At first the doctors thought I had “Scrub Typhus” which is much more serious and most died from that disease. It comes from the bite of a tiny mite that lives in the tall “Kuni Grass” native to that area. Boy was I happy to get out of the hospital and back to flying. Luckily that was the only time I had to take off for illness during my tour over there.
There was a refueling base at Gushap located on the way to Wewak. During one of those refuelings I went over to a Red Cross trailer that was serving coffee and do-nuts. There was a navy pilot standing close by enjoying his do-nut and I said to myself” he sure looks familiar” and recognized Wayne Piper, one of my close friends from Santa Ana, CA. He was flying a navy “Wildcat Fighter” off a carrier some 100 miles out to sea. Did not recognize him at first as he had grown a mustache. We were able to have a short visit before having to continue on our missions.
Another mission to Wewak, after the mission where my plane was almost blown up by Robbins bombs, was to fly 16 P-38’s straight and level at 16000 feet over the target. Each plane carried two 1000 pounders in place of belly tanks. All of us dropped them at the same time Capt. Robbins dropped his bombs. That was a heck of a lot of explosives hitting at once and the bombs blew one big hole in the Japanese runway putting it out of action for a long time.
On Sunday April 16, 1944 the 80th escorted B-24’s and B-25’s on a bombing mission to Hollandia. This mission became known as “Black Sunday” because an unexpected tropical storm had descended over our base at Natzab. The tower ordered us not to attempt landing and to try for Saidor about 100 miles away. We were low on fuel and made a run for Saidor. Finally, in that driving rainstorm, we found the landing strip at Finchaven. Looking ahead was impossible and trying to see down was almost as bad as side slipped back and forth to glimpse what we could of the runway. All of us made it without crashing. Although, one of our guys confided in me 45 years later that he had missed the landing strip on his first pass and instead of going around again had done a 180 degree turn back and landed against traffic. He said he was afraid he could not find the landing strip again in that weather. Quoting from William N. Hess’ book ‘Pacific Sweep,” that day the 8th Air Force lost 19 out of the 104 bombers, 5 P-38’s from the 433rd Fighter Squadron had crashed along with 2 reconnaissance aircraft. 16 men killed, and 37 more were missing. 0. J. Harris remembers sitting in Jay Robbins tent listening to all the chatter on the radio as we were trying to find a safe place to land.
Our squadron moved to Owi atoll on June 14, 1944 and 10 days before I celebrated my 20th birthday. At the age of 19 joining the 80th in March 1944 I was the youngest pilot from March 1944 until new replacement pilots arrived in May 1945. Those new pilots were probably my same age, but boy, did they ever look young! Owi is a coral atoll located about 3 miles off the Island of Biak. This brought us about 800 miles further west where we could now hit the Japs as far away as Borneo.
During the first few weeks the Japanese began nightly bombing missions over us. Our Tent was right on the edge of the surfline. The coral stretched out 50 yards before dropping off into deep water. One night the line of bombs falling were coming down the surf line heading right at us. Fortunately the first cluster of bombs stopped just short of our tent, however, the second cluster came down over our camp and into the next door camp causing havoc with many dead and wounded. Capt. (Doc) Sissman, our flight surgeon gave us a real chewing out for not using the protection of the slit trenches. Evidently the other camp did not make use of theft slit trenches for protection either. From then on we used the trenches dug the first day on Owi. There was no cover over the top, as we had nothing to use as cover. Later on some Coconut tree trunks were placed over the top for more protection. That first night’s bombing got me out of bed fast and into the slit trench. Some of us had ignored the “Red Alert” (3 rounds fired from a 40mm cannon) signaling that we were under attack and stayed on our army cots trying to sleep, believing the Nips would be going after our planes and not us. From then on we took the bombing attacks very seriously.
The 80th flew many missions during the next few months to and near the island of Ceram, part of the Dutch East Indies. On August 17, 1944 I shot down a Japanese Zero not far from the city of Amboina. Major Jay T. Robbins was leading our squadron of 16 P-38’s covering B-24’s attacking an airstrip at Amboina when we spotted some Jap planes trying to hide from us by staying close to the ground. Not having any Japs going after our bombers Robbins led us down after the enemy. I was flying “tail-end Charlie” in my flight and after each guy ahead of me could not get a shot at the quick turning Zero I finally got him. He made the mistake of turning up towards me for a head on attack. I dove down and gave him a good long burst into his engine (had an experimental P-38 armed with 7- 50 cal machine guns instead of the normal 4-50’s and a 20mm cannon) until I had to pull up sharply because the ground was coming up fast. Kicked rudder and looked back to see the Zeke (code name of ours for a Jap Zero) burning on the deck. On returning to Owi Capt. Hill said he was right behind me and that the wing of the Zero was sawed off at the cockpit. The wing just folded and the plane dove into the ground.
The area was hilly and there were clouds hanging around obscuring the mountains at times. After pulling up I spotted a P-38 about a mile away being chased by a Zero. I headed over as fast as possible to help out, but was too late as The P-38 crashed and burned on the ground. Found out later that the pilot was Lt. Ravey who had made the mistake of trying to turn with the Jap instead of pushing everything forward to escape in a shallow climb out of there. I went after the Jap with a vengeance and he after me. We made several head on passes at each other, passing close enough once to clearly see one
another. After one pass 1 had to pull up into some clouds and broke out at free top level on the side of a mountain. Found an opening in the clouds and dove back down and found him circling below. Went after him head-on and my gun camera showed the Japanese pilot in his cockpit as our canopies crossed close together. Had to stop the tight turn and pull up into the clouds again to keep from getting into a high-speed stall at that low altitude where I would not have room to recover. Flew back down again looking for any sign of fire or smoke that would prove he was destroyed, but seeing none I rejoined the squadron. Major Robbins also shot down one of the Zero’s that same day.
Living in the jungles of New Guinea, on coral atolls, and a camp site in the Philippines does not give a lot to choose from for entertainment in our off duty hours. When locations were not on a complete “back out” status, movies would be shown whenever a new film arrived. Otherwise we played cards, read, and wrote letters home. I wrote every night I could to my future wife, Evelyn. Also, tried to write often to my folks and other family members. All this letter writing certainly helped pass the time before retiring to bed. The tent had only one light bulb and not very bright as I recall, so you would have to look close while writing or reading.
Another off duty activity at Owi was making rafts out of used belly tanks and rubber life rafts. Some of us lashed a couple of belly tanks together, put up a sail, and a rudder to float around in offshore. Returning from a mission I spotted what I thought was the raft being sailed by some of my friends. Thinking my friends were riding in it I dropped down close to the water and buzzed them, so close that the prop-wash from the propellers flipped the raft over. Later I got a “chewing out” for buzzing the Group Colonel’s raft and all pilots were told to stop any buzzing of rafts.
Mr. Charles A. Lindbergh at the direction of General George Kenney came to Biak Island in July of 1944 and stayed with the 475th Fighter group. Mr. Lindbergh was there to teach the P-38 pilots how to lean out the fuel mixtures so that the P-38’s would have a greater range. He came over to Owi and stayed with us teaching the same things about fuel mixtures. Unfortunately, I was on leave in Australia and missed meeting him on Owi. But on the way back from Australia Mr. Lindbergh was at one of the refueling bases where I had the privilege of meeting him in person. In fact I still have the “Short Snorter” he signed. Short Snorter is paper money attached together by scotch-tape from the different countries pilots fly into and then have people they meet sign on one of the bills.
With the knowledge learned from Mr. Lindbergh we were able to fly none stop from a small advanced island (off shore from where real live headhunter’s lived) some 1900 miles round trip. The mission was to hit a Japanese air base on Borneo to show the enemy we could get there with Fighter planes. The CO of the 8th Fighter Group led us. He brought us over the base at 10,500 feet altitude and “split-s’d” straight down towards the air base. The air speed indicator read 525mph and climbing as I pulled out of the dive. At that speed everything on the ground was a blur, so I gently swung the P-38 back and forth firing the guns spraying the airstrip hoping to hit some planes. Then hopped over a warship anchored in the bay and headed for home, as we did not have enough fuel. Nine and one half-hours in a “screaming P-38” can make one’s backside ache a little.
Gen. MacArthur wanted to establish a base from which fighters and bombers could attack the Philippines. He chose Morotai Island in the Halmaheras located about 600 miles west of Owi atoll in New Guinea. We had only a mile perimeter around a small bay that the navy and merchant marine ships could anchor and deliver the supplies we needed. There were several airstrips made out of steel matting that we used for runways.
Around September 1944 we moved from Owi to Morotai. As part of the Halmaheras and only occupying a small perimeter around the bay and the Japanese entrenched on other islands close by, we were under attack from their bombers at night, every night for a long time. For one month we had the distinction of being the most bombed place on earth. One of the first things we did was to dig slit trenches and cover them with 6-foot lengths of trunks cut from coconut trees. Placing them perpendicular to the long way of the trench and butted against one another gave real good protection from anything but a direct hit. After a nightly raid we noticed on the way to our strip one of the other camps had a direct hit on their latrine because the tent cover was high atop one of the coconut trees.
Long after the war my boyhood friend from Santa Ana, Tom Graham, told me that his ship had brought supplies from Australia many times to Morotai. Putting our heads together we discovered that we were both there at the same time, but did not realize this as even though we corresponded we of course could not say our locations.
Our base at Morotai was around 300 miles from the tip of Davao Gulf, Mindanao, Philippines. Therefore we were close enough to attack the Philippines all the way up to Left. On one mission our target was a Jap airfield located on the island of Cebu. Enemy planes had been giving our guys on Leyte a hard time and they needed us to destroy those Jap planes on Cebu. I had a field day strafing the airfield. It was easy, by using the puffs of dirt thrown up I “walked” the bullets into the cockpit of each plane, held the fire there until it exploded. Counted 6 planes destroyed using this method. One of our guys, Lt Anderson radioed that he had an engine shot out and was heading for Leyte that was about 100 miles away and asked for someone to cover him. I was nearby and volunteered. We got to Leyte without incident, but Lt. Anderson misjudged his landing approach and came in too “hot” and could not stop in time to avoid totaling out his plane crashing into a pile of junk at the end of the runway. Happily he was not hurt and caught a ride on a B-25 back to Morotai. After landing I taxied up to a gasoline truck to be refueled for my flight back to Morotai. While waiting for fuel a Colonel jumped up on the wing and said “son what are you doing here?” 1 explained to him what had happened. He said: “OK, get fueled up and get the hell out of here as we are expecting the Nips at any moment.” Yes Sir! After refueling headed for Davao Gulf which would give me a known heading back to Morotai. Was in a “war weary P-38” that would not climb above a severe storm between Davoa Gulf and me. Had to fly through it and at the end of my ETA dropped down and broke out over Davao Gulf. The storm was raining hard with no letup. Dropped down to 300 feet heading for home. Still had not broken out of this huge storm and only 5 minutes to reach the 4000 foot mountains blocking my way to my base I decided to head east for 10 minutes to miss the mountains. Then started a shallow climb going south and finally broke out of the clouds into bright sunshine at 10,000 feet over the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean with nary an island or land in sight. By this time I’m down to 15 gallons of gas per engine, which gave me no choice but to turn on my “IFF- Information, friend or foe signal to my base that I was going down”. Estimating that I went east and then south I could be near the southern islands of the Halmaheras. Flew west and in the far distance I could make out either land or a shadow on the water from the storm clouds still hanging around. By this time I’m skimming the waves heading for salvation or disaster. Approaching this unknown I can make out that it is land and not a shadow on the water. My joy is short lived as I spot a Jap landing craft under camouflage hidden on the beach and think I’m in the middle of “Flak Alley” which was a heavily fortified Japanese position south of our base. However, I’m overjoyed as I hop up over a small hill and can see my base far ahead. I immediately called the control tower, told them I was safe, and to please call the Air, Sea, Rescue (they flew the famed “Catalina Flying Boats” to rescue downed airmen at sea) and tell them I was back at the base. The next day I was told off in no uncertain terms by Capt. Allen Hilt because the tower never told Air Sea Rescue and those poor guys were out all night looking for me. Capt. Hill said in the future be sure to go personally to Air Sea Rescue and not trust the tower personnel.
Headhunters pilots were lucky to have some of the best trained ground crews and support personnel who’s devotion to duty helped the 80th attain a leading toll of enemy kills. I certainly want to thank all of you who worked so hard keeping our planes well serviced especially Sgt. Gunderman, my crew chief.
Operational accidents outnumbered the actual losses in action. One accident happened when waiting in line on the taxi strip at Moratai. The 80th was ready to take-off on a mission to Mindanao, Philippines. A P-47 squadron was taking off on the same runway from our left. At the same time the tower gave the green light to a P-38 from another squadron ahead of us. When 1 saw a crew chief standing a short distance away raise his hand to his face with a look of utter horror I guessed something was wrong. Immediately looked the same way as the crew chief and saw that the P-38 and P-47 had met head on before either could take off. They were locked in a mass of twisted metal and covered in a ball of flame. The P-38 pilot with “tricycle” gear saw the 47 and tried in vain to pull up over him, but the 47’s prop tore into the belly of the 38’s drop tanks and exploded. Our mission was delayed an hour as we had to taxi to another strip a mile away.
Another accident happened at that same landing strip and again involved a P-47. The P47’s were using “water injection” (a mist of water was sprayed into the fuel mixture to give a power boost on take offs). Sometimes this would cause an engine failure and the pilot would, it he had enough runway left, shut off the engine and brake to a stop. Most times there was not enough runway left to stop. This situation was similar where the 80th is waiting in line on the taxiway to take off on another mission to the Philippines. A couple of belly tanks come screaming down the runway by themselves. Not far behind is a P-47 sliding on its belly whizzing past us and into a dirt field where an Australian Engineer was operating a road grader. The plane stopped just short of the road grader. The Australian. jumped off the grader and onto the wing of the P-47 helping the pilot out of the cockpit. Both jumped down from the wing and ran for their lives as the plane exploded into flames setting off the ammunition. Our runway was not damaged so we took off on the mission.
It was at Moratai that we hail first hand information about what happens to a plane encountering compressibility (speed of sound), Modem day fighters are designed to go through the sound barrier, but not the P-38. Two pilots from another squadron flying through clouds got disoriented and broke out of the clouds diving straight down going so fast that their planes started to hit the sound barrier. Miraculously with the help of their dive flaps they were able to pull out of the dive and return to base. Those planes looked like some one had taken a sledgehammer and beat on the nose and engines, as the metal was all bashed in and the twin booms were twisted out of shape.
Before continuing with my WW II adventures on the ground and in the skies over New Guinea, Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines let me attest to one overwhelming feeling I have. If it were not for grace of our Lord God and his Son Jesus guiding and protecting me through all those 102 combat missions 1 surely would not have made it home. Saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over certainly helped give me the faith and courage to do my duty to God and country. Thinking back some 55 years to when all this happened seems like a dream, but all those adventures are real and I shall always be grateful for being a Headhunter and flying that wonderful P-38!
The October 1944 landing by American forces retaking the island of Leyte in the Philippines gave the 475th Group an airstrip at Taclobin. The Japs came in one night and destroyed most of the 475th P-38’s. They needed replacements fast to defend their airstrip from enemy bombers. We were at Morotai 500 miles away and the closest P-38’s available. So the powers at be had us fly our P-38’s up to Leyte to replace those lost. Because Taclobin was still under fierce enemy attack we were directed to a small dirt field about 15-20 miles south of Taclobin where the planes would be safe. After landing there was no transportation for us back to Taclobin and by this time night had fallen. We were walking along a dirt road next to Leyte Gulf when the Jap bombers came in and started dropping phosphorous bombs. These bombs are set to explode in the air to spray the phosphorous over a wide area setting many fires such as those used to burn up the 475th P-38’s. Our best protection if a bomb exploded over us was to jump into the bay and keep under water to escape the burning phosphorous. Fortunately the bombs coming down stopped just short of exploding over us. While at Taclobin I was able to find Pvt. Barrisford Gayan, a boyhood friend in Redondo Beach, CA. We had a nice visit together before rejoining the squadron for a flight in a B-25 to Palau where we stayed the night. The Seabee’s fed us royally which was a break from our normal rations.
From Palau we flew to Numfoor Island where we stayed for 3 weeks getting supplied with brand new P-38L’s. This was a thrill because I now was assigned a P-38 of my own that had my name, Lt. K. B. Lloyd, Crew Chiefs name, Sgt. Gunderson, and a Japanese flag (for the one confirmed kill) painted on the side of the plane just forward of the wing and cockpit. Also painted on the nose was a picture of a beautiful girl that I named “DARK EYES” after my fiancée, Evelyn Brugge. Little did I suspect that in three weeks I would have to bail out of that beautiful P-38 during a nighttime battle with the Japanese Fleet off the Island of Mindoro.
With Leyte secure the next landing in the Philippines was in December 1944 was on the lsland of Mindoro. The 8th Fighter group moved near the town of San Jose on the southern end of the island. Our airstrip was just dirt with no paving or steel matting to make takeoffs and landings safer. The strip was located close to a bay where LST’s and larger ships could anchor with supplies. We arrived at this place one week after the U. S. Army had invaded the island so the Japanese attacked us often. Lt. Anderson got his picture published on the front page of the L. A. Times when he crash-landed his P-38 in the taxi area next to the strip. He received bums on his head, hands and arms. My folks sent me a picture they cut out of the Times thinking it might be one of our guys.
From Mindoro we could now cover all of the northern Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan) and the China coast.
Everyone kept a steel helmet near by in ease of attack and we pilots kept our helmets in a small baggage compartment in one of the twin booms of the P-38. One evening just at dusk we were attending a pilot’s meeting when out of the sky we heard the unmistakable “shrill” of a large bomb falling towards us. There was a ravine just 100 feet away and those close enough jumped into the ravine. Others like me only had time to fall fiat and cover out heads with our steel helmets. The bomb exploded only 50 yards away and shook the ground so bad that it lifted our bodies up and slammed them down hard. Fortunately no one was injured except the Group CO who hit his head diving under a jeep. The Jap plane either was either very high up or coasted in without power because none of us heard any engine sounds. In any case that Nip didn’t miss us by much!
The Japs still had plenty of planes on Luzon and other islands we had bypassed so we were under attack much of the time for the first few weeks. The Kamikaze attacks were often. As I headed out on a mission to cover a convoy of freighters bringing supplies to us my hydraulic system went out. The control wheel felt like trying to steer your car without power steering, real stiff. On sighting my field and pumping down the landing gear by hand I saw the 3 bursts from the 40mm gun indicating we were under attack again. Not wanting to be caught with the gear down I began pumping it up as fast as I could and watched as a Jap kamikaze was down on the deck heading for an Liberty Ship anchored in the bay. A P-38 was right on his tail firing away trying to shoot it down before it could reach its target. Finally the P-38 did shoot down the kamikaze just before it reached the ship, but it hit the water and bounced into the ship and exploded. The shore batteries were firing everything they had at the kamikaze and in the heat of battle some of the gunners mistook the P-38 as an enemy and were firing at it setting the plane on fire. The P-38 pulled up and the pilot bailed out, however his parachute did not open and he was killed. John C. Stanaway, author of “Attack and Conquer “a History of the 8th Fighter Group in World War II told me that heroic P-38 pilot chasing the kamikaze was Capt. James Moss of the 36th squadron. About December 15th 1944 an oil tanker was hit by a kamikaze and set on fire about 3 miles off our coast. It continued to bum with fury for 3 weeks until all the fuel was expended.
During the first few weeks we were covering convoys against kamikaze attacks or defending our turf. On one mission we spotted a zeke on the deck heading for the Navy convoy, and as we started to go down after him the Navy called us and told us to stay away. They were going to fill the sky with flak in a box pattern one mile square and soon the area over the convoy looked like it was solid black in color. Naturally we stayed well away while watching for any planes trying to escape the box pattern. The Navy did a good job as no Nips got through that day.
On December 26, 1944 after returning to base from flying a long mission covering another convoy I arrived back in camp just in time for a pilots meeting. We were told that a PBY flying boat had spotted a Japanese task force consisting of a heavy cruiser, light cruiser, and 6 destroyers just west of Mindoro heading right for us. The Japanese were bent on retaking our position by sending troop ships down from Manila. There were no American warships in the area to challenge the Jap fleet. B-25’s were dispatched to sink the troop ships from Manila. Also, all ground personnel were told to expect an attack by Jap paratroopers. Having flown all day my name was not on the list of pilots chosen for the mission that night against the Japanese task force. However, one of our pilots begged off saying he had a sinus problem and could not fly. Capt. C. B. Ray called out my name and I was added to the list of pilots. The plan of attack was for two planes to take off in formation with running lights on and go together to the target. I can remember sitting under the wing of one of the P-38’s with Capt. Paul Murphy sweating out the order to man our planes and hoping the Jap nightfighters didn’t attack until after we could take off.
The order was given for us to man our planes and take off in twos. I was flying on the wing of Lt. Jenner, but in the black of night with only running lights to guide us we became separated. Getting to the Jap fleet was fast as by this time they were only a few miles off shore. You could follow the tracer bullets very well at night and it looked like a swarm of bees with tracers from both sides coming in all directions. As I was making my attack another P-38 slid across just under my plane, missing by only a few feet. The superchargers glowed red hot as the P-38 slid by. The moon had come out from behind some clouds that gave me the idea of dropping down to the deck to attack the ships “silhouetted” by the light from the moon. Skimming the wave tops I began my attack and found out quick that with those 4-50cal and 20mm cannon nose guns firing at night was like trying to see through a ball of fire. All of a sudden my plane took a move to the left and seawater was coming over the canopy. Didn’t know if the plane had been hit by enemy fire or had I hit the crest of a wave. Anyway the plane bounced up to 450’ with the left prop wrapped around the nacelle and the left wing tip rumpled back about three feet. I immediately pushed hard right rudder and pulled off the power on the left engine before it could explode and pushed on full power to the right engine. Cranked full right trim,, but still felt like I was standing on full right rudder to maintain direction. The plane was shaking something terrible but kept flying as I headed back to base. Came over the strip at 450’ only to see another plane burning in the middle of the runway. Trying to land a P38 on single engine is no fun under ideal conditions, but it was nighttime, no runway lights and not enough room to land with the other plane burning on the strip. Decided to bail out, but would need a lot more altitude to give the chute time to open. Because of the damaged plane it took a long time circling the field to climb up to 2500’. After what seemed to be 30-40 minutes I released the canopy and slowed the P-38 down to 80 mph in order for my body to slide off the wing and go under the rear stabilizer. It was really noisy and windy without the canopy as I tried to go out on the left side. In doing so all I got was a mouth full of coolant from the damaged engine and she started to roll to the left. Jumped back into the cockpit and leveled her up and then dove out the right side trying to hit my head on the wing knowing that I could not strike my head because of the air stream blowing across the wing. Luckily my body fell under the rear boom and I found myself floating in a beautiful cloudy moonlit sky, but kind of eerie after all that noise from the cockpit. Sadly, watched my plane explode and burn as it crashed about a mile away.
Approaching the ground the chute must have fallen through a planes “prop-wash” because it started me swinging up and down like a schoolyard swing. The ground came up fast and because of the swinging back and forth I landed right on shoulders and neck in a plowed field that helped soften the blow. Even so it felt like every bone in my body must be broken. Lay there on my back expecting either our troops or Jap paratroopers to challenge me, but none did so I checked myself over and was very happy to find no broken bones, just some bruises. Sat up and lit a Phillip Morris still expecting someone to challenge. With the base under attack and expecting Japanese paratroopers I had to make plans for escaping if necessary. Cut the chute away from the “jungle pack” to use it as cover against mosquitoes and other bugs. Kept the rubber raft in case I wanted to try for another island. Needed to travel light so left the jungle pack, but kept the combat knife, 45-cal side arm, and canteen.
Started walking towards the bay passing deserted camp after camp. After about a mile the command “halt” came out of the darkness. The sentry asked who goes there and I identified myself as a pilot with the 80th Fighter Squadron. He led the way to an “ack-ack” battery located beside the bay where they sat me down on a cot and gave me some water. Seeing the parachute they asked: “are you the one we just saw coming down in a parachute?” I said yeah, I guess so. Then they told of watching the ack-ack battery across the way firing everything they had at me thinking I was a Sap paratrooper. Fortunately their aim was poor or at least I didn’t hear any bullets whizzing by. One of the ack-ack guys took me back to the airstrip, which took about 20 minutes. Upon arriving back at the strip everyone had departed, because of the shelling, except a gasoline tanker that was leaving so I jumped aboard as he headed towards the 80th camp. We were following a troop convoy of 2-ton army trucks when all of a sudden the troops started scrambling out of the trucks as a Jap night fighter started strafing the road. The driver jumped out and I tried to get out too, but my left foot was caught in the parachute shrouds. Here I am one foot on the ground the other in the cab as I try to free it from the chute. Finally freed it and dove into the ditch at the side of the road. After about 10 minutes the troops got back into the trucks, figuring the nightfighter had left the area, and the whole convoy proceeded north going away from the airstrip which was under attack. This road went right passed the 80th’s camp where the driver stopped and let me out. Went to my tent finding only L. G. Johnson there. Both 0. J. Harris and Hugh Hatfield were on the mission with me and D. J. Logslett was on leave visiting a cousin at another island. Dumped the gear by my bed and laid down resting thinking here was one lucky guy!
0. J. Harris had a harrowing experience none of us will ever forget. He came in to strafe a destroyer when he received a jolt, which threw his head up against the gun sight stunning him momentarily. Recovering from shock he realized his left engine was on fire and then he says he heard over the radio “that P-38 on fire is high enough to bail.” So Harris figured he was that P-38 and released the canopy and started to climb out onto the wing when he realized that he had not fastened his parachute harness to his legs (some pilots undid the parachute leg straps for more comfort when flying). He had to crawl back in and fasten them then dove out hoping to miss the dreaded rear stabilizer. Clearing the plane he pulled the “rip-cord” and as the chute fully opened his feet were in the ocean surrounded by the Japanese fleet. After disengaging himself from his chute he started swimming away from a destroyer nearby, taking his rubber raft with him. When he turned on the valve to inflate the raft the hiss was so clear and loud that he had to turn it off until the destroyer was out of hearing distance. After finally getting the raft filled with air he started to climb aboard when another destroyer came bearing down on him so he had to flip the raft over hoping it’s blue bottom would hide him from being spotted by the Nips. The destroyer came so close that he was dragged along side as it passed. He could hear the enemy talking on the ship above as his raft slid by. Harris was a big strong guy and started paddling towards shore when the fleet finally went away. The ocean currents were carrying the rubber raft past the island so he started paddling like mad and finally got close enough for someone on shore to spot him. They sent out an amphibious “duck” to rescue our guy. Happily Harris had no injuries other than the bump on his head where it hit the gun sight.
All the pilots from the 80th fighter squadron who flew on that nighttime mission against the Japanese task force were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
On the morning of December 30, 1944 the 80th lost one of my best friends, Lt. L. G. Johnson. He was having trouble with one of the engines on his plane and had been working with his crew chief trying to solve the problem. Taking off on another mission, I could see that a plane had crashed in the bay and a fife burning on the water. Presumed it was one of our planes, but did not find out who the pilot was until landing and parking the plane my crew chief hopped up on the wing and said: “Did you hear about Lt. Johnson?” Everyone was saddened at his loss, especially those of us who had been with him all through training and combat.
Harris and 1 were given 10 days R&R in Sidney, Australia to help us recover from our narrow escapes. We went to the nearby bomber strip to bum a ride to Sidney. Upon entering the operations tent 1 was surprised to meet a Navy flier that shared his room with me in the BOQ located at the naval air station on North Island, San Diego, California A P-38 squadron based there for combat training and air defense. Unfortunately 1 can’t remember his name, only that he was one big man! Stood over 6’3″ tall and must have weighed 220#. He flew the Navy’s version of the B-24.We got along great while sharing a room for a month at the BOQ and happy to meet again. He offered us a ride south, which we gratefully accepted. He let me stand up behind him observing the actions in the cockpit area as he started the plane down the runway. Not having flown in a B-24 before it was an experience not soon to be forgotten. This large person at the controls was fighting like heck kicking rudder, and working the wheel to keep the bouncing plane going straight down the dirt runway and finally he got it airborne. I said a silent prayer thanking the good Lord for making me a fighter pilot.
Clark Field was an American airbase just north of Manila and was captured by the Japanese in 1942. Around the middle of January 1945 the American forces liberated Clark Field. Then we started retaking the rest of Luzon including Manila. The Japs also captured the island of Corregidor located at the entrance of Manila Bay in 1942. When the Americans retook Corregidor the 80th was flying air support during the landing of our forces. It was quite a view from 5000’ seeing all those ships and landing craft coming ashore. No enemy planes challenged us so we had an easy mission.
Not knowing if the Japanese had any serviceable aircraft left on Luzon we started running missions over their airfields. On one of these missions to check out some airstrips in southern Luzon I spotted one and dove down, with my wingman, to get a closer look. After passing over the strip checking for any camouflaged planes I looked back to see my wingman’s plane lose all of oil out of his right engine. Called him to let him know that he had lost oil from his right engine. He replied: “yeah, and you lost the coolant in your right engine.” We turned off the damaged engines feathering the props and climbed up to 5,000 feet cruising home at 190 mph on single engine. Hoping that we would not encounter any enemy aircraft on the way home. After landing safely and parking the planes the crew chiefs found one 3ocal-bullet hole in the oil line of my wingman’s engine and one 30cal-bullet hole in the coolant line of my engine. Some Jap shooter was either very lucky, good or both to have knocked out our engines. Needless to say we both were very happy and grateful not to have been shot down over enemy territory.
During the months of February, March, and April 1945 the 80th made several missions to Formosa (Taiwan) covering B-24’s. The Navy had some submarines stationed off the coast waiting to rescue any of us that might be shot down. Many missions to the northern part of Luzon, on some escorting bombers and others strafing. The 80th also flew cover over the concentration camps near Manila as they were retaken and the captives freed after several long years’ of imprisonment.
After 15 months of combat missions I received orders to go to Leyte and board a ship for the good old USA. 0. J. Harris ,D. J. Logslett, Hugh Hatfield, and William Underwood received the same orders for home. On May 15, 1945 we boarded a Navy supply ship that had a well-stocked galley, bunk beds, and officers lounge where fresh coffee was served all day. For a bunch of guys that were living in tents for the past 15 months eating “bully beef and dehydrated spuds” this ship was like “hog heaven.” Taking a zigzag course back to the USA to avoid any Japanese submarines took 19 days. What a sight it was to see that beautiful Golden Gate Bridge as the ship sailed under it into San Francisco Bay! Five days later Evelyn and I were married in Christ’s Church, Alameda, California and this year celebrated our 55th anniversary.
To those men who served with me during our tour with the 80th Fighter Squadron I shall always be grateful for their friendship, guidance and covering each other in combat. Blessed with top notch CO’s like Major Jay Robbins and Capt. Cy Homer, and the other CO’s before them our squadron became known as the “Headhunters” one of the squadrons most feared by the Japanese pilots. Tokyo Rose (a woman broadcasting over the radio in English) often mentioned us in her nightly broadcasts trying to ruin our morale. But we all just laughed at her feeble attempts. Guys like Paul Murphy, Louis Schriber, Herschel Barnes, Jenner, Peters, 0. J. Harris, Hugh Hatfield, Don Logslett, L.G. Johnson, Allen Hill, Francis Harvey, Damon, Orin Anderson, Doe Sisman, Gunderman, C. B. Ray, Ken Ladd, Caldwell, Sheehan, Rusty Roth, Stanifer, Ravey, Dwinell, Henkes, Endres, Underwood & Chambers, and all the others, who’s names elude me, were just young American’s who loved flying the P-38 and damn proud of being a Headhunter! The 80th Fighter Squadron was credited with 225 victories, second highest in the South Pacific and the Philippines, and the first to shoot down 200 enemy planes.
– Ken Lloyd