“Preface-You asked for memoirs. Here they are for what they are worth. Besides the personal incidents detailed below, I remember the camaraderie, the poker games, the priceless mission whiskey, the lousy pre-mission breakfast with beady little eyes peering out of the marmalade, trying to keep the refrig operating, searching for bacon and cheese in the K-rations, Olnick’s monkey, lousy Manila whiskey in 55 gallon drums, my crew chief’s “bug-out” drop tank, the 60 plane rat-race over Mindoro, the lack of enemy air and finally the miserable living conditions. Best of all-I had something to tell my sons when they asked ‘What did you do in the war, Daddy?’ (P.S. My fighter pilot son just made BIRD COLONEL!)
I was lucky to get to fly P-38s and to get into the 80th Fighter Squadron. After flying P-40s, P-70s, and P-61s, I was fortunate to participate in the test of the P-38 as a night fighter. (Radio and radar in a center line belly tank-small ROs sat behind pilot.) This made it possible for me to volunteer for combat in the 38. A quick gunnery course at Santa Maria and I was on my way.
After my stay at Nadzab and mission to Wewak, I checked into 5th AF and was assigned to 8th Grp, 80th squadron operating out of Mindoro, PI. As a fairly senior Capt, can’t say that I was enthusiastically welcomed and naturally your ability was questioned. So, Cy Homer (departing CO) gave me Asst OPs and then OPs officer. They didn’t know I had a pretty good background (advanced instructor-Dick Bong and many simulated combat missions flying P-40s with Tommy McGuire and lots of night flying). Missions over Luzon were rather routine (lost Major Johnson, CO), but my biggest memory was a ditching. The Group CC (Lt Col Cyclone Davis) was assigned to the 80th. A new plane plus a new-name paint job (No Guts-No Glory) resulted in a request that no junior-birdmen fly it. Since my plane was sick, I promised to fly it the next day. After an unexciting napalm mission we neared home. I decided to give the flight a superb lesson in wave hopping. Did too good a job. The right engine spit once, then that engine dug in and then the left one went in too. I pulled it up to 300 feet-it was shaking like a bad case of the flu-so I feathered and punched the canopy, dropped the flaps, sucked the stick into my gut, impact was minor. As it slowed down I was up and running. Jumped the supercharger and then off the wing tip. Turned around and she was gone! (10 seconds at the most.) The flight circled to assure I’d made it and then continued to base. There I was in the South China Sea with a hole in my raft, and someone had swiped the plugs, fishing gear, and paddles! Thank God the shark repellent was still there. Used generously and watched it float away! There I sat; three miles from shore with my parachute in my lap (worth 6 or 7 chickens), finger in the hole, and no dry cigarettes. The PBY arrived in about 4 hours. They landed me back at base and after debriefing, I made my explanation to the Group CC. His response: ‘You have a good record so forget it for now, you’ll hear from me later….’ Didn’t sound too bad. Personal Equipment sections all over 5th AF had many, many inspections.
A couple of months later we arrived at Ie Shima (west of Okinawa) via Clark on 9 August 1945 and started combat missions over Japan. As planned we all used the personal relief tube simultaneously until heavy AAA began which ended that little stunt. After that, hostilities ceased and we had many training missions. P-47 units were being disbanded and we got new pilots to check out. On or about 20 August, Cyclone called me in and advised me that retribution day was upon me. Some Air Corps Planner had decided we needed instrument training. There were four T-6s at Clark Field to be ferried to Ie Shima and I would lead the flight. I pointed out that we were swamped with Training Command personnel and some had thousands of hours in the T-6 and were much better qualified. No soap! I would be the flight leader. Clark to Okinawa was 6:45 hours (no way we could make it). Three pilots each from other groups met me at Clark. We spent 2 days running cruise control tests-still no way to make it. Had to have additional fuel. Instructed crew chief to take out the back seat and install 55 gallon drums with a direct feed into the left wing tank. It worked! We figured we could make it if we departed from Laog (a small auxiliary field NW of Luzon). Requested a Dumbo (Air Sea Rescue B-17 with boat) to navigate as well as HELP if we ditched. ETD was 0700. After a sleepless night, we were on the runway and ready to go when the Dumbo called the tower 5 minutes out. Weather was good and after 4.45 hours we caught a glimpse of the southern tip of Okinawa. Two of us didn’t have enough fuel to taxi off the runway after we landed. We refueled and each pilot departed for his respective strip. Debt paid in FULL. Ironically, those T-6s lasted about three weeks. The tricycle gear P-38 pilots ground looped them good!
Our missions over Japan were similar to the Philippine missions except we had many assignments to give top cover to destroyers, submarines, and air sea rescue CATS. After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs, we were fragged on 18 August, 1945 to launch two 4-ship flights the next day to intercept and escort the Jap Peace Envoys in 2 Bettys painted white with green crosses to Ie Shima, then stand-by while they were loaded in a C-54 and escort them to a point approximately 100 miles south of Okinawa. Mission: stop any crazee trying to shoot them down. Bill Coleman and I each had a 4-ship flight. A PBY spotted the 2 Bettys just south of Kyushu. We intercepted and the Betty pilots foolishly tried to outrun us. We forced the planes into the selected strip and then landed sloppily in front of thousands of spectators. Stayed in our planes awaiting the call that the C-54 was ready for take off. That C-54 circled over all the heavy bomber fields on Okinawa. Every revetment had three B-29s parked in a normal one-plane parking spot. It was mighty impressive. Guam must have been empty… Think the Japs got the picture. The escort flight south was uneventful. Don’t know why the 80th drew the mission, but was glad to be a part of it. It was a privilege to be a P-38 pilot with the Headhunters.”
– L. C. Bradley