"Aces of The Eighth" by Jack Fellows

World War II Memoir by Paul Murphey

“My class was 43-D, we graduated at Williams Field, Chandler, AZ on April 12, 1943. most of this class all trained in the RP-322, a P-38 with no supercharger. It was built for the British and they turned it down. It seemed like a speeding bullet after flying AT-17s and AT-9s. After graduation we were sent to Muroc, CA out in the desert to fly the real thing. After about two weeks of intensive training all that wanted to stay in 38s were sent to the West Coast for more training. my assignment was to Santa Ana near the cadet induction base and across the street from the Marine base at El Toro.

We flew every day and formation flying was taught along with high altitude work. Also big dog fights with Marine Corsairs daily. We fired the guns twice, once at a ground target and once at a tow sleeve. We stayed at Santa Ana about six weeks, flew patrols over the ocean, checked out whales that somebody would report as Jap subs. Twelve of us were picked to be the first of 43-D to go overseas. Edwin L. DeGraffenreid, Richard E. Dotson, Robert E. Feehan, Stanley Johnson, Paul C. Murphey, John C. McClean, Jennngs L. Myers, Louis Schriber, James R. Farris, Robert W. Wood, William F. Williams and Murtha J. McCarthey.

When the alert came we were put on the train with all our gear, including a new parachute and winter flying clothes. On arrival at Hamilton Field we were assigned BOQ rooms and told we could go into San Francisco, but be back on the base by 10:00 a.m. This went on for several days then bam, the orders came. We were moved to the hanger area with everything we owned and met ten more young pilots (P-47 jockeys). Lots of good natured kidding about airplanes. There was our transportation, a B-24 with bomb racks out and fuel tanks in their place.

We all noticed no seats, it turned out that we were to sit on the floor. We left about 11:00 a.m. and headed out San Francisco Bay. One hour out we opened our orders and they said Brisbane and no one was sure where that was. We landed at Hickam Field, Honolulu about 5:00 p.m. and got to stretch and get something to eat. The crew told us to carry snacks as we would fly all night. After take-off the pilot came back and showed us on his map where we were going. It was to Christmas Island, a very small dot in a big ocean. When we landed the door was opened and a ground crew sprayed the inside with DDT. They did not want the mosquitoes to cross breed. This happened at every landing at any rate they did feed us breakfast and off we went again. We were headed for American Samoa. We landed at Pago Pago, Samoa early enough to get some exercise and the Chief had a great meal of roast pig for us. The best thing was to sleep in a bed that night.

The next stay was to be in the Fiji islands. We crossed the international date line and were initiated in the Short Snorter Club. I still have most of mine but it has been through our washing machine once, thanks to Sue. Our crew decided to get some rest here so we spent a day and night in the Fiji islands. The next stop was New Caldonia then Brisbane, Australia. We landed at Amberly Field, our home for about two weeks. There was more training, mostly single engine work and formation flying. One pilot, R.E. Dotson was killed here in a training accident.

About first of July our assignments came in. Six of us went to the 80th (McCarthey, DeGraffenreid, Feehan, Schriber, Myers, and me). One man was lost, one transferred to other duties. The remaining four went to the 9th Squadron (Johnson, McClean, Wood, Williams). Two from each squadron got home; Wood and Williams from the 9th and Schriber and me from the 80th. All four still alive as of June 19, 1995.

Our introduction to combat was almost immediate. Major Cragg took each of us off on his wing to check us out. He loved to make twin prop wakes on the water, enough said. McCarthey was killed on his first mission, I got a probable because I did not know to watch him down. I got him smoking but my head was spinning from watching my element leader and all the Zeros around also.

All this early action came at Bogadjim, Madang, and Lae. We lost our second man (Feeham) at the same place two weeks later. Losing these two men so quick sure focused your attention on what you were doing. When you held the brakes and ran up the throttles to take-off manifold pressure it was a thrill you never forget. This was especially true flying off of Three Mile airstrip with the deep belly in the strip about even with the tower.

My first confirmed victory was at Wewak on August 24th. A large group of Zeros approached to attack the B-25s we escorted that day. I got on the tail of a Tony and put a good burst in him. He caught fire and exploded. About this time we covered the paratroop landing at Marilinann and got more help.

The new group of 38s, the 475th, joined in the battle. We had a lot of classmates with us then, even though we did not know it at the time.

Our early missions to Bogadjim and Lae or Arawi on New Britain island were replaced with a constant return to Wewak. We went so many times we made a song about it.

Ist verse, Tune of my merry Oldsmobile:

These P-38s they rattle and roar, I don’t want to fly over Wewak no more. I want to go home, I want to go home. Oh my I’m to young to die, I want to go home.

2nd verse

These Zeros and bombers are to much for me, I just want to see Sydney. I want to go home, I want to go home. Oh my I’m to young to die, I want to go home.

Well, back to the war, the Wewak missions occupied most of September. Our first Rabaul mission was on October 12, very little action, but plenty later on. On October 16 my tent mate Jennings Myers got his third and fourth at Wewak. I got my second a few days later over Rapopo Strip Rabaul. A group of Zeros coming in on the B-25s was intercepted by my flight. I got on the tail of a Hamp and put a long burst in him. He exploded right in from of me and I flew through the debris.

After the November 2 raid on Rabaul, plenty of Zeros now, we made our second trip to Sydney. Lou went with me and Jennings. His tentmate, DeGraff had already been a second time, after he nearly drowned in Moresby Harbour. He put his shot up plane in the bay and it went down so fast he did not get out of his chute. His Mae West would not inflate, the chute kept bobbing up and ducking him. When he got to camp we found out the Co2 tubes were too short and none of us had one that would inflate. We put folded paper in the containers to wedge the Co2 tubes.

We stayed in the squadron apartment that trip and had a wonderful week. That Aussie beer is something and the girls were not too bad either.

One of the unwritten rules was everyone returning brought a case of whiskey back just for trading purposes. On subsequent trips we would stop at TownsVille and fly new P-38s back to New Guinea. Each ammo tray would hold one case of beer. We would climb high and get it real cold before landing.

On return from our second leave, the fun began again. On the Rabaul missions we flew east of New Guinea to Kiriwina Island. We would gas up and wait for the bombers to go by. We caught them and escorted all the way to Rabaul. On one of the low level missions (B-25s) we got in a big bunch of Zeros and all got separated. All I got that day was a few bullet holes. I heard Copper leader say to leave, as we were going to have a gas problem. After about ten minutes by myself, I saw a lone 38 and moved over to join him. It was an 80th plane flown by Sack Freeman, my flight leader for the day. He was glad to see me, but did ask where the hell I had been. We were both low on gas and looking for a navigator. We spotted a lone B-25 down low over the water. We moved down to join him, I pulled up on the pilot’s side and Sack on his right wing. There was a hole you could see through and I saw the pilot’s legs. He looked okay and was smoking a big cigar. We stayed with him until we could see Kiriwina in the distance. we broke off and headed down as we were flying on fumes. I touched down right behind Sack and when he got near the end of the runway, he only had one fan still turning. He did get off the runway before the other prop quit turning. He climbed out, ran into the revetment, took his pants off and threw his shorts away.

Our navigation in the early part of my career was easy. We would take off from Three Mile, climb over the mountains, rendezvous with the bombers, escort to and from the target and fly south to the coast. If you could see the fly river deltas, turn east to Moresby. Milne Bay was way east of Moresby but you could see the jut out of the peninsula. On the long missions to Wewak and Rabaul, we used compass heading and stayed with the bombers.

There are several large river systems in New Guinea and they were a big help in figuring out where you were. The Fly River on the south coast, the Markham River valley in central New Guinea and the Sepik River System near Wewak at Hollandia the mountains were very high and our maps simply said unexplored. These mountains and streams were beautiful when you had time to look. After we left main land New Guinea all our flights were over water, using coast lines and small islands as navigation aids. Over water you can watch the foam slide down the backside of the waves. This will tell you the wind direction. It is opposite to the foam. Also we were helped by two night fighter pilots that joined us. If all the instruments were out of kilter due to acrobatics, simply hang a pencil from the gun sight and it would help keep you straight and level even in clouds.

We moved over the mountains to Dobodura in mid December. I got my third victory at Wewak while flying Major Cragg’s wing. A flight of hour Zeros made a head on attack at my flight. Each of us got one. They were very foolish to come head on at P-38s. my tentmate Jennings Myers got his fifth that day and he was shot down about two days later at Wewak. we lost Major Cragg when covering the landings at Cape Gloucester. Captain Jay Robbins became our CO. We affectionately called him “Cock” Robbins.

I joined with Lou Schriber and DeGraff to put up a shack. We traded for lumber and put in a floor. This was really living for New Guinea. Cock asked me to be the new liquor officer and mumbling was heard all over camp about putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

The 80th was a unique bunch of men. We had so many great pilots with lots of savvy. I flew wing as a rookie for George Welch (4 kills at Pearl Harbor), Corky Smith, Jay Robbins, Major Cragg, Cy Homer, Ken Ladd, Eddie Robertson and Norb Ruff. All these pilots were very experienced.

I got promoted to 1st Lt. and element leader about this time. we moved to Cape Gloucester on New Britain Island on March 1, 1944. If you ever heard about rain in the tropics, this was the place. We could not keep anything dry. our missions here were to Kavieng Island and other points on New Britain. Also we covered the Admiralty landings at Manus Island. When these islands were secure they became a big naval base for us and really cut Rabaul off from further supplies.

We moved back to New Guinea at the end of March. Our new home was at Nadzab in the Markham River Valley. Nadzab was inland from Lae about 30 to 40 miles. We went over 200 planes shot down while at Nadzab. All our Hollandia missions were flown from there.

I got my fourth victory at Hollandia. We were up high with the B-24s, about 25 Oscars came up to attack and we got in a good scrap. I followed one in a dive and could see the cannon shells hit the cockpit area, then he blew up and went down in flames. I also got a probable the next day. I got one burst in a Hamp before having to turn abruptly to help my wing man. We made a number of missions to Hollandia and it was removed as a threat.

I became a flight leader at this time as did Lou. DeGraff was sent home from Nadzab, Lou and I were the only two left from the six that joined at Port Moresby in July 1943. C. B. Ray moved in with us after DeGraff left and our trips to Sydney became legends.

All the P-38 squadrons were sent to a small island named Wakde. It was off the New Guinea coast west of Hollandia. We were there to cover the landings at Biak. We all felt very vulnerable as this island was so small that all the planes were parked up and down each side of this runway. We were sleeping in our cockpits or jungle hammocks tied between the tail booms. This was just waiting for Jap bombers and sure enough they came that night. At the red alert, everyone jumped up and ran away from the airstrip. The trouble was there was not any place safe to go. Two of my squadron mates were with me and we got to a storage area and got down behind some barrels. When a flare was dropped, they were gasoline barrels so we ran on the beach and waited for it all to clear. One P-38 had been hit and set afire. The ammo in the nose started exploding so we waited until it quit before going to see about our own planes.

We stayed on Wakde until the Biak landings were secure. We went back to Nadzab and got ready to move again. Our new home was Owi Island. A small island across from Biak, our camp was on the south side. We had trouble getting fresh water so we had to bath in the ocean. The coral was so bad we had to wear shoes to get out in the water. Owi was all coral so it was hard to dig a slit trench for air raid protection. After one raid the first night, the digging got a little easier. We got two bombers over every night. So they finally moved up a night fighter outfit; flying the big P-61s. They always scrambled just one so they would not shoot at each other.

The 35th and 36th squadrons joined us here and they had new P-38s, so we finally became a regular group and flew missions together.

This was also the time that Col Charles Lindberg came into our lives. He had been living with the 475th group for several weeks. Finally he came over to Owi and stayed with us for a few days. We would all gather around Cock’s at night to ask questions and to just listen to him. That was really some thing for a bunch of young fighter pilots to experience. He taught and showed us how to literally wean our engines. Our gallon per hour consumption was cut from about 40 per hour down to 20 per hour. You simply pulled the mixture controls back and leaned out the fuel mixtures. The throttle settings were also a little smaller but the air speed loss, which was about 20, did not effect our ability to stay with the bombers. Getting to meet and shake hands with this man was something.

Lou’s and my turn for leave came up when we were still at Owi. The week in Sydney was as great as it always was. Somehow we missed our flight back to New Guinea and Owi. We went looking for other transportation, but it was two days before our money ran out. We hitched a ride with a Colonel flying a B-26. He expected us to co-pilot for him for this ride. I was co-pilot on the first leg to Brisbane and I was sitting in the co-pilot seat watching him literally drive this monster at the runway, about 140, Lou set there for the next leg to Townsville and he agreed with me that we find other transportation. We found two new P-38s and told the Colonel goodbye. We left for Owi early the next day and arrived several hours later. We decided Cock would be happy to have us home with two new P-38s so we decided to buzz the camp. I guess we got a little low as we blew the top off of you-know-who’s tent. To make a long story short, we paid an over $100.00 fine.

While we were still at Owi, a mission came up I will never forget. I flew Cock’s wing with Cy as element leader and Allen Hill as his wing man. We spent the night at Middleburg Island way west of Biak and Owi. A flight of four 38s from each squadron all joined in one big fighter sweep to Davoa on the island of Mindinao. This was the first appearance over the Philippines of American fighters since 1942. There were no Jap planes much to our disappointment.

When we moved to Marotai on the 12th of October, 1944. Here the lessons form Col Lindberg paid off. Our prime effort there was to knock out a Jap oil Refinery in Borneo at a place named Balikapapen. These missions were very long, about six or more hours. These missions were all over water with very few landmarks; a few islands was it.

We were sent back to Neomfoor Island; before we left Morotai we helped cover all the activities in the Philippines, mostly at Leyte. The landings at Leyte had as many ships of all kinds as I ever saw. After Leyte, we gave up our airplanes to the squadrons at Tacloban. At Neomfoor we were equipped with all new airplanes before we moved to the Philippines. Lou and I went on leave from there and we stopped in Hollandia to pick up the orders promoting us to Captain. Cy followed us to Sydney to get married, no one knew he was even thinking about marrying but he married an Australian girl and they stayed married until Cy’s death from a heart attack in 1975.

We moved up to Mindoro in December 1944. As our ground echelon and equipment were landing in a LST; it was hit and we lost everything except what we had on. No loss of life however. I was leading an eight plane patrol on December 21st when the control tower called in a plot of a single bogey north of the field. I took my flight north and saw a lone zero. I put one long burst in him and the canopy flew off and smoke poured out the Hamp, it rolled over and down he went. My second flight leader, Rusty Roth, called and said to come back as there was a large bunch approaching from over the ocean. I told Rusty to get some air and get above them. I took my flight up through them as Rusty was coming down, we scattered them like a covey of quail. I got a good burst in a Zeke, he rolled and went in the water. I attacked a third Zero and put a good burst in him but could not watch him down as my wing man had one on his tail. He broke right and I broke left to come around on the Zeke. I fired once and scored a few hits but he turned out of there so fast I could not follow. I wanted to check my wingman’s plane over as he had taken some hits. I became an ace that day with number five and six confirmed, plus two probables.

A very memorable mission on the night of December 26th. Word came in the late afternoon that at Jap task force was steaming down the coast towards us on Mindoro. Cy was in Sydney with his new wife so it fell to me to get things organized. I talked to Lou and C.B. Ray the other ranking veterans. We got the groundcrews to put bombs on as many planes as they could in a short timeframe. We then selected only veteran pilots. None of us had any night experience, so this was going to be interesting to say the least. When we got ready to takeoff I had everyone turn on the running lights so as to avoid mid air collisions. All attacks were to be made from the ocean toward land. we tried to make runs by spotting the wakes of the Jap ships. In the Ocean there is a phosphorescence in the water when the water is disturbed by passage of a ship. After I made three passes, the air was getting crowded by other planes, so I told Copper to head for Leyte and Tacloban air strip. Not knowing what kind of damage the Japs would do, they wanted all planes to not land at Mindoro.

The runway lights were turned on at Tacloban so we could find it. After getting safely on the ground, I started trying to count noses. We seemed to have one plane missing. It turned out to be O.J. Harris, he was picked up in the ocean the next morning about a half mile off our beach. His story was really interesting. He had hit something on a pass and thought it was something like a mast, at any rate he put his plane in the water. I found out at the Fort Walton Beach reunion that a Jap ship passed so close that he turned his raft over and got under it until the ship passed him.

After arranging for food and a place to stay, Lou and I took off to find the 9th Squadron camp to see old friends from the trip over seas in 1943. Two of them were left, Bill Williams and Bobby Wood. We had quite a celebration. The next morning all our pilots reported to the operations on the strip. We were able to get refueled and get ammo. Operations wanted us to wait until they could get word about the conditions at the airstrip on Mindoro. The word came about 10:00 a.m. that we could return. I got the 80th pilots together, we cranked up and lined up for takeoff. There was one bunch ahead of us. I am sitting there and I hear a knock on my wing and looked back, it was a fraternity brother from my college days, Tommy Holstein from the 7th Squadron. As he climbed up to the cockpit, a Zero came over the runway on a strafing run. Someone close to the strip threw back his canopy, stood up and fired his .45 at the nip. The fifty cal. turrets on the airstrip shot him down, but I am sure that the pilot to this day thinks he got him. When we were able to get off and head back to Mindoro, there was some damage but we were able to land by staying to one side of the strip.

On December 30th Lou Schriber shot down the last victory recorded by the 80th Fighter Squadron. After that we flew mostly fighter sweeps to Formosa and covered bombing missions there. In January we helped cover the landings on Luzon. This was sure a long way from Port Moresby.

We started flying ground support as all the Jap fighters were gone. We did dive bombing and strafing in support of ground troops. Also flew cover for the landings at Zamboango on the island of Mindinao. Lou and I left the squadron in late April. We got to Leyte and went to Fifth Air Force to get our orders, we decided to see General Whitehead and get our medals. His secretary said we could not see him without an appointment. He looked out his office door to see what was going on. We saluted and told him what we were trying to do and who we were. He invited us into his office and had us sit down. He offered congratulations that we were still alive. He had his secretary fix us up as he pulled a bottle of scotch from his desk and offered us a drink. You just can’t refuse a general.

We left for Biak to get on a ship headed for the states. We were put on an old Liberty ship that had not been in dry dock since being launched. Almost two years and for me, 180 missions; Lou 189, we were headed home. We docked at Seattle after 33 days on that old tub from Biak.

Our processing took two days, then it was off the Texas for me. The train went through Waco. My home town and family sure looked good to me. We had not seen each other since April 12, 1943. I had been engaged to Sue Brooks since that time also. I called her from Seattle. We met in San Antonio the next day after my processing at Fort Sam. Our marriage was set as far as I was concerned and she was still agreeable. We set the date for June 6, 1945 in Dallas. We are still together, two kids and six grandchildren. Just celebrated our 50th anniversary.

In 1980 we got together with the Kirby’s and my brother-inlaw, Joe Kendrick, and started planning a trip back to New Guinea. Joe was in the 41st division band and he wanted to go back also. His band was one of the few where the band members all got combat infantry badges just like everyone else in the division. We planned this trip to include Australia and New Zealand because we all figured we would never go again. After months of planning, the time arrived. We met at DFW Airport on Thursday, February 26, 1981 to depart about 10:00 a.m. This was such a unique trip our travel agent Bob Lee was there to see us off. We landed in Hawaii at Hickam in plenty of time to do some sightseeing. on arrival I had ordered Leis for everyone and we looked the part of tourists. The next part of this trip was to be on Air Nuigini. Who would have thought they now had their own airline.

After a long anxious and fun filled flight, we landed at 7 mile airstrip , now Jackson Int. Airport in Port Morseby. As they rolled the stairs up to the plane, a clap of thunder followed by a typical Morseby hard down pour. They did bring out umbrellas for everyone. We were met by a young Australian, Bruce Hoy (museum director), that was anxious to talk and squire us around. I believe we were the first to return to New Guinea so they gave us the royal treatment. We had arranged for a van to transport us around. We were staying in a Travel Lodge Hotel. None of us could imagine a seven story building in Port Moresby. The next day we got going in earnest trying to find old land marks. The first thing we found was where Three Mile had been, now houses and a agriculture experiment station. They had made fence posts out of our old landing mats, by heating and bending them to look like posts. After that, we went up over the old gas dump hill and we found the our campsite. Tears filled my eyes and Kirby’s also. A part of our officer’s club steps and concrete floor were still there. We even went back a second time and took the girls to see it also. I took lots of pictures and Kirby had a movie camera. It is now on video tape. We chartered a plane to try and fly over to Dobodura, but weather closed in. Joe took a great picture of where Three Mile had been.

We stayed in Moresby two to three days before flying on down to Australia. We saw the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, then on to Sydney. We got a car there and took off for the Kings Cross section and anyone that ever stayed in one of the squadron apartments may remember 80 Bayswater road. We found it. Then on to Canberra and Melbourne. My sister Dorothy and her husband Joe had friends in Melbourne. I even got to play a round of golf there. We left for New Zealand South Island and had a wonderful time seeing it and the North Island before heading home. We arrived back in the states after a month long trip. This was a wonderful experience for all three families.

We left for Christ Church on New Zealand’s South Island and had a wonderful time seeing all over the South Island. We flew I over to Mount Cook. We took a ride on a small plane with skis and went off to land on Mount Cook glacier. On leaving the South Island from Picton, we were on a huge ferry that was so big it even carried trains. At Wellington on the North Island, we did more touring on our own private bus. The return to the states was by way of Tahiti and Bora Bora. These are really exotic places to stay. The trip was about one month long.”

– Paul C. Murphey

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