Thursday, December 9, 2010
World War II veteran keeps memories alive
By SUE WATSON
The community building at Northcentral Electric was packed for the Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon in November. Northcentral general manager Kevin Doddridge had the program and invited his grandfather-in-law to speak about challenges in World War II.
Three airmen were in attendance and were honored for their service that helped bring a close to the war in the Pacific.
In introducing the subject matter and Bill Allen, a crewman who was stationed at Guam Air Force Base and who made many incendiary bombing runs in a B-29 bomber that helped end the war, Doddridge emphasized that the war affected everyone on the planet at the time. Everyone on earth made huge sacrifices during the war.
SSG Bill Allen gives his talk to keep alive the memories of World War II.
Some of the distilled facts from Allen’s talk are as follows:
• He graduated from Olive Branch High School, May, 1942. He joined the Air Force on Oct. 2, 1942.
• He was stationed in Jackson 1.5 years after signing up. He applied for cadet and a job as a flight gunner and later became an aerial gunner for the B-29 bomber.
• The B-29 had a crew of 11 and two of the crew he flew with are still alive. But first Allen trained six months in Florida where new crews learned to fly out over water and return to base.
• The next stop was Walker Air Force Base, Kansas, a super fortress bomber base where Allen trained in a Boeing B-29. He was a member of the 330th bomber group assigned at Walker Air Force Base.
• Allen’s crew practiced two months in a B-17, flying out over the ocean from Batista Cuba, where the airmen gained more experience.
• Back in Kansas he trained on the City of San Jose K-14, then received orders to go to San Francisco, California, in the plane. From San Francisco, he left for Hickam Field, Hawaii. Now from a point of no return, Allen flew to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam (bomber base).
• One of the younger airmen on his flight crew where most airmen were 17 or 18 years of age, the oldest airman on his crew was 23. He was a long way from home.
• Situated at the top of high bluffs overlooking the Pacific, flights departed every 30 seconds from Guam. A few planes were lost over the cliffs at the end of the runway. The B-29 had a flight range of 5,800 miles. It was over 3,214 miles to Iwo Jima and back.
• Knowing the dangers of cruel treatment by the Japanese, if captured, no one in the flight crew wore a parachute. If they were shot down, they did not want to be captured alive by the Japanese.
• Air crews and ships were in great danger of being struck by Baka suicide bombers. Dubbed the flying bomb, the tiny airplane was launched from Japanese airplanes high in the air to target Allied forces and hugely damaged the U.S. Navy.
• His tail gunner was a full-blooded, fearless American Indian from Oklahoma.
• Initial bombing runs were made from 30,000 feet to stay out of range but finally began flying between 8,000 and 12,000 feet to increase accuracy of hitting targets - the Japanese military industrial complex. One raid burned up 30 to 40 percent of Tokoyo and killed more people than the H-bomb. Bombers targeted an aircraft plant on the coastline, oil refineries, and factories. His plane took 100 rounds of anti-aircraft flack on one run.
• Bombing came to a halt soon after the dropping of the first atomic bomb from the Enola Gay Aug. 6, 1945, over Hiroshima from 31,000 feet. The size of ground zero was a 4.5 mile radius of destruction. The second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945 - the bomb that ended the war and completely wiped out ground zero. As Allied forces sat with the Japanese officials Aug. 14 where they signed an unconditional surrender, Allen’s crew was on a bombing run.
• After the Japanese surrender, Allen’s crew dropped supplies over POW camps. Japan formally surrendered Sept. 2, 1945.
• Now afraid of flying, Allen and many other airmen and troops returned to the United States on an aircraft carrier - taking 14 days to get home rather than two days.
Allen said the United States would not be here today had the Pacific theater not been opened. Instead, the U.S. would be governed by the Japanese, he said.
After Allen ended his talk, Curtis Thompson of Byhalia stood to provide details of bombing runs over other Japanese cities.
He flew with low altitude B-29s dropping incendiary bombs on military-industrial targets at Kobe, Japan, and elsewhere. His crews flew low and fast to evade anti-aircraft fire.
Survival rates for airmen shot down over the European theater were about 85 percent, while only 5 percent if shot down over Japan.
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