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WAR STORIES



WWII – Pacific Theater – The Air

THE ONE I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR

by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)

On the 20th of January, 1945, the 22nd Bomb Group was staging out of a strip on Samar Island in the Central Philippines. The weather was hot and sultry as usual.

It was the 2nd Squadron's turn to lead the group. Col. Robbie Robinson, Group C.O., was to lead the day's mission. I don't remember who was flying co-pilot with him. I do remember that a one-star general from the 5th Air Force Headquarters was to be my co-pilot. The mission was to be the first daylight raid on Formosa. The Japanese had been on this island for fifty years.

In mission briefing we were warned to be ready for a "warm reception." Engines were warmed up and checked. I was to lead "B" Flight right behind Col. Robinson. As we taxied into position for take-off, a thunderstorm broke over the field. At that time, a squadron of Marine Corsair fighters were located on Samar to protect the base. Some of them were taking off. The control tower advised them, via radio, to clear the runway so the "Box-Cars" could take off. It was raining so hard you could barely see.

About half-way down the runway a Corsair pulled over to the side. He thought he was clear. He wasn't. Col. Robinson, not wanting to delay the takeoff, poured the coal to his plane. His left wing clipped the Corsair and about nine feet of it was torn off by the impact. Col. Robinson was beyond the point of being able to stop. A See-Bee was on a huge bulldozer at the end of the runway. He was working to make the runway longer. Col. Robinson tried to pull his ship off the end of the runway. He didn't make it and crashed into the bulldozer. The eight 1,000 pounders that he was carrying exploded. There wasn't much left. The mission was called off.

The next day, on the 21st of January, 1945, I led the group to Formosa. I don't remember who my co-pilot was. But I do know it wasn't a one-star general!

The mission itself was a milk run. A chain of mountains runs along the eastern side of the island. We approached from the south and stayed below these peaks to avoid radar detection. When we were parallel with our target, we climbed over the mountains, dropped our bombs, and headed back south for Samar. Our attack was so unexpected that we encountered no fighters. Anti-aircraft fire was light.

I will never forget the sight that greeted us as we crossed the mountains. The countryside was like a picture. Terraces were everywhere on the sides of the hills. Green patches, probably rice, some no larger than a quarter acre were in profusion. For a farm boy from Tennessee, it was quite a sight.

On our arrival back at Samar, we flew a tight formation over the field (for the benefit of the ground crews), peeled off and proceeded to land. Since I had been the first to take off, I was first to land. I made a short approach, cut power and quickly began to land. We proceeded down the runway on the main landing gear, with the nose still held high to help lose speed. The assistant engineer tapped me on the right shoulder and said, "Sir, the nose wheel is not down!" To which I replied, "I know." He said again, "Sir, the nose wheel is not down!" I then exclaimed, "Who in Hell is flying this plane?" At that time, I thought he meant that the nose wheel had not yet touched the metal-mat runway. (It would be several seconds later when I would realize what he really meant.)

I now started to gently push the control column forward so the nose wheel would contact the runway. Suddenly the most violent noise you can imagine rent the air. We were sliding down the runway on our nose and main landing gear. If Sgt. Murphy, my old engineer, had been the one to say that my nose was not yet down, I would have poured the coal to old #318 and gone around to try again. But when he had seen the nose wheel was not down, he had attempted to crawl down and kick it out. When he heard me cut the throttles, he came out of that crawl way to the nose section fast as a groundhog. He didn't want to be in the nose when we landed. I quickly controlled our direction with the throttles and pulled clear of the runway so the ships behind me could land.

Several Jeep loads of my buddies were sitting there ready to greet us. I cut the engines, opened my side window, and shouted to Capt. George Jacobi, "It don't hurt them none to fly them this way!"

I didn't realize it at that time but this was to be my last mission – after thirty-four B-25 missions, thirty-five B-24 missions, and one A-20 mission. (I had talked a buddy in the Grim Reapers into letting me go along on a strafing mission. The A-20 was a single-seat, twin-engine light bomber and strafer. I had to lie underneath the canopy with my head beside the pilot's. I never made that mistake again! I was sure we were going in on numerous occasions. Noise from the fifties was deafening.) That's a total of seventy missions that entailed four hundred forty-three hours of flying, most of which was over the waters of the vast Southwest Pacific.

 

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