"Everybody Stand Up"
Nearly everyday was a mission day on Kadena Air Force Base , Okinawa, but some mission days were special ... very different ... with an atmosphere of high tension and excitement, something more urgent ... MAXIMUM EFFORT! It started early with very early wakeup of the Combat Crews scheduled for that nights mission ... .with none of the usual quiet rustling around since EVERYBODY was awakened and everyone was GOING! And the buzz started and was apparent from wakeup through the day until late afternoon briefing, with a lot of preflight work and inspections to be done in between ... before Briefing ... without knowing where you were going ... or when or IF you'd be back!
By late afternoon the crackling atmosphere of electricity had spread over the whole base ... among all personnel, air and ground crew, American military dependants and civilians, even the Native Okinawans ... the Gooks ... old and young, Mamasans and Papasans, some simply laborers of all kinds who invariably found some means to find their way down to the flight line around evening takeoff times at dusk. It was a grand scene , with a profusion of costumes, uniforms , colors and characters ... with much raucous noise and bluish smoke of starting engines, squealing of brakes and tires groaning under extreme weight loading of bombs, fuel, equipment, ammunition ... and crewmembers! This was "kickoff time" ... and ya' had to be there!
The cacophony of noise ... a DIN ... is the only way to describe the massive roar of the fifty some B-29s cranking up their collective total of 200 - 2200 horsepower engines ... 444,000 Horse Power, plus the spares , both Airborne and ground , with all A.P.U.'s ( Auxiliary Power Units ... the "Putt - Putt") adding their whining power lawn mower - like sounds ... and trucks and Weapons carriers scurrying to and fro, dropping off last minute crew additions, equipment etc. Interphone connections and check-in ... "# 3 clear , fire guard posted". Hands circling in the air to "turn # 3", #4, then #2 ... and #1 ... the smoky metallic rattling of cold pistons into a warm purr ... signals directing taxiing instructions ... thumbs up from the Crew Chief , release of the brakes and you're on your way ... a long taxi from the hard stand to the runways with other ungraceful looking ships loaded and bottoming out on their gear struts leaving their hardstands and falling into a line of black bottomed battle wagons, a mile long string of ominous looking bombers like the great circus elephants, nose to tail, that would soon be as graceful in the air as they were now almost ugly on the tarmac! All turrets with "hot guns" stowed pointing skyward on the top of the ship and at a downward angle on bottom turrets ... just in case! Final engine runups were done at the end of the runway, with each engine wound out with throttles to the firewall, checking RPM, mag drop etc., a miracle to me that they just didn't fly apart ... and then a slow jockeying to position closely behind the ship ahead with only a slight alternating offset staggering the long column of ships ... with 60 seconds separation between takeoffs ... to allow the slow lumbering and accelerating B- 29s ahead to break ground OR get out of the way and off the runway in the event of a takeoff roll abort, due to engine failure or other malfunction. Sometimes the little cyclones of moisture drawn off even a DRY tarmac at the lowest point of the 16 foot diameter propeller rotation fascinated me, dancing like a little tornado, and I always wondered what would happen to a hand passed through that whirlwind? Now it's your turn ... safety belts tightened again ... reach for a metal blister frame or some other solid reassurance ... "Crew Standby for takeoff", ... .all engines wound out, brakes released ... a deep breath and "Crew ... We're rollin!"
On the takeoff roll there was just enough time to say the usual prayers ... twice ... always twice ... once was not enough ... The Lord's Prayer ... twice ... and then the only other prayer I ever really knew and know today ... and say today ... before every flight I have ever taken in the past fifty years ... "Now I lay me down to sleep ... " TWICE!
You knew every eye on that flight line was watching ... from every hardstand position , every ramp level up the terraced side of Kadena ... from every maintenance engine dock ... from the tower ... every viewpoint ... all watching ... probably holding their collective breath as much as the crew within the rolling ship! And the next ship in line was already cranking up their full power before yours broke ground. But now you were past the point of thumps and bumps on the gear ... starting to float a little on the struts ... and the A.C. ( Aircraft Commander) holds it down, forward on the yoke a little ... gaining more speed ... air speed ... precious air speed for a margin of safety if an engine fails now ... and at this point some comedian always said on interphone "EVERYBODY STAND UP ... and JUMP", like that was gonna lighten the load and help us get off ... Bombardier calling out "115 ... point of no- return ... 120 ... .125 ... .26 ... 27 ... 28 ... 30...35" ... two miles and a minute later ... a lifting of the gear more than a "takeoff" and we were airborne ... a very slow gradual slogging climb out over the beach just feet above The East China Sea, usually a setting sun low over the water ... and you were on your way. The Gunner/Scanners reports, with various grinding and thunking noises in between ... "Left flap and Gear comin' up, 1 & 2 lookin' OK"! "Right flap and gear comin' up, 3 & 4 lookin' OK". "Left flap and Gear full up, nacelle doors closed, 1 & 2 lookin' Ok"! "Right flap and gear full up, nacelle doors closed, 3 & 4 lookin' OK"! The Engineers report ... "The Panel is green, lookin' good ... we're clean A.C." ... Navigator's directions ... .. "A.C., take a heading of 350 degrees" ... almost due North ... to Korea!
While roaring down that runway you found yourself almost rocking forward as you might have in a coaster wagon some years before ... to gain momentum ... gain speed ... gain ALTITUDE! "Go you big son of a bitch ... go ... GO ... .GO!" And there were all the curious lining the runway ... hands waving, "V for Victory" signs ... Index finger to thumb "OK signs", Thumbs up signs ... and even some Middle finger signs ... perhaps a knowing crewmember that for whatever reason didn't have to make this mission ... but knew HIS sign would be seen above all others! SPLENDID! And the Army Antiaircraft Gun Crews off the end of your runway would impulsively flinch and duck as you roared over and even they waved although they knew that on our way back in, about 10 hours later on final approach, we would try to dump our flight lunch trash on them to save post flight cleanup time ... just good natured kid stuff!
On our days off in the Group mission rotation, we TOO stood on the "sidelines" waving them off, mentally whispering "Go you big son-of-a-bitch" ... and feeling choking waves of emotion that were greater than watching the flag go by ... followed by a long quiet walk back to our aircraft hardstand or barracks area ... unless I was driving the combat crew pickup truck that night ... and had to remain in the operations area all night to meet a ship and crew that might have aborted their flight, and those returning through the dark lonely hours of early morning ... on THEIR way to "Guckenheimer"!!
What a grand spectacle, one that I have always remembered and equated to watching the Indianapolis 500 ... from that point of ... "Gentlemen ... START YOUR ENGINES" ... the anticipation ... the noise ... the smoke ... the roar ... the smell of the crowd ... the adrenaline ... exhilaration ... the apprehension ... the UNKNOWN!!!
I found the WW II drawing, (by Captain Raymond Creekmore, Staff Artist Air Force Journal in WW II ) above right, after having written and attached the above U.S. Air Force Korean War photo ... the characterization similarities were striking! The emotions and gestures illustrated are apparently universal ... an early version of "The Wave"!
That emotions could run from high to low within moments is illustrated in the following photos ... .from the exuberance of the sendoff waves in above pictures to the desperate sadness of the tragedy in the following photos ... a crash with the loss of 5 or 6 crewmembers while we were watching ... hoping!
We loop in the purple twilight,
-Song from Mission with Lemay -
Having described the takeoff of a B-29, it would only seem appropriate to report that every successful flight of a 29 concluded with a successful landing ... some of which have been defined as "any landing is a good one"!
The best landings though - with those great broad flaps full down - always reminded me of a great Golden Eagle flaring out to alight on a very fragile perch of a dead tree-top twig, ever so lightly that even the uncertain eagle perhaps thought the twig might not hold him ... and he would be ready to do his version of a "touch and go" if necessary! Perhaps the picture above is that eagle ... hovering over a downed mate!
POSTSCRIPT - EVERYBODY STANDUP & ERNIE PYLE
Having written EVERYBODY STAND UP in NO SWEAT in 1999, and then having finally submitted NO SWEAT to the publisher, First Books Publishing Company, for printing on Memorial Day weekend of 2003, I have now exactly one year later - on Memorial Day weekend of 2004 - had a revelation that is almost overwhelming!
Ernie Pyle, the most famous of WW II correspondents, beloved by all in the military for his "front line" reporting of the war in Europe and later in The Pacific, was killed by a Japanese machine-gunner/sniper on Ie Shima, a small rock of an island just off Okinawa and one which our Korean War B-29 Combat Crew circled many times during training and test-hop flights during our combat tour in Summer and Fall of 1952. In January 2004, my wife and I visited our son in Honolulu, Hawaii, my first return visit since 1952 on my way to Korea. During our tour of The Punchbowl, The Military Cemetery of The Pacific, and in our search - in vain - for listings and graves of 93rd Bomb Squadron and 19th Bomb Group compatriots lost in operations from Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, we came upon the grave and marker of Ernie Pyle.
Ie-Shima Island ----à Okinawa
On Friday of Memorial Day weekend, May 28th, 2004, I was advised by an email from a reader of NO SWEAT, that Ernie Pyle had written a dispatch relating HIS thoughts as an observer of the B-29 operations in The Mariana Islands (Guam, Saipan, and Tinian) - and headed to Japan - as similar to the excitement of the traditional Memorial Day weekend Indianapolis Speedway 500 mile race, and this dispatch was apparently eventually used in the 9th Bomb Group History/Year Book. Until yesterday, May 28th and Friday of the Memorial Day weekend of 2004, 59 years later, I had never ever heard of either Ernie Pyle's comparative analogy regarding The Indianapolis Speedway Race even prior to his loss on April 18th, 1945 OR The 9th Bomb Group!
I now must suppose that BOTH narratives - Ernie's AND mine - are not too coincidental or too far a reach of imaginations since his was an observation of, and mine as a participant as a B-29 Gunner in several maximum efforts of my 25 combat missions, and would reflect that in EACH of our lifetimes, there had then been few "spectacles" of the magnitude and "grandiosity" of a Maximum Effort of several B-29 Wings or Groups ... certainly none in MY lifetime before Korea or after, and thus my writing of this personal experience, which never escapes me, particularly on Memorial Day weekends and ever since having been able to see The Indianapolis Race on TV. I have been to one NASCAR Race in my life - with well over 100,000 other people - just over a year ago at The Texas Motor Speedway, and I might have related this in the narrative had I seen it before writing EVERYBODY STAND UP.
At any rate, apparently Ernie Pyle, myself, and presumably thousands of other people who have either experienced or observed such long ago B-29 operations, may have come to the same thought, perceptions, and adrenaline charged emotions with ... "START YOUR ENGINES"
- Bud Farrell, May 31, 2004 -
I hereby swear that the above is 100 % accurate and true to the very best of my knowledge, experience, and belief. Notarized June 1, 2004
Respectfully Frank (Bud) Farrell
- A VETERAN's Blog -