HALLOWEEN - ALL SAINTS DAY
On October 31st, on our return from a 9 hour and 15 minute mission to Anak, a large troop concentration and Airfield target, and on our final approach across the beach to Kadena at 2350 hours, I noted the extremely rough seas just off shore at Okinawa and turned to Rex, our Right Gunner and said "Boy, I wouldn't want to have to ditch in THAT tonight!" While the sky was clear as a bell with a very bright moon, the wind was very strong at surface level and was piling up huge swells and waves, later reported as up to 20 feet, with surf - like white water for several miles out from the beach into the East China Sea, the roughest I had ever seen the waters off Okinawa ... ..not remotely similar to their Pacific sister.
After landing and our unloading the ship, Corporal Price, the C.Q., showed up at our hardstand with the usual 6 by 6 crew truck with the canvas top and wooden bench seats along each side. He was not his usual very good natured self and clearly had a very nervous edge to him ... "Captain Harvey just ditched a few miles off - shore and they're out there trying to get to crewmembers ... a helicopter, rescue boats, and Dumbo is orbiting!" (Dumbo was the Air Sea Rescue SB-29 that carried a huge life boat and frequently escorted the bomber stream up and back from North Korea on alert at a moments notice to assist in a water rescue of any planes in distress, as it had this night just off Harvey's wing).
Harvey had been directly behind us in the Bomber Stream all the way up and back and had been literally only minutes away from landing, no more than 2 or 3 minutes behind. They were flying # 751, a ship that had not yet been named but that did have nose art of an unfinished painting of a grotesquely shapely starlet languishing in front of a Klieg light ... informally and caustically nicknamed "LUBRICATING LADY", reflecting her tendency - beyond ALL efforts at repair - to leak oil from all engines! She was the first about which I had heard the standard joke that the B-29 Wright R-3350 engine was the only World War II Aircraft engine that was EXTERNALLY lubricated! And to fly her as a Gunner/Scanner, and look at her wing surfaces behind the engines you would be certain to have agreed! I still have photos of oil flowing off the wing behind # 2 engine and another photo of her # 4 feathered.
In September 1952, Mom had written and included an article from the Delaware County Times that a Chuck Rees from Collingdale, our neighboring town, was shipping out to Okinawa and the 19th Bomb Group on Okinawa and of course I thought that the odds of my ever meeting him were slim to none ... and of course he and the other Gunners, Radio Operator and Flight Engineer of his crew ended up in the same squadron and in rooms just across the hall from me and the rooms of my other crewmembers ... small world! Chuck was aboard #751!
On September 23rd, as 93rd Squadron Test Flight Crew, we had had to test hop # 751 after all 4 engines had been changed at the same time. This aircraft had gained a very bad reputation and we dreaded seeing our crew number up to test hop it ... ... after previous bad experiences on her! For 3 hours we did the procedural tests and had a few problems but nothing extremely serious ... as we even somewhat frivolously buzzed the ship that our pilot's civilian girl friend was going back to the States in having left Okinawa just the day before ... and our having to pull up and over from below mast level height over a calm sea...quite a thrill in a B-29 I can assure you! We filed the appropriate reports reflecting the maintenance deficiencies and were glad to be done with her ... or so we thought!
On October 23rd we again test hopped # 751 and SOP Manual required a shutdown and feathering of each engine across the board, bring it back in and feathering the next and so on. # 1 shutdown and feathered and brought back in, # 2 shutdown and feathered and brought back in, # 3 shutdown and feathered and brought back in, # 4 shutdown and ... could NOT be brought back in ... and we were now having some difficulty with the loss of power and shutdown of # 1 on our final approach. Captain Cheney had declared an emergency and requested a straight in approach and landing which we did while losing additional power on a third engine ... TOTAL time of flight was 50 minutes, the last few of which seemed like DAYS! The irony of this flight was that Bob Gray, our Navigator, who was absolutely scared to death of flying, did NOT have to go with us on test hops since they were always local and the usual Test Crew was the A.C., Pilot, Flight Engineer, and the two Waist Gunner/Scanners. Ironically perhaps the ONLY flight that Bob Gray EVER made that he didn't have to ... and we damn near "bought the farm"!
Imagine that experience on the 23rd and then the apprehension of finding our name on the mission board the next day, the 24th , a 10 hour Primer Mission for Front Line Support, a "Milk Run" that all of us wanted to go on ... except # 751 ... which aborted again! And now, a week later after our return, as we stood outside of the Debriefing Quonset ... watching ... waiting ... listening long into the "always darkest before the dawn" dampness to the rescue efforts on VHF Radio loudspeaker as we watched the scanning searchlights of the various rescue craft involved ... "THERE... a light ... someone in the water" ... and a cheer went up ... hopeful that there were more ... and there were ... but only a total of 3 out of the 14 aboard ... and our weariness soon exceeded our hopefulness, and even there on shore it had become extremely cold ... and the truck ride to our barrack was without the usual rowdiness!
And the next day an Officer appeared at the door of the room across the hall from me and asked for some help in surveying and packing personal effects of the two Gunners ... kids ... that would not be back. One of the kids I distinctly remember regularly twirling his pistol and saying "look out stranger, I'm a Texas Ranger"! And we packed several Paperback Westerns from his room ... the same room we had surveyed and packed after September12th, Suiho, for the families of Major Sander's Gunners! And that was October 31, 1952 ... All Saints Day!
Re the above picture and caption, quoted from Bob Mann, a 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron WB-29 Ground Crew mechanic and sometime Scanner on weather recon, this engine oil leak was about as bad as they got without burning. The phrase "Three turning and one burning" was more Gallows Humor than actual ... 3 turning, one FEATHERED was very common!
In April 1999, I received a detailed crash report regarding the loss of # 751, most of Captain Harvey's crew, and three of Lt. Taylor's crew on their first orientation flight, and I have had a great deal of difficulty thinking of their loss and whether I should write anything about this ... but there is bravery and courage ... and heroics here that we should remember and that you should know about!
On their return from the mission, Captain Harvey experienced major mechanical failures, apparently due to fuel starvation from a failure of the fuel transfer system, and he feathered 2 engines (rotating prop blade edges into the wind in order to prevent windmilling of the propellers turning at high speed and creating drag) of the two outboard engines, # 1 and # 4. An EMPTY B-29 could fly on the two inboard engines and of course upon return from a mission all bomb load was gone and nearly all fuel expended. A B-29 could generally NOT fly on ONE engine without having substantial altitude to give up in maintaining airspeed ... and, at an already low emergency approach altitude, they lost # 3 and were forced to ditch almost immediately. Their having contacted Kadena Control, and declaring an emergency with just two engines down, brought an SB-29 "Dumbo" Rescue plane out, with lifeboat, to escort them before they lost # 3. In addition to their SB-29 escort there was an SA -16 Albatross Amphibian rescue plane in sight upon their ditching. The crew had been alerted to prepare for ditching at approximately 2350 hours- 10 minutes before midnight - dropping rapidly from approximately 6,000 feet altitude.
Upon ditching into the incredibly heavy 10 to 20 foot seas that I had just moments before remarked to Rex about, their ship - just a few miles offshore - hit a great wall of water and broke up immediately. The Extra Bombardier, 1st Lt. James Knox , was apparently thrown from or through the nose of the breaking-up aircraft, pulled the CO2 release valves on his Mae West, and found himself about 100 feet away from the ditched wreckage in the very dark and rough midnight sea! To recover greater bouyancy in the extremely rough seas, he removed his combat boots and flight fatigue coverall pocket contents. Efforts to fire a rescue flare failed and he remained adrift for approximately 1 -1/2 hours until a helicopter spotted him in search lights and directed a crash boat to him.
The Radio Operator, Airman 1st Class Ed LeMaster, and the CFC, Airman 2nd Class Chuck Rees, escaped the sinking ship through the Astrodome on the top of the fuselage just above the forward mouth of the tunnel and the bulkhead door to the front bomb bay. Both of these men apparently found a helping hand reaching into the aircraft for them ... the arm and hand of their Right Gunner, Airman 2nd Class Donald H. Wilson. Chuck Rees had had his foot pinned by a falling Loran set dislodged on impact and was completely underwater when he felt a hand groping through the dark water and latching onto him from above ... and literally helping to tug him loose and out of the aircraft. Chuck Rees was washed off the aircraft fuselage by heavy seas and LeMaster jumped into the ocean to clear the sinking wreckage and both inflated their Mae West's without difficulty and turned on the attached flashlights.
Shortly after, Radio Operator Lemaster shot off a rescue flare which was spotted by a helicopter, guiding the pickup made by an Air/Sea Rescue Crash Boat. Right Gunner Donald Wilson, perhaps the first safely out of the ship, their heroic and unselfish rescuing Angel, was never found ... his empty Mae West supposedly recovered, virtually impossible to have slipped off him ... and there were rumors - incorrect - that Wilson couldn't swim and that the heavy seas had taken him from his moment of joy and glory in the rescue of his crewmates.
Search all night and the following day was unsuccessful in finding additional survivors. The complete 141 foot wing of # 751, from wingtip to wingtip, floated onto the beach in Naha Harbor, indicating such a catastrophic impact that all engines and nacelles were gone, looking as if they had been unbolted from the wing engine mounts. A modest amount of debris ... and ONE Mae West were found!
This was the second ship in our squadron that we were the last crew to have flown successfully ... or at least to have landed, #802 Bait Me on Sept. 8th ( augured in Sept 12 ) & # 751 Lubricating Lady Oct.23rd (ditched Oct. 31, ). And our remorse was perversely twisted in that one of the almost universal thoughts, I'm sure, was that our odds for survival had just been IMPROVED by the loss of this ship and crew, and the loss of Major Sanders Crew on September 12th on the Suiho Mission. Many years later I read that this is not an uncommon emotion but intertwined with a significant and enduring "survivors guilt!"
Late in the evening of July 1st, 2002, as I pondered the 50th anniversary of the very day and evening of my first Korean War mission, which was actually the 2nd /3rd across the International Dateline (*) in the Far East, it has only just now occurred to me that the number of that truly jinxed aircraft, # 751, the numbers 7 - 5 and 1 ... total 13! No superstition there, huh?!
* The "Day of Infamy", the Japanese attack on December 7th, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was December 8th for those at Clark Field, Corregidor, and Bataan, in the Philippine Islands.
Hazing the New Guys! "Older Vet" Dick Schoeps (24), our Flight Engineer, probably feeding the "new guy", Ebbie LeMaster (23) Radio Operator of Harvey's Crew, a war story ... "There we were at 25 thousand feet ... . Oh hell, let's have another drink"!
... and now Chuck and Ebbie had their own very difficult "war story" ... and a visit to their courageous rescue crew and boat.
"OH LORD THY SEA IS SO GREAT AND MY SHIP IS SO SMALL!"
- author unknown
Wreckage carried from 9 miles offshore onto Naha beach by strong winds and now being left by receding tides. # 751 "Lubricating Lady" Wing and Center Wing Fuselage. All flaps, ailerons etc., torn from rear of wing, all engines torn from engine nacelles ... and one Mae West recovered!
Air -Sea Rescue SB-29 "Superdumbo" with Lifeboat dropping, attached Parachute just opening. This type of aircraft escorted the B-29's to the coasts of North Korea, waiting offshore for the exit of any battle damaged or mechanically disabled B-29 crews to call for escort or assistance and they saved many crewmembers lives to return to combat or other duties.
2nd Air Sea Rescue Squadron, Kadena Air Force Base
The above photos are from the collection of Dewey Thomas, who flew with the 2nd Air Rescue Squadron from Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa in 1952, after having also served in WW II. Sometimes the SA-16's landed in water too rough to takeoff again and have been known to taxi several miles in rough seas to effect a rescue, at very great jeopardy to the crew and their aircraft but reflecting courageous determination to complete their mission ... the rescue of Air Crews downed at sea!
On March 8th, 2003, I received a return phone call as a result of a letter that I had sent attempting to find Chuck Rees after the past 51-1/2 years. How good it was to hear his voice, just as exuberant and youthful as in those days before the loss of his aircraft and crew. We reminisced in greater detail than was perhaps appropriate, but it was important to me to have Chuck know that he, nor his crew, had ever been forgotten by us, the survivors of my own crew, now diminished in numbers by age. This narrative is not complete but suspended until Chuck and I talk further so that I might supplement what I had previously written with any thoughts he may wish to relate. ***
Chuck Rees has updated me with information that he attended Temple University in Philadelphia and acquired a degree in Architectural Engineering & Design, has 4 sons and 1 daughter, whom is about to bring another li'l girl into their current family of 14 grandchildren. Chuck still lives in Collingdale, Pa. close to several of my cousins and I look forward to meeting him once again in the near future ... .a lot to talk about after 50 years! I for one thank our government for one of the greatest pieces of social legislation ever implemented ... The G.I. Bill!
I have also talked with Ebbie LeMaster on 3/11/03, the Radio/ECM Operator on Captain Harvey's crew and have already learned enough to make revisions to my ongoing efforts to honor all of the people I have previously written about. One of the first revisions, albeit not changing my original point, that THE SPARE GUNNER of the 93rd Bomb Squadron, Tom DelSignore , WAS the only enlisted man in the 19th with a college degree ... that was apparently true UNTIL Ebbie LeMaster arrived in the 19th Bomb Group in late September or early October, 1952. Eb advises that he - now at 74- had finished college before enlisting and was thus then a little older then most of us at 23 ... and certainly smarter and better educated than the rest of us ... MY words, not Eb's! Eb lives in Ponta Vedre Beach, Florida and retired from a career building resort hotels and facilities. Eb spends a lot of time fishing or traveling to faraway places to fish! Maybe we'll get together in the future ... and tell fish stories ... hoping he isn't IRISH!
Both Chuck and Ebbie, along with me, have pondered the fact that we know of no Memorial Services having been held for any of our 93rd Bomb Squadron or other 19th Bomb Group crew members lost during the Korean War. In a forthcoming trip to Hawaii, I plan to visit the Punch Bowl Military Cemetery near Honolulu in hopes of finding some record - and closure - regarding these several "brothers" who may be interred there.
*** Only after contacting Chuck Rees 51 years later, did I learn that the rescuing Gunner had actually been Airman Second Class Donald Wilson, since the October 1952 93rd Bomb Squadron History erroneously listed Wilson as the LEFT Gunner and A/2c Harry Peoples Jr. as the RIGHT Gunner. It becomes easy to realize what the "fog of war" allows in confusion on even grander scales of perhaps greater consequence ... but what could have been more serious to Chuck Rees, Ebbie LeMaster, and perhaps the family of Donald Wilson, had I misidentified the heroic non-surviving rescuer? The official Air Force accident report statement by Lt Knox, Extra Bombardier and third survivor, referred to only "the Right Gunner" but not by name since the SOP Manual Ditching position for the Right Gunner IS from within the FORWARD compartment. Lt. Knox, as a fill-in crew member from Lt. Taylor's crew on an orientation flight, would probably have known very few of the regular Harvey crew members, perhaps only the regular crew Bombardier and Aircraft Commander, and almost certainly not one having come forward from the rear compartment only for his ditching position and probably not even having ever met Lt. Knox.. And Chuck Rees states that neither he nor Ebbie LeMaster ever saw or heard from Lt. Knox after their rescue and return to the 93rd Squadron in November 1952, nor have they heard from or been able to locate him since.
I have - even while flying in 29's and ever since - ALWAYS wondered about the prudence of the Ring Gunner and Right Gunner coming forward from the rear Gunners compartment through the tunnel to the forward compartment for ditching, particularly in a "hurried" emergency circumstance! The forward compartment official ditching positions, had the Aircraft Commander, Pilot, Bombardier, Flight Engineer, Navigator, Radio Op., Ring (CFC) Gunner, and any additional Group or Squadron personnel and so called "extra or spare" crew members of forward crew positions, along for combat orientation flights, a rather confined area crammed with equipment, radio, radar, Upper and Lower Forward Turrets, turret system computer, etc. Other crew members, the Left Gunner and Radar Observer, remained in the rear aft un-pressurized compartment, far less crowded, and the Tail Gunner in his Tail Gunner position jettisoning the Gun Sight and Escape Hatch, both aft positions generally regarded as safer in the event of crash etc. As seems to be the case even today in commercial aircraft, the far rear has generally more often survived any type of impact more intact ... not so in this case!
Chuck Rees advises that during SAC Gunnery Evaluation at Smoky Hill AFB in Salina, Kansas, by a simple quirk of fate during the routine test of all gunners, he had determined very quickly the nature of a "plugged -in" Browning Machine Gun malfunction that others had missed, and was thus made CFC on his crew. Had he missed this he would have remained as the Left Gunner and subsequently been in the far rear un-pressurized compartment from which there were no survivors in the ditching ... a "hinge of fate" ... perhaps his own "survivors guilt"!
The picture above reflects many aspects of the intensity of preflighting our ship for a mission in the Maximum Effort Campaign of late Fall 1952, indicated by cold weather jackets. The paint scarred aircraft, with many previous flights over North Korea through flak and bad weather, being made "ready" once again, Rex Parsons, Right Gunner, arming guns on lower forward turret to the left, Flight Engineer Dick Schoeps hanging onto HIS aircraft ... lookin' cool ... Bud Farrell, Left Gunner, standing over Chuck Rees, the new-crew guy from home and a soon to be rescued-survivor in the HALLOWEEN story, as Angelo Menna, our C.F.C (Top Ring) Gunner checks him out on the preflight arming of the 4 -.50 Caliber Upper Forward Turret guns ... the "Bombloader" - perhaps Bob Bassett - on far right working quietly, urgently, carefully - and ALONE - on fusing and "finning" bombs ... almost time for briefing ... boarding ... engine start ... the long, smoky, gear groaning and brake-squealing taxi...the even longer lip-biting adrenaline-pumping takeoff roll ... and then ... "Now I lay me down to sleep" ... TWICE, always twice!
I now think of all the "extra" people we had along on missions for orientation flights, often in the same rear Gunners Compartment, without even knowing their names. We had had Chuck Rees and perhaps Ebbie LeMaster along with us on their very first combat orientation mission (and our 14th or 16th combat mission) on October 6th or 16th, both missions having been to the Sopori Supply Center of North Korea, and with their ditching on their fourth mission on October 31st, HALLOWEEN. In late August we had had Lt. Bill King a Spare Radar Observer (from Texarkana, Texas) along with us on his first combat orientation flight, and then wounded on September 12th while with Lt. Ralph Walt's crew over Suiho Dam on The Yalu River, on just his third mission. On many other occasions we had several people with us that we never really knew and only years later did we get to know and become very close to Bill King through 19th Bomb Group Association Reunions. I never envied "The Spares", those with air crew specialties ... but no regular crew, frequently having to fly with strangers on virtually every mission. (See THE SPARE GUNNER). And now, almost 52 years later I wonder if any of those "Spares" flying with us had wished we would have talked more to them, drawn us out of our own quiet shells to have perhaps been not only more friendly but more confident and reassuring ... and I wonder if any noticed or were even more disconcerted by our seclusive and concentrated whispering of prayers in the semi-darkness of takeoff ... "Now I lay me down to sleep ... "
Continuing calls and correspondence with Chuck Rees have brought out several revelations regarding this tragedy, some bright moments of the heroics involved, others the disgrace of apparent disinterest on the part of more than simply "disinterested parties", but rather the absolute negligence of an uncaring military and politicians far removed from the "Forgotten War - Korea"!
Donald Wilson, the rescuer of Chuck Rees and Ebbie LeMaster, and according to them, apparently perished in his continuing effort to go back into the already sinking wreckage of his aircraft attempting to help others of his crew to get out and into the dangerously turbulent and shark infested seas. Donald Wilson never received any award for his heroism, not even so much as an Air Medal when in fact he might have clearly deserved any number of special awards such as The Distinguished Service Cross, The Distinguished Flying Cross, The Commendation Ribbon, or at very least, The Air Medal. That Wilson had no Officers of his crew survive the ditching represents a typical "Catch 22" of the military ... since ONLY an Officer can nominate an enlisted man for a citation or medal of merit. OK, no officer survivors, no medal ... what were those two rescued crewmates, Chopped Liver?
And so once again I may be off on another "Primer Mission", front line support, tilting windmills, seeking some recognition, justice, and reward for Airman Second Class, Hero FIRST CLASS Donald Wilson, perhaps 50 years too late for his family but now never too late for him! May he rest in peace as I won't until he has received well deserved if belated recognition!
While I presume that we will not belatedly and posthumously obtain any award high enough or commensurate to Airman Wilson's bravery, his closest boyhood friend, Don Hayes of Shelley, Idaho, has advised that there apparently is a small and simple granite monument erected as a memorial to Donald Wilson, placed high on a hill at the scenic overlook above the Mississippi River where Interstate-80 connects Iowa and Illinois, on the Illinois side. Perhaps a traveler in that area will confirm this so that others of us may have the future opportunity to visit that monument and rest there ... so far from Korea and Okinawa and the East China Sea Beach of Okinawa ... and contemplate and honor and linger a while there in the presence of the spirit of a to date unsung but truly great American hero, Airman Second Class Donald Wilson!
Don Hayes has also told me that Don Wilson's mother had had three brothers in World War II ... and had now lost her oldest son ... such great sacrifice is beyond the comprehension of most of us! That I continue to learn so much that I didn't know then about so many that I DID know then, humbles me in that I have done or given so little and now perhaps too late ... .or perhaps just this ... that "I've been meanin' to write!"
The following diagram reflects the September 1951 B-29 Gunners Strategic Air Command Standing Operating Procedure Manual ditching procedure and positions.
Following photos and articles sent by Chuck Rees reflect "minor moments" of history but MAJOR moments of life ... and living ... to those in remembrance!
I have suggested to Chuck Rees, that as good a sketch artist as he must be, having drawn the above so shortly after the incident, that I have wondered if it has ever occurred to him to draw a depiction of the hand reaching for him through the dark night and water when he was pinned under water by the fallen Loran Set. I am consumed that that hand was in one sense the Hand of "GOD", manifested in or guiding the hand of Donald Wilson, and that that in itself is a magnificent and miraculous story!
On April 1st of 2003, I wrote a letter to Senator John McCain with my then complete HALLOWEEN story attached, seeking his assistance in getting some recognition and award belatedly and posthumously for Donald Wilson. The response from McCain's office, a letter over his signature but obviously from some political hack working (?) in his office, returned my letter and stated that under the privacy act of 1974 they could not release any information regarding the individual without his written permission " and we are therefore returning your correspondence on this matter"!. I blew my stack and called McCain's Washington D.C. office and "modestly" told another dumb bastard there that the individual in question was "dead ... at the bottom of the East China Sea ... and YOU want his autograph" ... and I then sent another letter ... certified mail ... to McCain "EYES ONLY" and suggested that if he couldn't or wouldn't help, perhaps a close personal friend of mine, Major General Ted Twinting, USAF Retired, OR Colonel Leo Thorsness USAF Retired, a community neighbor, might be able to offer some guidance. I did NOT add that I knew that Leo Thorsness had been McCain's Hanoi -Hilton POW cellmate for a good part of their over six year imprisonment during the Vietnam War, with Leo Thorsness having been awarded The Medal of Honor. I never got any further response from McCain whom I would have expected to have some special empathy and sympathy for this cause ... but apparently not now, not now that "He's got his"! ( I have attached copies of letters of this effort, perhaps for your consideration in a future election if in Arizona ... or maybe just a change of opinion!) And if he gets PO'd enough about any of this , he can THEN talk to his staff ... who sound too stupid to be working for the U.S. ... US, got it?
Let me tell you 'bout another Senator's office ... several years ago I had written to Senator Chaffee of Rhode Island regarding an award for a crew member who also had no surviving B-29 crew officers alive to nominate him ... got a letter back from THEN Congressman Schumer's office - of New York - referring simply to "the letter I had written". I called Schumer's office asking "what letter" since the only letter I had written was to Chaffee of Rhode Isoland ... and Schumer's Secretary exclaimed "Oh, that's why ... Rhode Island is part of New York!" I told her "Lady, MANHATTAN Island is part of New York, I worked there in Rockefeller center for two years ... LONG Island is part of New York, I traveled it for two years ... Staten Island is part of New York ... RHODE ISLAND IS NOT PART OF NEW YORK DAMN IT!"! This was the personal SECRETARY (?) of a United States Congressman ... AND AN EMPLOYEE OF OURS!
Now doesn't it make you wonder how my letter to Senator Chaffee of Rhode Island got to Schumer of New York? It HAD to have been forwarded by someone in Chaffee's Rhode Island office apparently also not knowing that their own state, RHODE Island , wasn't part of New York and its "Islands"! HA! God help us!
In the early morning hours of July 25th, 2003, just two days before the 50th anniversary of the end of The Korean War on July 27, 1953, I received a call from Molly Laas, the bright young reporter/Smith College student for The Quad Cities Times who picked up on my story in "NO SWEAT" titled HALLOWEEN. Molly advised that she had just had a call from the office of Congressman Lane Evans of Illinois, confirming that Airman Donald Wilson has been posthumously awarded The Airman's Medal for Heroism, and that the family of Donald Wilson, brother John (Bill) and sister-in -law Judy Wilson, will learn of this while in Washington D.C. today for an Air Force Conference on MIA/POWs.
That my story regarding this began 51 years ago, and is finally off to print now, and will have to be revised, is not important ... what IS important is that the memory and spirit of Donald Wilson now lives within all of us who either knew him then or has learned of him later ... through the efforts of Congressman Lane Evans (D) (who somehow cared enough to have NO problems with the "Privacy Act of 1974", unlike Senator John McCain), Gunner Chuck Rees and Radio Operator Ebbie LeMaster of Wilson's crew, Robert Dorr the aviation writer for The Air ForceTimes and author of numerous aviation books, and last but not least, young Molly Laas ... who picked up and will carry this tale longer than any of us ... POWER TO THE PEOPLE ... GOD BLESS THEM ALL!
- Bud Farrell -
On September 14th, 2003, I received the following pictures taken at the award ceremony in Hillsdale, Illinois, on September 13th, 2003 commemorating the Korean War and wherein the posthumously awarded Airman's Medal for Heroism was presented to Bill and Judy Wilson, Donald's brother and sister -in-law, and in the presence of Keri Nordbye, the Wilson's oldest daughter and Donald's niece, and Raymond Johnson, Donald's Uncle and childhood babysitter. This long overdue award and ceremony were attended by a great number of Wilson's family and boyhood community friends ... and perhaps at last - at very long last - all of Don's family, friends, and about 500 community neighbors may now know of his incredibly heroic deeds in that dark and tragic night of Halloween, October 31st, 1952. I will never forget that night and following day of anguish within our crew, our barrack, our squadron and bomb group ... but now that burden is greatly lightened but the memory never dimmed of another crew who will be long remembered and further honored by having known the likes of Airman Second Class Donald Wilson, "just a farm boy from Illinois!"! May GOD BLESS HIM, and "Bless 'em all, the long and the short and the tall ... "
HALLOWEEN - POSTSCRIPT
A few years after having written and published NO SWEAT and HALLOWEEN, and having belatedly found two of the survivors of the story, I recently picked up on a totally coincidental B-29 web site posting by Bob Mann (an extremely well qualified B-29 /R-3350 engine ground crew mechanic (and now author) related to fuel boost pumps in the wing tanks of all B-29 aircraft in WW II and Korean operations.
Another extremely experienced WW II B-29 Flight Engineer, Don Brzenski, has advised me and validated that the B-29 Fuel Boost Pumps (*) in EACH wing fuel tank, were poorly designed in that the pumps were placed in the MIDDLE of the tanks, and that care had to be taken when at low levels of fuel since up to 200 gallons per tank could become unusable if too steep an angle was used on landing approach. And of course in an emergency such as occurred with the loss of two engines, and then a third as occurred on # 751, with limited fuel perhaps flowing forward in a relatively steep "nose-down attitude" ... and leaving the pumps run dry, maintaining a level flight attitude was not an option in this emergency and thus one vulnerability may have led to another.
Apparently this design or engineering flaw led to Boeing to redesign and add a second fuel boost pump in each wing tank of the C-97 Stratocruiser (and possibly the B-50, a modified B-29 Superfortress) ... which used EXACTLY the same wing as the B-29. Hindsight has presumably always been a design criteria in aircraft development!
· Fuel Boost Pumps were intended to maintain and or increase constant fuel pressure flows to compensate for reduced atmospheric pressures on fuel in tanks at higher altitudes
Between the October 31st 1952 , HALLOWEEN ditching and loss of most of his crew, and his return from the hospital to combat duty inmid-November '52, and until March 1953, and in addition to once again flying combat missions, he had had to drive the 93rd Bomb Squadron crew- truck ... perhaps because Tom Delsignore (THE SPARE GUNNER) and I, two of the few who had Military Drivers Licenses, had left in December of '52! Combat Crew and flight status were not nearly as glamorous as some may have thought, those who didn't see US in the dark of night ... like those bombloaders and Bob Bassett in THE SPY story!
- A VETERAN's Blog -