"JUMP JOE JUMP!"
Just back from R & R on November 24th and we were scheduled for the mission in the night of November 26th, the night before Thanksgiving, and we couldn't possibly have known how much we were to have to be thankful for! We were approximately two hundred miles out over the East China Sea and just beginning to start our climb out to bombing altitude from our altitude then of 4,500 feet.
Our aircraft commander realized that we were in a very gentle climb, not even perceptible in the rear of the aircraft, and just as he reached and was going to make an adjustment on the autopilot, all hell broke loose! The bottom dropped out from under us and everything in that aircraft that wasn't tied, strapped, or screwed down, floated up in the air and against the overhead of the fuselage ... .and the 39 - 500 pound and 3 photoflash bombs in the two bomb bays did the same! We experienced total weightlessness much as that which was used later to train the Astronauts in the back of a large aircraft with a padded interior ... except ours was not padded ... nor planned!
When the ship dumped, I floated up to the limit of a combat safety belt that was hooked to a "D Ring" on my chute harness and that was high enough that I hit the exposed overhead control cables, floated for a few seemingly endless seconds and then came down on my ribs on the Gun Sight, and then fell backward toward the base of the CFC "Barber Chair" and into the foot well of my position. I was lying half on my side and facing the blister when we pulled out of a steep dive imposing many more "G's" than I thought the ship would take ... immobile as I watched the tip of the left wing wave through a broad arc ... and I was sure it was gone! At the bottom of the pullout everything that had been floating came back down with a huge crash, overwhelming the roar of the engines, and there was equipment and stuff in a huge tangle all over the rear compartment. We found out through that brief weightless period just how much loose gear and how many unfastened floor boards were in that aircraft.
As I untangled myself from the jumble of Flak Jackets and helmets , One-man Life Rafts, B-4 bags, spilled box lunch cartons, C-ration cartons, and interphone cable connections, I was still on interphone and could hear our Bombardier, Don Heil, hollering "structural failure ... structural failure...!" Well, that obviously helped a lot 'cause we were still flying ... after pulling out of what was later estimated to be an approximate 40 to 50 degree angle dive, far exceeding what a B-29 was ever intended to do. In the rear Radar compartment where Angelo Menna, our CFC, and Tail Gunner Joe B. Heaton Jr., had been semi-dozing on their chute chest packs, there was absolute chaos! They of course were not in their positions and had no safety belts securing them and so had floated to the overhead and back down in a heap, with Carl Merritt, our Radar Observer, having floated and then fallen into one of the deep wells UNDER the floor boards that had floated away. Only Carl's head could be seen above the deck from among electrical inverters and other things that made whirring and clicking noises without ever being seen.
Joe B., with all of his high school football star prowess and instinctive reactions, was headed for the rear main entrance hatch ...crawling uphill on the deck trying to make it to the escape hatch, with Angelo struggling behind ... and Angelo encouraging Joe with ... "Jump Joe ... JUMP!" Fortunately neither could make it to the escape hatch. Many years later Angelo reminded me that he was headed out WITHOUT his chest pack parachute and only the harness on ... his first thought "to get the hell out!"
While it wasn't funny at the time, this bizarre scene of Angelo yelling "Jump Joe JUMP" ... and the cooler and only slightly above the floor- boards head of Carl Merritt hollering "NO JOE ... DON'T JUMP ... DON'T JUMP!" ... has remained with all of us then present in that rear compartment. Angelo was so certain we were diving fatally into the ocean that his first unselfish thought was to get Joe B. out if possible. We would STILL be looking for Joe B. 200 miles out in a very dark East China Sea!
The worst was NOT over ... a fast check of the bomb bays revealed that ALL of the bombs had floated weightless upward suddenly and sharply enough to have dented the bomb racks at the TOP of their swing, and then come down with such a jerk that they pulled loose from the bomb shackles and had salvoed onto and through the bomb bay doors, which really required very little weight to force them open ... ALL that is except one 500 pounder at the top of the right forward rack in the rear bomb bay, and it was hanging cocked by the one rear lug on the shackle ... with one of the three photoflash bombs nestled nicely but LOOSE lying on top of the 500 pounder with its nose slid down against the center wing ... .with the other two photoflash bombs having been discovered to have floated loose and ONTO the centerwing tank ... rolling around in modest turbulence. These were a greater hazard than the 500 pounder since they were armed by the small spinning propeller which WAS turning as they rolled around! *
Captain Cheney told Angelo to go in and salvo the remaining hung bombs which he did with no thought for his personal safety, and STILL without his chute pack on, and swinging out and around the racks and wrestling with lifting the heavy photoflash bombs and literally heaving them clear of the bomb bays into the night, like tossing a medicine ball. But he could not get the tipped and jammed 500 pounder up far enough on the shackle hook to unjam the lug, and needed some lifting help. The A.C. told Rex, our Right Gunner, to go in and help Angelo get the weight off the shackle hook so he could use a screwdriver to trip the shackle. He told me to stand by at the bulkhead door, on interphone, with an aldis lamp to give them light and to report their progress. When Rex was told to go in the open bomb bay he said "Uh uh ... let's close that door first if we can!" Rex wore a back pack chute and knew he could not fit between the bomb rack and the narrow crescent of the fuselage ... and would have to swing out around the rear bomb rack, over the open bomb bay doors ... 200 miles out over a very black night and sea, to get to the forward rack. Angelo wore a chest pack harness and had a chest pack Harness - but NO chute pack - and could thus fit between the bomb rack and fuselage. Fortunately the doors did close, Rex went in and helped, doors reopened and the release was made, and we headed back to Okinawa ... with our only airborne abort! I felt a brief shudder when I realized how difficult it had been to even move against the centrifugal forces when I was sprawled on the deck under equipment , fighting to even get up into a sitting position ... and I thought of Major Sander's crew held prisoner in their fatal spin several weeks earlier on the September 12th Suiho mission, and the night ditching by Captain Harvey's crew on October 31st ... and it was very quiet aboard that aircraft for the remainder of the return flight ... as though something critical might be further jarred loose by any talk, any possible jinxing ourselves!
It was later determined by engineering that the C-1 Auto Pilot elevator control gyro had reversed itself, and instead of remaining in a very shallow climb, the autopilot gyro, being 180 degrees out of phase, was attempting to make a radical reversal in direction and theoretically into an upside down position, the beginning of an "outside loop" I presume! Now THAT would have been something! When we landed we did indeed have minor structural damage with some rivets popped in the tail for which the Crew Chief was very unsympathetic and belligerent about our abort ... and I went for the SECOND fight of my career only to be stopped by other crewmembers.
Had it not been for two very good and large and physically STRONG Pilots, our A.C. Capt. Cheney, and Lt. Martineau, " Marty" , manually overriding the autopilot with their feet on the rudder bar and hauling back on both control yokes, this story would never be told. We pulled out at 1,200 feet - exactly and only 12 lengths of our aircraft and no more than 2-1/2 SECONDS from the ocean and catastrophic disaster - and our as yet unarmed bombs - which theoretically could NOT go off without the pins pulled - sailed off into that black ocean with about HALF detonating on impact! And Joe B. laughed about all of this as he did most things ... "Goray Boys, there I was in the rear main entrance hatch with Angelo yelling 'Jump Joe JUMP ... and Ol' Carl hollerin' 'DON'T JUMP JOE!' "
* Many years after this incident, while reading in Chester Marshall's collection of narratives in THE GLOBAL TWENTIETH, a chapter by retired USAF Major General Winton R. Close, a WW II B-29 Aircraft Commander (and 98th Bomb Wing Commander in Korean War), related the severity of turbulence experienced within a thunderhead ... "an upward acceleration of such severity that four bombs and their shackles were torn loose from the bomb bay racks and disappeared forever through the closed bomb-bay doors." There are few exaggerations in combat aviation!
On September 8th, 2004, while ordering a copy of NO SWEAT, Vic Metz of Arvada, Colorado, a retired 27 year Air Force career officer who had served in The Army Air Corps, flying 32 missions over Europe in WW II and then again another 12 over North Korea in mid 1953 with the 28th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group, advised me that another Gunner who had entered an open B-29 Bomb Bay with no chute on, fell out and to his death from over 13,000 feet ... further validating the vulnerability and danger of Angelo Menna's heroic act! Colonel Metz was kind enough to dig out an old copy of THE RYUKYU REVIEW dated August 29th, 1953 relating the tragic story of Airman Larkin and reflecting the very significant potential vulnerability of just entering either an open OR closed B-29 Bomb Bay while in flight, let alone having to lift a few 70 pound photoflash bombs and wrestle with a 500 pounder high explosive "iron bomb" while restricted in movement by even a chest-pack parachute harness! As I recall, it only took 40 pounds of pressure to release the doors and certainly, anyone falling on the doors would be ejected.
I was NOT aware of this actual occurrence of 1953 when I wrote my earliest letters to the Air Force and several Senators and Congressmen in the late 1990s seeking a commendation for Angelo Menna, nor when I wrote and submitted the story JUMP JOE JUMP to them in 2001. Through the subsequent very gracious assistance of many people like Colonel Vic Metz, as a result of the first printing of NO SWEAT, I continue to learn even more about how many heroic deeds were and are performed by our military, for whom we should all be very proud and thankful ... and REMEMBER!
8/19/04 - I am overwhelmed with joy and had to share this with all of you...at 8:15 this morning, just as I was finishing and ready to mail updated CD revisions of NO SWEAT to the publisher - with pictures and comments forwarded by so many as a result of the first printing - I received a phone call from Senator Jack Reed's office (Rhode Island) advising me that my letter campaign effort and dream begun in 1988 has finally been realized with the award of "The Distinguished Flying Cross" for Angelo Menna, our Korean War B-29 Combat Crew Ring Gunner (CFC Central Fire Control) for his heroic actions on November 26th, 1952 as described in my story JUMP JOE JUMP on page 239 of NO SWEAT. I am particularly pleased that this is the second military award of merit to be made as a direct result of the musings of my idle mind in NO SWEAT (HALLOWEEN on page 203), through many pensive and quiet mid - night hours...and perhaps reflects that the Korean War nor my crewmates are now neither "forgotten" nor "Unknown" by you nor many others...for which I sincerely thank you! Bud Farrell
P.S. Angelo is not even aware of this yet since they called to ask me if I thought a presentation should be made at our forthcoming 19th Bomb Group Reunion in Philadelphia on October 8th. I have suggested that since Angelo's wife Barbara cannot travel (with Parkinson's and wheel chair bound), this award presentation should be made by Senator Reed and/or an Air Force Representative there in Cranston, Rhode Island, so that Barbara, and their daughters and grandchildren, and all of Angie's old Providence and Cranston, Rhode Island neighbors, friends, and garage business cronies might be present for this presentation...I was there for the actual "event" and THAT - and this memory - will more than suffice!
Sadly, I have recently learned that there is an even more tragic aspect of the preceding story ... that a group of the airmen involved and affected by this incident, had had a party the night before and were perhaps not in the best of condition for this training mission ... but more importantly, their AIRCRAFT certainly was not in an airworthy condition due to failure of bomb bay doors to latch properly during the preflight inspection.
Apparently after engine-start, and just before beginning to taxi, the Aircraft Commander even beckoned and called out of his escape hatch window to a few bystanders and directed them to lift the bomb bay doors with their backs while latches were again activated. Aboard the aircraft the Right Gunner was pulling the emergency "T-handle" next to the aft bulkhead as the doors were raised, apparently effecting at least a temporary latching of the doors.
Later during the flight the door latches again failed after closing the doors after a training bomb drop and the CFC (Ring Gunner) entered the bomb bay - with NO parachute on - and attempted to secure the doors with static lines, and while returning to the rear Gunner's compartment, he either stepped on the doors, or fell on them, and the Left Gunner, face to face with the desperate CFC, grabbed him by the wrist but could not hold on to him. This malfunctioning aircraft and crew should never have left the ground that fateful day ... but then, how many of us had done the very same things, flown or driven after a few drinks, certain that "We can do it!"
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2004 12:23 PM
I thought some of you might be interested in the attached comment which reflects some current thinking and criticism of medal awards and "career and resume building". (See THE 19th BOMB GROUP story in NO SWEAT) re Lyndon Baines Johnson's Silver Star) This is from a WW II B-17 Combat crewman with 25 missions over Europe, and 25 over Korea as a B-29 Navigator. I think it is tragic that there WERE and ARE such incidents of too freely or even frivolously awarded medals...but then of course if you are the recipient, it's all relative?
But he may have a very good point re "Opposition"...we haven't lost a single fixed wing aircraft in Iraq due to enemy action yet...and 36 DFCs for 11 guys? Good grief, one guy may have gotten only TWO ... or maybe one guy got 26 and the rest ONE, but they are averaging THREE! ARGhhhh! Sounds like a "candy store"! Perhaps we ARE trivializing "meritorious" service ... and diminishing the quality and significance of some of these awards! I have long wondered about this ever since I have seen some ROTC cadets AND virtual military recruits with rows and rows of ribbons, apparently or presumably for their "meritorious attendance record" in school, but CERTAINLY not for any valorous or heroic deed or effort beyond doing their simple duty! Perhaps we'll soon have bumper stickers that say "MY FATHER WENT TO WORK TODAY!" Farrell
----- Original Message -----
"Great news and I know Angelo will be thrilled even at this late date. It seems the guys in Iraq don't have any problem getting DFCs according to the July 19th, 2004 issue of Air Force Times. Eleven airmen have been awarded a total of 36 DFCs without fighter attacks and flak to contend with. Tempted to send mine (one) back." -
- A VETERAN's Blog -