The 19th Bomb Group
The 19th was an extremely colorful and historic unit, one with perhaps many notable elements in her history, and the foremost in 1952 was that it was then the ONLY Medium Bomb Group in the WORLD not under S.A.C. (The Strategic Air Command). It was also the ONLY Bomb Group in the World permanently stationed overseas, with its headquarters on Guam under the 20th Air Force. Long before 1952 and its participation in the Korean War though, there were many interesting sidelight stories about The 19th, just a few of which should be related to develop a little of the character of this outfit whose motto was "IN ALIS VINCIMUS" ... "On Wings We Conquer".
On the opening day of World War II, the 19th was at Clark and Iba Air Fields (and the 93rd Squadron deployed down at Del Monte Air Field on Mindanao) in the Philippine Islands as a B-17 Bomb Group, having just arrived from the States and without their full complement of personnel and/or equipment. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor early in the morning of December 7th , 1941 ( December 8th across the International Dateline in the Philippines), was well known by mid morning of that same day at Clark Field, and contrary to erroneous and critical reports, their aircraft and crews were NOT caught sleeping on the ground but had been taken off and flown to the limit of their fuel capacity, and only after they had landed for refueling and an emergency re-briefing, were they - strictly by circumstance of cruel fate - caught on the ground with great devastation to their aircraft and heavy losses of aircrew personnel waiting by their aircraft for the latest briefing instructions and orders. (Again, remember that there was no mid air refueling then!) One very sad note regarding these losses is that many might have survived had they been given the permission that they had earlier requested, but were refused by MacArthur, to go on the offensive and attack the Japanese Bomber Bases on Formosa that the 54 Jap Bombers were able to fly from, virtually unopposed. The horrendous losses and destruction of that day are chronicled in the Book "QUEENS DIE PROUDLY" by W.L.White (Harcourt Brace Publishing Co.). One very sad chapter titled "10 in a row", describing how Captain Frank Kurtz returned to his aircraft from the briefing in a mess hall that had been virtually destroyed, only to find that his whole crew had been killed in bombing and strafing attacks still by their ship ... all "Ten in a Row!"
A few days after the opening attacks by the Japanese on Clark Field, the B-17s were sent out to attack incoming invasion ships and forces approaching the Philippines, and one aircraft flown by Captain Colin Kelly was attacked and badly damaged by Japanese Zero Fighters and several of Kelly's crew were injured and at least one, the Radio - Operator/ Gunner Delahanty, had been killed, virtually decapitated in the Zero attacks. As Kelly returned to Iba Field near Clark Field, he ordered the survivors on his crew to bail out and he either bailed out too late or was killed in the crash of his aircraft since his body was recovered near the wreckage with a partially opened parachute, perhaps having been ejected from the crashing plane with the chute popping open. The Legend of Colin Kelly, of which there were songs, poems, and many stories written, became that he had intentionally crashed his B-17 into the Battleship HARUNA, none of which was true, but the American public 3 days after Pearl Harbor needed a victory ... and a HERO! And indeed Colin Kelly was that but for many reasons other than that for which he was given credit!
Many weeks later during the evacuation of General MacArthur from Corregidor in the Philippines, as supposedly ordered by President Roosevelt, and after MacArthur's PT-Boat escape to Mindanao in the Southern Philippines, (and as described in the Book and Film "They Were Expendable", also by W.L. White), a 19th Bomb Group ship was sent to fly MacArthur and his family out to Australia, but the apparent youth of the pilot, and the already war- weary appearance of the aircraft, were not good enough for MacArthur and he demanded that a different pilot and newer aircraft be sent up from Australia, creating a great deal of resentment among the 19th Bomb Group cadre who were by then in the thick of things, many as P.O.W.s in the Bataan Death March, many fighting as ground infantrymen alongside Army Units, and many remaining in the jungles to fight as guerillas for the duration of the war. The bitterness remains with 19 th Bomb Group Association member survivors, most referring to MacArthur as "Dugout Doug" in allusion to his hiding within the depths and tunnels of Corregidor until his evacuation.
Incidentally, the "young pilot" that MacArthur apparently refused to fly with was reported to be one of the BEST in the 19th and was eventually shot down over Rabaul, captured, and reported to have been beheaded by the Japanese! The Pilot, Captain Harl Pease, was awarded The Medal Of Honor for Valor above and beyond the call of duty, and the Air Force Base in New Hampshire was named for him ... ..PEASE Air Force Base! President Roosevelt once said about MacArthur, "Never underestimate a man who overestimates himself."
Another interesting story about the 19th relates to a young U.S. Navy Lt. Commander/ Congressman named Lyndon Baines Johnson who flew on a trip ... NOT a combat mission ... with the 19th Bomb Group, on which they ran out of fuel, landed in an Australian outback sheep pasture near Winton Australia, and had to get help and fuel to get off again . The young Lieutenant Commander /CONGRESSMAN had himself awarded the Silver Star by that master politician himself, General Douglas MacArthur, for valor or gallantry or some such hogwash, and as reported in the books, THE MISSION, by MacKinley Kantor, and MEANS OF ASCENT by Robert Caro. Obviously Lyndon Johnson was never short on "gas" after that! He apparently purchased a Silver Star Medal from an Army -Navy surplus store and had it bestowed upon himself in a number of public appearances, even though he believed "the Silver Star was not a sufficiently high honor for such heroism as his"! According to John Omicinski of the Gannett News Service, giving Johnson somewhat greater benefit of the doubt, authors Barrett Tillman and Henry Sakaida in an article in NAVAL HISTORY MAGAZINE, say that "Johnson went on a bombing mission against the Japanese, but the plane developed engine trouble, aborted, and returned to base...his combat experience was a myth". Johnson, who was in the Naval Reserve, had been excused from active duty because he was a Congressman. Reminds me of Clinton wearing camouflage fatigues, Flight Jackets, and Military caps during Bosnia, etc, that somehow didn't and never would fit ... regardless of how well tailored!
When I arrived in the 19th in 1952, I had already heard of it referred to as "MacArthur's Air Force" but did not understand the relationship since the Air Force had become a separate military arm in 1947. MacArthur, in the Army, was Commander in Chief of all Armed Forces in the Far East from 1945 through April 1951, when he was relieved of command by Truman for insubordination in the face of direct orders in his prosecution of the Korean War. Perhaps out of earlier deference to MacArthur, after WW II and the split of the Army and Air Force into separate branches, the 19th WAS left overseas, permanently stationed on Guam and NOT under SAC, as was every other B-29 Bomb Wing in the World, with the 19th finally becoming a SAC Wing in June 1953, six months after we had left in December 1952, and of course after MacArthur was no longer Commander of The United Nations OR American forces in Korea, having been sacked by President Truman in April 1951!
After the North Korean attack across the 38th Parallel on June 25th 1950, the 19th, closest in proximity to the action, was immediately called up to Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa from Guam to begin combat operations on June 28th to knock out bridges, roads, railroads, and even troop concentrations, in defensive measures for the retreating U.N. Allied Forces which initially consisted of mostly South Korean (ROK) and American Troops. The 19th was the first B-29 group on the scene and one of the last to leave after the cessation of hostilities ... .not a Truce ... on July 27th, 1953. At any rate, the above is enough to reflect the heritage and perhaps some of the nature of this unit ... the following are MY reflections of this Group that I so dearly love!
That the 19th was NOT in SAC made it special ... .a Ragamuffin outfit on the far end and outside of the SAC supply chain, with apparent low priority for access to anything, particularly uniforms and flight gear such as flight Jackets, flying fatigues ( those cool suits with all the zippered pockets), and aircraft maintenance equipment and spare parts. Our supply issue of flight clothing was more like a rummage sale pile and most pictures of crews lined up for preflight inspection look more like that which may have been illustrated in the MASH TV Series ... ..with the exception of Klinger! I have always laughed at our crew pictures contrasted with those of most SAC Crew lineups, and while we may have been the Sad Sack Orphans of FEAF (Far East Air Force), the 19th took a special pride in being an "odd man out"! We liked our Navigator wearing Argyle socks, our Radar Observer and Tail Gunner wearing their li'l Rebel Caps, a few crew members wearing Wellington Boots that surely would have been lost in the wild blue as they popped off in a chute opening on bailout ... and truly NO two men on that crew wearing the same uniform ... except perhaps by MISTAKE! The IMAGE of the 19th had to be preserved and we did our share! And when we left Kadena, we threw most of our flight gear issue back on the pile to have our successor crew replacements look just as bad or even worse! My only retained artifact of the 19th Bomb Group G.I. equipment is my Interphone throat mike that was later discovered in a duffel bag in a fatigue top lapel button hole, where we always kept them at the ready for boarding the aircraft, the first thing we needed for checking "online" ... interphone!
One time during a Typhoon evacuation to Andersen AFB on Guam, we were apprehended by an overly zealous First Sergeant of a Squadron we had arrived in at about midnight and been put up in overnight. We had been sitting in and "weathervaning" our ship into the early typhoon winds ( to prevent broadside damage to surfaces) on Okinawa for almost 24 hours before finally being ordered to "fly 'em out" and then a very long, tiring (over 7 hour) 1400 mile flight (due to diversion around the typhoon) with no changes of clothes, flight lunches etc ... .and this guy didn't like our looks and was also "putting on the Dog" for a group of inspecting officers and civilians. When he asked me whatoutfit we were with there on Guam with, I had to tell him I didn't know ... and he started to chew all of us out ... until a Major and presumably the leader of the Inspection Party, interrupted and asked what B-29 outfit we were from. I saluted, called the small group to ATTENTION, and said "THE 19th Bomb Group SIR!" He almost cracked up laughing and said "Well, THAT explains it!" He also announced to the inspection group, which apparently included at least one Congressman, who we were and what we were doing in Korea and there was much handshaking and smiling by all ... except and much to the chagrin of the zealot First Sergeant. The Major put us "At Ease" and told us to enjoy our visit and "Good Luck up there guys!" The 19th had a reputation that went well before it!
"No combat ready unit has ever passed inspection."
The 19th Bomb Group had another "exclusive" and that was a brief stint as the only group that had several B-29s adapted especially to carry and drop the huge TARZON Bomb, a 12,000 pound humongous bomb that could be modestly radio- guided with aileron type fins and a guiding flare light in the tail that the Bombardier could slightly direct or steer toward a major target such as a large bridge, a very early and crude attempt at a "smart bomb"!. The use and experimentation of this device was discontinued with the loss of a 19th ship carrying the Group Commander, Colonel Payne Jennings, when they apparently had to salvo their Tarzon Bomb at very low level over the ocean because of engine failure, and the detonation concussion of the bomb took their aircraft and crew down with no survivors.
By the time the Korean War drew to a close in 1953, the 19th had lost 91 crewmembers and 20 B-29's during Korean operations and was awarded its ninth U.S. Presidential Unit Citation and the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and to this day has the distinction of having been the most decorated unit in the Strategic Air Command and one of the most decorated units in U.S. military service.
In 1988, at the Annual Reunion of the19th Bomb Group Association, Carole and I had the opportunity to sit at a banquet table with Major General & Mrs.Eugene Ewbanks, Commanding Officer of the 19th at the time of the Japanese attack on Clark Field in the Philippine Islands. At this time he was approximately 98 years old, and his lovely and gracious wife was about 94, both still having exceptional recall of people and places and so vibrant in their later years! We heard stories of his very first assignment out of Pilot Training in the very first class to graduate from Kelly Field, San Antonio in 1917 or 1918, sent to Marfa, Texas on border patrol to chase Pancho Villa, the Mexican bandit, raider and Mexican national hero. This and many other stories held us spellbound and last as one of our major contacts with a living historical figure. His passing just a few years ago at 104, followed shortly by his loving wife, were major events in the colorful history of the 19th Bomb Group.
One of the all time great stories about the 19th Bomb Group is related in Otha C. Spencer's book (published by The Country Studio in Campbell, Texas) "FLYING THE WEATHER" and was offered to that author and others straight from no less an authority and B-29 Historian , Bob Mann, President of the Pacific Air Weather Squadrons Association, and a career airman of many years and many hours in the blister of a WB-29 on weather recon flights out of Guam. The 19th Bomb Group was urgently deployed to Okinawa from Guam on June 27 th with the start of the Korean War on June 25th 1950, but was still on the ground at 1800 hours June 26th. By 0800 hours in the morning of June 27th, Mann's crew arrived at their WB-29 aircraft # 44-86267 of the 514th Weather Recon. Squadron only to find a jack under the tail so that the aircraft wouldn't tip back, unbalanced from the disappearance - OVERNIGHT - of all four engines! The 19th had flown off to Okinawa in the wee hours of the morning, apparently with all of the spare parts and engines they could purloin ... including those from Aircraft # 44-86267! Apparently the ground crews of the 19th were not only very resourceful ... but extremely FAST! And the 19th motto might have been more appropriately stated "On Wings We Conquer ... With Engines We Steal!"
During our typhoon "weathervaning" of our ship, NO SWEAT, on its Kadena hardstand, we were missing our Flight Engineer Dick Schoeps and had some concern that something had happened to him ... and it had ... he had gone to the NCO Club and was having a great time drinking with a friend, assuming that the standdown to operations was for the duration of the typhoon and that there was nothing any of us had to do or worry about for a day or two. After our being aboard the ship for almost 24 hours and finally being ordered to get the aircraft airborne and away from the anticipated arrival and fury of the height of the typhoon, we departed with a replacement Flight Engineer and found out two days later that Dick had been in the club when a portion of the roof collapsed and he never missed a lick ... or sip ... but DID lose a stripe for dereliction of duty or some such charge ... one not serious enough to take him off combat flight status with no one to replace him.
307th Bomb Wing & 19th Bomb Group Aircraft on Guam Typhoon Evacuation after "weathervaning" planes for 24 hours on Okinawa, we were ordered to evacuate almost at the height of the storm, a very "hairy" light weight takeoff into the typhoon headwinds. (Approximately 60 B-29's in a row.)
The 19th was redesignated as the 19th Bombardment Wing of SAC on June 1st of 1953 and finally, in May of 1954, after having spent nine straight years overseas, the 19th returned to the States at Pinecastle AFB in Florida. A little known fact in the history of the 19th is that long before the US involvement in the Vietnam War, the 19th came very close to a premature involvement when the French requested US air support by several B-29 bomb groups that had remained in the Far East after the Korean War truce of July 1953.
In the book titled THE SKY WOULD FALL, by John Prados, a tentative plan by President Eisenhower and his advisers, "Operation Vulture", was considered to assist the French during their battle with the Vietminh Nationalists at Dien Bien Phu in April 1954, just nine months after the end of the Korean War. The desperation of the French and our then current and long continued belief of the "domino theory" that carried the United States into the escalating Vietnam War in the mid '60's , brought us very close to much earlier involvement in Vietnam in 1954 with air support to prevent the French collapse and ultimate loss of their Vietnamese colonial empire. At the crucial point approaching their defeat at infamous and militarily historic Dien Bien Phu, the French requested air support by several B-29 Bomb Groups, including the 19th and 307th on Guam and Okinawa, in relatively close proximity to Vietnam. The French, once again, requested help from the US and in fact wanted Atomic Bombs dropped for them ... but damn sure never seem to want us for anything else! Viva La France! (Written BEFORE the Iraqui War!)
In July 1961 the 19th was reclassified once again as a "Heavy" (vs. medium) Bomb Wing and began retraining from B-47's to B-52's, affectionately named the BUFF ... "Big Ugly Fat F-----s ... fellows" . The unit, by now stationed at Homestead AFB in Florida, was on alert as one of the nation's primary strike forces during the Cuban Missile Crisis prior to and after President Kennedy's speech to the nation on October 22nd, 1962.
In August 1963, the 19th lost two KC-135 Air Refueling Tankers and crews during a normal daylight training mission in the "Bermuda Triangle" area, with the only trace of the two aircraft ever found being a lifejacket and a small amount of debris ... all unexplained to this day and reconfirming the danger of even peacetime military flight operations ... perhaps a mid air collision!
During U.S. military operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, the 19th once again flew out of Guam and Okinawa logging 23,400 combat and combat support (refueling) hours with their B-52's and KC-135 Tankers, losing only one crew member in bombing operations, but a "brother" and patriot, Captain James Turner.
Elements of the 19th continued to serve with the 28th Bomb Squadron being a B-1 Bomb Wing and the 93rd reactivated in the mid nineties as an Air Force Reserve Squadron flying B-52's out of Barksdale AFB in Bossier City Louisiana. (Additional reference in narrative THE 93rd REVISITED)
*A famous B-17 of the 19th Bomb Group - "THE SWOOSE" - is stored at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum for eventual full restoration.
? A famous B-29 of the 28th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group - "COMMAND DECISION" - the only B-29 "Ace" of the Korean War, having shot down 5 Mig-15s, is restored at The Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
The area immediately above is The 19th Bomb Group Operations area, with large Briefing Room Quonset in lower left corner of the large tarmac apron, and The 93rd Bomb Squadron operations area (Chaplains, Armament, Flight Equipment Supply, and Mail), in small Quonset Huts at top of the tarmac apron. Aircraft with noses facing IN from taxiway probably flew the mission in night preceding and have not been turned around yet for preflighting and bomb loading for next mission. A "maximum effort" mission of all 19th Bomb Group and 307th Bomb Wing aircraft available - over 60 B-29s at 99 feet length - would represent more than "a mile long line of black bottomed battle-wagons" as described in "EVERYBODY STAND UP!" Large tarmac apron on right is engine dock area for major maintenance/repair ... there WERE no hangars, only "open air" facilities ... "neither rain nor sleet, nor dark of night ... !"
Officer: "Soldier, do you have change for a dollar?"
Soldier: "Sure, buddy."
Officer: "That's no way to address an officer! Now let's try it again!"
Officer: "Soldier. Do you have change for a dollar?"
Soldier: "No, SIR!"
Soldier: "Sure, buddy."
Officer: "That's no way to address an officer! Now let's try it again!"
Officer: "Soldier. Do you have change for a dollar?"
Soldier: "No, SIR!"
- A VETERAN's Blog -