Last year we began what we hope to be a lasting American Thanksgiving Tradition. Instead of a story about Canadian aviation history, we will run a story of one of the hundreds of thousands of our American friends who risked their lives alongside our own airmen during the Second World War. A year ago this week, we brought you the story of two ordinary US citizens who helped to free Europe from the yoke of Nazi Germany - Lt. Elmer Olson and Lt. Edward Kenny - two wingmen with very proud sons. This year we rely heavily on the sons and daughters and even a grandson of several veterans of the United States Army Air Force B-29 units which operated from island chains in the South Pacific against the industrial and urban centres of Japan during the final moments of the war.
To do this we have been granted permission by the family of Herbert C. Bach to take two poignant excerpts from his lengthy memoir of his days attached to the 20th Air Force on Guam. Herbert was a technical consultant from Minneapolis Honeywell, a company that was on the very leading edge of avionics technology. Bach was responsible for the installation, maintenance, calibration and trouble shooting of both the B-29's advanced auto-pilot system and its super-secret Norden bomb sight. He was also an integral part of the pre-mission briefing giving settings and advice for the upcomg operation. He, along with other "tech reps", served as a civilian in uniform and was considered an officer and a very critical part of the 315th Bomb Wing's operation.
Herbert Bach kept a detailed journal of every aspect of his service - from the food he ate, to the latrines he used to the combat missions he survived. In itself it is a significant and at times poignantly terse account of life on Guam, the stress of combat and the engineering challenges of the day. I highly recommend that anyone with an interest in this remarkable time and place read the entirety of his memoir - about 100 pages of simple, honest and heartfelt words.
But, though his contribution was immeasurable, it is not Bach's story that we wish to tell today. While on the Island of Guam, Bach became close friends with one of the 357th Bombardment Squadron's best B-29 pilots - a likable Mid-Western farmboy by the name of Jesse O. Williams. This is the story of two missions in which Williams took part. One filled with fear and stress, the other awe, joy and the release of years of work.
I never knew Jesse Oscar Williams of Yorkton, Indiana. But as my own father once told me, you can tell a lot about a man by the qualities you can find in his chidren. While I have only barely met his two daughters, Cyndi and Kathy, I consider his two sons to be close friends for more than twenty years. If I go by my father's words, and construct a picture of Williams from my understanding of his two sons, then these are the things I know about Jesse O:
Jesse was superb pilot, a "natural" one might say. Though he was originally from the Mid-West, he spent the greater part of his life in Kentucky and was a Southern Gentleman in the Confederate sense - polite, deferential to women, honest, quiet spoken, even-handed. He stood up when a woman left the room. He stood up when she came back. He was loved by all his employees for his affability, his equanimity, and his fairness. He worked hard but at a certain pace that defied the stress he was under. He was religious, said his prayers, went to church. He loved the honky-tonk and a glass of whiskey. He loved the company of beautiful women and bold men. He was drawn to the Come Line at the craps table, liked nice cars - big cars. He was a strong father, expecting of his sons and daughters no less than he gave. He spoke very little if at all about his days in the war - not because they were filled with terror and death and sadness (for they were) but because he was not a braggart. He moved always forward. He never dwelled in the past of his war time experience unless it was with his comrades. Comrades like Herbert Bach.
Jesse Williams spent his following life as the general manager of a coal mine on the Illinois Coal Basin in Providence, Kentucky and raising a family. All the while he kept his stories to himself. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, it was Jesse's way.
Though I promised Jesse's son Greg that I would not make this story about them, their history is also part of why the following story is so powerful. His oldest son, Greg Williams, would earn his Air Force wings on the T-38 Talon and spend nearly 25 years flying reconnaissance RF-101 Voodoo and RF-4 Phantom fighter aircraft and finally the KC-135R Stratotanker with the Magnolia Militia - the Mississippi Air National Guard. His brother Ron flew Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters with the US Army in combat for a year "in country". After the war, he began a life long career as a helicopter pilot, flying for a tour company in the Hawaiian Islands then operating AirStar Helicopters- a highly successful tour service in the Grand Canyon. Today, both sons share ownership in two helicopters.
Jesse O's son Ron and fellow Huey crewman await repair for their Huey in Vietnam in 1972. Though he never spoke much of his flying days, Jesse O. surely inspired a love of flying in his two sons. Photo via Ron Williams
The point of all this is that neither son, despite their extensive military and civilian flying careers, knew much about their father's experience in the war - not much more than the fact that he was a B-29 pilot in Guam. Until just a month or so ago, when Jesse's daughter Cyndi Bridges-Anbuhl stumbled upon Bach's memoir while surfing the web, his children never knew that he had won the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross - both at the same time - for his exceptional flying skills and calmness under duress to bring his crew home safely. And all apparently... in his flying boots and underwear!
The second excerpt from Bach's memoir brings to life the day that the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allies - like no other story I have ever read. Bach puts you and I in the best seat in the house as Jesse Williams and thousands of USAAF airmen fly a daylight mission like no other.
Let it be said that Jesse O. Williams would never hear of us putting up all this fuss or shining a light just on him. He valued his crew and his friends too much. But Jesse O's daughters and sons have agreed to let us publish these two vignettes so the all who read them can come to a better understanding of that time, that place, those men. His story is for all his men.
Williams spelled his name Jesse, but throughout his memoirs, Bach spelled it Jessie - I have left it that way for that is the way Herbert always remembered his friend. Let's let Herbert Bach take us back to that summer.
Happy Thanksgiving Cyndi, Kathy Ron and Greg
David H. O'Malley
Jesse Oscar Williams, (second from right) and some squadron mates trained on medium bombers such as the B-25 Mitchell (shown here) and then more powerful heavies like the B-24 Liberator on the way to mastering the complexities of the world's biggest strategic bomber - the massive yet beautiful Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Inset: like many hundreds of thousands of men during the war, Williams' progress through training and eventual commission was reported in local newspapers. Photo via WO Ron Williams, USArmy Ret.
Jesse Oscar Williams, poses for his official sweetheart and family photograph after earning his coveted wings in the United States Army Air Force. The quiet professionalism that would mark his entire life is clearly evident in his young face. Photo via Cyndi Bridges Anbuhl
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was a true handful of airplane to take into the air. Jesse O. and his squadron mates would receive lengthy, progressive and thorough training across the United States for a year before they were ready to be unleashed on the Japanese. The state-of-the-art "Superfort" had advanced autopilot, navigation, bomb-aiming and defensive firepower and pressurization systems that took many months to master. When they were sent over to Guam, they were perhaps the best trained pilots and crews of any aircraft of the war. Photo and manual cover: USAAF
The spacious and extremely complex "front office" of the B-29 offered superb views forward. This space could become pretty claustrophobic when crews were forced to endure 17-hour missions - only minutes of which were over the target. Management of fuel, navigation and engine function monitoring occupied much of the time. The Honeywell autopilot systems were crucial during long flights over the ocean, relieving the pilots of extreme fatigue. Herbert Bach, was the Honeywell technical representative attached to the 331st Bomb Group for the duration of their Guam-based operations. They relied heavily on his technical expertise for installing, calibrating and testing these critical components. Photo: USAAF
Part One - The Day Jesse O. Williams won the DFC and Silver Star... in his underwear.
"I briefed crews on the Kofu mission then spent the rest of the forenoon and part of the afternoon washing out some clothes, getting things out of my B-4 bag to dry in the sun. There was a hell of a lot of noise around the area - P38s were buzzing us right down to tree top level - so low one could see the rivets in his wings. Over a ways from us a 90 mm anti-aircraft battery was firing at a tow target high overhead. About 3 o'clock the flight crews came back to the area following their briefing - they had their afternoon meal and then left for their airplanes. I drove down to the line at 4:30 PM ran onto Smith [another tech rep from Honeywell] and then went along with him down to the "abort" crew where we joined Tuthill and Sanderson.
The ships were carrying 40 - 500 lb. bombs and 8,200 gallons of gasoline - their maximum and heaviest load and it would remain that for the rest of the missions. 5:30 PM came and the ships started taking off - from all appearances they really had trouble getting their ships off the ground and over the ledge. Some of them came very close to not getting off. We were sitting in a truck not very far from the end of the runway - it was something to see those big bombers lift off the ground with their engines laboring at maximum power. Suddenly, there was a terrific explosion - it seemed to take one's breath away - the sky on the other side of the cliff just lit up and there was a large column of black smoke (a 501st Group ship had hit the water about five miles off the cliff and had everything blow up - the only thing left when the air-sea rescue boat arrived was a portable oxygen bottle floating on the surface. The cause of the accident was unknown, and the take off continued as though nothing had happened.
Herbert C. Bach, whose memoirs have brought us two exceptional vignettes in a little known aerial war fought over great distances poses in full flying gear stateside at Dyersburg Army Air Base in late 1944 where he qualified bombardiers on the Norden Bomb Sight. Bach stands in front of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, another heavy bomber he worked on while training for the job he did on Guam. Photo via Robert Bach
Colonel Peyton [the Group CO] did not go on this mission. Colonel Waltanski flew lead ship in the 331st Group. This seemed to be the jinx raid as a lot of mishaps and tragic accidents took place. "I've been down to wing operations and heard a lot of news - some of it bad. Jessie's been in trouble up there and they haven't heard anything since before midnight when he radioed that one of his engines was out and he didn't know what he would do. Wing operations told him to continue on the return at his own decision - and nothing's been heard of him since. You know Herb, it would be as hard on me as losing a brother if old Jessie didn't come through." It hit me as a hard blow too and I was plenty worried. Jessie had grown to mean an awful lot to me as well as Smith.
The hazards of flying a B-29 were great enough as illustrated by this World War Two image of one meeting its doom at the hands of Japanese fighters or flak. After they were safely out of range of Japanese defenses, these crews still had to battle everything from boredom to engine failure. Photo: USAAF
At 8:00 AM we drove over to Wing operations - Colonel Peyton was there and he told us, "Captain Williams has just cleared at Iwo [Iwo Jima - Ed] on his way home - looks like he's coming all the way home on three engines - he's a good boy - he'll get a DFC for this or better - I'll see to that." Smith and I were so relieved and happy to hear that, that we almost had tears in our eyes. Colonel Peyton also said, "The wind has changed and the boys are going to have a rough time landing through that cut over on the east end of the runway. They should handle it satisfactorily though."
Smith and I drove over to the runways about 10:00 AM and soon we saw the first ships lining up on the base leg for their landing. There was a stiff wind - about 30 MPH - unusual for that island coming in from the north and the runways were set northwest to southeast so they could always land directly into the prevailing wind which normally was about 10 - 15 MPH at the most.
The first ship - Colonel Gurney's - came in and we could see that he was putting in plenty of right rudder crab. Suddenly, when he got into the cut, he was out of the wind and the ship veered to the right - he had to put in full power immediately to pull it up and go around. About half of the ships had to go around in the first 50 or so that came in. Everyone who'd been watching the landings near the runways were ordered out of there so Smith and I drove over on a hardstand about 200 yards from the end of the north runway - there we could see the numbers on the ships as they came in.
Well over a hundred airplanes had landed when the second tragic accident of this mission occurred. One plane had misjudged and had pulled up to go around but too late. His right wing caught the side of the coral cut in the cliff and the plane started going end over end down between the runways - leaving a trail of burning gasoline and wreckage half way down the area between the runways almost to the control tower. Jeeps and ambulances raced on down there but there was no one left alive in that crash. Father Gaines walked almost into the burning wreck to administer last rights to the men before he was made to move out of the immediate area. "Herb, what in hell is Jessie going to do on three engines if these other guys can't get down with four?", Smith asked. That had us both worrying again. We thought maybe they'd order Jessie to land at the 314th Wing base but still they had as tough a problem or even worse there than there was here at this base.
The Williams Boys pose in front of a B-29 for their official USAAF crew photo. (Back Row Left to right): Capt. Jesse O. Williams - Aircraft Commander, Captain Andrew L. Kaye - Pilot, 1st Lt Donald W. Dudley -Navigator, 2nd Lt. Jack D. Pickett - Radar Bombardier, 1st Lt. Clarence A. Rick - Bombardier, (Front row - Left to right): S/Sgt Howard F. Harper - Radio Operator, Sgt. Franklyn M. Kolber - Right Blister Gunner/Observer, M/Sgt. Herbert R. Hoyt - Flight Engineer, Joseph Karl - Left Blister Gunner/Observer, S/Sgt Thomas P. Hogan - Tail Gunner. Pickett, Hoyt and Hogan are still alive, the status of Kay is unknown and the rest of the crew have passed away. Crew members were identified for Vintage Wings by Clare Dudley, the navigator's wife. Photo via Ron Williams
Obviously taken at the same time as the previous photo, we see a much enlarged "crew shot" which may include commanding officers like 357 Squadron's Colonel Peyton as well as ground crew. Photo via Ron Williams
To relieve the stress of combat flying, Jesee O's crew loved to swim and sleep at the beach on Guam... and quaff the odd beer or Coca Cola. This rare "crew photo" take on Guam's Tuman beach includes: Back row, left to right; Herb Hoyt, Frank Kolber, Clarence Rick, Andrew L. Kaye. and Howard Harper. Front row, left to right; Jesse Williams, Don Dudley, Tom Hogan and Joe Karl. Photo via Ron Williams
A moment of levity in a stressful place. One of the "locals", known for their diminutive stature, joins in the joke. Photo via Ron Williams
Finally, all our ships were in excepting Jessie's. Smith and I sat in the jeep - sweating him out - there were lots of men standing around waiting. Finally, we saw his ship out in the distance and as it drew near we could see that No. 4 engine was feathered. "Well, if anyone can let down in that side wind through that cut on three engines - old Jessie will do it", Smith said. "But he's going to have to stall it in and that ain't good." His bum engine was on the opposite side of the air current which wasn't going to help any - also he'd never be able to pull it up on three engines if he had to go around again - it was only one try and it had to be good.
Jessie came around the field - fired his red emergency flare and then started out east - swung around and began his let down. I just prayed. Smith and I jumped up and stood on our jeep. Just before he reached the cut he cut the inboard engine on the right hand side - he entered the cut and then we could hear him open up on the outboard right hand engine - that ship was dangerously close to a stall - the ship turned almost a 45 degree angle to the runway - he was out of the cut - he whipped it around and shoved the nose down - brought it up and set the two wheels down on the runway as pretty as could be - he'd made it and it was a wonderfully good landing! Smith pounded me on the back, "God Herb, he made it - 'ol Jess made it!" We jumped in the jeep and tore down to the end of the runway - met Jessie's plane as he turned up the taxi strip on the north side. There he cut his engines and a cleat track tow vehicle hooked on and pulled him up to the hardstand.
We drove right behind and to the left of the tractor. Jessie had his head out the window - grabbing his hands together and shaking them. They parked the ship up on the hardstand with the others and by that time quite a crowd of men had gathered around. Jessie got out - in his shorts and shoes - Mae West and chute. But SOP's or no SOP's [Standard Operating Procedures], Colonel Peyton grabbed him around the shoulders and hugged him. "Nice work, Williams. I'll see that you and the members of your crew get the DFC and you son will get the Silver Star for this" (Jessie was the only airplane commander in the entire Wing to receive both the DFC and Silver Star decorations - but he earned them - the Silver Star is the highest decoration next to the Congressional Medal of Honor given in the Army Air Corps). He had carried his bomb load in and dropped it on his target after having an engine go out on him just as he was nearing the coast of Japan. He had encountered severe flak - his ship was hit in several places. Then he brought this ship all the way back on three engines and ending it with an almost hazardous landing due to side wind conditions through a deep cut at the end of the runway that had already caused the complete loss of an airplane and crew. Also we learned from him later that Jap night fighters had been on him up to 200 miles off the coast of Japan where he'd finally shaken them off. The tail guns were completely out of ammunition.
Jesse O. Williams, Andrew L. Kaye and their crew were assigned Boeing B-29B Superfortress serial number 42-63612. They nicknamed her Night Prowler and painted a black panther about to pounce from an 8-ball. We are lucky indeed to find a color photograph which shows us just how she looked. Photo via Bob Kaye
Two years after this story was first published, Bob Kaye, son of Captain Andrew L. Kaye, sent us this photo of Night Prowler with here eight long-range bombing mission marks showing on her nose. Photo by Captain Andrew L. Kaye via Bob Kaye
A photo taken by Andrew L. Kaye of Jesse O. Williams and Night Prowler on the ramp at Guam. One can see the eight and last bombing mission mark at the right (the freshest paint). Andy's son Bob Kaye notes: "The last one on the right looks real fresh and the photo was probably taken by my Dad right after they added the eighth one. Jesse had a smile and I think it was my Dad saying 'Smile' before he took the picture. He always would say that when he took pictures....... Photo by Captain Andrew L. Kaye via Bob Kaye
It Takes a Crew
During that flight, while under extreme duress and stress, the crew was promised the DFC if they successfully completed the mission and brought their aircraft home. In the end, only Williams, as pilot in command, was awarded this honour. But Williams would have told you that it should be shared with the entire crew and in particular with Night Prowler's other pilot Captain Andrew L. Kaye. The B-29 was an aircraft that needed two highly trained pilots to fly it and to complete its complex missions. As Aircraft Commander, the decision to continue on three engines was William's, but he discussed the options with Kaye and together they decided to fly the mission. The flight was an incredible 17 hours in length requiring the highest skills and endurance from both pilots as they shared the flying and the stresses.
Recently, Night Prowler's Flight Engineer Herb Hoyt, petitioned the Air Force to live up to its promise to award the entire crew a DFC, but in particular, he asked that pilot Captain Andy Kaye be recognized for his airmanship and professionalism on that stressful flight. Here is Herb Hoyt's letter to the air force, in which one can clearly see the regard he and his crew had for their pilots Jesse and Andy:
My name is Herb Hoyt. I was the Flight Engineer on Night Prowler during World War II. I was on board Night Prowler when we lost an engine just as we were reaching Japan. There was a moment when We didn’t know if we were going down or if we would be able to remain airborne as the weight of the bombs and fuel required all engines to be running flawlessly. Jessie and Andy had to decide whether we would go on and try to complete our mission or turnaround and head back to Guam. After some discussion, Jessie and Andy told the crew we will continue on with the mission to our target. This certainly was above and beyond the call of duty. We could have turned around. From the moment that engine let go and until we landed, everyone on board was under tension and scared of what might happen next. Jessie and Andy had to continue to fly us to our target so we could drop our bombs and get back to Guam. This was no routine mission. This mission started out as a bombing mission which was extremely dangerous to begin with but after losing an engine, it put all of us in fear and any moment we might go down.. The plane was full of bombs and we had lost our airspeed as the three remaining engines could not maintain the same airspeed we had before the engine failed. We were sitting ducks over Japan and had to find our target in the night. At no time was anyone able to relax. The whole crew was under extreme stress. Jessie and Andy finally got us over the target so we could drop our bombs and we were able to turnaround and head for Guam. Jessie and Andy got us back to Guam. It was no one man effort. This mission was over 17 hours and thankful to both Jessie and Andy for getting us back to Guam alive. Jessie got the Silver Star and The DFC as he was our Aircraft Commander but we were told we would all get a DFC if we got back alive according to Colonel Payton. He didn’t think we would make it. He wanted us to land at IWO but we were already passed Iwo and cleared for Guam. At the very least, our pilot, Andy Kaye should have gotten the DFC and it is long overdue as our lives were in his hands just like Jessie flying us to the target and then home while both took turns trying to sleep during the 17 hour mission. This was a joint effort by both Jessie and Andy that was an extraordinary achievement and not routine and they both should share the same honor and recognition in receiving a DFC. They performed above and beyond the call of duty on that mission. That is why I am sending you this recommendation today as one of the surviving crew members who saw first hand what fear was all about and how our pilot and aircraft commander got us through it alive. I will be 93 on 06/19/11. Since the war,I have not flown. I am thankful for the 66 years I have been able to enjoy in California with my wife Annie. Thank You.
Recently, Captain Andy Kaye was awarded a long overdue Distinguished Flying Cross from the United States Air Force.
An amazing photo taken of Night Prowler on her way to Japan on three engines. Here we see Pilot Captain Andrew L. Kaye on the right, and Aircraft Commander Captain Jesse O. Williams on the left framing a relaxed looking navigator Don Dudley enjoying the view from the Bombardier's position. The looks on these three faces belie the extreme stress the crew was facing on the mission for which Williams and Kaye were awarded the DFC. Photo by Flight Engineer Herb Hoyt
After hours of searching the web for images of a 331st Bomb Group Superfortress, I finally came upon this rare and informative image shot by US Navy Seabee Harold Gronenthal. It was photographed at Guam's Northwest Field at the time that Jesse Williams was flying missions from there. Gronenthal and members of his Seabee (CB-Construction Battalions) team helped build the runways and other facilities like the airfields at Guam - sometimes wading ashore while under fire to start construction. This particular B-29, like many in the 331st, is painted black underneath to make it harder for searchlights to pick out the aircraft. The high reflective qualiity of a polished and bare-metal B-29 made them easy to spot by searchlight crews if they were anywhere near the cone of light. For the first time, I was able to see the exact location and size of the Diamond "L" Group markings on the tail - something I would need to create a profile drawing - read on! Photo by Harold Gronenthal, USN
The biggest differences between the B-29A and B-29B variants of the Superfortress were three. First, B-models like those flown by Williams and the 315th BW, had no fuselage gun barbettes (unmanned turrets) and just the tail guns. In addition it lacked the large radome beneath the fuselage, but sported a wing-like radar at 90º to the line of flight (see above beneath the fuselage) mounted between the bomb bays (used for bombing) and a ball-shaped radar trailing the rear gun (used for sighting the defensive machine guns). Photo via Larry Miller
A Guam-based B-29 lands after an exhausting mission in 1945. Photo by Harold Gronenthal, USN
As most bomber crews of the USAAF did during the war or shortly thereafter, the members of the Williams Night Prowler crew had their nose art painted on the backs of their flight jackets. Today, some exist in pristine condition like this jacket modelled by Clare Dudley, wife of 1st Lieutenant Donald W. Dudley, Night Prowler's navigator. The front of the jacket carries the 357th Bomb Squadron's humorous crest - a waiter delivering a platter of colourful bombs. Photo: via Kirk Dudley
Jack Picket, Night Prowler's Radar Bombardier sports his WWII flight jacket - unlike many of us, it seems his old flight jacket still fits him very well. Perhaps we can convince Jack to send us the front view too! Photo: via Jack Pickett
It took a while, but research paid off and thanks to many people including the Williams Family, Bob Bach, Edward Gronenthal and Larry Miller, I was able to piece together enough information to create an aircraft "profile". Though possibly not perfect, this is what Williams' B-29B Night Prowler might have looked like operating over Japan in the last months of the war. A higher resolution download of this illustration is available upon request. Illustration by Dave O'Malley
Thanks to Larry Miller's excellent and passionate website on the 315th Bomb Wing, and Wikipedia I was able to find images of the crest of the 315 BW Association, the 331st BG, The 357th Bombardment Squadron and Jesse Williams' Night Prowler. The quality of all of these images was very poor, so I took the time to fully rebuild them in higher resolution. The 357th's squadron emblem was described by a herald as "Over and through a light turquoise blue disc, a caricatured waiter attired, proper, stalking toward dexter across a white cloud formation in base, with smug look of satisfaction on face, having a white napkin folded over the left forearm, and holding aloft with the right hand a large metal tray, supporting two, very large, red aerial bombs, banded white, resting on top, of four, varied-size aerial bombs of green, blue, yellow, and red, reading from left to right respectively, emitting wisps of vapor toward rear. (Approved 20 Nov 1945.)". Illustrations by Dave O'Malley
A line-up of 331st group (Diamond L) B-29s under the hot sun of Guam in 1945. In the foreground is "Slicker 49" (s/n 44-83941 - transferred to the 501st BG after the war), an aircraft of the same squadron as Williams' Night Prowler. The difference between the all-bare-metal and the black undersides is clear in this image. Photo via Larry Miller
A line-up on Guam's Northwest Field - Most likely taken within a few minutes of the preceeding image. In the forground on the right is "Slicker 33" (s/n 44-83907 - also Slicker 05 at one time) nicknamed Jus'One Mo'Time, which was a 355th BS ship. On the left, the black-undersided B-29 is "Slicker 30" (s/n 44-83919). Both ships were eventually transferred to the 501st BG. Photo via Larry Miller
The salacious nose art of B-29 "Jus' One Mo Time". It was in this very bomber that Herbert Bach and crew were "coned" in searchlights over Japan. Only violent manoeuvring on the part of the pilot Colonel Peyton saved them from further flak damage. Bach's gripping account sheds light on the terrible risks taken by crews even thought they still had air superiority. Bach writes:
"Suddenly the scanners and tail gunner called, "Search lights at seven o'clock. Search lights at four o'clock moving over fast." "Anti radar rope", the Colonel called. We couldn't see a thing except fires over north and east of us but I began to have a cold sweat right then. "Flak barrage at 6 o'clock - a mile and below us - keep that tape going", the Colonel called. Then it happened - several search lights ahead of us and to our right came on and began moving over and right around us. Waltanski was wheeling us up 60 degree banks - pulling us up on our tail, then driving us down. "Number 2 power setting", Colonel Peyton called. "Let's get the hell out of here", Bouie said. Those ribbons of light were all around and then suddenly one swept in and for a short moment had us. My heart and stomach were up in my mouth.
Then it came, KABOONG - KABOONG - KABOONG ! Several right below and a head of us and one right in front of our nose - so bright it blinded us momentarily. Waltanski was throwing that airplane around so that I was constantly aware of being pulled out and forced back into my seat. Then they had us again - two lights - I remember seeing sweat pour down off Waltanski's forehead over his oxygen mask. Mine was terribly gooey inside and I wished I could pull the damn thing off. "KABOONG - KABOONG - KABOONG", one could really feel it. The airplane was jumping all over and then, "PANG - PANG - ZING - ZING - ZING". "We're hit!", the Colonel called. "Cabin pressure decreasing", Captain Knapp called. I could begin to feel the lowering of pressure. "Engines functioning normally. Power setting one", Peyton called. We were doing 300 or better indicated but still those search lights held us. I tried to pull myself into a small ball under that flak helmet and suit - Oh God - I thought - get us out of here - I'd never been so terribly frightened in all my life - my teeth were chattering and I had to take a leak so terribly.
It grew terribly cold as the pressure had all gone out of the cabin. "Engines heating", Knapp called. "Power setting three", Peyton called. "Put us in as steep a dive as you can Walt". I could feel the rapid ascension. "Airspeed 375 ." "That's enough", the Colonel called. The tail gunner called, "Search lights moving in from six o'clock." They must have had at least four or five on us then. Flak barrages continued - it seemed like one could walk on it - big terrible round balls of lightning that turned orange red and with streamers flying out in all directions - it was ghastly terrifying.
Suddenly we were away from the lights - they were moving in all directions back and forth, then the tail gunner called that they were moving back and away from us. Walt swung us into a steep bank to the right - and began to climb - we'd lost over 12,000 feet altitude and were down to 16,000 but we were apparently out of it for the time being. It had been rough - I just can't describe how terrible it had been. The boys behind us would really be catching hell. We had been flying over Tokyo Bay and from the briefing we'd been informed that there would likely be some of the Japanese flak barrages encountered." Photo via Robert Bach
After he had been through interrogation and showered and had something to eat, Smith and I got together in Waltanski's tent with him to hear the details. "Fellows, I just don't know what kept us from stalling out in that cut on the final approach. Pat (his copilot on this trip) was calling air speed and it got down to 140. I just prayed - Oh God, don't let this son of a bitch stall out. It didn't, but why it didn't I'll never know." Waltanski hadn't seen the landing, but Smith and I told him how it appeared from where we were standing. Colonel Peyton dropped in for a short while to talk to Jessie. "Why didn't they order you down at Iwo, Jessie", he asked. "I don't know, they cleared me through there to proceed to Guam. I was in contact with 'Slicker' before I contacted Iwo", (Slicker was the code word for flight control on our base at Guam). "Then they ordered you back here to land even though they knew full well the landing conditions were extremely hazardous here this morning and you on three engines. I'm going over there. That flight control officer’s soul may belong to God almighty, but his ass will be in my hands before I finish with him", the Colonel said, then went out and took his jeep and started for the control tower. "I suppose that's some ground gripping SOB they've got on flight control over there", Walt said. "I hope Jim eats his ass off and busts him for good. I didn't get much poop from them on conditions and I had to go around once." Anyway, we were happy to have Jessie home safely. A great friendship had grown up between the four of us - Smith, Jessie, Waltanski, and I. But there was a very big spot in my heart for Jessie. He was a hell of a nice young fellow. When you see a young guy like that pull out of a tough spot through being able to muster up his entire skill when it is needed you couldn't help but have an immense admiration for him.
No ships were lost due to emergency action - the Wing lost two crews and airplanes on takeoff and on landing. During the remainder of the afternoon I was over at the Wing S-2 briefing new crews on Truk missions. When I got back to my tent that evening there were six letters - two from Peggy, two from Mother, and one each from Helen and Deane. I read them each twice then got out my paper and pen and took care of a daily duty - writing Peggy and answering the others. That night I went to the picture show. "Rhapsody in Blue" - all about George Gershwin's life. I thought about Pete [Bach's brother -ed] and how he'd enjoy seeing that picture.
In the 1970s, members of Night Prowler's crew met to share memories and renew old and powerful friendships. Left to right: Jesse O. Williams (Aircraft Commander), Andrew L. Kaye (pilot) Donald W. Dudley -(Navigator), Clarence A. Rick (Bombardier), and Jack Pickett (Radar/Bombardier). Photo via Ron Williams
Unlike many airmen of the Pacific war, Jesse's crew had the distinct privilege of returning to the women they loved. Left to right: Jesse Williams, Mrs. Kaye, Andrew Kaye, Don Dudley, Clare Dudley, Clarence Rick, Erika Pickett & Jack Pickett. Photo via Ron Williams
One of the few wonderful things to come out of the horrible conflict that was the Second World War, was that those that survived went home to fall in love, to raise a family and to contribute to the society they had fought to preserve. Captain Andy Kaye had five sons and a daughter - Andrew Jr., Bon, Dab, Bill, Barry and Bonnie. Kaye's son Bob has a keen interest in the history his father helped make and was instrumental in bringing the remaining crew members back together for a reunion. Here, Bob Kaye stands in front of the famous P-38 Lightning Glacier Girl at Oshkosh's Airventure 2011
Night Prowler Reunion in 2011 - Left to right: Norden Bombsight Technician Robert “Bob” Bach, Tail Gunner Tom Hogan, Bill Kaye (Son of Pilot Andrew L. Kaye), Navigator Jack Pickett and Bob Kaye, Andrew l. Kaye's second oldest and organizer of the reunion which took place at an air show at Fleming Field near the Twin Cities of St.Paul/Minneapolis, MN.
The entire group that made the 2011 Night Prowler reunion: Left to right: Bob Kaye, Bill Kaye, Tom Hogan, Jack Pickett's Son, Bob Bach, Jack Pickett, Clare Dudley -(Wife of Don Dudley-Night Prowler Bombardier) and a friend of Clare Dudley
A B-29B Superfortress ( tail number 42-63674) overflies Northwest Field, Guam - one of three massive staging grounds (North Field, Northwest Field and Harmon Field), on that island of the Marianas Islands Group from which were launched devastating bombing raids over Japan. Other massive fields dotted the Pacific including Saipan and Tinian. Records indicate this particular bomber was assigned to the 315th Bomb Wing, 501st Bomb Group. Photo via Larry Miller
The day was the 2nd of September, 1945, but the Japanese had capitulated on August 15th, more than two weeks before. The 357th Bombardment Squadron and Williams had in fact participated in the "Last Mission" of the Second World War on the night of the 14-15th, nearly a week after the final bombing of Nagasaki, which most people assume to be the end of hostilities. In fact, the "Last Mission" put more bombers (828 B-29s accompanied by 70 fighters in escort) over Japan on one night than at any other time in the war. Williams' squadron attacked oil refineries while others bombed Tokyo. There are stories that the timing of this last minute bombing of Tokyo thwarted a coup attempt on the Emperor by top army generals. Thus possibly stopping an intended extention of the war. But that is another story for another time.
Herbert Bach gives us a font row seat on the 2nd of September, one of the most momentous days of the 20th Century. This is a long piece, but well worth the read.
"About that time we received news that the 315th Wing would carry the load of POW supplies up into north eastern Honshu Island and then fly in formation over the Tokyo area and over the bay where MacArthur was to sign the peace with the Japanese on the battleship Missouri. Immediately there was a clamor for ground personnel to have rides along on that one. Actually, I saw one crew with a sign stuck up on the nose of their airplane reading something like "Get your tickets here for a trip over Tokyo". Things got to be such a scramble that orders came out - only 10 men comprising crew will fly on the peace signing mission. I was out of luck as well as hundreds of other men. Smith had lined up to go with Colonel Sanborn and a crew of his staff officers. Peyton and Waltanski were going in the same ship and they had a full load - Peyton had promised Doc Krausharr and Chaplain Gaines previously that he'd take them along in the scanner positions. I asked everybody - but no luck. I was sick about it as I wanted to fly over Tokyo and Japan in daylight as well as to see the sight in Tokyo Bay on that afternoon.
I had given up all hopes when at breakfast a few mornings later Art Goring and his crew came in - they'd arrived back from Manila the preceding afternoon. "I hear you're looking for a ride up over Tokyo on the peace signing mission", Art said to me. "Sure am but there's no chance now, I'm afraid," I answered. "Well my left scanner went to the hospital last night for an operation and his seat is yours if you'd like to go along," Goring said. "Oh boy - you're the best pal a man ever had," I said. I could have kissed him.
Smith was over that afternoon and I told him I'd lined up a trip to go there to see the festivities and would be going along on the flight. Most of the days were spent loafing - eating, sleeping, reading, playing cribbage and going down to the beach. I spent a lot of time over with Harry King, Jimmie O'Brien and Bill Payne - playing bridge and Pinochle.
I went over with Waltanski, Jessie, Goring and their crews to the briefing for the flight up to Japan in the forenoon of September 1st. It was a routine briefing taking only an hour and a half. The entire Wing had been practicing formation flying and would be ready for that on the big day (MacArthur wanted a lot of pomp and chivalry and the way things looked he was going to get it). Take-off would be at 1:00 PM and the entire Wing would fly to Iwo Jima where we would be gassed up and remain until 3:00 AM where the Groups would split up on take-off with each going to a designated city or area to drop the POW supplies in northern Honshu Island - then meeting in an area north of Tokyo where the entire Wing would assemble to form the formation that would fly over Tokyo and the bay area. Men would be permitted to take their cameras along but as I didn't have one it didn't make a great deal of difference to me.
According to the briefing we were to drop our load at a prisoner of war camp area near the city of Komatsu in northeastern Honshu Island and we would fly over areas the Wing had attacked during the war, in addition, we'd see a lot of the Japanese countryside as the highest altitude at any time would 12,000 feet and we would vary all the way down to 1,500 feet. I packed my musette bag with canned grapefruit juice and cigarettes and borrowed a large pair of binoculars from Major Burch which was to come in handy.
They fed us at 11:30 AM and we assembled and went down to the flying field at 12:30 PM. We carried the same equipment on this flight as we did on the combat missions. The 16th led off followed by the 501st, then the 331st and the 502nd Groups respectively. We boarded our plane #690 and took up positions - mine being the left scanner seat in the waist section of the airplane. I boarded the ship by crawling up a ladder into a door on the right hand side of the ship and just ahead of the stabilizer. The scanners have very comfortable seats - leather cushion of a swivel type that could be swung around and also locked in any position. These sat right beside the large Plexiglas 40 inch blisters - so one could have an excellent view of everything on that side of the ship. A Sergeant Malcomb and Sergeant Taylor were the other scanner and tail gunner respectively.
My duties would be to check the left flaps and wheels for the copilot. Also to watch for smoke or fire coming out of the exhaust stacks. Also I'd keep Goring informed of aircraft to that side of the ship to enable him to ward off collision. I situated my equipment around me so that it wouldn't bounce all over if we hit rough air and adjusted myself in the seat comfortably and put on the seat belt. I was all ready to go. I could see that the take-off had started and soon our engines were started and we started taxiing to the end of the runway. "Copilot to scanners - flaps," I heard over the intercom. "Right scanner to copilot, right flaps down 18 degrees." Then I repeated the same. Then I heard the engines increase power - felt the brakes release and we were off. When one is looking out the side of any airplane such as that and like you do in a commercial airliner it always seems like you're going twice as fast as you actually are. I felt the airplane become airborne then the right scanner reported gear and flaps up and I did the same. We were on our way. I had a beautiful seat in front of a big window to look over the Japanese homeland and the U.S. fleet in Tokyo Bay - I was very content and satisfied with everything. The only bad thing was the fact that the two inverters of the 29 are situated in the waist - just in front of the scanners and they whine so loudly you can't hear yourself think. They even drown out the noise of the engines. One could become adjusted to it, so I didn't mind. This was to be a pleasure trip - a trip I'd never forget.
I could feel that they were setting up the C-1 [The Honeywell autopilot -Ed] and there was quite a "hunt" both in the elevator and rudder axis of the ship. They took the elevator hunt out but the fish tailing action continued. Soon Goring called me over the intercom and I crawled up through the tunnel to see what was wrong with the C-1. We soon discovered the trouble in the dashpot on the directional stabilizer. After readjusting that and re-trimming up the airplane, we were able to get the airplane flying on C-1 perfectly. I stayed up in front - sitting on the five man life raft, hobnobbing with Art, Jim, and the bombardier - Miller, I believe his name was.
We were flying at 8,000 feet using the turn control of the autopilot to move around squalls when it was necessary. I remember that I wondered if this would be the last time I'd set up and work with the Minneapolis Honeywell autopilot in flight (it was the last time). When we were half an hour out of Iwo I crawled back through the tunnel to take up my position as left scanner. We began the let down and I could hear Goring calling Iwo flight control over VHF. We were ordered to remain circling at 3,000 feet above the base leg until traffic was cleared and then we were told to enter the base leg with four other ships. Flaps and wheels were down and then we were in our final approach and landed. We were told to taxi over to the north where there already were about a hundred B-29's of our wing parked. It was 5:45 PM Guam time.
We parked up in a row of ships with other 331st Group airplanes. We left all our gear aboard and went over to some quonset huts where many of the fellows were congregated. There was nothing to do until 2:00 AM. Waltanski tried to secure a jeep or some means of transportation so that we might make a drive around the island before dark but he was unsuccessful. Decks of cards and dice cropped up amongst the men and soon gambling games were in progress throughout the area - under airplane wings and on the ground in the shade of buildings. There were about 350 airplanes and about 3,500 men milling about that parking area that night. We were not permitted to go across the field to the ATC terminal - that gang would have mobbed the Red Cross canteen if they had. I stuck around close to the airplane. Jessie's ship was parked close to ours and soon most of the men could be seen sitting under the wings of their ships - eating, sleeping, playing cards, shooting dice, or hobnobbing. We ate our spam sandwiches and drank our coffee. Refueling had been in process when we arrived and finally the trucks arrived down near our ships. We had to walk over to the side of the field to have a smoke (smoking is not permitted within 100 feet of any airplane when it is on the ground).
I found Smith sitting with about a 100 men of the 502nd Group - over at the side of the field. Smith was smoking a stub of a cigar and telling stories. As Jessie and I walked up Smith said, "Fellows let's show these 331st guys how we can sing the Iowa Corn Song." Smith stood up and they started singing "Oh we're from Ioway, etc." That started a darn good song fest and soon a couple hundred men were sitting around singing. Colonel Joyce - the usual singing director wasn't present but as soon as the group would finish singing one song another bunch would start up another and so all of the songs so common to men in the service and overseas were sung at least a couple of times.
About 9:00 PM I went back to the airplane where I found about seven of Goring's crew already in the tunnel sleeping. I decided I'd better try and get some sleep as tomorrow would be a big day - so laid down behind one of the inverters in the waist - using my gear for a pillow, and went to sleep. I was awakened by the sound of many engines in the immediate vicinity. Allof our air crew were awake and stirring around the airplane. It was very dark outside and as we were near the edge of the parking area I could walk over to the edge and take a leak. Goring and the copilot were on visual inspection. I went back in the waist of the airplane and got a can of grapefruit juice and drank that along with a spam sandwich for breakfast.
American servicemen in Paris rejoice at the news that Japan has capitulated. Many were dreading reassignment to the Pacific Theatre where they would face the suicidal defence of the Japanese home islands. Now they were going home instead of going to Japan. There is no doubt that the strategic, tactical and atomic bombing of Japanese cities and industry, as unpalatable as it was, brought the Empire to its knees and saved these very lives, before they had to be thrown into the cauldron. These servicemen have men like Jesse Williams to thank. Photo: Unknown
It was 2:00 AM and already airplanes began taxiing down the far end to the runway with their navigational and landing lights on. About 3:00 AM we got into our gear for personal inspection - boarded our airplane - taking our positions and soon began taxiing down toward the runway. I had a powerful light attached to the wall which the right scanner showed me how to use. I was to direct it on the flaps and wheels so as to see them and then inform the copilot. Soon it came our turn and at 3:40 AM we took-off heading for the Japanese islands. It was quite dark but as we arrived at 10,000 feet - our cruising altitude, we could see the sky in the east was beginning to glow - dawn would soon break. We would reach the coast of Japan about 7:30 AM. According to our briefing we were to fly over the island of Shikoku, cross over the island of Honshu north coast - inland about 20 miles to our dropping target. We'd assemble into Wing formation after dropping the food loads and cross Tokyo and the bay area.
As we neared Japan we dropped down to about 8,000 feet. I got myself all adjusted to see everything. It became daylight. I had a map of Japan upon which the navigator had drawn our course en route in pencil. We were to hit landfall on the Toso Bay on the south coast of Shikoku island. I got out my binoculars and soon off the outboard engine I could make out what looked like land in the haze. Then the right scanner yelled to me that he could see land, I unbuckled my seat belt and crawled over - the sun was coming up and with the binoculars I could definitely make out land to our right - this was Cape Muoto. There were a lot of scattered clouds and there was a little roughness in the air but it was going to be OK so far as sight seeing was concerned. Soon I could make out land definitely over our left wing tip and soon, with the aid of the binoculars, I could see small cities down near the coast - mountains in the background - my first real sight of Japan in the daylight. The coast was very irregular . I couldn't see a single boat in the water beneath us or on the coast but there appeared to be some small boats in the small city ports. These cities or towns I figured from the map must be Kubokawa and Saga. Land grew closer and soon the coast slipped beneath the left wing and I could get a good look at it.
Here are my first impressions. Lots of mountains and rugged terrain - a good deal like Hawaii. Many urban areas - especially near the coast and roads visible from the air leading up winding paths into the mountains. There were no tall buildings in these towns - lots of tiled roofs and small buildings crowded closely together. Through the binoculars I looked for cars - didn't see any but I did see trucks, railroad cars, railroad tracks, and what appeared to be people on bicycles. There were to be seen many horse drawn wagons leading up into the mountainous countryside. The roads appeared to be graveled from the air - whether that was the natural color of the soil I do not know. As we flew inland we flew closer to the ground - not due to our decreasing altitude - rather the terrain and mountains were of higher elevation. It seemed that the country - rugged as it was - was densely populated. Along some of the good roads we could see houses packed closely together. It was very pretty as the houses all had a reddish colored roof and the land areas around were kept neatly. We could see lots of people - standing around in small patches of ground or fields and as we came over I could see a lot of them looking up and waving. The country was similar in some respects to flying over the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee - and yet it wasn't. The houses, farms, roads and everything appeared different. The right scanner called me over to the right blister again where we saw a large mountain peak just off our right wing - it couldn't have been more than a couple thousand feet below our altitude, but it towered up over the others in the vicinity. Goring called me over the intercom and asked me if I'd seen "Geisha" houses through my binoculars yet. No doubt everybody in the ship "haw - hawed" about that.
It was not long before we could begin to see ocean again - the "Inland Sea". The 16th Group and 502nd Group ahead of us were flying over Kyushu Island and would get to fly close enough to Hiroshima to see the damage but we would be too far to the east to see it. There was a large city far to my left that I figured from the map as being Matsuyama - it had been hit in B-29 raids during the war but I was unable to see much even with the binoculars. The north coast of Shikuko was quite mountainous and along the coast line I could see many small villages and lots of small vessels in the water - these I supposed were fishing boats. We crossed many small islands in the inland sea on which there were quite a few air bases. There were many ships - some I'm quite sure were naval ships - in and around these islands. There was a heavy layer of clouds beneath us as we crossed the inland sea into Honshu Island so I didn't get much of a look at the coast.
As the cloud cover broke and became dispersed I looked toward the west where Hiroshima was supposed to be located - I couldn't make out very much in detail but I could see that there was a city - or rather what had been a city. The terrain in this part of Honshu was not quite as rugged as Shikoky Island had been but toward the north it became very mountainous again. Here one could see many main highways and railroads. It was not so populated as Shikoku but there appeared to be a great deal of farming and industry. We flew over many small areas where factories, mines and other industries appeared to be. Japan is beautiful from the air - lots of small farms that appear immaculate.
We passed over the north coast of Honshu into the Sea of Japan - we must have flown 100 to 200 miles out into this for reasons I do not know. With binoculars I could make out the land haze to the north - this was the coast of Korea - the mainland of Asia (I learned later that this was to time the Group so that all Groups in the Wing would meet at the rendezvous point to assemble). We swung back down southeast - crossing over the coast of Japan and then over the lake Matsue - this was an inland lake where Charles Lindbergh and wife were supposed to have landed back in 1930 on their round the world flight. We flew along the coast of Japan crossing over the Wakasa Bay and over the city of Fukui - or what was left of the city of Fukui - this was one of the cities our Wing had hit in a fire bomb raid only a few weeks before. It was a fairly large city - about the size of Memphis, Tennessee - about half of it was gone - burned and parts of it one couldn't make out where the streets had been. One could see people and carts down amongst the debris but no trucks or automobiles. We turned here and flew northwest and here I saw two large highways on which there was a considerable amount of automobile and truck traffic. I may be wrong but I'll swear that I could make out 1941 model Chevrolet cars on that highway.
There seemed to be a lot of industry - factories, saw mills, etc. in this area. Finally we crossed over and could see the city of Toyama where the 331st Group had made their fire bomb and demolition raid around August 1st. It was a large seaport city with considerable industry. We dropped down in altitude over the city. It was badly knocked out - there were, in the burned area, many frames of brick buildings standing, but these were just shells. I could see where the demolition bombs had landed by the appearance of large craters in some of the areas. It looked as though the Japs hadn't done a thing towards cleaning it up. The area most damaged was the dock area and what had been the business and industrial part of the city.
We flew on - gaining altitude to cross over some mountainous areas. A good many of these mountains had farms on their slopes. There was a lot of terracing in this area and one would occasionally see the typical Japanese shaped buildings. Here we flew over and near a Japanese village and through my binoculars I got a good look at a group of people standing out in the street between their houses. Most of them were women - dressed in kimonos and they were waving at us and actually appeared to be smiling and laughing. We did fly over a couple of places that were flat but appeared that this was waste land as I couldn't see that any farming was being done.
Over the intercom I heard the navigator telling Goring to turn a few degrees and the dropping area would be reached in a few minutes. I looked at my watch - it was 11:00 AM. I had been so absorbed I'd hardly noticed the time fly. We turned almost due east and began to let down to a lower altitude and soon I felt the bomb bay doors swing open and our food cargo was on it's way. Then I saw beneath us the area that had been a prisoner of war camp. Many bright orange parachutes were to be seen in the building areas and in the fields surrounding it - from the other ships that had dropped ahead of us. Some of the loads had landed right in the building area. We were about 1,500 to 2,000 feet above the area and I didn't get but a few glimpses of it. I could see some men a few miles farther south near a Jap town that appeared to be Americans but I was not sure. They were waving to us as we went over them.
While the pilots of Jesse Williams' and Andrew Kaye's 357th Bombardment Squadron stoically endured the strain of combat and the dealing of death to the Japanese homeland, they truly relished and delighted in the missions of mercy - delivering food, cigarettes and clothing to the hundreds of smaller and larger Prisoner of War labour and concentration camps that dotted the islands of Japan. At the end of the war, when Allied prisoners realized that hostilities had ended, they marked their camp roofs with huge letters indicating that they were POWs. Low flying reconnaissance aircraft (above) were able to provide coordinates to the B-29 crews thousands of miles away. Williams and his men made a several such trips over a vanquished Japan. Photo US Navy
The shadow of a B-29, once a harbinger of death, is now a symbol of salvation to the many thousands of starving and diseased Allied prisoners. Photo: USAF
Milk, Sugar, Coffee and Salvation. Another POW labour camp on the shattered Tokyo waterfront advertizes their needs, their units and even their thanks. Photo: USAAF/USNavy
We began to climb and turn toward the southwest and soon I could see a large group of airplanes far to the south already in formation. We began to turn southeast again and then I could see perhaps a dozen of our ships - Goring's own Squadron. We continued in a slow turn and soon I saw a ship move up on us and stay about 50 yards to our left and a little above. We formed groups of four and then two sections of three groups of four in a diamond pattern. After the Squadron was formed we turned and continued west until I could see other groups of 24 airplanes to our left and there was a group on our right. Colonel Peyton and Waltanski were in the lead Squadron and the four Squadrons formed into a box formation. We moved over to the right side so I could see almost all of the ships in the other three squadrons. We flew straight south and soon I could see other groups of the wing ahead and to our left. We made one complete turn and came into the left of what was the 16th Group. We continued in a southerly direction as we pulled up and to the right of the 16th Group. I could see the 501st pull up far to our left and as I looked above and behind us I could see the 502nd move up. We were in a box formation as a wing. It was a thrilling thing to see - over 350 airplanes in one grand terrific formation and we were out on the right edge of it as we were the lead ship of the outside Squadron of the right side Group. It looked like a jumbled up mess of airplanes from our position but it must have been something to see from the ground. I estimated that we were about eight to ten thousand feet high. I could look over and above us about 300 yards and see Jessie's ship.
Goring was tuned in on VHF directly to General Armstrong's lead ship so he could catch all the orders. They had the regular ship's radio tuned in on the Saipan station and we could listen to the peace signing broadcast. At the time we tuned in the dignitaries on the battleship Missouri were waiting for the Japanese delegation. We began to let down and then we neared Tokyo. I could see nothing but continuous towns and villages beneath us. Lots of roads and there was considerable traffic. We flew over many airfields and I saw some that appeared to be heavily bombed - a Navy job.
Research on the internet can bring you to some wonderful places. On the photo management site called Flickr.com, I found this blurry image of B-29s flying in formation over Tokyo Bay on the Second of September, Nineteen Forty-Five. Below the aircraft are just some of the armada of Allied carriers, battlewagons, destroyers, submarines, cruisers and capital ships that crowded the bay for the formal signing of the Instruments of Surrender. The photo was taken by Edward "Ted" D. Carlsen who flew with the 468th Bomb Group of the 58th Bomb Wing. Carlsen's group was stationed on Tinian Island. In his memoirs, Herbert Bach wished that he had had a camera for this momentous day, but luckily, Carlsen's very proud grandson Joshua Carlsen thought enough to post his grandfather's haunting image for all to share. Photo Ted Dave Carlsen, USAAF
I don't know exactly when we arrived over Tokyo itself but that area of Japan is practically one large city. Narrow streets and low one story houses - millions of them. We were down to about 2,000 feet altitude. Then ahead of us I began to see the remains of Tokyo proper - nothing but ashes and rubble - miles and miles of it - it was terrific. I couldn't see a thing - man or vehicle moving around in it anywhere. It was hard to make out where streets had been but far to the southwest I did see a street car stop and people got out of it. As we moved on we passed over what had been the business and financial district of Tokyo. There was nothing but piles and piles of rubble and debris - occasionally one would see a building - 15 to 20 stories high but as we came near it I could see that it was only a shell of masonry. The right scanner yelled at me to see Hirohito's palace so I jumped over there and had a few seconds glimpse of that. We passed right over the edge of it - it wasn't damaged - a sort of paradise amongst all the destruction. It was larger and covered more area of Tokyo than I'd thought. But one could only glimpse a few buildings and the wall as the area was covered over with trees.
We turned southeast and I could begin to see the bay. The dock area was all smashed to pieces - there were many ships - lots of them sunk and laying on their sides. All this while we were listening to the San Francisco "Overseas Armed Forces Radio Service" on the radio and over our intercom and the Japs had boarded the Missouri. But looking far ahead of us I could see that there was a fog - cloud cover moved over and one could make out only a few ships on the edge that appeared to be units of the US fleet. I shall never forget the destruction I saw below on the dock area of Tokyo - those huge buildings were just frames and rubble. The piers were all twisted up and had huge holes in them. Everything appeared to be burned - up along the river and throughout the dock area. I wonder if that city will ever be built up again - they'd have to start from scratch if they did attempt to build it into a city again.
Sailors aboard the battleship USS Missouri watch as the Japanese delegation arrives for the formal surrender - two weeks after hostilities ended. Above them, squadron after squadron after squadron of every type of Army, Navy, Marine and Allied aircraft stream overhead in an astounding show of strength, planning and skill. Looking at this image, I can't help wondering if I am looking up at Night Prowler and Jesse O. Williams, Andrew L. Kaye, Herbert Bach or perhaps Ted Carlsen
Grim faced military and civilian officials arrive aboard USS Missouri to sign the utter end to their misery. One can't help wonder what might be going through their minds, surrounded by the stunning might and mass of the assembled Allied fleet - below their feet and above their heads. Maybe is was simple relief. Photo: DoD
The delegation from the Japanese government endures the stares, and emotions of thousands in attendance - while above, men like Jesse Williams make their voices heard through the thunder of a thousand engines. Photo: DoD
We were out over the bay and over the US Third Fleet lying at anchor. We were right down over the clouds but couldn't see a thing. We swung to the west and after a few minutes we could see ships below us as the cloud cover thinned out and disappeared. I looked back of us with the binoculars and could make out several large battleships and carriers. I could faintly see the Missouri - or what I believed was the Missouri. I could make out a lot of white caps of men on her decks so I supposed that was it. About this time we heard the announcer say there were B-29's flying above them and we could hear the rumble of our engines over the radio - quite the deal. There were many, many naval vessels below us in plain view - battleships, cruisers, destroyers, carriers, etc. We were only about 2,500 feet above them and I'd say it was one of the greatest sights I've ever seen. About this time we heard MacArthur start talking.
What would be the Japanese words for "What were we thinking?" Thousands of aircraft overflew Tokyo Bay that day in 1945, while hundreds of grim, grey ships of war crowded its confines. Here hundreds of Navy fighters and bombers stream across Missouri's bow and over the mainland. The message, which was so painfully unclear on the 7th of December 1941, sparkles with clarity on this day - there was clearly no way in hell that Japan could have possibly beaten the massive industrial might of the United States. Those Japanese watching from the shore must have despaired at the cost to learn that simple fact. Photo DoD
We swung toward the north shore of Tokyo Bay and to the delight of perhaps everyone in the Wing we flew right over the Kawasaki oil refinery and storage area - or what remained of it. That had been our target on the July 21st mission. The entire area was all blown to hell - it had been a beautiful job of bombing. I couldn't see a bit of it that was intact. There were many gaping holes in the ground in the area where the 500 lb. bombs had landed. I looked out over the bay where we caught so much flak that night - anyway it was something to see that area where we'd been that night - six weeks before.
We flew down the coast and over the city of Yokohama and the immense dock area - everything was pretty well bombed to pieces. The residential and business area of Yokohama was just like Tokyo - all burned to pieces. General MacArthur was at that time inviting the Japs to sign the surrender documents The right scanner yelled at me to come over to his side and there we could see Mount Fuji volcano off to the northwest just above the outboard engine - oh how I'd like to have a camera to have taken that picture but I'll always be able to remember it.
We turned and flew to the southwest. The groups spread out to a loose formation and we headed out to sea. We began to climb for more altitude and I watched the coast of Japan fade and disappear in the haze - we were on our way to Iwo Jima. We continued to listen to the radio broadcast from the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay and finally, when it was over, Taylor, Malcom, and I got into the spam sandwiches and coffee - which by this time had become quite stale. I drank a can of grapefruit juice instead of coffee. I was tired, so telling the boys to wake me up before we let down for Iwo, I crawled up in the tunnel and went to sleep.
At the end of the war, hundreds of B-29s line the runways on the island of Saipan In the days, weeks and even months ahead, the crews would ferry their warhorses back to the United States, where, shutting them down, they would walk away, back to their wives and families and begin another life - one which many of their friends would never come home to. Photo USAAF
Northwest Field, Guam, as it appears today. While there are US military facilities and airfields on Guam today, the once-massive Northwest Field begins its long and leisurely journey back to its natural state. USAF Photo by SSgt Joshua Strang taken in the 2000s