Interview by Daniel Jackson, January 13, 2009

When did you arrive in the China-Burma-India Theater?

Well, we arrived in Karachi in January of ’44.

So you were a replacement pilot, not with the original unit?

Yeah. In Karachi they had a field called Landhi Field and they still had P-40s at the time and the instructors were all of the original AVG pilots that were working with Chennault: “Tex” Hill, Dallas Clinger. They were fantastic instructors. And we got about forty hours in the P-40 before we joined our unit in combat.

Where did you join your unit?

Up in the Assam part of India. The name of it was Sookerating and they had A-36s. So we were operating out of a tea plantation. We had a single strip which was made out of cement and we got some actual training there before we joined our unit for combat. And from that point there in the Assam Valley, we moved into Burma, just off the Burma Road, a 3,500-foot strip, crushed stone for surface. We were flying A-36s at this point in time.

Was that at Tingkawk Sakan?

Yeah. I flew my first combat mission on May 20th of ’44. I was a second lieutenant, just another pilot.

What were the living conditions like at Tinkawk Sakan?

Oh, very primitive. We were there during the monsoon season and we had mud up to our ankles. Our quarters were nothing but a tarpaulin over the quarters and a mosquito net down the side and that was it. Very primitive. We were on C-rations primarily.

How about the weather? It rained a lot?

That’s right. Monsoon season. Plenty of rain. All of us suffered from prickly heat. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s when as soon as you put your parachute on, it hurts.

How did that affect your operations?

Oh, it didn’t. We were young and we loved to fly and we were there to just do our part.

Did the monsoon affect your operations?

Oh, well, that’s why we moved from Sookerating to Burma, it was because of the weather. We didn’t have any approaches or anything like that made up for weather, so by moving into Burma we alleviated a lot of problems that would normally relate with weather. It was hairy. You’d be coming back from a mission and it’s all fogged in and you’re trying to find the strip. You don’t have any electronic things to help you get there. And you’d be going around and then you’d catch a glimpse of it and chop the power and dive on in and land. Usually you’re up there with three or four other guys and you’d hit the wash off their airplanes and wonder where the hell they were. You couldn’t see them. It was a hairy operation, believe me. But we didn’t lose anybody because of it.

That sounds pretty risky.

It was, no question about it. We were only about fifteen minutes from where we were operating in support of Stilwell’s troops – the Chinese troops at Myitkyina. And once we finished up that Myitkyina Campaign, that was the end of the Japanese resistance in Burma, and so we moved on into China from that point in time.  

So your unit’s primary mission in Burma was close air support for Stilwell’s troops?

Right. That, and, of course, a lot of interdiction: in knocking down the bridges and stuff of that nature.

What did the Japanese use for transportation in that part of Burma?

They had railways primarily. We controlled the Burma Road. In fact, the strip that the engineers built for us was only right off the Burma Road, Tingkawk Sakan: a 3,500-foot strip of stone and so forth.

So most of your interdiction was focused on Japanese rail?

Well that, plus we were close air support for Stilwell’s troops. He was in charge of all the Chinese. And then we had Merrill’s Marauders and we provided close air support for them too.

How was that support coordinated?

It was coordinated through the intelligence section of our squadron and our group.

So essentially the guys on the ground would radio back if they needed support and the intelligence section would inform you on when and where it was necessary?

Right, right.

Did you have radio contact with the Marauders or other ground troops when you were in the air?

No. Well, yeah. They would have a forward air controller or somebody that would tell us what they wanted on the radio so that we’d go and we’d hit the right spot.

Did the Japanese ever try to jam the radio or pass wrong information?

No, not to my knowledge. Never.

How were you briefed?

We were briefed ahead of time and they’d tell us what the primary objective was for that day and many times we would fly three missions. We were only fifteen minutes from Mytikyina from Tingkawk Sakan.

How long would an average mission last then?

In those days from Tingkawk Sakan to Myitkyina and back were about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Are there any missions that stand out in your memory?

Yes. I got shot down on May 5th, 1945, but this was over in China. I had spent all morning putting my name on the airplane: brand new Mustang, “D” model. We just had started getting the “D” model in. It had the advantage over the other Mustangs in that the “D” model had six fifty-caliber machine guns versus the others with four, you know. And, anyway, I spent all morning putting my name on it and in the afternoon I got shot down. I got hit in the coolant system. I got it up to about 3,500 feet, then I went over the side and pulled the parachute. Luckily, I was in friendly territory at the time.

Was this when you were flying out of Xi’an?

Right, Xi’an. Yeah. Did you get the squadron history that Meyer Newell sent you?

Yes. Did you ever encounter Japanese fighters during your missions?

I didn’t, no. Nope, never did. We provided escort for General Stilwell on several occasions. He had a C-47, DC-3, whatever you want to call it, and we’d have a flight of four Mustangs going along, drifting back and forth, in case the Japanese tried to shoot him down. They never did, so we didn’t get any action. That one mission when they all went to Hankou, they did, but I didn’t make it. I was back somewhere else ferrying an airplane, so I missed that one. Out in China we went out a couple times as escorts for B-24 bombers. On one occasion, I think I flew six hours. We had trouble finding the target because of weather and they ended up dropping on radar information. And we never did see any Japanese airplanes though. It was a long flight. It gets kind of tiresome when you’re sitting there for six hours.

What was your unit’s primary mission when it got to China?

Interdiction was primary in China – working on the railroads. My claim to fame was eighteen locomotives in one flight.

In one flight?

That’s right. Flight of four, we got eighteen. Another flight of four I got twelve, but I lost a man on that one.

What was the standard practice for attacking locomotives?

Well, nothing other than just diving down and shooting them. I always went for the engineer because I figured they were harder to replace than the engine was. You know what I’m talking about. You got to train people to be able to operate locomotives. So if you’re going to knock it out, why go for the locomotive? Go for the guy that’s running it. Then you work it over after that. 

Were you operating along the line between Beiping and Hankou then?

No, we operated out of Xi’an. From Xi’an if you go out to the northeast, you come to the Yellow River, that runs from the north to the south and then west to the east and they had four different lines of railroads at that point that ran from Beiping right back down to Xi’an. So when we would go out we’d do a sweep. Whenever we’d find one – in one particular town there were three locomotives there, so we got all three of them. That was the day I think we ended up with eighteen.

Going back to Burma: what were the big differences between the A-36 and the P-51?

Well, the biggest one I think was firepower. The A-36 had two nose guns that were supposed to fire through the propeller. Well they literally flew through the propeller so we had to stop using them. Also, the A-36 had dive brakes in the wings, you deploy them when you dive in to control your airspeed and so forth. But we couldn’t use them because one would come out and one wouldn’t and they’d try to corkscrew you into the ground. So we had them wired off so we couldn’t use them. Other than that, the best altitude for that A-36 was considered to be three thousand feet above sea level. Whereas with the Mustang it was up to twenty-five thousand. We went from, like I said, two guns in each wing with the A-36 – we ended up with three in each wing with the Mustang: pretty good firepower, all those fifty-caliber machine guns.

What other ordnance would you use on missions?

Normally five hundred-pounders.

Even for close air support?

Right, you’d use them for close air. And then we got to drop some bombs that we normally associated with the Navy. They had tremendous blast effect.

Depth charges?

That’s right, depth charges.

With weapons like that, how close to friendly lines could you provide close air support?

A couple hundred yards. We had to be careful because we didn’t want to drop them on our own troops. They would mark the target with smoke and then say, “Okay, hit the smoke.” If you did that, then nobody got hurt other than the Japanese.

What would you say was your unit’s significance to the war in Burma?

Well you know what happened when the war was over. Chiang Kai-shek and his forces were in combat to take over the China Theater and these days they’ve got them over on Taiwan. You know, while I was in China, you’d never see anyone on the highway going anywhere because there was nowhere to go. You would spot, encounter all kinds of different airplanes, different positions out beyond the rice paddies. There were some of us that would see anything from a PT-17 Steerman, to a P-40, or what have you. They were stocking those up getting ready to do battle once we moved out from the war and came home.

So you’re saying they were sitting tight, waiting for the Americans to finish up the war with the Japanese so they could go to war with the Communists?

Right.

When did you return to the United States?

Well the war was over in August of ’45 and I came home shortly thereafter. I can’t remember what the airplane was, I think it was a C-54, but it might have been something else.

Did you stay in the Air Force after the war?

No, I got out in ’46 and got back in in ’50. And I stayed in the Air Force from ’50 on and in 1972 I retired as a full colonel.

I was talking to a pilot from the 529th, Robert Austin, and he said he knew you from later in his career.

Oh, Bob Austin is a good friend. Bob and I talk periodically – every couple months. We’re good friends. We used to play handball together or talk about China. We both flew ‘105s in Vietnam.

It must have been interesting having a career spanning all the way from the early-model Mustangs all the way to the F-105.

Yeah, it was. I’m going to mail you a copy of my resume which shows you what I did and what airplanes I flew. And I’ll also send you a copy of the commendation we got in the 528th – Presidential Citation. I got a copy of that and I’m going to send that to you.