Author: Gerald W. (Gerry) Connolly, Sr.
Gerry was a VPB-11 PB4Y Liberator aircraft crewmember (waist gunner) during WWII
GERRY’S WORLD WAR II MEMORIES
Now that I am close to reaching the century mark, I have been thinking more and more about my past. In fact, it is, at times, easier than remembering what I had for breakfast. When I was young, I was not a student. School just did not go well, and my parents did not know how I should proceed. With that in mind, when I was about 16½ and with World War II raging, I began pressuring my parents into letting me enlist in the Navy. Upon reaching my 17th birthday, November of 1942, with much reservation and apprehension, they signed off. I was sworn in at the Fargo Building in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, February, 1943. Navy personnel told me, “Sit on the floor and wait.” That was the beginning of waiting any time I went anywhere in the Navy.
“Join the Navy and see the world” was the perfect slogan for what I encountered. Many servicemen were assigned to one or two places. However, my numerous, varied experiences made it seem as though I were going through a different door each month. Over the following 4 years I served in every theatre of war: many missions took place in a number of countries and in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Youth provided a good function: Fear was minimal. On the other hand, anticipation was great!
Gerald W. Connolly, Sr.
Walking through the kitchen, one of the macho, heavy, aproned chefs said, “Hey, Boot, how old are you?” He went on, “Bet I can guess your weight.” Then he said to another chef, “I bet you $5 I can guess his weight.” He turned to me and said, “Put your arms around me over my back.” He bent over to guess my weight while the other chef quickly took a paddle from under his apron and whacked the hell out of my bottom. What a way to learn!
Upon finishing boot camp, I had leave. Then, I was assigned to East Field, Norfolk, Virginia. Following training, my first duty was a barracks compartment cleaner. After that, I had night seawall fire duty, armed with a 45-caliber pistol. Subsequently, I was transferred to a newly-established B-24 squadron. These squadrons had been authorized by the joint Chiefs of Staff at Admiral King’s request. The Navy only had two-engine planes, such as PBM and the PBY seaplanes with limited range for submarine surveillance. “Old” B-24’s were secured from the Army for Navy training and familiarization.
When I transferred to the new squadron the duty officer offered me a job as either a messenger boy or a truck driver. Selecting the latter with no license or experience, I was given a stake truck, requiring double clutching. After considerable bucking, a seasoned sailor ejected me from the driver’s seat and taught me how to double-shift. My job consisted of taking crews to their planes for daily training flights.
The squadron, in part, was transferred to Oceana Naval Station, Virginia Beach, Virginia, where I began driving a large gasoline trailer truck for refueling. One day while winding the hose at the rear of the truck, with two men still on wings helping to refuel, the fan blade on the gas truck created a spark, igniting a fire. Everybody disappeared quickly! I stood there frozen. Thankfully, the fire diminished swiftly on its own.
The Army transferred submarine interdiction and recognizance to the new Navy B-24 squadrons. Each squadron consisted of 13-15 planes with 10-men crews; pilot, co-pilot, navigator, ordnance, radioman and machinist mates-gunners. The B-24 with eight 50-caliber machine guns would be the Navy’s largest plane with the longest range until the B-29 came along late in the Pacific.
Since I was scheduled to go overseas, my dad, an attorney working at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., decided to see me off. He spent a night at the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach.
The following day, he wanted to go swimming. I thought to myself, “OMG.” On each arm, I recently had tattoos of a sailor boy complete with hat and bell-bottom trousers. My name, “Billie Baby,” was under one tattoo; “Joe Baby,” my brother, a Naval lieutenant, under the other. I knew my father would flip out so I put tape covering each tattoo. He asked when we were at the beach, “What are those?” I told him, “They are my overseas shots.” He said nothing. I dove into the water, and as one of the tapes started to loosen, I panicked and quickly slapped it back on. I think I got away with it!
In early winter, the squadron flew from Virginia to St. Evel, England, via the northern route; Maine, Newfoundland, Iceland. The four-engine planes had a speed of about 275 mph, 6-8000 lbs. bomb load and almost a 3,000-mile range, depending on wind, weather and load. Several broke down enroute, others encountered bad weather, one was lost over Greenland, some had accidents and did not arrive until months later.
I, on the other hand, traveled alone, by sea plane tender, the USS Matagorda, from Boston, Massachusetts, with all the squadron’s gear. After a stop at Argentia, Newfoundland, for refueling, I found myself in trouble! A Coast Guard cutter pulled alongside. While the ship’s captain was yelling to our captain on the bridge, a coastie on the cutter saw me and asked where I was from. When I replied, “Boston,” he yelled, “Me, too. Come aboard.” I told him that I could not. He said, “Sure you can, just for a minute.” I jumped from my ship to his. We chatted briefly, and, much to my surprise, the cutter pulled off because its captain was more than a little upset that he couldn’t get our captain to respond. The cutter went barreling down the channel, and I was AWOL.
Luckily, the cutter pulled in on our side of the channel. I jumped out and ran like hell back to my ship. I was facing discipline. By chance, a refuse detail was coming towards me from our ship. I grabbed a pail handle and returned to the ship with the detail, saluted the duty officer and went to quarters, Whew!
We continued for six days, zig-zagging in winter weather to avoid German submarines, to Bristol, England. My assignment on board was the potato locker, where I cut my hand and went to sick bay for treatment. As luck would have it, the doctor, also hailing from Boston, gave me a “no duty” slip. Extremely rough seas during this time made it difficult to fire up the big stove for meals. Therefore, we existed mostly on soup and sandwiches.
One evening they called “general quarters,” signaled with a loud, blaring horn. Everyone rushed to their duty stations. I joined my 20-millimeter gun crew. There it was: a large sailing schooner with no sails, lit up like a Christmas tree with light bulbs on a cable from the bow to the top of the mast down to the stern. All of us looked in awe, our mouths open. Not a soul was on deck. How could this be? Here we are in the middle of the ocean with German subs here and there. It truly was a phenomenon, a ghost ship! No explanation was forthcoming from any of our officers.
Finally arriving in Bristol, England, we anchored at the mouth of a river, where we spent the night waiting for an okay to proceed. I decided to go topside to relieve myself overboard. I was caught, verbally disciplined and required to wash down the whole side of the ship on my knees. What a lesson that was!
As we wended up the river, factory workers on shore opened windows and waved. Arriving at a small harbor, where the ship could barely turn around, parachute bags were thrown from the deck to the pier. Some didn’t make it. That night we attended our first pub and had a surprise—beer was room temperature!
Returning to quarters, we witnessed couples “engaged” against buildings. I asked my senior partner, “What’s this all about?” He said, “This is common since there hardly is any privacy in the small row houses, and options for entertainment are few and far between. Also, in England, there’s a belief that by standing up a gal won’t get pregnant.” What a revelation that was for me, an inexperienced 17-year-old.
From Bristol, I was traveling through bombed-out Plymouth on a train when it briefly stopped. Girls with baskets of sandwiches arrived on the platform at the train’s windows. We eagerly helped ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed their smiles. As the train pulled out, I bit into a sandwich and, lo and behold, there was a note. “Hi Yank! My name is Alice and here is my address…, if you care to write.”
The train took us to our destination in Cornwall, Southern England, where we were stationed at St. Evel Airdrome, used by both the English and Americans. The crew was billeted in the town of St. Columb, at an old English castle out-building with one stove and mud everywhere. One day, as we were traveling on a bus, we were surprised to have the driver stop in the middle of nowhere and get out. On returning, he was carrying two bricks, real treasures in a time of severe shortages.
Unfortunately, we had sent the taxi away and had no transportation. It was late and we were hopelessly lost. We walked for an hour or two and came to a village. (All town and street signs, as well as house numbers, throughout England had been obliterated in case of downed German aircraft.) We knocked on doors seeking help but no one answered. Finally, a man, wearing a nightcap, opened a second-floor window and pointed us in a direction. We walked another hour or so until we saw a light in a low building, looked in and saw bakers kneading dough. They gave us further directions. After walking all night, we arrived back at base exhausted.
After several months, the squadron transferred to French Morocco, North Africa. Being the “low man on the totem pole,” I, again, traveled by the USS Matagorda to Casablanca Harbor and arrived early on a sunny morning, which happened to be my 18th birthday, November 8, 1943. I remember gazing up from the ship at Casablanca, rising up a hillside and appearing bright white and dazzling in the sun. We unloaded dusty, dirty cargo from the ship.
Later, in pelting rain, we drove many miles north along the coast of French Morocco, past Rabat, the capital. Reaching our destination, Port Leyautey on the Sebou River, we set up 4/5-person tents on brick platforms. Since nights in this part of the world were cold, we cleverly devised a stove using a lye can with a chimney going up the tent pole.
On a hill nearby was a brick house where officers were billeted. During this time, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were filming the famous movie, “Casablanca,” in the States. However, Bogart wanted to check out the Moroccan surroundings and visit servicemen. Some of our officers recounted that they had had a visit from Bogart and a female “friend” to whom, they said, Bogart had been rude and curt.
Every other week we received liberty. We traveled standing in an open stake truck to Rabat, where the King of Morocco, known to favor the USA, resided. When we arrived, we always were met by Arabs waiting to trade for francs. “How much you?” They desired American items, mostly wax-covered cartons of cigarettes, which we purchased for $10/carton from the Navy Ships Service. (We called them “gyp-joints.”) We hid the cartons in our pea coat sleeves. The Navy did not approve of resales. We easily could make enough money to pay for the day’s outing. However, the food and wine were not good.
Some of the French residents were friendly; others, mostly those of Vichy background, who were in power, were not. I became friendly with a young Arabian boy selling almonds rolled in paper, placed on a large round woven tray, which, at times, he carried on his head. He accompanied me as I wandered throughout his community. I always gave him a tip when I left.
Several sailors and I would purchase wine and wander through the Medina Marketplace, viewing a myriad of items for sale. Arab merchants from every corner constantly yelled at us to buy. We would look at items such as a Moroccan leather wallet or purse, and bargaining would begin. “How much, you? You, you, how much?” The price would be stated; we would offer less, he would say, “No, no. How much, you?” Bargaining went back and forth until we finally pretended to walk away. The merchant would follow yelling. Eventually, there was compromise.
Once, I decided to get a haircut. The French barber gave me a marcel. Oh, how terrible. When I returned to base, I immediately struggled to comb it out. My tent mates, hooting and laughing, were very unkind!
With an extended day’s leave, I was able to travel to Fez. While walking around I met a cute, young French girl, dressed in a military uniform and spoke some English. We walked for a while and enjoyed one another—definitely a high point of my stay in Africa. I was disappointed that I would never see her again.
During the day I worked in a hanger removing paint from planes in order for them to be repainted in sky and sea camouflage. After several months—to my surprise—a Lt. Commander (Executive Officer) Soverel asked me to join his crew as a starboard waste gunner. I had had no training: I guess he had faith in me. Flight crews were close and mutually dependent, sharing danger and duties. We took care of our plane, the Shady Lady, and officers took care of us. The crew, minus the officers, ate, slept and stayed together at all times except on liberty. We were always on call.
The squadron’s mission was to find German submarine activity. Flights of 10 to 15 hours—from dawn in the morning to dark at night—went to the Azores and Gibraltar, at the mouth of the Mediterranean Ocean. These were long, confined hours, always looking, always on watch. At that time, we encountered only one enemy submarine and made a run on it. We were too slow in reaching it before it submerged.
GWC: Front row, left
Several times we flew to the Rock of Gibraltar for liberty and supplies of eggs, silk stockings and perfume, which we could not get anywhere else due to rationing. Landing on the small square strip, doubling as a highway from Gibraltar to Spain, was a hair-raising experience. Planes were parked on each side of the runway with water on both ends of the landing strip. If a plane landed short or long it would be “in the drink.” As a plane came in, commerce on the highway crossing the landing strip was halted, meaning all people walking, horses and wagons, trucks, etc. On one occasion, the pilot allowed me to stand behind him and the co-pilot as we approached the runway. I was convinced we were not going to make it. Here I am to talk about it! By the way, the macaques, monkeys, on the Rock were cute and, at times, vicious beggars.
Later, Soverel, our pilot, was transferred back to the States. We got a new pilot, Lt. Fay, whose assignment was to return stateside so our plane could be scrapped at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. On the 4th of July, 1943, we assembled at Floyd Bennet Field, New York, for transport by a leased American Export Lines four-engine sea plane, to head back across the Atlantic. After takeoff engine trouble developed. We returned and rejoiced: How delighted we were to remain in New York City for the festivities. Among these was having a delightful lunch at the famous Longchamps Restaurant, arranged by my mother’s friend, “Aunt” Peg, with a crewmate, West Virginian Eddie Dumont, and being escorted by a beautiful model. The following day we flew by seaplane to Iceland, where we were met by water taxi, and had dinner in Reykjavik. We then continued our flight to Northern Ireland and, finally, Africa, to resume operational flights.
Several months later, we flew back to the States to Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Florida. From there we flew to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and on to Belem, Brazil, the “Gateway to Amazonia.” Always being a sharp dresser, I did not miss an opportunity to purchase a gorgeous pair of leather boots. In my mind I still can see the beautiful hotel on a hill with a string ensemble playing on the balcony. A day later, we were in Natal, Brazil, and from there flew non-stop to Dakar, Africa. Finally, we arrived back at home base, Port Leyautey, French Morocco.
Sometime later, all planes and crews were transferred to the States. In order to make room for a ground officer I was bumped and sent home aboard the HMS Trouncer, a small aircraft carrier, from Casablanca. The British Navy’s crews were divided in two distinct parts, the Merchant Marines and the Royal Navy, not always compatible. One operated all the below-deck engines; the other was tasked with plane maintenance and on-deck plane handling. I was assigned to Merchant Marine duty for sleeping and eating accommodations.
November 8, 1944, my 19th birthday, occurred while onboard the Trouncer. Following tradition at that time, everyone received a grog of rum at lunch. And, because it was my birthday—again another tradition—everyone at the table contributed 1/3 of their grog to me. Needless to say, I spent the rest of my special day on the bunk. On another occasion, I went on deck and stood at the bow to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. Since, as a teenager, I had a lithe figure, a bunch of guys started whistling at me. What a humiliation! Those bastards!
My Atlantic stint was over–now on to the Pacific.
Arriving back in the States, I had a 7-day leave and went to my home in Massachusetts. After a week’s visit, I was eager to join the remainder of the squadron in Norfolk, Virginia. Then, in extreme heat for five days, I traveled the southern route in an old train with little air circulation to San Diego Naval Air Station, California. While there, I was sent to Border Field gunnery school.
Having a couple of days off, I decided to hitchhike to some “must-see” places, one of which was Hollywood & Vine. Late in the day, after stopping at a restaurant/bar and remaining until closing, I was invited by the bar tender and his girlfriend to go out. We bowled until the early morning hours. He took me to his home, where I slept on a couch and the next day went back to San Diego.
During another leave, I hitchhiked to Tijuana, Mexico, to attend races at the famous Caliente Horse Track. Servicemen were required to be off the streets by 5 pm. Since it was getting close to that time, I asked a man at a bar where to stay. He casually handed me a key to his upstairs room hardly looking at me. When I asked, “Aren’t you going to use it?” he replied, “No.” while turning away. Apprehensively and with much trepidation, I went to his room. Nobody disturbed my peace that night. In the morning I went to the track and later back to base.
Two weeks later, we flew to Hawaii, where we were stationed at Kaneohe Naval Air Station. I remember a big party for Naval personnel held at Fleet Park. Bombing practice consisted of 100-pound water bombs dropped at low altitudes on surfboards pulled by motorboats. After further training, we flew to Eniwetok and Johnston Atolls for a night’s stay while enroute to Tinian Island. During the evening we attended a movie, but were warned to be cautious of rodents roaming everywhere. And, they were everywhere!
Arriving at Tinian, we caught sight of nearby Saipan, formerly a stronghold of the Japanese. Hiding in the jungle were hundreds of Japanese soldiers, civilians and forced Korean laborers, who, after the United States forces took over, committed suicide by jumping off high cliffs into the ocean. Later we learned that some even jumped with children. Many of these scenes have been depicted in television documentaries.
While on Tinian my closest crewmate (friends into our 90’s) and bow turret gunner, Eddie Dumont, and I decided to explore the jungle—against orders. Armed with 38-caliber Smith and Wesson pistols, issued to all crew members, we encountered a large metal water tank surrounded by carefully-raked sand. Japanese soldiers and/or Korean laborers would sneak down at night, punch holes in the tank, extract water and leave footprints. Venturing on, we came to a beautiful beach. While Eddie stood guard, I stripped, grabbed a snorkel, which I had made, and went into the water. What a beautiful scene the many-colored fish and seaweed provided!
One day someone came running into our barracks screaming about a new plane’s arrival at the airport. It was so large that no one had seen anything like it. It was the B-29. We hurried to the airport to view the plane, which was surrounded by guards, preventing us from getting too close. The B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay took off from here on August 6, 1945, to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
On Christmas Eve in the black of night, we heard loud bombing by Japanese Betty 2-engine bombers. As it continued, officers and crew members, believe it or not, climbed to the top of a quonset hut roof to watch the show taking place at our local airport.
Parked bombers were located on heart stands in areas off roads to runways. Somebody always was required to sleep in the planes at night with the bomb bay doors closed. At times, returning flights would toss garbage into surrounding areas. During the night, the Japanese would come out of the jungle to scavenge as well as try to get into planes. Having duty one night, I took my belongings (wallet, watch, etc.), put them into my white hat and proceeded to lie down in the after-station (rear) of the plane. Later, approaching me from the front, I heard “clank, clank, clank” on the metal deck. Being extremely nervous, I pulled out my revolver expecting someone to appear from the forward catwalk. Turning on my flashlight I saw two shining eyes. Fortunately, I soon realized it was a wild goat, which had gained access through the nose wheel. What a relief!
On December 12, 1944, our squadron flew near the Japanese stronghold, Iwo Jima, where we could see planes revving up from all the dust rising from their airfield. We continued flying over the nearby Bonin Islands of Chichi Jima and Haha Jima. (It was in this area where the future president of the United States, George Bush, Sr., was shot down in a TBF torpedo fighter bomber. He, as we know, survived, but his two-man crew did not.) As we returned over Iwo Jima, we were attacked by Japanese fighters, making two runs on us.
On December 26th, again approaching Iwo Jima, we, pilot Lt. Fay and crew, saw three Japanese fighters taxiing for takeoff, propellors raising clouds of coral dust in the process. We departed at high speed. The fighters pursued, trailing us. We dropped to within a few feet of the ocean to protect our underside. Strangely, they did not make any runs on us, but instead determined our altitude and air speed by flying alongside us just out of range. Suddenly, they flew in front of us at an identical air speed. “What the hell are they doing?” And, then it happened. They were dropping small parachutes with phosphorous bombs attached, which they hoped would burn holes through the plane. Thankfully that never happened.
1944 ended with attacking a Japanese fishing boat on the 29th. They were suspected of having high-frequency radio transmission equipment.
The Japanese had been fearful of making direct air attacks because we had so much “fire power.” Locations of eight 50-caliber machine guns were 2 in the tail, 2 in the starboard and port wastes, 2 on the top deck and 2 in the bow. Every gun had an automatic camera which recorded the paths of bullets. Credit for successful shots of the enemy never was given unless recorded. Underneath the tail turret was an automatic camera protruding from the fuselage that recorded accuracy of bombs or dropped depth charges.
At this point, let me digress a little to mention several things other than “fire power,” about the B-24. The plane, carrying 3,200 gallons of gasoline in wing tanks and auxiliary bombay area, was operated by a three-blade radial Pratt and Whitney engine. As mentioned before, it was capable of attaining a speed of under 300 mph and had a range of under 3,000 miles.
Upon being airborne with full tanks of gas, fumes could siphon off trailing engines. At the same time, from the waste hatches we could see red hot pieces of carbon coming from the engine exhaust. We always were fearful of an explosion as the gas tanks and auxiliary wing tanks were filled to over-maximum for a potential 15-hour flight although most operational flights were 10-12 hours.
During these long flights we used plug-in heated boxes for pre-made sandwiches and electric canisters to make coffee. Frequently, being the “low man on the totem pole,” I carried coffee and food to pilots during flights.
The plane was configured in the following manner. The pilot and co-pilot were in the extreme front. Behind the pilot was a small collapsible desk and seat for the navigator. Opposite him was the radio man waiting to relieve the top turret gunner. Behind these two was the plane captain, an enlisted man, who stood most of the time. In back of these positions and underneath the floor was a crawl space for a bombardier, an area we did not use. Below the flight deck generating all the electricity was a putt-putt engine, which we immediately started upon entering the plane. There was a catwalk through the bomb bay area front to rear where the after-station and the starboard and waste gunners were located. In the bomb bay was an auxiliary gas tank where fuel could be transferred to the wing tanks, if needed.
Just before landing I would look out the starboard hatch searching for a red arm that would pop out of the wheel mechanism indicating wheels were down and locked. At times when they did not lock on either side a belly crash would occur.
GWC, years later, airborne in a B-24 at his WW II position, Starboard Waste Gunner.
During January, 1945, our crew with Lt. Fay logged close to 80 hours. We experienced seeing the Enterprise and a Japanese destroyer, going to Borneo to set fire to a Squadron 101 plane forced down by the Japanese, taking off during an air raid and having a serious fuel siphoning incident.
We had 35 hours of airtime in February. On one occasion, pilot Lt. Paris and crew went to Hong Kong. During the 13-hour flight, fuel began to leak from the rear of the engines so we were unable to transfer additional fuel. In March, again with Lt. Paris, we experienced such bad weather that we had to return after a 7 ½-hour flight.
On March 3rd, we arrived at Lingoyen Gulf in the Philippines with pilot Lt. Fay, Ensign Miller and crew. At Tacloban Navy Base, not far from Leyte, we were provided with a large comfortable tent where the entire flight crew lived and slept. The tent, located on an elevated wooden platform, was surrounded by coconut trees, producing many coconuts gathered by locals. After chopping away the husks/shell and making a hole, one could drink the liquid. It had a strong taste and was not that palatable. I wouldn’t recommend it! Officers’ quarters were located some distance away at the edge of camp. Here, aerial flights for the crews were determined. Once I saw Red Cross nurses visit and walk around the base with officers
Soon I made laundry arrangements with a young Filipino boy from nearby Samoa. He would pick up my soiled clothes, wash and iron them and return everything spotless in a few days. By his invitation, I went by small water taxi to his home in Samar. There, when I went swimming in my skivvies, a group of young boys suddenly appeared, stood there and stared.
In the village, men were separating chaff from wheat using heavy poles to pound the grain, placed in gigantic wooden bowl-shaped containers. They were all very friendly. I was invited to have lunch sitting cross-legged on the floor in an elevated bamboo home. As crumbs fell through cracks in the floorboards, chickens below gratefully awaited the pickings.
After an evening of singing and socializing I was taken to another building where I could sleep for the night. Soon, I realized I was not alone. Others sleeping there were moaning and groaning. Later, I found out that this was a place for the elderly who were infirm or dying.
One night, back at the base some Filipinos invited me to go serenading. After walking a spell in a pasture, we approached a hut. On cue, the group began singing love songs in Spanish. Nothing happened for a while. Then, to my surprise, a lantern appeared in a window as acknowledgment to the serenaders.
On another occasion and, again, while walking in a pasture alone, a water buffalo seemed curious about my presence and ambled toward me, slowly at first, then at a brisk pace. I hightailed it for a nearby fence, which I quickly cleared.
We began to fly 12 to 14-hour missions along the coasts of French Indo-China and Borneo. Flying low up tributaries, we found Japanese bases. At low altitudes we strafed buildings, boatyards, water towers and put parked planes on fire. During this period, the war was slowing down, and Japan was desperate for supplies.
In addition to having bases along the China coast, the Japanese were receiving supplies from independent small cargo ships from Borneo. Many of these ships (luggers) hid in tributaries. When we approached low, we would attack at masthead. At times, they returned fire, usually the crew would dive overboard. We sank a number of these vessels. Once we saw one of our own B-24’s shot down in the jungle. Flying near the Balikapapan Oil Fields we viewed the entire area shrouded with large billowing black clouds after being bombed by the Army. We flew down the west coast to Brunei without seeing any enemy.
Later, the squadron was transferred to Palawan, the southernmost area of the Philippines. Today it is known for not only its beautiful scenery but also its gorgeous pearls. Our tents, near the ocean, were in a grove of coconut trees, cultivated in rows. A distant road, along which there were many “threatening” baboons, went from our encampment to the distant airfield. Another menace were scorpions, which liked to make homes in our shoes and clothing.
It should be noted that in Palawan, earlier in the war, the Japanese had many American military prisoners, whom they forced to build trenches, which, they claimed, were for protection against American bombers. They had prisoners lie in them, covered with straw mats for their “protection,” then sprayed them with gasoline and burned them alive.
Another time, I am sorry to report, on takeoff one of the flight crews lost an engine, tried to turn back, but went wing over wing in a dramatic crash. Those at the site said many of the crew got out but were badly burned as they walked around in flames and died within a short period. It had a devastating impact on the other crews.
Since there was time on our hands, a number of guys gambled. Instead of participating, a crew chief from another plane and I decided to build a sailboat. We were able to find two teardrop pontoons, frequently used under wings of fighter planes to extend range. We built a deck, a bowsprit for silk parachute sails and secured the pontoons with a space between to accommodate a center board. Upon launching, it wouldn’t tack: It reacted like a beachball in the wind. How discouraging after all that work! But I did enjoy taking an occasional swim when wearing sneakers since the coral was treacherous.
Upon landing following one of our flights, I had an altercation with port gunner McKuen, who had a more senior rating. The commanding officer of the crew subsequently grounded me.
In time, as the war continued to slow down, some flight crews, including mine, repatriated back to the States. Several new crews arrived to replace them. I was alone, unassigned, reporting to no one. While walking around the perimeter, I saw a sign seeking flight crew members as replacements for those who were “sick.” This seemed to be happening more and more often!
I volunteered to fly with a new crew under the command of Lt. Paris. On April 18, 1945, during a 7-hour flight, we sank a Japanese lugger and drew Japanese planes away from an Army P-38-1 that was lost and directed it to its destination. On April 22nd, we bombed and strafed a Japanese airstrip, including grounded planes, plus sank three ships, a Sugar Charlie and two others.
While flying for almost 12 hours off the China coast on May 3rd with Lt. McClintock, we spotted a large—what could be described as a—cruiser, docked at the mouth of a river. When reporting it to base, we were told to maintain surveillance until we could be relieved. Later, bombers followed the ship north in the China Sea until they, too, were relieved by other planes. During the same flight we spotted a Japanese seaplane, dropped to a lower altitude and pursued. The pilot apparently was so nervous at our approach he landed on the water too quickly and broke the pontoons. He and a couple of others began swimming in the ocean. We circled, took photos, left doing no harm and returned to base.
On May 15, I flew 13 hours with Lt. Ashton and crew. We strafed and bombed a Japanese radar station.
Everyone was going home, except “yours truly.” I remained unassigned. I decided to go into officers’ country and asked to speak to the squadron commander. I told him that my uncle was Admiral George Murray, (Yes, I was being a name-dropper.) and I would like to return home. Shortly thereafter, May 29th, I was heading for Hawaii with pilot Lt. Hutchinson and crew. From there, I boarded a transport ship of military personnel on their way to the mainland.
In my parachute bag I hid a Smith and Wesson 38-caliber pistol and a broken-down carbine, a great gun to own. I might have gotten away with it, but decided to turn them in. A big mistake!
Reaching the States, I was mandatorily interviewed by a Naval doctor, pretty much standard procedure. I was offered an increase in rate if I returned to the Pacific and joined a Privateer squadron. The Privateer was a new plane similar to a B-24 but longer with a large single tail instead of a double vertical one. I said, “No, thanks.”
After transferring to a primary flight training base in Peru, Indiana, I virtually had few duties. Some guys, except for flight trainees, were being discharged. I decided if I was going to be stuck in the service I might as well try to become a pilot. So, I called my dad at the Justice Department and asked if he could help me apply for flight school. Not long after, the commanding officer requested that I come to his office and told me he had orders for me to report to flight school.
As fate would have it, the day before, it had been announced that war was over. Everybody at the base was celebrating and eager to go home. I was caught up with the euphoria, changed my mind and turned down flight school. What an error in judgment that was! Ever since, I have regretted it.
Because I was young, there was no chance of my getting out of the service for quite a while because discharge was dependent on age, years overseas, marriage and dependents. They sent me to Glenview Naval Air Station in Chicago.
I became a line chief for Stearman open-cockpit trainers. These planes, very slow yet versatile, started with an outside hand crank while the pilot already was inside. One day running in from the line, I tripped over a wing tie-down cable, flipped and ended in sick bay when I couldn’t straighten out my leg. After a week of unsuccessful therapy, I was transferred to Great Lakes Naval Hospital.
While walking in the hospital with a crutch, a Wave patient, high on a balcony, yelled at me to come up. Someone informed me that she was in the venereal disease section. I declined her invitation. At the same time, I became acquainted with two Marines, survivors of the Bhutan Death March and often intoxicated. Because of the horror they had experienced, they were being totally left alone. But, they “adopted” me, and we became good friends. Great guys!
One evening in downtown Chicago, where I hit a lot of bars/hotels and learned to play 21, I was dressed in my flight jacket. Shore patrol picked me up for being out of uniform and put me on report. (I suspect they were jealous of “Fly Boys.”) I had to appear at Captain’s Mast (court) and explain to the judge that I was awaiting my seabag from my returning ship. Knowing I would be out of the service before long, I didn’t want to buy another seabag. My leading chief, Wendy Watson, who had hashmarks in gold all the way up his arm and had been called back into service from many years before, testified positively on my behalf that I was one of his best crew. The judge was impressed but handed down ten days confined to barracks.
It was Christmas, and my mother and father came from Massachusetts to visit my sister, Margaret, and her family, who lived in Rogers Park, a suburb of Chicago. Now, I really wanted to join them since I hadn’t seen them in several years. I learned from a bunkmate, Bob Shaefer, from Chevy Chase, Maryland, that he was going on liberty and had a car. With some hesitation, he allowed me to get in the trunk. At the gate he picked up two hitchhiking sailors, who sat in the back seat. As the car passed through shore patrol and proceeded to downtown Chicago, I yelled out to Bob, “Could you turn up the volume on the radio?” You might know, the guys in the back seat were startled by a voice from nowhere. (Since bunks were checked every night and I was supposed to be on base, I had to arrange for someone to sleep in mine.)
After continuing with physical therapy, the straightening of my leg was not accomplished. Dad had been monitoring my progress through the head medical officer and arranged for a transfer to Bethesda Naval Hospital near where he was living. This transfer had to be done at my own expense. I was able to pick up a Naval transport service plane (NATS), flew to Washington and checked in at the hospital. Physical therapy continued. Success didn’t. I was allowed “liberty with a limp.” I did have a great time socializing—theater, girls, etc. Finally, after many weeks, unexpectedly my leg unlocked and straightened. I stayed at the hospital for a while, but wanted to go home. I was way overdue on points for a discharge. The hospital made me sign an approval waiver, and I left.
On April 13, 1946, I was honorably discharged. With all my gear I went to Bainbridge, Maryland, and boarded a train to Boston. From there I took a streetcar, the Reservoir Beacon, to Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Massachusetts, and walked all the way to my home on Babcock Street. Nobody was there. I waited hours on the front steps until Mother finally came home.
Postscript: Years later, I had an occasion to stay at the Hotel Washington, Washington, D.C., with an American Automobile Association (AAA) Crossing Guard group. Somehow, I remembered that one of my WW II pilots, Lt. Fay, was working nearby at Sikorsky. I phoned him, and we arranged to meet for cocktails. While discussing past experiences in the Philippines, I recounted all the action I saw with other pilots after being grounded from the original crew. Sitting back stiffly, he responded, “Look, I had the responsibility of an entire crew. I did what I was assigned to do. No more and no less.” Yes, he certainly was put off by my reports of actions taken with the other pilots.
Note from Gerald W. Connolly, Sr.: This story is to the best of my ability at age 97.
MEDALS RECEIVED DURING WORLD WAR II 1943-1946
Air Medal with One Gold Star
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Four Stars
Combat Aircrew Wings
Distinguished Flying Cross
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
Good Conduct Medal
Navy USCG Unit Commendation Ribbon
Philippine Liberation Ribbon with One Star
Unit Commendation for Bravery
World War II Victory Medal
GWC awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Admiral Wiley, May 21, 1969, on board the U.S.S. Constitution, Boston (MA) Harbor.
A FLIGHT LOG REPORT