Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The first Purple Heart opportunity

So I'm running full speed, and those bombs are getting closer and I jump head first into that foxhole, and my helmet comes down and hits me in the mouth, and the blood is running out of my mouth and I'm spitting out my teeth. And in the meantime, the bombs come and the bombs go, and I get up and go the medics to see about my damage.

So I get there, and the guy says, "Well, what's the matter?"

And I say, "My helmet came down and hit me in the mouth and cut my lips and knocked out some teeth."

"Well, let me take a look at you."

So he gets his flashlight and he looks very carefully, and he says, "Yeah, well there's a little cut right over there.  And let me look at your teeth.  Well, I don't see any teeth out.  But that one big tooth has got a little chip right on the edge of it."

Guess I've got a good imagination.

So he says, "You want me to put you in for the Purple Heart?"

And I says, "No, I don't want the Purple Heart."

Because I knew that anybody that got the Purple Heart was either dead or couldn't fly an airplane.

from my South Pacific Diary

May 19 Buttons to Cactus #213 2:15 pilot & 2:15 co-pilot Rockwell - May 21

We got to Cactus about 3:00 pm and found a tent empty.  We moved in & found that the other occupants had been driven out by rats.  The mosquitos were the worst I have ever seen.

At 9:00 pm the Japs started coming over so we had to get in our fox holes mosq. and all.  The search lights got one and we could hear the roar of the night fighter's engines. (P38)  We were watching the Jap plane in the lights when all of a sudden there was a stream of tracer bullets out of the darkness and they passed right through the plane and it caught on fire.  It looked like one engine was on fire.  It started to fall and then began to recover & it looked like it was getting the fire under control.

And now a stream of tracers shot out but the plane kept going a couple seconds more and another hose of bright red tracers lashed out and the plane started to fall.  It was now falling and burning fiercely.  It fell about three thousand feet and exploded in a tremendous burst of flames.  Pieces continued to fall burning to the ground.
A roar of voices went up from the men watching it.  Those were the last bombs those Japs would drop.  

We were standing beside our fox hole about 11:30 pm when all of a sudden we heard the whistling of falling bombs.  I made a jump for my fox hole and got in before the bombs hit the ground.  My helmet came off & I chipped two of my teeth & cut my lips on the damn thing.

The night fighters shot down two more but the planes did not catch on fire.  All we could see was the red tracers hitting the plane & noise of them exploding.  There were 26 planes over in all.

We spent from 9:00 pm till 5:00 am in our fox holes.  Slept till about 11:00 am, woke up with blankets all wet from sweat & heat.  Last night we had one alarm about 9:00 pm but they didn't come over for some reason so we got to sleep all night long.

Not much doing during the day.  We were supposed to strike and got up at 10:30 pm and messed around until 12:00 am and then were told the strike was called off because of weather.  We went back to bed but couldn't sleep.  A rat came into my bed about 2:30 & woke me up even more than I was.  Finally about 4:00 am got to sleep & got up at 7:00 am for breakfast on my first wedding anniversary.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

From my South Pacific diary

Feb. 22, 1943

Washington's birthday and nine months since Irma and I were married.  God, it seems so long since I last saw Irma. I hope the next five months past fast.

Last night the Japs came over and bombed us.  Only one went off and a tree fell on the tail of a B24 & rocks through a wing.  Several duds or time bombs, the area is roped off.  The raid was at 12:30 and it was a bright full moon night.  I could hear the bombs falling through the air & then hit.  Some sensation I can tell you.

March 26 4:15 hrs. Co-pilot (P. Sutton 72nd bomb squadron)

Arrived at Cactus about 11:00 am and had a good lunch & dinner.  Went to bed about 8:00 pm--air raid warning at 3:10 am.  I went over by a search light and pretty soon two planes came over in formation.  We did a lot of shooting but didn't hit, the Japs didn't drop their bombs either.  They made two more runs and dropped bombs both times.  The last run they dropped a 500 lbs. right on our mess hall.  It hit the top of the planes and exploded downwards.  Completely ruined the mess hall, a cocoanut tree top fell on officers mess & on the dispensary.  It killed one of our men who wasn't in a fox hole.  Hit a co-pilot in the chest in 307th Group about 300 yds away.  We could hear those bombs falling.  There is nothing like it.  Sounds like each one is coming at you.  26th was going over to engineering in afternoon when we saw a lot of smoke rising.  A Lockheed Hudson groundlooped on take off and caught fire.  IT burned about five minutes and three 300 lb bombs exploded in a terrific explosion.  Fire stopped and the plane was blown completely to bits.  Put one of our 17s out of commission.  One of crew didn't get out.  Some welcome!!

En route to the South Pacific, 69 years ago this weekend

The first entries in my South Pacific diary:

December 16, 1942

Well this is quite a day.  Mom's birthday.  Sure wish I could be home with her.

Today we left Oahu for the Fiji Island and then to the New Hebrides and war.  Up to now it has been a ways away.  But it won't be long until I'll be in it.

We are on a new ship on her maiden voyage.  The Hunston, a troop transport built in Seattle, Washington.

The quarters are very good.  There are four of us in one room with our own toilet and showers.  Kind of hot in the night time.

Dec. 17, 1942

About the best thing on this ship is the food.  I haven't eaten such good food since I left the states.  Although he only two meals a day, they are the best.  We are four to a table and have our own waiter named Joe.  A Filipino.

Haven't done much today, just read and had a boat drill at 10:00 am.  A few are sea sick but I feel fine.  Sure am glad.  I wouldn't want to miss any of that good food because where we are going it will be lousy eating.

Friday, Dec. 18, 1942

Just about like yesterday, no boat drill though.  Reading and sleeping.  I got a smallpox vac. today which will bring my record up to date with smallpox.  Also I have to get Typhus, Cholera, & Typhoid.

I bought some cookies, candy and huts from the P.X. today.

Saturday, Dec. 19, 1942

We had a boat drill in the afternoon.  Spent most of the day reading and sleeping.  Woke up in the middle of the night and as I could not sleep I went out on deck and slept in a life raft for a couple hours until it got so cold I went downstairs again.

It has been quiet enough the past two days and the wind has been blowing very loud.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Beauty of the Islands--a Bird's Eye View

Now I've mentioned our coast watchers in the South Pacific--well, the Japanese had coast watchers, too.  So they sent a message: any pilots that are checked out in small aircraft, we would like to have you fly some search missions for the Japanese coast watchers.

I learned to fly in a single engine Piper Cub, so I volunteered.

I get in that Piper Cub that they have--this was in Espiritu Santo--I take off, and I'm flying at about 500 feet above the jungle and the cocoanut trees that came right down to the water's edge.  I'm flying along the edge of the water, looking for an antenna sticking up.  And if I'd seen one, of course I'd have immediately called in and said where I was and what I saw, and they'd have sent out some aircraft or some marines to that area to locate those Japanese.

 But I saw nothing--except the beauty of the islands.

The fuel tank on the Piper Cub has a  little float with a piece of cork on the bottom and a wire sticking up that shows you how much fuel you've got left.

Well, I was so concentrating on what I was doing, that I didn't realize I was running out of fuel.  So here I am, I look up and here's that fuel tank, it's past the half-way mark, so, man, I did a 180 degree turn and flew back to Espiritu Santo and called in and said I was landing with minimum fuel.  Of course they knew that because they knew how much fuel I had and how much longer I was supposed to fly.

I landed, and I said to myself, Dan, this is stupid.  So I didn't do it anymore.  I just flew my combat missions in our B17s.  But I did get to see the beauty of the islands at close range.

This is a story Dad told when I interviewed him at the Grand Central StoryCorp booth,
May 5, 2004.  

 --Kathryn Paulsen

Friday, June 24, 2011

Honor Flight

Since May 2005, a year after the World War II Memorial was completed, the Honor Flight Network has been bringing World War II veterans to Washington, DC, free of charge, to see their memorial, along with the others.  This month, Dad got to be part of an Honor Flight San Diego tour.

Dan and his daughters, Joanne, Kristine, and Kathryn

It was a moving and memorable day.  Many people of all ages came up to Dad and the other vets and shook their hands and said, "Thank you for your service."  "I'm just glad to be here," said Dad, or "I'm glad I made it through."

                                       --Kathryn Paulsen

Dan's group at the Iwo Jima Memorial 

photos by Jim Creegan

For more information about the Honor Flight Network:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The man who came back from the dead

For all the deaths we saw during WW II, now and then, as with Capt. Classen and his crew,  someone survived against all odds.

The attack

The Japanese, when they would attack us, would climb above us.  Say, we were at 23,000 feet, they'd climb to 25,000 feet, then push the nose of the fighter aircraft down and dive at our formation, which was usually 5 or more B17s flying in a V.  Increasing its speed, the fighter dives straight down, shooting at one aircraft in the formation.

What we think happened in this case was, as the fighter was shooting, one of his projectiles hit and probably killed the pilot of the aircraft.  Because that B17, instead of staying in formation, started moving to the left, which put him in the middle of the V formation.  And this fighter comes down and goes through that V, and they collide.  The fighter hit the B17 just behind the wing of the aircraft and exploded and broke the B17 in half.

The front of the aircraft started spinning down, and everybody in the  formation is looking at that piece of the aircraft to see if anybody bailed out of it.  They saw nobody.  They just saw it spin down, until they'd flown past the area.

Bailing out

However, the tail gunner, who was in the tail of the B17, in a very cramped area, had his parachute, not on and buckled, but just in back of him, which would be the front of the aircraft--only now was nothing except air space.  So he's quickly putting on his harness, he gets one leg strap fastened, he gets the chest strap fastened, but he can't find the right leg strap.  And the tail of this B17 is spinning down towards the water, and he knows he'd better get the hell out of there while he can, because if he doesn't, he'd be hitting that water.

So he went out that hole in back of him, and as soon as he got out, he pulled the rip cord.  The shock of that parachute opening twisted his back, and he doesn't remember this, but he went unconscious.  So he's hanging in his parachute unconscious, and he knows nothing more about this.


He woke up, lying on the his belly on the sand on a beach, his head turned toward the side.  He opened his eyes, and he saw black legs and feet.  He tried to move, but lost consciousness again.

Time went by, and again he opened his eyes and saw legs and feet.   Gradually he went from unconsciousness to consciousness, and when he could move his head, these natives signaled him to follow them.  They didn't touch him.

Their village was right in the cocoanut groves, near the beach.  He crawled to their village, and they took him to a little grass shack, and he crawled into it.  They had a bed there made of palm fronds and other materials, and he crawled into it and lay there.  They brought him food and water.  The food was some kind of stew, and it was pretty good.

So he gradually became more and more able to move around.  He had his Baedeker's Guide for the Castaway, which had some words in pidgin English--a combination of English and native languages which the natives had learned because of the long time periods that the British had been in these islands establishing cocoanut groves.  So he asked what he was eating.

In the evening they showed him.  They pointed up at some fruit bats that were flying low underneath the cocoanut trees to feed on them, and the natives would throw rocks at them.  The wingspan of these bats was about, oh, a good three feet.  They would hit the wing and break the bone, and down would come the bat.  They would then prepare it, and that was what he was eating.

Back from the dead

There was a coast watcher who had managed that cocoanut grove and knew everything about the area.  He had a radio for communication with our forces, and any boats, any airplanes he saw, he would report.  So the coast watcher reported that he had an American crew member there.  Eventually they sent a submarine there, and he was picked up and brought back to Guadalcanal and left off, and he went to our area.

So here he comes with his parachute in his arms.  We've been on a mission and nobody's flying, so we're in our tents, and somebody sees him: "Who's that guy?"  We didn't have people come to our area unless they belonged there.

They kept looking:  "Is that ole Bill?"*  "No, that's not ole Bill."  "Well, it sure looks like him."  And sure enough, it was Bill.  We couldn't believe it because we all knew that Bill was dead, along with the rest of the crew members.  So we all came out and welcomed him, amazed at the miracle that had happened.  He went to the hospital, where the medics checked him over, and of course he'd lost lots of weight.  Eventually he went back to the States.

*I don't remember his actual name.  If you are this gunner, or know who he was, let me know!

This is a story Dad told when I interviewed him at the Grand Central StoryCorp booth,
May 5, 2004.  

 --Kathryn Paulsen