Combat Flying Stories

 

 

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HOW IT ALL STARTED

           Combat Mission  June 13, 1952 Korea


 

The Conway Story 

 

Hollandia, New Guinea 1944,  89th Attack Squadron, 3rd Attack Group

 

2nd Lt. Robert Conway was one of our 89th A-20 pilots. One day I was down at the airstrip in a Jeep and was giving a light signal to the planes to start their take off roll every 10 seconds (I think it was). This was some scheme to expedite the take off process to reduce exposure to a possible Japanese attack while the planes (possibly 9 of them)  were stacked up down at the end of the runway awaiting take off to go on their mission. The idea was all right but at that point in the war the Japanese Air Force had been pretty well run out of New Guinea so it was more or less just an exercise to see how many planes you could get going down the runway at one time (which was about 6 of them rolling before the first one ever got airborne). It was a little bit sporty in that in the tropics, as previously mentioned, you were either in the mud or in dust. So, the further back you were in the take off order, the more sporty it was. Again, I will mention that our runways were covered with Pierced Steel Planking (PSP)  which is not good at best but they were not being well maintained either. We blamed this lack of maintenance on the fact that we felt the equipment and manpower was being used to build Mac Arthur's Headquarters there in Hollandia, up on top of a hill so high that you would not believe it. I drove up there in a Jeep one day while it was being built and it was such a steep road near the top that it was a little frightening (Mac Arthur did not want anyone above him). While he was a hero back in the States, believe me, he was not loved by most of the troops in the Pacific. 

So, with all of the back ground as above, I will return to my Conway story which was that as Conway was about mid point in his take off roll that morning, some of the poorly maintained PSP, apparently separated,  and punctured his nose wheel tire causing it to blow out. This created a lot of drag of course and he was not going fast enough to take off so he just went thumping on down the runway. The airplanes, on their take off roll behind him, either got around him somehow or got stopped. It was not a pretty sight and we were extremely lucky that none of the other planes ran together. I got the Jeep going and started down the taxi way parallel to the runway while he was still moving. Then some really bad things started happening. The nose strut  collapsed, a hydraulic line broke, and a fire started. The plane skidded down the runway on it's nose until it eventually stopped.  But the flames were really starting to engulf the lower part of the nose section by that time. I had driven down to a point just about opposite him by that time and got too good of a view of what was about to happen. Everyone around was saying "Get out, get out" because the cockpit was not too far from the ground for him to have jumped, since the nose of the plane was down on the runway, but he was not getting out. He may not have even realized that he was on fire. The canopy did eventually open though and he stood up in the seat like he was going to get out. Suddenly, the flames went up the side of the nose section and engulfed him. He made no further movement. The gunners did get out but, you could see him there, standing up in the cockpit and leaning forward over the wind shield, being burned to a black crisp. We were not well equipped with fire rescue trucks and I do not recall how long it was before one arrived, if one did at all, but it really did not matter by that time though because the flames had soon taken hold of the complete airplane. What with the plane being loaded with fuel, bombs, and ammunition, everyone had to back off. 

We buried Conway (the parts they could find) in a red patch of dirt back in some hills a few miles from our encampment. Those hills were covered in lush dark green foliage. It was raining of course (three days before when he was killed, it was dusty).  Because of the rain all of us guys attending had on our Panchos (a black water proof thing about the size of a table cloth with a hole in the center that you poked your head through). It was a macabre sight that has always stayed burned in my brain; all of us standing there at the grave site, like black ghosts in our Panchos, rain pouring down in gray sheets engulfing the dark green foliage, with our feet in two inches of mud and red water running down into the grave itself. 

 

Bob Mosley