DICK BARR and the AIR COMMANDOS
Excerpted from WWII Air Commandos, Volume II (1994)
and from Official History of the 159th Liaison Squadron Commando
(Approximately 20 double-spaced pages long)
Charles R."Dick" Barr was born July 26, 1921 in Columbus, Ohio. He entered service in September 1942 and served in the 448th CA Bn (AA) at Ft. Bliss, Texas for six months. He transferred to Air Corps Cadet Program and took his primary training at Jones Field, Bonham, Texas and his basic training at Perrin Field, Sherman, Texas. His advanced training was at Eagle Pass A.A.F., Eagle Pass, Texas, where he graduated in Class 44-B in February, 1944. He was assigned to the 159th Liaison Squadron, 3rd Air Commando Group in May of 1944, which was at Statesboro, Ga. From there he moved to Cross City, Fl. and staged for overseas at Drew Field at Tampa, Fl. He departed from San Francisco aboard U.S.S. Hersey on November 7, 1944. He flew usual missions with 159th in the L-5 and C-64 aircraft. He also spent several months with Filipino guerillas at Luna, Luzon directing air strikes and participating in other supply and courier missions. He went to Okinawa with his squadron, and then to Japan. He departed Japan November 7, 1945 and left active duty in December, 1945, but remained in the reserves until 1956.
On June 8, 1946, he married Betty Grace Hodges of Statesboro, Ga. He attended Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from Ohio State University in 1948. He has two sons, Charles R. Barr, Jr., an Air Force veteran, and R. Wade Barr, and five grandchildren. He retired from Union Camp Corporation in June, 1984 after twenty-five years. He has stayed active in 159th's reunion group and enjoys keeping in contact with members of the squadron.
The China, Burma, India(C.B.I.) Theater of Operations
Before and during the war, the British Raj controlled India and Burma. (At that time India meant present India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.) When the Japanese conquered Burma, India was defended by the British-Indian Army -primarily an army composed of segregated native troops with British officers and some native officers. The non-coms and soldiers were Gurkhas, Sikhs, Punjabis, Rajputanas, Mahrattas, Dogras and others. The British-Indian 14th Army became the largest in WWII with over one and one-quarter million men.
From an Allied military standpoint, the C.B.I. was the end of the pipeline - the least important theater of operations in WWII. With the massive battles going on in Europe and the Pacific, priorities for military personnel and material dictated that only a trickle reach the C.B.I.
Why was the United States interested in this portion of the world? The main reason was China. Although the armies of China were ineffectual, 600,000 Japanese troops were necessary for garrison duty, a number which could not be deployed against U.S. troops in the Pacific if they were so occupied.
The only supply route to China was through northeastern India and northern Burma, the Burma Road. This was blocked by the Japanese. A new road to the north was under construction and became known as the Stilwell Road, the Ledo Road or Pick's Pike, named after the American engineering officer in charge, Colonel Pick. However, its route was blocked by the Japanese who held Myitkyina, Burma.
The American general, "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, had obtained Chinese troops, trained them, and was attempting to drive the Japanese forces out of the Myitkyina area in Burma. Myitkyina, with Japanese planes stationed there, created tremendous problems for American cargo planes flying supplies from the Brahmaputra Valley of India over "the Hump" to China. The Japanese in the Myitkyina-Bhamo region had to be countered.
During 1943, the British did little in an offensive nature against the Japanese. British Brigadier General Orde Wingate proposed the concept of a long-range penetration force that would operate in enemy territory and disrupt transportation and communication facilities. In 1943 he was given permission to organize the Chindits, a force composed of three thousand British and Gurkha soldiers. This group, with horses and mules, invaded Burma for three months, completed their mission, and returned to India. British Lt. General Slim dismissed the mission as too costly for the results obtained. Wingate had virtually no British support, except he gained the attention of Winston Churchill and was invited to attend the Quebec Conference with Churchill and Roosevelt
At that conference United States Army Air Force General "Hap" Arnold agreed to provide Admiral Louis Montbatten, Supreme Commander, Southeast Asia, with a special air force unit, named Number 1 Air Commando, to work with and supply Wingate's Chindits in another long-range penetration foray in 1944. Also, the Americans agreed to provide a volunteer infantry force modeled on the original Chindit Brigade to help open the way through northern Burma to China. This operation was designated Galahad and the unit's famous name became Merrill's Marauders.
The concept of long-range penetration required very close coordination between ground troops and air corps units. It required troops to secure a strategic site deep in enemy territory where a perimeter or base could be established from which ground units could be sent out to destroy railroad lines, bridges, communication facilities, supply convoys, etc. Airplanes became the means of placing and supplying troops to achieve these objectives.
C-47 troop carrier planes dropped paratroopers to secure the site. They towed gliders loaded with land leveling equipment, supplies, and more troops to build and secure the landing strip. L-5 liaison planes evacuated the wounded and served as communication carriers. Fighter planes controlled the air and supported the ground troops when needed.
As long as the troops operated in enemy territory, the planes of the Air Commando Group supplied them primarily with para-drops, evacuated their wounded, and provided fighter protection. The fighters became their artillery
From a military standpoint both of these ground efforts in 1944 achieved their goals. The Marauders and the Chinese captured Myitkyina. The Chindits were very successful in destroying Japanese supply lines and communications when the attempt was made by the Japanese to invade India. General Arnold was impressed with the coordinated efforts of fighters, transports, gliders, and liaison planes in these operations. As a result, Colonel John Alison of the First Air Commando Group was recalled to the States to coordinate formation of four more such groups. Only the Second and Third Air Commando Groups were finally activated. Because of the extreme danger of this type of operation, all personnel were volunteers.
On the other side of the world, in India, the father of the long-range penetration concept, General Wingate, was killed in an airplane crash. His successor was not an advocate of this theory of warfare, and British participation by supplying ground troops ended. With two newly formed Air Commando Groups trained in Florida awaiting over-seas assignments, a problem was created. The British would accept one group only if its individual segments (fighter, transports, and liaison planes) would work as traditional units. The Second Air Commando Group was sent to India. The Third Air Commando Group was sent to the South Pacific. Neither was used for long range penetration for which they were trained.
THIRD AIR COMMANDO GROUP
Conceived originally as a direct, but more powerful and efficient, descendent of the First Air Commando Force of Burma glory, the 3rd Air Commando group arrived in the Philippines in December, 1944 only to find -like many another youngster that attempts to follow his father's footsteps - that "times had changed."
Japanese tactics and the Pacific terrain were such that a genuine Commando operation (involving descent from the sky, behind-lines operation, and so on) held no real place in the theater strategy, and the specialized combination of fighter planes, liaison planes, and troop-carrier planes which had been trained in the States for at least one major expedition as an Air Task Force had now to adapt themselves to a more regulation type of war.
For a time there were possibilities of a commando move against the Japanese-held islands of Panay and Negros. However, supply channels, which were first seriously snarled when flight echelons of the Group operated from New Guinea while ground echelons continued on to Leyte, could not provide the necessary equipment in time. The project died.
Under the command of Colonel Arvid E. Olson, Jr., an old "Commando" of the Cochran/Wingate school, the three diverse arms of the Fifth Air Force's only Commando Group took stock of their changed situation during operation less days on Leyte in early January, 1945.
Past concepts of the "how, and where, and when" of Commando functions were dropped In their place they installed an elastic decision to try anything, to fit in any place, to tackle any assignment that could possibly be carried out with the means at hand.
Instead of running close interference for each other ( the Mustang's covering the 47's, the L-5 "Grasshoppers" backing them up), it was decided to give every section its head; let the P-51's slug it out wherever they could reach the Japanese; let the light planes run observation or evacuations wherever they were needed; let the wide-winged Skytrains carry as much freight as they could haul - and for anyone who wanted it.
But at the bottom of it all, the old "One for all, all for One" motif was to be kept alive through close integration of every command function and through a mutual interdependence on the Group's full facilities.
In the months that followed, the Japanese felt the weight of this little kingdom's armed might from many quarters. The fighter planes hit them with bombs and bullets. The L planes roamed in front of, over and behind the enemy lines carrying in badly needed supplies and carrying out men who had to be hospitalized immediately, if they were to live. The C-47's also evacuated wounded, landed on guerrilla-held airstrips to unload fuel, food, and munitions, carried record-breaking freight hauls all over the theater, and, in addition, supplied the Group proper with all operating essentials during the time when the Laoag airstrip area was inaccessible except by air.
A quick glance at the record will show how rewarding the "elastic" approach was - both from the Group and the theater point of view: In the period from January, when the Philippines campaign was at its height, through June, the Light plane section - consisting of the 157th, 159th, and 160th Liaison Squadrons, Commando and the 341st Airdrome Squadron - evacuated more than 20,000 dough boys from the front lines on Luzon and other Philippine Islands. To do this they had to carry an average of 110 wounded men daily in their single-passenger "kites". Their courage and perseverance has been attested in commendations from both G/A MacArthur and General Kreuger.
Not satisfied with such routine accomplishments, the Liaison Section moved on to new fields in early July -hopping off from Laoag strip in Luzon and heading over 720 miles of water to Okinawa, where they again took up the task of ferrying sick and wounded. This was accomplished after lengthy experimental tests had been run to gain the approval of higher headquarters. The little planes were rigged with 75 gallon belly tanks, tuned to a fine pitch by their enlisted pilots, given fighter cover, and launched upon the journey. The whole junket took a little over seven hours, and the entire flight landed without mishap at Yontan strip at Okinawa. This is believed to be the longest time that a light plane has been in the air without refueling.
The Commandos also led the way in the theater by being the first to rig the light planes with VHF radios, making it possible for the pilots to act as controllers on closely-coordinated air strikes for the Infantry. This new technique was especially helpful to the guerrilla forces who, hitherto, were unable to utilize air power because of lack of communication.
Meanwhile, the Troop Carrier Section - 318th Troop Carrier Squadron, Commando and 343rd Airdrome Squadron - were also piling up credits. In the single month of June the Squadron's 18 C-47's flew an aggregate total of 29,800 hours, and the total weight lifted (including freight, passengers, and air evacuees) exceeded 7,000,000 pounds. This is considered an all time high for tonnage transported in the theater, and possibly in the entire Army Air Forces.
"Biscuit Bombing" was the principal preoccupation of the 318th pilots and crews ever since they began active participation in the Philippines Campaign. Though not Commandos in the original sense, the white-tailed "Rhubarbs" were constantly at the aerial spearhead of our Luzon advances and in the month of February alone - a month of rapid ground progress - the Squadron's planes were the first to land on 10 newly-won air fields. With enemy ground fire still a hazard to foot soldiers - and themselves too - they set first wheels down on makeshift runways at Piddig, Laoag, Luna, Burgos, Parez, Hapid, Rosales, Quezon City, and Nichols Field.
In addition to these strips - which have since become well established links in Luzon airways - the Sixth Army's pell-mell descent on Manila created demands for several impromptu cargo deposits along the Kreuger right-of-way and more than one 318th pilot or crew member has memories of the way it feels to set 14 or 15 drums of gasoline down in a nearly flooded rice paddy. Gasoline, incidentally was one of the major cargoes of the 318th Commandos, both at Mangaldan Strip and at Laoag. They provided a sort of flying pipe-line from Clark Field's big fuel dumps, and the "beaverishness" which marked all Commando ventures cropped up again here.
With normal C-47 loads running to 12 fifty gallon drums, the 318th looked about for some way to increase its lifts. The obvious, but previously overlooked, fact that the Sky-trains themselves were carrying maximum tank loads proved a solution. The plane's surplus fuel was drained and replaced by added drums - from other planes - and the normal Laoag- Clark shuttle eventually carried 16 full drums on a minimum amount of operating gasoline.
Fair-haired boys of the Commando Group, of course, are the singing 51's of the Fighter Sections - the 3rd and 4th Fighter Squadrons, Commando and the 334th and 335th Airdrome Squadrons. Where the achievements of the Stinsons and the Douglas's may be well and honestly mirrored with facts and figures, the mercurial Mustangs need, and deserve, a little more personal treatment.
There was the time, for instance, when a flight of 16 P-51's circled the crowded airdrome at Tanauan in a tight show formation, then broke, buzzed the strip in flights of four and started to peel off for a landing.
The steel-matted landing strip was wet and slippery, and just as the first plane turned on its base leg an excited voice from the tower called "Zebras. Zebras, You are landing too close! Pull up and go around!"
Lt. Col. Walker M. Mahurin, who became Group Commander in early September, and who was leading the flight, calmly radioed back to the fluttering tower operator: "Leave the Zebras alone, tower. These pilots have been flying like this for a long time. They know what they are doing. Meanwhile, the P-51's continued to roll down the slippery strip in pairs; the entire 16 ships were on the ground in less than three minutes.
Although the people in the tower didn't realize it, and the pilots flying the planes thought nothing of it. They were witnessing what later was to become a revolutionary move in speeding up traffic in the Pacific Theater of Operations. It was not a "hot-pilot" trick, but a genuinely efficient maneuver, and the two-plane Commando Landing became SOP on narrow, heavy-traffic strips shortly after the incident occurred at Tanauan on the island of Leyte on January 6, 1945. It was the 3rd Air Commando's fighter planes' introduction to the theater and it marked the first time that P-51's flew as a combat operational unit in the Pacific.
That was the Commando's first first. Their second innovation came when they moved to Mangaldan air strip on Luzon. There they found a hard, broad, dirt runway, wide enough to start four ship take-offs. immediately they sought permission for such a tactic. They knew they could do it; they had practiced similar formations when in training back in the States. At first permission wasn't granted, but when the 'drome began to carry the heaviest load of any field in the Pacific and undue delays began to bob up on rendezvous' and TOT's, the skeptics who thought the idea was impossible and too dangerous decided to give the innovation a trial.
The results were astounding. Even to this writing the Commandos never have had a take-off accident. Eventually, the medium bombers followed the lead of the fighters and finally the skeptics were convinced. Later, higher headquarters issued an order that all fighters should take off in similar formation whenever possible.
"Too little and too late", that old cry of Allied dejection in the early stages of the war, may still be applied to Commando experience in air combat with the enemy. There was too little of it, because the unit arrived overseas too late - at a time when Japanese air strength in the Philippines was already on the wane.
In a bit more than six months of combat operations, the planes of both the 3rd and 4th Fighter Squadrons managed to bag - and confirm - only seven Japanese planes, though three probables may be added to the score. In all, the pilots of both Squadrons saw but a total of 12 enemy planes in the air. On the ground, however, 53 of the Sun-Emperor's aircraft were merged with the dust.
The two squadrons flew more than 21,000 combat hours, dropped 2,150 tons of bombs, and destroyed -among other miscellaneous items - one enemy destroyer and one submarine.
Under consistently unfruitful stalking conditions, they turned to long-range fighter sweeps across Luzon and Formosa as a partial answer to the problem of finding the Japanese. In the early days of the Luzon campaign their most noteworthy achievement was the carrying of a ton of bombs - two wing-borne 1,000 pounders - 450 miles to Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines and then the headquarters of General Yamashita, overall Japanese commander in the captive Commonwealth.
It was the first time such a feat had been accomplished in the southwest Pacific by a single-engine fighter plane. The effect of the bombing was excellent, but the results themselves were somewhat overshadowed by the means. It was no small achievement to pilot such a delicate plane over so great a distance with such a heavy load.
Another significant innovation made by the Commandos was the unusual preparation for close support missions made with the Ground Forces. On one occasion along the Villa Verde trail - an area studded with steep, over-grown hills which proved a "natural' for Japanese protective measures - our Infantry was stymied when the Japanese dug in on the reverse side of a sharp slope. From his sheltered positions the enemy was able to lay down artillery whenever the hill crest was threatened, and the terrain made it impossible for our troops to offer an effective counter-barrage. The scant 250 yards separating both forces made an ordinary air strike seem impractical and dangerous to ground observers, but the 3rd Air Commandos were carrying out what the 32nd Division felt were its best coordinated strikes, so they called upon Colonel Olson and asked what he thought might be done.
The Colonel had a new answer. He sent flight leaders direct to the Infantry command post and into the front line positions with orders to stay there for a long as it might take to reach a decision, one way or another, with the ground commanders.
The front-line pilots learned that it would be strategically dangerous to pull any men back from forward positions to allow a normal strike, and then finally convinced the infantry command that the strike could be carried out as desired without withdrawal of troops or without any undue hazard to the forward troop elements.
They made a complete review of the situation from the ground, returned to the air field, briefed the other fliers, and then carried out such a successful air attack that, according to their commander, the infantrymen "moved forward immediately after the strike and took the position practically standing up". He was so enthused that he offered the pilots all the souvenirs his boys took that day.
After that, pilot visits to front-line command posts became regular practice. Commending this unorthodox approach, Major General W. H. Gill, Commander of the 32nd Infantry, wrote: "On several occasions we were forced to ask that these air strikes be made within fifty to one hundred yards ahead of the infantry... these strikes were, to my mind, perfection itself'.
"It is my belief' he continued, "that this is the first time that pilots of the supporting arm have visited the forward ground units in the combat zone to view terrain and study the tactical situation in which they were to be employed".
When Laoag strip, the Air Force's most northerly Philippines base, was occupied in strength during April, Colonel Olson became the Base Commander and Group Headquarters assumed all base administrative functions.
Surrounded on three sides by the enemy - admittedly retreating as fast as he could - the strip and its assigned organizations were supplied entirely by air for more than a month, and most of this laborious hauling was done by the Commando 47's. After its establishment, Laoag strip became an important refueling point on the route to Okinawa and an even more important emergency and rescue base for planes returning from Formosa and China Coast strikes.
With assault on the Japanese home islands pending in the fall the Commando Group moved north to le Shima in the Ryukyus in early August. But our war had really begun and ended in the Philippines. The advance, or boat echelon first set foot on actual Japanese soil on the 9th of August, 1945. The next day (premonition?) the Japanese announced to the world that they would consider the Potsdam terms.
On crowded Ie most of the unit's energies were devoted to preparing for the inevitable move northward into Japan proper. Only two or three combat missions were flown and these were for patrol and reconnaissance only. More time and effort were expended in keeping tents and equipment typhoon-proof than in actual operations.
In the first week of September our actual occupation of Japan began with the movement forward of the 318th Troop Carrier Squadron, 343rd Airdrome, and other elements of Group Headquarters and the Fighter sections. Based at Atsugi airdrome, just southeast of Tokyo, the troop carriers set first American feet upon many a Japanese airdrome as they evacuated prisoners of war from all parts of the islands and brought them to rehabilitation centers in the Tokyo area and at Okinawa. Among their passengers in the first hectic occupation days were Major James Deveraux of Wake Island fame ("Send us more Japanese" ), Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Archbishop Francis J. Spellman, and numerous Russian, British, and other allied "wheels".
Final phase of the long road from Leyte to Hokkaido opened on September 5th when the rear echelon, still at Ie, boarded LST's for one of the most painful boat expeditions in history. Hardly off-shore when the great typhoon that prostrated Okinawa struck, they shuttled about the North pacific for more than a week in an unhappy attempt to "ride it out", put back into Buckner Bay for a recapitulation of forces, and then set sail again on 18 September. After 23 full days at sea they arrived in Japan.
Effective 0001, 3 May 1944, the I Tactical Air Division, Meridian, Mississippi, to which the 159th Liaison Squadron was assigned, was reorganized without change of station or assignment as the III Tactical Air Division. On 15 May 1944, the 159th Liaison Squadron was redesignated to the 159th Liaison Squadron, Commando, reorganized, without change of station, assigned to the 3rd Air Commando Group, III Fighter Command, and attached to the III Tactical Air Division, effective as of 1 May 1944. The unit was authorized a strength of fourteen officers and seventy-nine enlisted men.
Captain Rush H. Limbaugh, Jr, (father of the radio talk-show host) was assigned and assumed command of the "159th" on 21 May 1944. He had formerly been assigned to the Key Field Replacement Training Unit (TE), Key Field, Meridian, Mississippi. (Captain Ray J. Binder, the former commanding officer, was transferred to headquarters III Tactical Air Division, Key Field, Meridian, Mississippi.)
The latter part of the month found all sections of the squadron preparing for the contemplated move to Statesboro Army Air Field, Statesboro, Georgia.
On 29 May 1944 an advance echelon proceeded by air to the new station. The remainder of the squadron departed by rail and privately-owned conveyance 30 May 1944. The 159th Liaison Squadron arrived at Statesboro Army Air Field, Statesboro, Georgia, on 1 June 1944. The first part of the month of June was spent in setting up the squadron at its new location. Hutments were provided for officers and enlisted men and for the headquarters and supply offices. The operations, engineering and communications sections moved into pyramidal tents located on the line. Messing facilities and supervision were obviously inadequate because many of the men were getting dysentery. This problem was relieved somewhat by setting up an outside field kitchen and having the men use their own mess kits, but the incident was a blow to the morale of the men.
Thirty-two L-5 and three UC-64A aircraft were available for flying during the month. Emphasis was continually placed upon short field landings, minimum altitude cross-country flights and formation flying. A daily flying schedule based upon individual training progress records was used with the result that all pilots were brought to approximately the same high degree of proficiency by the end of the month. The importance of instrument flight training in the L-5 was recognized, but lack of equipment made this impractical. It was suggested that standard instrument flight equipment be made readily available to liaison squadrons.
Training was brought up to date in camouflage, medical subjects and intelligence. The following subjects were explained to all personnel: Allotments, Wills, Servicemen as Dependents Allowance Act, Overseas Mail, Safeguarding Military Information and Articles of War.
All personnel attended regularly conducted physical training periods and took a number of hikes averaging a distance of about eight miles each.
The procurement of both Quartermaster and Technical supplies became an immediate problem at the new base. Being a sub-base, the necessary amount of supplies were not stocked. The fact that they had to get supplies through the 341st Airdrome Squadron, which wasn't organized to handle these supplies, presented an additional problem. However, due to the splendid efforts of the squadron supply section, the needs of the unit were for the most part filled.
Through the continued efforts of the engineering officer and crew chiefs the engineering section gradually became more efficient in maintaining the aircraft. In many instances the progress in repairing planes was delayed for lack of parts. However, during the latter part of the month a supply system between this base and Morris Field, Charlotte, North Carolina was begun and this expedited the delivery of parts considerably.
Contact was made with the authorities of Georgia State Teachers College, and thanks to their generosity it was possible to acquaint each man with the proper water-safety technique. Because of the smallness of their pool, it was necessary to divide the squadron into two sections, pilots in one, and the remainder of the personnel in the other. The pilots were instructed particularly in the proper way to release oneself from the parachute harness as given in the Pilots Information File. Flotation by the use of barracks bags, trousers, and shirts was also demonstrated to both sections, as was a demonstration of the life vest. Each man was acquainted with the action to be taken againstburning oil or gasoline, the way to jump into it if necessary, and the splash method of getting air, and the direction to swim if in burning oil or gas.
Classes in code, blinker, the actual reading of panels from the air, and first aid continued during the month, increasing the proficiency of the pilots in these subjects.
The proficiency of the pilots was also increased in the shooting of short-field landings and takeoffs at Sylvania auxiliary field, both with and without a heavy load. Crosswind and downwind landings were also a part of the training. A keen competition developed between flights and there was a marked improvement in each individual's ability.
It was the policy of the squadron commander to send each flight on a two-day bivouac without prior notice. Thus, speedy evacuation was practiced and the errors made were corrected before the next flight went out. The pilots ofthe UC-64's benefitted by these problems as they were required to fly all supplies, including gasoline, to the bivouac areas. Seemingly unimportant details, such as the lack of an axe or flashlight soon were realized and remedied.
While on bivouac the men had only "k" rations for subsistence. Water was flown in by C-64. Actual practice in proper camouflaging was given, as was instruction in disposal of wrappers, garbage, etc. to guard against discovery by enemy aircraft. Reconnaissance patrols were established and each pilot received an opportunity to have a two hour patrol around the area. At night, planes from the home base would attempt to find traces of habitation such as movement, light, etc. but only in one instance was the camouflage discipline poor.
From Statesboro Army Air Field, Georgia the Squadron moved to Cross City AAB. Florida. In October they transferred to Tampa, Florida for final processing prior to overseas shipment. Shortly after arrival at Drew Field, Tampa, Florida, the commanding officer was hospitalized and replaced by Lt. William G. Price III, a P-51 pilot from the Fighter Squadrons.
After a six day train ride to Camp Stoneman, California, the Unit under went final processing and boarded the USS General Hersey on 7 November 44 for the three-week sea voyage to the South Pacific. Stops were made at Finchehaven and Hollandia, New Guinea before proceeding to the island of Leyte in the Philippines. The 159th Liaison Squadron went ashore on Leyte 1 December 44. Air strikes by the Japanese introduced the men to the realities of war, and they soon felt like veterans. It was not until 31 January 45 that the first aircraft of the Unit arrived. In the meantime several members of the Unit volunteered their services. This included piloting L-5s and kicking out supplies from the C-46s to infantry below. The 159th soon experienced personnel losses. Lt. Howard and Capt. Loomer ( the flight surgeon ) were hospitalized in New Guinea, Flight "C" lost two of its pilots, S/Sgt John W. Miller was hospitalized and S/Sgt Bennie Evans suffered severe head injuries while diving in the surf.
All was not work with no play. Most memorable had to be the new Years party! From the "Conning" of the armed guards over a stack of plywood for a dance floor, the acquisition of copper tubing from the Sea Bees for a still, the air drop of leaflet invitations into the WAC detachment, and a successful penetration of the WAC compound to make personal contact with the fair maidens, the manufacturing of a bamboo bar and drinking containers guaranteed a grand time for all. There was at least half again as many women as men for the gala event. Cock fights, roast pig, and fried chicken capped the evening. Col. Olson, Group Commander wrote a letter of commendation for the efforts of the 159th.
Never to be forgotten was the day a Japanese fighter popped over a ridge at dusk with guns blazing, catching a group of 159th personnel in the middle of a bomb and gas dump. The group was in route to a movie up the beach. Some ran for a ditch while two dashed through the bombs and gas barrels like a couple of NFL wing backs and dived under a 6 by 6 on the beach. Meanwhile the fighter was spraying but hitting nothing. He then made a sharp turn over the 6 by 6 and headed up the beach at about 50 feet altitude and was immediately knocked down.
One evening the gas dump went up in flames. The Japanese claimed to have destroyed it; but it reportedly was caused by a buddy trying to fill his Zippo lighter from a 55 gallon drum. Then there was the Japanese parachute drop which caused great excitement for awhile and "wash-machine Charlie" a Japanese plane that woke everyone up about 2 AM every morning. Such was the life on Leyte while awaiting the arrival of the L-5s.
On 18 Jan 45 the ground echelon departed by sea for the Lingayen Gulf area and arrived on 31 January. The air echelon finally received the L-5s and arrived at Apache Strip, near Mingaldan on 6 February, by way of Mindoro. The flight was uneventful except for being buzzed by a couple of P-38s that made passes at and throughout the formation. The 159th was finally all together and ready for action.
The Squadron immediately launched into the Luzon operation, with individuals flying as many as 20 missions a day. The pilots flew every conceivable kind of mission, from evacuation of wounded, supply drops to isolated troops, directing air strikes, artillery fire and Naval bombardment, courier missions, dropping propaganda leaflets on enemy forces, to air and sea rescue missions. The 159th operations covered Luzon, Panay, Cebu and Negros Islands and worked with all branches of the service including the Filipino Guerrillas.
Most of the 159th missions were conducted from Apache strip at Calasio or later from Mabalacat. However, other operations were conducted by small detachments located throughout the area from any level and clear place available.
One of the first detachments was in support of the 308th Bomb Wing. The detachment operated off a drained rice paddy adjoining the Lingayan Air Strip and was housed in a Nipa hut in the middle of a bomb dump. Activities included courier service, delivering weapons to guerrillas behind enemy lines, search missions, marking bombing targets and air sea rescue. One aircraft was damaged when its engine quit over the trees at the end of the landing strip. The pilot, S/Sgt Neil Livesay, received a written commendation from 5th Air Force HQ for his outstanding airmanship. His passenger was the 5th AF Flying Safety Officer.
Another detachment operated out of Bacolod on Negros Island in support of Marines and the 40th Infantry Division during the Negros campaign. It was while performing a drop mission that M/Sgt Oliver M. Edwards, a Flight Leader, was shot down and later killed by the Japanese. His passenger was also killed and beheaded. M/Sgt was post-humously awarded the Silver Star for his action in support of the 40th Infantry Division. He was also the first 159th member killed in action.
Another detachment operated off the main street of Cebu City in support of the American Infantry Division. In addition to evacuation and supply missions, they participated in directing naval bombardment of the island, with Naval observers aboard. Many of the evacuation missions were performed at night.
A detachment on the island of Luna operated entirely in support of the Filipino Guerrillas, located in the mountains of northern Luzon. The planes operated from crude strips in the mountains, evacuating wounded, bringing in supplies and supporting behind-the-lines operations of the famous Alamo Scouts. The unit also directed air strikes. Three 159th pilots lost their lives in this very hazardous operation. S/Sgt Jack Smith was lost when his plane was hit by ground fire. He was carrying out two Guerrillas wedged in the back seat. Crashing and burning, his passengers survived without injury. G/O Robert Hutchinson and passenger Cpl. Alfred Bennet crashed in a narrow valley near Cervantes while trying to climb out of a confined area. Ferdinand Marcos was a member of the Filipino Guerrillas and had his headquarters at Luna.
Some of the evacuations involved personal touches on occasion. Squadron Commander William Price learned from a wounded 1st Cavalry Trooper that his brother, Lt. Terry Price, lay wounded in a ditch along Quezon Blvd. Capt. Price flew in, landed along side his brother and evacuated him. S/Sgt Eich ran into an old high school buddy, a medic, while on an evacuation mission. M/Sgt Zulfer experienced four similar incidents as well, all from the old neighborhood and all infantrymen. Lt. Col. Kalberer Commanding Officer of the Liaison plane section reunited with a Filipino Guerrilla Lieutenant who was a Flying Cadet classmate. Col. Kalberer was delivering fuel to two L-5s that were forced to land in the mountains of Northern Luzon and the Lieutenant had found them and radioed for fuel. S/Sgts Carney and Genadek met two elderly missionary ladies from the home town of Sgt. Fogle, a Squadron mechanic. It's a small, small world. Three days after beginning operations on Luzon S/Sgt McDonnel had both wing tips shot off over Nichols Field at Manila. He landed safely at Grace Park with only minor wounds. The name of his aircraft was: Heaven Can Wait." S/Sgt Viking Koch was missing in action after crashing in enemy territory near Ambaguie. He was rescued by Guerrillas and after some close encounters with the Japanese returned 26 days later to his unit.
About 15 April 45, S/Sgt. Carmichael was forced to land on a road while in route to Grace Park, because of bad fuel. Fortunately Guerrillas were in the area. They physically carried the plane off the road and hid it in a grove of trees from the Japanese. The next morning, after draining water from the fuel tank, they carried the plane back on the road and he went on to Manila. On 28 April, S/Sgt Eich cracked up on take-off because of engine failure at Agoo. He suffered severe head injuries and was hospitalized. S/Sgt. Lou Huffman crashed into a mountain side on 18 May, while attempting to land in fog. He suffered broken legs and was evacuated to the US. In March Lt. T.S. Jackson, while flying with the Luna detachment, had engine failure in the mountains and crash landed. Fortunately Guerrillas had taken the area only minutes before. They took him to a nearby PT Boat base and he was returned to his home base. The 341st Air Drone Squadron later repaired the plane and returned it to service. During June T/Sgt O'Brien had a landing accident on a primitive strip at an altitude of over 4000 feet. Among the repairs required was a new wing. The wing was brought in using Guerrillas and hill people, along with S/Sgts Carney and Genadek. The wing was carried across a river and up the steep mountain slope through enemy lines. After repairs the hill people fashioned a crude runway and the L-5 was flown out. (See Carney's letter to Dick Barr on this on the end of the article.)
Lt. Eddy Sloan was assigned to fly comedian Jo E. Brown anywhere he wanted to go. On one occasion he asked to see the famous Belete Pass operation. While flying over the ridge, Brown asked what those little black puffs were. Sloan explained that they were Japanese shells. "What are they firing at?" "Us", replied Sloane. At Brown's request they "got the hell out of there." The 159th was active in supporting the ground troops of the Belete Pass operation and suffered no losses. A commendation was give to the 159th by Col. Phillip F. Lindeman, 27th Infantry Commander, "It was only through the supplies dropped by air that this Regiment was enabled to capture Lone Tree Ridge, for the seizure of the all important Belete Pass." General MacArthur was pleased to add his sentiments as well.
With the war winding down in the Philippines it was evident another move was in store; this time to Okinawa, a long distance over water and far beyond the normal range of the L-5. Through the joint efforts of Lt. Harlan Englander, Engineering Officer and M/Sgt. Charles Army, the Line Chief, 75 gallon gasoline tanks were fitted in the rear fuselage giving the L-5 range of over 750 miles. The L-5 was now capable of making the flight from the Philippines to Okinawa non-stop
On 30 August 45, the 159th, led by Squadron Commander Price, set out for Okinawa led by a Navy Catalina. The 159th ran into rain and thunderstorms requiring several heading changes to circumvent the weather. Near the end of the flight the Catalina directed a heading of 020 degrees. Instead Capt. Price took up a heading 270 degrees and within minutes sighted land - Okinawa! Most of the planes were out of fuel as they landed and if they had followed the Catalina, many would have ended up in the sea.
One pilot, S/Sgt Lou Payerl, requested permission to make a straight-in approach, since his tanks were reading empty. Just as his wheels touched the ground his engine cut out. In the process of landing he had cut out a C-46 on its final approach. Later the C-46 pilot wanted to know who had cut him out. Lou identified himself and they had coffee together and started a close friendship which lasted many years. The C-46 pilot was Tyrone Power.
On 19 September 45, with the war over, the remnants of the 159th left for Kanoya, Japan. The 159th was assigned the duty of flying into various Japanese Airfields to monitor the ordered disabling of the Japanese aircraft. Some humorous incidents occurred with this operation. S/Sgt. Hankison landed on one field and found all the top brass out in formation and offering to surrender all the men, 100 aircraft and 50 tanks to him. At another field the pilot saw all the personnel run for cover.
Over the months following the end of the War, most of the original personnel had rotated back to the States, and on 29 April 46, Lt. Harlan Englander, the engineering Officer was the last war time Commando to leave for the States. On 31 May 46, the Unit was deactivated. While the 159th Liaison Squadron no longer exists, the memory of the men in this outstanding Unit, lives in the hearts and minds of all those who were a part of it and also those who were served by this Unit.
EXPEDITION TO BONTOC
It was July 1945. Lt. Jackson and I had just returned from a flight in our light cargo C-64 aircraft. As we climbed out of the plane and walked over to the L-5s which were lined up in flight, Lt. Harlan Englander, our squadron engineer, greeted us and related that he had an assignment in which he would like Sgt. Ed Genadek and I to participate. And so began one of the most exciting and unusual tasks which we were to experience during our encounters in the Far East.
As members of the 159th Liaison Squadron of the 3rd Air Commando Group, Fifth Air Force, our primary mission was evacuation of wounded from the front lines and air resupply. As a team, squadron members had trained together on bases back in Texas, Georgia, and Florida and had been transported in Nov.1944 aboard the USS General Hersey to Red Beach on the Island of Leyte in the central Philippine Islands.
Following several months of harrowing experiences on Leyte, our unit was moved to Calasiao on the northernmost island of Luzon and later to a more permanent site at Babalacat air strip near Clark Field from which we operated.
In early July, 1945, at Lamag air strip, high on a plateau in the Cordillera Central mountain range of northern Luzon, T/Sgt. Bill O'Brien, while flying missions in an L-5, had a landing accident with resultant damage to wing and propeller and fuselage. It was not possible to fly in new parts for repair of the aircraft.
The mission of Genadek and myself was to somehow reach the damaged aircraft in Japanese controlled territory, repair the plane and make it fully flight-worthy for an exit flight back to our home base at Mabalacat.
The strategy was to fly into the barrio of Tuao in the Cagayan Valley in Central Northern Luzon which was to serve as a staging area. From there we would proceed by horseback and on foot from the flat valley lowlands into the rapidly ascending Cordillera Central. It was estimated that the journey would require about ten days.
Ed Genadek and I reached Tuao in mid July and were housed with several Filipino officers in a barrack like structure. From this time on until our mission was completed, we would be living with Filipinos, eating their food and depending on them for every form of sustenance and protection.
During this brief sojourn of two days in Tuao, a caravan of about 15 Filipino and Bontoc tribesmen ( Igorots) was organized. It closely resembled a safari expedition. These men were not only to transport the supplies over rugged and precipitous terrain, but also, armed heavily with riles, were to offer protection should we en-counter any enemy forces on route.
Youth had its attributes for neither Genadek nor I, for the moment, considered danger. To us this was another exciting adventure into the unknown. We had encountered strafings and bombings on Red Beach, observed Kamikazes attacking our ships in Leyte Gulf. Thus, a foray into so-called Japanese-held territory presented no particularly fraught danger as we went out on this expedition.
Soon our little entourage started out from Tuao. We were to head south along the Chico river area and thence west to the town of Lubuagan and southeast into the rugged mountain area steadily ascending toward an isolated area in the vicinity of Bontoc.
As we proceeded on horseback from Tuao, our colorful group included tribesmen from the area carrying the aircraft wing, a rather cumbersome package to have when fording rivers and climbing mountains. In addition, several crates of aircraft supply parts and tools were carried as back packs by members of the group as well as minimal personal supplies for Genadek and myself. While little clothing was required in the tropical lowlands, a much different situation would be encountered as we ascended to the six thousand foot levels of the Cordillera.
For the first several days our caravan slowly traveled along the lowland area, frequently stopping to rest with the heavy weight of the unwieldy supplies in the extreme tropical head of the Islands. On the second day, it was necessary to ford the Chico river at a point where the rapids permitted. At night we would usually lay over in a small village with which the native guides were familiar and always Genadek and I were provided with the finest bamboo hut for shelter. Native food sustained us and few rations could be carried. Rice served as our staple diet.
After reaching the town of Lubuagan in the foothills, we proceeded to ascend through magnificent forests, frequently picking our path as we proceeded. The trees were gigantic in circumference, an indication that the area had not, if ever, been forested.
Living conditions became more and more primitive as we ascended higher and higher into the mountains. But as we climbed, it became evident to us that somehow, the natives had a secret communication system. To this day I marvel at its effectiveness and just how it functioned. In each incidence, as we approached tiny village, the people would be lined up on each side 0 the approach to the town as if to serve as the official welcoming committee. Startled at first at this strange behavior, we soon learned that we were the first Americans that these people had seen since the Japanese had first occupied the Islands several years before. This was simply their way of expressing to us their appreciation and delight that the Americans were back to liberate then from the oppression which they had experienced.
Oddly enough, these mountain people had been ferocious in their relations with the Japanese occupiers. Consequently, the Japanese generally occupied the lowland areas and simply left the Cordillera regions alone. It was rumored that the Japanese feared to go into the highland regions for fear of being beheaded by these headhunting Igorot tribesmen, or killed by poisoned darts of the Negrito hill tribesmen.
On the third day of our journey into one of the more beautiful and picturesque areas of the mountains we were told by natives that two American missionaries were living in the next village. Naturally, we were excited to find that Americans would be found in this isolated region. As we approached the tiny village, the two elderly missionary sisters greeted us with great jubilation. We were bringing the first news from the free world in 3 and ½ years.
We were fed a sumptuous feast, and as we talked, the two lovely old ladies revealed that they were from the area of Smithsburg, Maryland. Surprisingly, they knew well one of our squadron. members - Jay Fogle - from that area.
Upon reaching the base of one of the high mountain ranges, Genadek and I questioned how it would be possible to ascend the practically vertical and precipitous wall of rock that rose from the stream bed. We were told that we would have our first lesson in mountain climbing, for this was the only way to ascend to the isolated mountain region where the aircraft was located.
Seeing no alternative, we watched the natives, without hesitation, scramble and pull themselves straight up the slab wall. We, who were so unaccustomed to this terrain, slowly and carefully inched our weight up - almost terrified, fearing to look down at the rock-strewn creek below. In contrast to our snail-like pace, the Igorot tribesmen with their sure-footedness and almost super- human strength, literally scaled the rock wall with apparently little effort and little exertion on their muscle-bound bodies. These mountain people closely resembled ants in their beehive activity of constantly running barefoot up and down these tremendous mountain ranges.
Once we reached the plateau, not only were we completely exhausted from the climb, but the atmosphere was now quite thin and much cooler. As we attempted to progress up the gently inclining plateau, we found that we had great difficulty in breathing. After each few steps, we had to lay down and rest. And as we lay totally exhausted, we could note that far ahead, ascending to the peak, was the little caravan of tribesmen running along with the aircraft wing and crates of supplies lifted high on their shoulders.
Slowly we proceeded up the gently sloping, grassy plateau to the summit. Upon reaching the mountain top we encountered a sight that indeed appeared to be out of biblical history. Dozens of mountain people were busily engaged cutting away hillsides and hauling the rubble to provide an extension to this small mountain-top runway. Word had been passed by their runner communicators and already the task was nearing completion.
Had modern tools been available, this would have been an awesome undertaking, but here we encountered primitive Igorot tribesmen using the only tools they possessed - sticks and hand-woven baskets - literally moving the top of the mountain. Miraculously, within a few days these primitive people had moved tons of rubble and the airstrip was completed.
In amazement, Genadek and I questioned how these tremendous feats could be accomplished by these apparently primitive people. Our Filipino friends advised that we should more closely observe the Igorots.
Formerly warring headhunter groups, these fierce-looking mountain people had, over the centuries, acclimated themselves to this rather harsh terrain. Muscle-bound and robed only in a loin cloth with a heavy gold ring affixed to one ear lobe, these hardy people confined themselves primarily to the upper elevations. As a result, they had developed tremendous lung capacity and their every movement, from long habitation in the mountainous region, was one of running from point to point, up and down the steep mountain heights. It was little wonder, then, that these brave people could undertake an expedition such as ours with such seemingly little effort.
Being well supplied with rich panique wine, a rice product, which was brought in long bamboo tubes strapped to the back of the runner, Genadek and I quickly undertook the repair of the badly damaged aircraft.
Within a few days we had completed all repairs on the L-5, flight-tested the aircraft, flew in for the return flight to Mabalacat.
As we prepared to depart from this rather celestial point at the top of the Islands, we could observe in the distance, American P-38 aircraft strafing the headquarters of General Yamashita who had retreated to the nearby town of Bontoc.
We now realized that this action signaled the prelude to the waning days of the battle of the Philippines. Little did we realize that within a month's time the major Pacific war itself would be drawing to a close.