Ray Tarte, P-47N Thunderbolt Pilot, 8th AF, 507th FG, 465th Sq., Pacific

Raymond Leo Tarte, P-47N Pilot and Air Traffic Controller
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(Above) Ray's children had an exact replica model made of his P-47N with the correct squadron markings and colors. (Photos by Kevin Callahan, December 7, 2012)
Ray's awards left to right included Good Conduct ribbon, below that an aerial gunnery medal, which was actually for marksmanship with a .45 pistol that they carried on each mission. If he had to bail out over Japan he would have gotten rid of that. Then the WWII Victory ribbon and medal, Air Medal with what should have been 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, A Pacific Asiatic Campaign ribbon and medal, The American Campaign ribbon and medal, The Presidential Unit ribbon. Below are a dog tag, Wings, 1st LT. bar, and aviation lapel pin. 
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(Above) Ray is in the lower left corner of the photo wearing a Mae West.
 He was probably about 25 years old . He went in at 23 and got out at 27.  75% of the squadron at
the tiime they were at Bruning, Nebraska and Delhart, TX were married, which was very unusual at the time.
He got married shortly after getting his wings.
(Above) Ray in front of his P-47N.
 
Ray L. Tarte, Jr, P-47N Thunderbolt Pilot, USAAF, 8th Air Force, 301st Fighter Wing, 507th Fighter Group, 465th Sq., Ie Shima, Pacific Theater, WWII, On one mission, August 9, 1945, Ray flew as a fighter escort* for the Nagasaki atomic bomb mission. He personally saw the Nagasaki mushroom cloud come up through the clouds from about 25 or 30 miles away after the atomic bomb exploded. It was cloudy and it looked just like another white mushroom shaped cloud but rising. He did not feel a concussion at his distance. He never saw the B-29s. The first Hiroshima bomb was a complete surprise, but they were briefed on the bomb and knew about the sceond mission before they left Ie Shima for Japan. The idea of having P-47Ns 20-30 miles away from the B-29s when the bomb went off was that Japanese Zeroes wouldn't come up when U.S. fighters were around. They avoided fighters, but they would come up after B-29s. The presence of a squadron of twenty-five P-47Ns was thought to discourage the Zeroes from flying or coming up that day to go after the B-29s. The Japanese undoubtedly saw the 25 fighters that day. He said that for him at the time it was a "nothing" mission. They sat at about 10,000 feet above the clouds and could not go over the target area except for seeing the white mushroom cloud. They were over land at the time.
    The fighters were above the clouds, so the P-47Ns never saw the B-29s at any time during the mission. [The bomb was dropped from 28,900 feet at 1058 hours Nagasaki time.] After the bomb went off, all the fighter planes turned and took gun camera footage of the mushroom cloud and then turned for home. The B-29s were fast airplanes (350 mph), as were the P-47Ns (397-467 mph), which were designed to be long range B-29 fighter escorts. By comparison a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero's maximum speed was 331 mph. (Major Charles Sweeney's B-29, Bocks Car, which had dropped the bomb, headed for Okinawa because he was running low on fuel.) The fighters tried to keep radio silence, which was important, except for an occasional outburst. He never heard the B-29s on the radio. The squadron commander may have had radio contact with them but he doesn't knw. He usually flew with Major Hemphill the executive officer, (Their nickname was "Hemphill's Expendables" but sometimes Major Rice, the squadron commander, led the squadron on a mission. As a Lt. he followed rather than led the mission. Sometimes there were less than 25 fighters if some were in for repair and sometimes fighters from other squadrons would join them making the number over 25 planes.  
    The following day after the bombing, Ray flew to Nagasaki with three other P-47s and flew over the devastated city at about 1500 feet. They didn't know about the danger from radiation and were flying in the different colored dust clouds. Visibility was pretty good. The city was gone. Almost everything below them was flattened. It looked like an almost completely different city than the one they had been over before. He found out what an atomic bomb really did. He said the clouds were still pink and white and brown. He said it didn't seem to hurt him - he's 92. He was very familiar with Nagasaki before this because if they had to get rid of their bombs at the end of a mission with bad weather, they would often do so on the Japanese fleet bottled up like cordwood in the Nagasaki harbor by the US Navy.
 

We were scheduled to escort the B-29s and we knew at the time that we were escorting the B-29 that had the atomic bomb on it, so we all flew up there. [They were expecting that there would be three B-29s.] . . . We had to stay back aways from Nagasaki at the time, where they had finally decided that they were going to drop the bomb. We were close and we were above the clouds. It was clouds all over the place. So we're tooling around out there, waiting for the B-29 that went in with the atomic bomb to come out so we can escort them back home, and all of a sudden one of our pilots shouted, "There she goes!" Well, we can't see the ground, we can't see anything but clouds, but all of a sudden, out of the clouds comes this big mushroom cloud, so we knew the atomic bomb went off. Well, you know, it wasn't spectacular. You know it would have been spectacular if the weather was clear and we could have seen this thing go off, but it didn't turn out that way. Anyway, it was an historic moment, and we all knew it up there. So we all turned our planes around and aimed it at the big cloud that was going up in the air and pulled our trigger that just triggered the gun camera and we had color film in our gun cameras, so we all got a picture of the atomic mushroom cloud. So then we escorted them back home to Okinawa and the mission was over. So it should have been an exciting mission, but it was kind of a letdown. It was just another mission.

So, the next day we took a flight of planes and we flew up to Nagasaki. Now we had been over Nagasaki quite a few times. Any time we had a bombing mission and we couldn't get rid of our bombs because of the weather or something, we flew over Nagasaki and dropped the bombs on the navy ships in the harbor just to get rid of them because we couldn't go back home with them on. So we knew Nagasaki. It was a big city but it had a range of low hills going right through the middle of it. Okay, now that made a difference when that atomic bomb went off because this range of hills protected, not completely, but some part of the city. So the next day a flight of us went up to Nagasaki and we knew the war was going to be over momentarily and we didn't worry about any Jap planes or getting shot at. We flew over Nagasaki and we were stunned by the destruction down there. Everything was leveled. The sky around us, the air around us, was all different colors: pink, brown, you name it. The colors were there and it was kind of pretty. And we were so dumb, we didn't know that that was dust from this atomic bomb that could have been really, really radioactive. They didn't tell us any of that. We didn't know that. So we're tooling around there 1500 feet over Nagasaki. We thought that was a blast. The dust from the day before was still in the air,and of course with the sun shining and everything, it made all these different colors. I could see no activity on the ground whatsoever. In fact you could only see maybe a half a brick building standing, or a wall ,or something like that. Otherwise it was completely gone.

The first one on Hiroshima--nobody knew about that. The only ones that knew about it were the ones that were involved and there was no fighter escort, no nothing for the B-29s that went up there. They dropped the bomb and got out. But the one at Kokura, supposedly Kokura, and Nagasaki, we were briefed. We knew that we were escorting the B-29 that had the atomic bomb on it. So it was kind of exciting, you know.

 . . . We didn't run into any Jap planes because they were afraid of us. They knew that if they came up, we'd shoot them down because we had so much firepower. So they never came up when the fighters were around.(Ray Tarte, "Pacific Flying Missions During World War 2" August 16, 2006. Boutwells Landing Archive Program "Memory Lane" [The brief excerpt above has been condensed and edited.])

    Ray also flew an 8 hour 27 minute mission from the fighter group's base at Ie Shima off Okinawa to the area near Seoul, Korea which surprised the Japanese. They didn't know that the P-47N could travel that far and his unit destroyed 23 Japanese aircraft of different types. One pilot shot down 5 aircraft on that one mission. They carried a couple of canteens of water and no food. They could regulate their temperature. Below 10,000 feet it got hot but the temperature was comfortable above 10,000 feet. It wasn't comfortable however, to sit that long. This was the longest duration P-47 mission of WWII and earned his unit a Presidential Unit Citation. They surprised the Japanese in Korea a couple of times.
    The P-47N was the latest, fastest, model which was bigger, and heavier, and built for long range. It was built to escort B-29s. It had 8 .50 caliber machine guns, and could carry bombs, and rockets. Mostly they were carrying gas tanks because they were long range missions. They carried 85 gallons under each wing and 1200 gallons under the belly. When they were empty they pulled a lever and dropped them in the ocean. They had considerable fuel in the airplane. They carried color film in the gun cameras. Someone else on his escort flight got footage of the Nagasaki explosion on their gun camera, and he received a copy on VHS tape, but he is not sure what happened to his copy.
    Ray was a flight instructor with a lot of flight time and training in the States and the squadron he went over to the Pacific with was composed of flight instructors. He had ruptured both ear drums in the pressure chamber training because he had a slight cold and didn't realize it. While the rest of his group went off to Europe, he rested and recovered and that is why he became a flight instructor and ended up in the Pacific, which he actually preferred. He spent 11 months at Bruening, Nebraska. In the pressure chanber they had them put on an oxygen mask and lowered the pressure to 30,000 feet. They had them write something, which they thought they were doing normally. Later they showed them what they had actually written and it was all looping, and distorted. 
    Ray dropped a lot of bombs on bridges and shot up anything on the ground that looked bad with the 8 .50 calibers, which could do a lot of damage. They also went after radar stations. Over Japan he never saw any Japanese fighters. The Japanese knew they were coming with their radar. He had started out with a brand new, shiney, P-47N, and by the time he was done, it was all beat up and had holes in it that had been patched.
    Ray flew some missions with Navy fighters and Marine fighters and they found that the P-47N was faster than the Corsair. The Navy fighters would fly from a carrier and meet the USAAF planes over the target. The Marines would fly their Corsairs to the USAAF field and fly with them up to Japan from Ie Shima. They all participated in trying to hit a radar station on the south part of Kyushu. Ray's group had tried three times without success and the fourth attempt with Navy and Marine fighters was also apparently unsuccessful. The radar was on a long rocky promontory sticking out into the sea.
    Ray's squadron crossed the Pacific on an escort carrier and he liked Majuro and even considered going back there on a trip after the war. Several of the pilots were taken by the Harbor master on a boat to an island 25 miles away and met natives who were very isolated. The kids had never seen an ice cold Coke, an orange, and they loved the chocolate candy bars. The women wore nothing above the waist. Majura was a deep harbor that the carrier and other ships could enter. It was surrounded by other islands with japanese still on them that had been bypassed. Ray's squadron was gung ho to help in attacking them and there were still local casualties of local people who were fighting the Japanese. The higher ups did not allow the P-47N pilots  to have ammo or fly missions against the nearby islands. They were saved for escorting B-29s.
    When initially traveling across the Pacific from Guam to Okinawa a B-25 provided navigation for the group of about 25 P-47Ns because it was the only plane that could fly fast enough to keep up with the P-47N. They hadn't tried that before. Ray served on the closest airfield to Japan (Ie Shima had 3 runways, was 4 miles off the coast of Okinawa, and had 3 squadrons of fighters, which took up the whole island) and after 6 months his plane was all patched up with holes. The island was 2 miles wide and 8 miles long and they were bombed by the Japanese every night. He didn't want to dive into the airraid ditches because of the centipedes, and he often stayed in his bunk.
    He saw one pilot parachute out of his plane only to come out of the parachute harness when the canopy opened. They discovered back at the base that some parachutes had been sabotaged with acid to not work properly. They never caught the culprit. They checked his parachute, since his was packed at the same time as the one that failed, and they said it was okay, but Ray never felt comfortable with that chute thereafter.
    When the squadron initially crossed the pacific on the escort carrier they arrived at Maguro Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, which was a nice, beautiful island. They were trained for two weeks before arriving in catapulting a plane off of a carrier, which had never been done before with a 10 ton P-47N. Ray figured someone of higher rank, not a 2nd Lt., would be the first to try catapulting a P-47N off of the carrier for landing on Majura, but no one ever tried it.
    At Ie Shima each of the three squadrons had their own landing strip and had 50 pilots for 25 planes. No one flew two days in a row. Kyushu was about 350 miles away and a mission might last 6 hours. Pilots were issued air mattresses, which ground crew did not. Ray arranged for his crew chief to get an air mattress but on the first night they had the nightly air raid and the spent anti-aircraft ammunition put a hole in it. Ray didn't go into the trench but did put on his helmet. The pilots were less rattled by Japanese night attacks than the ground crews. The pilots were used to the danger of flying and for the ground crews the night attacks, where usually 2 bombs were dropped, sometimes phosphorus, by 2 Japanese planes, was their only exposure to lethal combat risk. Ray and some other pilots lit up cigarettes during one air raid and the ground crew in the trench threatened to shoot them if they didn't put them out--and they meant it. One time Ray went for a walk on Ie Shima with three others all carrying their .45s, when a ragged and probably starving Japanese soldier surrendered to them. He had no shirt and came out of the brush with his arms raised in the area of the island where a 2 story house was located. He had no rifle and they didn't think to search him. They turned him over when they got back. Ie Shima was about 4 miles from Okinawa and Ray could watch the kamikazes going in to attack US ships. The antiaircraft fire from the Navy ships was impressive.
    Most of the time missions to Japan were with 25 P-47Ns at a time, and sometimes more, and the Japanese never came up to fight when they arrived in such force. Besides the fear of being shot down they were probably also saving equipment for the invasion. At the end of the war Japan had 12,000 planes left. When the whole squadron went a higher rank would lead those missions, so navigating was done by the leader. the rest kept in formation. They had a map in a leg pocket. Ray thinks they were the only fighters in the Pacific with color gun camera footage. Since it was nearing the end, they wanted to have good quality film. The problem was that there was no local place to develop color film, so it had to be flown to Hawaii, developed and flown back, which created quite a delay before they could view their own films. The cameras could be switched on without necessarily firing the guns. One of the pilots turned their cameras on to film the Nagasaki mushroom cloud and much later one of his squadron mates sent him and others in the squadron a VHS tape of the cloud for $15. ray does not know where that VHS tape went.
    Ray said that the best missions were when 4 planes could go to Japan and seek "targets of opportunity" in Japan such as boats, bridges, or cities. The P-47N could carry 2 500 lb. bombs under the wings and one 1000 lb. bomb under the belly on shorter missions. For long-range missions they didn't carry the bombs, but instead carried gas tanks, which made the plane m,uch heavier and harder to take off and land. His squadron flew the longest fighter mission of WWII at 8 hours 27 minutes on the mission to Korea. They sat on the parachute and it was quite a long trip. 
    He does not think he would have survived the war if the US would have had to have invaded mainland Japan. The dropping of the atomic bombs helped shorten the war and probably saved his life. He had flown the plane for 6 months and it was shot full of holes from ground fire. The wear on the plane would eventually have worn it out or made it unsafe.
    One of the more boring missions was to fly air cover for Ie Shima, which involved 4 planes circling over the island for 5 hours. They all had to take their turn at it. After dark nightfighters took over that task. Ray has not kept many things from that time, except his medals and pilot log and a shirt. His Grandson is very interested in his experiences.
    Ray did not ever get airsick, but he came close once when in a C-47 on his way to Tokyo 4 days after the war's end. The enclosed space was probably what caused it.
    When flying a fighter he had a survival kit with a raft, canteen, waterproof silk maps, and he carried a .45. Ray said no one ever ditched a P-47 in the ocean because no one had ever heard of anyone surviving that. He said that with the front scoop it would be like hitting a brick wall. If they had to get out they would bail out, but that also posed a risk of striking the tail. A pilot could go up and out or turn the plane upside down and fall out, but each method ran the risk of hitting a different part of the tail.
    On Ie Shima they stayed in 4 man tents with a wooden floor and 4 beds in the corner  and room for a card table. One of his tentmates was a flight officer.
    Ie Shima to Tokyo was quite a long ways for a fighter so they didn't fly missions there. One week after the war ended he and 3 other pilots bummed a ride up to Tokyo in a C-47 and Ray said it was the scariest thing he did in the whole war. The Japanese still had their guns and when they were on the trains the Japanese were "looking daggers" at them. The four of them only had .45s on their hips.
    After the war Ray went into air traffic control which he really enjoyed and he worked at a center at MSP for a short time and then at Farmington, Mn where he eventually became an instructor. He retired in 1974. His squadron used to have a reunion almost every year somewhere in the country and he and Rosie, his wife, went to a lot of them. Ray enjoyed fishing for Walleye at Round Lake and became an avid fisherman in retirement. They lived at Hayward, WI for many years. He kept good records of how many fish he caught, (he released most of them) and one year he caught 764 walleyes in one year.
   Ray is from East St. Paul originally and he attended Hastings High School. Rosie is also from East St. Paul. He married Rosie on the day he graduated from flight training and got his wings. His pay jumped immediately from $80 per month to $429 per month, which was a lot in those days. Ray was at Tanner's Lake when he had heard about Pearl Harbor over the radio. Everybody wanted to be a fighter pilot back then and he felt they were well trained. He was a trainer himself. The wives could stay with the pilots at Bruening, NE and on the train and at Delhart,TX. During training pilots would sit in the cockpit for hours learning where everything was and had to be able to point to the instruments and dials blindfolded while the instructor stood on the wing testing them.
    Before reaching Ie Shima he and his squadron saw various islands while being transported on a "baby flattop" (escort carrier). He visited by sea or air Majura, Eniwetok, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. They were diverted to land on a tiny island off Tinian with a dirt airstrip  when the B-29s were just coming back to land at Tinian after a mission.The P-47s waited there with their engines going until they could take-off and land on the Tinian runway. They didn't use rockets that much. The 8 .50 caliber machine guns were incredibly powerful. They could carry and use napalm.
    About a week after the war Ray and some other pilots were visiting Tokyo from Tachakowa AFB and ate at a half collapsed building occupied by the Americans just off the Emperor's Palace and he said it was the first time he had a meal off of regular plates in many months. They had fish. In the moat of the palace were large carp. In Japan there could be more people waiting on the train platform than therre was space on the train, but they were always let on first.  The Japanese were mostly women and they had malnutrition sores. The cigarettes the pilots gave them were treated like gold. He said the town smelled bad with a rotten smell and a lot of windows were blown out from the bombing. 
    Ray was video recorded by Boutwell's Landing Archive program in Oak Park Heights, which produced a DVD that can be checked out, and he has an entry in the the Minnesota Historical Society's Greatest Generation website prepared by Stillwater students about his time in service. Ray kept an excellent squadron publication produced shortly after the war called "The Jug" about the history of his 464th Fighter Squadron and also many past issues of their newsletter "Poop of the Group." He has a VHS copy of color films made by one of the pilots in his squadron with film of Majuro, Ie Shima, combat gun footage, etc.
 
Information Source: Kevin Callahan interviewed Ray Tarte about his wartime experiences at his home for 2-1/2 hours on Dec. 7, 2012 and 2-1/2 hours on March 9, 2013
 
June 6, 2013: I met with Ray for about an hour and a half and he checked with the squadron publication "The Jug" and Gerald Devine was not in his squadron. Ray knew all the pilots, so Gerald Devine may have been a pilot with another fighter squadron in his fighter group. Gerald Devine's account of the Nagasaki mission sounded like he may have been on the same mission, which is possible. There may have been planes from the other squadron with Ray's squadron. Ray said he didn't recall hearing the hum just before the atomic bomb was dropped. He said that during his time in the Pacific they had a couple of pilots who went down and had to bail out over water on the way back to Ie Shima. There wasn't anything the squadron could do since they were often running short on gas. The Japanese came out from islands they still occupied and picked up the pilots. Ray met two of them at reunions who survived the war, but one paid a terrible price with his health from the experience. Ray said he was too old to go to any more reunions or to do any more video or TV interviews. Ray said he will try and find out more about Gerald Devine and which squadron he was with. There are photos of Devine in Europe with a P-47, which is where he started his long military service that extended into three wars. I gave Ray a copy of the Stars and Stripes article about Gerald Devine, an account of an A-26 Bomb Group who saw the Nagasaki mushroom cloud after bombing Kanoya (they thought it was 20-30 miles away, when it was actually about 100 miles away), and the latest draft of my research.
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* About terminology: The Jug, which is a publication about the 465th Squadron, listed the mission on 9 Aug. 1945 as "Strafing (Fighter Sweep) Kyushu, Japan"  instead of as an "Escort" mission. A "Fighter Sweep" in military terminology is "An offensive mission by fighter aircraft to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft or targets of opportunity in an allotted area of operations." An Escort mission in military terminolgy is "Aircraft assigned to protect other aircraft during a mission." This mission was both. By doing what appeared to be a fighter sweep in Kyushu, they were protecting other aircraft, the B-29s, during their mission, by keeping Japanese fighters out of the air and on the ground. This was an escort mission at a distance. The Japanese on the ground mistakenly thought that since they only saw two B-29s overhead that they were probably on a weather mission. If taking off from the ground after the atomic bombing, a slower Japanese fighter would not have been able to gain altitude and catch up to the faster B-29s already at altitude. According to the Army Air Forces in World War II website there were also other raids on Kyushu on April 9, 1945. The airfields at Kanoya were hit by B-25s, A-26s, and A-20s. 
 
In Japan, B-25s over Kyushu Island, bomb airfields at Kanoya, the town of Noma, shipping in Beppu Bay, bridges, factories, and oil storage at Tsurusaki, and shipping, coastal villages, and communications targets in the Tsushima Strait area; A-26s and A-20s hit Kanoya Airfield and the industrial areas of Kushikino, Minato, and Shimahira; B-24s over W Honshu Island bomb the airfield at Iwakuni; 200+ P-47s and P-51s hit numerous targets on Shikoku and Kyushu Islands, and in the Ryukyu Islands including airfields, barracks, harbor installations, bridges, shipping, vehicles, and various factories and storage facilities.
 
The USAAF Chronology adds that:
 
200+P-47s and P-51s hit numerous targets on Shikoku and Kyushu Islands, and in the Ryukyu Islands including airfields, barracks, harbor installations,
bridges, shipping, vehicles, and various factories and storage facilities.
 
 The second atomic bomb mission was described as follows.
 
 (Twentieth Air Force): The second and last atomic bomb of World War II is dropped on Japan; Major Charles W Sweeney pilots a B-29, BOCK'S CAR, off the runway at North Field, Tinian Island, Mariana Islands, at 0230 hours; he is followed by 2 observation B-29s-the GREAT ARTISTE piloted by Captain Frederick C Bock (who has exchanged planes with Sweeney for the mission) and another B-29 piloted by Major James I Hopkins (who loses contact with the other 2 B-29s); the primary target, Kokura, is obscured by bad weather; the attack is made against the secondary target, Nagasaki. The bomb, dropped from 28,900 feet (8,809 meters) at 1158 hours (1058 hours Nagasaki time), explodes about a minute after release. Japanese reports claim nearly 24,000 killed; US figures estimate about 35,000. The attacking B-29s refuel on Okinawa, and return to Tinian by 2339 hours. Mission 322: During the night of 9/10 Aug, 95 B-29s bomb the Nippon Oil Refinery at Amagasaki; 2 others hit alternate targets.
 
 
Below are color home movies shot and narrated by a member of Ray's 465th squadron illustrating the places they visited, Majuro, Ie Shima, Okinawa. The third You Tube video shows color gun combat footage of ground and sea strafing attacks including the Japanese radar station.  

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U.S. Flag (waving)

Raymond Leo TARTE



Loving Husband, Dad, Grandpa Age 94, of Oak Park Heights Formerly of Hayward, WI. He will be sadly missed by wife of 72 years, Roselyn; daughters, Rachelle Swanson, Linda (Robert) Varing, Christine (Ian) Cheshire and Andrea (Michael) Leinfelder; grandchildren, Stephanie (Mark) Engen, Steven Varing, Meredith (Jamie) Boll, Janna (Juan) Barroso, Tamzin Tarte-Booth, Sonja (Phil) Hills and Andrew Leinfelder; 9 great-grand-children; 1 great-great-grandchild; sister, Norma Schneider; many nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends. Mass of Christian Burial Friday, 11:00 A.M. at CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL, 611 South Third Street, Stillwater. Private interment Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Visitation one hour prior to the Mass at church. 2800 Curve Crest Blvd., Stillwater 651-439-5511
Published in Pioneer Press on Sept. 9, 2014- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/twincities/obituary.aspx?pid=172401049#sthash.NCNGWxhn.dpuf
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