Thursday, March 10, 2005

(18-1) HICKAM FIELD, DECEMBER 7, 1941 [Part 2] by Jim Fulton

I can’t remember that we’d ever had any training on what to do in case of air raid. Some of the guys ran across the street into the parking lot. One was shot in the rump and, strangely, later died. Our Squadron Commander Major Laverne G. “Blondie” Saunders, came running from the officers quarters and slid in on his belly alongside the barracks as a Jap plane strafed him. He yelled for us to get to the flight line and continued on toward our planes. Many of the older non-com’s seemed more confused then the younger men. A M/Sgt. in the 26th Bomb Sq. ordered his men to line up in formation to march to the hanger—a Jap plane dropped a frag bomb and splattered many of them onto the walls. Our 23rd guys took off running on their own. I was the first GI to reach the radio shack in the hanger, but somehow our section chief, S/Sgt. Schlotte, had already gotten there from NCO quarters near the Pearl Harbor fence. He assigned me to the field telephone switchboard linking us to 5th Bomb Group Headquarters.

A rookie navigator cadet watching the show from the doorway beside the shack ignored our yells to take cover and was shot in the chest. Good men risked their lives getting him to the hospital under fire. My crew’s bombardier, T/Sgt. “Shanty” O’Shea, was hiding in the concrete bombsight vault outside the radio shack, drunkenly yelling. “THE FLAG’S STILL FLYING”

Two of my buddies, Bill Hamilton, and Lee Benbrooks, told me they were going back to the barracks for pistols and helmets, and they’d get some for me. When they came running back to the radio shack they handed me a helmet (shallow, WW1 style) but said they couldn’t get me a gun. I told them if I didn’t have a gun, I wasn’t going where I’d need a helmet. They each grabbed a .30 caliber machine gun and ammo from the armament shack and ran out to install them in dispersed B-18’s Lee go his gun going first and, not having tracer rounds in his ammo belt, was firing at Jap fighters without drawing return fire. But when Bill opened up with tracer, the Japs dove on them and a bullet went thru the fuselage, right between Lee’s legs.

The low-level attack eased up, but then we saw silver planes high, coming in over the mouth of the harbor, starting their bomb-drop at the far end of Hanger Row from us. They hit every hanger down the line including the 31st Bomb/4th econ squadrons’ hanger right next to ours, but, fortunately for us, the bombs meant for the 23rd/72nd Sq’s hanger drifted off toward the barracks. Consequently the 23rd only had seven men killed during the raid.

Another radio operator, “Hunk” Elsasser, and I were told to report to a 4th Recon Sq. old B-18 which had been dispersed into the outfield toward Honolulu airport. I was not overjoyed to be going up in a plane with piddling little single .30 caliber guns rather then the dual .50’s I’d gotten used to in the B-17. On our way to the 4th Recon plane, Hunk and I ran past a B-18 with flames coming from its nose compartment. Billie Smith from the 23rd radio shack had burned his hand badly trying to get the hatch open to save the young kid who had been firing at the Jap planes and was now trapped. No one could help him as the bombardier’s compartment melted down around him. (Billie now is my across-the-river neighbor and, with me, founded the 23rd Bomb Sq. Assoc. in 1982. Billie is also the husband of long-time secretary of BGS, Marion Smith of Merritt Island who died 15 June 2004.)

As we waited for orders to take off I was pleased the strafing had eased up because there was no place to hide out there except under that B-18 loaded with bombs. Suddenly a plane came zooming down the line from the direction of the mountains. It was a P-40 fighter from Wheeler Field and was completely silhouetted by a hail of tracers from machine guns on top of the Marine Barracks at Pearl. The pilot kept dropping down, trying to buildings and trees between him and those guns till he wasn’t 10 feet off the ground. Some of those bullets fell around us. I KNEW THE PILOT WAS DEAD! But later heard that he had limped back to Wheeler and SURVIVED.

Read our next Newsletter, June 2005, to see what happened to Jim and his buddies. See you in JUNE.


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