TSgt. Allan #15

Letter #15 "My #68 Never Showed Up"

Note: Pictures added for clarity. Pictures are not necessarily originals from TSgt. Allan

15-Allan-My #68 Never Showed Up.

There was little or no leave until the Surgeon General finally, after two or more years, got around to checking on the health of the men. After finding out about the ailments and general morale and that most of the troops had been in the jungles under battle conditions for at least two years, he screamed, "Get these men out of here!" I don't know who, if anyone, heard him, but it wasn't a "need for leave" anymore; it was "combat fatigue."

From then on six or eight men got to go. Big deal! One of the "zebras" (as the Aussie girls called a man with several stripes on his arm) brought back to the squadron, a case of "mechanized dandruff." Via the latrine he gave it to the whole outfit, me included. Most men suffered or sought aid :from the corpsman. After seeing the effects of that medication, I vowed to do my own treatment -- if the time ever came! Oh, it came all right so I used 100-octane gas to drown those poor little rascals. I blistered as much with that treatment as the others who used prescribed medicine. Everyone, including me, was walking bow-legged for weeks. It was a bitch to get cleaned out. It just kept spreading.

I speak often of the jungle in the northern territory. We ain't seen nuttin' yet: Until the Buna area. Aussie land was usually dry, brittle, and brown. New Guinea was mostly green, dank, strangling, and lousy!

At one time several Australian pilots came to 29 Mile Strip. They were to fly our ships as a wartime publicity stunt for Aussie consumption. A camera crew would take a close- up of the pilot in the cockpit and then a long shot of him taking off. Our ground crews were told to vamoose. I don't remember why. Maybe they brought their own. A recent TV tabloid "Spitfires over Australia" showed a number of that hot craft defending Darwin from Jap bombers in 1942. The 49th, my old outfit, was at Darwin for most of 1942, and I never saw or even heard a Spitfire! That is the reason we were there! All Australia had to protect herself were "Wirraways" -- similar to an AT 6–and Brewster Buffaloes. The zeroes shot them down like flies. Who am I to say they were not there! Their prime fighters (I think some early P 40's) were all in North Africa. The Spits were mostly at home in England. (I am not an expert in this particular history.) We called the Wirraways, "Wirlaways" after that great race horse of the period just so they wouldn't feel so humble.

Three or four enlisted men, the first to get leave in Darwin, were aboard a "Street-Car" (C-47). The next thing we heard, it had crashed somewhere. All aboard, I think, were killed except one who was thrown out and hit the ground running, and instinctively kept running till he collapsed in exhaustion. A lieutenant was also one of those who were killed. He was our adjutant. I can remember only one other of the casualties -- quite a hush was on the whole camp for a few days.

On to Port Moresby and the other great wild island in the Pacific! Our station in Port Moresby was to be at Three-Mile strip, or in native "Kila-Kila," three miles from down town Moresby and the former civilian air line point. I never saw any evidence of Hangars or shop or lodging buildings. The runway was somewhat rolly-polly and had two high hills on each end that had to be flown between, both on landing and taking off. The best thing about it, the pierced metal mat was all in place! The strip was two or three hundred feet from the bay. Between the strip and the bay were swamps, mangrove root masses, and crocs. We never ventured more than ten steps off the strip on that side. The local road was along the other side. At the end of the strip it turned inland up a steep hill for about one half mile. Our camp was at the end (at the top of the hill).

We had just received a few new pilots, and some of the older ones went home, or at least South! "My" ship was assigned to a new young pilot. When he came to check her out, we talked a bit. He said his sister had been a nurse in the Philippines and was killed by the Japs. He vowed that if, when the time came, he proved to be a failure at combat flying, he would get at least one to go with him -- by way of a head on collision! One day, after the planes came straggling in, my #68 never showed up. I waited at the strip for several hours thinking she would still come home. Maybe he sat her down some place because of trouble -- at 17 Mile or 14 Mile. After all was quiet and dark and the others had gone to bed, the line chief came by making the last check of the night. He asked why I was still hanging around, sitting in the dark. I told him that perhaps my plane was just flying along on a slow throttle, and maybe, just maybe, would still make it home. He said #68 was not coming back. It was lost in combat. Without another word, he drove on, and I started walking that long road home to camp. As I wearily climbed the steep hill, his last few words came to me: ". . . at least one will go with me." Did he accomplish his task? Did he avenge his sister? I hope so!

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