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13th Bomb Squadron11668 Reads  Printer-friendly page

KoreaI spent only a short time in Korea but my Korean service stands as an important part of my life. I well remember there were times near sunrise when my crew on the west coast and another crew from the 17th Bb Gp on the east coast were the northernmost Americans and stood symbolically alone between Communism and Democracy.
I arrived in Korea on Dec. 15th 1951. I was assigned to the 3rd Bomb Group at Kunsan, designated as "K-8", and further assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron. Our B-26s were trimmed in red and carried our Squadron logo, "Oscar", the Grim Reaper, on the nose. It was a "gung ho" squadron with tremendous esprit de corp. During this period of the war the mission of the B-26s was to interdict the flow of communist supply traffic from Manchuria to the front lines near the 38th parallel. We flew almost exclusively at night, low level, through the valleys searching for trucks and trains. The B-26s were generally equipped in one of two ways. The airplanes we called a "soft nose" Plexiglas nose with a bombardier or navigator in the front. The other type was called a "hard nose", and these planes were equipped with either 6 or 8 .50 caliber machine guns in the nose. Both types had 3 guns in each wing, plus a gunner who usually had upper and lower turrets with two .50 caliber guns in each. Both types of planes carried a generous bomb load in the belly and on hard points under the wings. It was claimed we carried as heavy a load as a B-17 during WW II. I flew my first dollar ride on Dec. 30th 1951. I flew with a pilot known as "Choo Choo Baker" on a flight to Red 19. From takeoff to landing I never knew where we were. I remember the plane diving in to the blackness of an inkwell and the explosion which blew a truck all over N. Korea. The 3rd time I crawled into a B-26 I went north of the bomb line. I flew with many pilots and came to know many brave men. I knew others who were said to strafe until they ran out of oxygen. We called them tigers and pussycats. I think the gunners were the bravest of them all. They flew cooped up in their compartments, with their only knowledge of the mission what they could see from their periscope and the conversation from the front over the intercom. There were many great "Tigers" during my tour. The greatest Tiger of them all was Chuck Wolfe. Then a Captain, Wolfe had 13,400 hours in 70 different aircraft. He flew many of the special missions which no one talked about. On one occasion it was reported that he dropped a load of cigarettes on a POW camp. Other Tigers were Captain Ayotte, Jim Braly, Don Soefker and his buddy Joe Johnson, and of course the Squadron Commander, Fortney. Johnson, out of sheer joy, once performed barrel rolls on his return from a combat mission. I once made a notation in my diary that one of the first three mentioned would not make it back. Captain Braly was shot down but bailed out over Chodo and came back with his crew. Early in my tour each Squadron had a mix of hard-noses and soft-noses. On Feb. 8th then Major Fortney brought one of the hard nosed planes, it was the "6th Chadwick", back muddy and with holes in the nose from flying through the debris of his own rocket blast. Sometime in this period the 13th was to become low level specialists, and all the hard noses were transferred to the 13th. I remember when Lt. Johnnie Grubbs volunteered to fly an extra mission beyond the required 55 on February 8th. Grubbs flew an airplane called "Old Able", which was the most decrepit airplane on the line, but it was a beautiful and beloved airplane because it took its damage and always came home. On that mission they were hit, and Grubbs couldn't see to fly home due to a wound in the head. Lt. Vince Alessi, the navigator, gave Grubbs a modified on-board GCA from the right seat and directed Grubbs back to a landing at K-8. Alessi and Grubbs both got Silver Stars for that. It must have seemed it was going to be a hard war for Alessi. On January 4th Alessi was with Dick Gerrity and Robert Ferguson when Dick aborted aircraft Nan on takeoff and went off the end of the runway onto the mud flats. The nose gear collapsed, the hard nose dug into the sand and flipped over on its back. The plane was an unbelievable mess. The frag bombs opened and scattered bomblets everywhere. Amazingly the entire crew got out of the plane OK just before the tide came in to drown them. Robert Ferguson went through the mine field of frags, and dug Alessi out with a piece of the windshield. Robert earned a Soldiers Medal for that. I remember working Purple-11 (the jet jockeys called it MIG alley) with Capt. Al Koscuiszko on February 7th. We stopped a train west of the river at Sinanju. In some of the lowest low level work I ever experienced, we came scooting across the mud flats and PULLED UP to shoot at the engine which was on the embankment of the river. We got lots of steam from the engine but it never exploded. We went around a hill and the flak continued to track us and shoot over the hill - even after we were out of sight. The escape pattern took us over Chonju where other people shot at us. Chonju was an unfriendly place. I remember the brave North Korean gunners at the Quaksan Curve near the railroad just west of Chonju. Some pilots engaged in duels with them. The North Koreans always fired back. I was happy to stay away from that landmark, but I flew with pilots who attacked it. Lt. James Van Fleet was assigned to the 13th sometime about March 15. Its tough to be a young Lt. in a Tiger Squadron when your father is the Commanding General of the Theater. Van Fleet went down on April 3rd while on his 4th mission. With him went navigator John MacAllaster and gunner Ralph Phelps. I think the search lasted three days. When the moon was up we searched for trains and lost airplanes. "How's the moon?" "Full"! "There'll be battle damage tonight." When the moon is down you search for trucks. Hard nosed airplanes could be dangerous when the moon was up because you had to get down low to use them on trains. Hard nosed airplanes could be dangerous when the moon was down because you had to get down low in the black to use them on trucks. Or you might work under the flares so you could see the roads when the moon was black. Then the Commies could see you as well as you could see them. It sounds corny now, but we really called them "Commies". Some people said the trains had stopped running during this period. Not so! On back-to-back missions on May 4th and May 5th with Capt. Ayotte we found and damaged trains. Ayotte was a Tiger. The rail-cut program only stopped trains for a while. The fighter-bombers dropped delayed action fuses on the rail lines during the day and the Commies tried to fix the rails so the trains could run at night. On April 12th I flew with an administrative pilot to rail-cuts on Purple 11. Captain "Smith" was a Pussycat. When we got to our rail-cut coordinates south of Chonju we found the rails were already cut. There were three trains end-to-end waiting for the rails to be repaired. We never got close to the trains with our bombs but the pilot called in the strike report that we had hit the trains. The next pilot in the area looked for the trains and never found them. I'll bet he didn't look in the rail yards in Chonju. I wouldn't have wanted to! When the moon was full and you got down to look for trains you would always find flak. North Korean gunners would be firing 20 mm or 40mm guns at us with tracers. They looked like they were squirting up little red golf balls. I remember a mission with Jim Braly when we were stooging around east of Pyong-yang at 7,500 feet and some anti-aircraft fire hosed up our way. I announced to Jim, "No sweat on the flak. They only have a range of 6,000 feet." As I said this I HEARD (that's right, I said HEARD) the shells pass over the canopy with a 'whit...whit.. whit.whit.whit.whit. I'd forgotten the hills were 3,500 feet in that area. People said the Commies were stringing cables between the hills to snag airplanes. I never believed it. Oh, we hit cables all right but we forget that North Korea was an industrial country. Those were power lines we were hitting, but they were just as effective as cables. There was always flak around. When the action on Purple-11 became too hot we would circle around a big island off the coast south of Chonju, which was always secure. Then when we thought the gunners had gone out for tea we would go back in for a few more quick passes. There were many searchlights in this area - not always in use. On May 5th, Lt. Soefker flew home with his rudder shot out. Then on May 30th he came back with mud all over the front of the airplane from rocket blasts. Soefker was an F-51 pilot. He once told me he flew the B-26 like his F-51. On May 25th I learned what the searchlights were for. Capt. Jim Braly was my pilot on this night and we flew all over Purple-11 and no one shot at us. Not a single burst. There were searchlights everyplace. Finding no targets to attack, Braly began to shoot out searchlights. You can't comprehend the brightness of a searchlight beam. After 40 minutes in the light we saw an enemy prop fighter caught in his own searchlights. Then we knew why there was no flak. In early June my 50 mission tour was coming to a close. The moon was full on June 5th & 6th. Braly and I had discussed flying our own special mission for several weeks. (Surely the statute of limitations has run, hasn't it?) We would go far up north where they didn't even know there was a war going on. On June 5th it was my 49th mission. We were going up Purple 5 - all the way up the long canyon to Kangye and reccy the railroad west from Kangye to the reservoir. I called it Purple 5 North double North. It was a beautiful night to fly - not beautiful in regard to visibility but beautiful in regard to the white cumulous clouds and the rugged landscape and the bright moonlight. We had scarcely left Kangye going west when we found the first train, but in a place we couldn't get to. South of the railroad was a shear cliff several thousand feet high. The track ran along the base of the cliff and a train was parked in a bowl. There was no way to make a run at it. In desperation Braly finally made a run toward the cliff, made a sharp right banking turn into a near high speed stall and tried to throw the bomb onto the cliff to start an avalanche. According to my diary we spotted six trains that night but couldn't work them because of the low cumulus clouds and the rugged terrain. Since we were not working our route I don't know what we reported. I finished my 50th and last mission on June 6th - another beautiful night to fly. We had bright clear weather and a full moon. A non-aviator wouldn't believe how bright it can be. The moon made it near daylight. We were flying in a glass nosed airplane and I was in the nose. Our assigned route was Green 8 West from Pyongyang to Chinampo - an area without a railroad. We searched the roads and there was nothing - it was like the war had ended. Then we found a truck hurrying down the road but passed him before getting a chance to attack. Braly made a 90 degree and a 270 degree turn to come back down the road to get him. He was gone. How could he disappear from that road? We searched up and down the road and he was gone. Then I found him. One smart driver. He was parked in the shade of a tree and nearly invisible. Parked in the shade at night! We didn't get him. I don't remember why. On the way home we had some bombs remaining and we made another attempt to bring down the smokestack at Chinampo. The stack must have been 500 foot tall and everybody tried to get it. The smokestack was still standing when I left. Don Mathews tells a story about the Chinampo smokestack. He tells about the navigator who had misplaced the wafer switch on his communications box and had it on Command. A radar operator on the island of Chodo - just southwest of Chinampo - was treated to the navigators running commentary on the war. As they headed south they decide to drop their last bombs on the smokestack. The navigator tells the pilot, "Pull up you son-of-a-***** - you're going to hit the smokestack." Then he discovers his wafer switch on command and switches back to intercom. Noting the silence - the radar operator comes on and says, "Did you make it?" I finished my 50th mission and turned Jim Braly over to the care of a new navigator, Jim Petree. On Braly's first mission with Petree he insisted on attacking a target that the rest of the crew thought was suspicious. It was a flak trap and the plane was riddled. Jim nursed the B-26 to Chodo Island off the west coast for bailout. They couldn't open the belly doors for the gunner, Stan Brown, to bail out and Stan went out the top hatch, over the radio compass dome and off the horizontal stabilizers. I think he was the only gunner to ever succeed as this. Braly and Petree also survived the bailout. Late May and early June were bad days. May 30th the Group lost two crews in one night. The 90th lost Major Wilson and his crew and the 13th lost Ray Wells, navigator Robert Ramsey and gunner Clarence Wheelright. On June 6th Archie Tranthan, Jack Burrel and Jim Cave went down. The word went around they had reported they were on fire and bailing our over the island south of Purple 11 - probably gotten by a fighter. On the 7th Howard Schoenover, David Dell and Fred Ward's crew crashed on takeoff - again a 13th plane. Then on June 23rd another airplane crashed at the end of the runway killing gunner Don Hart. From the end of May through the July period there were 7 consecutive losses from the 13th. I left Korea on June 28th. Sometime not long after that the Group stood down for training and new rules were put in effect about the use of the hardnoses and other mission procedures. I heard the hard noses were redistributed back among the 8th and 90th Squadrons. Someone discovered we were flying the airplanes overgrossed (big surprise!) and the loads were cut down. Who could imagine a slick winged B-26 departing on a combat mission. I look back at my service in Korea with great pride. Although I could not have said it so eloquently, I felt as Captain Byron Dobbs, who said, "...I did feel that the United Nations would live or die on the basis of what happened on this peninsula. I felt that I should do my part." Captain Dobbs and Jim Stanley, who was a navigator classmate of mine, stood up to the germ warfare torture and came home with their pride. People have forgotten there was another war with fuzzy aims in which people fought and died and came home without brass bands and welcome home parades. I am proud that I did my part.
Note: by Charles Hinton


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Re: 13th Bomb Squadron
by Anonymous
on Jun 12, 2002
Do you think we could use this format to accomplish the A26 memorial at USAFA that we discussed? We have a 501 c 3 org in place which could be the sponsoring org. There does seem to be some interest, just not in the 13th.
Give this some thought. Robert @

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