Jun 16, 2014
I was born in 1922 and raised in Northern California. I was attending Santa Rosa Junior College when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We were actually a bit confused as to where Pearl was, the best guess being somewhere in the Phillippines.
I volunteered in 1942 into the aviation cadet program. The flying schools were so loaded that it took several months before I was assigned. I graduated as a second lieutenant.
I was trained in a P-38 (my first airplane love) and sent to the Pacific theater to the 49th Fighter group, Squadron 9…the Flying Knights based in New Guinea. The 49th was the leading Army Air Corps fighter group in the Pacific having shot more than 500 enemy planes down.
In October 1944, we were scheduled to the Philippines Leyte Island. We made camp a couple of miles from the airfield while the Navy CB’s made it useable for us. While we waited, we noticed that every morning at day break, 2-3 Japanese Zeros or Ocars would strafe the air strip attempting to keep it unusable.
16 P-38s were flown in and since there were few parking spaces, they had to be parked wing-tip to wing-tip along the side of the runway.
The next morning, I was assigned to fly. At the pre-flight briefing, I informed the squadron leader of the morning strafing and suggested that we all get in the air before it gets light. He merely smiled and advised me not to worry.
We were awakened around 4:30 AM and had a leisurely breakfast. Our leader was in no hurry as we climbed into our planes. He was first to take off but stayed on the runway checking his plane out….eventually taking off. By the time he was in the air it was completely day break with the sun starting to shine.
I heard three loud bangs from the anti-aircraft canons and told my crew chief who was standing on my wing that he should get off and to the bomb shelter.
In a few seconds, I saw 3 Zeros 2 to 3 miles north of the airstrip. It looked as if they were going to attack some of the ships in the harbor. But then, they spotted our row of 8 P-38s still on the ground.
With a P-38 taking off on the runway in front of us, we had no time or space to turn our planes getting our armor plate between us and the attack. All we could do was sit there and watch……and pray.
I said, “Dear Lord, I am within a group of 8 P-38s with pilots, sitting alongside the runway at the Tacloban Airport. WE are totally vulnerable and helpless to 3 enemy pilots that are diving on us. Please make those pilots poor shots!”
In the next 5 or 6 seconds, a miracle happened. My plane received 32 holes, many larger than 20 millimeter cannon holes…but I was not hit. Others were shot up just as bad but every one of the eight pilots escaped unharmed.
The zeros flew right over the top of us…so close we could see their faces. Fearing that they would turn around and come at us again, we shut off our motors and made a run for the bomb shelter. My plane and my Elimate leader’s planes were shot up so bad, they had to just push them off and into the adjoining ocean.
My crew chief was not as lucky, however. Two 20 millimeter canon shells took him down….he died shortly afterwards.
Because of that leisurely breakfast and the lack of urgency by our leader, half of great and famous 9th Squadron never even got off the ground in their first mission to the Philippines.
A month later, 4 of us were on patrol over the east half of Leyte when we sighted 10 enemy fighters. In the battle that followed, the 4 of us shot 7 of the 10 without losing a plane. Because 3 of us shot down more than 2 of the planes, we were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
One day while taking a day off from missions, we were awakened by Col. Gerry Johnson, the 49th Fighter Group commander. General McArthur was to arrive to decorate Major Dick Bong with the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Col informed us that it was our responsibility to insure the safety of Gen McArthur’s trip. We soon learned that did not mean escorting his plane but digging him a bomb shelter in case of attack.
Of course, when we found the true nature of the Colonel’s wishes, we informed him that we didn’t know the first thing of how to build a bomb shelter. He replied, “Neither does anyone else so get your asses down there and get busy.”. He told us to insure it had a roof and that it could hold several people.
We found a mound and dug the hole. For a roof, we found an old wooden flag pole and laid out cut palm tree branches on it. We shoveled some dirt on top and the roof did not have a sturdy look but..it was hot and we called it quits for the day.
An hour later, the Col was at our door addressing us with two words: “You Bastards!”. He was furious and said that he would not get in that shelter for all the tea in China. He said the General would be there in the morning and we had better have constructed a new and strong roof by then.
We found a wrecked twin engine Sally bomber, took off it’s wing, and with a little help, we had a new strong roof. General McArthur arrived the next day by barge with his staff and plenty of media. He made his presentation and left….our shelter was never used.
However, about a week later, one of our airport ground crew thanked me for helping build the shelter. He said one of his crew sawed 4 holes in a long wooden platform and the shelter was now the most popular privy on the base. It had been aptly named the McArthur House or Dug out Doug’s place.
In the year that we were there, I completed 109 combat missions before being sent back home.
After the war, I worked as a flying instructor and even had my own school. It was then that I met the love of my life, Clara, and we are still married 64 yrs later.
While in the reserves, I made my first flight in a jet fighter…a F-84. My mom was nervous because since it was a rocket of sorts, she thought I had to fly laying down. And I was nervous also. The ejection seats were not perfected yet and it was scary. If you pulled the cord wrong, you could lose a finger or even a limb. They gave us an alternative…..stall and roll off of one of the wings. Didn’t seem like a very good alternative to me.
In 1950, I was recalled for the Korean War. I was assigned to the 93 Fighter Squadron in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The 93rd was flying the fastest fighter planes in the world, the f-86 Sabre. Higher command asked us to demonstrate it so four of us entered the air races in Detroit. The four of us flew from Chicago on a low-level flight to Detroit in a little over 21 minutes averaging 672 miles per hour. At that time, the record had been 670 MPH.
In my job as Maintenance Engineering officer, I was responsible for making planes safe. So, when one was declared unfit, I was also the test pilot. While on three different and dangerous test flights, it occurred to me that I could be in a safer place than to figure out what was wrong with a faulty plane.
When my 21 month tour was up, I could have worked as production and test pilot for the new North American Aircraft Co. My family, however, didn’t want me to take the offer so I didn’t…to this day, I wish I would have.
We settled in Ukiah, California and after driving through the Bend area decided that we wanted to live there someday. We moved to Oregon in 1960 and eventually ended up in Bend in 1967. We have been here since.
Central Oregon was good for us. Our two sons and two daughters plus 11 grand kids all love the area. My kids turned out to be great snow skiers.
I worked in farm and ranch appraisal for 47 years and was a member of three investment groups on the side.
One of those groups, the Wildwood Investment Group, purchased and sub-divided the Gillworth Ranch but then lost our shirts on a 320 acre travel trailer resort called Fort Laramie West. We eventually did quite well purchasing 360 acres on the West side of Bend and selling it to a California builder who built Sunrise Village.
I retired and closed my office in Bend at the age of 85.
Clare and I have traveled the world and have learned one thing…there is no place like Central Oregon. Bend is the best place in the world to live.
I am Captain Jack Lewis and my sons still brag that at one time, I was one of the fastest men in the world.