The Service & Collection of S/Sgt Jack Heyn


 3rd Bombardment Group, 5th Air Force, USAAF


"The Grim Reapers"



 Part I - United States to Dobodura



In May 1941 I graduated from Watertown H.S., Watertown, South Dakota.  The war in Europe had been raging for almost 2 years and it was just a matter of time before we got involved.  I had got interested in photography in high school and wanted to stay with it.  Being a kid of the Great Depression there was no money for photography schools.  The Army Air Corp had a program going where by if you enlisted you could pick your school: mechanics, communication etc. They had an excellent photography school at Lowry Field in Denver. I had a sister living in Omaha so on 29 August I headed down to Omaha and enlisted in the Army Air Corp with the promise to attend the photography school. 


The first week I spent at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It consisted of orientation, aptitude tests etc. On the GCT I scored 141, you had to have at least 110 to qualify for officer – I had no desire to be an officer, just wanted to be a photographer.  Then we were sent to Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis for our basic training. I arrived at Jefferson Barracks (photo 1) ready and willing to train to be a soldier. That training proved to be a farce. It rained a good bit of time, and that put us inside for lectures. What little outside work we got was mostly close order drills and stuff on the parade grounds. No training with rifles, or bayonets, no 25 mile hikes – nothing that would prepare you for any kind of combat. 


Jefferson Barracks overlooked the mighty Mississippi River, and was really a nice area (photo 2).  We did get passes to go into town on weekends.  Saw my first major league baseball game at old Sportsmen Park (photo 3).  I also visited Forest Park, a nice place (photo 4).  One Saturday night this green 18 year old kid visited a gin mill with a couple older guys.  Danced with a gal that I’m sure was looking for a bed partner for the night. This green kid got the hell out of there in a hurry. After four weeks I was handed traveling orders.  There were no openings at the school, so I was assigned to Hq. Squadron, 3rd Bomb. Group (L) at Savannah Army Air Base, Savannah, Georgia; and scheduled to attend the school in January 1942.


Savannah, Georgia


Upon my arrival at Hq. Squadron, Savannah, I was advised that I was scheduled to attend the photography school in January 1942.  In the meantime what to do with this green kid from the Dakotas.  I did have some typing skills, so I was assigned to Group Operations Office as a clerk typist. Operations was out on the hangar line, and this was all new to me, and very interesting. I don’t recall if I was not allowed to bring my camera with me on the hangar line, but I have no photos of my time in Operations in Savannah.  The only photos I have are at the barracks, and a couple I took on a trip into Savannah at a yacht basin (photos 7-8).  What I was doing at a yacht basin I have no idea.


But it was an interesting time for me, and I had my first ride in an airplane. It was an observation plane, had room for the pilot and a couple in a cockpit behind the pilot, and an opening in the bottom for a camera. 


At the base was a squadron of twin wing Grumman fighter planes.  They used to take off 3 abreast and were noisy as hell.  The 3rd Group consisted of five tactical squadrons – Hq., 8th, 13th, 89th and 90th.  8th was equipped with the A-24, the army version of the (SBD) navy dive bomber.  The other four squadrons had the fairly new A-20 light bomber. There again, I have no photos of any of these planes, I expect it was because I was not allowed to bring my camera on the hangar line.


The first of December they started arranging for Christmas furloughs.  Being a late comer I had to take mine early, Dec. 6. Also being a short timer I only got seven days, instead of the 15 the others got. No way I could get to South Dakota and back and spend any time with family in seven days.  I had a sister working in Washington D.C., and an old boyhood buddy, Erv Von Walk, that had moved to D.C when we were in high school. So Saturday, Dec. 6, I got on a bus and headed for D.C.  My sis and Erv met me and I stayed with Erv’s family.  We were enjoying a nice Sunday dinner when Erv and I headed up to the corner drug store for ice cream. They had the radio on and were getting the bulletin that the Japs were attacking Pearl Harbor. 






That night I received a telegram to report back to base PDQ.  Couldn’t get a bus out until Monday night.  So Erv. gave me a whirlwind tour of our nation’s capitol (photos 9-11).  We were standing outside the Capitol Building photographing it when FDR was declaring war on the Japanese Empire. That night Erv took me down to the bus station to send me back to Savannah (photo 12).  It would be three and a half years before I would see any of my family again, and I would have traveled half way around the world and back.


The first week back at base was a bit hectic, and then we started packing for a move. Nobody knew where or when, but we packed. Christmas that year was a rather sombre time, did get to Mass on Christmas Day, and New Years Day. On January 19th we  boarded a train and headed west. When we got to Denver we had a slight delay in the station area. There was a phone nearby so some tried to make phone calls. My folks didn’t have a phone, but the landlady in the apartment where they lived did, so I gave her a call and she got my Mom on the phone.  Told her we were moving, had no idea where to but we suspected possibly the P.I..  And that was the last time I talked to any family for another 3+ years.  We arrived in Oakland and were put up in a huge warehouse building, big enough for all five squadrons.  There we would sit. We did pull work details to help load the USS Ancon, and could get short passes to go into town. At 1:30 AM January 31 we boarded the USS Ancon. We pulled out of the harbor about two that afternoon.  When we hit those ground swells out side the harbor – for the next four days I didn’t care what happened or where we were going – I was seasick.



Charters Towers



After 25 days on the blue Pacific, and three or four sub alerts, where they did drop some depth charges, we arrived in Brisbane, Australia.  Judging from the news we had been getting on the ship, I think every body heaved a sign of relief that it was not the P.I.  Some Aussie “lorries” hauled us out to Ascot race track where we would spend the next 10 days.  One of the first things we saw on the way to the track was a big bill board on the roof of a building “DRINK COCA COLA”, we felt right at home.  Those 10 days were spent unloading our equipment off the Ancon and onto RR cars.  Then we were on our way again, after about a 3 day ride we arrived at Charters Towers on Mar. 10 – two days before my 19th birthday. 


Now a little back up.  When we left Savannah all our ranking Officers, and a lot of the ranking EMs were left to form a new Group – I believe it turned out to be the 312th Bomb  Group. Also our planes were left at Savannah to pull sub patrol.  We arrived in Charters Towers with a 1st Lt. Gp. Comm. and 5 Lt. Sq. C.Os – and no aircraft.  The powers that be had failed to make arrangements for aircraft for us. There we sat ready and willing to fight a war, but nothing to fight with.  The 27th Bomb Group had been caught in the P.I. with no aircraft, the bulk of the men ended up in the infantry.  42 officers – including Col. John Davies – and 64 E.M. were pulled out of the P.I. and put in the 3rd Bomb Group.  Davies became our Gp. C.O and Majors in the group became Sq. Commanders.  Now we had authority, but still nothing to fight with.   


25 A-24s had been assembled in Brisbane and were headed for the P.I. They only got as far a Java, and were pulled back and put in our 8th Sq.  Col. Davies got wind of 25 B-25s sitting in Melbourne.  They belonged to the Dutch, but they had no pilots to fly them.  Davies flew down with 25 pilots, and came back with the 25 B-25s.  To this day I’m not sure whether they were begged, borrowed or stolen, but now we had something to fly.  They were split between the 13th and 90th Squadrons.  On Mar. 31, 1942 the 8th Squadron pulled the groups first combat mission of the war.  They dropped a half dozen 500 lb. bombs on an airstrip on the north coast of New Guinea.  On April 5 (Easter Sunday) the 13th & 90th pulled their first mission to Gasmata on the Island of New Britain.  A very inauspicious start for a group that would serve 41 months of continuous combat duty, 10 campaigns, collect two Presidential Unit Citations, 1 P.I. Presidential Unit Citation and 1 Congressional Medal of Honor.   


When we arrived in Australia the bulk of their armed forces were fighting in Europe and Africa, they were practically defenceless.  They were expecting a Jap invasion and once we got set up we began doing a little training in the mornings with WWI helmets and WWI Enfield rifles (photo 13). Col. Davies had his quarters in Hq. area (photo 14).  The first few months of the war were extremely costly in both men and aircraft.  The 89th started getting a few A-20s, that really had no business in combat. On July 31 the 8th Squadron flew its last mission with the A-24s, sent seven out, got one back. In August it became evident that there would never be enough planes for five squadrons, so Hq. was deactivated as a tactical unit and became strictly a Hq. squadron.  All combat crews, mechanics, etc. were transferred to the other 4 squadrons.  It was decided Group Operations had one more clerk than needed.  Being the newest guy I was transferred to the 13th Squadron Operations office.  Best thing that happened to me in the army.


Before I get into my transfer to the 13th Squadron and my photographic career I best bring up the “Royce Mission”, which actually was our first real offensive move against the Japs.  MacArthur had moved to Australia, but he had not forgotten Gen. Wainwright who was now in charge of the forces in the P.I.  On April 11, 1942 3 B-17s and 10 of our B-25s – equipped with auxiliary gas tanks –(photo 15) took off from Darwin in N.W. Australia and flew non-stop to Mindanau, the southern most island in the  P.I.  You can read all about it:


It actually was our first offensive of the war against the Japanese, but it got overshadowed in the State side press by the Doolittle mission to Japan which came about 6 days later. 


When I joined the 13th Squadron I was with the original “Grim Reapers”, one of the oldest units in the Air Force. Along with the 8th and 90th they had fought in WWI.  It was full of old timers (photo). Between M/Sgts Adams and Simpson and T/Sgt. Deemie they had close to 100 years service.  The Operations Office was out in the dispersal area (photo). In the office they had some painter’s version (photo 18) of a May 25 mission, we sent 8 aircraft out, got two back.  I repeat, those first few months of the war were very costly to the Group in both men and aircraft.


When I got over to the 13th Operations Office they had a 4x5 Speed Graphic Camera kit.  Nobody knew how to use it, or why they even had it. Maj. A. Eveanoff, Sq. C.O. was an avid shutter bug, usually had his 8mm movie camera with him.  I let him know that all I needed to put that camera to good use was film and the where-with-all to process it, and I could do it.  He made a flight to Brisbane and came back with all the equipment and chemicals we needed, and set S/Sgt. Marvin Culbreth and myself up in the 13th Squadron Photo Shack.(photos)  Very unauthorized and  unorthodox – I could care less, I was now doing what I had joined this man’s army to do.  His rationale was that the men needed a place to get their film processed with out depending on the locals.  And we were at his beck and call when he wanted photographs.






In October the Major lined up all 13 B-25s with combat crew and ground crew lined up in front. And we photographed all of them (photos 22-24).  He also wanted some in flight formation photos, so I had my first and only ride in a B-25 (photo 25).  The Speed Graphic was not a good camera for that type of photography,  I did not get any good formation shots.  The guys that flew those missions had worked up a little ditty to the tune of Bless Em All:  “Those B-25s they rattle and roar – don’t wanta fly out of Moresby no  more”.  After my one flight it made sense; those B-25s did rattle and roar.  But they proved to be one of the “work horses’ of WW II – especially the low level models. 

It soon became evident to the guys that flew them, that as a medium level bomber, they left a lot to be desired.  Capt. “Pappy” Gunn and North American Tech Rep, Jack Fox started experimenting at our base at Charters Towers.  They replaced the bombardier with 4 50 cal guns, hung two more in nacelles on each side of the fuselage (photo).  The pilots started practicing “skip bombing” on a derelict ship in Moresby harbor.  With low level attacks and parafrag bombs they became death to airstrips.  With the pilots skip bombing skills and 500 lb bombs, they became death to shipping.  They had turned a mediocre medium level bomber into a “real mean low level, skip bombing killing machine”  The experimenting was done at our base at Charters Towers, the modifications – on both the B-25 and the A-20 were done in Brisbane.  


Port Moresby


In mid January 1943 we arrived at Port Moresby (photo 27), after spending ten months at Charters Towers.  About the last two months of ’42 we were alternating two squadrons at a time spending two weeks at Moresby.  We now had pretty good control of the air over Moresby and it was reasonably safe to move up.  We still had some night raids by the Japs, but nothing like it was early on; and daylight raids had ceased.  When we were at Charters Towers our tent (home away from home) was just a place to sleep and didn’t demand much attention.  By this time it was pretty evident we were here for the duration, and we took a little more pride in our “home away from home” (photo 28).


About the first ten days we called ourselves the 13th Cement Mixers.  We mixed and poured concrete floors for the mess hall, all offices, and even the photo shack (photo 29).  Added a little something extra to the orderly room.  Added a flag pole, the base of which was a Memorial to those that had already made the supreme sacrifice (photo 30).  

We were about to get involved in the war – Big Time.  The Bismarck Sea Battle.

The last week in February the Japs had been assembling a convoy at Rabaul, with the intentions of reinforcing their position at Lae, N.G.  When they left Rabaul our heavy bombers started going after them, with not too much luck.  It’s pretty hard to hit a moving target from 15-20K feet.  By this time all the B-25s of the 90th Squadron and A-20s of the 89th Squadron had been modified to the low level, attack version.  The 13th Squadron was still flying the medium level models.  About 2 March the convoy got within range of the B-25s and A-20s.  For two days it was “Katy bar the door”, the skip bombers had a field day (photo 31).  The 13th hit them from higher levels (photo 14).  It was a busy hectic two days.  Our planes would take off fairly early in the morning and go do their work.  They would then come back, bomb up, fuel up, and off again.  I’m not sure, after 70 years the memory ain’t so good, but I think the 13th flew either three or four missions those two days. 


When it was over all the ships had either been sunk or disabled, and some 6000 troops had been dumped in the Bismarck Sea.  To the best of my knowledge it was the only sea battle in any war – ever – where the Navy was not involved.  It was strictly a victory for the U.S. 5th Air Force (Kenny’s Kids) and the RAAF.


And the 3rd Bomb Group (Grim Reapers) made a name for themselves.  After that it was pretty routine for the next month.


Then on the morning of April 11th Marvin and I were working in the darkroom when at 10:30 the red alert sounded.  We had never experienced a daylight raid before.  Our darkroom was in the camp area, about a mile from 14 Mile Field where our planes were.  The camp area was in a bit of a valley, so Marvin and I closed up, grabbed our cameras and headed for the top of a hill.  When we got up there we heard aircraft and looked up, we saw the biggest formation of planes we’d ever seen (photo 33). Look close you can see little dots in formations up there.  They were headed right for our hill, we decided we’d be better off down in a slit trench and headed down the hill.  About half way down bombs started exploding and we just hit the dirt.  When they quit we headed on down, grabbed a jeep and headed out to the field.  One part of the formation had broken off and hit 14 Mile Field.  On the way out we saw two plumes of smoke (photo 34), not a good sign.  When we got out there things were a mess. B-25s “Fair Dinkum” and “Baby Blitz” had taken direct hits (photos 35-36).  We had eight B-25s at the time and all but one was put out of action.  It would be a few weeks before the 13th would be resupplied with the low level models. 


The main body headed on down and hit 3 Mile Field.   Hq. camp area was on a hill overlooking the air strip, and next to it was a gasoline dump.  My friend Tack had been on duty the night before and was sleeping in his tent.  When the red alert sounded he ignored it.  They dropped a string of bombs through the gas dump and Hq. camp area.  When they started exploding Tack just rolled out of bed and stayed there.  When it was over his tent was full of shrapnel holes – just wasn’t his day to die. 


It wasn’t all work and no play, though.  We did get time to do a little sightseeing on occasion.  There was a native village about 40 miles up the coast from Moresby.  One day we got transportation and headed up to have a look (photos 37-38).  I had opportunity to view two or three native villages and this was far and away the neatest and cleanest. In May we started packing again and toward the middle of the month we were on the move again.  This time it would be to Dobodura in the Buna-Gona area on the other side of the Owen Stanleys.




In May 1943 we moved from Port Moresby to Dobodura, in the Buna-Gona area on the north side of Papua New Guinea. In Moresby every thing was put on concrete slabs, Dobo was a different situation; we were practically in the jungles, so everything had to be off the ground.  We pulled the raw materials out of the jungle and proceeded to build a new home away from home, complete with electric lights (Jungle Plaza), and also put all the offices off the ground too (photos 41-44). When we got settled in they decided they wanted photos of the different section personnel.  We did them all, including the USS Ancon survivors (photo 45).  When we left the States there were approximately 200 members of the 13th Squadron.  When we took the photo in the summer of ’43 there were 64 still with us.  Some had completed their 50 combat missions and were sent home. The rest were either KIA or MIA. Once again we were able to steal a little time for sightseeing.  This time it was on the Buna Beach and Sanananda Point area (photos 46-47).   This included the Saputa Cemetery where the 32nd and 41st Division men who were lost in the fighting were buried.  They would later be moved to a National Cemetery in the Philippine Islands.






In August 1943 there would be another major change in my military career.  The photo section that handled our aerial photography was in the 35th Air Base Group.  They took care of all the aerial cameras and the processing of mission photos.  In August they transferred the photo section from the 35th Group into Hq. Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group.  I immediately asked for, and got, a transfer back to Hq. Squadron and the photo section.  They had two portable labs, one side for film developing, and the other side for printing (photos 48-49).  Having experience the section chief, Jimmie Humphries put me in charge of one of them.  They had a native built barracks beside a fast flowing river below the native built Photo Section building.  I moved into the barracks, and that was the end of using the showers.  Instead, at the end of the day we would hit that fast flowing clean water river (photo 50). The officers had a club, and if there was any thing special we would usually be there with a camera – like a visit from General Kenny (photos 51-52). That fall Gary Cooper and his troupe visited the Dobo area.  They paid a visit to our 90th Squadron line and I went out and got some photos of their visit (photo 53).  Una Merkle was a member of his troupe (photo 54), she was a comedienne of those days.  There were a couple photographers from 5th Bomber Command, so the two of them and myself had our photo taken with Una.  She was a very nice person to visit with. 


With the photo section came the responsibility for aerial photography and mission photos.  We only had three men on flight duty; it paid an extra 20%.  They only flew on special reconnaissance missions. When I joined the section there was an opening and Jimmie asked me if I wanted it – for the extra money.  I had been down there a year and a half, had lost three tent mates and countless mess mates – I told him “thanx but no thanx”. He gave it to a guy just over from the States with a wife, who could use the extra money.  When I left to come home a year and half later he was still there – but we had lost three other photographers.  Our cameras were mounted in the tail of the aircraft and run electrically.  When they started the bomb run a gunner would hit a switch and 150 ft. of 9 inch film would roll through the camera taking an exposure every three to four seconds.  When they got back we would pick up the film magazines and process it. Then we would take the finished prints over to 5th Bomber Command – usually in the wee small hours of the night.






The big Jap naval base at Rabaul on New Britain had been a thorn in the Allies side for almost two years.  In the fall of ’43 the powers that be decided to neutralize it.  It was out of range for anything but the heavy bombers.  On October 12, ’43 – Columbus Day – we put auxiliary gas tanks in half the bomb bay of our B-25s, and loaded the other half with parafrags, and sent the B-25s of our group and the 38th Group to hit the air strips at Rabaul (photo 55). They caught the Japs completely by surprise and had a field day.  They would continue to work on the airstrips.  On November 2 they once again put the auxiliary tanks in the bomb bays, but this time loaded the other half with 500lb bombs, and sent them to Simpson Harbor at Rabaul (photos 56-57).  By the end of the year the thorn had pretty much been removed from the Allies side. 



Part II - Dobodura and beyond