The Service & Collection of S/Sgt Jack Heyn

 

3rd Bombardment Group, 5th Air Force, USAAF

 

"The Grim Reapers"

 

 

 

Part II - Dobodura and Beyond

 

 

Melbourne

 

In December we started packing for another move, this time it would be Nadzab, about 30 miles up the Markham River valley from Lae.  That is a move I would miss.  I had not had a leave in almost a year and a half.  The opportunity came up for a 15 day leave in Melbourne, but you had to take surface transportation, which would mean about a week on the water both ways.  I put in for it and got it. So I left while they were packing and returned after the move to Nadzab.  I put in 15 glorious days in Melbourne (photo 1). The first week I spent a lot of time at the Red Cross Club dancing with Monica Lynch, a Red Cross Hostess (photo 2).  I also checked out the pretty lasses at St. Kilda’s Beach (photo 3).  The second week I met up with an Aussie Lass, Patty Morris (photo 4), and we did our dancing at Earl’s Court (photo 5) to the music – if memory serves me right – Artie Shaw.  When I got back to the outfit they were all set up at Nadzab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nadzab

 

While I was enjoying 15 wonderful days in Melbourne the 3rd Bomb Group was moving from Dobodura to Nadzab, 30 miles up the Markham River Valley from Lae.  But first it had to be taken from the Japs, and that occurred in September 1943.  I believe it was the Aussie 7th and 9th Divisions that made the landings at Lae – with some air support from the 3rd (photos 6-7). Then Nadzab had to be taken, this time it was the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment that got the job done (photos 8-9), with the aid of our 89th Squadron laying a smoke screen for them.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landing_at_Nadzab

 

When I got back and rejoined the Group it was moved, all set up, and back in business.  The 3rd Group camp area looked like a stateside layout.  We now had pretty good control of the skies, just an occasional night time nuisance air raid.  So now rather than disperse the Squadrons to different areas we were all in one place. Rather than spreading the tents all over the area they were all together in streets (photo 10).  The Photo Section no longer had its own barracks; we were living in four men tents (complete with electric lights) like the rest of the outfit.  I was in a tent with my old operations buddy, Tack Tackaberry (photos 11-12).

 

 

 

 

 

Once again we had a visit from General Kenny (photo 14). This time it was for an awards formation.  He pinned ribbons on combat crew members for “above and beyond”. One of the recipients was Capt. Dick Walker (photo 14) for his lonely flight thru “the valley of death” on the November 2nd Simpson Harbour Mission.

 

http://www.ozatwar.com/usaaf/rabaul2nov43.htm

 

Rather than using scantily clad gals for nose art on their A-20s the 89th Squadron had taken a page out of Damon Runyon’s Characters (photos 15-16). I went out and photographed all 11 of their A-20s and they were used in an article in “Yank, Down Under”. I think it was while we were at Nadzab that we had a disastrous mission to some shipping at Hansa Bay.  One of our planes followed too close behind another plane and got caught in the bomb blast (photos 17-19). To quote old Civil War General Sherman “War Is Hell”.  We were now closer to Hollandia and regularly gave the airstrips up there hell with our low level strafing and parafrags (photos 20-22).

 

Once again we found time for a little sightseeing.  This time it was the airstrip down at Lae (photo 23).  This strip had a little history with it.  In July 1937 Amelia Earhart took off from Lae Airstrip on the last leg of her flight around the world – she flew off into oblivion.  Never to be seen again.

 

Our stay at Nadzab would be short. In May once again we packed up (photos 24-25), boarded LSTs and headed for Hollandia; our last stop before the Philippine Islands.

 

Hollandia

 

In May 1944 once again we loaded LSTs and headed for Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea.  For almost two years we had been getting paid in Aussie Pounds, now we’ll get paid in Dutch Guilders.  We arrived just two weeks after the initial landings that took it away from the Japs.  What we saw was one crowded beach. The beach was only about 50 yards wide and up against swamp area.  There was hardly room to unload our stuff (photos 26-27).

 

 

 

 

 

There was only one road off the beach heading inland towards the airstrips.  There was no way we were going to get off that beach the day we landed.  We were destined to spend the night on the beach among 500 lb. bombs and 90mm artillery shells.  In the two weeks since the landing the Japs had bombed the beach three times.  We hoped and prayed that they would not come over that night – our prayers were answered. 

 

The next day we did get off that beach.  It was about 20 miles out to the airstrips and our camp area.  The road took us through town and past Lake Sentenni, which would prove to be a good spot for a little R&R. (photos 28-31).  We finally got set up and back in business.  We now had 18 in our Photo Section (photo 32). We had lost two back in Dobodura, Sgt. Newcomb and Sgt. Kaplan.  They had not been replaced yet.  Our planes arrived and we were back in business.  The bulk of our targets had been airstrips, shipping and air support for ground troops.  We now had a new target; we were close enough to get to the Bolio oil fields (photos 33-34). It was customary for the planes to buzz the strip as they came off missions (photo 35).

 

One day I went out to the 13th Squadron line and got a shot of the planes lined up along the runway.  I also got a shot of Major Dick Walker, now Squadron C.O. briefing some crews prior to a mission.  While out and around I grabbed some “Nose Art”, the more familiar type, scantily clad lasses.  Every body got in the act; fighters, bombers and transports (photos 36-41).  In July they started the rotation plan where by the old timers that had been there since the beginning got sent home.  My good buddy, Tack Tackaberry, was on the first list (photo 42).  It was all the guys that had come over on the Ancon.  I was not so lucky, there always seemed to be a shortage of Photo/lab techs over there – and I would later find out, even in the States.  I would wait another six months before I made the list, which was Jan 12, 1945.

 

 

 

 

 

I think it was in August we had a visit from Bob Hope and his troupe which included Francis Langford and dancer Patty Thomas (photos 43-45).  Needless to say he was welcomed by thousands of troops hungry for good entertainment and good looking women.  Patty was a welcome site for all those troops.  It was shortly before our move to the P.I. in November that the WAACs caught up with us.  That was a blow to our pride, but once again welcomed by all those women starved troops.  The officers threw a big party for them in their Officers Club (photo 46).  But they were not out of bounds to the enlisted men.  One of the guys in Intelligence asked me if I’d like to have a date with one.  I had no idea what we do for a date in the jungles of New Guinea.  But he arranged a blind date for me and we had a K-Ration picnic in the jungle (photo 47).  She was a good looking little gal, but I never saw her again, and don’t even remember her name.

 

It was not long after that that we started packing again for another move.  It would be our 5th move since leaving Charters Towers in January ’43.  Up to that point we had always been the first bomb group to move up after taking a place.  This time our pride would be hurt, the 38th Group got that honour?  But we dodged a bullet, while sitting in the harbour at Leyte they got hit by the Japs, and suffered casualties. 

 

 

Leyte

 

About mid November once again we loaded and boarded LSTs and headed for the Philippine Islands (photos 48-49).  Where as the beach at Hollandia looked like a crowded mess, this one looked very deserted.  We unloaded and this time there was no loading trucks.  We set up camp right here on the beach, 20 miles south of Tacloban.   It was the rainy season on the east side of the archipelago and there was no airstrip for our planes to use,  so we were to sit on this beach  spinning our wheels for the next six weeks  while our aircraft stayed in Hollandia and continued to fly missions.

 

It was not a dull six weeks, we had time to make some excursions and look around a bit (photos 50-55).  On a trip to Tacloban we found a statue honouring Boy Scouts.  Capt. Spieth had been active in the Boy Scouts in civilian life, so I got a shot of him by the statue. Tacloban had been the scene of some pretty intense fighting and it showed the ravages of war, even churches took a beating.  The time spent here was not without events to remember.  There was an airstrip about a mile inland from our camp, I think used mostly by fighters.  One night the Japs dropped some paratroops on it.  That was pretty much a sleepless night, as we put up parameter guards, and sweated out the night. Come morning the Infantry made short work of the Japs.   

 

For me there was another event to remember.  Thanksgiving Day, 1942 was spent in the hospital at Charters Towers with Dengue Fever.  It cost me 20 lbs. of my 180 at the time.  The doctors told me I would be immune to Dengue for two years.  Thanksgiving Day 1944 I would spend in a field hospital on Leyte with my second bout of Dengue Fever – those doctors shouldn’t be so damned accurate in their predictions.  It would cost me another 15 lbs.  When I got out of this man’s army my 6’1” inch frame weighed 145 lbs.  It would take five years of my Jonnie’s wonderful cooking before I would gain a pound back.  Then I gained too damned much.  While we are on the subject of human intake; during this six week stay we got our first issue of BEER!  I guess somebody figured after three years down here we had earned a free beer.   

 

Then there was the night we became acquainted with tropical typhoons – at home we call them hurricanes.  I was asleep in our four man tent, which we had framed.  One guy was on night duty, two were still in Hollandia.  About two in the morning I was awakened by a hell of a wind and rain coming through the tent sideways, the sides were up.  It upset the guy’s cot across from me, I stood up to set it right, and my own cot hit me in the back side.  I just sat down on the floor my back against my upset cot and waited out the night.  Come morning it had flattened every tent in the area except a few that had been framed, ours was one of them. 

 

CHRISTMAS?? I was about to spend my 4th Christmas away from my family, the 3rd one on foreign shores in the SW Pacific.  Having been raised in the two Dakotas I never did get used to the Green Christmases and perpetual summers of the tropics.  It was just another day.  If I recall right we had canned turkey for dinner.   On December 28th an LST pulled up to our beach and we proceeded to load it with our equipment for the sixth time since Charters Towers. About midnight we pulled away from the beach and headed down around the Island and west toward Mindoro Is.  It was on the dry side of the archipelago and there was an airstrip for our planes.    

 

About 10:30 the next morning four of us were playing cards topside when three small planes came flying in low from an Island on our right side.  One flew right over our ship and dove into a Liberty Ship one lane over and two ships back. Ammunition ship! Went strait up and mushroomed out like the A Bomb pictures.  No survivors!  We had come face to face with the kamikaze – Devine Wind. By this time I was standing by the rail and grabbed hold of it, knowing when the concussion hit we would feel it.  One guy had started down the hatch; it knocked him right on down.  For the next 48 hours we would be under almost constant attack.  I went below grabbed my camera and camped out under a twin 40mm gun.   They would sink eight ships out of our convoy; the Navy gunners would knock 25 of them out of the sky.  Three of them hit the water close enough for me to photograph (photos 56-57). The serenity of the sunset belied the gravity of our situation.  I would spend those 48 hours in that spot, only went below decks to eat and go to the “head”.   I missed the very best shot, there was one plane headed right for our ship.  I’m standing at the rail, I’ve got him in my viewfinder, could see the tracers going right into his propeller.  I’m waiting for him to explode to trip the shutter.  He did explode, but my shutter had already been tripped – I was that damned nervous.  When I processed the film all I had was a plane in the distance. 

 

 

 

 

 

About mid morning New Years Eve we made landfall on Mindoro Is.  By evening we had everything out to our camp site and our Group C.O., Col. Ellis, called a Group formation.  The only thing I remember of his talk was a threat.  When ever we made a move it was customary to gather things to make your tent more liveable, lumber, screen wire etc.  He told us he didn’t care what we stole from other outfits but if caught anybody stealing from one of our own squadrons he would court martial them.  The next week or so we would spend getting set up and ready for our aircraft to join us, and get back into the war. Once again we would find time to do a little looking around (photos 58-61).   

 

Going Home

 

January 12th, 1945 was the best day of WWII; it was the day I received my Rotation Orders.  The next day I would board a C-47 and head back to Hollandia where I would sit waiting for surface transportation back home.  February 19th I boarded the USS General A.E.Anderson and headed for home.  Also on board was 500 “Ghost Soldiers” who had been rescued from the infamous POW camp Cabanatuan.  On March 8th, 1945, 3 years, 1 month and 8 days after leaving I sailed back under that Golden Gate Bridge – thanks to a merciful God and an ever vigilant guardian angel.  When we entered the harbour we were met by fire boats spewing water high in the air, and all ships sounding their horns.  We all knew the welcome was for the “Ghost Soldiers”, but there wasn’t a man on board that hadn’t spent at least 2-1/2 years down there so we all soaked it up. 

 

The next day we would board troop trains headed east, I headed for Fort Snelling in Minneapolis.  We got to Omaha at 6:00 PM, March 12th, my 22nd birthday.  Our car was pulled aside and the officer in charge said we would be leaving for Minneapolis at midnight.  We were free to go into the station but that was it.  I got hold of him and told him it was my birthday and I had two sisters and a mother in Omaha, would it be ok to call them and have dinner with them.  He said just be damned sure you are on that train at midnight.  Best birthday celebration I ever had, had been 3-1/2 years since I had seen any of them.

 

90 Years and Counting

 

After a 21 day furlough I was reassigned to Page Field, a P-51 training base at Fort Myers, Florida. There I met a Kansas sunflower that was a radio operator at Page (photo 62); name was Evelyn Johnson but called Jonnie from the Johnson bit.  We hit it off real good from day one.  Met her in May, asked her to marry me in July, with out any hesitation her answer was yes.  I was planning to attend photography school in New York when I got out, and we would get married when I got out of school.  Got my discharge in September went to NYC in October but found I couldn’t get in school until January ’46. I went back to Florida and we decided not to wait.  Got married December 10, 1945.  She asked for and got a transfer to LaGuardia Field in NYC.  Supported me while I went to school.  Did do a little sightseeing while in NYC (photo 63).  When I finished school I got a job across the river in New Jersey.  That is where our two daughters were born.

 

 

 

 

 

We soon decided the East Coast was no place for these two mid-westerners to raise a family.  I had a sister living in Des Moines, Iowa, and that is where we settled.  Eventually I got my own photography business going, specializing in weddings and commercial work. The girls went to school, one got into the travel agent business, and the other became a special education teacher for preschool handicap kids.  In ’79 I decided those darkroom walls were starting to close in a bit.  I sold the studio to a teacher that was shooting weddings for me on weekends.  Jonnie had a couple sisters living in Denver so we moved out there, and lived through the ‘80s.  After we both started drawing social security. She wanted to move back to Des Moines where the kids and Grandkids were, in 1990.  My Jonnie had suffered from Osteoporosis for years.  Last August (2012) she suffered a stress fracture in the back.  It was a series of hospitals, care centres and finally I moved her into the care centre here at Wesley Acres and I moved into their assisted living part, hoping that Jonnie would get better and join me.  It never happened.  In November they put her in Hospice, on December 6 she went into a coma.  I would sit by her side holding her hand, talking to her and saying the Rosary.  She couldn’t respond but the nurses felt she knew I was there.  At 10:20 December 11, one day after our 67th Anniversary, she left me.  After 67 years sharing her love and companionship – life is not easy. 

By Jack Heyn, 2013

 

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