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9. The Pacific Preferred

Phil Scearce University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 9

The Pacific Preferred

Back in February, Herman Scearce and his buddies had been disappointed when they found out they were headed for the Pacific. Had they known what the future held for B-24 crews going to Europe at that time, they may have been relieved.

If Lt. Joe Deasy and the crew of B-24 number 41-24214 had been ordered to Europe, they would have been assigned to one of the three

Eighth Air Force groups flying Liberators. In June of 1943, these three groups, the 44th, the 93rd, and the 389th, were sent from their bases in England to North Africa.1 From their sand-swept temporary Libyan base, they practiced extreme low-level flying for a unique mission slated for the first day of August.

Every available Liberator participated in the August 1 raid, targeting the strategically vital Romanian oil refinery complex at Ploesti. The three groups from the Eighth, joined by two from the Ninth based in

Libya, took off with 178 bombers and flew in formation below 1000 feet for the seven-hour run to Ploesti. They hurtled across desert, then the

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5. Air Raid

Phil Scearce University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 5

Air Raid

Intelligence information gathered from each aircrew just returned from the Nauru mission was compiled and compared, and photos developed and analyzed, until an accurate accounting of the bombing results was completed. Maj. Gen. Willis Hale endorsed the final report, which was then sent to CincPac, the office of the Commander in Chief, Pacific Command.

The report described a highly successful mission:

All bombs dropped hit target except eight . . . Damage to installations and material was heavy. Personnel casualties were extremely heavy. Large fires were observed in all bombed areas . . . a group of approximately twelve buildings in the center of the runway were destroyed . . . Phosphate Plant #3 was completely demolished by at least two direct hits . . . at least three direct hits were made on

Phosphate Plant #2 . . . this plant was completely destroyed. Six bombs destroyed at least three large warehouses, thirteen buildings, eleven small railroad cars, stock storage pile, two water tanks supplying plant . . . Diesel power plant, main plant elevator building, one water tank, five cisterns, seven buildings and water distillation plant badly damaged. A train of six 500-lb bombs burst in residential

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4. Nauru

Phil Scearce University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 4

Nauru

Scearce and Yankus unplugged their interphone headsets and moved toward the rear, as they had practiced a hundred times before.

They stepped into the bomb bay, Dogpatch Express’ four massive radial engines howling in unison, much louder than they had seemed from the flight deck. Moving along the narrow catwalk, indifferent to the thousands of pounds of high explosives just inches to their right and left, waist gunners Scearce and Yankus gripped the framework of the bomb racks as they went. The vibrating metal felt cool.

After Scearce and Yankus passed, Bob Lipe took his position in the top turret, just behind the flight deck, and rotated the turret clockwise, then back, out of habit. Ed Hess settled into the nose turret. Elmer

Johnson, already in the aircraft’s rear section with Al Marston, stepped back from the piss pipe and stretched himself before jacking up the belly turret with the hand pump just enough to release its safety hooks.

Johnson opened a hydraulic valve and allowed the turret to slide down into the wind stream beneath the plane. He glanced back at Scearce and

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8. The Squadron’s Objectives

Phil Scearce University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 8

The Squadron’s Objectives

With twenty-four flights in thirty days, June 1943 was the busiest flying month for Sgt. Herman Scearce since he joined the Army.

He had more hours in the air during May, but May had included the long trip to Midway, the Wake mission, and the searches in the vicinity of Palmyra. June’s schedule was full of activity and Scearce liked it that way. Staying busy was the best way for Scearce to shut out the image of the man with the rectangular hole in his head. It was the best way to stop thinking about his friend Harold Brooks, or the loss of The Green Hornet with its entire crew, or the uncertainty of a future with a thirty strike mission requirement. And as May moved into June and July, keeping busy, having something to focus on for tomorrow, and the next day and the next, was the only way to avoid dwelling on tragedy.

The squadron’s primary responsibility was protection of the Hawaiian Islands. They flew patrols and search missions and conducted countless hours of training to maintain combat readiness. The 42nd sent planes into combat during the summer of 1943, occasional sorties from Funafuti to Nauru or the Gilberts, and Midway to Wake, harassing

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2. Hawaii

Phil Scearce University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 2

Hawaii

Six B-24 Liberators approached Hickam Field on the morning of

February 9, 1943, arriving from Hamilton Field, California. Aboard aircraft number 41-24214, Sergeant Herman Scearce got up from the radio operator’s table for a better view.

From the southwest, Hickam Field lay directly ahead. The dark green mountains of the Koolau Range rose in the distance, wispy clouds hanging close to the ridge line. To the left, beside the air base, were dozens of fat, round, fuel storage tanks, and beyond those, Pearl Harbor’s aquamarine water seemed to glow.

“There’s the Arizona,” Deasy said.

On final approach, Scearce and the crew had just a moment to put eyes on the battleship, resting beside Ford Island, its gray structure rising above a shining, luminescent pool of oil.

“Sons o’ bitches,” Sgt. Jack Yankus muttered, from his fold-down jump seat on the flight deck between Deasy, in the left seat, and Catanzarite on the right. Yankus was ready to call out the aircraft’s speed, the flight engineer’s job during landings. His comment resonated for a moment, hanging there, profound. “Okay . . . 130,” he said next.

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