21 Chapters
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15. Ask the Man Who Owns One

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Chapter 15

Ask the Man Who Owns One

The role of the 42nd Squadron as a replacement crew training unit gave the old timers in the squadron the feeling that they were more in business than in combat. New crews came through and went to the front, but the 42nd stayed put, at least for now. The old timers, men who had arrived a full year before, been in combat and returned to Hawaii, understood that the 42nd was also gradually being rebuilt around a core of experience, and as that core they knew that sooner or later they would be called upon to lead the squadron into battle again.

In March 1944, Capt. Joe Deasy got sick. He was feverish, didn’t have much appetite and felt tired all the time. His symptoms were like a mild case of dengue fever, similar to flu symptoms, except that they wouldn’t go away. Dengue fever was spread by mosquitoes in some of the forward areas where the 11th Group operated, and the crew had assumed Deasy would recover from it in a week or two. But on April 10 Deasy was admitted to Oahu’s Tripler General Hospital and diagnosed not with dengue fever but with tuberculosis, and as the next most senior pilot, Capt. Jesse Stay assumed command of the squadron.1 Deasy’s crew was shocked by the news and they were concerned about their pilot’s welfare, but they were also very worried

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1. Sergeant at Seventeen

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Chapter 1

Sergeant at Seventeen

Herman Scearce was sixteen years old when he lied about his age and joined the Army two weeks after the Japanese attacked Pearl

Harbor. Herman’s mother had a little brown mantel radio, bought on credit along with everything else in her rented house, and that December when Herman switched the radio on and fine-tuned the local frequency, it buzzed with news about the attack and speculation about what the Japanese might do next.

Scearce had never heard of Pearl Harbor. He couldn’t remember whether he had even heard of Hawaii. Maybe it didn’t matter, because he did understand that Americans had been killed and U.S. Navy ships had been sunk. Geography certainly didn’t seem to matter to the young men forming lines at the U.S. Army enlistment center at the Danville,

Virginia, post office, just a half mile walk from his home.


Marvin Marshall was Herman Scearce’s cousin, his mother’s sister’s boy. Both were sixteen, worked dead-end jobs, and they were bored.

One of them, Scearce doesn’t remember who, suggested they should go join the Army, that day, right then.

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16. The Meaning of Boxes

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Chapter 16

The Meaning of Boxes

In late July 1944, the 42nd Bomb Squadron had been on alert for a return to combat for almost three months. The unusual length of their alert status caused it to be largely forgotten, so for most of the squadron’s men, the arrival of shipping boxes in each squadron section caused quite a buzz.

A letter from Headquarters dated May 1 had placed the ground echelon of the squadron on alert and led to rumor and speculation about their next combat station.1 With no follow-up orders, interest waned until late June when the alert status was modified to include the air echelon. The June orders also relieved the squadron of its training duties, significant because this was an important step toward returning the 42nd to true fighting trim. It wasn’t that they had been idle, but for most of the 42nd’s crews there hadn’t been a combat mission in six months and there is something unquantifiably different about flying strike missions, something which focuses the mind and sharpens skills unlike any training or patrol mission ever could, possibly the awareness that another nation’s fighting men were committed to shooting you down, killing you on the ground, denying you your objective any way they could. Being relieved of training duties meant that the 42nd could focus on preparing themselves for combat, and the knowledge

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20. January 1945

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Chapter 20

January 1945

The Gambler’s Paradox is a product of our tendency to see patterns in events. The gambler might make his wager based on a pattern he sees in the turn of a roulette wheel, just as a child might guess that the next coin flip will land heads because the last two were tails. But the patterns aren’t really there; the odds don’t change on each successive turn of the wheel or flip of the coin. Winning streaks in games of chance are illusions, and the loss that ends a streak is heartbreaking because the momentum of winning felt so real, it seemed bound to continue.

On January 22, Lt. Charlie Pratte and his crew took the nameless

B-24-J #42-109871 on a mine-laying mission to Chichi Jima, staging through Saipan. Pratte and his men were old timers, around as long as anyone in the squadron, averaging thirty missions per man. When

Pratte’s crew went overseas, and before the rules were changed, thirty missions earned a ticket home.

Scearce’s buddy Joe Hyson, radar operator on Pratte’s crew, was with them when they crashed the Navy’s dedication party at Mullinnix Field a year before, landing Belle of Texas with brakes out, no hydraulics and hundreds of flak and bullet holes, using parachutes to slow the plane.

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3. First Mission

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Chapter 3

First Mission

The morning of April 17 had a different feel, electric. The squadron’s officers were still in a closed-door briefing while rumors buzzed about a bombing mission, the squadron’s first. All that remained for pilots to tell their crews was when and where. When Joe Deasy met with his crew and gave them the particulars, it was the first time they had heard of Funafuti.

“Funa-who?” Yankus snorted. Twenty-three B-24 Liberators would fly to Canton Island, a porkchop-shaped atoll 1,907 miles southwest of Oahu, refuel, and continue the 737 miles to Funafuti in the Ellice

Islands group, 2600 miles from Hawaii. “That’s halfway to Australia,”

Hess muttered.

Six months before, on October 2, 1942, eleven ships of the United

States Navy had entered Funafuti’s lagoon and landed a Construction

Battalion. The Seabees immediately began construction of an airfield and support facilities while Marines prepared defenses and set up antiaircraft guns. To build the runway, Seabees bulldozed thousands of coconut trees and covered arable land with hard-packed coral. The airfield was completed before the end of the year.1

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