Air Pirates of the Caribbean raid the Pacific Northwest: The 6th Bomb Group visits Portland

Gathered for a formal portrait are members of the Wilson crew, Crew # 4007 of the 40th Bomb Squadron.  Standing in the back row, left to right are Capt. Ralph C. Wilson (Aircraft Commander), 1st Lt. Paul Ward (Pilot), 1st Lt. Vaughn Woodruff (Navigator), Lt. Orwin Johnson, Jr. (Bombardier), M/Sgt Elwyn Epstein (Flight Engineer) and Sgt. Donald Ward (Radio Operator).  In the front row kneeling are Sgt. Angelo Piecora (Tail Gunner), T/Sgt Walter Keyes (Central Fire Control Gunner), S/Sgt Sterling Stout (Left Gunner) and S/Sgt George Fedowich (Radar Operator)  (Courtesy Mrs. Shirley Bates)

Gathered for a formal portrait are members of the Wilson crew, Crew # 4007 of the 40th Bomb Squadron. Standing in the back row, left to right are Capt. Ralph C. Wilson (Aircraft Commander), 1st Lt. Paul Ward (Pilot), 1st Lt. Vaughn Woodruff (Navigator), Lt. Orwin Johnson, Jr. (Bombardier), M/Sgt Elwyn Epstein (Flight Engineer) and Sgt. Donald Ward (Radio Operator). In the front row kneeling are Sgt. Angelo Piecora (Tail Gunner), T/Sgt Walter Keyes (Central Fire Control Gunner), S/Sgt Sterling Stout (Left Gunner) and S/Sgt George Fedowich (Radar Operator) (Courtesy Mrs. Shirley Bates)

Mrs. Shirley Bates father Ralph C. Wilson was the aircraft commander of the Wilson Crew (Crew # 4007) of the 40th Bomb Squadron, who flew the Superfortress “White Mistress,” a B-29-50-BW, serial number 42-24776.  (Courtesy Ms. Elizabeth Koch-Colson, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

Mrs. Shirley Bates father Ralph C. Wilson was the aircraft commander of the Wilson Crew (Crew # 4007) of the 40th Bomb Squadron, who flew the Superfortress “White Mistress,” a B-29-50-BW, serial number 42-24776. (Courtesy Ms. Elizabeth Koch-Colson, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

Co-historian David Wilson’s father, Sgt. Bernard E. Wilson, was a left gunner the 24th Bomb Squadron’s in the Howett crew of Crew # 2404.  The crew’s first missions were flown in “Big Joe,” with an experienced Aircraft Commander, pictured with them here, and then later they all flew in “Anonymous IV.”  Standing, from left to right, are Sgt. Bernard E. Wilson (Left Gunner), Cpl. Jack B. Denny (Right Gunner), Cpl. Marion L. Long (Tail Gunner), Sgt. Malcolm W. Douglas (Flight Engineer), S/Sgt. Raymond E. Raetz (Central Fire Control Gunner), Sgt. James C. Bishop (Radio Operator).  
Kneeling, from left to right are 2nd Lt. Phillip R. Pilling (Radar Operator), 2nd Lt. Charles E. Pickett (Bombardier), 1st Lt. Claude A. Johnstone (Aircraft Commander of “Big Joe”), 1st Lt. John C. Howett (Pilot), 2nd Lt. James H. Aiman (Navigator).  (Courtesy Mr. David Wilson, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

Co-historian David Wilson’s father, Sgt. Bernard E. Wilson, was a left gunner the 24th Bomb Squadron’s in the Howett crew of Crew # 2404. The crew’s first missions were flown in “Big Joe,” with an experienced Aircraft Commander, pictured with them here, and then later they all flew in “Anonymous IV.” Standing, from left to right, are Sgt. Bernard E. Wilson (Left Gunner), Cpl. Jack B. Denny (Right Gunner), Cpl. Marion L. Long (Tail Gunner), Sgt. Malcolm W. Douglas (Flight Engineer), S/Sgt. Raymond E. Raetz (Central Fire Control Gunner), Sgt. James C. Bishop (Radio Operator). Kneeling, from left to right are 2nd Lt. Phillip R. Pilling (Radar Operator), 2nd Lt. Charles E. Pickett (Bombardier), 1st Lt. Claude A. Johnstone (Aircraft Commander of “Big Joe”), 1st Lt. John C. Howett (Pilot), 2nd Lt. James H. Aiman (Navigator). (Courtesy Mr. David Wilson, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

Flight Engineer Morgan flew some of his 19 combat missions with Crew # 40r2 aboard Victor 54, also known as “Battling Betty,” a B-29-65-BW Superfortress, serial number 44-69847 assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron.  (Courtesy Mr. Mark Furman, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

Flight Engineer Morgan flew some of his 19 combat missions with Crew # 40r2 aboard Victor 54, also known as “Battling Betty,” a B-29-65-BW Superfortress, serial number 44-69847 assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron. (Courtesy Mr. Mark Furman, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

Navigator Bob Frick flew many of his 31 combat missions with Crew # 3918 aboard “The Cultured Vulture,” a B-29-55-BW Superfortress, serial number 42-24901 assigned to the 39th Bomb Squadron.  Note the early markings of the 6th Bomb Group, with the “L” on top of the tail, and the lack of the Jean Lafitte motif on the nose.  This photo was taken at Iwo Jima on 10 March 1945, after “The Cultured Vulture” stopped for fuel following a raid on Tokyo and was preparing to return to Tinian.  (US Army photograph, courtesy National Archives via Fold3)

Navigator Bob Frick flew many of his 31 combat missions with Crew # 3918 aboard “The Cultured Vulture,” a B-29-55-BW Superfortress, serial number 42-24901 assigned to the 39th Bomb Squadron. Note the early markings of the 6th Bomb Group, with the “L” on top of the tail, and the lack of the Jean Lafitte motif on the nose. This photo was taken at Iwo Jima on 10 March 1945, after “The Cultured Vulture” stopped for fuel following a raid on Tokyo and was preparing to return to Tinian. (US Army photograph, courtesy National Archives via Fold3)

Pilot Warren Higgins flew half of his 22 combat missions with Crew # 3909 on “Reamatroid,” a B-29-55-BW Superfortress, serial number 44-69672, in the 39th Bomb Squadron.  Note the absence of armament and the writing beneath the wing indicating the aircraft is flying on a PW supply mission.  (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)

Pilot Warren Higgins flew half of his 22 combat missions with Crew # 3909 on “Reamatroid,” a B-29-55-BW Superfortress, serial number 44-69672, in the 39th Bomb Squadron. Note the absence of armament and the writing beneath the wing indicating the aircraft is flying on a PW supply mission. (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)

Aircraft Commander Ed Vincent completed 32 combat missions in charge of Crew 4012 assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron.  The crew flew the Superfortress “Flak Alley Sally,” a B-29-55-BW, serial number 42-24878.  In the front row, left to right are  1st Lt. Edgar L. Vincent (Aircraft Commander), 2nd Lt. Glenn Gormley (Pilot), 1st Lt. Herbert G. Horst (Bombardier), S/Sgt Joseph N. Rotondi (Radio Operator), 1st Lt. William G. Spellman (Navigator) and S/Sgt Walter H. Stull (Radar Operator) man Standing in the back row, left to right are S/Sgt Nathaniel B, Clark (Left Gunner), Sgt. Louis L.  Chiquette (Tail Gunner), S/Sgt Gordon P. Brantman (Right Gunner), T/Sgt Leon Steward (Central Fire Control Gunner) and M/Sgt Charles W. Dougherty (Flight Engineer).  (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)

Aircraft Commander Ed Vincent completed 32 combat missions in charge of Crew 4012 assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron. The crew flew the Superfortress “Flak Alley Sally,” a B-29-55-BW, serial number 42-24878. In the front row, left to right are 1st Lt. Edgar L. Vincent (Aircraft Commander), 2nd Lt. Glenn Gormley (Pilot), 1st Lt. Herbert G. Horst (Bombardier), S/Sgt Joseph N. Rotondi (Radio Operator), 1st Lt. William G. Spellman (Navigator) and S/Sgt Walter H. Stull (Radar Operator) man Standing in the back row, left to right are S/Sgt Nathaniel B, Clark (Left Gunner), Sgt. Louis L. Chiquette (Tail Gunner), S/Sgt Gordon P. Brantman (Right Gunner), T/Sgt Leon Steward (Central Fire Control Gunner) and M/Sgt Charles W. Dougherty (Flight Engineer). (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)

Capt. Jeff Richards, aircraft commander of Crew # 3915, assigned to the 39th Bomb Squadron and flew B-29 Victor 30, "Son of a B-29" was one of the original crews and flew 35 combat missions. Members of aircrew and the servicing ground crew pose for a picture on Tinian during the war.  Mrs. Glenda Richards attended the 6th Bomb Group’s Portland reunion in honor of her late husband.  (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)

Capt. Jeff Richards, aircraft commander of Crew # 3915, assigned to the 39th Bomb Squadron and flew B-29 Victor 30, "Son of a B-29" was one of the original crews and flew 35 combat missions. Members of aircrew and the servicing ground crew pose for a picture on Tinian during the war. Mrs. Glenda Richards attended the 6th Bomb Group’s Portland reunion in honor of her late husband. (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)

The B-29 “Wun Wing Lo” was assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron.  It was flown by the Capt. Harrison M. Harp, Jr. Crew, #40r4.  Sgt Arthur H. "Art" Angel, a mechanic who worked on this airplane, recalled how the aircraft got its name after a truck ran into one of the wings, which was replaced.  The replacement wing hung lower that the other wing, and the aircraft was then named.   Mrs. Elaine Angel attended the 6th Bomb Group’s Portland reunion in honor of her late husband.  (Courtesy Mr. John Potenza, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

The B-29 “Wun Wing Lo” was assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron. It was flown by the Capt. Harrison M. Harp, Jr. Crew, #40r4. Sgt Arthur H. "Art" Angel, a mechanic who worked on this airplane, recalled how the aircraft got its name after a truck ran into one of the wings, which was replaced. The replacement wing hung lower that the other wing, and the aircraft was then named. Mrs. Elaine Angel attended the 6th Bomb Group’s Portland reunion in honor of her late husband. (Courtesy Mr. John Potenza, via 6th Bomb Group Association)

Pictured here at Iwo Jima in 1945, “Flak Alley Sally,” was a Superfortress assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron, a B-29-55-BW, serial number 42-24878.  Seen here refueling at Iwo Jima in 1945 following a raid on the Empire, she bears the early markings of the group with the “L” (6th Bomb Group identification letter) above a triangle (313th Bomb Wing identification symbol) above the aircraft serial number.  The “33” is an early Victor number (group/squadron aircraft identification number also used as a radio call sign number), which was later moved to the rear fuselage and changed to “53.” (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)
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Pictured here at Iwo Jima in 1945, “Flak Alley Sally,” was a Superfortress assigned to the 40th Bomb Squadron, a B-29-55-BW, serial number 42-24878. Seen here refueling at Iwo Jima in 1945 following a raid on the Empire, she bears the early markings of the group with the “L” (6th Bomb Group identification letter) above a triangle (313th Bomb Wing identification symbol) above the aircraft serial number. The “33” is an early Victor number (group/squadron aircraft identification number also used as a radio call sign number), which was later moved to the rear fuselage and changed to “53.” (Courtesy 6th Bomb Group Association)

Veterans of the 6th Bomb Group pose for a picture in front of a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, on 11 September 2015.  From left to right are Dick Randall, Ed Vincent, Virgil Morgan, Bob Frick and Warren Higgins.  (Courtesy Mr. Philip Conroy)
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Veterans of the 6th Bomb Group pose for a picture in front of a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, on 11 September 2015. From left to right are Dick Randall, Ed Vincent, Virgil Morgan, Bob Frick and Warren Higgins. (Courtesy Mr. Philip Conroy)

The 6th Bomb Group’s reunion banquet guest speaker was fighter pilot CAPT Marv Serhan, US Navy (Retired), at left, seen here talking with 6th Bomb Group B-29 pilot Mr. Warren Higgins after the banquet. (Courtesy Mr. Philip Conroy)
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The 6th Bomb Group’s reunion banquet guest speaker was fighter pilot CAPT Marv Serhan, US Navy (Retired), at left, seen here talking with 6th Bomb Group B-29 pilot Mr. Warren Higgins after the banquet. (Courtesy Mr. Philip Conroy)

Veterans of the 6th Bomb Group stand with AFROTC cadets from the color guard of the University of Portland’s AFROTC Det 695, after the reunion banquet on 12 September 2015 in Portland, Oregon.  From left to right are C/Capt Collin Whitney, Dick Randall, Ed Vincent, C/3C Jacob San Agustin, Virgil Morgan, C/Capt Joseph Baumann, Bob Frick, C/Capt Samuel DeWhitt and Warren Higgins.  The 6th BG Association President, John Creek, Jr., looks on from the podium.  (Courtesy Mr. Philip Conroy)
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Veterans of the 6th Bomb Group stand with AFROTC cadets from the color guard of the University of Portland’s AFROTC Det 695, after the reunion banquet on 12 September 2015 in Portland, Oregon. From left to right are C/Capt Collin Whitney, Dick Randall, Ed Vincent, C/3C Jacob San Agustin, Virgil Morgan, C/Capt Joseph Baumann, Bob Frick, C/Capt Samuel DeWhitt and Warren Higgins. The 6th BG Association President, John Creek, Jr., looks on from the podium. (Courtesy Mr. Philip Conroy)

PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. -- The Rose City was recently visited by some air pirates from the Caribbean, in the form of veterans, families and friends of the World War II-era 6th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) Association.  They held a reunion at the Red Lion Hotel at Jantzen Beach, from Sept. 9-13, 2015.

The 6th Bomb Group served for many years before World War II in the Caribbean area before being redesignated and re-equipping with the Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber in 1944.  This heritage later manifested itself in the unique nose art painted on all of the group's aircraft, featuring famous French-American pirate and privateer Jean Lafitte in this insignia.  In early 1945 the group deployed to the Pacific to participate in the strategic air campaign against Imperial Japan. 

This was the 27th reunion of the 6th Bomb Group Association since the first in 1984, taking place a week after Victory over Japan Day, 70 years after the end of World War II.   Five veterans made it to Portland to meet with each other, with family members and friends.  Although veteran numbers are getting smaller, the younger generations are stepping up to continue the association and commemorate the service and sacrifice of group members. 

The five veterans represented the 3,000 Airmen who were assigned to the 6th Bomb Group (VH) during its service in the Pacific.  The group's remarkable accomplishments include 75 combat missions against the Imperial Japanese Empire flown between February and August of 1945, in over 1,500 sorties that delivered 10,103 tons of ordnance.  The 6th was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations for outstanding missions and credit for participation in four campaigns during World War II. 

This year's reunion was organized by Fran and Shirley Bates of Forest Grove, Oregon - Shirley's father, Captain Ralph C. Wilson, was the aircraft commander/pilot of Crew # 4007 on the 40th Bomb Squadron Superfortress "White Mistress," a B-29-50-BW, serial number 42-24776.

Mrs. Shirley Bates proudly remembered her father's service in 6th Bomb Group: "Dad flew 22 combat missions with 319.30 combat hours.  He was TDY with Warren Higgins in Muroc Field, California, in the summer of 1945 for lead crew training in the event the war went on and involved a Japanese land invasion.  After he returned from Muroc, he and his crew flew the last mission of the war.  In fact, they could have come home earlier, but the whole crew stayed and dropped supplies for the POW's.  I am proud of the fact that he stayed to do that."

She also remembered her father's view of the oft-forgotten but vital ground crews and his contribution to the war effort:  "Dad always talked about how important the ground crews were.  He thought a lot of his Ground Crew Chief Felty.  More than once, he landed at Tinian with an engine out.  I think that Dad was very proud of his crew and of the service in general.  He had a lot of respect for his commanding officers."

The reunion kicked off on Wednesday afternoon with a reception in the hospitality room to assemble and review the schedule, relax and introduce everyone.  Association President Mr. John R. Creek, Jr., whose father was a radioman in the 39th Bomb Squadron, gave an initial address to attendees and the Bates' gave a schedule update.

The Veterans Speak

The veterans shared some of their experience at the reception.  Then on Thursday afternoon, the veterans gathered in the hospitality room to share more of their recollections of wartime service.  Mr. David Wilson, son of Sgt. Bernard E. Wilson, left gunner on the 24th Bomb Squadron's "Anonymous IV," a B-29A-40-BN, serial number 44-61688, and co-historian of the association, asked the veterans a series of questions and gave each man the opportunity to respond.  With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a lot of the questions dealt with the end of the war experience the veterans went through.  Some highlights of the discussion and other pertinent information are recapped below:

Virgil Morgan worked for Consolidated Aircraft company in California for a year before the war and did sheet metal work for the cowl flaps on the number two B-24 Liberator heavy bomber prototype.  He later was on the team that put the first landing gear in a PBY-4 Catalina seaplane, creating the first PBY-5A fully amphibious version of the famous Navy patrol plane.  He transferred to Boeing later and worked there for 32 months, becoming Boeing's youngest lead man and working with the B-29 wing design - with his expertiseso heavily involved in the aircraft industry he was permanently deferred from the draft due to his occupational status.  Still, Morgan wanted to fly and petitioned for aviation cadet pilot training in January, 1942, but it was January, 1944, before he was allowed to go on active duty as a cadet at Amarillo Army Airfield, Texas and eventually went to fly combat in the Superfortress. 

Assigned to the 6th Bomb Group, Morgan flew as a flight engineer in the 40th Bomb Squadron.  He flew 19 combat missions with several different crews, including Crew # 40r2, but primarily on ship 54, "Battling Betty," a B-29-65-BW Superfortress, serial number 44-69847.  He dreaded the night aerial minelaying missions the most.  Morgan also served with the ground crew of the squadron after someone with higher rank joined the crew and bumped him from the crew - it was just as well for Morgan as that crew was shot down several missions later. 

Morgan shared a recollection from after the war about how he got back home.  "I finished the war tour with enough missions to come home immediately.  And so I had the honor of about three weeks after the war ended they sent me down to Guam and I was to be the flight engineer on a -29 going out of North Field, Guam, back with a motley crew of people that were left.   You went out on a point system; so none of us knew each other.   

Despite all the things that had happened during the war the most interesting takeoff I ever had was off North Field Guam, which is now Anderson Air Force Base.  We just cleared off of the runway, the most critical part, and the number three propeller came right off the plane and just disappeared.  We were as heavy as you could be, heavy with fuel with a couple of bomb bay tanks - we were probably 135,000 pounds at least.   And so we went right back in and landed the plane very successfully. 

They sent me back, and said well, we don't have another plane right away which was good news to me.   So I went back up to Tinian,  and they said We can get you on a ship that's over in Saipan harbor right now.  Tinian didn't have a harbor per se.  We can send you right back on the ship or you can wait and we'll get you another plane.  At that point the ship sounded a heckuva lot better!"

Robert W. "Bob" Frick flew 31 missions as a navigator aboard "The Cultured Vulture," a B-29-55-BW Superfortress, serial number 42-24901.  He kept a log book of missions in which he succinctly described his experience. 

At the reunion Bob recalled that "Our crew was kind of a johnnie come lately - we were about the first replacement crew in the 6th Bomb Group.  And the trouble of that was we didn't know anybody. We heard  all these stories and all this stuff about the 6th Bomb Group and all the things they had done until the time we joined them."  But he soon contributed to the group's legacy. 

Frick remembered the Shimonoseki Straits between Kyushu and Honshu being a hot target area for B-29s conducting nighttime minelaying missions.  His entry for his 22nd combat mission flown on July 9, 1945, conveys the tension of a mission that took off from North Field on Tinian at 1642 hours and would last 17 hours and 30 minutes:  "Flew a mining mission to the Shimonoseki (dire) Straits. 

Had a long run over land to the straits.  Just past the IP three searchlights spotted us and then all the lights picked us up.  They began shooting and never stopped until we were out of range.  We caught everything from rockets, medium and heavy flak.  We were hit four times.  Under the aircraft, right wing, above tunnel five foot back of the astrodome and in #4's cowl flap.  There were numerous other scratches.  We landed at Iwo for gas and trouble with the # 2 prop governor.  After we took off from Iwo we blew a cylinder on # 4 engine and had to feather.  The 40th Squadron lost a plane.  Wright was the navigator.  Flew 35 Victor.  Twelve 1,000-lb mines at 8,000 feet."

A less tense mission was Frick's last mission, a Prisoner of War (PW) supply mission his crew flew to north China.  "At the end of the war, the first thing the pilot said was "We need one more mission."  If we get one more mission, we'll go home earlier.  We volunteered for a supply mission to the POW's in China.  We had to fly up to Iwo, stay overnight, they loaded up the plane.  Then we left from Iwo Jima because we didn't have the gas to go from Tinian.  We flew into China and we dropped our stuff at the PW place and then we flew home on our 31st mission.  I came back in October." He added later, "As we were coming back from the China PW mission, a couple of Navy F6F fighters pulled up and shadowed us.  (After a bit) the pilot said "unlimber the guns" and the F6F's departed."

Warren R. Higgins was 19 when he joined the Army and trained as a pilot, later becoming the first pilot of a B-17 crew slated for duty in Europe.  But then the Army Air Forces diverted him to become a B-29 copilot - "At the time I wasn't too happy with that... That decision by the Air Force saved my life  and it's the reason I'm here with you today.  Had I gone over there and what the Germans were doing to B-17 crews, (the way they were) shooting them down..."  In the 6th BG, he flew 11 combat missions with Crew # 3903 on "Lucky Strike" a B-29-30-BA Superfortress, serial number 42-63552.  En route to Tinian, the crew decided to name the aircraft "Lucky Strike" thinking it would garner support from the tobacco company, with visions of free cigarettes.  "We never got a one!" Higgins recalled, seeming disappointed even though he himself never smoked. 

Higgins was transferred and flew another 11 missions with Crew # 3909 on "Reamatroid," a B-29-55-BW Superfortress, serial number 44-69672, both in the 39th Bomb Squadron.  After 22 missions Higgins and his crew were selected for specialized training:  "A month before the war ended, our crew was selected for lead crew training.  So we went back to the States (Muroc Field, California) in July and participated in "bombing" (in practice) Los Angeles, San Francisco and surrounding cities in anticipation of lead crew (duty)." 

He continued:  "Lead crew, for those of you who don't know; in Europe because they had so many planes and they had done so much, after a while, rather than having individual planes go overhead, they would have one plane in the lead and the rest followed in formation.   Just before the target, the lead plane would open the bomb bay and all the rest of the planes would simultaneously open their bomb bays.   Then when you're over the target the lead bombardier dropped the bombs and on his signal all the rest of the planes dropped their bombs.  Lead crew was obviously very important in that type of a pattern bombing as we called it." 

Higgins completed lead crew training and headed back for Tinian.  "I learned of the end of the war when we were on our way back to Tinian.  We left Muroc and were probably on the way to Hawaii when we heard the war was over," he recalled. 

After World War II, "Reamatroid" kept flying, stayed out in the Pacific and later flew in the Korean War with the 19th Bomb Group out of Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

Edgar L. "Ed" Vincent was the aircraft commander (AC)/pilot on the 40th Bomb Squadron's Superfortress "Flak Alley Sally," a B-29-55-BW, serial number 42-24878.  He flew 32 missions to places like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Yawata; "Flak Alley Sally" absorbed hits from the enemy and accumulated 141 holes in her skin.  But none were in a critical system and she kept flying and performed her missions well.  He remembered how physically demanding combat flying could be:  "There was one period of time, for about ten days, where we flew a 14 1/2 hour mission every other day.  That's part of the reason I lost 30 pounds!"

Vincent and his crew flew on what is described as the longest non-stop bombing mission of World War II, a night minelaying mission from Tinian to Rashin, on the northeast coast of Korea, and back again, some 4,400 miles.  They completed the mission from Tinian in 19 hours and 40 minutes, returning to Tinian WITHOUT stopping at Iwo Jima on the return for fuel.  Between Vincent's piloting, the skills of the flight engineer and navigator, "Flak Alley Sally" was the only ship in the squadron sent to Rashin able to complete the mission without a stop at Iwo Jima.

Vincent's long range experience came in handy after the war ended.  "Right after the war, the Army Air Corps conceived a plan by which they would try to fly four B-29's nonstop from Japan to Washington, D.C.   I was selected as one of the pilots to be on one of the planes.  The whole thing was a hoax in that they weren't regular airplanes, they were brand new airplanes we picked up in Guam.  They had been  polished and waxed.  They had been stripped of any armament, stripped of any guns.  The bomb bay was filled with bomb bay tanks.  On top of them were C-47 aluminum tanks stacked on top of the bomb bay tanks.  The radar room filled from floor to ceiling with C-47 tanks.  A C-47 tank was about 15 inches by 15 inches by eight feet long, aluminum, and these were garden hosed all together in a manifold and entered into the fuel system." 

"The other thing that made it a hoax is that it wasn't a full crew.  They didn't have it in the newspapers that it wasn't a full crew; they were silent on that subject.  But we had three pilots, two flight engineers, two navigators and an observer.  The other thing they didn't say was that you had to have about a 100 mph tail wind if you're going to go that far.  The other thing they didn't say was that the maximum gross takeoff weight as defined by Boeing, of 120,000 pounds.  We took off on a very cold morning with pressure filled gas-tanks - that's a dangerous thing to do, weighing 141,000 pounds.  We made it, nonstop!" he remembered.

But Vincent's arrival was also a memorable event:  "Two of us had been regularly flying missions were on that airplane.  The third guys had been flying a desk, he was a major.  As we approached DC, the major said "I want to sit in the left seat."  He wanted to be the guy that taxied by the movie cameras and waved out the window.  He didn't realize how low the stall speed was going to be as light as that airplane was at the time.  He hadn't been flying for quite a while and he hadn't flown probably that light ever.  The result was too high, too hot, didn't touch the runway 'til about halfway down. Then he panicked, jammed on the brakes, skidded the tires, blew the tires out.  We skidded off the end of the runway, did a cartwheel down there and we had to be picked up by a truck and hauled back to where all the lights were.  That happened on November 1st (1945)."  The arrival date was somewhat ironic as it was the originally planned date for the US invasion of Japan, had the war continued.
 
Richard "Dick" Randall, arrived in the western Pacific just as the war ended.  He was a navigator also schooled as a radar operator en route to a new Eighth Air Force B-29 unit on Okinawa (463rd BS of 346th BG (VH)), but ordered to hold at Tinian while military authorities hastily made postwar plans.  "We were...ready to go over to Okinawa.  We had the latest B-29, which had brand new bombing equipment, we had a different radar set that was capable of bombing.  We'd been in training; we practiced bombing near Las Vegas - we "bombed" the Hoover Dam so often.  We were gung ho, our whole crew was.  We were in California when the first atomic bomb was dropped - well, what are we gonna do now?  We thought the war was probably going to be over very soon.  Before I got to Tinian the second bomb had been dropped...Okinawa was not ready to have B-29's land on the landing strip yet.  We weren't allowed to come."

Although the war was over, Randall did participate in the show of force mission with the 6th Bomb Group on VJ-Day, Sept. 2,  1945, flying over the battleship Missouri as the instrument of surrender formally ending the war was signed.  "We were on Tinian when they were getting ready to make the big air show.  As I understand it there were over 600 B-29s for the air show while they were signing the peace treaty in Tokyo Bay.   We went up, saw Mt. Fujiyama up there, went up to the Initial Point, turned around to come back in formation.  It really wasn't a formation, it was just a big celebration party!  We were so glad to participate in that big air show the B-29s put on over Tokyo Bay..."

Randall eventually did reach Okinawa, as he later flew B-29s out of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, during the Korean War on 25+ combat missions with the 307th Bomb Group (VH).  He later flew aboard C-124 Globemaster transport aircraft out of Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri, during the Vietnam War as well, including missions to SE Asia.  Thus he served our country in three wars, retiring as a Lt Col after more than 26 years in the service.

Lt Col Kristopher Murphy of the 142nd Fighter Wing also spoke at the veterans' panel, sharing his military aviation experience as an F-15 Eagle fighter pilot in the Oregon Air National Guard.  Lt Col Murphy also answered some questions from the audience.   He said:  "Clearly I don't have the war stories of you gentlemen (but) it is an honor to be sitting here with you all... Not having the opportunity to fire a shot in anger, I certainly appreciate the ability to be a part of the realistic force deterrence; if we are out there doing what we are supposed to, if we're all capable of training, hopefully no one has to pull a trigger or drop a bomb again..." 

In response to a question about the legacy of his unit, Lt Col Murphy said:  "We've got the F-15 out here in Portland.  In the long history of the Redhawks we've been a hometown unit.  As part as the Air National Guard we are citizen airmen.  I'm an airline pilot in my other life.  We've got a firefighter, heck, we got a pear farmer flying fighters defending America.  As a hometown organization the real highlight is that we are primarily through our history defending the Pacific Northwest.  The Redhawks here in Portland are here to defend the Pacific Northwest.  If federal missions call us away we'll go do that if we have to.  But that's the legacy of the unit, that's been here since before the Second World War."

The Wives Speak

In a new element added to this year's reunion, an association women's panel followed the veterans to share their perspectives on wartime life on the home front. Mrs. Jeanne Holmes was the moderator while Mrs. Glenda Richards  (was married to Capt. Jeff Richards, aircraft commander of Crew # 3915, assigned to the 39th Bomb Squadron and flew B-29 Victor 30, "Son of a B-29" (serial number unknown)) recorded the conversation for group records.  There were some shared experiences in the inconvenience of shortages more than true hardships during the war, such as the lack of silk stockings.  Several ladies knit socks for soldiers and wrote letters to servicemen.   They also shared their unique experiences.  

Mrs. Elaine Angel, was married to Sgt. Arthur H. "Art" Angel, who was a crew chief and maintained the 40th Squadron's B-29 "Wun Wing Lo" (Victor 61, serial number unknown). She remembered  what she did for the war effort:  "During the war years, a group of us were very active in the USO,  and we had the opportunity of going there and entertaining with the young men that were there.  We also were invited out to March Field and they came to get us in trucks and we got there; one of my friends was a Spanish dancer.  We sang and we played board games, we did everything; we kept them busy and happy for a few hours."

As a high-school age girl, Mrs. Angel did other things to help on the home front, and remembered:  "I lived in an apartment house.  There was a family that...was in the same building - he was a major and he had two kids.  When he came back, they (he and his wife) went out a lot and I was the babysitter for the two girls.  I got 75 cents an hour, which was outlandish at that time.  I did a lot, had to take care of their food, and I had to make sure they went to bed and all this sort of thing." 

Mrs. Lynn Creek, was married to Sgt. John R. Creek, a radioman in the 39th Bomb Squadron.  She remembered the impact of wartime rationing on her family.  "As far as rationing was concerned we suffered mostly for meat, sugar, butter, (and then) there's always gas.  For an "A" coupon, three gallons a week."  She also remembered Toothpaste - "When the tube was empty, you took it back to get another tube, otherwise, no go." 

Wartime rationing did have a direct impact on Mrs. Creek:  "...the thing that made the biggest impression on me, because I was in high school, (was that) we were allowed two pair of shoes a year.  As a teenager, which of course doesn't compare at all to teenagers today, it was difficult to get along with two pair of shoes.  Now my sister had babies and so occasionally she was kind enough to give me one of hers.  So it gave me a little up." 

As for the end of the war she remembered:  "When my husband, who at that time (wartime) I didn't even know,  came back from service, he was very quick, within about three weeks after he was discharged, to go back to his home in Indiana and get us a half a beef and a pig.  We had lots of meat after that which we all enjoyed!" 

Mrs. Maxine Higgins, wife of pilot 1st Lt. Warren Higgins, recalled the impact of the war on her extended family.  "I had two older cousins that joined the Navy.  My brother was two years younger than I but the war lasted a number of years so a year or two before the war ended, he joined the Marines; that was a great concern of mine...  It was shattering when I had to wave off my brother on a train loaded with soldiers, or Marines in that case, to Camp Pendleton, a long way from Wisconsin."   

As for wartime rationing, Mrs. Higgins said  "We had a ration book for this and that, but we didn't ever go without anything; there was always enough to eat."  She remembered citizen efforts to raise funds for the war effort, sometimes aided by musicians like Glenn Miller, Kay Kyser and their bands, to drum up support for war bond drives.  "The buying of the war bonds...we did it in school by stamps and then filled up the book so you could buy a bond. Of course that took forever.  When we were young we didn't come across a quarter that easily." 

Mrs. Higgins did recall one time when the war touched her directly through the fate of a classmate:  "He was just a young man walking through the halls in high school.  He was always smiling at me, and he was just so adorable; he had the sweetest smile, just a lovely guy.  I heard later he was killed and that was really shattering to us.  And of course we all had (remembered) the gold stars in the window."

Mrs. Millie Frick, wife of navigator 1st Lt. Bob Frick, sold war bonds at college in Wisconsin and remembered how the war affected her family.  "I have five brothers - and I'm the only girl.  Guess who was called "Queenie?!"  My youngest brother was too young for the war, but of my four (other) brothers... one was in the army, one was in the air force and two were in the navy.  And I can still see my mother being very proud of these boys in having their picture up, and I think she had a lot of front windows so everybody would know who her sons were."

Mrs. Frick also recalled a side effect of the wartime rationing.  "There was kind of a shortage of food.  So we were supposed to plant what they called a Victory Garden.  We didn't have very much property at my home in Superior, Wisconsin, so I had to go across the street to plant my Victory Garden."

Living on the west coast, Mrs. Nellie Morgan, wife of flight engineer Virgil Morgan, remembered air raid drills and having to close curtains for blackout.  "I guess I never thought very much about the rationing because I never felt it was that difficult for us here at home.  I thought it was so much more important for our people, God bless you people, who were fighting the war, you were the people that needed it."

But still, Mrs. Morgan remembered one particular rationing-related experience:  "The only real memorable thing I have regarding rationing, my girlfriend and I drove to, guess where, Portland for a wedding!  Of course we couldn't get tires.  Between Seattle and Portland we had five flat tires.  But every single time we had a flat tire there was a serviceman that came along and repaired our tire. God bless you all!" 

The reunion was supported by a great collection of photos, reference books, and videos showcasing the group's history in the History Room adjacent to the Hospitality Room.  On Thursday evening, Mr. Don Keller of the Oregon chapter of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society brought some additional display items for members to enjoy, including several B-29 artifacts.

In addition, Mr. David Wilson presented a special gift to the veterans, a replica of the B-29 "horn button" with Boeing logo which was affixed to the control yokes of Superfortress bombers.  Even during World War II these "horn buttons" were prized souvenirs.

Oregon Connection

The Oregon Air National Guard has some B-29 connections, in examining the unit's history.  One goes back to Bill Stevenson, one of the original members of Oregon's first aviation unit, the 123rd Observation Squadron, when it started up in April, 1941.  During the war he was picked up for Officer Candidate School and became a maintenance officer in the 40th Bomb Group (Very Heavy), seeing service in India and China in 1944 before his unit moved to Tinian in 1945 to continue the air war against Imperial Japan.

Another is found in the service of Colonel Waldo E. Timm, the commander of the Oregon ANG 142nd Fighter Group from 1957 to 1962.  During World War II he was an aircraft commander in the 29th Bomb Group (VH), 52nd Bomb Squadron and pilot of the "City of Portland," a Boeing B-29-65-BW Superfortress, serial number 44-69869, with the group tail code Square O and aircraft "victor" number 48, based on Guam.  He completed 37 combat missions in "City of Portland," and though the ship was punctured 12 times, including three times in which propellers were damaged, it was never seriously damaged.

Another B-29 connection for Oregon Air Guardsmen came during the Korean War.  CMSgt Gene Thomas, activated for federal duty in 1951, was assigned to the B-29-equipped 11th Radar Calibration Squadron at Hamilton Field, California, where he performed aircraft instrument repair.  He also took care of HQ Fourth Air Force's B-17 Flying Fortress VIP transport.  He recalls Col Timm also served at Hamilton during the Korean War activation as a lead checkout/instructor pilot.

Reunion Events

Going back to the reunion, participants toured the Rose City on a Willamette River cruise Thursday and on Friday went to visit the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

Saturday afternoon was the association's membership meeting, at which they reviewed activities of the last year, gave a budget update and discussed the next reunion location, as well as the future of the organization.  Despite diminishing numbers of veterans participating or able to travel, the executive board of the association honored the request of veteran's present in Portland to keep the organization going. 

Association President  John Creek, Jr. said that "...the 6th Bomb Group has a future," with enthusiasm, leadership and finances that are OK.  It would be up to the association board and officers to continue to gather for the right reasons, to honor our veterans and remember history.  He then announced a decision to hold the group's next reunion in Tampa, Florida.  Of note, the 6th Bomb Group's successor, the 6th Operations Group of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, is stationed in Tampa.

Everyone got together for the Saturday night banquet dinner to share a meal together and enjoyed a superb banquet buffet.  It was preceded by both a silent auction and a regular auction to raise funds for student scholarships for the offspring of group veterans.  Members generated over $1,800 from the auctions, signaling a very successful charity effort.

The University of Portland's Air Force ROTC Detachment 695 provided the color guard for the event, and the four cadets present had the opportunity to sit with veterans, learn more about their Air Force heritage, and listen to inspirational remarks from the guest speaker.

Guest speaker was retired US Navy Captain and F-4/F-14 fighter pilot Marv Serhan who gave a thoughtful and motivating message about values and how character plus adversity equals destiny. 

CAPT Serhan drew attention to what he characterized as a culture identity crisis in America today.  He spoke of the challenge cultural amnesia presents as a problem of memory loss in the nation, giving examples of the lack of knowledge on basic historical facts, geography and government found in surveys conducted across the country.

He also gave outstanding examples of American citizens rising to the challenge of adversity and making a choice to make a difference with their lives.  Examples such as 1939 Heisman Trophy winner and WWII naval aviator Nile Kinnick, former Vietnam POW Vice Admiral James Stockdale and the members of the 6th Bomb Group. 

The banquet concluded with a rousing acapella rendition by all of "God Bless America," led by Warren Higgins, a reunion tradition.  After that the formal program concluded, but attendees immediately engaged in a dozen different groups and conversations, with many pictures taken.

The last and most solemn event was the memorial service on Sunday morning.  The veterans present represented those group members who could not be there, including the 35 aircrew killed in action and 32 crewmembers who remain missing in action from among the 20 some B-29's lost in combat and operations.  Another 33 aircrew from these aircraft became prisoners of war in Imperial Japan.

Those lost in the war, and since then to the battle against time, were remembered in the memorial service.  Mr. Steve Hayes gave the message, in honor of his Uncle Jim Hayes, a bombardier during the war, who became a chaplain afterwards.  He said that "heroes don't have to be dead" to be honored by a grateful nation, and quoted Bible scripture from the Book of John, the Psalms and Isaiah.  He then read the names of those 6th Bomb Group veterans who have "flown west" since the last reunion.  The service concluded, and attendees began their departure, heading for all points of the compass rose.

As the association continues to commemorate the achievements and service of the 6th Bomb Group, they can take pride in knowing that the lineage and honors of the group continue on in active USAF service today.  This heritage is found in the 6th Operations Group of the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker-equipped 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.  So the 6th is still flying Boeing products after all these years!

The Redhawks of the 142nd Fighter Wing salute the men and families of the 6th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy).  Their service and sacrifice helped bring a decisive end to the Second World War.