|K e n s m e n : 4 3 r d B o m b G r o u p (H), 5 t h A A F|
|What follows is one of the many
remembered experiences author Paul Nichols (of the 65th SQ) relates in
his self-published book, "My Lucky Dice", available for purchase from
this site's bookstore. This book is
not a fancy one but it
is absolutely both one-of-a-kind and a fascinating read. For people
wanting to know what it was actually like to have been a member of the
43rd BG during the war in the Pacific, this book is recommended.
One night about 4 A.M. a tremendous explosion awoke us all from our sound sleep. What in the world could it have been? It was so intense that the tents and all the mosquito nets we slept under had moved at least a foot and nearly blew us out of our beds. Something really terrible had surely happened. It wasn't long before we knew.
It was a plane from our 43rd Bomb Group loaded with 16 fine young men who were headed for headquarters in Leyte. The purpose of their trip was to pick up their orders to return to the states, as they had completed their combat missions and they felt they could wait no longer for their tickets back home. Together with these 16 were the regular 10 man crew of the B-24 taking them up there. What a shame. After lift off, in the dark of night, the pilots of this particular B-24 had dropped back to the air strip with the brakes apparently locked. Locking the wheels was a normal procedure prior to lifting the wheels up into the wheel wells; dropping back to the ground was not.
The plane, loaded with fuel for the long trip, apparently nosed in and blew with a tremendous explosion. In retrospect it is very possible that the 16 men may have erroneously been allowed to all sit in the aft section of the plane. This would have radically changed the center of gravity and would make the plane very tail heavy, thus causing the plane to stall out at the rather slow speed at which the plane lifted off the ground.
Our crew was assigned the job of attempting to evaluate what we might find that would indicate what caused the accident. Also we were expected to try to identify each body, or as many as possible for burial. This had to be the most gruesome and disgusting job ever given to me, at least in my entire life to date. There wasn't a piece of flesh large enough to even begin to recognize. We found a neck with a coil of wire where the head should have been. Pieces of fingers. Most particles burnt to a great extent. The coral area involved was hardly dented but parts of the plane were strewn over many yards of impact area.
From that day forward we attempted to forget what we had seen that day. I, for one, never have and never will. Here were 16 men, plus the plane crew that would never see home again and home would never see them. One loading or pilot error was all it took on that pitch dark night where the horizon was just a line on an instrument of a fluorescent instrument panel. It could have been an engine failure or a gas leak and a spark, but one thing we were sure of was the unalterable result. There it was again. The old saying we had heard so often since Tonopah, Nevada: "At the sound of the next explosion it will be one 24." We, luckily perhaps, always made sure our future takeoffs were up and away into the wild blue yonder.