|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|
|Colonel " E.J. or (Ernie)"
ERNEST JOHN WELLS
Position: I flew as the pilot, ie aircraft commander, on all of my missions except my first mission when I flew as co-pilot for Harold Brecht in a B-17 on a night mission over Rabaul. I flew 45 missions, 301 Hours in combat. I flew both the B-17 and the B-24, but most of our missions were flown in a B-24D aircraft # 42-40673 named Gentleman Jim. We picked up the Aircraft in Topeka, Kansas and flew it to New Guinea and we flew it as the crew that brought the aircraft to combat until my co-pilot William Hillyard was given a crew of his own then Gus Apai became our co-pilot until we completed our missions. Our Navigator Everett Rausch became ill while we were on R&R to Sydney, and he was hospitalized on our way back to New Guniea in Brisbane so he did not complete his required combat time with us and he had to remain in the theatre to catch up. In doing so he began flying with any crew who needed a navigator and he was killed with a crew on their first mission on take off. I would like to confirm this if anyone knows how he was killed. In addition the last two months of combat I also served as the Enginerring Officer for the Squadron and I Flight tested the Squadron aircraft whenever I was required to do so, ie engine changes, collateral damage to the airframe or whenever the tech. orders required a test hop.
Served: 19 June 1943 until 9 February 1944.
Originally from: I graduated from Smithtown Branch High School, Smithtown Branch, Long Island, N.Y., Attended the State University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa for two years a requirement to become an Aviation Cadet at that time, I had passed all of the requirements to become an Aviation Cadet but nevertheless the Stamford, Connecticut draft board drafted me and I entered service on 6 June 1941 as a private in the U. S. Army. When I entered the service I was a resident of connecticut.
Training: I went to Ft. Devens, Mass. for basic training and I was then assigned to Windsor Locks (Bradley Field) awaiting call up for Cadet training. I was assigned to Maxwell Field as an Aviation Cadet in December 1941. From basic Cadet training at Maxwell Field, I was assigned to Primary at Bennettsville, S.C., then to Basic at Shaw Field, S.C., advanced at Turner Field, Albany, Ga., B-17 Transition School, Sebring, Florida, B-24 Transition School, Tucson, Arizona, where I picked up our crew. Then we went as a crew to Almorgordo, New Mexico for our second phase training, then to Clovis, New Mexico for our final phase training. We were then transferred to Topeka, Kansas where we pcked up our aircraft. After test hopping the aircraft we were given orders to fly to the McClellan Air Depot California where bombay tanks were installed then we flew to Hamilton Air Base, California where we were briefed by transport command for our flight overseas. The first leg was to Hickam Field, Hawaii where we spent two weeks while a nose turrert was installed. After a test hop we were briefed and we flew to Canton Island the Island with one palm tree near the end of the runway. Then off to Nandi,and New Caledonia and Brisbane to Townsville to Charters Towers where our bomb bay tanks were removed and bomb racks were installed. We then flew back to Townsville and from there to Port Moresby.
Citations/Medals: Silver Star-Purple Heart-Distinguished Flying Cross-Air medal in combat. The Air Medal was received for sinking a Jap Vessel in the Bismark Sea. In the U.S.Air Force- Air Force Commendation Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Planes: The only name I can recall of the planes I flew in combat was Gentleman Jim. we flew most of our missions in this aircraft. I flew my first mission in a B-17 but I cannot recall the name of the aircraft. Our crew named our aircraft after the boxer Jim Corbit who was known in the boxing world as Gentleman Jim but he had a knock out punch and that was the intent of the name, knock them out. Someone in the Squadron did the nose art but I can't recall his name.The nose art was a Black Top Hat and a Silver Tipped cane from which hung a pair of boxing gloves. Gentleman Jim was inscribed underneath.
Number of Missions: Our crew flew 45 missions and 301 hours of combat time [Ed. Note: to see a list of Colonel Wells' missions, see the articles in the History section]
Description of Missions:
Rabaul--- 4 night missions, 3day missions 1 Recce mission. Bismark Sea---8 Recce missions Lae---7 missions Wewak--6 missions Search and Rescue---1 mission Looking for one of our crews lost on a day raid to Rabaul, Ring Ring Plantation---2 missions Glouscester---3 missions Arawe---2 missions Saidor--- 2 missions Finchaven---1 mission Madang---1 mission Hotchkiss---2 missions Supply drops---2 missions Drops to Austrailian look outs on New Britain. My memories of these missions now are how vulnerable we all were as crews flying combat in one of the largest bombers in the force with such little training. We were naive young men full of spirit anxious to engage the enemy to get the job done. Memories that keep coming back to me are the loss of a crew in weather on a daylight mission we were on when the whole formation penetrated thick clouds and you could not see the other aircraft in formation. Another incident that still crops up in my mind is the search and rescue effort we made the next day to try and locate the crew when I did find a crew in lifeboats in the Bismark sea and I thought we had found our crew and they were safe. We flew cover over them for hours until the PBY came and rescued the crew. Later we found out it was another crew from 13th AF which deflated our balloon so to speak but we were happy we had found survivors even though it was not a 43rd BG crew. The food, living conditions, horrors of war are memories which are hard to obliterate from ones mind and they come and go and they are experiences which are hard to relate to your family and people in general.
Most poignant, sad or touching memory of the war:
Before I returned back to the States, I told both my Navigator, Everett Rausch and my co-pilot William Hillyard who went overseas on my crew with me I would call their families when I got Stateside which I did. I also told my navigator I would go down to Long Island to see his family during my 30 day leave. After I called his mother and made arrangements to meet at their home, my wife and I made the trip from Connecticut to Long Island and we knocked on the door to be greeted by a tearful grieving mother, father and sister who had just been informed Everett had been killed in combat that morning. This really got to me at the time and I still have pangs in my heart thinking of this incident and the sadness it brought to my wife and me at the time.
Funniest or most fun memory of the war:
When we were stationed at Port Moresby we had two male natives living in a tent in the Squadron area. These two natives did our laundry and we paid them in script for which they were allowed to purchase items in our little canteen where only the necessities of life were available. They were always around the area and they watched us play poker. Anyhow one night an awful scream came from their living area and we thought at the time maybe a Jap had infiltrated the area. So we armed ourselves and proceeded to the location from which the scream was heard and as we approached their tent we could see one of the natives chasing the other native with a big knife. We intervened and asked them why were they fighting and the one native told us he had caught the other native cheating at poker and he wanted his script back. Anyhow we quietened them down and we went back to our tents relaxed as now we knew there were no Japs in the area.
Any odd or strange memories from the war:
Having not seen a Jap in combat our crew was told two Jap prisoners were being transported from Dobadura to Brisbane and the C-47 transporting them would be refueling at Port Moresby and they gave us an ETA for this flight. So off we went to the flight line to see these two prisoners who were being guarded by two Australian Soldiers. We viewed these two skinny human beings with disgust and anger and we went back to the Squadron area. Anyhow about two or three days later we heard after the C-47 took off from Port Moresby and they landed at Brisbane the aircraft was greeted by the interrogation team and when they opened the door of the C-47 the two Australian soldiers were standing there but no prisoners. When the two soldiers were questioned as to the whereabouts of the two prisoners they related the two prisoners rebelled in flight and they had opened the cargo door and jettisoned them out over the sea. Of course the two Guards paid the consequences as intelligence wanted to know the positions of the Japanese in the Dobadura area before we were deployed there. At the time we thought this to be very funny story knowing the hatred the Australian soldiers had for the Japanese soldiers we could understand why these guards did such a terrible thing.
Most heroic thing I saw or did:
On a daylight formation mission to Wewak our crew was assigned the lead aircraft for this mission for the 43rd Bomb Group. On the bomb run we came under intense ack ack fire and my co-pilot Gus Apai and I were hit by shrapnel in the face and legs and our windshields were shot out thus we were faced with terrific wind in our faces and wounds to our bodies. Nevertheless even though we were wounded and our aircraft was damaged I assessed we still had the capability to continue our bomb run which we did because we were so close to the bomb release line. The aircraft in the Wing dropped their bombs on our drop and the mission was declared successful after the damage assessment photographs were developed. Both Gus Apai and I received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart for our actions on this mission.
Where I was and how I celebrated when I learned the war was over:
I was stationed aty Nellis Air Base, Las Vegas, Nevada when the Japanese surrendered. I was Chief of the Flight Test Section with 9 Officers and 3 Wasps under my command with the responsibility of flight testing all of the aircraft on the base that required testing. This included bombers, training aircraft, fighter aircraft and recce aircraft. When we heard the war was over the announcement came over the speaker system that all personnel were restricted to the base. This lasted for 24 hours and the Commander did not want us to go into town besause he thought we would be subjected to histeria and we might get too drunk and get hurt. This lasted for 24 hours but we celebrated on the base in the Officers Club and I am sure the airmen celebrated also with happiness in our hearts.
How having gone to war has affected me, what comes to mind when I think of the war:
How the war has affected me as to how I feel, Lucky to be alive is the realization I have and I think of often. The thing that comes to mind also is how naive and fearless we were as young men going to war with so little training fresh out of flight training and a few hours of crew experience before we were dispatched to the South West Pacific to do air combat. When our crew came home after 31 days on a Liberty ship from Brisbane to San Francisco, after disembarking from the ship we all gathered at the Top Of the Mark Hopkins Hotel and got drunk as skunks. That night I called my wife who had no contact with me for 45 days to tell her I was home and it was 5 AM on the East Coast and we talked for 45 minutes. She was relieved to hear from me. After going through the redistribution center the next day I flew to New York that same day on American Airlines and I was greeted in my home town the third day with open arms. After my leave I was assigned to a War Bond Tour going from State Fairs, Concerts or any gatherings where we could talk about our experiences to promote the war Bond effort. So my experience upon my return was a very happy one for me and I was treated exceptionally well.
To future generations:
If you have to serve your Country for freedom, I would like to pass on "Serve with dignity, and pride". This was prevalent during WW2 and we all had that pride of serving for freedom. I think this feeling has been lost in the younger generation now but there comes a time in ones lifetime when you will look back and reflect as to what you have accomplished in life and if all you can offer is selfishness ie What is in it for me?, which seems to be the theme today then when you grow older you will ask yourself what have I accomplished in life. The comradship of having served in a combat unit in WW2 generates a great amount of pride and a strong feelings for those who you served with. Reunions brings this out vividly thats why we old timers look forward to and thats why we go to these functions whenever we can.