7:09 | When B-29 pilot Gene Frazier got to the Pacific theater, he joined the 58th Bomb Wing, the original B-29 unit. It was just as Gen. Curtis LeMay was changing tactics in the campaign to bomb Japan. At a briefing for a Tokyo mission, the men were told they would be going in at 7000 ft. "You mean 27, 000 ft., right?" For Frazier, it was the scariest mission he ever had, but it was effective.
Keywords : Gene Frazier B-29 pilot Guam Tinian wing tank 58th Bomb Wing Kansas China Over the Hump Chengdu China altitude Himalayas Curtis LeMay Dresden incendiary fire bomb Tokyo Japan Pathfinder suicide mission thermal smell atomic bomb
Gene Frazier was from the High Plains of Kansas. At the University of Kansas on Dec 7, 1941, his landlady asked if he and his roommates had heard the radio. When they tuned in, the three of them high-fived and pledged to enlist. All three became pilots.
Pilot trainee Gene Frazier took his first plane ride at Fargo, ND and dropped his first bomb there, a two pound sack of flour. At his next stop in California, actor Robert Cummings was his tough but fair instructor. After he got his wings, they made him an instructor, which was the last thing he wanted. Everyone else was going off to fly fighters! But two years after soloing in a 65 HP Piper Cub, he became the pilot of a 22,000 HP B-29 and prepared to deploy to the Pacific.
It was a surprise. When B-29 pilot Gene Frazier went to the briefing room, he was told the guns had been removed from his plane along with some of the crew. Not only that but the altitude for the mission was now five thousand feet instead of twenty five thousand feet. Many in the huge operation felt like it was a suicide mission. He says it was the scariest mission of the war for him.
The B-29 had twelve 50 cal machine guns and a 20 mm cannon with central fire control. Enemy fighter pilots learned to stay away. Pilot Gene Frazier discusses tactics of the enemy over Japan and relates the tale of two leaders with a strange relationship, Admiral Chester Nimitz and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
It was a RADAR bombing mission over Japan with total cloud cover and targeting by instruments. When he got back to the briefing room, B-29 Pilot Gene Frazier found out that his bombs had totally missed the target, but he was relieved to find out it was not his fault.
There was a secret unit on Tinian at the air base. B-29 pilot Gene Frazier recalls how he was instructed to stay away from their operations, and how one night, all the crews were rousted and trucked to the other end of the island, then almost immediately returned to their barracks. He later found out the unit had loaded the Enola Gay and the midnight move was for his own safety.
Gene Frazier had been part of the huge mission on March 9-10, 1945 when a large part of Tokyo was firebombed and approximately 100,000 Japanese people were killed. On the ground was an eleven year old boy, who would miraculously survive and meet the B-29 pilot years later.
The nose art on World War II era planes is fondly remembered by the crews, but B-29 pilot Gene Frazier was put on the spot by his five year old granddaughter when she asked a question about those ladies in the paintings.
B-29 Pilot Gene Frazier flew fifteen combat missions in the Pacific, but he had many more search and rescue missions and ferry flights. On one of these, he nearly lost his life when his flight flew into a huge storm front, in which the entire aircraft was bathed in St. Elmo's fire.
After the war, B-29 pilot Gene Frazier had a supply drop over a POW camp in Korea. Unable to locate the camp, he headed back and dropped his barrels over Hiroshima, his secondary supply target. Leukemia deaths after the war made some of the crew wonder, had they been exposed to radiation?
In preparation for his interview, B-29 pilot Gene Frazier wrote down some thoughts about his role in the war as compared with his friends who fought and, in some cases, died. He feels he had it easy. He then reveals the technology link between himself and the modern pilot that is unchanged by the decades between.
Unlike the airmen in Europe, who were over enemy territory most of the time, the men in the Pacific who were bombing Japan were over enemy territory for a fraction of flight time. B-29 Pilot Gene Frazier points out that most missing planes were lost to the vast Pacific Ocean rather than enemy action. Another big danger was crashing on take off.
Why was their ground speed so low? B-29 pilot Gene Frazier thought he may have to abort the mission when he figured out they were in the jet stream. If you could catch it just right on the way back, you could really make time. They saw many kamikazes in the distance and had to evade one themselves. Considering the date, that would have been really unfortunate.
B-29 pilot Gene Frazier tells the story of a secret war crimes trial held on Guam in 1946. It concerned atrocities on the island of Chichi-jima, where his cousin Glenn Frazier was captured. The incident was documented by author James Bradley in the book Flyboys.
The B-29 was pressurized, like modern airliners, which allowed the crew to fly at 30,000 ft. without oxygen. Pilot Gene Frazier says they had to depressurize over the target because a hit would explode the plane. To relieve boredom on the long flights, they played bridge.
As officers, each man was issued a bottle of whiskey every week. B-29 pilot Gene Frazier didn't drink, so he traded his accumulated bottles to the sailors for all manner of goods. After the war ended, he was selected to ferry some planes to the Philippines where he acquired a small plane and had fun flying all over the area, except for the occasional potshot by Communist rebels. He turned down a chance to fly for the Chinese Nationalists, and he mailed home a parachute to his fiance, who put it to good use.
Pilot Gene Frazier recalls the mistakes he made during training and his first solo flight. His instructor was actor Robert Cummings who had a unique method of preparing his students for their solo. His next instructor had flown in the Spanish Civil War. He was angry at being stuck as an instructor, so he took it out on the cadets, which made them the best pilots there.
Asked if he lost many friends in the war, B-29 pilot Gene Frazier remarks that he did not lose many in the planes. It was his friends from high school and others he met in training who were sent to much more dangerous circumstances and paid the ultimate price.
He was sick with dysentery, but Jack Roan was determined to escape. The Germans were marching prisoners aimlessly on the road, so security was lax. He and two others made their move during a big storm. They hid in the woods and took potatoes from fields until they made contact with allies.
B-17 pilot Crawford Hicks was returning from his tenth mission when he spotted the German fighter coming in with guns blazing. The plane was crippled by hits on the engines so they had to bail out. After the others had jumped, he looked down through the hatch to the ground far below, then he fell.
The Ranger battalion was supposed to make it to a certain point in Italy by nightfall, but rain and mud slowed them down. The result was that the Germans were already there and had a distinct advantage. Jack Roan describes the humiliating surrender of hundreds of Rangers that followed.
The morning after his capture, B-17 pilot Crawford Hicks woke up in a German jail. After interrogation, he was sent to Stalag Luft III, the POW camp at which the "Great Escape" had occurred several months earlier. On his arrival, he was astounded when one of the guards addressed the arrivals with an unexpected accent.
Following his French contact at a discreet distance, George Starks parked his bicycle and watched the man enter a bakery. In the back of that bakery, he met Maurice, a member of the Free French Resistance. He was getting close to Switzerland, but he would need Maurice's help to get over the border. Part 4 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
George Starks had evaded capture all across France and was safe in Switzerland, where he had it easier than downed airmen who had actually come down in Switzerland. They were supposed to stay put and wait, but he had other ideas, which led to the liberation of Evian on the other side of Lake Geneva. Part 6 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The POW's were allowed to do whatever they wanted all day except for two roll calls. Crawford Hicks was kept in the same camp where the "Great Escape" had occurred and he describes some of the details of that incident and why he was ordered not to try to do the same.
After leaving his safe haven in Switzerland, downed B-17 pilot George Starks finally met up with American forces near Evian in France. Then began a long, sometimes pleasurable trip back to his unit in England. After debriefing, he was sent around to give lectures on evasion for other airmen, then back home to Florida. Part 7 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The food was meager in the POW camp, but one of the men in the room with Crawford Hicks had been a cook and so they agreed to pool all they were given by the Germans, along with what they received in parcels, so that he could repurpose it into decent meals. The men relieved the monotony of camp life with lively talent shows.
When at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Jesus Cepeda would attend mass on Sunday with his friend from back home in Guam. As he waited for him on deck, he heard a big rumbling noise, like hundreds of planes at once, but as he searched the sky, he could see nothing. Then he turned to the north.(This interview made possible with the support of ALBERT SMALL.)
After bailing out, evading German troops and hiding in the woods, B-17 Pilot George Starks was helped by French civilians and put on his way over land toward Switzerland. He had a broken bone in his foot, but he managed to make good time, with some help from locals. German troops were everywhere but his young looks and beret gave him a chance when he encountered them. Part 2 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
They heard the Russian guns approaching from the East and it wasn't long before the men of Stalag Luft III were shipped on a train to Nuremberg. It was there in a freezing outdoor camp that Crawford Hicks saw his friend strip down in the snow to bathe at a water spigot. There was a good reason.
With a commandeered truck, newly liberated POW Bob Honeycutt made three trips into Belgium, loaded down with as many freed US airmen as he could carry. He'd lost half his weight and was eaten up with lice, but he'd made it. When he got back home to Chattanooga, both he and his family had a big surprise. Part 6 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After a long trek across France, George Starks was finally next to the Swiss border. From the time he hid his parachute until the time he stepped across the creek that was the border, he had been helped by sympathetic locals. When he was finally out of occupied territory and free in Switzerland, he was surprised when someone else showed up. Part 5 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The end of the war was imminent, but the Germans were still marching POW's around the countryside. It was the forces of GEN George Patton that liberated the temporary camp where Crawford Hicks was listening to the approaching guns. Then started a whirlwind of activity for the newly freed Americans.
As he made his way through France in disguise, downed B-17 pilot George Starks encountered German troops, stole a bicycle and made friends with many locals. In one town he was sheltered by the chief of police, who had a very friendly daughter. Part 3 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Injured and dazed from his bail out at 18,000 feet, Bob Honeycutt was taken into the home of an Austrian family until the local officials came to arrest him. He was cared for so well, he had to wonder, why were these civilians treating him like a friend? Part 2 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
Chan Rogers experiences a couple of close calls on the Siegfried Line. His unit stumbles upon a nest of sleeping Germans, suddenly finding themselves in a harrowing firefight. Later, when facing off against a group of German pillboxes, they are showered with deadly shrapnel from tree bursts. (This interview made possible with the support of TIMOTHY R. COLLINS.)
On his fifth combat mission, his first as aircraft commander, B-17 pilot George Starks was on the outside edge of the formation when the plane was hit by German fighters. With a wing on fire, he gave the signal to bail out and he was soon in free fall from high altitude over France. He landed hard, hid his chute, and hid in the woods as he heard German troops approaching. Part 1 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
It was his 29th mission, a bombing raid over Austria, when Bob Honeycutt's luck ran out. First they lost an engine. Then, when they dropped behind the formation, they were swarmed by German fighters. As the gunners fell one by one, a rocket finally set the plane on fire and blew him right out into the air. Part 1 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
In Dachau, Rogers witnesses thousands of starving prisoners in a concentration camp. He remembers the many other displaced civilians, forced into labor, who suffered at the hands of the nazis. (This interview made possible with the support of TIMOTHY R. COLLINS.)
From the information they had and the mock-up of the island they saw, the Marines figured Iwo Jima would be an easy operation. Bill Richardson went ashore with his artillery battery as soon as they could get on the crowded beach. It was immediately apparent that it was going to be a monumental battle. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN R. ASMUS.)
After a hearty breakfast with his German guard, Bob Honeycutt left the comfort of the Alps, where he had bailed out, for the misery of the German POW system. First came the mind games of the interrogation. Then, he wound up at Stalag Luft IV, one of the worst camps, where he learned new meanings for "cold" and "hungry." Part 3 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
The Russians were close enough that the American POW's could hear the fire in the distance. Their guards roused them all and put them on the road in a forced march, leaving their camp in Poland and heading for Germany. It was seventy nine days of freezing cold out in the open, with very little food. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After eight months in the prison camp, Bob Honeycutt could hear the guns of the Russian Army approaching, but he was not going to be free anytime soon. The German guards forced 10,000 men out of the gate and onto the road, where they began a forced march, with no known destination. The deprivation and cruelty was mind numbing. Part 4 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
Jack Houston had just helped his buddy dress a wound when he volunteered to return to the Okinawa hilltop where they were getting the enemy cleared out. When he got the jump on three of them, his muzzle flash gave him away and he had to leave in a hurry. He flung himself off the hill where he came face to face with a rifle. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
The Japanese were so well dug in on Iwo Jima that the field artillery couldn't get to them. The flag had been raised on Mt. Suribachi but there was a long way to go to secure the island. When he wasn't wondering where the Japanese rounds were going to land, Bill Richardson had to deal with the cold, wet conditions. Part 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN R. ASMUS.)
The little known "death march" of the men of Stalag Luft IV lasted 86 days. That was when an Allied tank column rolled up and the Russian prisoners took their revenge on a particularly sadistic German guard. With a friend, Bob Honeycutt set out toward a small town, where they spotted a truck in a garage. Mighty tempting. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)