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Finish Forty and Home

The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific

Phil Scearce

Publication Year: 2011

During the early years of World War II in the Pacific theatre, against overwhelming odds, young American airmen flew the longest and most perilous bombing missions of the war. They faced determined Japanese fighters without fighter escort, relentless anti-aircraft fire with no deviations from target, and thousands of miles of over-water flying with no alternative landing sites. Finish Forty and Home is the true story of the men and missions of the 11th Bombardment Group as it fought alone and unheralded in the South Central Pacific, while America had its eyes on the war in Europe. After bombing Nauru, the squadron moves on to bomb Wake Island, Tarawa, and finally Iwo Jima. These missions bring American forces closer and closer to the Japanese home islands and precede the critical American invasions of Tarawa and Iwo Jima. The 42nd Squadron’s losses through 1943 were staggering: 50 out of 110 airmen killed. “Finish Forty and Home is a treasure: poignant, thrilling, and illuminating.”—Laura Hillenbrand, best-selling author of Unbroken and Seabiscuit

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Series

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi

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pp. vii

We fought a small War in the Central Pacific. Our numbers were not large but the percentage of men and planes lost was great. When I arrived in Hawaii in October of 1942, I was billeted in a barracks with the officers of four combat crews, sixteen of us in all. ...

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pp. viii-ix

This book is about my father, Herman Scearce, and the men he served with during World War II, young airmen of the 11th Bombardment Group’s 42nd Bomb Squadron. They fought almost anonymously in the early years of the war in the Pacific. ...


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pp. x-xiv

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pp. 1-9

Herman Scearce was sixteen when he lied about his age to join the Army. His family had disintegrated, his home town had little to offer, and Herman had nothing to lose. Many years later Herman’s children laughed at stories about his impoverished early years. ...

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1. Sergeant at Seventeen

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pp. 11-32

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...

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2. Hawaii

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pp. 33-41

Six B-24 liberators approached Hickam Field on the morning of February 9, 1943, arriving from Hamilton Field, California. Aboard aircraft number 41-24214, Sergeant Herman Scearce got up from the radio operator’s table for a better view. ...

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3. First Mission

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pp. 43-50

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. ...

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4. Nauru

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pp. 51-63

Scearce and Yankus unplugged their interphone headsets and moved toward the rear, as they had practiced a hundred times before. They stepped into the bomb bay, Dogpatch Express’ four massive radial engines howling in unison, much louder than they had seemed from the flight deck. ...

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5. Air Raid

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pp. 65-76

Intelligence information gathered from each aircrew just returned from the Nauru mission was compiled and compared, and photos developed and analyzed, until an accurate accounting of the bombing results was completed. Maj. Gen. Willis Hale endorsed the final report, which was then sent to CincPac, the office of the Commander in Chief, Pacific Command. ...

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6. Chance

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pp. 77-84

Chance is defined as something that happens unpredictably, without discernible human intention, a purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings, the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence.1 The role of chance could be depressing to a bomber crewman if he dwelt too much on it. ...

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7. May 1943

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pp. 85-96

There was a different feel to Honolulu now. Oahu was the same, and familiar, but it wasn’t as exciting and novel as it had been in February when the Air Transport Command navigator so capably guided the nameless B-24 number “two one four” to Hickam Field. ...

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8. The Squadron’s Objectives

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pp. 97-114

With twenty-four flights in thirty days, June 1943 was the busiest flying month for Sgt. Herman Scearce since he joined the Army. He had more hours in the air during May, but May had included the long trip to Midway, the Wake mission, and the searches in the vicinity of Palmyra. ...

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9. The Pacific Preferred

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pp. 115-123

Back in February, Herman Scearce and his buddies had been disappointed when they found out they were headed for the Pacific. Had they known what the future held for B-24 crews going to Europe at that time, they may have been relieved. ...

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10. Softening Tarawa

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pp. 125-142

In late 1943, the 42nd Bomb Squadron’s missions were flown against targets in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. Strikes against these islands were intended to soften Japanese defenses. If an island was slated for invasion, air strikes would be followed by Navy ships moving in for close-range shelling, and then the Marines would go ashore. ...

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11. Forever Consequences

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pp. 143-150

The army air forces had a wide range of ordnance available for bombing all kinds of targets. There were armor piercing bombs designed to penetrate the decks of ships and explode inside the hull. Fragmentation bombs of different types were designed for use against personnel and parked aircraft. ...

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12. Losing Altitude Fast

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pp. 151-163

The difference between an uneventful mission and a terrifying one could be a matter of a few feet, maybe one more or one less degree of elevation or traverse by a Japanese anti-aircraft gunner as he aimed his weapon to fire. ...

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13. Back to Hawaii

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pp. 165-187

The 42nd Bombardment Squadron lost five aircrews between late May 1943 and the end of the year. A low-level search mission on May 27 claimed Lieutenant Phillips’ Green Hornet, then in July Lieutenant Cason’s plane and crew took a terrifying final plummet after colliding with a Zero on a mission against Wake Island. ...

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14. Last Flights

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pp. 189-200

The radio operator’s table dropped, Sergeant Scearce’s stomach leaped, and he braced his knees against the table to keep from falling into the heaving cockpit floor. Just outside his window, Scearce could see the silver propeller hub of Belle of Texas’ number 3 engine turning so fast it seemed to be standing still. ...

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15. Ask the Man Who Owns One

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pp. 201-219

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. ...

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16. The Meaning of Boxes

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pp. 221-234

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. ...

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17. Guam

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pp. 235-252

On August 21, 1944, 183 men, the ground echelon of the 42nd Bombardment Squadron, climbed aboard freshly painted green troop trucks and drove across Oahu from Mokuleia to the docks at Honolulu.1 Men breathed the strong smell of the trucks’ new enamel coats and the scent evoked a powerful sense of renewed purpose. ...

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18. Back in Business

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pp. 253-270

Thirty miles east of Oahu, a twin-engined B-25 Mitchell bomber towing a gunnery target entered airspace designated A-9 at 4,000 feet. Fifteen minutes later, three 42nd Bomb Squadron B-24s arrived in a V formation with Lt. Keeton Rhoades flying lead. ...

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19. Halfway to Forty

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pp. 271-290

Bing Crosby was one of the most popular performers among men in the service.1 His radio broadcasts raised morale and inspired Americans at home and overseas. He often broadcast his Kraft Music Hall radio show from military bases across the United States, and during his shows, Bing talked to America about rationing plans, helped people understand them, and won their support. ...

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20. January 1945

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pp. 291-299

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. ...

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21. Endings for Some

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pp. 301-318

It was never more clear how alone an aircrew was than when they were in trouble. Men flying a stricken plane had only their aircraft and all the skill and resourcefulness they could muster, but sometimes the plane was too broken for any heroic effort to save it. ...

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pp. 319-330

On the same day Sgt. Herman Scearce finished his fortieth mission, Capt. Charlie Bunn drafted the following letter: ...


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pp. 331-354


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pp. 355-360


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pp. 361-373

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414370
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574413168

Page Count: 408
Illustrations: 39 b&w illus. 1 map.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Series