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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . c h a p t e r t w e n t y - t w o ........................................................... how to win while losing, ii Our first station down south was on one of the southern islands in the New Hebrides, called Efate, near the capital city of Vila. Our flying field consisted of one very narrow strip, covered with pierced steel planking and carved out of the jungle. The jungle was very close to the runway, and it was a scary place to land in a crosswind. Airplanes were parked by backing them with a tug into notches carved out of the jungle along the length of the strip. We were bombing targets on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, softening them up for the coming Marine landing. It was a long way up to Guadalcanal from Efate, and they were preparing another runway on one of the northern New Hebrides islands, Espiritu Santo. This would put us much closer to our work and permit us to carry much larger bomb loads. In the meantime, Efate was home. The islands just north of the New Hebrides were the Santa Cruz group, and the northernmost of these was a little spot of land called Nupani. This islet was actually the tip of an extinct volcano, and the walls were broken in on one side, so the crater was open to the sea and formed a snug little harbor. Intelligence reports reached us that the Japs were using Nupani as a base for a couple of flying boats, which they were refueling from submarines during the night and during the early morning hours. This looked like too good an opportunity to pass up, and my boss said, ‘‘Eddie, go get them! If you take off about 3:00 tonight, you should catch them at it around daybreak.’’ I said, ‘‘Yes, sir,’’ and we began hoisting up a load of bombs. There were a few difficulties. Our runway was awfully narrow, and the strip had no lights. We decided that if we parked a couple of jeeps at the end of the runway with their headlights pointed back up the strip, they would provide all the light we needed for take-off. We had overlooked the fact that there was a hump in the runway, so when we lined up for take-off, the jeep PAGE 99 ................. 17575$ CH22 10-14-09 12:24:23 PS lights would be hidden, and we would not be able to see them until we were halfway down the runway. By the time I lined up at 3:00 a.m., it was too late to chicken out, so I began feeding in take-off power to my trusty B-17, and we started to roll. We were just beginning to pick up speed when I felt a jolt and realized that I had hooked a tree with my right wingtip. I pulled off the power and slammed on the brakes, and we slid around to our right and skidded to a stop, nose to nose with another B-17, which was parked in one of the revetments. I’d lost a wingtip, of course, but there was little damage done to the two B-17s rubbing noses except for a bit of broken Plexiglas; nonetheless , it made an awful racket. There was one casualty. A navigator had been sleeping in the nose of the other plane. He woke up in the dark with all that noise and was sure the world was coming to an end. He scrambled out of the nose hatch as fast as he could; the only problem was that the forward hatch in the B-17 was about 11 feet in the air. He sprained his back when he hit the ground and had to be taken to the hospital. If there was any enemy activity up at Nupani that night, we were no threat to them, and it took several days to get our two B-17s back in operation. After this heroic mess that I had made out of what should have been a simple mission, I knew by now just what to expect. They promoted me to major and made me commander of the 431st Bomb Squadron. What else was I to expect? Letter to Lee, August 7, 1942 Golly, it’s been nearly a month since I’ve written to you and what a month. Wow!! I’ve been more places and seen and done more things than you could ever believe...


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