CEH: “We flew it 400 miles an hour when we dived, and we red-lined because if we flew fast enough we’d blow the plexiglass nose.”

What is your birth year?

1928. 

How old are you?

90. 

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

[Air Force.]

Where were you born?

I was born in South Pasadena, California. 

What city did you grow up in?

My whole clan, both sides, were transplants- from Iowa on my dad’s side, and Pennsylvania on my mom’s. They were in Pasadena; my mother was in the Tournament of Roses parade in 1912. At the age of 4, we moved up to the Bay Area; it was a business transfer for my dad. He was in the tire industry. I grew up in Burlingame, which is a suburb of San Francisco down the peninsula, all the way through from the first grade through the first year of college. I came up here to Portland because my dad was made division manager up here. We lived here in Vanport. Had the dike broken 24 hours later than it had, I would’ve been the first building hit. We were living in Portland; we came up mid-year, so I went to Vanport College. Vanport College was an adjunct of both Oregon and Oregon State. It was a two-year junior college, and it was the first building hit. It was under 33 feet of water in 30 minutes. Then I transferred to the University of Portland, because I was here in town. Then I graduated from Berkeley. I graduated at Berkeley in a dual major- political science, but mainly chemistry. In fact, my advisor was a Nobel Prize winner.

Can you tell me a little about your family history? You mentioned your great- grandfather fought in the Civil War, in the Battle of Shiloh. 

My grandfather on my maternal side ran a factory for Carnegie back in Pennsylvania. The other family, my dad’s family, was from Iowa. My dad was a professional musician when he was 12; his father, my grandfather, wonderful musician. He played for the first serious conductor in the United States. I was a fourth-generation musician. My paternal grandfather was my favorite human being, even though my dad and I were very close. But Grandpa was a musician, and didn’t make much money- he wanted to be a lawyer, and in those days, you studied with a lawyer, you didn’t go to law school. So, he became a musician. Besides that, Grandpa was a professional poker player. My dad, the first thing he did was stack chips for Grandpa. Wonderful man, and ended up in Pasadena. My other grandparents, my maternal grandparents- he was on the Grand Jury for 25 years in Pasadena. He had an interesting background. All four of my grandparents lived until I was out of college, which was a nice experience. It was unusual, and it was wonderful. Do you know where your dad served in WWI? Yes. Angel Island, in San Francisco. He was only in to be in the band. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood?

My older sister- she was 10 years older than me- I followed in her academic steps. She never got anything other than an ‘A’ in her whole life, through graduate school. I went to Burlingame High School, which is a very exceptional high school, in those days. The head of the English department said, “Oh, you’re Jane’s brother! You must be smart!” And she patted my head! {Laughs} It was ridiculous! Very formative in my life. I was very lucky in schooling; I played in the Burlingame Orchestra, which was famous. I played flute. In 1958 Brussels World Fair, the only musical organization that represented the United States was the Burlingame High orchestra. [But] academically superior, during the war. I lived right inside of the airport; at the start of the war, my sister was an air raid warden, and we could see San Francisco International. We’d close the curtains, and lights out, and have a report on the radio- no TV. “Unidentified aircraft, 35 miles north of San Jose.” And then we’d hear [buzzing]- it was kind of exciting. 

On his bootcamp and enlisting experience: 

Two of the above. What happened was, I wanted to fly. My lifelong best friend, we were so close people thought we were brothers. We applied for flying, and were accepted, but there was no class. We had to wait for a class, so 13 days after he and I graduated from Berkeley, we enlisted in the Air Force, to protect our status. The Air Force had been getting so many of the cream, during the draft, that they everybody was going to go to the Army. It looked like the war with the Navy was winding down a little bit, so they were going to let the cream go to the Air Force. We had to enlist. We’d been in; our service numbers were one digit apart. We went in, and went to basic training in Texas, in San Antonio. I finished that, and then I still wasn’t accepted into a class, so I went to weather school. I finished weather school in Chanute Field, in Rantoul, Illinois, near University of Illinois. I finished the school, and I was going to teach there, and then my class came up. We had basic training at Lackland; it was so bad that it had a Congressional investigation. There were about 80,000 there. Then I went to cadet training in Houston, and then advanced cadets at Mather Field outside of Sacramento. I didn’t go as a pilot; my brother-in-law, who flew B-24s in the Second World War, his CO was Jimmy Stewart. He flew his missions. I went for what they called observer- combination navigator, bombardier, and radar bombing. Because I flew with the same guys for almost four years, after I finished cadets, I handled quite a few co-pilot duties. It was an insane way to fly- I was in B-26s, which is night, low level bombing. It was wild. It was a good training, and we all wanted to do [well]. I should mention that I was an athlete in high school, three sport letters- even pint size! I always appreciated that, and it served me well in the Air Force. I went through that, and then went to Korea. 

What year was this?

In ’53. I didn’t get in long enough to get my full 50 missions in, because the war ended. I was in the air when the armistice sounded. “Brandy wine, brandy wine!” We were clear in the south near Pusan, down in the Southeast near the Pusan perimeter. We were probably the last ones, but I can’t prove it. 

How old were you in ’53?

24.

What was your family and friends reactions to your enlistment? Were they worried about you?

Oh, yeah. My dad didn’t want to show up, but he did. 

Did your parents have strong opinions about the American involvement in Korea?

I don’t remember any particular affinity about Korea. My mother was an ardent Democrat, so it was Roosevelt and Truman. My dad had voted for Roosevelt the first two terms, then went Republican. {Laughs} 

On his comrades: 

Some of the people I flew with- they were nuts. Wild bunch. With the dive-bombing, it was an insane way to fly. One guy I know, he made model airplanes. I remember one day- he had the clearest voice on intercom, which meant a lot of flying people- he [was] waiting for the weapons carrier to come pick him up for a combat mission. He got with the little model airplane he’d just finished on the cement floor of the barracks, hit it with lighter fluid, and said “Ooh, crash and burn, crash and burn!” They’d pick him up and take him on a combat mission. He was a wonderful pilot. It was a hairy way to fly, because we were going down the canyons at night. The only reason I mention all that was because once I was writing a letter to my folks, and it was a maudlin letter taken on my first combat mission, which is a stupid thing to do. Thank God I survived that; I flew it with the squadron commander, who was one of the great test pilots of the Air Force at that time. Thank God I got back- wouldn’t that have been awful? The folks were good about it, and my sister was in the Navy. She was a wave officer; she married a guy going overseas, which is the same thing that happened to me. [My sister], the Navy recruited her. They wanted her because she was a Northern California leading actress, a red barn theatre type. They put her through training, then they sent her around the country recruiting. She was a remarkable woman, a remarkable woman.

Where in Korea did you serve?

I was stationed at K-9, Korea 9, which was Pusan, and is now of course that base, the International Airport of Busan. I flew my missions there; it’s hard for me to say how many missions I flew; because of my assignment having gone to the weather [school], they’d send me up early to scout the areas, to see where they could fly in North Korea, in specified areas, for our armed reconnaissance against supply lines. We had complete control of the air during the day; they had to move at night. The only people flying at night were us, in B-26s. Douglas B-26s. It’s a remarkable airplane; Hoyt Vandenberg, head of the Air Force, had once said it was the finest property of an aircraft ever made. We flew it 400 miles an hour when we dived, and we red-lined because if we flew fast enough we’d blow the plexiglass nose. The planes were in the tail end of WWII, so the planes had a couple of years on them- great airplane. 

What was the weather like?

Awful. The coldest I ever got was 28° below zero. We were in one of the few places not buried in snow. It had filtered down in the Southeastern countries, but of course up by Gimpo, by Seoul, they were heavy in snow. We were not, but it was cold. There were a lot of captured North Korean and Chinese troops in the hills up there; it was a hairy place to be, from ground fire. We had the only beach in South Korea! Wasn’t a very good beach, but it was still a beach. 

What was your job or assignment?

I conducted our armed reconnaissance, where we’d go. What we’d pick. We went after trains, and convoys of trucks. I don’t want this to be misunderstood, but was almost beautiful; at night, it was like 4th of July fireworks. You’d be very surprised at how much, once you’re trained on it, how much you can see at night, because we had no lights. We terrified the North Koreans, and the Chinese- this black airplane, the only thing you can see is the fire from the engines when they dive down. The biggest thing was ground fire. They couldn’t fly [after] us, because we’d end up putting them in the side of a mountain. 

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out. 

It was a hairy way to fly. We came back talking about green on the wings- you’re going down and you get tree limbs. We’d up coming down in the dead of night, no lights or anything, and our planes were painted back. It was an insane way to fly! Were you ever scared while flying? It was strange. You’re scared afterwards. I would be flying right-seat, as the pseudo co-pilot- I handled switches- I was so small, I could climb down about eight feet into the nose. You concentrate so much that you’re not really scared. When you’re down in the canyons, do you break right, or do you break left? You gotta know where the mountains are. I knew the canyons of North Korea better than I know the canyons of California, where I backpacked for many years. 

I even got a scare one night; I was flying in weather, saw a break in the weather, dove down, and it was over the biggest radar controlled airplane placement that the North Koreans had. “Get the hell out!” I was all over; my final mission, the final day of the war, was over their airport on the east side, and it was wild. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

The combat. The last day, because I wasn’t even flying with my crew. 

Tell me more about the last day of the Korean War. 

Everything was going wild. We’d take anything. The rule was, you could not build past that. You loaded everything. There was offshore Naval guns blasting away. The only time I really saw the thing from the Second World War- the bursts of anti-aircraft fire- we never saw that. We were mainly at night. It was wild. We were in the air, we’d dropped our bombs. On that mission, I was flying in the rear compartment on SHORAN, an incredible short-range bombing system, and did the drop. There was a little vent up there, and it was getting cold, because we were flying at an altitude. Usually, we’d fly at 2,500 feet, but we were up there, and it was cold. I reached up and slammed [the vent] to shut it, and I pulled out my mic, and I didn’t know it. All of the sudden, the plane started [waving]- the pilot couldn’t call me on intercom, and he thought- this poor guy, on the last mission of the war, and he got shot. I saw flashing red light, and I realized it wasn’t plugged in. They were scared stiff, they thought I’d gotten it. Being in Korea, we could only do field maintenance on our aircrafts. It would go to Japan, and they would give them DIRs, full maintenance, there. So, I travelled a lot. Being from the San Francisco area, I was already oriented a bit towards Asia.

On flying after the war:

I refused to fly after the war in B-26s. Too much airplane for one and a half men. I had control of it when we were on the bomb line, but I said, “I’m not going to be a weekend warrior.” It’s a noble thing for a lot of guys, but not in B-26s. You don’t do that- you fly everyday to keep your sharpness. 

On his wife:

My wife and I met on a blind date. She was a Naval officer with Naval Security in Washington, D.C.; I never have found out what she did. We were married for 60 years. She was born in Kansas, on a farm; she didn’t join the Navy to get away from Kansas, [because] she loved Kansas. [She] was a wave officer. She was a speech pathologist, so she was teaching and was recruited in the Navy and sent to Washington, D.C. This girl from Kansas; she set up homes in Cambodia, and we were 5 years in Taiwan. It was a remarkable relationship. It was an interesting thing; my sister and I, marrying the officers on blind dates. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I was five years in the Air Force; once you got your wings, you had to spent three years. I had no business being in chemistry in the finest college of chemistry in the world. I went into the tire business with my dad’s company. The company had known me since I was a little kid, and I became the territory manager. Korea had so broadened my horizons. I was at the school of International Relations at USC; it was one of the great things in my life. I finally decided to quit the tire business, and I went back to grad school. I studied Asian affairs, and it was maybe the two best years of my life- my thesis was published, on Japanese and American relations before WWII. [At] USC, I took over as the permanent moderator on what was then Los Angeles’s only OPM. I conducted both radio and television- it was a wonderful experience, and I had marvelous faculty. I was 30 when I went to grad school. By that time, I was married, and had one baby, and I couldn’t go on for the PhD. USC got me my job at the Asian Foundation. We had 17 offices in Asia, where we ran national development programs. 

I had my worst scare in the air over Cambodia. This was in the early 60s. When I went there, there were 800 Americans; towards the end, there was 80, and when I left, there were 8. I had had to send the family home. We took off, and veered fast, because they were fighting at the other end. I flew up in those areas in helicopters for international affairs later. 

You saw Korea during and after the war. What were the biggest changes?

Oh, everything. Korea is an absolutely amazing country. 

Would you say that serving in the Korean War helped you discover your love for Asian cultures?

Absolutely. No question. 

How did your service affect your life?

It opened my eyes. I had some leanings toward Asia from being in the San Francisco Area. It enabled me to travel, and introduced me. I felt more at home, sometimes, in the back alleys in the capitol of Nepal and Taiwan and Japan. That’s home to me. Behind the Shoji screens, you feel more than hear. 

img_3984img_3985Author’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

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