THE PIRATES LOG PART II – Daily Life on Tinian Island
RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES – The Chapel, Choir, Tinian’s First Wedding
One of the outstanding sections of Sixth Bomb Group activity was the chaplain’s section and the religious services. The Padre was Chaplain Charles F. “Pat” Murphy of Toledo, Ohio, where he is pastor of the Monroe Street Methodist Church. In college at Ohio Wesleyan, Pat had been an all-around athlete and his love of baseball continues through his life. He often took part in special service activities and assisted in managing the baseball team. His love of baseball is equalled only by his love of poetry which he reads frequently as a part of his sermons. As a man’s man and as a man’s chaplain, Padre Pat was one of the best liked men in the Group and a friend to all. He served as the Sixth’s chaplain from July 1944 to the present date except for the period 1 April to August 1945 when he was called to the Lincoln, Nebraska, Army Air Base as a witness in a courts-martial trial. In his absence Chaplains Oswald J. Gaspar and James F. McCarthy conducted Protestant services.
Various chaplains officiated at the Catholic masses for all Sixth men of that faith. Catholic Sunday masses were held at 0930; the Protestant services followed at 1030. Chapel in the earliest days on Tinian was held in a tent near the present location of the Service Club and lated services were moved to the Group Briefing Hall when it was completed in February, 1945. Never was there adequate seating in this building for always the most outstanding feature of Sixth services, in addition to the music of the choir, was the large attendance. Men in the Sixth were sixty per cent Protestant, thirty-five per cent Catholic, and four per cent Jewish in their religious beliefs.
In August after Pat returned from the States, construction was begun on the new chapel across Riverside Drive near the Starlite Theater. Volunteer labor from Sixth personnel and construction details finished the “Church by the Side of the Road” early in October. Materials were requisitioned through channels from Air Force, Quartermaster and Navy supply warehouses on Tinian. The dedication service was held Sunday, October 14th. The Sixth choir was organized by Sgt Harold Breech soon after the Group arrived overseas. Private First Class LeRoye Hjort was the choir’s conductor and arranger. Later, he served as chaplain’s assistant when Corporal Joe Caruso, the choir’s soloist and Pat’s assistant during the war, was returned to the States.
Organist for all services was Sgt Howard Hadley of the 24th Squadron. He was the Group’s only organist for over thirteen months. In October, the choir, one of the few in the 20th Air Force and the only choir on Tinian, sang over Radio Station WXLD on Saipan at the invitation of AFRS officials. This was the choir’s greatest day. The number of voices was over thirty at this time. In the days of returning personnel the choir managed to keep going by constantly recruiting new members. Two men, Sgt Breech, the original organizer, and Lt Norman S. Eilertsen, sang throughout the choir’s existence. One event held at the chapel received wide publicity in Army newspapers in the Pacific area. It was the first white wedding ever held on Tinian.
One October Sunday afternoon Sgt Mark H. White of Springfield, Vt., from the Sixth Group Headquarters section, was married to Lt Valasta B. Vodehnal of Grand Island, Nebr. They met there while the Sixth was in training for overseas service. Lt “Mrs.” White had later enlisted in the Army Nurses’ Corps and was stationed at a Saipan hospital at the time of the wedding. Chaplain
Murphy read the marriage service in the Sixth · Chapel. The wedding was attended by five hundred uniformed guests including Brigadier General Frederick H. Von Kimble, Tinian Island Commander, who Marriage Ceremony Tinian’s First Wedding, October 1945. gave permission for the marriage. All ranks and grades stood in line to sweat out a kiss from the lieutenant bride. A few weeks after the marriage both were returned to the States. Chaplain Murphy will be remembered for the excellent choir and for the fine chapel, but perhaps most of all combat crews will remember his visits to their planes just before they climbed aboard for a long Empire mission. They’ll also remember his cheerful, “See you tomorrow, boys. Don’t be late. We’re having good chow.”
SPECIAL SERVICE – Movies, USO Shows, Service Club, PX, Athletics
The secret of concentrated effort for long periods of time lies in the ability of men to relax and play as hard as they work. The problem of providing recreational activities of all kinds for all men is the task of the special service section of a bomb group. Overseas, where the supply line is long and all facilities must be constructed, the difficulty of the task is increased. Morale cannot be dispensed in teaspoonfuls like a would be cure-all medicine for those who need it, but material things can be provided to help keep spirits up. The special service section of the Sixth met the problem successfully.
From the summer of 1944 until after the war this section was headed by Capt Robert M. Williams, Jr. His assistant and the Group Information-Education Officer was Lt Howard I. Mickelson. They, with the help of Chaplain Murphy and Mr. Zeb Inge, the Red Cross. Field Director, conducted entertainment and athletic activities for the Group for over a year.
At Grand Island during the Group’s training period the Sixth held an inter-squadron softball tournament with the 39th Squadron Enlisted Men’s team emerging the champion. Their trophy was presented by Col Gibson on 20 September at the Organization Day activities. A picnic with a field day of games, featuring the all-star officers-all-star enlisted men’s softball game, was held for all personnel. The 39th Squadron also won the field day games.
Other Sixth activities at Grand Island included the preparation for overseas by supplying the Group with necessary athletic and morale equipment. Enlisted Men’s, First Three Graders, and Officers’ Clubs were formed to purchase special morale equipment for club rooms overseas.
The last months at Grand Island featured many farewell parties sponsored by special service.
On 17 October, the George Jessel show, featuring Carole Landis and Roddy McDowell, gave two performances for Sixth personnel. It was an excellent show well-liked by all who attended. Overseas the immediate problem was construction. Construction of a theater, a field exchange, an athletic area, and a service club took the attention of the section for several months.
An early highlight was the two cans of beer given each man on New Year’s Eve with the Group on the island just a little more than forty-eight hours. Two days after landing, movies were shown to Sixth personnel as the section hustled to begin entertainment activities. Work on the theater and athletic area was begun in January. By March 20, the athletic area was finished. It was southwest of the theater on the flat area between Riverside Drive and the ocean. On that day during the holiday period following the March Blitz, a second Organization Day was held with a picnic, free beer, a band concert and games.
Soon, after this, the athletic area was moved to the area east of the Group motor pool across 10th Avenue. The field exchange was housed in a quonset built by the Seabees in February. Supplying the exchange was a difficult task dependent upon the Island Command’s exchange service. First beer was sold on 20 February. Supply was inconsistent. At. times the PX would have shelves filled with shaving cream or soap but no eatables to be purchased, but this was true of all field exchanges on Tinian.
The Group theater, named the “Starlite Theater” was completed early in April. Like all overseas theaters, it was an open air theater with only the stage and projection booth housed. Earliest movies had been shown in the open area near the present location of the Service Club. The first live talent show at the theater was a GI show by Army Air Force men on a XXI Bomber Command circuit. On 8 April, the “Girl Crazy” USO show brought the first girls to the Starlite’s stage. Another popular show which followed was Tiny Thornhill’s Navy 65 show on 30 April, which featured Dennis Day as a tenor and Jackie Cooper as a drummer. Later, Charles Butterworth brought the “Three is a Family” stage play to the theater, and in August Charlie Ruggles presented a variety show ~ Favorite shows of Sixth men were: Dick Jurgens in July; “Winged Pigeons” in September; and “Hi Yah, Roy” in November. Construction on the Enlisted Men’s Service Club was begun in May and completed before July 2, night of the opening party attended by Red Cross girls. Previously any party or ping pong game or GI bull session over a couple of beers had to be held in the pre-fabs or quonsets. In the weeks to come the Service Club provided a place for these activities.
In the days following the war, the task of maintaining morale was even more difficult. There was less to do with the end of the war on all jobs and everyone had more free time. This put a greater work load on special service and an increase in the number of people participating in its programs. The 313th Wing organized a series of tournaments on the inter-group level. The Sixth Group baseball team won the Wing’s tournament in that activity, taking the championship with a thrilling 1-0 victory over the Ninth Group. The softball team took second place in the Wing tournament in that sport w bile the basketball team finished fourth in its tournament. September found the completion of the hard surface areas of asphalt in the athletic area for basketball, volleyball and badminton courts. These sports soon became very popular.
A golf driving range and horseshoe pits were also added. In another area a skeet shooting range was built. Late in November and in December, the Group participated in GI Olympic athletic activities in all sports. Another demobilization period activity indirectly connected with special service was the information-education section’s non-military school program. Classes were taught in physics, mathematics, American History and other civilian subjects.
To the boys in the Sixth who first came to Tinian the expression “…so I cut my way through the cane fields”…”became a password just as”… now when I was on the ‘Canal’…” and “…when we flew the Hump…” became the phrase for the other theaters. The freshly dozed and burned cane field, spotted with orderly rows of pup tents, was the first home for the men in the ground echelon. It was the beginning of the long, hard task of putting up squad tents, pyramid tents, mess halls; of coralling tent floors, walks and roads; of building make-shift showers to take the place of helmets; of eating cans of K-rations, warmed in barrels of hot water; of writing letters by flashlight or maybe candles; of censoring mail by the bag full by the light of a Coleman lantern and accompanied by every bug and insect in the vicinity. It was “rough” in the beginning. Though the war was going pretty much our way, Iwo wasn’t ours yet, and the Japanese still ventured a raid or two. Nor were all the Nips cleaned off the island. When the Sixth landed, there were an estimated 500 to 1000 Japanese soldiers still at large. Every once in a while stories would come through of the horrible mutilation of some would-be souvenir hunter, but the Sixth lost no one that way. Security in the form of area guards, armed with loaded carbines, and protection in the form of slit trenches were the order of the day. One officer borrowed a dozer and made his slit trench wholesale. Long will be remembered the epithets hurled against the tough coral encountered in trying to dig a trench three feet deep. After the first air raid, it became SOP to put a top on the trenches as silent testimony to the quantity of flak hurled up by our A.- A. gunners.
Laundry facilities on the island began with washing in helmets and progressed to windmill washing machines. The machine was simple. An empty oil drum set on an old bomb rack holder with the windmill on a stand beside it. The windmill drove a plunger which beat up and down on the soapy clothes in the drum. Later improvements added putt-putt motors to drive the plunger. In March, the Island Command’s QM laundry began operations and all enlisted men’s laundry was sent there. About the same time a civilian laundry was set up in the area to take care of the officers’ laundry. The first rains were amazing to the men new to the tropics. Many times men could wake up to find their beds in the middle of a river of water, overflowed from ditches and sweeping through the tent like the Ganges on a rampage.
Living facilities underwent the greatest change. First, it was pup tents, then came pyramidal tents, then quonsets for air crew members and pre-fabs for others. The Seabees put in electric lights and built latrines, the permanent showers and the mess halls. Earliest baths were from steel helmets. Barrel showers followed later. From the time the Sixth left Seattle until barber shops were in operation in the Group area, haircuts varied from civilized civilian to German Army to aborigine. Many men had no hair on their heads but wore long beards. Scotty Flynn of the 40th was the outstanding tonsorial specialist. He built the first shop, a lean-to affair, and later all squadron barbers had fancy shops with makeshift equipment. The evolution of the water supply on Tinian was a slow process but fortunately not as slow as the evolution of man. First, it was dished out from water trailers one canteen per man each day. Then came lister bags in the area and after that trucks to haul it to the shower room tanks. Finally, water was piped directly from the wells to the showers. Flowers in the Sixth area were planted by men who had thought to bring seeds from Stateside. Marigolds, zinnias, morning glories mixed with tropical plants for beautiful layouts. Most attractive was Major Stryker’s plot at the 24th Squadron Orderly Room. “Tinian is hot, sure, but not like Guam.” This was the constant comment of those who visited there. Tinian always had a good, hot, tanning sun, but usually had a cooling northeast-to-southwest breeze. The reason for the breeze was the lack of mountains to cut off the prevailing winds. Hilly Guam and Saipan lost this cooling effect. Rains on Tinian in the wet season were unbelievable until seen. “It just couldn’t rain like that,” the men said, but it did. Another striking thing about Tinian was the green appearance. It came from evergreen pine trees, not from tropical plants.
Shore lines, the east and south sides of the island were restricted areas but this didn’t stop the souvenir hunters. They explored caves and brought back everything from guns to gold teeth. They dived into the water at the beaches and found eat’s eyes. They went to the invasion beaches and got gas masks and hand grenades, both Japanese and U.S. Army. Ruins of Tinian town and the Japanese shrines were other places to be seen and explored. The dock area and the Navy dump on Canal Street were places to visit also. Here, Sixth men looked for building materials of scrap aluminum or lumber. These were very scarce items, but needed to board up a tent or build furniture.Another source of interest was Camp Churo, where the Japanese civilians lived. The “gook” kids were taught to say “Tojo’s a bastard” for K-ration candy. Civilians worked in the Sixth area building flower beds and rock walls. Sgt Carmestro was in charge. Seabees were a source of many things. Steak dinners, beer or ice cream, if you knew someone, and shell necklaces and bracelets if you wanted to trade for them. The CB’s were always friendly and their good deeds were sometimes repaid with B-29 rides on a test hop. Only one air force complaint developed…rising prices on their bartered goods. However, the Seabees did a good job in building the area and North Field, and were well liked.
With the coming of the 58th Wing to West Field many expeditions were made to view and to photograph the camels (for Hump hops) and beautiful girls painted on the nose of their ships. Reason for this interest-the Sixth planes were never decorated this way. Only names of ships such as Banana Boat, Earthquake McGoon, Dirty Gerty, Rigger Mortis, The Jolly Roger, and Flak Alley Sally, were painted on the Group’s planes.
Sixth Group briefings were opened formally by Col Gibson, who announced the target. All the bulletin boards and charts in the Briefing Hall held information about the impending raid. After Col Gibson talked, Operations gave the “how” of the mission and Intelligence followed with the “why.” Capt Sullivan, the Group Weather Officer, was the only “briefer” who was anything but formal. His usual good humor was an expected life of the briefings. Groans and “Oh’s” would follow Capt Brockway’s revealing of the flak chart with its large red circles. Most sweated briefing fact was takeoff weight of aircraft. The amount of air-sea rescue surface ships, subs, or Dumbos had a direct effect on morale. The more of these, the higher the morale and crews felt better about the possibility of ditching. However, no Sixth ship was ever rescued by the Navy-Army air-sea rescue men. The one ditching was made near Iwo Jima and men were rescued by a ship in the harbor there. Briefings were usually closed by a chaplain’s prayer. Post-mission interrogations followed the Red Cross’ refreshments and consisted of general interrogations and special interviews. Filling out the intelligence sect ion’s form en route back helped to speed the process and hurry crews to the sack.
DO YOU REMEMBER
The buzzing Navy pilots gave the Sea Marlin a tPearl Harbor…Tinian’s roads laid out like New York City streets…The old Japanese blockhouse on Broadway used by the MP’s…The State Days at the Coral Gables Theater on Sundays…The powdered egg soup on the Sea Marlin…Trying to gather tropical fruits like limes and oranges at deserted Tinian orchards…The baby goat the boys in the 24th Squadron supply room found, and the little pig some officers got tight on beer…The days of the March Blitz with clerks pulling KP and paper work neglected for days…Wondering how it would feel to walk on a sidewalk after stumbling over coral for months…The field phones and trying to call Gearwheel, Giant, Galahad or Gizz…The New Zealand mutton and butter…The fireworks and shooting on V -E Day…The extra guard duty when we expected the banzai attack…The flower beds around Group Headquarters…When the PX had more shaving cream than anything else…How your sack got wet on top and the floor got wet underneath in the first pre-fabs…The days when C-rations weren’t the worst gripes…The beer and picnic lunch on the March 20th organization day and the one guy who fell in the lemonade…Censorship…the officers had to do it and the enlisted men had to suffer under it…The P-51 fighter outfit down near West Field…The pictures on the Navy’s Privateers…The old Japanese buildings used by North Field operations…The first overseas mail and packages from home…The first USO show at the theater and how you laughed at the Charlie Ruggles’ show in August and the “Winged Pigeons” show in September…Going to the Seabee theaters to see later movies…Building furniture such as chairs, tables, clothes closets…The typhoon which hit the area early one morning in October…AND how darned happy you were when your name was put on the roster of the next echelon going home. That was the best news …the most pleasant event of all.
PIRATE’S LOG 2004 EPILOGUE
It seems appropriate with the republishing by the Sixth Bomb Group Association of the Pirate’s Log for an update on the Association’s activities after WWII. Newell Penniman led efforts to organize the Association in 1984 at a meeting of about 40 Sixth people at the Dayton meeting of the 505th BG Association. The Association was officially founded in 1985 in Denver with Newell Penniman as President and John Jennings as Secretary-Treasurer. Original Directors were Newell Penniman, Harry George, John Jennings, J.B. Hudson, Ray Holtzclaw, Bob Rodenhouse, Ray Ramsey, Melvin Simpson & Virgil Morgan. Of the original Directors Ray Holtzclaw, Ray Ramsey and J .B. Hudson have passed on. Harry George, after years of serving on the Board has elected to continue as Group Historian while relinquishing Board Membership. Bob Rodenhouse has also recently retired from the Board. Directors joining later were Bob Reagan, John Sabol, Herb Horst, Joe Cohen, Ed Vincent & Warren Higgins. Current 2004 Directors are Newell Penniman, John Jennings, Melvin Simpson, Virgil Morgan, Herb Horst, John Sabol, Bob Reagan, Ed Vincent & Warren Higgins. Current officers are Virgil Morgan, President, Bob Reagan, Vice President, Warren Higgins, Treasurer and Ed Vincent, Secretary. Jim Hays, WWII Sixth Bombardier, has graciously served as our Chaplain taking over from Pat Murphy, our original WWII Chaplain, in 1995. Pat Murphy passed away in 1999.
Reunions have been held as follows with attendance as noted. 1984 Dayton, 40, 1985 Denver, 200, 1986 Omaha, 342, 1988 Norfolk, 313, 1989 Colorado Springs, 88, 1991 Boston, 210, 1992 Seattle, 330, 1993 Grand Island, 82, 1994 Orlando, 148, 1995 Tucson, 220, 1996 Kansas City, 75 , 1997 Dayton, 239, 1998 San Antonio, 237, 1999, Washington DC, 225, 2001 St. Louis, 200, 2002 Nashville, 161, 2004 Savannah, 117. Our next reunion is scheduled for the fall of 2005 in Wichita.
The Association has sponsored Sixth Bomb Group monuments with plaques on North Field, Tinian, at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, at MacDill Field in Tampa and at the USAF Museum in Dayton. We donated the JB Hudson plaque at the CAF in Midland. The historic monument site including a completely restored B-29 Propeller at Grand Island’s Veteran’s Memorial Park with a separate plaque and pictorial display at the Grand Island Regional Airport was designed and constructed by the Sixth Bomb Group Association. Members of the Sixth Bomb Group Association can now look back on sixty years since we first deployed to Tinian Island’s North Field with sadness for our losses but with pride and honor for our achievements there. We did not fully realize then that we were to be active participants in some extraordinary world historical events. The B-29 was at once the greatest technical gamble and the greatest bomber of World War II. It was also more expensive than the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bombs. The largest single construction contract in WWII was the construction of Tinian’ s North Field. North Field, our Sixth base, has the distinction to this day of being the largest and busiest airfield ever operated by the United States Air Force. The longest combat missions flown by any aircraft in WWII were flown by the Sixth when ports in Korea were mined on the night of 11 July 1945. North Field was the base from which the only two atomic bomb missions were flown. The Enola Gay flew that historic first atomic mission with the Sixth’s CircleR tail insignia and is now permanently displayed with our insignia at the Smithsonian. It was truly a historical honor and privilege for we who served with the distinguished Sixth Bomb Group in the climatic bombing campaigns of World War II.
Sixth Bomb Group Association members have raised their families, launched careers and created enterprises as typical “Greatest Generation” members. Most have been very successful and, in part at least, this may be a result of the training, effort and inspiration of being a member of this finest B-29 group of the war who directly participated in ending World War II without an invasion of Japan. We trust the future readers of this document will appreciate the sacrifices, fears and loneliness endured by those of us on Tinian and our dependents in the States during this period and we pray the world may never again suffer such extreme and devastating warfare.
In the early days of the post-war era the Sixth remained on Tinian as a part of the 313th Wing. Training and so called “snooper” missions to Japan were the only flying activities. The Group Commander was Lt Col T. W. Tucker; the Deputy Commander, Lt Col Jack E. Cunningham. Other key positions underwent many personnel changes as officers and men were returned to the U.S. under the point system. With the addition of months of service as a rotation factor in December, greater numbers were eligible to go home. Many combat crews flew their ships home on the various Sunset Projects. In January 1946, the Wing, including the Sixth, was ordered to Clark Field on Luzon in the Philippines to become a part of the 13th Air Force. The first airplanes moving to Clark Field took off on 28 January. Others followed in the next few weeks. The ground echelon was scheduled to move late in February.
EDITORS NOTE | The story of the Pirate’s Log is included in the Bill Webster Photos video on our website: VIEW VIDEO
TO PURCHASE THE PIRATES LOG | The 6th Bomb Group Association offers high quality lithographic prints (using the original negatives, shortly after its formation in 1984) of the Pirate’s Log for $30 per copy.