Archive for the ‘World War II US Veterans’ Category

MEN ALSO RESORTED TO ENTERTAINING THEMSELVES

November 14th, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe
Hunting Scene - Mareeba

Hunting Scene - Mareeba

The men of the 19th had a lot of empty time to fill, so they did what they could to break the monotony. Some of the guys went hunting while others seemed to enjoy “striking a pose” for Vernon’s camera.

Wearing a Grass Skirt - anything to break the monotony!

Wearing a Grass Skirt - anything to break the monotony!

 

Many of these pictures were lighthearted – i.e. the man in the grass skirt. Would love to know the back story to this picture.

However, other photos displayed a touch of dark humor.

6-darkhumorThe picture of a group of men holding a gun to the head of one of their buddies, would fall under the category of, “Don’t try this at home.”

Maybe these men were exposed to violence so often that they wanted to find a way to laugh about it.

Meet author Ken Bledsoe at Loveland Local Author Showcase

November 7th, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe

Ken Elder Bledsoe Author, Echoes From an Eagle, Windsor Colorado book signing at the American Legion,Both Ken and his wife Phyllis will be at the Loveland Public Library's Local Author Showcase on Saturday, November  12th in downtown Loveland at 300 N Adams Ave, Loveland, CO 80537.

It is especially poignant for author Ken Bledsoe this Local Authors Showcase happens to fall on the day after Veterans Day, November 11th.

There will be more than 50 local authors signing and selling copies of their books. It is a great opportunity to talk to the authors, ask questions and have your copy of their book signed.

See you on Saturday!

Loveland Public Library, Loveland Colorado, Local Author Showcase, Nov 12th 2016, 1:30-4:00pm

Loveland Public Library's Local Author Showcase - November 12, 2016 (1:30-4:30pm).

HARD TO KEEP THE B-17S IN THE SW PACIFIC AIR-WORTHY

October 3rd, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe
On the way to a mission over New Guinea

On the way to a mission over New Guinea

Due to the lack of planes and spare parts, more often than not the 19th BG could not send more than six B-17s on a mission. So when they lost a plane it was a traumatic loss.

 

For example, while on a mission over New Guinea, B-17 #621, “Daylight Limited,” sustained substantial damage from flak and crash landed at Mareeba. All of the crew survived, but the plane was badly damaged and out of action.

The Phantom burning in the hanger.

The Phantom burning in the hanger.

 

 

Then B-17E #41-9012, “The Phantom,” burned while in a hangar at Mareeba.

According to Ralph Dietz, a member of the 93rd Squadron, the ground crew used gasoline to remove oil from the outside of an engine before it had cooled.

Notice first responders in white fire-fighting suits

Crash landing. Notice first responders in white fire-fighting suits

 

Another much needed plane was gone; and with every lost plane, an extremely difficult job became next to impossible. But the men of the 19th BG carried on the best they could.

REGROUP, RELOAD, RETALIATE

June 10th, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe
Base at Cloncurry, Queensland, Austraila

Base at Cloncurry, Queensland, Austraila

After two weeks of R&R in Melbourne, Australia, the men of the 19th BG were reorganized and sent to new bases.  The 435th “Kangaroo Squadron” was assigned to the coastal base in Townsville.  The 93rd Squadron was sent to Longreach and the 30th Squadron to Cloncurry - interior areas of Queensland far from the reach of Japanese attack and the diversions found in Australian cities.  Vernon was sent to Cloncurry, which the men compared to a town in our “Old West.”  There was little for the men to do to unwind after their missions, so boredom quickly became one of their enemies.

 

Vernon's Camp at Mareeba (as seen from the air).

Vernon's Camp at Mareeba (as seen from the air).

Later, Vernon and the men of the 19th were relocated to Mareeba, which was closer to their enemy targets and was considered to be a great improvement over the dry, arid, lonely bases at Longreach and Cloncurry.  Mareeba provided better runways, trees for shade, camouflage for their planes, and cool, clear water from the Barron River.  The citizens of Mareeba did their best to welcome the Americans and planned social events to help the men recover from their long, arduous missions.

 

Part 2: Why Was Morale So Low When the 19th Reached Australia? 1941-42

May 29th, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe

The 19th BG relocated to Australia in February, 1942, to ‘Regroup, Reload, and Retaliate.’  After fierce fighting and great loss of men and equipment, they were forced out of the Philippines and Java by the advancing Japanese.  This defeat resulted in extreme stress, fatigue, and frustration among these proud, fighting men.

Meanwhile, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the SW Pacific, tried to defend the Philippines against the Japanese assault.  But by March 11, 1942, the general was evacuated to Broome, Australia, leaving behind his forces to hold out as long as they could.

By April 9th, however, 78,000 American – predominantly men from the 19th BG – and Filipino troops surrendered at Bataan.  The Japanese weren’t prepared to handle large numbers of prisoners, so this resulted in the Bataan ‘Death March,’ during which over 10,000 Allied soldiers were murdered – one of the most infamous atrocities of WWII.

The war in Europe, made it impossible for Great Britain to protect their territories/allies in the Pacific.  This was especially a concern for Australia and made them a vulnerable target for the Japanese.  So the Australians gratefully welcomed the surviving members of the 19th BG to their country.  The American men and equipment became pivotal in the defense of Australia.

Many of the airmen evacuated from Java were transported across Australia by train.

Many of the airmen evacuated from Java were transported across Australia by train.

The SW Pacific was a particularly grueling place to fight a war.  Weather, bad airfields, lack of navigation aids, inexperienced crews (both air and ground), and a constant shortage of spare parts resulted in more damage than did Japanese fighter pilots.  The B-17 crews were asked to fly many long-range flights, which increased wear and tear on both aircraft and crews.  On their missions, the airmen had to confront the possibility of dying themselves, as well as, seeing their friends die.  Flight crews in the 19th with over ten months of combat experience often developed severe operational fatigue and underwent extreme changes in their attitude toward flying.  Maybe they felt that their luck was running out and that they would never return home.

Between October and November of 1942, General George Kenney, 5th USAAF Commander, sent the exhausted 19th BG home and reassigned them to Pyote ‘Rattlesnake’ Bomber Base in West Texas.  Of the thousands of men who left their homes to fight in the Philippines and/or Java and who later flew missions out of Australia over New Guinea and Rabaul, only 161 arrived at Pyote.  For two years these war-weary men trained a new generation of pilots, navigators, and bombardiers to fly the improved version of the B-17, the new ‘Super Fortress’ B-29.

In September of 1945 my father, Vernon Elder, was honorably discharged from the Air Corps.  However, his traumatic year in the SW Pacific left him a ‘wounded warrior;’ and as far as I know, he rarely – if ever – talked about his war experiences and chose to never fly again after leaving the service.

 

Part 1: Why Was Morale So Low When the 19th Bomb Group Reached Australia? 1941-42

May 22nd, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe

When war broke out in Europe, the United States adopted the Europe-first strategy causing substantial equipment and resources to be shifted from the Pacific to the Atlantic Theater.  This action was taken, in large part, because our leaders underestimated the power of the Japanese and overestimated our own power in the SW Pacific.

Therefore, the 19th Bomb Group was forced to fight a predominantly defensive holding action throughout the Philippines and Java.  Their B-17 bombers in the Philippines were expected to serve as a threat and deterrent to any aggressive behavior on the part of the Japanese.  However, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they concurrently attacked Clark Field on Luzon Island in the Philippines.  The 19th Bomb Group had seventeen B-17s at Clark Field that day – twelve were completely destroyed and five more were damaged.  There were also heavy casualties among the 19th BG’s ground and air crews.

Vernon's friend from the 19th BG shares with native children upon landing in Java, from Ken Bledsoe collection.

Vernon's friend from the 19th BG shares with native children upon landing in Java.

Sixteen of the bomb group’s B-17s had been sent to Del Monte, Mindanao, the large southern island of the Philippines, and thus escaped destruction.  Within a month after the attack on Clark Field, however, the United States commanders in the South Pacific realized that the Philippines could not be held.  On January 1, 1942, the remaining air-worthy B-17s were sent to Java.

My dad, Vernon Elder, arrived in Malang, Java on January 23, 1942.  He was a tail gunner on a new B-17E which had been redesigned to add a belly gun and tail gun, allowing the crew to better protect themselves from Japanese fighter pilots.  Vernon and other members of the 19th almost immediately went into fierce, aerial combat hoping to slow down the advancement of the Japanese in the South Pacific.

However, the 19th and their Dutch and Australian allies couldn’t prevent the Japanese takeover of the Philippines and Java.  So on February 26, 1942 the Allies began evacuating their crews and equipment to western Australia.  Only a few Air Corps personnel got out – of 210 officers, 70 were left behind; and of 1300 men, 1060 were either killed or captured and imprisoned in the Philippines.  Later, many 19th BG men became part of the Bataan ‘Death March.’

Once again the proud men of the 19th had suffered defeat at the hands of the Japanese.  But this time they were forced to leave their fellow servicemen behind knowing that the chance of their surviving was almost non-existent.  Vernon and his best friends – T.J. Rice, Paul Lindsey, and Houston Rice – were all safe.  But how could they and others relocated to Australia reconcile the loss of so many friends with their own survival?

Watch for Part 2 next week … for the rest of the story.

Echoes From an Eagle: a book, a journey

March 8th, 2016 by Ken & Phyl Bledsoe

This US flag flew over my father's grave on Memorial Day 2007.

When I was four, my parents divorced; and I had limited contact with my father, Vernon O. Elder, a decorated WWII veteran from La Junta, CO. After his death in 1973, I found a shoebox full of letters written in 1942 to Grandmother Elder. There was also an old scrapbook of pictures and newspaper articles chronicling the exploits of the 19th Bomb Group, 30th Squadron, in the SW Pacific.

Through his letters, pictures, and articles, I began to piece together Vernon’s harrowing wartime experiences as a tail gunner on a B-17 and to understand how this traumatic year shaped the remainder of his life. He survived a crash off the coast of Australia, but lost his best friend, Houston Rice, a native of Ordway, CO. A month later, his other Colorado buddy, Lt. Paul Lindsey (a student at CSU before joining the Army Air Corps), also died in a tragic crash. The three had been drawn together by their ‘Colorado connection’ and flew many missions together, always watching each other’s back. Vernon was the only one of the three to come home, and he never recovered from their loss or the horrors of war.

After 10 years of painstaking research, Ken Elder Bledsoe Author, Echoes From an Eagle, Windsor Colorado book signing at the American Legion, I finally located where Vernon’s plane crashed and where his life changed forever. So I traveled 10,000 miles and dove down to discover the remains of his bomber lying off the coast of Australia. This adventure allowed me to honor the father I never really knew and to ‘walk in his steps.’

This blog will describe my journey of discovery and will include pictures and information about the 19th Bomb Group not included in the book, Echoes From an Eagle. I will also provide resources that may be helpful to those families still researching their WWII veteran’s stories. Most of the men are gone now; but if the families continue to document their stories, the contributions and sacrifices made by the brave men of the 19th BG will never be lost. Lest we forget!