Diary of David L. Obert

December 17, 1941

The next morning, Brownwell, Stone, Crosby, and I went out to Fort McKinley where the Air Force Headquarters was then located and got an idea of what was expected. We were told that some colonel had made an inspection of Nichols and Nielson. Everything, including the maintenance on planes and camouflage for planes, was so bad that he said they must and would improve. That was our job. I was given half the maintenance crews from the 17th and was told to get things in order at Nichols. Lt. Stone was given the same job at Nielson. I made an inspection of each plane on Nichols and tried to find out just what had to be done. The planes were all in bad shape. Since the war started, they had been flown almost continuously and no work had been done on them. True, all inspections and work required by Tech. Orders during peace time couldn’t be complied with under the conditions that existed at Nichols at this time. In spite of these hardships, under which maintenance had to be carried out, I contended that the conditions of the planes should be far better during war time because now the pilots really had to depend on perfect operation of all parts of the plane. I set this for the goal and although I never reached it I think it could and should be done. I had always been interested in engineering.

It was during the first morning after my return to Nichols that I was caught in the center of my first bombing raid. For the past few days the bombers had been making a raid every day on Nichols at about eleven o’clock. Everyone had been in the habit of retiring to their fox holes or to some safe place at this time, but I guess I was overly eager to get things started because even after the air raid warning had sounded, I stayed on the field thinking  could hear the planes coming and get to cover before they were within bombing range. I was fooled however. I heard planes a few minutes later. and there they were. It was too late to get off the field and I couldn’t find a hole anywhere. I think that was the only time that I was ever really excited and thought death was staring me in the face. There was a small patch of weeds near by so I wormed my way back into a slight depression in the outer edge of this patch. I don’t know why I tried to hide; the planes were over 10,000 feet high, and I should have known they couldn’t see me. Even if I were in the open and if they could have seen me, they wouldn’t have bothered with me because they were after bigger things. There I lay though, wringing wet with sweat, and my heart pounding away. Then I heard a whistling, hissing sound above, and although I’d never heard a bomb on its descent before, I knew what it was. Then I heard what sounded like hundreds more failing, and I burrowed my nose into the ground and thought dully, “This must be the end”.

The first one hit several hundred feet from me and went off with a terrific explosion. Then the others hit all around me, but none really close. After a few seconds of quiet, I pulled my nose out of the dirt and ventured a look out. There were the bombers coming back for another attack. Back I crawled, and in a few seconds I could hear more bombs falling. This time the first one hit close enough to make the ground shudder under me. This time I felt certain my time had come, but I lived through that attack also. Then came another, and there I was, still alive. I have been through many other raids since and have had bombs hit within several feet of where I lay and shower me with dirt, but since that first initiation, I have always been more or less calm and unafraid of bombs. If you are in a hole, only a direct hit can hurt you, and your chances of being the target of a direct hit are so few there just isn’t any need to worry.