My nose to the grindstone all day, drafting my report — or starting it. Foster Knight had Mr. David Gunnell to lunch here. He is President of the Philippine Educational Company (books). His description of the corruption among the officials made sorry listening. He has been here 40 years, and now faces the liquidation of his fine old company unless the authorities change their tactics.
Dorothy got home early the next morning. After an early breakfast she drove me out to Nichols so that she would have the car instead of it being left on Nichols. When we got to the field, we saw the result of the night’s air-raid. It was our first surprise of many. One hanger had been hit, and there were a few bomb craters on the flying field, but practically no damage had been done. Just after we had gotten on the field, the air-raid siren began to moan, and we were both pretty scared. We started to run out across the rice paddies to get away from Nichols. We ran until we were exhausted and then dropped down in a hole to wait for the bombers. They didn’t come that time. After a while we went back to the car, and I sent Dody home in a hurry before she did get caught in a bombing raid. Then I went on back to the operations hanger, and there I was told that a flight had just taken off to patrol over Nichols, and that there was another plane if I wanted to join them. Some of the pilots from th 3rd Pursuit that had been flying when Iba was bombed had come to Nichols during the night and two of them had cracked up on landing. Their planes were laying just off the runways. I got in the P-40 that was left on the field and took off hoping to find the flight that was already over Nichols. I climbed to about 17,000 feet, and, not seeing the flight, circled there until my gasoline was nearly out. I don’t know what I would have done if I had seen enemy ships coming, probably gotten show down not knowing any more than I did. A little before noon I went down and landed on Nichols. All personnel seemed to have vanished except for one enlisted man that came running up and said that bombers were on the way and that some major said for me to get the plane off the field before it was bombed. I told him to get the gas truck so that I could refuel, but he said the driver was gone and that he couldn’t drive it, so I jumped out, ran across the field, and got in the truck. I started toward my plane expecting to be bombed any minute and cussing the inefficiency of the entire army all the way.
By the time I got back to the plane, a few mechanics had come out of the bushes and holes and they they helped me service the plane. I took off as soon as I could and spent the next 3 1/2 hours circling the field at 15,000 feet. At one time during the flight I got so tired sitting there doing nothing and seeing no planes, I decided to do some acrobatics. I did a series of loops, slow rolls, Immelmans, and so forth. I was going around on a big barrel roll when I happened to glance back and see four planes bearing down on me. I practically passed out with fright. They looked like P-40’s but from the way there were coming after me, I didn’t know what to think. I shouted over the radio, Don’t shoot! It’s Obert!” At that they pulled off and I fell in with them, swearing right then and there that this was serious business and although it was impossible to see everywhere at the same time I was going to try to do just that. I stayed with the other shops and landed when they did. When we landed, my electric gun sight was out so I rounded up some mechanics to work on it. By this time pilots had come in from some of the other squadrons. By talking with them I got a good idea of what had happened. Iba, Baguio, Tarlac, Clark and Nichols had been bombed and strafed the first days and nights of the war. No damage was done at Baguio and Tarlac except for a few civilian casualties. Iba had been completely wiped out. Most of our planes stationed there had been destroyed on the ground, and a large number of the men had been killed or wounded. George Elstrom, one of my classmates, had attacked the dive bombers over Iba. After shooting down two, his plane was shot up so bad that he had to jump. The Japanese planes shot at him all the way down, and he died soon after landing. Two other U.S. pilots were shot down at Iba. At Clark the story was worse. The Japs had hit just as the 20th Pursuit was taking off and had shot down four pilots on the take-off and destroyed most of the other P-40s on the ground. Several B-17shad also been caught and destroyed on the ground. My Squadron, the 17th, after leaving Nichols the evening before had landed at Del Carmen and stayed most of the night. Early in the morning before daylight they were ordered to take off and intercept the bombers that were heading for Nichols. Lt. Lodin was the third plane to take off. When it came his turn, the air was so dusty that he couldn’t see the lights ahead of him, but he tried it anyway. He started in the wrong direction, hit two planes that were awaiting for take-off, and nosed over. The plane exploded, and he was burned alive. He was one of my best friends in the squadron. Having flown with him a lot, I considered him one of the best fliers in the squadron.
So far the Japs hadn’t been seen anywhere on the island on the second day of the war. That was Tuesday, and we learned later that they never were active on Tuesdays. It must have been their day of rest. About dark we were told to get off Nichols in case the Japs made another raid so I caught a ride and went home. There I found Dorothy had already moved most of our things to her uncle’s house so we slept there that night. We both knew that I would be called away from Manila any minute and were both dreading the time when we would have to part. Dorothy took me out to the field the next morning and then went to Fort Santiago, where she worked. She was only working during the day now.
At 4:00 o’clock in the morning, on December 8, 1941, the ringing of the telephone woke me up, and as I went to answer it, I thought to myself, “It’s another false alarm.” It was an order to report to the field immediately. I quickly dressed and as I left I told Dorothy that it was just another practice alert and that I would be back for breakfast. We had been married only eight days, and the 24 hour alert that had been called the day after we were married had been cancelled. The ten days leave that I was going to get for our “honeymoon” had been spent standing by the telephone mostly. I was pretty peeved as I started for the field.
When I arrived, the first words I heard were “HAWAII has been bombed!” I couldn’t believe it. It’s just another rumor, I thought. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it had to be a rumor. How could Nip bombers reach Hawaii? In a few minutes the whole squadron was standing by for immediate take-off. We waited there until after sun-up trying to get some verification of the Honolulu bombing. It came over the radio about daylight, and there we stood, a pretty dumbfounded bunch. It was about 8:00 a.m. when a call came in that enemy bombers were headed south towards Clark Field. My squadron, the 17th, was ordered to intercept them over Tarlac. We took off and started for Tarlac where I just knew we would run into a bunch of fast Nip bombers. Knowing how miserable our P-40 E’s had failed in interception problems with B-17s, I doubted our ability to stop any kind of an attack. We reached Tarlac in a few minutes and there we circled most of the morning waiting for the Nips. Two B-17s did come in from the north, and the Squadron Commander, not recognizing the ships at first, gave “Prepare to attack!”
The assault flight, of which I was leading the second element, started down at them. My heart was in my throat and pounding like a sledgehammer, and my mouth was so dry that I was nearly choking, but outwardly I don’t think I was ever more calm in all my life. Blanton, who was flying on my wing, and Wagoner, the Squadron Commander and assault flight leader, got lost on the first turn. Temptations entered my mind, and I thought about doing likewise, but I went on down with the flight. After we recognized the planes as B-17s, I was disappointed they weren’t enemy bombers. I guess I had worked myself up so much that I wanted to let off some steam by doing some shooting. By this time we were all low on gasoline, so the squadron all went to Clark Field and landed.
There we heard that the bombers had come but had turned off, and bombed Baguio instead of Clark. Eveidently they must have seen the pursuit planes awaiting between them and Clark. We lined our 18 planes up in a nice straight line for servicing, and all went in for a late breakfast. We ate and then waited around for orders which came in about 1200. Enemy bombers were coming towards Manila from the west! We dashed out and started our take-off. When it came my turn, I pushed my throttle forward and started down the runway, but the engine started missing and I saw I couldn’t get off so I put on the brakes and turned and went back to the line thinking that I would have a mechanic check my engine. When I got back to the line, I decided that I would try to get off again, and this time I pushed the throttle into the over-ride position and barely got off. I joined the formation with the old engine still acting-up but putting out enough power to keep up with the formation. We headed out over Manila Bay, and there we circled waiting for the Japanese bombers that were supposed to be on the way in. After we had been up only a short time, QAI, the ground station at Clark Field that was directing our flight, went off the air. We thought nothing of this at the time because from past experience we knew it might easily break down and be unable to transmit for a while.
We continued to circle over Manila Bay near Manila most of the afternoon and saw no enemy activity of any kind. We landed in the afternoon at Nichols Field with everyone practically out of gas. There we heard some shocking news. About 20 minutes after we had left Clark Field, a large group of bombers had bombed it and several flights of attack ships had come in and strafed the field. The report was that Clark Field was completely destroyed and that all the planes that were on the ground had been destroyed. The radio station had been hit first. That was the reason we weren’t receiving QAI. We had circled almost within sight of Clark Field all during the raid and had known nothing of it. If we had known what was going on, we probably could have saved Clark Field and much of the equipment that was on it. Then some more bad news came. Iba had also been heavily bombed and strafed, and the 3rd Pursuit Squadron that was stationed there had been practically wiped out.
We were a tired and bewildered bunch as we stood around our operations office listening to this news. We had been flying all day and seen nothing, yet disaster had struck all around us. We, the 17th Pursuit Squadron, had probably helped prevent an earlier bombing of Clark Field and had probably turned the enemy from Nichols Field and Manila, but what now? We were the only fully equipped Pursuit Squadron left in the islands. Of the five pursuit squadrons in the islands, the 3rd and the 20th had been wiped out on the ground. The 24th and the 34th had just arrived from the States and only had a a few pilots and planes. That left us, the 17th, the only intact squadron. Nichols was the only large airfield left on Luzon, and we were almost certain that it would be bombed before the next morning. Everyone at Nichols was excitedly hurrying around trying to do something, and yet not knowing what to do. Lt. Wagner decided to take the planes to Del Carmen, an outlying field, so that if Nichols were bombed that night, the planes would not be destroyed. My plane had been taken into the hanger for a check-up, so when the 17th left Nichols, I was left behind with instructions to stand by for orders.
A little later the Post Commander told everyone to get off the post for the night, so home I went. There I found Dorothy practically in tears. I had left early in the morning and had been unable to call or get in touch with her since. After talking things over, we decided that it would be best for us to give up our apartment and to move to her uncle, David Gunnell’s, home. He had wanted us to live with him after we were married, but we had thought we would rather have an apartment to ourselves. Now that war had started, I would probably be called away from Manila, so we thought it best to give up the apartment. We had just gotten it fixed up and had spent a lot of time and money making it look like a home, so it was a sad last supper we sat down to eat there. Dorothy was still working with the G-2 department, and they had asked her to come to work at midnight. We went to bed early, so that we could get a little sleep. A little before midnight we got up, and I drove Dorothy to where she worked. As I was driving back home, the air raid warning began its weird moaning, and I thought, “Here they come for Nichols!” I didn’t have long to wait. I heard the sound of planes in the distance and suddenly a flare went up near Nichols. The planes flew over, dropped their bombs, and flew on north. That flare was the first of the series of fifth columnist activity that I was to see and hear about the during the course of the war. The Japs really had everything well planned and in readiness for the sudden attack they made.