December 18, 1941

An officer was supposed to be on duty at Nichols as airdrome officer and spend the night there. I pulled the first night. The next day I spent checking on maintenance and having the men dig fox holes where they had to work. This was in case they should be caught in a surprise raid. We had our regular eleven o’clock bombing raid that day, but I found a hole to crawl into during this one.

By this time most of the buildings had been destroyed on Nichols and none of the bombs were doing any further damage. The bombers seemed to be trying to hit the runways and what few planes we had left, but they did a very good of missing. They had done an excellent job of bombing the first few days of the war, but now they never seemed to hit their target. I think they used their most experienced pilots at first, and then started using a bunch of greenhorns.

That night I found another officer to stay on the field, and I went home a little before dark. After dinner Dorothy and I decided that we would like to go dancing and have a few drinks. She put on an evening gown, and I put on a civilian suit for the first time since the war had started, and off we went to the Manila Hotel which was about the only night spot that was still operating. The place was crowded to capacity with officers in uniform, and I was informed several times that I was breaking regulations by being in civilian clothes. It didn’t hurt my conscious all though, because it was such a relief to get out of uniform and forget the Army for a few hours. We danced and sipped Scotch and sodas until midnight when we decided that since both of us had to go to work early in the morning, we should go to bed. Everything in Manila was completely blacked-out that night. To move about, we had to creep along and feel our way.


December 12, 1941

The next morning Dorothy drove me to the Army and Navy Club where I was to meet the truck. Then came our first parting. Dorothy was trying not to cry, and I, with a lump in my throat and trying to keep my voice from quivering, was trying to cheer her up. That was a sad, blue ride to Clark. It was raining and I swallowed hard, wondering if I would ever get back to Manila. Every barrio we passed through on the road we met crowds of Filipinos, and they would all hold up two fingers and shout “V for victory”. Nearly all the men were carrying clubs or large bolos and had on medals designating them as Volunteer guards. The Japs will really have a fight on their handsif they try to take these people. They all seemed to be eager and ready to fight. I still think that if the Army could have or would have put up a longer and better fight as the Japs came down the Valley from the north, the civilians would have played a large part in harrassing and maybe holding the Japs. That is to come later though and maybe someday I will find out just how the civilian population did act when the Japs came. The Army certainly didn’t set a good example for them, so you couldn’t expect them to do much.

Just before we got to Clark Field the Japs made a bombing raid on it but dropped their bombs from such a low altitude that many of them failed to go off. When we got there the place was rocked every few minutes by duds being exploded by demolition crews. I saw Clark Field for the first time since I had left it the first day of the war. What a change I saw! Clark was just a mass of pitted and charred ruins. I think it was the most desolate sight that I have ever seen. Lady Luck must have been with me when I decided to try that second and successful attempt to take-off the first day of the war. If I had stayed at Clark Field ten minutes longer, I would have been caught in the raid.

All the personnel from Clark Field had moved back into the mountains to escape further raids. We went there, too. The pilots were all back together now, but what was the plan for the future? No one seemed to have any idea. The camp was back in an old volcano crater and very well concealed. Everything seemed quiet. I spent the next week there doing nothing. A reconnaissance plane was sent out each day over the northern part of the island, but no further enemy activity as to landings was reported. Lt. Walt Cass from the 17th went out on one of these and failed to return. We all gave him up for lost.

Lts. Wagner and Church went on one mission to Vigan to dive bomb and strafe the Japs on the airport there. Lt. Wagner had made a similar raid on Aparri a few days before and had destroyed a number of enemy planes, so we all had high hopes for this second mission. On this raid Church was hit by antiaircraft fire on the dive toward the field and his plane began to burn. Instead of jumping, he went on over the field, dropped his bombs, and crashed. Both the Japanese and Americans paid tribute to his brave act, and it was reported later that the Japanese buried him with high military honors.

Clark Field was bombed daily during that week, but no further damage was done. Since the Officers Club at Fort Stotsenberg was still open and was near our camp, most of the officers spent a part of the day there. One day I was there getting a haircut when the bombers flew over.The barber took off for cover, and there I was for about the next two hours with half a haircut looking for the barber so that I could get him to finish the job. Long after the bombers had gone, he came crawling out of a sewer manhole and finished my haircut.

Rumors ran riot at the camp. First we heard that new troops and planes had come in and that more were on the way. According to reliable reports, planes were being assembled in Manila and were flying off Dewey Boulevard. This seemed a bit fantastic, but we believed it because we just knew that we should have reinforcements by this time. Also, during this week one of our bombers picked up a number of our pursuit pilots and took them south to Australia. The story was that they going down to lead flights of new planes up to the Philippines, and we believed that, too. They didn’t come back, and they still haven’t come back. This war has been one of waiting for reinforcements that just don’t come. At first we worried about it, but now I don’t think we even expect them and would probably be a surprised bunch if we did get some.

A few days after my arrival at Clark Lt. Shepherd, one of the 17th pilots who had been missing since the second day of the war, came into camp. He had seen a flight of bombers going north, had chased them to the northern part of the island and finally caught them. After shooting one down, he had been show down by the others and had bailed out in the mountains. He had spent over a week walking out to civilization and when we saw him, about all that was left of him was his bushy growth of flaming red hair.

While I was at Clark Field, more fifth column activity was brought to light. From the first day of the war the Japanese seemed to know more about our army and our operations than we did ourselves. Every night we could see signal flares going up, and it wasn’t the Japanese that were sending them. It was Filipinos. Most of this work was done by some ignorant Filipino worker who probably got a few pesos for being a traitor. This could easily be understood because he had always lived in poverty and would always live in poverty. A few pesos was probably worth more than life itself to him. The fifth column activity of some of the rich, high-class Filipinos was what was hard to understand, and their activities did the most damage. In one case, a radio that was giving the Japs information about our activity around Clark Field was trailed to the house of a well-to-do doctor in a village within sight of the field itself. There were several cases such as this, and all of these fifth columnists had everything to lose and nothing to gain by such activity.


December 10, 1941

When I got to the field, Sgt. King, the line chief, told me that all his crew had left the field. He could not get them to stay to do maintenance work. It wasn’t my job to take charge of maintenance but but it wasn’t being done, and it had to be done if the planes were to fly, so I spent most of the morning rounding up the crews and getting them back to work. I found that to keep them at work and get something done, I had to be right there with them. They were scared, and I was, too, because we knew Nichols was in for a big raid, but we stayed there all morning trying to get all the ships into flying condition. A litle after noon I decided to go to the bank and draw some money. I rode into Manila with some other officers who were going to lunch. From the bank I went home to eat lunch and just after I finished, I heard the drone of airplanes. “It’s our bombers,” I told Dorothy, as we walked out to watch them.

“No, they don’t sound like ours,” Dorothy said. When we got out where we could see them, I changed my mind. There they were, fifty-four of them. Two engine bombers were flying at 20,000 feet. The anti-aircraft in Manila began to shoot at them, but their range was so bad that the shells burst only about half as high as the planes were flying. They flew over Nichols several times and dropped bombs each time; then they flew west and dropped the rest of their bombs on Cavite. The dive bombers then came and strafed the field. A few of our P-40s were up, but they were greatly out numbered. They and the dive bombers were so low that I couldn’t see any of the fights. Dorothy and I had been huddled up against a concrete wall all during the raid, but as soon as it was over and traffic started on the streets, I went on out to Nichols. A gasoline truck had been set on fire, several planes had been destroyed, and a few men had been killed or wounded but from all appearances, no large amount of damage had been done. Then some bad news came in. Lt. Hobrecht had been shot down, and when he jumped, his parachute didn’t open. Lt. Phillips had been after a Jap dive bomber over Cavite and had shot him down but then was show down by our anti-aircraft who were shooting at the Japs. He jumped and got out all right. Both were 17th pilots.

I went on to the Nichols Headquarters, which had been moved to a concrete dugout just off the field. There I heard some other developments of the war. Del Carmen had also been bombed and strafed that day. No heavy damage was the report. Then I heard a report that made me wonder what the Jap Army meant to do. The report was that warships and transports had come to Aparri and Vigan on the north tip of Luzon and that troops were landing there. They couldn’t start a ground offensive from there because they would have to come over miles and miles of mountains before they could reach the part of Luzon that they would want. We found out later that they only wanted the use of the airfields located at these points. A few of our bombers had gone up to bomb their ships and several flights of pursuit ships had gone up to strafe the ships, but what could a pursuit plane do against a battle ship? We just didn’t have enough bombers left to do anything. One destroyer was sunk and the ammunition ship was blown up. Everybody was still cheerful though. We all thought we could hold the Nips for one or two weeks, and then our Navy would reach us, reinforcements from the States would start pouring in, and we would have done our job. That was the plan, we all thought, and we didn’t even dream otherwise.

I went home about dark that night. After supper Dorothy and I spent the next two or three hours trying to get a few things straightened out and my personal affairs in order. I made a will and a list of things for Dorothy to do or check on in case something should happen to me. I didn’t like to this because it seemed like I was saying, “I will probably get killed and I want you to do these things after I am dead,” but it was something that needed to be done, so I got it off my mind.

I have always said I am not the least bit superstitious, but I think I am. In flying school I started flying in a certain pair of shoes and from then on through primary I would never fly in any others. Subconsciously I was afraid I would wash-out or something bad would happen if I changed. I still have those shoes, an old pair of perforated brown oxfords, and I guess I will always keep them. I started flying the first day of the war with certain things in my pockets and ever since I always carry the same things. I seem to think something might happen if U get rid of these old safety pins, coins, key chain, and medals, so I make it a point to keep them. Yes, I guess I am superstitious.

Dorothy and I were both cheerful and optimistic that night. In a few weeks we would have Japan on the run and begging for mercy. What did we have to worry abou except maybe a few weeks separation at the most?


December 9, 1941

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.


December 8, 1941

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.