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.