About William A. Fairfield

About the author: William A. Fairfield ( — October 1975), Army Air Corps flyer. An introductory note to the transcript of the author’s diary, written by W.H. Montgomery, contains the following information:

Major Fairfield was one of the “Earlybirds” of flying, having learned to fly late in WW I in the famed “Jennies” of the period. He left the Military service and became a civilian for some years before once again being called back to active duty. He served as Assistant Engineering officer for March Air Force Base, Riverside California in 1940, was transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico as Engineering officer for the 19th Bombardment Group in 1940 and was assigned the same job when the 19th Bombardment Group was sent to Clark Air Force Base, Pampanga, Philippines in September, 1941.

Although Major Fairfield was badly crippled with his wounds during the first day of the Pacific War he continued on active duty for some time before retirement. He spent the last 20 or so years of his life in his native city of San Francisco with his wife Susan (2463 26th Avenue, San Francisco, California 94116). He died of cancer in October of 1975 at the age of 77.

About the diary: Located in the Bataan Facebook group. Also in two installments in WWIIForums in the thread, The “Fighting Mactan.”

In his introductory note to the diary, W.H. Montgomery noted that,

This is a diary kept by Major William A. Fairfield, United States Air Corps, retired, for the period of the first week
of December, 1941 until the last week of January, 1942. It involves the attack by the Japanese Imperial Air Force on Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga Province of the Philippine Islands some 10 hours after other units of that same Imperial Air Force, with a strike force of carriers, had attacked Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. The diary also includes details of the wounding of Major Fairfield, reports of the wounding and killing of several other officers, their hospitalization and eventual removal from the Philippines to Australia on the converted Inter-Island ship, Mactan.

Major Fairfield does not mention in this account another near miss with death he and his fellow shipmates on the Mactan had as they ventured out of Manila Bay. The entrance to that harbor was guarded not only by the guns of Corregidor but by a well planned minefield with a single zig-zag “safe” route to the open sea. The Mactan made a wrong turn in the darkness and was right in the middle of the mines before it could be signaled of its danger by Commander Alan McCracken, who was patrolling the waters near the entrance to the harbor with his River Gunboat, Mindanao. By some miracle of seamanship and luck the Mactan was able to make a wide circle through the minefield and return to the correct passage and out to the open sea. None of the men aboard the Mactan knew of their brush with death.

Robert Gibson notes that,

An email conversation with Jim Opolony led me to look for this diary from Major William Fairfield, who was evacuated from Manila on the SS Mactan, along with a couple hundred other severely wounded soldiers from the Battle of Bataan — including my father, Lt. Emmett Gibson.
It gives you a sense of the uncertainty of the time leading up to the evacuation, when it appeared that the wounded had been abandoned by the US Army as that army retreated to Corregidor from Manila, and then the miraculous decision on the part of the IJA to permit a medical evacuation, as long as it was only the wounded and Red Cross onboard. To the 3 week journey through largely uncharted seas on a boat infested with biting insects, with limited food and water, threatened by a fire onboard, and nearly lost in a storm just before arrival in Sydney, Australia.
The diary used to be posted online in the archives of the ADBC, but those archives have largely disappeared from the library website that hosted them. I found this copy of Fairfield’s diary through some digging.