Staff Sergeant L.D. Jackson
WWII – Central Pacific Islands
Electrical Specialist for B-24 Bombers
What was the name of your favorite plane?
“I can’t remember — I DID know all the names.
“We did have the most famous plane in the Pacific. I KNEW the name of this one! “Bolivar.” It had over sixty missions on it — and they flew it back to the United States for a bond tour to sell bonds — and they crashed it.
“So what Consolidated did was build another Bolivar [Jr.] and sent it back. So we had the most famous plane in the Pacific in MY squadron.
“And I’ve never seen a crash caused by a lack of maintenance – like a plane coming in and getting a flat tire, or something like that – never. We all worked together. We were a happy family.
“Like — being a specialist — I didn’t even have to take the cowling off the plane. The cowling is the cover of the plane — but I did. Because those other mechanics, they had work to do, you see. But I could have had the mechanics who worked on that plane take the cowling off for me and put it back. But I HAD the TIME, so I didn’t mind doing it.
“And, each plane had a 25-hour inspection, a 50-hour inspection, a 100-hour inspection. Now boy, that 100-hour inspection was a biggie! [In that one] they took all the cowlings off all the engines. Our planes each had four engines on it. And we inspected everything on that plane. I mean from the magnetos to the fuses. Everything! Then after 400 hours of flying they put new engines on them.
“We always had something to do — I mean we didn’t have to rush to do it.
How many of the islands had airstrips on them?
“Any of reasonable size. We were on Nanumea — the Japs were never on Nanumea.
“And [there was] another island nearby. We had four squadrons, but two of them stayed here [Nanumea] and two of them stayed [on the nearby island]. And when they’d go on a mission, they’d meet [in the air], go out, come back in and go back to their island.
“But[ Nanumea] was a beautiful little island. It had coconut trees and the natives used to come over in their little “pirogues” that had the little “wings,” you know, and get coconuts. I’d see them climb the coconut trees — they’d take a little rope and put it around their legs this way and they’d scoot up and get their coconuts. And then they’d come down and put a stick in the ground and they’d use it to take off the skin this way [motions with hands like a coconut coming down on the stick].
“Man, I tried, but I just stuck it [the coconut]. I could never do what they do and they’d laugh at us, you know.
So there was some civilization around…
“Only on that one island. But on the other islands, no natives at all.
“In fact, when we went there, it was so shot up, it was just gone. And once the SeaBees came in there and cleaned up, there wasn’t even a tree standing up. It was just wide open. I could stand up on top of a plane and see water 360 degrees around me.
I’ve seen pictures of the atolls and they’re just like a little…
“Like a little pond-like.
…little spits of land with an airfield on them.
“They’ve got an airfield…and where there’s a plane, you’ve got to make sure [your] tent is where you don’t get the propwash that could blow your tent down, you see. Oh it was fun.. [chuckles]
You were twenty?
“I was just twenty. And then twenty-one, and twenty-two. Cause I never did get home.
So how long were you out there?
“Three, almost four years. Three and a half years.
“[He chuckles] Oh, now I’m [recalling] back in the states before we went over. [They sent us out to] the Mojave Desert – ’cause I guess they knew where we were going. But they told us we were going to Alaska – in the Mojave Desert – [I chuckle].
“But anyway, I did have a pass to go home — a furlough, to go home. Our planes flew in the day time — in the Mojave Desert – no air conditioners or fans, no anything – so we tried to sleep during the day time to get a little sleep.
“So I was on the top bunk [one day] and I had my barracks bag all packed to go the next day and I had my pass underneath my pillow. So here comes my good buddy and the First Sergeant.
“’Jackson, wake up, wake up!’
“I woke up.
“’Where’s your pass?’
“So I gave it to him. And he took it and tore it.
“Ahn, no. I was the comedian. They always classified me in my squadron as the morale builder.
I could see that.
“They were trying to get even with me – my buddy – he was twelve years older than me. And he’s the one who taught me what I know how to work on planes. He was a real electrician for a big bread mill in Chicago. He was from Chicago. Vogan was his name. He took me under his wing…and taught me everything.
“But anyway, they just thought that was the funniest thing. So they gave me a three-day pass. They had their fun with me. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t mind.
“And I used to like to go to Hollywood and go to the Palladium. We’d dance to the Big Bands – in person.
Wow…like Glenn Miller?
I didn’t see Glenn Miller. I couldn’t get there when he was there, but you know, I’ve seen just a whole bunch of Big Bands that were playing there. And I still like it. That was the only good music that was ever had.
“But you couldn’t jitterbug because the floor was too crowded. And there wasn’t a straight piece of wood on the dance floor. It started in the middle and went out [in concentric circles]. And HARDWOOD too! You ought to see it. It was a beautiful floor! It was a nice place. I used to go to the Palladium all the time. I think it only cost us sixty cents to get in! [chuckles] Yeah! And a drink was only fifty or sixty cents.
Who of your family was left here when you were overseas?
Just my mom and dad. They were living in Gramercy [Louisiana].
Were you an only child?
Oh, no! I had a brother and he was already a Master Sergeant when I went in. He was in the south Pacific and he survived. He was in the Air Force, too.
What was the date you went in?
Let’s see. I’m gonna have to guess. It was ’42. Say June. It was hot. I can remember that! And I got out in November of ’45. Yeah, I was one of the first groups to get out because I never did have a furlough, you see.
So the point system let you go home earlier than some others?
Yeah, they had some kind of point system. So when the war ended, I was one of the first groups that got out of there.
Being so remote, were you able to correspond very much with back home?
“When I was in? Oh, yeah! I think, what they had was, E mail?
They had V-Mail…
“And, lord, when we would ship out from this island to another island, well we wouldn’t get any mail, obviously, ‘cause I was on a ship going…THEN we’d get mail and have about fifty letters!
You had to put them in order to read them!
Yeah, it was no fun readin’ em, you know. ‘Cause it was just repetition, repetition, repetition. You like to get a letter or two letters [at a time], you know.
No, we got a lot of mail! It was good. We had enough. In fact my parents used to send me food.
Really! It made it all the way out there?
It made it all the way out there. Not often, but like for Christmas or something.
What kind of food did you eat out there? Rations? Regular meals?
Well…that all depends…… [I chuckle] I can remember going to the mess hall and [asking], “What do we have?”
You know, that was the expression. So I didn’t even go. I’d go out to the plane and get me a little ration and I ate it out at the plane — plane rations.
Ha ha, that was an expression. Man…[wrinkles his nose in disgust] if I cooked…it wasn’t any good either. I could take an egg and make it change color… [We laugh] You know, I lost 25 pounds overseas. When I went overseas, I weighed about 212 – 215. I came back, I weighed 175.
You would have blown away! [He’s about 6’3”]
Oh it was alright! It didn’t bother me.
You were probably good and tanned, too!
“Oh boy, was I TAN! I was WELL tanned. It didn’t bother me…cause I just enjoyed being with the group I was with.
“I just had fun – and even in my work – a lot of time I would pretend I was mad or something – you know, I’d use some bad words. And man, they’d be out there laughing at me! And I’d be cussing this [the plane part he was working on]. And I was laughing at them, laughing at me!
“But I wanted to help them think of something other than being away from home. Because I have one – his name was Carpenter – he was a Crew Chief. All Crew Chiefs were Master Sergeants. I guess we had in my squadron thirty or forty Master Sergeants. But we didn’t pull rank on each other. We didn’t even think about it.
“But Carpenter – his wife wrote him a “goodbye letter.” And oh, it just about killed him.So we all really worked at making him feel good. I can still see him sitting on an old plane that had crashed. And he was sitting on that crashed plane by himself , you know, just sobbing away. But that’s the only one I saw ’cause there wasn’t too many of us married. They were young like me, you see.
We were just one big happy family out there. Like I said, I never saw a fight or an argument in the two years I was over there.
That’s amazing – that close of quarters, and that hot, and that stress…
“And we had to keep those planes in good shape and everything. But I don’t know how we got all the parts.
I was going to ask you that. Did they ship them out to you or did they have them in storage?
“I. Don’t. Know. And on those little islands. How’d they get them into that island?
“I was on Saipan and they had a plane that went down and they had a General in it. General Marshall I think his name was. So they needed a crew to go back to look for them. To search. So they flew me back. Did you ever hear of a movie star named Tyrone Power?
I flew with him!
Now when I say, “I flew with him,” I was in the plane he flew.
He was a pilot?
He was a pilot. And he didn’t fly a bomber. He flew like commercial planes. But it was a two-engine plane.
So when they flew me back, well there was a bunch of other people, so I was in the plane that flew back from Saipan to Kwajalien with Tyrone Power as the pilot! When we got to where we were going, I made sure to walk right by him – I could have touched him. But I didn’t talk to him or anything.
Well during the flight, he went back to the back of the plane to relieve himself, but when he walked through, one of the guys sitting there asked him for his autograph.
He said, “No, I’m a soldier just like you.” He said, “I’m no better than you are.”
And I never forgot that. But that’s what he told that [fellow].
That shows his character.
But the soldiers took it good. And we thought it was big.
In Part 3 of “We Kept the Planes Flying,” Mr. Jackson tells the stories of diagnosing the problem of a grounded plane that no one else on the island could fix and being bombed by the Japanese on Saipan.