L.D. Jackson – “We Helped Keep the Planes Flying” (Part 3)

SONY DSC“When I got back over to [Saipan], there was a B-24 there that had been grounded for about a week.  Nobody could fix it. … So they came and got me.  Shucks, in fifteen minutes I found the problem. And the only reason I’m mentioning this is, they didn’t have the part.

I needed a waste gate motor.*  I had never changed a waste gate motor in my squadron.  That’s the first time I had ever seen it.  But I knew how to check for it, you see.

“They said, ‘We’ll have it tomorrow.’

“The next day, it was there.  So they came and got me.  And when I put it on and they checked it –

“‘That’s it!’ [the pilot said.]

“The pilot came and hugged me.  And all the crew came and shook my hand… they’d been stranded there for a week ‘cause nobody could fix the plane.  So it made me feel good, you know…to know — man, I did something.  Here’s a little old staff sergeant…and when the plane took off I watched it thinking, ‘Man, I hope that engine keeps running!’

And you don’t know where it came from so quickly? They must have had a great system! 

Now where’d they get that thing from, I don’t know.  I guess they radioed in. But the next day, they had that motor.  I’ll never forget that.

And, we used to go in the plane and listen to the music from the [Hollywood] Palladium. We didn’t have our own radios. But we used to go in those planes and listen to the good radios.

“I had some great experiences.  And for some reason, it seemed like [all the men] took a liking to me, you know what I mean?  They liked my old southern person.  ‘Cause I was with a whole lot of guys out of Chicago and those places, you know.  I was just an unusual type of character, I guess.

But, a pleasant one.

I try to be, anyway.

So you were there for over two years in those little islands. Where were you for the rest of the time?

Well, in the States.

For Basic Training?

I was in the States for about a year before I went over, you see, going to school. I was stationed in Texas first, then I went to Illinois, then I went to northern California and then southern California.

When I was at March Field [southern California] – now this is one time they did fly me – I was the co-pilot of this little plane.  And one of the officers – I’m sure the plane he was going to fly by himself to where he was going, but he needed someone – and I flew back to San Francisco with him from southern California to northern California to go to school – to go to magneto school, but I came back by train.  They didn’t fly me back!  But anyway, I was the co-pilot, you know – I didn’t do anything – except sit in that little single engine plane.  But I flew with him.  Just another nice experience I had.

So other than seeing planes come and go from missions, you weren’t in the middle of any kind of combat, were you?

Oh yeah! We got bombed!

Well, I want to hear about it!

One night – now we weren’t really bombed [on the other islands] until we got to Saipan. Planes came over and we could see where a bomb went off out on the – you call it the line – that’s where the planes are.  And they had B-29’s there.  And they hit a loaded – meaning it had bombs in it.  They hit that plane and that thing blew up and a big cloud of smoke that rose this way, this way, up there [demonstrates it going higher and higher].  Fullscreen capture 562014 63348 PM.bmpAnd when it got up here, it exploded. Don’t ask me why, but it must have been the gas in that plane.  And it just lit up the whole island.

I mean it just “Hwwhooooo!” That was really an experience! Fullscreen capture 562014 63417 PM.bmp

“And then another day, I had my mess kit in my hand, so it must have been around lunch time, I was going from my tent to the mess hall and here come over fifteen Jap planes. And one of ‘em was so low I could see he had a scarf around his neck.

Oh, wow.

“Now he wasn’t looking for me. It was a suicide thing.  And they were after those B-29s.  And it was fifteen of ‘em and they kept going around till everyone of ‘em was shot down.  But the one that came over, I bet he wasn’t any higher than those trees up there.  And he just went around and eventually he got shot down.

So they didn’t dive into the planes on the ground like a kamikaze?

No, no.  They were dropping bombs on ‘em. And I wasn’t on the line. Some guys were on the line, cause I was getting me something to eat I guess cause I had my mess kit.  I heard the machine guns go off, but I thought it was just guys practicing, you know, and I looked up and there’s planes coming in.

Where you ever scared?

No, it didn’t scare me.  I just knelt down and watched and then he left [me] and all the other planes – it wasn’t long until they were all shot down.

Where were you at the end of the war when they dropped the bombs on Japan?

Saipan [all the bombing runs to Japan and back].

Most probably I saw where the plane [Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima] – no I didn’t – but I COULD HAVE been able to see the plane take off Tinian to go bomb it, you see.  They did that all day long.  We could here ‘em two o’clock in the morning taking off over there.

“Then we went back to Hawaii.  They told us we were going to go into some B-32s, I think, but I knew they knew something.

“The war hadn’t ended yet when we got back to Hawaii and it wasn’t long until peace came around.

“God…did I see some drunks that day. I can still remember there’s a sailor laying on the walk.  And everybody’s just stepping over him.  I never was a – oh I drank my share at times – but I didn’t want to drink anything that day.

So how did you feel?

“Oh, I was just watching these crazy guys. I can even remember going down Kapiolani Boulevard and I was in Waikiki Beach. See I used to go to Waikiki Beach and I used to like to surf.

Oh really!

“Oh, yeah. I surfed a lot on Waikiki Beach, me and two other guys – Johnson and Shaheen.  And we used to go out and surf.  We weren’t as good as the [native Hawaiians], you know, but we could stand up and come on in.  And our surfboards weren’t like the ones now.  Our surfboards were taller than me.  You know that’s what they had back in those days, [not] like these nice little surfboards they have now.

So you learned to surf over there?  Because you sure didn’t learn in Louisiana!

Oh no, I learned at Waikiki Beach.  I used to watch the little Hawaiians – they let the surf come in — now these are the little kids.  And they would run this way and right in that shallow water and skid right in on their stomachs!  There’s no WAY I would try that — I’d just make a big ole hole in the sand! [We laugh.] Fullscreen capture 582014 70853 PM.bmp

“But they could just run and watch when the water would come in and, boy, Shooooo!

“And they would go [fifteen feet]! And they’d get up and wait for another one!

“And I saw Hawaii when it was Hawaii.  No hotels. The only hotel they had there was the Royal Hawaiian and the Navy took it over.

“But now on Waikiki Beach, there’s nothing but big hotels.  I took my wife there.  I wanted to show her where I was.  I wanted her to see Pearl Harbor, you know.  ‘Cause I saw Pearl Harbor when it was – still working on ships trying to get them upright.

“When we shipped out – I didn’t know what an LST was.

I don’t know what an LST is.

It’s a small ship and they open up in the front to take tractors and other cargo.I saw those little LSTs at Pearl Harbor.

“So I saw this Navy guy. ‘Do those things go out in the ocean?’ You know, I just thought they went from this pier in Pearl Harbor to bring something over to this one, or something. Oh, dummy me. What did I know? That’s what I thought.

“So he asked me, ‘What ship are you on?’

“240,” I said.

“He said, “That’s the one you’re going down-under on.”

“And that’s when I found out those little things – and lord, you talking about – you sit out there – the back of the ship is called a fantail. So you sit in the back, and you see where you’ve been. It leaves a long trail.  And you can see it where they changed directions so in case a submarine sees them.

“Or at night, we used to go ride in the front and look down and see the phosphors in the water. They light up. And the little flying fish — they’re about that long [shows with hands about one-foot long].  And if the water’s rough, they’ll even get on deck!

Really!

“Uh-huh, they’re only about that big.  But they’ll flip and get back in the water.  And that gave us something to do at night.  And we never did go down and sleep in our bunks because it was too noisy and too hot.  So we’d just take a blanket and fold it and sleep on deck.  Take a little nap.  And we were only out there for about four or five days.

That’s from Hawaii?

“No, from one island to the next island.  Like going from Kwajalien to Saipan.

I know, you don’t think about them being that far apart.

“No, but some of those are only about three days.  They’re a little bit closer.

“And when I told you they flew me back with Tyrone Power… that’s when I went from [the island] back to Hawaii — and my squadron went back to Hawaii.  But I never remember how I got back [there]. I don’t remember that at all.  I guess everything was so routine.  I don’t know if they flew another plane in to get me or when they were flying in they stopped and picked me up.  But I made it!

* (Mr. Jackson’s description of a waste gate motor) “Because you see, what a waste gate motor is – it’s a motor that – like this is your exhaust pipe from your plane – you know, your car has an exhaust pipe, right?  Alright, see, what they use – they use that exhaust gas to turn a wheel for super charging.  And it forces air into the engine for super charging.  And the way they regulate the speed of that is by a gate, that if they don’t want as much, they open the gate up.  If they want more power, they close that gate.  You see, this way [demonstrates by rocking his flat hand over the vertical edge of his other hand].  And that’s the only one I’ve ever worked on the whole time I was in the service.

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