This is the story of the 497th's final lonewolf bombing strike against
Tokyo on January 27th, 1945 when B-29 missions were still in "short
pants"; when Superfort fliers were giving their minds, their hearts,
their lives to the task of putting the Superfortress in full dress,
preparing Japan for a shroud; when there was no friendly Iwo to set
down on in emergency; when there were no Mustangs to ward off the waves
of murderous enemy fighters.
It's the story of how 497th crewmen--guys like Avery, who barely made
it back; McDonnell, Peterson, Dauth, and Hahn and their crews who
didn't--met and fought off the bulk of the greatest aerial attack the
Japanese have even been able to mount against Superfort Task Forces;
how they went on to bomb their target and how those who returned to
base sincerely hoped, but did not realize, that what they went through
that day, other fliers would be spared. They had met the measure of
Japan's homeland air force. Never again were the Japanese able to put
up a defense as severe as that which battered at the tiny force on
Crewmen who flew on that mission will be spinning this combat yarn
alongside fireplaces, over bars and in shops and offices as long as any
of them are above. Tokyo, January 27th is to men of the 497th what the
Iwo Jima battle is to Marines; what the "Battle of the Bulge" is to men
of the European campaign; what "Schweinfurt" is to American men who
Today, in talking to crewmen who flew on that mission, one has only to
ask "which was your most difficult mission?' or, casually, in an
ice-breaking manner, mention the January 27th strike and crewmen either
begin gesturing wildly with their hands to describe the fighter attacks
which their bomber had to withstand or they stare off into space
blankly, remembering with squinted eyes and clenched Jaws--but saying
Major Walter L. Geyer (Mena, Arkansas) summed up the average crewman's
opinion of the mission: "Over the target I clearly remember saying to
myself as we ploughed through fighters and flak, "If I ever get out of
this one I'm through flying"--and at that moment I really meant it."
The heroism, the gallantry, the sacrifices, the fear and the elation,
and finally the results achieved, are all blended to make one of the
most courageous tales of the Pacific War. On this day the back of
Japanese opposition was broken. For later, as fleets of 700 and more
Superforts pounded Japan from the Marianas, Nip anti-aircraft fire was
comparatively light; Jap fighter opposition practically negligible and
Superfort forces smashed at dozens of cities with extremely light
losses. This air warrior's dream was never realized until the minions
of the empire who protected "Flak Alley: were met and vanquished in the
fiercest battle ever to take place over Japan.
January 27th was the last day that the 497th and the remaining units of
the 73rd Wing struck at Japan alone. On the very next mission, the
313th Wing, based on Tinian, joined with the 73rd to bomb Kobe. Though
Group after Group was added to the growing air war against Japan, none
has a battle story to equal the one which the 497th wrote on January
The 497th and its companion Groups of the 73rd Wing had bombed Japan
from Saipan. Its crewmen flew through all kinds of weather, tested all
types of air battle and bombing tactics, stored up all kinds of
experiences and information to be passed on to newcomers in this newest
of wars: the Air War against Japan proper. Mission after mission as the
Wing flew on alone, the intensity of Japanese fighter plane and
anti-aircraft gunfire increased. December 4, Wing crewmen fought off 75
attacks at Tokyo and bombed their target.. December 27th they blasted
their way through 508 attacks, shot down nine fighters and dropped
their bombs on another Jap war plant at Nagoya. January 23 they again
hit Nagoya after smashing aside 626 attacks and shooting down 32
fighters to get to the target.
In its first two months of operation from Saipan, between November 24th
and January 23rd, the Wing fought off more than 3,500 fighter attacks.
There was an average of four attacks against each plane bombing during
this period; Wing gunners shot down 106 fighters.
On January 27th the peak in Jap fighter attacks against B-29's was
reached. To bomb the dock area of Tokyo through a heavy undercast,
sixty-two Superforts of the Wing ploughed through 984 Jap fighter plane
attacks--554 of which were against the 497th. Of the more than 350 Jap
planes which attacked, 60 were shot down (34 by the 497th) and 56 were
probably shot down (32 by the 497th). Nearly one-tenth of all the
fighters shot down by Mariana-based B-29's in approximately 300
missions were destroyed that day.
Nine B-29's were lost during the mission; the greatest number of planes
the Wing ever lost on any mission; the greatest number any Wing lost to
enemy aircraft on a single strike-- and five of these great ships and
four of their gallant crews were stricken from the rolls of the 497th.
Destroyed Superforts were spread from Honshu to Saipan. The 497th,
leading the Wing, was first over the target and therefore bore the
brunt of Jap fighter and A/A opposition. Seventeen of our planes
crossed the Japanese coast ant turned to make their bomb run. Two were
sent down by Jap fighter bullets; a third just disappeared over the
target; a fourth plunged into the ocean 250 miles off the coast of
Honshu on the return flight and a fifth crashed at base and was
destroyed. Thirteen of the 17 crews returned safely and of the twelve
planes landing safely, eight suffered extensive battle damage. This
pitifully small force had to fight off 554 separate attacks for an hour
and a half along a 150-mile route. Of the more than 260 planes which
made these attacks on the Group, 34 were shot down and 21 were probably
shot down by the eagle-eyed gunners who fired upwards of 70,000 rounds
The Japs were waiting for the force. They knew it was coming even
before Superfortress Crewmen spotted the towering heights of snowcapped
Mount Fuji. About 300 miles from the coast of Honshu the tight
formations of low flying Superfortresses were detected by two Jap
"When the boys saw the boats they knew they were going to get a
different type of show at Tokyo that day." said Major Pershing L. Yon
(Tallahassee, Florida) who piloted a B-29 on the mission.
The patrol boats which had been cruising on the exact course to Honshu,
were able to radio an hour's warning that B-29's were speeding in to
smash at the homeland once again.
That was word enough for Jap fighter pilots. With a whole hour in which
to check ammunition, gas-up, warm up their planes and climb to the
five-mile altitude of the incoming Superforts, planes from all over the
Tokyo-Nagoya area were alerted in time to speed down Nip runways well
before the 497th even sighted land.
Hundreds of Jap fighters of all types and with all manner of markings
were thrown into battle that day. Fighters from the new, slick
jet-black Irvings, down to single-engine, obsolete craft, boiled
skyward to smash into the just-arriving Superforts. The Japs even
tossed in a medium bomber for good measure.
As Jap pilots jabbered last-minute instructions to their ground crewmen
for readying their planes, two B-29's, flying an hour ahead of the main
force, were already scouting Nagoya and Tokyo to determine which city
had the best bombing weather. As the 497th crossed the coast-line, two
separate "clouds" were seen in the distance--one was caused by hundreds
of bursts of heavy Jap anti-aircraft shells; the other by the Jap
fighters, which were already at B-29 altitude, waiting for the force to
move down toward the target area.
"Heavy guns were spotted all along the very path we had to travel to
the target," said Major Thomas J. Hanley III (Mansfield, Ohio), one of
the commanders of the first formation. "That was the day this course
into the target got a name which has stuck with it ever since: 'Flak
However, not all of the Jap fighters waited for the Superforts to reach
the target, for just as the first formation broke into sight of the
coast-line, five Jap planes pounced and fired a few shots as if in
formal opening of the two-hour aerial battle which was to follow. Then
they drew off and radioed vital information concerning the B-29 force
to the waiting fighters and flak batteries. Speed, altitude, number of
planes in the formations, all this was neatly set in the mind of each
Jap pilot and lanyardyanker before they even saw a Superfort.
The bell clanged and the 497th formation stepped out of its "corner" in
a fist-cocked, determined manner as it wheeled around Hammamatsu and
plunged for the city of Kofu, the last turn before the target.
Fighters and bombers met head-on. In ones, twos and threes they came,
some whining in from below to spray the bellies of the bombers; others
driving vertically from high above the formation to cut off and strafe
the Superforts from wing-tip to wing-tip. As many as eight or nine
fighters dove in at once to attack a single B-29, spinning, turning,
gliding, firing, some skimming within inches of the wings and fuselages
of the giant plane.
A Jap "Tony" fighter attacked Major Hanley's plane from high on the
right side. All guns were on him and blazing away when a "Zeke" roared
in from below the bomber on the same side and strafed the entire right
side of the fuselage. Inches lower and his bullets would have dug into
everyone on that side of the plane.
Lieutenant Alvin Garver, Flight Engineer in Hanley's formation from
Hartford, Connecticut, decided to sit only on his life-raft that
day--instead of a heavy pillow AND the life-raft. Jap fighter bullets
crashed into the plane two inches above his head.
Flames leaped from the loaded bomb bay of a B-29 which had sustained
fighter and flak hit. It shuddered, slowed down. Then its pilot,
Lieutenant Walter S. McDonnel (Duluth, Minnesota), tried to speed it
forward to gain the protection of the formation. It dropped back once
more and was last seen veering to the north toward the protection of
cloud banks, its bomb bay fiercely on fire and hopelessly in trouble.
After the war was over and American prisoners in Japan were returned to
the U.S. the only two airmen from the 497th shot down in battle even to
be returned, were from this airplane. They were Sgt. Clinto F.
Lodovici, tail gunner and Staff Sgt. Vere D. Carpenter, radar operator.
The fighters pounced on a second plane in the formation, flown by
Captain Elmer G. Hahn (Idaho Falls, Idaho), which was straggling.
Flames found the Bombs and the giant bomber exploded and broke in two.
The front half of the plane, completely engulfed in flames plunged
quickly to earth while the rear half seemed to float in the air. Then
it too exploded.
Thousands of rounds of ammunition from many Superfort guns ate into the
attackers and as the 15 remaining planes of the Group moved
deliberately forward to their target, the air was filled with
earthward-bound pieces of broken planes--Jap and American alike. Some
Jap pilots, in typical suicide fashion, ignored the sledgehammer-like
fire directed at their planes and flew straight down the streams of
smashing Superfort bullets to explode within a few yards of the
target-bound bombers. In rapid succession, five fighters were shot down
by the guns of a single B-29. Jap flak got another and guns from three
different airplanes blasted a seventh Jap from the sky in seconds.
The Japs were good, but the B-29 gunners were better and the intricate
and new central fire control systems of the huge planes were living up
to their pre-battle praise.
A gunner would no sooner finish off one Nip plane than another would
speed in to take its place in the attack. As a juggler keeps his eye on
a dozen plates in the air at one time, so did B-29 gunners on January
27th have to follow the determined Jap fighter planes--only plates
don't spit ugly 20 millimeter explosive shells, belch hundreds of round
of smashing, high-caliber bullets, and you have to smash Jap fighters
to drop them. An official Wing report formally understated, "When
considering the confusion that must have resulted from the frequency of
attack, it is believed that gunners displayed excellent control."
Gun barrels were red-hot and some of them were burned into uselessness
even before the planes got to the target, so intense were the Jap
fighter attacks. In some cases, too, guns ran dry of ammunition in a
vital turret and airplane commanders had to flip their mammoth planes
from side-to-side to allow guns which still had full ammo belts to be
brought into the battle.
With two of its planes already gone, the small formation, still under
fierce attack, flew steadily forward. The formation rounded Kofu, a
small town west of Tokyo, and bore down on the capital, 100 miles away.
Then a third bomber, piloted by Captain Raymond C. Dauth (Paso Robles,
California), was hit. It lurched, tried to swing back into formation
but instead, plunged slowly out of its place in the attack group, its
crew trying desperately to control the fire which had burst from the
bomb bay. It continued to fly away from the formation and was never
seen nor heard from again. Again the hole was plugged by another
reshuffling. And still the fighters came.
In lightning fashion two Jap fighters rammed another Superfort in the
dwindling formation. One dove straight down on the bomber and sliced
off eight feet of its aileron; another ploughed into the tail and
sheared off the entire left stabilizer. The B-29, flown by Captain
Lloyd Avery (Long Beach, California), dropped 8,000 feet out of
control, was finally pulled out of its dive and it scooted for the
coast-line and out to sea, fighters attacking all the way.
Only with the skill and courage of their gallant crews did the
formation fight through and reach the target. Finally, with bombs away,
the group swung to the right and in precision formation followed the
prescribed course out over the coast-line and headed back for Saipan.
About 250 miles from Japan on the homeward run, the courageous little
group lost another of its planes. Jap bullets had caused a leak in one
of the giant plane's gas tanks and because of lack of fuel, Captain
Dale W. Peterson of Portland, Oregon, "landed at sea."
At dawn the next morning B-29's were already scouring the waters off
Honshu for the mission crew. The plane was seen to have made a
successful "ditching." Squadron mates who followed them to give
assistance, saw crewmen standing on the wings as the bomber rocked in
the water; saw men crawling into life-rafts. Then, for five days, a
storm ripped along Japan's eastern coast. The crew was never seen
again. For a week after the ditching, planes from the Group flew from
Saipan to the locality where the crew was last seen and patrolled from
15 to 18 hours a day. They flew at altitudes of 500 to 1,000 feet,
between and around thousands of Jap-held islands in the area, all eyes
scanning the waters for some trace of the mission crew. Had there been
an Iwo Jima at this point in the B-29 campaign, the men might have been
saved; might have been spurred on, as have many crews since, to wring a
few more impossible miles out of their heavily damaged craft and
sputter into airfield-packed Iwo.
"IRISH LASSIE", IS RAMMED TWICE--COMES HOME
The superb skill and fighting spirit of American soldiers was
never so ably demonstrated as by the crew of "Irish Lassie" which
on January 27th, performed the unparalleled feat of returning
1200 miles to base with their plane damaged almost beyond belief.
The Superfortress, flown by Lieutenant Lloyd Avery (later Captain, Long
Beach, California), had crossed the coast-line at Hammamatsu with the
first formation to bomb. Its gunners were as busy as any that day,
blasting away at Jap fighters all along the approach to the target.
Planes were charging in from every direction and the babble on the
interphone of gunners calling out fighters was like that of an
The crew and its gunners were holding their own against the attacking
enemy planes and had already sent three spinning to earth, when out of
the sky high above them roared a Jap "Zeke." It was coming straight
down, firing, as control gunner Technical Sergeant James F. McHugh (New
York City), with his head jammed into the glassed in top of his
sighting compartment, spun and swung six guns on the determined
American and Japanese were linked by an intangible thread as round upon
round poured into the Jap plane, but still the diving Zeke came, faster
and faster, straight for the Superfort. It was too late. The Jap
fighter couldn't pull out; the Superfort couldn't get out of the way.
The Zeke smashed like a free-falling elevator into the bomber's left
wing just behind its number one engine, taking with it as it continued
straight down to earth, eight feet of the bomber's aileron and
one-third of its huge landing flap. The number one engine's gas tank
was so badly mangled that precious fuel poured out of the fuel cell and
dropped away into the air.
Miraculously enough, the number one engine was undamaged and continued
to function. "There was surprisingly little jolt when the Jap
hit us," Flight Engineer Lieutenant Robert Watson (Pomeroy, Washington),
declared, "and our Navigator (First Lieutenant John J. Faubion,
Austin, Texas) didn't even know we'd been rammed. But everyone,
including myself, thought we'd lost an engine for sure. However,
I glanced at my instruments and found that it was still in good
running order. To keep it in operation, I immediately transferred
enough fuel from the damaged gas tank into another tank so that
the level of the fuel in the cell was below the point of the leak.
Then I fed it back to keep the engine going."
The crew, shaken but victorious with four fighters to its credit,
continued along the bomb run, hugging its companion closely, firing
round after round into swarms of fighters as Tail Gunner Staff Sergeant
Charles Mulligan (Henderson Kentucky), called in from his tight
position in the extreme end of the plane: "B-29 going down in flames a
7 o'clock...fighter down at 6...four fighters attacking from four
o'clock, low..."Jack" coming in directly at 6 o'clock...".
More bullets ripped into the plane, some of which tore into the back of
the Radio Operator, Sergeant Walter Klimczak (Plymouth, Pennsylvania)
and he dropped to the floor calling for help. But help had to wait. The
plane was on its bomb run and every man was needed at his battle
Bombardier, First Lieutenant Corral Gage (Wausatosa, Wisconsin), was
preparing to release the bombs when Tail Gunner Mulligan called in
another fighter: "Jack at 6 o'clock again...this baby's really coming
in!", he literally shouted over the interphone; "He's low. Coming in
Mulligan poured out the lead. Fifty, sixty, a hundred rounds were sent
into the hard-flying Jack as it bore in, straight for the tail with all
guns blazing. Mulligan kept firing, firing, firing and still the Jack
came. Pieces were chipped, sliced, blasted from the enemy plane as the
tail gunner's trigger fingers, white from gripping his gun buttons,
bore even harder into the metal. A bullet tore into his right hand.
Still he fired.
Mulligan continued to fire until the very last second; then, when the
snarling prop of the Jap plane was but inches from his glass-bound
compartment, the determined tail gunner snatched his hands from his
gun-sight and slung his arms over his face as the thunderbolting
fighter crashed into his compartment.
The whole plane shuddered as the fighter sliced into the rear of the
huge bomber, tearing out the entire left side of the tail gunner's
compartment, ripping the left stabilizer completely off and snapping
all of the control cables on the pilot's side of the plane. The
bombardier, in the second the plane was hit, had nevertheless, released
the bombs on schedule.
Then the near-dead bomber quickly went out of control and in a slow,
upright spiral, dropped 8,000 feet below and behind the protection of
its formation. A hungry pack of Jap fighters quickly pounced upon it.
The gunners opened up on the pack and the plane continued to drop, one
thousand, two-thousand, five-thousand feet. She was losing precious
altitude fast and the gunners, trying frantically to keep to their gun
positions in the twisting, turning plane, pumped sheets of metal into
the attacking Japs.
"I've got it! I've got it, Pop. I believe I can hold it!" Co-pilot
Leonard Fox (Downey, Pennsylvania) had in desperation, tested the
control mechanism on his side of the plane and found that he could pull
the plane out of its spin. Slowly, surely, the huge plane came out of
the spiral, barely held in control by the cables on Fox's side of the
plane which had not snapped when the "Jack" rammed them.
During the 8,000 foot drop, Avery had ordered the crew to prepare to
bail out. The bomb bay doors had been opened in preparation for the
escape--"escape" to the Japs below! But during the short time while Fox
was pulling the plane out of its spin, Avery had learned of the injured
radio operator and tail gunner. The bay doors were snapped shut.
Fighters attacked even more aggressively now, realizing the bomber was
severely crippled and could not count on the protective guns of other
B-29's. Fighters attacking the main formation high and ahead of the
crippled plane, continued their dives and strafed the wounded
Twenty fighters, split into two groups of ten, hung high above on
either side of the wounded plane and made coordinated attacks. Top
gunner McHugh alone had to battle off this determined group. "After
making a pass, they were coming back for seconds," McHugh said. "For
them, firing at us was like reaching for a brass ring on the
"First, one would attack from high on the left and before I could
finish firing at him, another would start down from directly behind and
above me and I'd have to swing around in a 180 degree turn. Soon, I
could time them just right. Without looking, I could tell when the next
guy was going to start in and after letting his pal have a few bursts
on the one side, I swing around just in time to catch another one
coming in from behind."
Grinning and remembering, McHugh said, "from the way things looked at
that point, I figured we were going to be under attack all the way back
to Saipan. So I kept urging the gunners to save ammo, but it didn't do
any good. They had to fire and keep firing."
The Left Gunner, Sergeant Clarence O. Leach (Martins Ferry, Ohio),
without fire power when his partner, Right Gunner, Sergeant Marvin E.
Meyer (Boone, Iowa), took over both turrets, shouted: "Meyer, Meyer,
PLEASE give me a turret--I've got FIVE of them over here." "Go to Hell,
Leach," Meyer shouted, his eyes jammed to his sight, "I've got EIGHT of
them over here!"
Just a few moment elapsed while the bomber was rammed, dropped its
bombs and plunged out of formation. Radar Operator, Staff Sergeant
Lewis E. Nellums (Pensacola, Florida), now turned to injured Radio
Operator Klimczak. As he dropped to his knees to aid the wounded man,
Jap bullets ripped through the side of the bomber, dug into the back of
the seat were Nellums, seconds before, had been sitting.
As the giant bomber slowly worked its way out over the Japanese coast,
the attackers followed for what seemed like an eternity. But at long
last the Japs were forced to drop off, one by one, from the attack and
when the crippled plane was sixty miles out to sea, only one fighter
was left. The Zeke tried in desperation to give the bomber a third
ramming but failed, gave up the chase and headed for Honshu.
The crippled bomber had been under constant attack for more that an
hour and when the plane was finally clear of the fighters, McHugh went
back to see what had happened to Mulligan and found him on the
compartment floor, unconscious, He had managed to plunge his face into
his oxygen mask before blacking out.
"The hole in the side of the plane was big enough for him to fall
through," McHugh reported. "The only thing that prevented him from
falling out when we went into the spiral was the fact that shredded
metal from the compartment was caught in his clothing and was holding
him inside the plane."
Although the jagged pieces of metal saved the unconscious gunner from
falling free, those same pieces of metal held him so securely that
almost an hour elapsed before he was liberated from his freezing prison
and brought to a more comfortable section where first aid was
administered. Singly, crewman after crewman had wormed his way back
into the freezing compartment to work at the tangle of metal which held
the gunner. They carried a "walk-around" oxygen bottle because the
oxygen supply to the tail had been sliced away by the ramming fighter.
A single crewman would cut away at the tangled mass until his supply of
oxygen diminished and he had become groggy. Then he would stagger to
the forward part of the plane and send in a new worker.
McHugh, Leach, Meyers, Nellums, Gage, all in turn, worked to get the
boy out to the smashed compartment. They knew they were working against
time. When a man spends too much time exposed to the elements at high
altitudes, anything can happen.
"His clothes were as stiff as a board when we finally got him loose."
Nellums declared. "We practically had to undress him in order to get
him free of the metal: Carefully they lifted him out, lest he be
dropped through the gaping hole and plunge thousands of feet into the
The gunner was bedded down in the Radar compartment and covered with
flying clothes donated by other crewmen in spite of the icy winds which
ripped through the plane. By this time the 40 degrees below zero
temperature had so affected the gunner's hands that they later had to
be amputated. His face was purple, he began to growl and complain of
the intense cold, in spite of the mountain of clothing which had been
heaped upon him. But his crewmen had done all they could. Now there was
nothing--except hope and pray that they could make Saipan before it was
The bomber staggered endlessly on with its crew members fighting to
keep the plane airborne, fighting against time and fighting to keep
down the rising tide of turmoil and anxiety which threatened to break
the souls of each man.
At last, Nellums, back in his bullet-riddled seat, scanned his
instruments and joyfully called over the interphone that Saipan was
"Down we went, through the clouds and popped out on the approach to the
field," Navigator Faubion remembered. "We were home at last--there just
below us was more than just an air base. It was home and safety."
Although relief was in sight, Mulligan barely escaped death, for warm
air in the lower levels opened the wounds which had congealed in the
frigid upper altitudes. He was saved by the prompt and efficient work
of his crewmates who administered sulfa powder, morphine, and plasma.
"Down and down we went," Faubion stated, "and at 1,200 feet we had to
make a turn. That's when we began to do some real sweating."
Fox was at the flying control; Gage was giving visual direction from
the nose and Avery was at the throttles as the huge plane staggered
toward the runway.
The co-pilot, still bedecked in his heavy flak suit, life vest and
other combat equipment which he wasn't able to remove because hi
couldn't once leave the controls, squeezed the control column, edged
the bomber in.
Then it slipped out of control.
The crippled plane dropped below the level of the field, headed for a
cliff which is part of the landing approach to the Saipan B-29 field.
Gage, up in the very front of the plane in his bombardier's
compartment, saw the embankment coming up fast. He tried spiritually to
lift the bomber over the edge and then, helplessly turned and shouted:
"If they could only lower the damned runway just about now!"
Fox pulled at his control wheel in desperation. Nothing happened. The
plan continued diving straight for the cliff. Finally, in a last effort
to bring its nose up over the edge of the runway, barely yards above,
he put his feet up on the instrument panel, gave the wheel a last,
frantic tug. Something snapped. The plane lifted abruptly, cleared the
embankment and then plunged down onto the field and slid hundreds of
feet, scraping, screeching, and sparking.
The main landing gear had held, but the nose wheel collapsed as the
plane shot down the runway and turned under the fuselage to come
crashing up inside the bomber, still spinning. It knocked injured Radio
operator Klimczak, who had been lain on the nose wheel hatch for
comfort, far forward into the bombardier's compartment.
The plane continued to crash down the runway. Its number one engine
burst into flames. Crewmen braced themselves as best they could,
waiting. Then the wing of the bomber caught on an embankment at the
edge of the strip, slammed the plane around with a terrific twist,
tossed the burning engine completely off the wing with one final, awful
crash, the bomber careened to a stop.
The bomber's lights were knocked out in the crash. There was a mass of
tumbled bodies inside the plane as crewmen began to untangle themselves
and crawl out of Jap-made, crash-made, American-made escape hatches.
Most everyone was clear--Avery, knocked unconscious in the crash, and
Gage, whose back was sprained, had been carried and helped out and the
injured radio operator had been removed--when someone shouted: "Where's
Crewmen tumbled back into the plane, crawling over scattered equipment
and picked their way into the blacked-out Radar compartment where the
tail gunner had lain. "Mulligan, Mulligan." From a corner of the
compartment, underneath a pile of clothing and wrecked equipment, a
body stirred. The crewmen stumbled and picked their way over, snatched
off the clothing and found the tail gunner in a ball, stashed in the
"All Mulligan worried about when we finally got him out and down on the hard
coral parking stand was the fact that he was stark naked," McHugh
grinned. "But he was in pretty bad shape and
we helped him quickly into a waiting ambulance and he was sped
off to the hospital."
Nine members of the crew of "Irish Lassie" were decorated for their part in
the historic mission. Airplane Commander Avery and Tail Gunner Mulligan were
both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army' second highest combat
decoration, and Navigator Faubion and Bombardier Gage were each presented the
Distinguished Flying Cross. McHugh, Meyer and Nellums won the Air Medal for
outstanding gunnery and for aiding the wounded crewmen.
Thus, on Saipan's friendly soil, ended a heroic and dramatic story
written in blood and sacrifice in the hostile skies over Japan. With
its defenses breached, its guard down and its innermost secrets
explored, "Flak Alley" was no longer the bulwark it had been and for
the avalanche to follow, the way had been shown by the gallant men of
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