Wreckage of Irish Lassie on landing field in Saipan

Part I

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 January 27th.

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 bombed Germany.

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 nothing.

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 27th.

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 of ammunition.

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 patrol boats.

"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 Alley'."

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.

PART II

"IRISH LASSIE", IS RAMMED TWICE--COMES HOME

Tail Section of the Irish Lassie 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 auctioneer.

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 attacker.

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.

Avery's Crew 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 station.

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 fast."

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 Superfortress.

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 merry-go-round."

"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 Pacific.

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 too late.

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 near.

"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 Mulligan?"

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 corner.

"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 andCharles Mulligan--hospital photo 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 the 497th.


Please mail any questions or comments about this page to: Michael Mulligan .