Monday, October 6, 2008

Chapter 11 Navigation

Chapter 11

As a boy, I liked the word "navigate”. It implies travel, a certain excitement, perhaps obstacles, and a dash of cleverness. From the earliest moment that flying for the Army Air Corps looked possible for me, I set my eyes on the goal of becoming a NAVIGATOR. Never mind that everybody else wanted only to become a Pilot, or that even I scorned becoming a Bombardier! Looking back on my Army career, I can understand now that it was pure chance that I did become a navigator, and that my repeated selection of navigation as first choice probably meant nothing whatsoever to the United States Army Air Corps. "How many bodies are to be assigned to labor battalions today? Five Hundred? How many men are on the roster from A to L? Four Ninety? Take 10 from the Ms!" That's how the army was run, and perhaps that's even optimistic, for the initial question of how many, probably had no answer. They just needed to clear out 500 guys to make room for a new set arriving tomorrow--more likely, tonight!

Because I liked navigation--everything about it--I did well at it, and was selected as an instructor after graduating from Navigation School. Incidentally, that selection may have saved my life, for many men in my graduating class were killed in Europe. They got there just in time for some of the disastrous B-24 bombing raids, had the worst of it then and later, and not too many survived. Because of my "extra" duty, when I finally hit the combat trail, I went to the Pacific, and got there at the very end of the war, so my survival was almost assured.

It is a curious fact that people either have the genes for navigation, or they do not. With the correct genes, they are easily taught, and demonstrate that they can absorb pertinent knowledge of all kinds while in the air. Hear that? The pilot has changed the power settings a bit; note the time. The change of the shadow on the sextant says the heading has been altered by a hair; note the time. What is the pilot doing? Check the altitude, note the time. As a navigation instructor I soon learned which students were primed to be good navigators. Instruction could help, but that ability to sense a mini-alteration of direction or altitude or shadows was born in them. They had it. To a very few students, navigation was a matter of numbers and math. While they might be very good at reducing sextant observations to a position on paper, a fuzzy concept of true north was a tell-tale defect, and could be fatal over the Pacific Ocean.

When our B-29 crew was assembled stateside, every person had had a lot of flying time, and had seen navigators, good and bad. Thus, initially, every heading I gave was questioned, every position double checked if possible. But things went very well until one flight, scheduled to last for 22 hours. Upon arrival at the flight line I had a pretty good tooth ache, went to the medics for a pain reliever, and was grounded instead. With that, the system reached for a substitute navigator. To make a very long story short, he had the wonderful luck to become hopelessly lost over the ocean west of California at a time when the plane had lost all radio capability. Major Gover finally took over, and flew directly east, figuring that he would hit North America somewhere. He did so, and discovered they were right at San Francisco. An emergency landing was made there as the fuel tanks were almost empty--they ran out as they were taxiing, as I recall--and they arrived back at base a day late. But my reputation as a good navigator was now firm, for not once had I made a mistake that jeopardized their lives. It is also true that over the ocean that vast expanse without railroads, or ridges, or seasonal plants or distant terrains gives amateur pilots doubts about their abilities; they begin to trust the navigator; they have no other option!

Once I happened to save us all. We took off at night from Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. It was another 22 hour mission, and we were to fly first to Florida and off the east coast, then return to Arizona. When training missions were to be this long, on a few occasions we had a spare navigator aboard, and the two of us divided up the hours. This time I agreed to begin navigation after 4 hours, so was sitting by the window when we flew over El Paso. Because the plane was loaded with more fuel than we care to remember for these longs missions, we started out flying at low altitude until we had burned off enough fuel to climb to high altitudes more efficiently. I noticed that we were quite a bit off of the pre-flight expected course, so I immediately got interested. When I talked with the other navigator, I found that he had not noticed anything. I then began checking everything and discovered that our pre-flight winds were quite wrong. Also, the night sky was inky black, stars were of no help. Because I had flown over the area many times during navigation school, I immediately remembered Guadalupe Peak located just to the east. It was more than 8,000 ft high, and our altitude was only 6,000 feet and we were headed right for it. After some more calculations I went to the cockpit at the appropriate time and told the pilot to do a right turn of 45 degrees, fly for three minutes, then do 90 degree left turn for three minutes, then to a 45 degree right, we’ll be back on course, but we will have flown around Guadalupe Peak. He did, and we did. Sometime later, the B-29 that took off from Tucson behind us, on the same pre-flight course, flew into Guadalupe, and all were killed. We gained this information when we returned to Tucson the next day. This event demonstrates that one must be eternally alert, and it was a demonstration to me personally that sleeping was dangerous. From this time forward I had a policy of sleeping only a few minutes at a time, and my fellow crew members honored this vow. This particular event did not do my reputation any harm.

On another mission, this one from Tucson to San Diego to Portland, then to Walla Walla and return, we experienced a very significant explosion in the stacks of engine number 3—the inside one on our right. An area to the rear of the engine was blown away. Flames trailed a long way behind the wing. Our B-29’s gunners sat in plastic domes that jutted out from the plane to give them more visibility. When the right gunner’s station was engulfed with flames, he decamped immediately. One of the crew rushed back to take his place to report everything he could see. We were not losing any more of the wing. The pilot discovered he could not shut the engine down, and in a few minutes determined that the gas flow to the engine was unchanged, so we were not losing that much fuel. It was night. He decided to continue flying. This explosion happened as we were flying south, west of southern California, and it was not too long afterward that we turned to the east to attempt to reach home base in Tucson. While the flames were steady, every minute or so there was another small explosion, evidently where some fuel had accumulated. This noisy and thought-stimulating ride continued all the way to Tucson. It was my job to keep the pilot informed about distances to any place we might be able to land if we had too, so I was too busy to worry a great deal. It was navigation with a different twist. We arrived at Tucson on a magnificently clear night at an altitude of 10,000 feet. This meant that we could be seen at a distance of about 100 miles. Not only that, but it was a quiet night in Tucson until we came over the horizon. The base commander was awakened by the bangs, called the base and ordered everybody to get us down immediately. They did not need any prompting.

This event was a very big one for Tucson, and the following day everyone was asking everyone else if they had seen and heard of those terrible explosions in that flying airplane! After we landed I made it to our rented room, and Addie Leah was up and waiting, insisting that she knew from the first noise that was my plane! I had a very fine welcome! Later that morning we boarded a bus for the base, and the bus driver took the occasion to tell everyone aboard what he had seen and heard, and how exciting it was. He had a good many details. As Addie Leah and I were getting off the bus, he asked me if we had heard it, and that’s when I said, “Yes, I was on it!” We stepped down without an opportunity to say more, but it was a delightful moment. You should have seen his face!

Even my trip to the Pacific was special because of my being a navigator. Each of us on our B-29 crew was selected from the ranks of flight instructors--Pilots, Bombardier, Engineer, Gunners, Radio and Radar operator--everyone. (Radar was so new that we had radar, but none of us had ever seen one, and had no idea how to operate it. But neither did the Radar instructor!! He taught it, but had never seen one like the one in our plane, and had some difficulty making it work.) When we first got together, and discovered our pasts, we recognized the non-randomness of it all, and of course we were nervous, for things that appeared to have purpose in the Army are so rare as to be truly scary when they appear. It turned out that we had been selected to be the crew for an Air Corps general (who later became Air Force Chief of Staff). When we departed Lincoln, Nebraska for the Marianas, I was really eager to do a good job of navigating. From Fairfield-Suisun, near San Francisco, to Honolulu I chose to navigate using data only from my sextant, i.e., flying a celestial mission. I disdained using the radio, or any other navigational clues. It only took a few hours (the trip took 12 hours--B-29s were really slow compared to today's planes) for everyone on the plane to learn what I was doing. They dutifully left me alone, and I arrived at Oahu with only about a four mile error. We were traveling about 3.5 miles every minute, so that was considered excellent for those days. Nowadays, even going at 10 miles a minute, one should be within a hundred feet or so of where one thinks he is! I had "congratulations" from the general, and felt that going to war wasn't all that bad.

Flying on west from Honolulu we were forced to land at Johnston Island because of a fuel problem. (How could I have ever guessed that about thirty years later I would be spending lots of time there?) My first view of the place was truly impressive, for the runway took up most of the island. Technically it was too short for B-29’s to take off, but was paved down to the low tide level when the tide was out, and at those times it was long enough. The island was then much smaller than what it became in 1961-62. The plane’s wings seemed almost to touch the operations building—built narrow and long, parallel to the runway. Dredging was on-going, for they were trying to increase the parking area of airplanes. There was only room enough for two B-29’s to park. Taking off at low tide, we flew over the very first whale I had seen from the air. It was just to the northeast of the island.

Our next stop was Kwajalein, and we spent the night there. The battle for the island had destroyed every tree but one, at least that is what I remember. I was quartered in a tent at the western and northern edge of the island, and that tent was on the beach where the upper edge of lagoon waves was only about four feet away. The trade winds, always blowing from the northeast, were blowing directly across the lagoon, and whatever I tried did not prevent me from being bombarded by wind-borne sand. It was a miserable night. We flew on the next day to Guam, and I have keen memories of what that place was like, for Guam swarmed with planes and ships participating in a terrible war. From there we flew to Tinian.

Upon arrival we were assigned to the 58th Bombardment Wing of the 20th Air Force, the 444th Bombardment Group, and if I remember correctly, the 676th squadron. Subsequently we saw our General only on occasions. Shortly after arriving we were transferred to the 313th Wing, and the 504th squadron. The guys who dropped the atom bombs were in the 509th. As the 58th Wing had arrived on Tinian via India, then China after flying over the Himalayas, those guys were old grizzled veterans (maybe four or five years older than we were). Their brass had not been polished since they left home, and was a gloriously grungy corroded green. They tended to grunt and groan while talking, a little bit like gorillas. They were scornful about anyone who had just arrived, though eager to hear what was happening in the States. They were not much interested in letting us hear about India or China, although one of them did give me an ebony stick inlaid with ivory. I still have it somewhere in the house.

Before each mission there was a formal briefing in a relatively large building, and then the various squadrons met separately. Ours met under a nearby tree, with the colonel filling us in on our duties. He knew that everybody in his squadron was substantially better than any guys in those other squadrons—a very perceptive leader! I listened to his every word, always searching for implications about painful particulars the Colonel seemed to be sloughing over.

Actually, I was arriving on Tinian just in time to see the end of the war. These were momentous times, for the first atom bomb drop on Hiroshima was August 6, 1945, the second three days later, and Japan surrendered on the 14th. The formal surrender occurred on September 2.

After the nuclear drop on Hiroshima by the Enola Gay (assigned to the 509th Bombardment Group), that plane sat on the flight line just like any other B-29. Conscious that there was real history sitting there and our plane was parked quite nearby, I managed to get to the plane, crawl up into the cockpit, and then go back through the bomb bays. I did this quite alone, neither asking nor expecting to obtain permission. I wondered if the plane might be saved, and what the world might be like in the future by having us using the same energy as the sun, but mostly I just celebrated the thought that at last, the war could be over.

There were still momentous events to experience. I’m guessing it was about a week after Nagasaki when we started to Japan on one mission involving several hundred B-29’s, and after being in the air several hours we lost an engine, and returned to Tinian. The repairs were still being made when the next flight was scheduled. The 20th Air Force had decided to try to put 1,000 planes in the air just one more time, and that was really something. It is difficult to visualize swarms of hundreds of aircraft, but that is what I saw. The planes from Guam met our planes over Tinian and together they flew off to the north while I watched from the ground in wonderment, feeling the ground tremble with the sound. It was like a million bees had been rousted from their hive. The sound was an angry one, and I have not forgotten it.

Immediately after the surrender on August 14th, some of our planes without ammo flew at low levels to drop supplies in the prisoner of war camps in what is now South Korea. When those planes returned the crews were furious, for Russian troops traveling south through the peninsula had shot at them. The planes were immediately ordered (by local commanders) to return fully armed, and to shoot at anyone who fired on them. They did so, and came home with tales of flying past Russian troops at very low level, spinning gun turrets and firing as necessary. That was all it took, for the Russians did not fire at us anymore. Think what all might or might not have happened had the decisions been made in Washington, as is the norm these days!

One of my first activities was to ask for a jeep, and travel all over the island to get my bearings. As maps of the island were unavailable to me, I determined to draw my own. It survives, and when it became legal to do so, I sent it to Addie Leah to enable her to follow my island adventures. The map is shown, following:

At the upper left I have shown the headquarters area of the 504th squadron to the west and a bit north of Wing Headquarters. The location of the 509th is shown as “9th” group, and so on. The beach that figured prominently in the invasion of Tinian by US troops after Saipan was captured is well to the north, essentially west of the drawn airstrips. Note that the nearness of Saipan is clearly shown.

The island itself it 39 square miles, and my note, “very high hill, 600’ ”, the highest point on the island in the southeast part of the island is now listed in the books as 545 feet. Anyway a Kansas boy was impressed with hills, even putting in contour lines. There was more than one reason to be impressed with the hills, for the last Japanese survivors of the American invasion had taken refuge there. For a number of months they would come into camp areas at night looking for food, and would kill anyone they encountered. Whether or not any were still alive when we arrived, I do not know, but it made sense for us to be told that those hills were off limits.

Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Harold Agnew had carried the essential ingredients for one of the atomic bombs to Tinian, and flew in an accompanying plane on the bombing flight to Hiroshima. He was to become the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and would be my boss in the years to come. He remains one of my biggest heroes. When I was at Los Alamos, I believe that I was the only employee then in the lab who had been on Tinian at the same time Harold was there.

In my files I found a good picture of Tinian taken from a
plane in my squadron.

Notice my squadron’s plane in the upper left part of the picture.

The four parallel runways constituted the largest aerodrome in the world in those days. At mission time planes would take off simultaneously, and I remember that as one plane was lifting off the runway, a second was in full power in the middle of the runway, and a third was accelerating for its run. Distances to Japanese targets were such that there could not possibly be extra fuel. For planes to arrive at the target together, they should take off at the same moment; well, four of them did, and there were four more shortly thereafter! The opportunities for circling in the air giving time for other planes to assemble were exceedingly limited.

The picture also shows clearly the Navy’s airfield with their two runways. Some ships can be seen in Tinian’s harbor.

I have transformed my hand drawn map to see how it compares with the picture. Not bad!!

My bombardier and I with crew help built a dark room out of wood from bomb boxes (most everything on the island was built from wood from bomb boxes, for example the Officers’ and Enlisted Men’s clubs) and went into the business of developing film. We scrounged photographic supplies from the photo labs on the flight line, but had huge problems finding photographic paper. We had no enlarger, so had to do with contact prints. Once in a while we contrived to use an Air Force enlarger, but had to limit that to pictures of airplanes. Another big problem was difficulty in finding chemicals, particularly fixers, so many of our pictures faded or are light damaged. We printed pictures for friends, but for a price. We traded for tools—there were a few garden tools—and we had a hoe, and a spade, and a saw, etc. We loaned them out for coupons for cigarettes and alcohol, and then traded those for other perks. I don’t remember that money was the object. However we became richer than almost anybody could have imagined, for we traded a number of good things to some guys in the Navy for a plug-in coke and beer cooler. We were then able to cool drinks, and being the only guys in the north part of the island with such a remarkable bit of machinery, we did very well indeed.

Once as we were taxiing past the base photo lab in our B-29, on the intercom I asked the pilot if we could hold our position for a couple of minutes to allow us to ask the lab for chemicals they might be getting ready to throw away. He said, OK for a minute or so, and one of the gunners jumped from the bomb bay and ran to ask. He returned immediately with the news that the photo lab had just received orders to shut down, and the guy in charge was willing to give us whatever we wanted. Four or five of the crew ran in and brought out as much as they could carry. But our pilot said we could not stay any longer, so we promptly departed. At the end of that day one of the crew went back to the lab to see if there were more things we could take home, and he heard an amazing story. It seems that earlier that day the lab had been ordered to close, then a B-29 stopped by, took a good many things from the lab, then left. The lab guy failed to get their tail number. But shortly after the plane left, he had orders rescinding the earlier order to shut the place down. Now he was in desperate need! Our man was really sorry to hear about this, and commiserated.

One of the freedoms crews had was to choose to paint their airplanes in most any way they chose. And we had B-29’s by the hundreds, so there was no end of opportunities to get some interesting pictures. A few of these pictures follow, but perhaps the one of greatest interest is our picture of the Enola Gay, developed OK, but fixed with poor fixer.
The Enola Gay

With our arrival we fully expected that we would end the war (not knowing about atom bombs) and we adopted as our logo a witch on a broom that had but one straw. So our name? “The Last Damned straw”. Regrettably, I have no pictures of it.

Our dark room was pretty small, but viable. Too bad some of the pictures aren’t.

When our B-29 was preparing to fly to the Marianas the regulations were clear. We could take NOTHING with us that was not GI, i.e. General Issue. Hearing from friends who were already overseas, we were aware that we should bring such things as towels, magazines of any description, mirrors—anything that one could guess that the Army would leave behind. To make certain that rules were followed, each departing plane was searched three times—the night before leaving your continental base, the night before leaving the base on the west coast, and an hour or so before liftoff.

From High School onward I played the piano accordion. I had a good one, and managed somehow to have it with me after I was commissioned. So in Lincoln Nebraska, our point of departure, there it was. How could I get it past those inspections? The first night turned out to be simple, for the guys selected to do the searching were the enlisted men on the planes. (Army thinking was always fun to watch!) So, one of our gunners managed to be on the list to search our plane. Therefore I left the accordion on the plane. No problem, but no solution. In California, the problem was much more severe. For the search the night before, I kept the accordion off the plane, and with me. Still no problem. Now comes the last search, just before we take off. We are all at the plane, and I have with me the accordion—in its truly big black case. As mentioned previously, we were the crew of a General, and I figured that might help. But the solution is even more fun to remember! I recalled with considerable interest the famous story of Edgar Allen Poe, The Purloined Letter. Might it be possible to hide an accordion in plain sight? So the search of the plane began—and it was impressive indeed. We were amazed at its thoroughness! Things as small as a few cubic inches were being examined; they found our magazines and took some small things. Meanwhile the accordion in its case was placed about 5 yards in front of the plane’s nose wheel. The search complete, a guard asked “What is that box sitting there? “Don’t know” replied one of the gunners. “It must belong to the General”. Well now, that certainly seemed plausible, and the guards passed on.

This picture shows the accordion made it all the way to our Quonset on Tinian. It demonstrates that the will of an average American citizen to defy Army regulations was neatly in place, and he’d find a way to do so if he could. Regulations be damned!

Three other pictures show me in ways that only Addie Leah will remember. (Tinian had a piano--it was pre-war--and some of the keys worked!)

With the war over, the 58th activities were over, and we were transferred to the 313th bomb wing. We continued to fly missions of a sort, but it was a very odd time. There were any number of things that required aircraft—supplies, transporting decision makers, righting wartime mistakes, redistributing people to fill vacancies that were appearing everywhere, etc.

On one such flight some months later, while flying on a long mission across the western Pacific, I picked out a sea mount about 200 miles off course, and decided to use it as a visual check point since I could take advantage of the winds/pressure system at the same time. I was going to let the wind carry us that far off course, with a pre-flight heading, and then allow a contrary wind to drift us back on course. It was a clever ploy to get there using a "least action" principle, time and fuel could be saved, and at the same time I could obtain a confirming position. But I didn't say anything to the pilot. It might confuse him!

Hours passed. After being satisfied that all was in order, I had made an estimated time of arrival (ETA) for the sea mount, knowing that it would be easily visible from the air, and settled down to see it (the visibility was terrific that day). I started looking ahead. But I saw nothing. Then to the sides--nothing! But then, it was a bit early yet. In a few more minutes I looked again, crawling to various places in the airplane (it was a B-24) to improve my vantage point. Nothing. I looked underneath the plane through my drift meter, which I could rotate to look ahead or back. Nothing. A tight feeling crept into my chest, and as I checked my arithmetic, the unease gradually made its way to my stomach, and throat. I looked everywhere again, a bit wildly now, and decided that either the map was wrong, or I was lost. With that, I started all over from the beginning, redoing every calculation, checking every number, using my hands to trace out all headings, etc. At the same moment, I was almost in real panic, since I could find nothing wrong, the pilot called on the intercom. "Were we supposed to be flying past a coral head out here somewhere?" The fat was in the fire! Well, we were NOT supposed to be flying past a coral head somewhere. So a Yes wouldn’t quite do. But “NO” would also not be true. Did he find out about my plan? He couldn’t have! And how do I answer? If I say yes, he'll want to know all about it, and if I say no, he'll say then where are we? Finding it difficult to decide on an answer, I finally squeaked out a "yes". With that he said "Well, we're flying directly over something right now! I leaped to the drift meter, and found the cross hair splitting that bit of color right down the middle! And that's how I discovered that from anywhere except in the cockpit of a B-24 there is a blind region directly ahead, on the longitudinal axis of the plane, no matter how you look, you can't see something below and dead ahead. So this is how I came to know what it feels like to be lost while navigating. It is a terrible, horrible feeling.

I should explain what I was doing in a B-24. After the war had been over for a number of months, the old veterans of the 20th Air Force were being repatriated—a number of these guys had been away from home for years. So we young lads started filling in for them in a variety of ways. For example, I became a squadron navigator, then group navigator, finally the Standardization Board Navigator, that board checking to see that all navigators remained qualified and were obeying all the “standards.” It was from that position that ultimately I made my way back to the states. But during those post-war months I navigated a number of times in planes other than our own.

One beautiful day we were flying well to the north of the Mariannas, a bit south of Iwo Jima, and I saw a most remarkable meteorological phenomenon. Just ahead and at our altitude was a cloud maybe a city block cubed in size. And to my great amazement a huge amount of water was pouring out of the bottom of it. The falling water stretched for thousands of feet. This condition simply could not be sustained. Quickly telling Maj. Gover about this I asked if we could not circle the cloud in order to see its total demise. He agreed, and we circled at a decent distance, taking several minutes. Guess what? The rain continued to fall, and the cloud remained in what I can only call a steady-state configuration. This then was something so rare that doubters are justified in believing that we did not see it. It was a “singularity”—a place where Mother Nature was processing great volumes of water-filled air, wringing it out. Yet we had no sense of unusual air movements, or great turbulence. She was pretty much just doing her thing, and we were privileged to be there.

Now it was February, 1946. The war had been over for five months, and I was still in the 20th Air Force, on Tinian. Soldiers were being released from their military careers depending on how many “points” they had accumulated—one for each month of service. Additional points had been awarded for combat and overseas service. I had three years worth, but that did not amount to much. Because the 20th Air Force had in it a lot of B-29ers who had been overseas for a very long time, there were many people waiting for the long ride home. At about 4:00 am one morning, one of our crew’s gunners, who had been working at headquarters over night, appeared in our Quonset. “Brownie, Brownie” he whispered to me. “I have just seen orders being prepared for you to leave today to navigate a plane back to the States to take a load of guys getting out!” Now, that was real news. Because I am now a ranking navigator—still a second lieutenant, but with the job of a major, I have been selected to navigate a B-24 back to the States! I lay in my bed trying to think through all the possibilities of the news. Might this mean that I could also get out of the Army? Assuming it was true, what were all the things that I would need to do? Who did I need to talk to? Do I say goodbye to the crew? I immediately put together a mental list of all the essentials. It was a pretty long list.

An hour passed, and then an enlisted man appeared at the Quonset asking for Lt. Brownlee. He informed me that I was to be ready to depart for the US at 8:00 a.m. I replied that I would have thought that the army would have been more considerate and would have given a man more time to get ready. His response was one of considerable surprise. “I would have thought you’d really be excited about it!” The moment he was gone I leaped from the bed, started packing like crazy and rushed to do everything on the list. I was really excited about it!

The plane chosen for the flight to the US was a B-24, for the 20th Air Force wanted to get rid of it. There were five crew members—pilot and copilot, the flight engineer, the navigator, and the radar man. The crew’s orders read that we were not—repeat NOT—eligible for separation. We were supposed to return to Tinian. With 6 passengers as I remember, we flew first to Guam, then to Kwajalein, then on to Honolulu. However, we developed a fuel leak (this was fairly common) and made an emergency landing at Johnston Island—the second time I had done so.

One of our passengers had arrived in the Pacific Theater on a troop ship from the US, and had heard nothing whatsoever about an International Date Line, so when I explained that we were taking off on a Wednesday morning but would be landing on Johnston Island on Tuesday evening, he thought I was crazy. So I made him a bet, and upon arrival the Radar Man hung upside down out of the bomb bay to ask the man putting chocks under the wheels what day it was. The Johnston Island guy responded that he had no idea. So I did not collect on the bet.

We flew on to Hickam Air Force Base and after a night’s rest, flew to the mainland, landing at Mather Field, near Sacramento. We went directly from the plane to a briefing room, and awaited a required debriefing “You are now arriving back in the United States”—etc. When the young airman came into the room he launched into a good, if hopelessly inappropriate, briefing “You now are leaving the United States for a tour in the Pacific Theater of Operations”.

Our passengers—each with dozens of points and brass that had not been cleaned or polished for years—glared at the young man like angry gorillas. Glancing up, he quickly realized his mistake, was flustered, so tried somewhat unsuccessfully to start the opposite lecture. Concluding that whatever he said was utterly superfluous, he started collecting our orders. Each person was carrying his own orders now, and our briefer started with the pilot on my right, then collected mine, then those from the other three crew members, and then collected the passengers’ orders, putting each set on top of the others.

Returning to the podium he read the orders on top, those of the last passenger. This man was a major, had more points that probably anybody in California had ever heard of, and had answered any question in a superior, maybe even hostile, manner. The next man’s orders were likewise, and so the airman quickly looked through each of the passenger’s orders, stopped looking, and said with some embarrassment “I see you are all here to be separated from the service, so we’ll cut you new orders as quickly as we can.” With that he looked to our pilot, and asked “Where would you like to go for separation?” My pilot’s answer was that he had no idea. With that the airman then asked me where I would like to go. I immediately replied that I would like to go to Denver, Colorado, to Ft. Logan. He wrote that down. The pilot then said he’d like to go where Brownlee goes, and then all crew members but one chimed in with that response. (The Chicago crew member was pretty sure that Chicago would have a place for him to be separated, and he was right!) We were thinking that we’d have to get all of this straightened out later, and should try to stay in the same boat, i.e. airplane. After the airman had elicited the necessary information from each person, he left us hurriedly and told us to relax until he returned with our orders. So we had about half an hour enjoying the atmosphere of the US, never doubting for a moment that when our orders were read, each one saying that this man was “not--repeat NOT--eligible for separation” we would have our orders to go back to the Marianas. But we all had leave coming, so the hope was that the orders would give us 30 days leave.
When the airman returned he handed new orders to us all, and the crew, save one, were ordered to Denver for separation. We were then given our choice of waiting several days until a place could be found for us on a troop train or a regular train if that were possible, or we could be released now if we were willing to hitchhike to Denver, finding our way however we could. We were given several days to find our way before the date to report. The crew huddled, decided to hitchhike, each of us truly excited for now we were certain that once the error was discovered we would be given some of the leave we had accumulated before returning to Tinian. How happy we all were!

Leaving operations, we made our way to an on-the-base bus station to catch a ride to San Francisco, but were immediately arrested by the MPs for being out of uniform. Explaining that what we had on was all that we possessed, and never mind that it was wintertime, we were allowed to go on with a warning to get winter uniforms pronto.

In San Francisco we were able to buy tickets on a scheduled passenger train the next day. I telephoned Addie Leah asking her to meet me in Denver, and we arrived there before she did, a couple of days later, so I was waiting for her at Denver’s Union Station when she got off the train. What a moment that was!!

Reporting to Ft. Logan early the following morning, we discovered to our surprise that nobody paid any attention whatsoever to our orders, new or old. We were just in line to be discharged. After we talked it over, I decided to fall out of line and report to the commanding general that was on the floor, and in charge of this very considerable chaotic scene.

“Sir! Lieutenant Brownlee reporting to make a statement!”

“At ease, lieutenant, what do you have to say?”

“Sir, there has been a mistake in the orders for me and my crew members, and we are not eligible for separation”.

“Well, I have your orders right here, lieutenant, let me read them.”

He asked for my file from an aide, and in a couple of minutes he had it in his hand.
“Oh, I see what you mean lieutenant. Your old orders DO say that you are not eligible for separation. They are signed by a brigadier general. But I have orders right here saying that you ARE eligible. They are signed by a major general—Me! Do you want out, or not?”

“Yes, Sir, I do” I replied, and he then said “Fall back in line”.

“Yes SIR!” was the best I could do.

Returning to my crew members, I gave them the word, and we were all out of the army by the end of the day. The man who went to Chicago? I don’t know. But, even after more than 60 years, the memory of that day is still fresh.

I got into Aviation Cadets to be a navigator, and being a navigator got me out!

Below is the one picture of our crew, taken on Tinian.

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