Stopping-over at Kwajalein, December 1944
by Tom Duff

Kwajalein, December 25, 1944:
I remember Kwajalein as a narrow strip of sand with a stump of a palm tree about 8 to 10 feet tall and no other foliage in sight. The island did not appear to be long enough to handle B-29's, and not very wide. So my first glimpse of Kwajalein was the end of a runway which started at water's edge. I learned upon leaving the island the next day the other end of the runway disappeared at the water's edge, also. It was so flat I was sure high tide would overrun the land. However, we were not weighted for combat. Therefore, we were tons lighter, and a shorter runway would do the trick. The purpose of the runway was as a way-station for B-29's on the way to the Marianas, which at that time was the front line of the battle with Japan. We found a garrison of Marines on Kwajalein, their tents and defenses. That completed the picture.
As we approached the atoll I was busy with my landing duties in the rear section of the plane and did not see Kwajalein from the air. My duties consisted of securing any items that may have loosened during the flight from Hawaii - such as, supplies we took for general use, extra small parts for the plane, guns, k-rations, and our personal luggage. Also, I had to start the put-put, a small engine that boosted the electrical power when we raised or lowered the flaps or wheels on take-off and landing. Lastly, on a trip like this (not a mission) we had the "luxury" of a bucket in which to relieve ourselves. It was located in the rear of the plan; my responsibility was to dispose of it before landing. I had never performed this seemingly simple, though not desirable, task before.
I opened the camera hatch and waited until I saw the runway, which, I knew, put the plane at 90 mph, landing speed. That would make the slipstream minimum of any time we were in the air. When I saw the runway I emptied the bucket into the slipstream. Even at minimum speed, the slipstream showed its insulting power over mere man by throwing the bucket liquids back at me as though they splashed right back up after hitting the concrete, even though we were 20 or more feet off the ground. The gross contents splashed back over me from head to toe. Ugh! Newt couldn't park the plane fast enough for me. As soon as he did I threw open the door, put down the ladder and headed straight into the ocean, which couldn't have been more than 10-15 yards away, thank goodness! I walked in, fully dressed, not giving any thought to watch or cigarettes, GI boots or coveralls. I was the first member of our crew to take a full western Pacific bath.
Pilot Robert Minto, while checking out the interior of the plane exited the rear door via the ladder I put out. Partway down he decided to jump the rest of the way. He caught a ring on his right hand on the door jamb, tearing the skin off part of his finger. He went to a Marine who was greeting the crew, and was taken to the dispensary for attention. He didn't "surface" again that night. When he caught up with us the next morning we learned he had spent the evening "recovering" with some hospitable Marines and their supply of liquor.
We had hoped to get a good square holiday meal, but, alas, we were too late for Christmas dinner. It was all gone. We ate the (dry) k-rations we had with us. Flight engineer Dan Cheesman tried to get the mess sergeant to cook anything that was "cookable" for us, or at least c-rations. C-rations would have included a beef or chick type stew or a thick vegetable soup. The mess sergeant produced one egg. Danny accepted it and told us it was the worst egg he had ever eaten.
There wasn't any place to go, so we chatted with the Marines, who were the only people on the island. (The Japanese had inhabited the island until February, 1944, when the Navy shelled the island, leaving little other than the one palm tree stump I mentioned. The Marines came on the island when the Marines and Army took the Marshall Islands. The small contingent of Marines who hosted us was left to hold the island). The sun went down very quickly, as it does in the Pacific. One minute it was light, the next it was completely dark! We were left standing in the dark, tugging out our flashlights. One thing was obvious: It was bedtime.
There were no sleeping accommodations for "visitors," the Marines themselves slept in tents only. So we had to sleep in the plane or on the ground. A couple of guys slept on cots that were offered by the Marines. The rest of us slept on the plane. Five of us plopped down on the floor of the radar room and mid-plane gunnery section, two crew members slept in the 33-foot tunnel running above the bomb-bays, used to crawl through from the middle to the front of the plane. They made a quick and excellent choice, since it was well padded. Other planes did not have carpeting; this was one of many ways in which the B-29 was superior, almost "deluxe" by comparison. Those of us on the floor did have carpeting under us and used our B-4 bags for pillows. A couple of guys used their parachutes. (B-4 bags as issue were a big deal, since anyone who acquired them no longer had to tote the cumbersome A and B bags, associated with every other branch of the Service. Only the flyers got B-4 bags and only when they became an official crew).
The morning of the 26th Kwajalein was a beautiful bare paradise with blue skies, scattered clouds, and the sun a ball of fire at daybreak, 5:00 AM. In the morning toiletry was completed with water from a Lister bag. The amount rationed only filled half a helmet. We had to do everything from teeth to toes, with water for shaving left until last. We loaded the top two turrets, the six 50-calibre machine guns, with the ammo supplied to us by the Marines. We couldn't take on too much weight and still take off on the runway that ended in the ocean. We topped off the gas tanks, waved good bye, and left, all before breakfast. Our k-rations were on board for us to eat as time allowed. I watched through the camera hatch as we sped down the runway and ran out of land while still streaking only feet above the ocean. The gradual assent started a beautiful day with our next destination Saipan.
Thomas Duff, Plane #8310 : 313th Wing, 505th Bomb Group, 483rd Squadron

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Duff, Tom (2003) Stopping-over at Kwajalein, December 1944

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

(c) Tom Duff 2003
Reproduced with permission
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