America and Britain decided upon a “Europe first” policy, to defeat Nazi Germany as soon as possible. But at the same time, they needed to contain Imperial Japan’s conquest of the Pacific. So the B-25 crews from Greenville, South Carolina, were given orders to pick up brand new B-25s at Savannah, Georgia, in early July, and head for the West Coast.
The ground echelon for the bombardment group Dale Wilson assigned to was being set up in New Guinea–burning grass to reduce mosquito problem, gravel roads to keep down dust, build a slit trench for air raid protection, collect a file of maps.
Crews were reduced to four to save weight, de-icers removed, and an extra tank added in the bomb bay for the longest leg of their trip across the Pacific. Dale did get to phone his brother, Dan Wilson, who was in Preflight Training at Santa Ana, California, before he left the United States.
Flying overnight–for navigation and because winds were calmer–from Hamilton Field, San Francisco, in August 1943, they arrived at Hickam in the Territory of Hawaii. “The plane’s good engines purred out there on each side of us like two well-oiled sewing machines for the 13 hours,” he wrote in a V-mail letter. “Our fuel consumption averaged a little over 100 gallons-per-hour.”
Pearl Harbor still showed evidence of the December 7, 1941, sneak attack, he said. “From they way things were chewed up, the Japs must have used almost entirely 100-lb. fragmentation bombs.”
While the plane was readied for the rest of the trip, the crew had time to visit Honolulu and even take in an Army and Navy baseball game. All the stores, even bars, were closed at 4:00 PM, and everything blacked out at dusk.
Dale and John Wieland took off for Australia on August 7. Their regular navigator, John Stack, was with a bomber that had left the month before, and had gotten stranded on one of the islands because of a mishap with their plane. Wieland and Wilson must have had a navigator, but I believe the gunners were sent to Australia via troop ship. Operations Order #72 only lists Wieland, Wilson, and Banko–their radio operator..
Dale jotted in his logbook, “Most of the cloud tops around 8000 feet. Saw a lot of water! Also a few islands. Good flying weather.”
Seven hours after they left Hickam Field, they landed at tropical Christmas Island, which was entirely military, to refuel. (Now called Kiritimati, the name “Kiritimati” is actually the spelling of the English word “Christmas” in the Kiribati language, in which the combination ti is pronounced s.) The airport there was expanded during the war for large bombers headed into combat.
The flight from Christmas Island on August 8 to Canton Island took 4.8 hours. Canton is a coral atoll four miles wide, eight miles long. Noted for its single palm tree, Canton was never invaded, but it was bombarded by a Japanese sub later that year.
The next day, the bomber flew six hours–crossing the International Date Line–from Canton to Nandi Field on Viti Levu, the largest of the Fiji Islands, then a British Colony. The landing strip appeared to end at the crest of the hill, but the crew had been briefed that there were about 3000 feet more. Viti Levu even had a movie house.
August 10, they flew flew five hours to Plaines Des Gaiacs (named for gaiac trees), New Caledonia, a French possession. Crews enjoyed good chow and swimming there.
It was also a five-hour flight from there to Amberly Field at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. There at the 5th Air Force Replacement Center, the crew was paid in Australian currency. They were at Eagle Farm Field there.
A few days later, they flew from Eagle Farm to the V Bomb Command’s Replacement Center, Charters Towers–fifty miles southwest of Townsville, which was an old gold-mining town with board sidewalks. Even though it was the location of the main aircraft depot and logistics base for the Fifth Air Force, farm animals wandered along the main street. The crews had six weeks of intensive training in combat formation while the bombers were being modified and extra guns added.
Australians gave them classes in Pidgin English, especially if their plane went down in a jungle and they needed help getting back to their base.
All the rest of Dale’s letters were censored. “You have probably been looking for this letter,” he wrote in early September. “We have been very busy and, in the meantime, I have requested a transfer to twin-engine fighters. Several more pilots have put in for fighters but have all been disapproved. Mine will, no doubt, be disapproved, so I guess it will be safe in giving you this address which will be my address for the long time I will be in this part of the world.
“We arrived here [cut out] after spending [cut out] at the place of my last letter. That reminds me, did you get that letter?
“I cannot tell you the news like I did before. You will just have to read the newspaper for the situation in this theater of operations. We will be going north soon. I have learned quite a bit about the situation here. I think you are among the few in the U.S. that can realize that this is going to be a long, tough, and rough fight here.
“We have done a lot of flying and this type of flying is really flying! Most of the time we are buzzing! All this close formation takes skill and is work! Until we start receiving the [cut out] there will be [cut out] pilots per airplane. We split time. Lt. Wieland and I are still flying together. He will fly as pilot one mission and I will fly as pilot the next and so on. This [cut out] is a good weapon and we’ll be down where things are ‘hot’ but surprise will help a lot. I hope.”
Dale also had training flights with Capt. Pavlich, Lt. Goldsmith, and Lt. Mowry–who was considered an old-timer. Lt. Wieland did the same with other pilots, learning combat tactics.
“This country is old fashioned, at least the [cut out]. It looks like U.S. around 1800-something. The town here looks like an old frontier town in the movies. This used to be one of the richest gold-mining sections and there are old excavations around the town.”
Dale’s transfer request was turned down. Contrary to what they’d been told at Greenville, they were all stuck with bombers. These crews served in the Southwest Pacific when planes and pilots were scarce. Since the Allies had decided to settle the war with Hitler first, most men and planes were sent to Europe.
John Wieland and Dale Wilson were assigned to a plane in the 823rd Bomb Squadron of the 38th Bomb Group.
Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook, also as an audiobook, narrated by Paul Berge.
It’s also the story behind the Wilson brothers featured on the Dallas County Freedom Rock at Minburn, Iowa. All five served. Only two came home.