Arriving at 17-Mile strip at Port Morseby, New Guinea from Charters Towers, Australia, the 823rd was given a few days to settle in, but it's first mission to Alexishaven on 10/16/43 provided a rude awakening to the fact that a war was in progress.
Our pre-dawn wake-up assured that the aircraft could strike and return over the Owen-Stanley mountains before the afternoon buildup of thunderheads, and intelligence reported light ack-ack and no fighters expected.
As we approached the target it was covered by a very low, black cloud increasing in density, and we could see small aircraft twisting and rolling beyond. We tried to stay below the ack-ack bursts to strafe the air strip and gun emplacements. As we left the target the Zero's began to attack. Bill Brandon,Operatipns Officer, who led the squadron, fired at Zero's with his 75 mm cannon as they tried a head-on pass and they scattered. (Later Tokyo Rose accused the 823rd of firing bombs at the Japanese aircraft).
Our 4 ship element was attacked from 3 o'clock. but the turret- gunners discouraged the enemy from getting too close. Zig Zag (code for our P-47 fighters) was busy with fighters at high altitude and I remember one of our personnel calling up to them, "get down on the deck where the fight is going on". One P-47 followed by a Zero pulled out of a dive on the deck at a tremendous speed and the Zero turned off to make a firing pass at our formation.
A 405th plane hit the water off Madang ahead of us. The crew climbed out on the wing, but three Zero's made a pass at the crew. As we flew over the downed plane, we could see only the top of the green rudders.
One of our formation was low on gas and Forrest (Red) Darby , with whom I was flying, directed it to land on the dirt strip at Lae. Some Japanese bodies and damaged aircraft had been bull-dozed into a bomb crater on the edge of the strip and the aircraft was destroyed when it hit the covered mess. The crew received some cuts but the medics patched them up, and we loaded them on our plane for the return flight to 17-Mile, gratefull to have survived our baptism of fire.