I was in the 38th Bomb group when it was formed at Jackson Army Air Base, Miss. in May 1941 through my 50th Mission as aerial photo/gunner in late January 1944 at-17 mile strip just as the 38th left for it's new base at Nadzab. THe 405th was the 15th Recon squadron until we left California March '42 for Patterson Field to cross train from B-26' to B-25's.
After leaving Patterson, we joined up with other personnel at Charters Towers in 8//42. My first mission was on 9/15/42- "Bombs Away On Buna Bay" - required landing at Port Morseby to refuel both going and coming.
Shortly thereafter we moved to Horn Island as an "advanced echelon" where I had the first of 3 narrow encounters with the Grim Reaper. I was assigned to Lt Bill Pittman's crew, and to protect our aircraft in case of an alert, we had been instructed to rush to our aircraft for immediate take-off, circle about 20 to 30 miles from the island and after the enemy left to return and land.
While sitting around our air craft some of the crew members were charged with checking equipment. The upper gunner asked me to go to Tech Supply and get him a screw driver needed to work on his gun mount. Just as I reached Supply, an alert sounded. I started running back to our plane as it taxied out. The gunner saw me and was holding the rear hatch open. I had closed to 30 feet when the plane picked up speed and I saw I could not make it. I watched it turn around at the end of the strip and guns it's engines for take-off. To my horror, a BOE Fighter was also taking off on a short strip 90 degrees to to Lt. Pittman's right. They were on a collision course and at the point they would meet, neither would have reached take-off speed. Lt Pittman jerked his plane up off of the runway and over the BOE Fighter. At 40/50 feet altitude , the left wing dipped and the aircraft nosed down. Pittman did a slow 350 degree turn holding the aircraft flat and pancaked it into the stumps and brush just off the runway. No one was hurt, but my rear compartment was completely squashed. As it was our plane became "Tech Supply" for parts for our other aircraft.
The 71st and 405th moved to 14-mile Strip while the 38th ground troops moved to 30-Mile. My 5th and 6th mission resulted from a report of enemy shipping off NE New Guinea. apparently reinforcements for Buna or Lae. The 405th sent two B-25s on an armed recon "Search and Destroy" mission. Our pilot was Lt. Brandon, and the upper gunner was Jack Allan. We sighted the the Jap troop transport several miles off the coast of Buna. Our radio man sent the location and we started our bomb run at 5,000 feet. As soon as I saw the transport in my camera view finder, I started my recon strip of photographs. Unfortunately the Bombardier pushed the wrong release switch which dropped only one 300 pound bomb instead of all six at one second intervals. The bomb hit about 100 feet in front of the transport. Had the correct switch been pushed, the transport would have been blown to smitherineens with at least two or three bombs as direct hits. Lt Brandon started a 360 degree turn to make another run when all hell broke loose. Our B-25 nosed over and headed straight down to the ocean. I thought we had been hit by the transport's heavy ack-ack. I had a chest pack harness on but was sitting on the 'chute. I sailed up to the ceiling and floated around with the K-17 camera, which had come out of it's mount, trying to find my chest pack so I could fasten up and bail out. Actually Lt. Brandon saw a Zero headed right for our nose and instinctively shoved the stick forward into a power dive---everything that was not fastened down floated to the top of the aircraft. We went down from about 5000 feet to 500 feet befor he and the co-pilot could pull out of the dive (later admitted they were not sure they could). He got on the interphone to tell us what had happened and that we were surrounded by Zeros.
Unfortunately all the ammunition had come out of the cans and my waist gun had fallen out of it's mount. The upper gunner's guns were in operating condition with 50 cal still in their containers. I remounted my 30 cal in the rear window mount but could only fire out the right side. The Radio-Gunner was desperately working on his hopelessly jammed bottom turrett, radioed our base we were under fighter attack. Two Zeros came in low on our tail blind spot and the upper-gunner yelled that the fixed fire "wobble" scare gun sticking out the rear of the tail did not react to his solinoid switch. I climbed back there and got 20 rounds smoothed out to scare off the Zeros to the right and left of our plane.Back at my rear window, I fired at the one on the right and Allan got the one on the left. Meantime Pilot Brandon dropped the plane to 100 feet and put the engines in "High Blower". The Zeros could still fly faster, but could not turn into us without dropping back. I crawled back and got the "wobble gun" firing and we were able to get the Zeros off to the left or right where we could get to them. We sweated out climbing to cross the Owen Stanley Range with the last two Zeros finally turning back to Buna. Our other B-25 and it's crew were never seen again.