38BG Stories From The Front
(This combat mission of a 4-ship element was led by Larry Kienle, the last remaining pilot of the original cadre of the 823rd Squadron, formed in Charters Towers 10/29/44.)
Allied ground forces had successfully made a beachhead on Leyte Island on October 19, capturing Tacloban Village Air Strip. Based on Morotai Island, the 38th BG strike this day was to support the Tacloban beachhead by neutralizing Japanese fighter strips on Mindano in the Cebu Islands. The 823rd was to bomb and strafe the strip at Cebu City. As we approached from due south, our low level attack was met with ack-ack, small arms fire and 3 Zero fighters, severely damaging the B-25 on my right wing and wounding my top turret gunner. Coming off target, my wing man ditched in the harbor and the crew crawled out on the wing. Our 3 remaining ships circled them once as my radio operator called in PBY rescue. As we left the harbor, the Jap fighters strafed the downed crew members off the wing.
With my gunner badly wounded, I decided to fly into Tacloban for medical assistance, and advised one wing man to return to Morotai. The other aircraft stayed with us. As we approached Tacloban at low level, we popped over a range of hills and our own trigger happy ack-ack shot down my last wing man.
I made a straight in approach to Tacloban, a metal strip, pulled off and bogged down in the sand. A radio-equipped Jeep pulled up and out jumped a rather small officer wearing a fatigue jacket, who immediately started chewing on me for landing on his fighter strip. (We were the first B-25 to land there.) I informed him of our wounded gunner, David Sheehan. He said, "We'll take the wounded man and you get that B-25 out of here". I said, "Sir, my ship's bogged down." He pointed out a nearby truck full of shovels an said, "Dig your own way out."
About that time a wave of Kamikazes hit the ships in the harbor—what a sight with flack bursts covering the sky and P-38's and P-47's mixing it up with the Nips. That air battle in Leyte Gulf was the most spectacular military engagement I ever saw. There were about 30 ships in the harbor. The Jap aircraft were coming in from every direction with the P-38's and P-47's and Navy fighters diving down through flack. I watched this action for about 30 minutes while we dug out our B-25. It was the most courageous thing I ever saw.
After we dug three ditches for our wheels, we fired up and reached home at dusk. When we left the ship, my radio man asked, "Why did you say 'Sir' to the Jeep driver in-the fatigue jacket?" Having met the man before at a ceremony in Port Moresby, I told my radio man "That 'Sir' was for General George Kenney."
The wing man shot down outside of Tacloban bellied into the swamp and walked to Tacloban. The PBY Catalina we called in was shot down by Jap Zeros while taking off from a secret location on the Mindano Island coast. The crew taxied the PBY back to shore, spent the night repairing damage, got her airborne the next day and flew back to base on Morotai Island.
The only personnel I can remember on this mission were Fred McMahon, navigator, Robert Gemmer, pilot of the ditched B-25, and David Sheehan, my gunner, who died from wounds.