The birth and the early creeping of the 42nd Bombardment Group, Medium, may well seem lost in the mists of antiquity that hung over the United States before World War II. Indeed to many of our members, veterans of 60 or 70 missions in the Solomons or in the Indies and Philippines, veterans of the long road home via New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, the Russells, Stirling, New Guinea-whether in the air or on the ground-the early history of the Group is an unknown quantity save for shreds and scraps of information gathered from the casual remarks of "old" oldtimers.
But if this history is to be a complete narrative of your Group it is necessary to go back almost beyond the memory of the oldest member. To go back, in fact, to January 15, 1941, when according to the official record, "The 42nd Bombardment Group (M) was activated from the 7th Bombardment Group (H), G.H.Q. Air Force, at Fort Douglas, Utah, under the jurisdiction of G.H.Q. Air Force, with cadre furnished by the 7th Bombardment Group (H)."
At that time the organization consisted of four squadrons: three tactical squadrons (the 75th, 76th and 77th) and Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. Although there were even earlier commanders, as the Group emerges as an entity we find the following officers in command of the organization and its units: Lieut. Col. John V. Hart was Group Commander, with Capt. Eugene Nall as Group Executive. Capt. Woodrow W. Dunlop commanded Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and Majors Chester P. Gilger, Robert 0. Cork, and Major Harry E. Wilson, a name which will be found more and more frequently in the following pages, commanded the 75th, 76th, and 77th squadrons, respectively.
Among the key enlisted men who reported to these squadrons at that time we find names that cannot be omitted from this narrative. For instance, the 75th Squadron received M/S Fred O'Toole, T/S John P. Shadko, and S/S Emil Gratzek (later master sergeants and line chiefs), to the 76th was assigned M/S Norman J. Mitchell, while the 77th roster shows the name of M/S Rudy J. Baros. Group Headquarters received M/S John M. Suggs, and S/S Joseph F. McLaughlin, later master sergeant and line chief of one of our squadrons and still later the first enlisted man of the original ground echelon to be rotated to the United States. It is of interest to note the name of a buck sergeant at this time, Richard E. Eliason, who rose to the rank of captain overseas and became engineering officer of a squadron. Still other names to be remembered are Sgt. William F. Ott, Corp. Earl T. Nicholson, Pfc Donald E. Holloway, and Woodrow L. Nealy, also a one-striper--names that seem odd without the prefixes of Master and Tech that they later acquired.
While Group and these squadrons were in the throes of organization, the 16th Reconnaissance Squadron, later to become a tactical squadron of the Group, was being organized, drawing its cadre from the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron.
During the Fort Douglas period our history was much like that of other early units. Those were the days when the Army Group Forces drilled with broomsticks and a dilapidated farm cart labelled "Tank" was a tank for purposes of maneuvers. Our position was somewhat similar. We lacked airplanes and we were still drawing in our initial personnel. So while some training was accomplished in conjunction with the 7th Bombardment Group (H), it was chiefly hangar flying and ground training. One hundred and seventy-seven recruits joined the Group, mostly from Kelly Field, and were reassigned to squadrons
So passed the early months of 1941, collectively a preflight state.
Orders originating in Washington on May 7, 1941, marked the first important stage of the Group's long career. The Group was transferred with its current strength to Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, as a permanent station. The move progressed in several sections. Boise Air Base, later named in honor of the late Lieutenant Gowen of Burley, Idaho, was still under construction when the first elements of the Group arrived. The advance echelon, arriving on May 25, was first quartered at Camp Bonneville, an Idaho National Guard Armory outside Boise, as the barracks at the Field were not ready. Other elements arrived, the barracks became available, and by June 4 the entire Group as then constituted was located at its new base and getting ready for business. The 16th Reconnaissance Squadron also was transferred to Boise along with the Group and accompanied us on the move.
As soon as housekeeping had been set up, the Group plunged into a full time ground training program. While the runways were being completed, classes, problems, drills, and the reception of new personnel, combat and ground, went on apace. In August and September six B-18 airplanes were received and at last we could go to work.
In October, word was received that B-26s were being assigned to us, and crews were immediately dispatched to Patterson Field, Ohio, for accelerated service tests. Completing these, the crews moved on to the Glenn L. Martin plant at Baltimore to take possession of the planes and ferry them back to base. Six crews went out at a time and the process continued until a total of thirty-five B-26s had been ferried to Boise.
The B-26 represented a new challenge to most of our men of that period. Previous experience had been limited to the B-18 and B-23, the latter one of only 50 such aircraft made for the AAF. However, they speedily mastered the new ship, and when 15 newly-graduated pilots arrived from Kelly Field in November, they were given to understand that they were among old hands.
Then came December 7, 1941.
So much has been said and written on the events of that day and their implications that one is very wary of adding to the mass, but the activities of the Group and squadrons on that fateful day and the reactions of our personnel to its developments are a necessary part of this narrative.
According to the reports of Group Operations, only transition flying ind routine pilot check-outs had been scheduled for the week. At noon on Saturday, December 6, desks and files were closed and most of the personnel departed the offices and line for the week-end, in those halcyon days a fixed institution which lasted from noon on Saturday until Monday morning. Those who lived off the post went home for lunch and golf or whatever the day's plans indicated. The post contingent went to the barracks, to town, or wherever their inclinations led them. Saturday night was normally lively in town, and some Class "A" passes, as usual, decided it was too late to go back to the post.
The events of Sunday, the 7th, and the manner of their intrusion into what was up to then normal Sunday life for men in the service as well as civilians, are well revealed in the following recollection by Maj. Robert M. Clark, Group Personnel Officer, (then Second Lieutenant Clark, Adjutant of Headquarters Squadron).
"I was living at a ranch about fifteen miles from Boise at the time and had been out riding on Sunday afternoon. I was driving back when I first heard the news at about four o'clock. As soon as I reached home I heard additional broadcasts and the announcement directing all members of Gowen Field to return to the post at once. Still in civilian clothes, I drove to the post at once and encountered considerable difficulty in persuading the guard to admit me, for a Red Alert was on. Condition Red lasted until ten that night. Combat teams had been made up, road blocks constructed, and at the corners of drill fields water-cooled .30 caliber machine guns had been emplaced."
T/S Cleo Dugan, of the 390th, provides another view which reflects the day for many. "Most of the boys were in Boise for Sunday dinner, to visit their girl friends, or go to the show. They streamed back to Gowen by bus, taxi, and private car. No one was suffering from too much recreation. A great element of surprise was present, of course, but it seemed to be taken in stride and everyone said "Well, it is here." The full import did not hit us for two or three days. That night between emergency duties and keeping ears glued to the radio there was little sleeping. Every one took time off to listen to the President's speech, and I remember vividly the silent groups of men clustered about radios in hangars, in the alert lounge, orderly rooms and barracks, as over the radio came the familiar voice of our beloved late President Roosevelt."
The recollection of S/S Bob Bender, chief clerk at Group Headquarters, affords a typical and amusing side-light that will be familiar to many as a duplicate of their own experiences. "I was in the barracks at Gowen at about 10 a. m. getting ready to go to town when we heard the first news. Needless to say, I did not get to town. Later in the day we were told to send our civilian clothes home."
James H. Robinson, first sergeant of the 390th, had double cause to remember the day, for while out hunting on this week-2nd he accidentally shot himself in the leg and went to the hospital. When he returned to duty on January 17, 1942. he found himself in another Army, a war-time Army.
Most of the operational aircraft of the Group were immediately ordered to Muroc Lake, California, on a night flight.
Monday, December 8, found every one extremely busy. The 77th Squadron was immediately built up to full Table of Organization and Equipment strength and alerted for movement to Alaska. The guard at Gowen, as at all other posts, was doubled, training went into a seven day-week schedule and a good deal of it was carried out on the double. Passes to leave the post were signed by the C. 0. only, and were for three hours' duration. Few of those who lived off the post were able to get home overnight. The pace of events never returned to pre-war normal, and it was a long time before the extreme tension relaxed at all.
On December 19, 1941, the 77th squadron left for Alaska, under the command of Major Robert C. Cork. The squadron flew its planes to its new assignment.
Twelve departed and nine arrived. Three were lost to the weather, fortunately without loss of life. The leader of this flight was the nephew of the famous Tokyo air-raider Lieutenant General Doolittle. 1st Lieut. Glenn Doolittle later became a major in the Fifth Air Force. Becoming separated from the formation in weather, Lieutenant Doolittle and his flight floundered around until practically out of gas and were finally forced to crashland in an Alaskan snow-bank. After four and a half days of imitating Eskimos, they were rescued and returned to civilization.
One of the pilots, known only to the writer as Lieutenant Avery, had been banged up rather badly in his landing. Upon his discharge from a hospital, he was criticized by his superiors for cracking up his plane. The Lieutenant retorted with what can be called the classic of the crash-lander: "Glenn L. Martin can make another B-26 but Mother Avery is too old to raise another son."
The 77th was one of the first units of the AAF to operate from advanced bases in the Aleutians and was later to go on to a brilliant record in patrol work, but its departure was a parting of the ways, for the Squadron was soon removed from Group control.