Our 2008 US Trip, Part Five: My Father’s Wartime Service

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My Father’s Wartime Service

I apologize for taking so much time to get to this part of the series.  It’s been difficult for me to write about, you understand.

When I was growing up, there were a few artifacts around the house that just didn’t seem to fit.  One thing was a silk Japanese kimono; the other was an Indian Ghurka knife.  I used to eat with Japanese chopsticks that my father had brought back with him.  We used the Ghurka knife to do chores around the house, like edging the lawn and chopping down small trees.  Dad used to wear his army jacket, and it finally wore out in the mid-70’s.

These were items my father took home with him from World War II.  It was unusual for him to talk about the war and it wasn’t until much later that I found out anything at all about his wartime service.  On our last trip to the US, I found out many things about my father’s wartime service that I did not previously know.  I’m going to recount stories from my father, but please keep in mind one thing:  I’ve done my best to present everything as accurately as possible but these accounts depend upon memory and my father’s memory is failing.  If anyone reading these accounts should recall them, please contact me with any additional information you may have.

Please visit our photo album on Flickr.com for more wartime photos.

Litte Egypt

My father, James E. Klein, posing with a famous aircraft he served aboard – Little Egypt, a B-24 Liberator

Litte Egypt

373rd Bomb Squadron Emblem

My brother in law had taken a bunch of my father’s photographs and scanned them, fortunately.  When I gave the above photo to a website featuring World War II aircraft, this photo was not previously known to them.  This is Little Egypt of the 308th Bombardment Group.  My father served with the 373rd Bomb Squadron.

From what I can piece together, Little Egypt is the second aircraft my father was assigned to.  Let me tell you what I know about the first group.

Unidentified Group

This is a shot of the class my father trained with.  One of these men, named Kruger, was killed in a training accident.  My father identified Kruger for me in this photograph.  He is second from the left in the rear row, no hat.  My father is second from the left in the front row.  My father was always well dressed and had a certain style about him that always set him apart from the others.  Notice that he is the only man wearing a dress shirt and a tie.  The pilot is the man on the far right in the first row but I do not know his name.  At the time this photograph was taken, the nose art had yet to be painted on this aircraft.  I remember reading the name in my father’s yearbook and it was called Target For Tonight.

If I am correct about this photograph, all these men, with the exception of my father, are dead – killed in action.

Kruger was killed in an unfortunate accident during training.  My father offered to accompany his body back home.  In 2006 my father showed me one of his photo albums and it contained a photograph of he and Kruger’s parents.  Apparently the 2 men were the same age, and my father wanted to take him home to his parents and explain that it wasn’t Kruger’s fault.  I can imagine how bad it must have been for parents of KIA and MIA servicemen, but to have lost a son during training – well, I don’t know how to put that into the proper words.

By the time my father had returned from that duty, he had been replaced and his class assigned.  He came back to find them already gone.  My father was assigned to a new class and went through the training all over again with the second class.  In the meantime, he received word that his first class had gone on their first mission and were wiped out.  They were part of Operation Tidal Wave, and were shot down over Polesti, Romania on August 1, 1943.  One can only imagine how that made my father feel.  I know how it made me feel to hear him relate this story.

I’m going to post some photos and tell you what I know about them.

My Father And His Best Friend

This is my father (left) and his best friend, Maurice White of Erie, PA.  Mr. White is a Filipino-American and my father always had nothing but praise for his skills as an aviator and for his warm friendship.

Father and Unknown

My father has so many photographs taken of him and women together, only no woman is in more than one photo!  This photo was given to my father (notice the upper left hand corner) by a woman named “Diane.”  That’s all I can tell you about her.

Father and Unknown

My father and a man who might be John “Red” Cochrane, pilot of Little Egypt. Please help identify anyone you can!

US Trip, Part One

This is a shot of my father holding his medals.  It wasn’t until years later that he put in for his medals, after his wife and the family urged him to do so.  I’ll show some closeups and then list them.
My Father's Medals

My Father's Medals

Clicking on the name of each medal will open a link describing the medal and it’s criteria for award.

  1. Presidential Unit Emblem
  2. Honorable Service Lapel Button
  3. World War II Victory Medal
  4. American Campaign Medal
  5. Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, with 4 Bronze Stars (each star represents an addition qualification for the award).
  6. Good Conduct Medal

The last thing that I want to show you is the citation letter send to the 308th Bombardment Group, from their commanding officer.  Please click on this letter and view the large version.

Citation Letter This letter tells of heroic efforts while developing new techniques for bombing with the B-24 Liberator.  Orginally designed for high-altitude bombing, these brave men of the 308th took their Liberators right down virtually to the surface of the ocean in order to attack enemy shipping.  My father told me stories of having to use the windshield wipers on bombing runs because the ocean spray was all over the windows.

Eventually his B-24 Liberator got shot down, technically, but it did bring them all home safely.  The wing spar was literally shot in half and it creaked like a wooden ship as they returned to base.  But the ship held together and got them home.

The B-24s took off from China and went on a long run to the coast of Indochina, Hong Kong, Western China and “the Straights of Formosa” to drop their bombs on enemy targets.  Many aircraft were modified (as was my father’s) by removing the rear bomb bay and replacing it with an additional fuel tank.  On one occasion the fuel tank was hit by a shell, but the force of the shell actually pushed it clear of the airframe and the tank exploded in midair outside of the aircraft.  On my last visit, my father talked about bombing enemy shipping on the Mekong delta in what is now modern Vietnam.

Such are the stories of “extraordinary heroism, gallantry, determination and espirt de corps demonstrated by the members of this organization.”  Truly remarkable men in extraordinary times….

For reference, I’m including photos of the map my father used for mission planning.  Please view them large sized.

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Closeup of Taiwan, a part of Japan at that time.

dscn0972.jpg dscn0971.jpg

The map actually has a string line attached to it for marking bearings.  In this photo we see a bearing of 131 degrees and a distance of 331 nautical miles to the target.  This map is currently in the posession of 2 Taiwanese researchers for inclusion in a book they are writing.

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12 comments

  1. MJ,
    THANK YOU for sharing this wonderful story of your father’s wartime service!! He IS a good man and he has a good son! You both should be very proud!

    With Warmest Regards,

    Turkmeister

    1. Turkmeister » thanks very much for your kind comments. many men returned home from that horrible war and never talked about it. my father was one of them. it wasn’t until years later that he talked of the things that happened…. now it’s too late to get any more information from him i’m afraid…. take care.

  2. Just an awesome post! This is by far one of the best you’ve ever posted on here. Thanks for sharing. Would’ve loved to sit down and have a few drinks with your old man!

    1. andres » i really wish you could have. i’m afraid that it’s all over now…. he’s having problems remembering those old war stories…. thanks Andres.

  3. What an amazing tribute to your father MJ. I can’t wait for the next installment. I’m always fascinated whenever I sit down with my grandmother to talk about her childhood and early years of adulthood. She is in the process of writing her memoirs and some of the people she’s met, the places she has been and the things she has lived through are mindblowing. I think you’re very lucky to have such a special father, and that goes the other way, too. He’s lucky to have you for a son.

    I hope you and HC are having fun in Thailand. We’re thinking of you and we’re mighty envious. Enjoy the good food and the sunny weather.

    Carries last blog post..Photo Moment: The Misty Mountains of Halong Bay, Vietnam

    1. Carrie » thanks so much for your kind words! i’m so glad that you also appreciate the elders and their experience and wisdom. all too often they are just overlooked and ignored.

      we’re having fun getting acquainted with old friends here.

      thanks Carrie.

  4. Hey MJ,

    We’ll have to pick up this topic sometime. My grandpa flew in the 90th Jolly Roger’s Bombardment Unit. They actually bombed a Japanese military airport just outside of Kaohsiung on July 9, 1945. I’ve put up a few posts on this topic. I remember asking him about the war, but he said: “Why would I want to remember that?” I have a collection of his letters to my grandma on this topic, however; they’re quite detailed.

  5. Amazing, did a search on “little egypt”, because my grandfather served as navigator. His name is James B. Reed, they called him “zip”.Was looking for history and was pleased to see this. I sure miss him ,I could just listen to him talk for hours. They don’t make men like that any more! You’re father sounds like an amazing man. Thank You. Vincent Fernandez

    1. hi Vincent. i’m glad you were able to search and find our blog article about my father and his wartime service. indeed, that is a rapidly disappearing breed of man, and every time i think about that war and what those brave men went through, it blows my mind. thanks for reading Vincent, and thanks for your comments. hope to see you again soon.

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