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.
My father, James E. Klein, posing with a famous aircraft he served aboard – Little Egypt, a B-24 Liberator
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.
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.
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.
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.
My father and a man who might be John “Red” Cochrane, pilot of Little Egypt. Please help identify anyone you can!
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.
Clicking on the name of each medal will open a link describing the medal and it’s criteria for award.
- Presidential Unit Emblem
- Honorable Service Lapel Button
- World War II Victory Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, with 4 Bronze Stars (each star represents an addition qualification for the award).
- 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.
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.
Closeup of Taiwan, a part of Japan at that time.
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.