THE WAR YEARS
My good years at Colorado A&M were cut short in February 1943 when I enlisted in the Air Force
as a Cadet. When I went in, I turned the window washing business over to Bill who was only a
junior in high school. He did very well at it until he expanded the business down to Loveland and
Estes Park. He hired his life-long friend, Harold Edwin Sutton, who ended up doing most of the
work while Bill went from town to town lining up more business. When Bill got a scholarship to
Chicago University and had to leave, the whole business collapsed. It had served us well though
and got me, Bill and Harold through several years of adversity and schooling.
I was called into the Air Force in February 1943 and reported to the old Customs Building in
Denver where I took my oath. I was put on a train and found out I was on my way to Basic
Training at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The only thing I remember about the train ride was the
big poker game going on by the other inductees who were the rich students from the big schools
such as Colorado University and Denver University. I found out what army life was like in about
two months at Jefferson Barracks. Then we were sent to Michigan State University at East
Lansing, Michigan for Officer's Training School. When we finished there, we were sent to Santa
Ana, California, for pre-flight training. After that we went to Gunnery School at Las [p. 27] Vegas,
Nevada. For a strictly country boy, I was getting a look at this fabulously wonderful country our
forefathers had built for us during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. I believe
then it began to dawn on me what we were fighting for in this global catastrophe of World War II.
We left Las Vegas and went to the little Texas town of Hondo where we trained to become
navigators. During this year I had made many friends, however the two that I treasured more than
any others were Bob Rhinesmith and Wayne Van Gundy. Bob, who was from Buffalo, Wyoming, I
met during my first year in college and as it happened, he was with me in the service. We were
together from Jefferson Barracks to when we graduated with our commissions from Hondo. I met
Wayne, who was from Americus, Kansas, while at East Lansing in Cadet training on how to
become officers and gentlemen. I had the pleasure after the war in 1946 to be his best man at his
wedding to Emma Lou. Then Shirley and I had the further pleasure of being invited to
Americus to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and were able to meet all his
After receiving my commission, I had to have my tonsils removed, so they sent me to Lincoln,
Nebraska. There I met my dear cousins, the McCown family and enjoyed two months of leave
time while at the hospital. I was treated so wonderfully there with the McCown's that I considered it
one of the most enjoyable times of my life. Two of the girls, Beverly Dunkin and husband Don, and
\ul\b\i Rosemary Gibbs and husband Marvin\ulnone\b0\i0 , all live now in the Denver area with
their families. Our families have had wonderful, good times together.
In June 1944, I reported to Mountain Home, Idaho, where I joined my crew and started training
with them for overseas in a B-24 heavy bomber. Our crew consisted of John J. Jones [pilot],
Norman Hamilton [co-pilot], myself [navigator], Joe Villani [engineer], Larry Hilgart [radioman],
Tom Tobin [photographer], Jim Lewis [waist gunner], Ray Novak [waist gunner], Hyman Wein
[belly gunner], and Al Franklin who served in all positions including tail gunner. We were destined
to train together, live together and fight in combat together and give our lives for one another and
our country if need be.
Our crew was chosen to go to aerial photography school at Will Rogers Field at Oklahoma
Oklahoma. After complex training there, we were sent to Fairfield Suison Airfield near
Sacramento, California. This was our jumping off point to enter the action wherever and whatever
it might be. We opened our orders when we left the good old United States and found we were
headed for Nadzab, New Guinea.
Our first duty station was on the island of Leyte where we began our first photography flights over
enemy territory. All in all we made 17 flights, most of them to China, which was 800 miles over the
The only thing I had for navigation was the whitecaps to use in the drift meter and the sun and
stars with the sextant. I was always able to make it to the target and back. If I had ever failed, we
would have ended up ditching in the ocean and hoping and praying that I had the right coordinates
to give to our rescuers to find us.
When the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, we were on the island of Okinawa. Our
crew was chosen to fly over Hiroshima and take official pictures of the
The following paragraphs are descriptions of that flight by our engineer at the beginning and end
of the flight and my description of the part I played as the navigator.
This is by Joe:
Excitement was running wild at our squadron, all kinds of talk about a new type of bomb, but no
one had any answers.
John Jones' crew was picked before the mission, so naturally we had to pre-flight our plane before
the mission. Tom Tobin, our photographer, handed us a roll of film. Once off the ground, Larry
Hilgart, our radio operator and I removed the flight deck, about 200 zerk fittings, hid the film,
continued our flight, then back to the base on Okinawa.
The next morning, again trusting to memory 54 years later, this had to be around August 8, 9,
10th, 1945, we went to briefing as usual. The surprising thing was that we were escorted out to
our plane by some high muckity-mucks, C.I.A. or F.B.I. We still really don't know to this day, who
they were. Before we boarded the plane, we were searched to make sure we had no personal
cameras or such. They then handed us the official roll of film. We went aboard and off we
Our flight to Hiroshima was uneventful. Chet Rogers our navigator, hit the target right on the nose.
The pictures we took for Uncle Sam were at 25,000 to 26,000 feet. When Tom was finished
taking those pictures, John decided to have our unofficial pictures taken at 4000 feet and lower.
While on the flight to Hiroshima, Larry and I pulled the flight deck up again and removed our roll of
Hiroshima, if memory serves me correctly is like a peninsula surrounded on three sides by
mountains. John handled the B-24 like a fighter plane. The total devastation was awesome. The
latest buildings made of steel and concrete were still standing, but the insides were completely
gutted out. The lack of rubble was surprising. The heat must have been tremendous. The people
waiting at the train station to get out of town were in such a state of shock, they never looked up
while we buzzed over them at a real low altitude.
Our flight back to Okinawa was very uneventful. While on the trip back we buried the film under
the deck again.
Orders came to us as we were ready to land, to taxi to the end of the runway, and stay in the
plane, we would be met at the plane. We were met at the plane by the same high muckity-mucks
who again searched us, took the official film from Tom, then released us. The next day we
pre-flighted our plane. While in the air, we removed our roll of film. Tom took it to the lab and
developed the film. Each man [p. 32] on the crew received a copy of all the pictures. I hope and
pray, that never again will a bomb like that have to be used on mankind. The estimates at that
time were approximately 75,000 to 100,000 people died. Now years later, with radiation poisoning,
the estimate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 210,000.
The following is what Chet Rogers remembers about our flight over Hiroshima which supplements
what Joe wrote.
It was about 3 or 4 days after the bomb drop. Since I was the navigator I went to the briefing to
obtain the statistics which were necessary to pre-plan the flight. These included the coordinates of
Hiroshima [location], mileage and what we could expect in the way of wind and weather factors
which I would use to determine how to get there and when [E.T.A.- Estimated Time of
The flight was uneventful thanks to the excellent preparation our engineer had done [Joe
It was a clear day and I was able to observe the white caps on the sea. The white caps were
instrumental in my determination of the wind direction through my drift meter which helped me to
find the direction we needed and the ground speed of the plane.
As we approached Japan, I used my sextant to observe the sun and made a land fall on the coast
to bring us on to Hiroshima and determined our E.T.A. [Estimated Time of Arrival]. As we crossed
the coastline I checked my maps carefully and found our position. I called the pilot and gave him
our E.T.A. so we could start looking for Hiroshima. I said, ''We should be over Hiroshima right now
but I can't see it [p. 34] because of the cloud cover.'' Just then the Pilot [John J. Jones] said, ''The
clouds are breaking and I think it is right below us and a little to the right.'' I looked down and there
it was spread out under us. By this time the whole crew was looking and thinking about the lives
lost and the thousands injured.
I called the photographer [Tobin] to get ready to take pictures. The pilot and I lined up the plane
over the area, and we began taking official pictures on the east side and working toward the west
at an altitude of 26,000 feet. I directed the plane by use of railroad crossings and roads [Pilotage].
I took over the controls of the plane by using the bombsight to guide it over the target. We took
about 8 flight lines with each overlapping the one next to it. After I finished, the pilot said,
''Let's go down to a couple thousand feet and take some pictures with our own unofficial camera.''
He said he would meet me in the waist [the middle of the plane] and the co-pilot was left to fly the
plane. As it ended up all the rest of the crew were there. After taking a dozen or so pictures the
pilot went back to is seat. The co-pilot was flying right over a harbor which had the remainder of
the Japanese Navy ships and aircraft carriers. Needless to say, the pilot took over the plane and
put the plane on a course out to sea and revved it up to the top speed of 250 knots or so per
As we were taking the pictures we were low enough to see the complete devastation. One thing I
remember is that we saw people crowded around the train station trying to get out of the
destroyed city on the only kind of transportation left.
After that flight our crew was split up and eventually were all sent home, back to the good old
U.S.A. and to our respective homes.