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Interview on experiences in World War II

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WWH Oral History Project Barber County Kansas

Howard Gillig Transcribed by: Kathie Kersten

I live here southwest of Kiowa and spent my entire Me there except for the 3 1A years that I spent in the service. One of the things that I'm going to point out this morning is that when we went into the service, it was a little different than some of the pictures that you see on T.V. of the boys leaving home and it is a sorrowful deal and all that. Most of the pictures you see on T.V. any more are of the boys leaving for a short tour of duty. Well, we were in the midst of WWn. Our tour of duty when we left home was for the duration - we didn't know when that was going to be. For some, the duration was it. I mean, they never got home - many thousands of them. If any of you ever have a chance to visit a military cemetery, it would give you some kind of insight of how many boys lost their lives and never got to come home again. But I was one of the fortunate ones and I'm not going to tell a war story because of my fate -1 never made it to the war - into the war.

I was inducted in the service in September of 1942 at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I spent a few days there being processed. Then they sent us to Shepard Field, Texas where we had the basic training, which is usual for everybody. When we finished the basic training, we got already to ship out, We didn't know where we were going. They had an airplane mechanics school on the opposite end of the base there at Shepard Field. So, lo and behold, as we were all waiting to be shipped out, they said, "Pick up your duffel bag, we're going up to the north end of the field. We went up there and spent, I think, two or three months in airplane mechanics school. It was kind of traumatic because they were running the school twenty-four hours a day. We changed shifts every two weeks. I had a terrible time keeping awake half the time because we would get adjusted to one set of hours and they would change. We had our regular army duties, calisthenics, and all the stuff that we had to keep up with as we went to school.

Well, we finished school and I was sent to Middle River, Maryland, which is on the outskirts of Boston, to a specialized school of B26's, which is a medium-type bomber.

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Whenwegraduated from thereTtEey^ took about 10% of the boys and put them on as an engineer on one of these new airplanes. I was lucky enough to get that duty.

The first place that we went, we went to Rome, New York to a sub depot and they did some modifications on these new airplanes. Then they sent the airplanes to Kempler Field, Michigan where they were supposed to be assigned to a bomb group. This is where my fate came in. They were really going to be assigned to a bomb group and nobody knew where. One day, here came a couple of pilots from Wright Field, Ohio. They said that they wanted this airplane - the one that I was an engineer on. My orders said that I transferred with the airplane,

They took this airplane and we went to Wright Field, which was more or less a high tech field where they did a lot of experimental work. We took the airplane down there and did some modifications on it. Then we went to Btythe, California - right in the middle of the summer. The modifications that they put on it were testing some hydraulic components. They wanted to see how they would stand up in the heat. So, we spent two months in Blythe, California - in the middle of the summer. Then, we came back to Wright Field and they checked what they wanted to, to see how the components stood up that they put on the airplane.

Then, they sent the airplane over to Patterson Field, Ohio, which is actually just a few miles from Wright Field. There they about tore that thing down and I don't know why

they did so much to it. Then, I guess, they decided that they didn't need it as a bomber anymore. So, they transferred the airplane to the air transport command. Now that sounds kind of crazy to assign a bomber airplane to the air transport command, but

that's what they did.

So they sent me to Boeing Field in Washington, D.C. They were just going to use it as a personnel plane, which sounds kind of stupid, but that's the way they did it. I was only there about two weeks and they said, "Well, we really don't need this airplane here." So, they sent me to California to Mather Field. I was there about two days when they said, "We don't need this airplane either." So, they decided to send me to Fair Field. I said, "Fairfield, that's just where I came from." They said, "No, Fairfield, California. It was about sixty miles east of San Francisco. There they used the plane just for personnel flying from different parks and things. So that's where we went.

I did that for a while until the base commander of Hickam Field decided that he wanted the airplane over there for his private airplane. So, we took the airplane to Hickam Field in Hawaii, I don't imagine there were too many B26's that ever flew across the Pacific. They had to put extra fuel tanks on it. We got there in the middle of the night and only had about 20 minutes of fuel left - but we made it fine.

I guess I would say that I was lucky to the point that I did have some choices. I could have stayed in Hawaii and been the engineer on that airplane for the base commander. I looked the situation over as I watched an airplane take off at the end of the runway and I wondered, do I want to take off over the water or the mountains. I don't know if either made any difference because a B26 never glided anyway - if something happened, they went down anyway. I liked to come back to the states.

After I came back to the states, we had what we called a base flight at each field. They had several types of airplanes and we flew for personnel, parts, cargo, or whatever. That's what I did there. Then lo and behold, back at Hamilton Field, they got an old B26 and they wanted to fix it up for one of the colonel's who wanted to put his pilot in it. There weren't too many people in the air transport command that knew anything about a B26 so they transferred me back to Hamilton Field to help fix this old airplane up. I was there at Hamilton Field the rest of my duties in the states. I was still in base flight and we flew different types of aircraft.

One of the highlights, I guess, was the barnstorming around of all the different people we flew around. Bob Hope was getting ready to go over seas on his first USO tour. The night before he left, he was going back over to Fair Field, which was sixty miles east of San Francisco, to do a show. His troupe wasn't near like it was in the later years. He only had Bob Hope, Jerry Calona, and Frances Langford - that was the three that I can remember - and a couple of other girls. There was only about five of them. We flew them over to Fair Field to put on the show. I guess that I can say that I flew him to put on his first USO show, Of course, you know I was a grain of sand in Bob Hope's acquaintances, but at least I could say that we did that.

We finally got our orders to ship over seas so they sent us over to another field there in California to process us to go over seas. We were in the air transport command but they sent us to Portland, Oregon by train. They put us on a ship - and it was a lousy old ship. It took us eight days to get to the Hawaiian Islands. We zigzagged around to keep the submarines off us, I guess. But anyway, it took us eight days to go over there. We spent about two months of temporary duty in the Hawaiian Islands waiting for the other ship. Then we were going on to Okinawa, On the other ship, we spent a whole month on that thing. So, there I was, in the air force, and I spent two months of my overseas duty on a ship!

We went down, I think they called it the Olympiac Hole. We had to wait there for a convoy to go on to Okinawa. Finally we got started up there. About two days before

we got to Okinawa, the war had ceased. There again, that's how close I got to being in combat, or in a combat area. After I got over there, I never did any flying over seas. It was just like an airline, is what it was. The planes would come on into Okinawa going over to Japan. They were flying personnel into Japan and would then come back to Okinawa and pick up wounded soldiers and fly them back to the states. It was a pitiful sight - some of them boys were on stretchers and some in straight jackets because they had completely lost their minds.

It makes you kind of wonder when you sign your name to a piece of paper stating that the plane was ready to fly - you wondered what would happen if it went down. But luckily, everything worked.

I spent about ten months on Okinawa doing that. One of the planes that we serviced that landed on their field had General MacArthur on board. He stayed overnight and then went on to Japan. He was the occupational general for Japan. The very next day, I thought it was kind of strange, here came his wife and Ms boy, and the boy's tutor and they were going on to Japan - the very next day after he left. I spent that time in Okinawa.

You hear all kinds of stories about tornadoes and hurricanes in the states - well, over there, they call it a typhoon. They had a typhoon while were there and it rained and rained and rained. Of course, we were living in tents and the tents would blow down. The wind was so strong, it piled up airplanes, boats, everything up on the shore. It was real devastating. We were safe - we got through it in fine shape. When we got ready to ship out -come home finally - someone about drowned out by the ship. When we left, we went from Okinawa to Seattle, from Seattle to Colorado Springs and then to Wichita in February of 1946.

Another thing I wanted to say, when we were in the Army, what would you think the pay would be? (Pause) Anybody? $21.00 a month. Then they deducted $6.60 for $10,000 worth of term life insurance. So they deducted $6.60 off your $21.00 - so you see you didn't make much. As far as transportation is concerned, I don't know where a soldier would be today if he had to do what we did. The only transportation we could get a lot of the time was hitch hiking. Things were different then - people weren't crazy people. Someone would stop and give us a ride. Anyway, I got back to

Like I said it was just fate that they picked my airplane to do all this when other airplanes were combat planes. I wanted to say, my life in the military was an experience. I guess the only thing that was scary about it - 1 flew with a lot of different pilots - and there were a lot that really weren't as competent as they should have been. But again, we made it, and got the plane home. It was an experience for me. I just wish that so many other boys would have not lost their lives or had to go through so much hardship.

I guess that's my story . . .

Mr. James Johnston: Would you answer a couple of questions? Do you think it was just fate that kept you from having to go into combat?

Howard Gillig: Yes, I was drafted.

Mr. James Johnston: Some people enlisted. . .

Howard Gillig: Some enlisted, I was drafted. It was a hard experience for any of us to leave home. I had an aging father and I was farming with him. There wasn't any help. I left him. I left my ground and the farm to run. My sister who was about to have a baby - she had to help. I even had a girlfriend that I had to leave and after 3 l/2 years,

she was still there. We were married that May after I came home. You all know her. Rose Mary. We spent 53 years together out there on the farm.

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