Henley en route to the Pacific
As of this morning, my wife and I, hopefully, will have arrived in Tokyo, our first destination on a three-week Asian and Pacific adventure that will include stops in Japan, South Korea, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands.
One of my prime interests is American military history, and several of my columns and articles in our ‘Front and Center” pages that will appear following our return will feature written and photographic accounts of my visits to notable World War II and Korean War sites as well as the current, escalating U.S. military buildup in the region.
I also will be spending two or three days on the island of Saipan, where, according to a recently-released book written by historian Mike Campbell, famous pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan were imprisoned and executed by the Japanese after their aircraft crashed in the adjacent Marshall Islands on July 2, 1937.
Most authors who have written on the mysterious disappearances of Earhart and Noonan claim that their airplane crashed on another Pacific island where the pair eventually starved to death.
Campbell, however, says in his book “Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last,” that following their crash-landing on an atoll in the Marshalls, Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese and taken to Saipan, which, like the Marshall Islands was then a Japanese colony. The Japanese in the late 1930s already were planning their attack on Pearl Harbor, and believing that Earhart and Noonan were spying for the U.S. government, beheaded them on Saipan, Campbell told me recently by telephone from his home in Florida.
I have written about Earhart’s disappearance two or three times in this space, as she had made frequent stops in Nevada during her lengthy flying career. In one instance, she crashed in a field near Lovelock.
I also will travel to the island of Tinian in the Northern Marianas from where U.S. Army B-29 “Flying Fortresses” flew to Japan in early August of 1945 and dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, devastating events that brought about the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allies on Aug. 15, 1945.
The B-29 crews trained at Wendover Army Air Base in western Utah, which is adjacent to the Nevada-Utah state line, before deploying to Tinian for further training and the a-bomb drops on the two Japanese cities.
Wendover Field, as well as several other WW II military airfields in Nevada and the West, also was utilized for the training of B-17 “Flying Fortress” crews, I have been reminded by my old friend Frank Mormillo, the internationally-known military photo-journalist.
The iconic B-17, a four-engine heavy bomber, conducted precision bombing raids on enemy targets in Asia, the Pacific, Europe and North Africa during WW II and also saw action in the Korean War, Mormillo added.
A total of 12,733 B-17 Flying Fortresses were manufactured from 1936 to 1945, and they also were flown during WW II by two dozen or so other nations, including, ironically, Japan and Germany, which captured several of the aircraft, repainted them with their respective colors and markings, and sent them aloft against allied military targets.
Some of the B-17’s most notable pilots and crew members included actor Clark Gable, football player and coach Tom Landry (his older brother, Bob, died in a B-17 crash), TV producer Norman Lear, “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenbury, “God Is My Co-Pilot” author Brig. Gen. Robert L. Scott Jr., and Academy Award-winning actor James Stewart, who retired as an Air Force Reserve brigadier general.
The B-17 had a crew of 10, a maximum speed of 287 mph, could reach a height of 35,600 feet, was also flown by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and was phased out in the late 1950s, said Mormillo, who makes his headquarters at the Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino in Southern California.
A B-17 also was used as a test dummy aircraft during the atmospheric nuclear tests over Nevada in 1952. Amazingly, although it was heavily damaged in a blast, it was put back together, restored and used a a firefighting aircraft in the U.S. and Canada until the late 1980s.
Sadly, three B-17 Flying Fortresses crashed in Nevada in the 1940s with significant loss of lives.
Eight crewmen of a B-17 were killed when their aircraft crashed into the west slope of the Trinity Mountains, about 16 miles west of Lovelock, on Feb. 6, 1941.
One crewman was killed and eight rescued when their plane crashed in the Sierras west of Reno on Nov. 2, 1941.
Two members of a 13-man crew died after their B-17 caught fire in mid-air and crashed in the desert near Alamo in Lincoln County on Jan, 4, 1944.
My travels in the Pacific should be fascinating and sobering reminders of this nation’s land, sea and air roles during 20th century conflicts, and I look forward to describing them pictorially and in print when I return.
David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.