Unthinkable to live in a dominated world
WWII navigator underwent months of training before facing the enemy
Growing up in the late 1930s and early 1940s provided Americans with a unique premonition of what destiny would play with their lives.
Germany gradually rebounded from years of depression after World War I, and the buildup of its military played a major role in the country slowly improving its unemployment figures. The military’s increasing size, though, didn’t go over well with Germany’s neighbors. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Japan increased its military might in Manchuria and later the Pacific due to Minister of War Hideki Tojo’s vision that any pre-emptive attack on the United States and its allies in the region was inevitable.
“I still believe that we understood the root causes were economic but aggravated by personal lusts for power and domination,” said the late Robert “Bob” McCallum, who served in World War II as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force. McCallum’s daughter, Sue Sevon, lives in Fallon, and her parents moved to the Lahontan Valley in January 1993 to be nearer to family. Phyllis died in 2002 a month short of her 72nd birthday, and Robert died on May 29, 2018 at the age of 94.
“They were being stated in the most destructive and brutal ways. For most of us to live in a world dominated by such regimentation and brutality was unthinkable,” McCallum pointed out.
More so, Japan’s aggression in the Far East revealed the brutal destruction caused by its military complex which became worse, and several months after McCallum’s 18th birthday, the Japanese Imperial Navy’s aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor early in the morning on Dec. 7, 1941. Although the surprise attack caught many Americans off-guard on that Sunday morning, McCallum felt the U.S. government already showed a foresight to begin Selective Service in 1940, call up National Guard units in 1940 and order the 35th Division to training at Camp Robinson outside of Little Rock, Ark., where McCallum grew up.
McCallum was not eligible for the draft after the Pearl Harbor attack, so he waited until October 1943 to enlist. He toyed with the different services and envisioned what life would bring with each branch. His brothers and sisters talked him out of enlisting in the Navy, he didn’t see him wearing a Marine uniform because he wasn’t romantic and dashing, and life in the infantry didn’t appeal to him. To this 19-year-old teenager, he wanted to fly, and being 5-foot, 7-inches, he was an ideal candidate to be assigned to a bomber such as a B-17 or B-24.
“I knew I wanted to be an officer and many a young boy like me had heard a lot about the Flying Aces of World War I … I enlisted on the Air Force to seek my wings, my flight jacket, my crushed hat, my dark glasses, my flight pay and all the other experiences of life that those good things were supposed to attract,” he recalled.
McCallum discovered during the physical and testing he was deaf to frequencies above the normal voice range. Other determinations affected him before training, but the evaluators suggested he become a navigator rather than a bombardier or pilot; consequently he scored extremely high on his navigator qualification tests. Before World War II broke out, Pan American trained the only navigators who flew the clipper routes across the oceans and required each navigator to have at least two years of college. Wartime instruction took McCallum to Wichita (Kansas) University for six week, and then for an additional nine weeks of pre-flight instruction at Ellington Field, Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico. McCallum said his time at Ellington Field included a nerve-wracking and frightening event.
“One of the great gulf hurricanes swept in over Galveston with gusts up to 130 miles per hour,” he described, contrasting the hurricane as one of the worst events of his war years. “Now, the lift provided a wind of that magnitude was great enough to lift small twin engine planes that the advanced pilots school flew right off the ground and sent it rumbling down the parking aprons destroying other planes or anything else in its path.”
McCallum then spent the next 15 weeks at San Marcos, Texas where he completed his officer’s training and then received his gold bars with a set of orders to Mountain Home, Idaho, to join his B-24 bomber air crew. He said the winter weather hampered training in Mountain Home, but the Army sent the crews to Tonopah. Winter days are brutal at an elevation of 6,000 feet, and McCallum didn’t see the advantage of the move to Tonopah since southern Idaho received its share of snow.
The crews practiced their flying formations in central Nevada and increased their flight hours in preparation to being sent to either Europe or the Pacific. Once McCallum’s crew completed their training, they left Tonopah and arrived at Hamilton Field, Calif., to receive a new bomber for additional training. Near the end of training, the crews didn’t know of the Army’s plan until the night of departure when the pilot and McCallum received sealed orders. Once in the air, McCallum said he couldn’t open the orders announcing their destination until one hour after takeoff.
On March 11, 1944, at 11 p.m., McCallum’s crew lifted off toward Hickam Field, Hawaii, flying under the Golden Gate Bridge with upward to 15 hours of flying time ahead of them and nothing but salt water underneath. At the time of departure, McCallum, now a 20-year-old officer, had no star navigation since he flew in Texas four months before his arrival in California and shared the flight with two student navigators, an instructor and two pilots who knew the local area like the “back of their hand.” Thirteen hours later, the B-24 landed at Hickam Field west of Honolulu. McCallum fell in love with the month-long training and warm weather on the tropical island of Oahu.
“The climate was delightful. The hula girls on the stationery looked great, and the island people were friendly and hospitable in the little. Time we had to know them,” McCallum wrote.
The serenity of training in Hawaii shattered when another crew didn’t return from a patrol mission over the North Pacific; as a result of the tragedy, other crews at Hickam received more special training in gunnery — including .30 caliber machine guns in the B-24’s nose for the bombardier to use — and airplane modifications that moved the radio operator and navigator behind the pilots. One month later, the crew finally received their orders to fly off of American soil: They left Hickam for Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands to join the 27th Bombardment Squadron of the 30th Bomb Group of the 7th Bomber Command.
“There were to be interesting times ahead as we bombed famous and exotic places like Wake Island, Wotje, Maloelap and Jaluit in the Marshalls, Truk and Panape in the Carolines, Guam and Saipan in the Marianas,” McCallum said during their initial time at Kwajalein. “There were to be close calls like the time the night fighter pumped the .20 millimeters our nose over Truk setting the bombardier control panel on fire and blowing the doors off the nose turret.”
McCallum said being on an airplane diving from 14,000 feet to 2,000 feet at almost 300 miles per hour in a plane that flew 165 was gut-wrenching. Even with those gyrations, McCallum said the ball turret gunner knocked a Japanese Zero out of the sky with a timely blast.
McCallum recalled another daylight mission over Truk when the B-24 lost an engine on a bomb run.
“But you don’t fly as fast on three as you do on four so as we all fell behind, (and) the Zeroes closed in for the cripple,” the navigator said, adding buddies in other planes slowed their speed to give additional firepower. “Jim Cassidy (a fellow crewman) yelled ‘Help, I’m running out of ammunition.’ That meant he needed my help as I was the only one not manning a gun or flying the plane. Jim was using a waist gun, and I was on the flight deck.”
McCallum disconnected his oxygen mask and grabbed an oxygen bottle to walk about 10 feet along the narrow bomb bay cat walk. He then handed Cassidy the .50 caliber belt of ammunition.
“I then took over the other waist gun so the radio operator could go forward to report our problems and position, and damned if I didn’t get lucky and score a probable knockdown on one of the pursuing fighters on that side,” McCallum said.
On his 21st birthday, his B-24 became the first four-engine bomber to land on Saipan on Aug. 5, 1944. From nearby Aslito Airfield, the crews bombed key targets at Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, Pagan Island, Truk and Yap. After three months, the crew completed 40 combat missions averaging more than 10 hours on each flight. Because of his heroism, McCallum received a promotion, an Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters, a Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, leave in the United States and a new job of training other aviators in navigation and cruise control. McCallum said his crew was fortunate because every man returned home safely, and he was honorably discharged on Oct. 28, 1945. The Arkansas native, though, continued his military service in the U.S Air Force Reserve where he rose to the rank of captain. Yet, after all the years he served, McCallum continued to remember other aviators.
“But in a war, no matter how good you may be, everyone isn’t so lucky as we were,” he lamented. “We left behind too many friends who are the real heroes of this or any other war. Those are the ones who give their lives in order that we can still have this ‘Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave’ for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and as a beacon of light, a ray of hope to those who seek the same kind of life for themselves and their posterity.” The end of World War II in both Europe and the Pacific occurred 75 years ago in 1945. As a project to honor as many heroes as possible, The Nevada Appeal, Lahontan Valley News and the Nevada News Group have published numerous articles on our local veterans who served during World War II.