Dayton’s Bob Lloyd survived Pearl Harbor, became command pilot
Special to the Appeal
Anyone who thinks the 2007 to 2014 economic downturn was a big deal, the 1929 to 1941 Great Recession was an economic tsunami. Most male high school graduates who had celebrated their 18th birthday enlisted in one of the branches of our armed forces. Why? Because there would be one less mouth to feed. It was no different in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Robert Lloyd celebrated his 18th birthday on Nov. 24, 1939.
The local Army recruiter was talking to Bob trying to make his recruit quota. Bob told the recruiter, “I really want to join the Navy and be stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii.” The recruiter countered with, “Join the U.S. Army Air Corps, and I’ll get you assigned to Honolulu.” Bob enlisted on Dec. 11, 1939. After boot camp, he was ordered to board an Army transport in Brooklyn, N.Y., which cruised through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and finally docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the middle of paradise.
At the U.S. Army Air Corps’s Hickam Field, Bob became an aircraft machinist. When 21 B-17s landed at Hickam Field on May 14, 1941, he was assigned to one of them. For every pilot, there were 20 support personnel from mechanics, cooks, firefighters, meteorologists, clerical staff and others.
Sundays were casual in 1941 until Dec. 7. That morning Bob and his fellow machinists were ordered to wait for the arrival of a flight of B-17s due to land after 8 a.m. They heard a couple of distant explosions at 07:55 hours. Within seconds, all hell broke loose. Japanese bombs destroyed Bob’s squadron’s hangar, killing 22 of his fellow machinists. Two Japanese Zeros banked above the shocked machinists exposing the red “meatballs” on their wings. In a knee-jerk reaction, Bob dove under a low boy trailer with three fellow machinists. Instantly, Bob was a man fighting for his country.
As the flight of B-17s flew over Hickam to land, nervous anti-aircraft gunners assumed any plane in the air was Japanese. They fired at our B-17s. An officer identified the planes and ordered, “Cease fire!”
When the first wave of Japanese planes returned to one of the six Japanese carriers 200 miles northwest of Oahu, Bob ran to headquarters to the 22nd Material Squadron, a reinforced concrete building. Soon, the second wave of Japanese planes began to attack.
Hickam Field had lost 189 personnel with 303 wounded. Every plane was damaged or destroyed.
Most of the 2,500 Americans killed during the attack were enlisted men and officers, a few civilians were collateral damage. The wounded were rushed to military or civilian hospitals. Hundreds of survivors rolled up their sleeves to donate blood as the medical staffs triaged the wounded. The doctors, nurses and hospital staff worked tirelessly to save lives.
Bob and his fellow survivors rushed wounded to hospitals. Next, they transported the dead to the nearest morgue to be identified, matched with body parts and given a proper burial. They cleaned the hangar floors with hoses.
Five months after the attack, Bob entered flight school and earned his wings. He flew a dual engine fighter, the P-38. The B-25 was a two-engine medium bomber similar to flying the P-38. He flew a P-39, Aerobat. The engine was behind the pilot. If you crashed a P-39, the blue star in your parents’ window changed to a gold star. Later, he flew an A-26, which was a two-engine plane designed for low-level strafing and bombing. The letter “A” was for attack.
Bob was 21 when he flew his B-25 from Greenville, S.C.; Presque Isle, Maine; Gander, Newfoundland; Iceland, Scotland, Wales to Casablanca on the coast of North Africa.
After arriving in Casablanca, he watched the newly released film, “Casablanca,” staring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, a classic film. (FYI, “Casablanca” was released 75 years ago two days after his 21st birthday, Nov. 26, 1942 in New York City).
Bob flew 22 low-level missions, a few over the island of Patmos where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. He flew 40 mid-level bombing missions, totaling 62.
Bob was a command pilot in the 379th bomb squadron, 310th Bomb Group, 12th Air force. After 21 years, he retired as a captain in 1960. He’s one of the 16 million reasons we speak English today. Thank you for your service, and happy belated 96th birthday, Bob!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.