CBIVA Sound-off
Fall 1993 Issue

By Barry Leonard

Third Photo-Recon Holds Second Reunion


I have just returned from the Third PRS's second reunion held in Colorado Springs, August 18-22, 1993. and I am filled with the inclination to put down my experiences while I feel that they are fresh in my memory, so here goes: First - A Little Prologue

A little over a year ago I wrote a letter to the editor of the CBIVA Sound-off about Flight "C" of the First Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of which I was a member. When my letter was published, it caused several other fellows, who had also been members of our Flight "C", to write to me. My name was sent to Bob Davidson, Bill Walker and Jim Allen; and I became a member of their roster of veterans of the 3rd PRS and learned of their planned first reunion of the squadron too late to participate. Jim Allen's Third Flyer requested responses from members of the "Lost Flight" which had been taken from the 3rd PRS and sent to China and I was one who did respond.

Nunzio Lazzaro, known to his crew and the others of Flight "C" as "Pappy," also responded and things built from there (and I hope will continue to build further). The second reunion was set to take place at Colorado Springs; and my wife. Miss Ann, and I became determined to attend it; and we did!

Flight "C" - The 3rd PRS's "Lost Flight"

"PAPPY LAZZARO" recalls that he, PAUL GREMMLER and ART HUMBY, all of whom were old time veterans of the 3rd PRS, and had been overseas together before, were called into Lt. Col. Patrick B. McCarthy's office and told that they were to be sent to China. Soon afterward, they were equipped with new F-13s and off they went to India and thence to China where they were based for their missions. Their assignments included flights to Manchuria, Korea, Japan, Formosa, and much of China. Mapping was their chief work, but they also drew assignments for target photography and sea searches. Among the outstanding incidents of Pappy's recollection were the foul weather flights with wing icing, engine and propeller problems, and emergency landings. These were the types of things that burn themselves into the memory, and everyone who has experienced them will carry them to the grave.

Although I have never chatted with Art Humby or Paul Gremmler about Flight "C". I did listen to Art Humby discussion of Flight "C" at the reunion banquet on Saturday evening. He cracked a lot of jokes that were unrelated to the subject; and when he directly and seriously addressed it, he dwelled upon what must be the most outstanding part in his memory. That was his last mission when he and his crew were forced to abandon their F-13 and bail out over northeastern China and, under the noses of the Japanese military who occupied that part of China, were repatriated by Communist Chinese guerillas in their long walk out.

It seemed to me that neither Pappy nor Art were conscious of the presence of other crews of Flight "C" at the Chinese base we called A-l, but I can assure them that there were others. Pappy recalls that his crew was based at Chengtu; and when I suggested that he was based at Hsinching or A-l, he seemed to reject the notion and insisted that it was Chengtu. His radio operator helped me explain to Pappy that Chengtu was the hub around which all the B-29 bases were built, but the one we used was near the village of Hsinching and was referred to as A-l. Pappy seemed to accept the fact, but reluctantly. We talked about Art Humby and the misfortune of his plane. Pappy's flight engineer was a substitute member of Humby's crew, and Pappy ended up with Humby's flight engineer. I told him that there was another substitute member on that flight and that it was the right gunner. His name was Tom Fall, and he had volunteered from my crew. As a result of their not returning, Humby's right gunner was assigned to our crew. His name was Emory A. Odom. His home town was Norfolk, VA. This I remember well, since my home town was Richmond, VA; and Odom and I had Virginia in common.

The Pieces Come Together

What follows is my conclusion of what transpired with respect to the composition of the aircrews of Flight "C". If my memory has jumped the track with respect to any of it, I will appreciate being corrected:

The XX Bomber Command, based in India and using forward staging fields in China around Chengtu, requested very heavy long range photo-reconnaissance service to augment their attempts to gather the same type of information by using ordinary B-29s. The F-13 was created by retro-fitting new B-29s as photo-reconnaissance aircraft, and they were slowly becoming available to the 3rd PRS which was training at Smoky Hill A.A.F.B, near Salina, Kansas. They were destined to go to the Mariana Islands to support the B-29 bombers which were soon to commence operations from there. The request from India resulted in orders to the 3rd PRS to furnish a half dozen F-13s and crews for assignment to China to give support to the XX Bomber Command.

In the meantime, a B-29 bomber crew replacement training group was training crews at Clovis, New Mexico, and several bomber crews were diverted from their training at Clovis and were transferred to the 3rd PRS at Smoky Hill to become photo-reconnaissance crews. The bombardier was removed from each crew; and a photo-navigator as well as a photographer were added, making a total of eleven crew members. The foregoing statement is not speculation. I was the pilot of one of the crews so transferred. I always thought of myself as the co-pilot; but in the mighty B-29, crew organization was a bit different from the conventional. The real pilot was called the aircraft commander and the co-pilot was called the pilot. So much for my being pilot. We said goodbye to our bombardier, Lt. Clarence Rick, and met our new photo-navigator, 2nd Lt. Paul Yates, and the photographer, Sgt. Harpster.

Three of the several crews that were transferred from Clovis to Smoky Hill and the 3rd PRS had a distinct privilege bestowed upon them. They were to go to China. I shall refer to each of them by the name of their aircraft commander. They were: Capt. George Alfke, 1st Lt. Thomas Simpson (my AC), and Lt. Swick, whose first name I cannot recall, but whose pilot, 2nd Lt. Henry Haines, was my B.O.Q. roommate at Clovis.

I would guess that about three weeks after the crews of Lazzaro, Gremmler, and Humby had gone to China, the crews of Alfke, Simpson, and Swick followed them.

It must be remembered that the first three crews to arrive in China (Lazzaro, Gremmler, and Humby) were photo-reconnaissance veterans from prior overseas tours of the 3rd PRS. The three who followed were greenhorns, except Alfke who, I believe, had pulled a tour as a B-17 bomber pilot in England. We received our new F-13s at Herington, Kansas. I believe that Alfke's crew was the first to arrive in India. Our crew (Simpson's) was delayed at Natal, Brazil, for an engine replacement. It took about five days. The day before we left to cross the Atlantic Ocean, our navigator, 2nd Lt. Jack Bonelli had his appendix removed. We left him behind and were accompanied by an A.T.C. navigator to Piaradoba, India. He was replaced by 2nd Lt. Stocking who went with us to China and flew a mission or two with us until Jack Bonelli caught up with us. The reason Stocking was available to us was that his entire crew was lost on a mission for which he was not needed. My heart ached for him In his loss. Our crew was relocated from Pairadoba to Hsinching (A-l) about the 29th of December 1944. Just about January 1, Lt. Swick's crew took off from a base in India, known to us as "Dum Dum," to join us at A-l in China. Their plane crashed and burned shortly after becoming airborne and the crew perished.

The addition of Alfke's and Simpson's crews to the three already there (Lazzaro, Gremmler, and Humby) meant that five crews were in place instead of the six that were intended.

Some weeks into January, 1944, the seventh F-13 crew to be dispatched to China arrived, commanded by 2nd Lt. Thomas D. Wilkerson, to replace the loss of Swick's crew. He brought a brand new F-13 which was expropriated from him by one of the veteran crews, and he was assigned their older airplane. So, in picking order. Tommy Wilkerson was at the bottom of the list.

Around that same time, Art Humby began his "Long Walk Back," which reduced back to five the number of crews in Flight "C".

To replace the loss of Humby's crew, the 3rd PRS sent an eighth crew to China which was commanded by Capt. Albert Coe, but they had no airplane. They were to fly their missions using one of the five F-13s that still survived, so when their turn came for a mission, Capt. Coe used any F-13 that was available and airworthy.

Captain Coe's was the final crew to be assigned to Flight "C". The Move from China to Guam When our operations were terminated, we were transferred to India, thence to Guam. Capt. Coe was a passenger on one of the five F-13s. The rest of his crew did not travel with us but, instead, went by sea to Guam. Consequently, it was several weeks before they rejoined us on Guam.

Upon arrival on Guam, we were "temporarily" billeted with the 3rd PRS until quarters for Flight "C" and parking areas for its aircraft could be prepared on Okinawa. That day never came. We were told that the heavy casualties being suffered by the invasion forces at Okinawa required that the area planned for us be used to accommodate hospital planes which ferried wounded from there to Hawaii and the USA. While on Guam, we saw many of those C-54 hospital planes land, refuel, and continue their journey.

On Guam, Flight "C" operated as a unit of the 3rd PRS and flew missions ordered by the 3rd PRS. Fortunately for all of us, the war ended before it became necessary to move Flight "C" to Okinawa.

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