S/SGT JACK E. SEESE, RADIO OPERATOR
UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCES AIR TRANSPORT COMMAND

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JACK E. SEESE - USAAF-ATC

S/SGT. RADIO OPERATOR

WWII

This is a story of my military service in the United States Army Air Force Air Transport Command during WWII, focusing on my memories of time spent in the "Land Down Under"- Australia, our great ally. My memories are good ones.

The Ferrying Group Division

I was a radio operator on C-47s and C-54s in the Air Transport Command. The Air Transport Command was comprised of two Divisions; the Ferrying Division (60th Ferrying Group) and the Air Transport Command. After attending primary Air Force Radio Operator Schools in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Advanced Radio School in Kansas City, Missouri, Radio Operators School. I was then transferred to Reno, Nevada Air Force Base for Flight Operators Training on March 20, 1944.

During this period while training in the Flight Operators School, ten operators were pulled from Flight Training and sent immediately to Romulas Air Force Base outside Dearborn, Michigan. We picked up a C-47 to be delivered to Lands End, England. Our flight took the southern route to England. We left Romulas on April 18, 1944, flying to South America, Natal, Brazil, to Ascension Island, to Dakar, Africa, then on to Marrakech, North Africa and from there on to St. Morgan Field in Lands End, England. These C-47s were to be used for carrying paratroopers for the D-Day jumps in the European invasion which began June 6, 1944. Of course we did not know why the hurry to pull us from training and sudden departure from flight training at that time. On the return, we went by the northern route through Scotland to Iceland and Newfoundland and back to Romulas Air Force Base. Now we were going to the Air Transport Command Division

The Air Transport Command Division

From Romulas Air Force Base in Michigan we were sent to Hamilton Field AFB in California where we became a part of a group of C-47s heading for the South Pacific. On June 22, 1944, we departed from Hamilton field flying to Hickham Field, Honolulu on C-47s that had been equipped with an auxiliary gas tank in the cargo hold to supplement our wing tanks for the fifteen hour trip to Hickham. From Hickham Field, we flew to Christmas Island , then on to Canton Island, then to Fiji and on to New Caledonia. From New Caledonia we flew to Amberley Field, Ipswich, Australia on June 29, 1944. The flight time totaled approximately 54 hours over an eight day period. I still remember the Australian wool blankets issued to us for our stay. The blankets were blue and white, soft and clean and felt so good after the long flight. During our first night stay at Amberley Field, there was a fire during the night. I heard the sirens and commotion, but I was too tired to wake up completely. The next morning I found that there had been a fire in a nearby barrack and it had burned to the ground.

The next day I took a train to Brisbane and learned about "steak and eggs" and Australian horse racing. I was told horses ran the tracks in a clockwise direction instead of counter clockwise as we do in the United States. This was an interest to me because we have two horse racing tracks in our community in central Ohio. I also went to church on Sunday morning. I recall how friendly the congregation was to us that that day. We left Amberley Field on July 3, 1944 for Garbutt Field in Townsville, Australia to begin our new assignment. In Garbutt Field we were housed in groups of four radio operators to a tent.

 

Jack Seese outside his tent at Garbutt Field,
Townsville, Queensland, 1944

 

Jack Seese in front of Radio Operator's tents, Garbutt Field, Townsville, 1944

 

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Cal Carr and Jack Seese in front of the Garbutt
Field Radio Maintenance Shop. Hey Jack - Are those
technical photos on the wall inside that shed?? 

 

Garbutt Field ATC Radio Operators, Townsville, 1944
Back L to R:- Seese, Lewyellen, Paschal
Front L to R:- Myers, Totten, Victor, Wigley?

 

Our flying crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot and radio operator for the C-47s. I do not know the number of planes we had, but our orders had 32 radio operators assigned to our group. On July 12, 1944, we started runs from Townsville to Nadzab and Lae, New Guinea by the way of Port Moresby, New Guinea. We would stay overnight at Nadzab or Lae and return to Townsville the next day. These flights were over a two day period and then we would have at least one day off until the next flight. At this time we were hauling supplies, spare parts, and both Army and government personnel. One day we took off from Nadzab on return and had engine problems over the Owen Stanley Range in New Guinea. The pilot called me to the deck and asked me to help look for a location if we had to set down. This seemed to be impossible with the New Guinea vegetation and a mountain range of possible 10,000 ft. Our problem appeared to be that we were out of gas. Of our two wing tanks, one had been filled and one remained empty because we were planning on setting down in Port Moresby, just over the range. The engines sputtered on the fuel tank that said "full" and we had to switch to the tank that said, "empty". Now we were flying with the indication of an empty tank and no place to let down. We flew on to Port Moresby, landed and the next morning the pilot told me to tank switches had been wired in reverse. The tank that said full was empty and the one that was empty was full. Luckily, there was enough fuel in the tank that said "full" to get us airborne before the engines cut out.

 

Flying over the Owen Stanley Range between Nadzab and Port Moresby, 1944

 

By November, 1944 we were flying approximately 103 hours monthly, meeting the runs from Amberley Field to Townsville where we took the plane on to New Guinea. While stationed in Townsville, we had time off to visit in town. We attended dances, at our NCO Club, which was a building located between Garbutt Field and downtown Townsville. This building reminded me of the "Gone With The Wind" movie plantation home. There was a large room where we danced and a veranda porch on three sides of the house. Many of us did not dance, but we had fun just watching. In downtown Townsville, there was a circular bar where the bartender served draft beer from inside the circle, but it was a "standup" bar with no stools to sit on. This seemed to me, unusual because the bars back home had stools around the bars. At that age we did not do much drinking, but, of course, we were trying to act the part. The people in town were very friendly and it was an enjoyable stay for me. I had worked with the Bell Telephone System before going into the Service and while using the pay phone to call back to camp the system seemed rather outdated and difficult to connect. I thought this would be a good place to return to after the war to help complete a new system, which I am sure happened. During this period I had an overnight pass and I took a train to a little town called Ingham. This town was quite a change of pace because it seemed I had gone back in time to which would have been like the early 1900s back home. The town had a wooden building hotel with no running water to the room. There was a water pitcher and bowl in the room and the toilets were in the rear outside. Everything was very clean and well maintained, but you had the feeling you were in a western town many years ago as we had seen in some of our movies. Even cattle were grazing on the grass at the edge of town. It was a relaxing feeling. One day while walking in downtown Townsville, I ran across a shop in the center of town displaying Air Force patches which were worn on our Air Force leather jackets. This shop had an artist that painted a replica of the U.S. Air Force insignias on leather. The artist painted a replica of our ATC logo which I still have now, 60 years later. I don't recall the artist name for certain, but it may have been Garrit.

 

Monument believed to be in Ingham,
north Queensland, 1944

 

On November 27, 1944 a group of flying personnel was transferred from Townsville to Finschhafen, New Guinea where our flights now would be from Finschhafen to Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea and on to Biak with overnight stays in Hollandia, or Biak. New Guinea was a land with a lot of rain and mud which made me long for Australia again. We were now flying more hours as our monthly average now reached approximately 140 hours. We were eager to build up our flight hours because we were told that after 650 hours we would get a rest leave to Sydney, Australia. We looked forward to this. The first crews to come back from the rest leave whet our appetite by telling us about the 18% alcohol beer, steak and eggs, Bondi Beach, Kings Cross, Botanical Gardens, movie houses and the pretty girls (sheilas). The day finally arrived and our plane took us to Sydney and we started to look for an apartment for our leave of 10 days. Then we took a taxi to the Brewery where we purchased burlap sacks of quart size bottled beer which we carried very gingerly. The landlord allowed us to store the beer in their coolers. Some of us did not drink much beer, but I am sure the landlord did not let it go to waste. Sydney was a beautiful city and I enjoyed it along with Bondi Beach. To make this trip to Sydney, we saved our pay for a number of months and we were going to enjoy spending it. One of our radio operators wasn't quite so fortunate. We had been in the air about one-half hour on our return to New Guinea when our buddy told us, "you know, I left 50 pounds under the carpet" where he had put it for safe keeping. I suppose some carpet installer was really surprised one day to find 50 pounds under that carpet. I do not recall what that amount would be in American money, but I think it was close to three or four dollars a pound. One of the other benefits we had in New Guinea was to crew a plane to Cairns to pick up fresh meat, eggs and vegetables. This was a trip we looked forward to being assigned to. We would arrive in the morning in Cairns and stay overnight while the plane was loaded from the market with fresh eggs, meats, and vegetables. We also would have the night off to spend at the movies, bars or restaurants in Cairns. This plane was called the "Fat Cat" as it provided fresh eggs for breakfast, fresh meat for other meals and fresh vegetables. This was a treat from the powdered eggs, canned beef and powdered milk that was the normal fare. Our cargos were about the same, but occasionally we would crew a hospital flight with patients to take into Biak where they would pick up C-54s to transport them back to either Hickham or back to the states. One of the happenings that we had was losing an engine along the north coast of New Guinea between Finschhafen and Hollandia. We couldn't maintain altitude since we had one engine feathered, and we were slowly descending to 500 feet. During this time the co-pilot went to the cargo hold and eventually came back past the radio space with his flight suit wringing wet and told me he had jettisoned all our cargo. The cargo happened to be boxes of Atabrine tablets which were used to delay malaria until we returned to the U.S.A. I looked into the cargo area and it was empty. At this time, we were off the coast of New Guinea opposite Wewak, which was one of the areas General McArthur leapfrogged to let the Japanese "wither on the vine". We then held our altitude and made an emergency landing at Atiape, which was an air field the Australians held. We stayed overnight and had our plane repaired and proceeded on to Hollandia.

In June, 1945 our crew was called for a search mission of a U.S. Liberty ship which had been lost for two or three days. After a period of searching, my pilot felt that their transmission of their believed location was in error and he started to look in another area. His hunch proved correct and we came upon the ship, which had struck a coral reef and had broken in two. As we circled to assess the situation the sailors were jumping up down for joy! I was told to contact a British Destroyer that was somewhere near the area and they took a triangulation on my signal and told me they would be there at 0730 the next morning. After dropping a message to the ship on the reef, we returned to Finschhafen and since we had located the ship, we received the assignment to return to the shipwreck the next morning. Sure enough, the Destroyer was off in the distance and they had long boats coming in from the Destroyer to pick up the survivors when we arrived. I am sure it was a happy time on the coral.

One Sunday morning our crew was assigned to fly a small group to, what was called, the Highlands in New Guinea. Located in the Highlands was an airstrip and buildings which was described to us as an "Australian Station". I suppose this was part of the Australian Trust Territory. The natives came out to greet us and then proceeded to cut stalks of bananas for us which we enjoyed when we arrived back at our base. I don't recall if this area was used as a banana plantation to employ the natives or not. I found it a place of interest.

 

Jack's home, the radio operator's tent in Finschhafen, New Guinea, 1944

 

During our assignment in Finschhafen there was not much activity when we were not flying, but we had many good times playing poker for the first few days after pay day and after the money was won by a few, pinochle became the game to play in our free time. We had many good hours of entertainment by playing pinochle. We also began to sense that something was happening. The war had ended in Europe and many airplanes were coming to the South Pacific from the European Theater. We were also told that since we had over 1l30 flying hours, we would be sent back to the states for a 30 day rest leave. I left New Guinea on July 9, 1945 and arrived at Mather Field Air Force Base in Sacramento, California on July 20, l945. From there I reported in to Romulas Air Force Base to start a 30 day leave at home. I was told to report back to Hamilton Field in California when the leave was up. As we all know the war with Japan ended on August 14, 1945. I did report to Hamilton Field and I was assigned to a crew on a C-54 from Hamilton Field and on to Tokyo, Japan, with stops in Hickham, Guam, Iwo Jima and on to Atsugi, Japan. As we walked in the city, the Japanese people exclaimed "No, No, B-29s" when they saw our flight jackets. We returned through Okinawa, the Philippines and arrived back at Hamilton Field, California. I was given my discharge on December 7, 1945 which, ironically, was four years to the day, December 7, 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Jack Seese for taking the time to write his interesting and informative story of his time with Air Transport Command for my web pages.

 

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This page first produced 17 January 2005

This page last updated 03 February 2017