JACK HEYN IN THE SOUTH WEST PACIFIC
(MEMBER OF THE 3RD BOMB GROUP)
Jan. 12, 1945. I had been preparing for this day for six months. My barracks bag had been in a perpetual state of readiness. I was traveling light, no excess baggage. Thanx to Capt. Speath's lenient censoring all my photographs, even those taken on Mindoro were on the way to safe keeping with my folks. I would not have any confiscated on the way home. I learned 55 years later that that is exactly what happened to most of the guys. Just this spring I had a phone call from a 13th Sq. vet, and his first question was "how in hell did you get those photos home, mine were all confiscated." So on this day I boarded a C-47 bound for Hollandia and the rotation staging area.
About the time we were in the vicinity of Biak Island the pilot informed us we were going to have to land, we were having problems with one engine. Our sentiments? By all means land this sucker, this is no time to have to ditch in the Bismark Sea. After a slight delay, and some work by the mechanics we were on our way again and arrived at Hollandia, from whence I had departed 2 months earlier. After checking in at the staging area and being assigned a tent we began a 5 week wait. Again there would be a lot of reading, pinochle and bridge playing, but little poker, as there just wasn't that much money around.
We had plenty of time to roam about the area. Made our way back to the old Group camp area and discovered that the jungle claims its own in short order. You could hardly tell there had ever been a bustling camp there. Somewhere along the line MacArthur had moved his Hdqt. to Hollandia, so we checked it out also. It didn't lack for any amenities. Old Mac did like his comforts, and he was a showman, but he will go down in history as one our greatest military strategists. He had his detractors and his critics, but you can't deny his successes. Every time he made a move or one of his leap-frog operations, it proved to be the right one. By using his 5th Air Force to neutralize both Wewak on New Guinea and Rabaul on New Britain, and by-passing them and letting them die on the vine; he saved a good many Am. and Aust. lives that would have been lost had he tried to take them. The one really bad move was the invasion of, I believe the name was Pelileu, and island that lay between New Guinea and the Philippines. It was a very costly landing and proved to have no real strategic value. I don't have the history in front of me, but if I am not mistaken that was a navy operation, not one of MacArthurs.
One afternoon as we were killing time in our tent the C.Q. came by and said there was a C-54 getting ready to fly back to Frisco and had room for a few passengers, would we be interested. Pretty much in unison we said "thanx but no thanx". We weren't about to trust a navigator to hit those three little dots in the middle of the vast Pacific where we would have to refuel. The memory of Eddie Richenbacher floating out there in a life raft for thrity days early in the war was still too fresh in our memories. We would gladly wait for surface transportation.
Finally on Feb. 18, 1945 we were trucked down to the docks and boared the Gen. A.E. Anderson, a 25,000 ton troop ship. Thus started our 18 day South Pacific Cruise back to the Good Old U.S. of A. On board that ship were the first contingent of released POWs from the infamous camps in the Philippines. Some had to be carried on on litters, many were missing limbs and all were malnourished. Thanx to their being on board we had the best chow we had ever had on a ship. These guys had been prisoners for anywhere from 2-1/2 to 3 years, and had about 3 years back pay coming. They had been paid a part of it before getting on board ship. That prison time didn't dampen there love of a good poker game. I never did sit in on one of them but I saw some of riches poker games I had ever seen on that ride. There was one little guy, probably 5' 6" or so that was missing his right hand at the wrist. Had it hacked off in the prison camp, but that didn't hinder his poker playing abilities.
On March 8, 1945, 3 years 1 month and 8 days, almost to the hour, we sailed back under the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanx to an ever vigilant Guardian Angel and a Merciful God, I had made it. We were met at the entrance to the harbour by all the fire boats in the harbour, spraying their hoses high in the air; and every ship in the harbour was blowing its horns. We all knew the welcome was for the POWs, but there wasn't a man on that ship that hadn't been the SWPA for at least 2-1/2 years, so we figured we had earned a little of it too. We docked at one of the main docks where there were several family members of the POWs waiting. After unloading all of them, the ship moved over to Angel Island where we disembarked. On Angel Island we were stripped of everything we had brought with us and issued all new uniforms, ill-fitting and no insignia. Good thing my photographs were in safe keeping in S.Dak. That morning the San Francisco Examiner had full front page aerial photo of our ship coming in. Unfortunately I was not one of the lucky one who got one. In less than 24 hours we were on a troop train headed East.
Jack Heyn in the South West Pacific during WW2 - The Full story
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 1 January 2001
This page last updated 08 December 2017