Colonel Ira V. Matthews started his active duty with the 40th Bombardment Group as a 2nd Lieutenant in the latter part of 1941. The writing herein presents experiences and observations during his assignment in the 40th Bombardment Group that culminated in 1945. As expected, the stories present subject matter of wide ranging situations. They bring to light and reflect upon situations that may have been encountered in various degrees by other personnel but remain undocumented. [NOTE: Only the author's five Galápagos chapters are presented here.—JW.]
Colonel Matthews, even as a 2nd Lieutenant, was a capable, illustrious officer with superior flying abilities. He was particularly aware of difficulties experienced by the enlisted maintenance and support personnel, and credits them with assuring he was able to accomplish his assigned mission.
James I. Cornett
Colonel, USAF (Ret)
Ira V. Matthews was born on August 30, 1919, in Townley, Alabama. He grew up on his grandparent's farm in Fayette, Alabama, and graduated from Fayette High School. In September 1939, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, as a Private in the Aviation Cadet Program. He graduated from Advanced Flying School at Maxwell Field and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in September 1941. He was assigned to the 40th Bombardment Group, Caribbean Area, in October 1941, flying antisubmarine patrol missions in B-18 type aircraft.
In June 1943, Ira returned to the States to begin transition training in Boeing's B-29 Superfortresses at Pratt, Kansas. He served an 11-month combat tour with the 40th Bombardment Group in the China-Burma-India Theater. He and his crew were assigned the “Eddie Allen,” a B-29 named for a Boeing Test Pilot killed in early testing of the B-29. He returned to the States in March 1945.
A career officer, he served 16 years in the Strategic Air Command while flying B-47 and B-52 bombers. During this time, he served a tour of duty in the Korean War. In 1959, he was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as the Wing Commander of the 4043rd Strategic Wing. Under his command, this unit won SAC bombing competitions.
Leaving SAC, Ira served as Military Advisor to Laos in Southeast Asia. On his return to the States, he was assigned to Brookley Air Force Base, Mobile, Alabama, as Director of Maintenance until he retired in the grade of Colonel in 1967. During his military career, he received the Legend of Merit twice, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, and numerous other medals.
Following his retirement from the United States Air Force, Ira joined the University of Mobile staff as Assistant to the President. He served as the Financial Aid Officer until his retirement in 1981.
Ira was a member of the First Baptist Church where he was a Deacon and a past Sunday School Teacher. He was also a member and past President of the Mobile Lions Club.
Ira V. Matthews died on October 8, 1990.
Many of these stories were originally published as “Sketches & Stories” by Ira Matthews. Ira wrote about 70 brief sketches about the 40th, which covered events from Puerto Rico to China. He hacked them out on his own typewriter and reproduced some sets of them in typewritten page format. Some years after his death, Fountain Brown undertook the task of editing the collection and getting it reproduced in quantity. In 1997, with the help of Bill Rooney, these stories were published as A Collection of Eighty-One War Stories of Life in the 40th Bombardment Group during World War II. This book was published, and offered for sale at cost. There were only enough copies printed to fill the orders received, so when the project was complete it was closed down. At the time of its publication, a decision was made not to seek copyright protection, in the hopes of encouraging wide distribution.
Editor's Note: American military aircraft are identified by a letter, a dash, a number, and another letter, i.e., B-29A. The first letter indicates the aircraft's mission—B for bomber, F for fighter, etc. The number is the manufacturer's identification. The second letter indicates the aircraft model, beginning with A and continuing through the alphabet as major changes are made to the aircraft. In these stories, the second letter is not used because the model of the aircraft being referred to is unknown.
Fountain L. Brown
Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)
40th Bomb Group Assoc.
1806 NW 8th Street
Meridian, ID 83642
The 40th Bomb Group, U.S. Army Air Corps, circled the globe during World War II. The journey started at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico, in 1941 where the group's aircrews flew B-18 type aircraft, and ended at March Field, California, in 1946 while they flew B-29 type aircraft. Station assignments along the way included Aruba, Antiqua, Curacao, Panama, Ecuador, Guatemala, Galápagos Islands, Kansas, China, India, and Tinian in the Mariana Islands. The group remained intact during its combat tour flying antisubmarine patrol in the Caribbean Theater, through its air assault against the Japanese Empire.
During much of the war, the group operated from primitive grass or gravel airstrips. Veterans of this world journey agree that Baltra Island (The Rock), Galápagos Archipelago, had the most severe living conditions of all their station assignments. From February to June 1943, the 45th Bomb Squadron flew B-24 type aircraft from The Rock. Other squadrons stationed in Ecuador, Guatemala, and Panama, used the island as an overnight stop while on patrol missions. Personnel of the 45th Bomb Squadron believe that those who were never stationed on The Rock, do not qualify for membership in The Rock Fraternity.
I'm sure Charles Darwin, who first visited Baltra Island in 1835, would concur in the following description of this inhospitable sliver of land. He would agree that the land resembled an imaginative artist's conception of the surface of Mars. Why was life so unpleasant there? Perhaps this description will provide the answer. The tiny island measured one mile by two miles, and was inhabited by iguanas, lizards, turtles, scorpions, small snakes, and countless sea birds. The shores teemed with wildlife swept northward from the Antarctic by the Humboldt Current. Penguins, walrus, and seals were everywhere. There were no trees and no grass. Vegetation consisted of cactus and a few shrubs. Despite the island being only 28 miles from the equator, the waters offshore were extremely cold.
Geologically speaking, The Rock was separated from nearby Chaves Island [Isla Santa Cruz—JW] by some giant upheaval, probably caused by a volcanic explosion accompanied by earthquakes. Minor earthquakes still shake the land every week. The land's surface is a wild jumble of shattered rocks, pumice, lava beds, shale, and dark red volcanic dust. As if to underscore Baltra's volcanic origin, smoke and hot gases frequently come from fissures dotting the island. There are many places where the surface rocks are too hot to stand on.
Squadron personnel lived in tents fastened to rocks that kept the cloth homes from being blown away in the unceasing southeast trade winds. The winds raked the island at 30 to 40 miles an hour—day and night. Red volcanic dust, as fine as talcum powder, penetrated everything not sealed. What is normally a simple task to keep clean, was a constant battle on The Rock. Fresh water, barged in from Panama, was for cooking and drinking only. We shaved and bathed in salt water using a gooey, brown bar of something the Army Quartermaster called salt water soap. The stuff left a residue that had an odor so objectionable that we often abstained from shaving with it and walked around with scraggly beards.
The food served on Baltra Island deserves special mention. Our mess tent reeked with the smell of canned bully beef, spam, salt pork, powdered eggs, dehydrated cabbage, and dehydrated potatoes. Instead of bread, we ate unsavory hard tack that was probably left over from World War I. A yellow colored grease with a foul odor was our butter substitute. Our flight crews soon learned how to improve their dismal diet.
We were eager to fly the patrol mission that included an overnight stop at Guatemala City where we could enjoy hot, fresh food and hot, fresh water showers. Before departing on the two-day mission, the flight crew would collect money from those who remained behind, and while in Guatemala City, they went shopping in the local markets. When they reported to the flight line to prepare for the flight back to The Rock, they loaded their plane with bread, meat, vegetables, fruit, and milk. Those flights to the city did much to improve our diet and to raise our morale.
The 45th Bomb Squadron's tour of duty on Baltra Island lasted four months. It seemed like forty. In June 1943, the 40th Bomb Group was alerted for transfer to the States. I'm sure personnel in the other three squadrons were happy to be going home, but none of them could possibly be as elated as the veterans of The Rock Fraternity. I remember taking off from the miserable airfield and heading out to sea without regret.
Our stateside assignment was at Pratt Field, Pratt, Kansas, where, for a couple of months, we flew aircrew transition missions in Boeing's YB-29 Superfortresses. Later, we were issued combat model planes and prepared to go overseas. When additional personnel arrived to increase the group's numbers to combat strength, a strange social mix developed. Newcomers formed the lower level. Three of the four squadrons that served in the Caribbean Theater formed the middle level. The 45th Bomb Squadron's Rock Fraternity took its place at the top of the pecking order.
One group of the newly assigned personnel found such an arrangement difficult to accept. They were veteran Instructor Pilots who flew B-24 type aircraft at Tarrant Field, Texas. They were superbly qualified with much more flying experience than The Rock pilots. These new pilots had graduated from the Advanced Instrument Flying School, and had flown half their considerable number of flying hours during instrument and/or night conditions. The Rock Fraternity pilots had flown no night missions, and had very little formal instrument flight training in the previous 18 months. No matter. All newly assigned pilots were outsiders according to the Rock pilots, and remained so for the rest of the war.
In 1979, the 40th Bomb Group Association was formed by veterans of the group. A Newsletter is published to keep association members informed of events and the status of other members. A Memories publication is composed of articles written by members describing their war experiences. Annual reunions are held at different cities around the States—the first one was held in 1980 in New Orleans, LA. During that reunion, someone pointed out that The Rock Fraternity still existed after more than 35 years had passed, and would exist as long as one original member was alive. One member asked, “What then? Will there be a Rock Fraternity in the hereafter?” A comic who had served on Baltra replied, “Why not? There probably is one in purgatory already!”
Purgatory. No one has ever suggested a better one-word description of Baltra Island, aka The Rock.
In the spring of 1943, a 5,000-foot high mountain peak on the south end of Island Isabela erupted into a raging volcano.§ Towering clouds of ash were tossed into the atmosphere. The huge cumulus cloud of ash that developed was visible 50 miles away on Baltra Island (The Rock) in the Galápagos. Terrified Air Corps technicians, who were operating a radar station five miles from the volcano, hurriedly sent a distress radio message to Baltra requesting emergency evacuation.
§ The “Notes” section on our Aircraft Accidents page reports an April 15 accident in which pilot Norman W. Woodward died in a plane crash during volcanic activity, probably at Cerro Azul.
After a rescue boat was launched, Colonel Henry Mooney, the Baltra Commander, decided to fly a 45th Bomb Squadron B-24 type aircraft to Isabela to observe the evacuation of the radar team. He also wanted to see nature's spectacular display of island building. I flew as a second pilot with the Colonel because he was not qualified as a First Pilot. Our Flight Engineer was Technical Sergeant Louie Grace. Little did the Colonel and I know at the time that we would soon be thanking God for sending this engineer with us.
Shortly after taking off, we flew past the rescue boat, and estimated that it would arrive at Isabela in about two hours. Twenty minutes later, we rounded the southwest corner of Isabela while flying under a dense overcast ceiling of about 5,000 feet above sea level. When we turned north toward the radar station, an awesome sight came into view—then we realized why the distress message was sent. A river of lava formed a bright red stripe several hundred feet wide that was cascading down the slope, and into the Pacific Ocean. Great columns of steam spiraled upward where the molten rock disappeared into the water two miles from the radar sight. A gaping crater on the west face of the volcano was spewing a continuous barrage of house-size boulders that careened down the stream of lava and splashed into the ocean.
The Colonel banked our plane around the columns of steam, then descended toward the radar site. The tents and buildings were intact, and the men, wearing Mae West life jackets, were gathered on the boat landing and were waving wildly at our plane. They were safe for the moment, but the frightening events taking place nearby left no doubt that they must be evacuated soon.
Colonel Mooney decided to take a closer look at the volcano while we waited for the boat to arrive. After buzzing the men, and trying to encourage them with a friendly wave from the cockpit, we climbed to 4,000 feet and leveled off underneath the cloud deck. As we turned toward the volcano, the cockpit filled with acrid fumes that smelled like rotten eggs. By the time we reached the water's edge, the stench was almost unbearable.
We were flying at 180 MPH with engine power set at normal cruise RPM and manifold pressure. Fortunately, the fuel mixture controls were set to Auto-Rich because that setting would be critical to survival during the events soon to take place. Colonel Mooney was at the controls as we flew past the crater. Suddenly, the plane entered an area of severe turbulence. The nose of the plane dropped and the airspeed fell to a frightening speed of less than 125 MPH. We dropped like a stone straight toward the volcano because we had entered hot air that was too thin to sustain normal flight.
I grabbed the control column to help the Colonel turn the plane away from the sloping mountainside. Before I could call for increased power, Engineer Grace sensed what was happening and applied full throttles and turned on the turbosuperchargers. The increased power and the cooler air near the water allowed us to stop the deadly descent, and we leveled off at 1,400 feet. The Colonel's curiosity, and our ignorance of the danger of flying in hot air near a volcano, almost killed us.
Once the aircraft was under control, and Engineer Grace had adjusted the power settings for cruising, color returned to the Colonel's face and our nerves settled down. When the Colonel felt like talking, he pointed out that air temperatures near the volcano were at least double normal air temperature. He turned to Engineer Grace who was standing between the pilot's seats, and said, “Sgt. Grace, you saved our lives by increasing the engine's power. We would not have returned to normal flight if we had not had the extra power that you applied. Thank you.” Louie Grace, who was a cool character in flight, replied, “Colonel, please stay out over the ocean while we wait for the rescue boat. I can't stand another close one like that.” The Colonel smiled and assured Louie that we would circle far away from the volcano.
When the boat arrived at the landing, the radar team scrambled aboard and sailed for Baltra Island. A few days later, new volcanic lava flows spewed down the slopes and destroyed the radar site, the tents, and the boat landing.
After our group completed training in B-29 type aircraft at Pratt Field, Kansas, I flew combat missions with T/Sgt. Louie Grace until the end of World War II. We often discussed our near disaster at the volcano on Island Isabela in 1943. It was not a pleasant incident to recall.
The 45th Bomb Squadron was stationed on a very small airfield on a rocky strip of land called Baltra Island during the spring of 1943. Baltra Island is located 28 miles from the equator in the Galápagos Archipelago. We called the remote field The Rock. Our mission was to fly eight daily flights in B-24 type aircraft over the approaches to the Panama Canal.
The route of one mission formed a huge triangle southwest of the Galápagos Islands. We dreaded that particular mission for many reasons. It was more than twelve hours long. Since the route did not follow or cross regular sea lanes, we seldom saw a ship of any kind. Therefore, air-sea rescue from the extremely cold water coming from the Antarctic region in the Humboldt Current would be unlikely. The cold water cooled the warm, equatorial air above it to form a dense stratus cloud with a base of about 1,500 feet above sea level. This low ceiling forced us to fly at very low altitudes while searching for enemy warships. There were strong southeasterly trade winds near the surface that created moderate to severe turbulence throughout the flight. Flying this triangle mission required an extreme physical effort by the two pilots, and a very tiring effort by other crew members.
Captain H.F. Hohn and his crew were assigned to fly a triangle mission in April 1943. Their flight progressed normally until noon on the outbound leg of the triangle. Suddenly, our radio ground station received a MAYDAY message that stated Captain Hohn's plane was on fire. No additional information was received. All other flyable aircraft at Baltra were on patrol in areas too far from the emergency site to be of help.
The Baltra Island Airfield did not have lighting for night operations, so the squadron operations staff began planning a search mission for an early morning takeoff the next day. As patrol aircraft returned from their missions, they were serviced with a maximum fuel load, and preflighted for an early morning takeoff. The search mission would cover as much of the triangle as possible.
Ten planes were dispatched early the next morning. Five hours later, while flying in a line abreast, they arrived at the position estimated to be the point where Captain Hohn's plane had been when he transmitted his distress message. Still inline abreast, the formation turned and traced the route the stricken aircraft should have flown. Within an hour, a crew sighted an aircraft oxygen tank and some flotsam from the downed plane. There was no evidence of the aircrew, life rafts, or life preservers. The Squadron Commander directed all planes to leave the triangle route, and to search downwind from the wreckage. Searching continued for several hours without success.
When aircraft fuel reserves reached a certain amount, the Commander called the planes into a formation, and turned toward Baltra. Navigation on the homeward flight was very difficult. Low stratus clouds shrouded all mountains in the Galápagos Islands, and the only direction finding homer in the area had a weak 50 watt transmitter. Search aircraft's low fuel supply would not allow much time for searching for Baltra Island if the formation did not fly straight to it. The Squadron Navigator led the formation directly to our airfield, and arrived very close to his ETA (estimated time of arrival). This grueling mission of more than 2,500 miles over open water, flown at low altitude in constant turbulence, was a remarkable demonstration of accurate dead reckoning navigation, and aircrew dedication.
For the next few days, many Bombardiers and Navigators bore physical evidence that they had been on a search mission flown in turbulent air. Their black eyes and facial bruises came from bumping against their bombsight and drift meter eye pieces while obtaining wind drift readings. The readings were radioed to their lead Navigator. These minor injuries were a small price to pay for the opportunity to search for their comrades who disappeared in the Pacific Ocean.
No sign of Captain H.F. Hohn and his crew was ever found. For 17 months, the 45th Bomb Squadron flew patrol missions on both the Caribbean and Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. This disaster caused the only loss of personnel during a patrol mission in all the hundreds of sorties and thousands of hours flown in the Caribbean and Pacific Theaters. The loss of Captain H.F. Hohn and his crew left an empty space on the squadron crew roster, and an empty feeling in the hearts of their comrades.
In early 1943, an airfield lighting system was shipped from Panama to the new bomber base on Baltra Island (The Rock) in the Galápagos Archipelago. Baltra is two miles long and one mile wide, and covered with giant boulders and lava deposits. Its aircraft runway was 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide. Since there was not a parking ramp available, aircraft were parked along the edge of the active runway leaving a narrow strip of pavement for planes to use for takeoff and landing. The wing tip of a passing B-24 or B-17 type aircraft cleared the parked planes by less than 50 feet. To make matters worse, a cross wind as strong as 20 MPH blew night and day. Every takeoff and landing at Baltra Airfield was a risky one.
After the lighting system was installed and operating properly, the Commander of 6th Air Force decided that aircrews of the local 45th Bomb Squadron should practice night takeoffs and landings in their recently assigned B-24 type aircraft. The 45th Bomb Squadron Commander, Major Oscar Schaaf, realized the danger of flying night transition on the Baltra runway, and recommended that the training be accomplished at either Guatemala City or Rio Hato in Panama. The runways there were longer and wider. His recommendation was not approved.
When the squadron was directed to begin night operations, the experienced crew of Captain Maurice Hooper was scheduled to fly the first night transition mission. Squadron maintenance personnel moved all parked aircraft back as far as possible to provide the maximum width of available runway for Captain Hooper. At scheduled takeoff time, squadron aircrews assembled in the dark at the operations shack next to the runway. Major Schaaf was in the control tower on the roof of the shack. Captain Hooper taxied to the downwind end of the runway, lined up with the center line, turned on his plane's landing lights, and started down the runway. Wind gusts were about 20 MPH.
The plane accelerated to lift off speed. Then we were horrified to see the wheels leave the runway, the left wing drop, the plane yaw to the left, and strike a parked plane. Captain Hooper immediately leveled the wings and began a very shallow climb. In a few moments, he called to report that his left wing struck a parked plane, and that a visual inspection with a flashlight revealed a big gash in the wing about 20 feet inboard from the wing tip. Engine power was normal, but there was a moderate vibration in the flight controls. The crew checked for more damage as the plane continued its shallow climb. Major Schaaf instructed Captain Hooper to circle near the island at 5,000 feet altitude.
An excited maintenance man, who had witnessed the collision, appeared at the shack from out of the night and described the damage inflicted on the parked aircraft. Major Schaaf elected to withhold that information since he did not know the extent of damage to Hooper's plane. A few minutes later, Hooper called to report that he was circling near the island at 5,000 feet. His plane was still vibrating, but responded to the flight controls satisfactorily. Major Schaaf directed him to set up traffic pattern power settings, and to extend the landing gear. Captain Hooper complied, then reported that the plane responded normally, but the vibration continued. Then the wing flaps were carefully extended in small increments. The plane handled O.K., and the vibration remained unchanged.
Hooper was told to leave the gear and flaps down, and to burn off fuel to reduce the plane's gross weight while the possibility of a landing was being considered. The spectators who had gathered around the operations shack watched the plane's lights circle overhead, and anxiously waited for the next development.
When the plane's fuel level fell to 500 gallons, Major Schaaf directed Hooper to set up final approach engine and flap configuration, and to remain at 5,000 feet. Captain Hooper complied, and reported that the plane handled normally after the ailerons were trimmed to keep the wings level. Vibration remained unchanged. Then the probable result of the crew bailing out was discussed. Captain Hooper said he thought Baltra was too small for his crew to land on considering the strong wind. He did not want to parachute over a larger island because they were uninhabited and were covered with boulders.
So Major Schaaf cleared Captain Hooper to land his plane on Baltra's runway. He advised Hooper to hold a higher than normal airspeed while on the final approach and during landing. When Hooper was several hundred feet high on his first approach, he elected to go around due to surface wind turbulence and vibration in the plane's flight controls. He circled the field and entered the final approach for the second time. As the plane began to flare out for touchdown, the left wing suddenly dipped and the nose dropped quickly. We watched in disbelief as the plane crashed among rocks short of the runway and burst into flames. The spectators raced after the ambulance and fire truck that were speeding to the burning plane. Captain Maurice Hooper and three of his crew members were killed. Miraculously, the Radio Operator lived, and recovered from his injuries.
That was the first and last time a B-24 type aircraft flew at night at Baltra. Also, it was the first time 45th Bomb Squadron personnel died in a ground accident at their home airfield. Unfortunately, it was not the last. Later in World War II, the unit would sustain casualties on the ground, and in the air, while flying B-29 Superfortresses in the China-Burma-India combat theater and on Tinian in the Mariana Islands.
Capt. Marvin Goodwyn and 2nd. Lt. Nathan Resnick, Pilot and Mess Officer respectively, were members of the 45th Bomb Squadron when the unit was stationed on Baltra Island (The Rock), Galápagos Archipelago. The food served in the mess tent was canned, dehydrated, monotonous, and tasteless. Lt. Resnick was hard pressed to serve a satisfactory menu with the limited supplies he received from the mainland, and he found it to be particularly challenging to prepare a tasty flight lunch.
The main course in a typical flight lunch was a can of cold bully beef and several hard tack biscuits. To top off these delicacies, there was a bar composed of figs and bitter chocolate compressed into an oblong shape, then wrapped in an evil looking, khaki colored wax paper. If fresh bread was available, the cooks would put a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in each lunch. All this was washed down with lukewarm coffee—seldom with sugar, and rarely with cream. This lunch nourished each aircrew member during a ten to twelve hour patrol mission.
The main items in a flight lunch became so repulsive that we looked forward to eating the fig/chocolate bar because it contained some sugar. While in a fantasy mood, a faraway food service officer listed the bar as Dessert. To a crew member midway through a twelve-hour mission, the sugar in a Dessert bar provided a needed burst of energy, so we called it a treat.
Pilot Goodwyn and Mess Officer Resnick had a conflict of personalities. For some reason, Capt. Goodwyn had formed a low opinion of the tubby ROTC graduate, and Lt. Resnick was offended by Capt. Goodwyn's constant complaints about the food served in the mess tent. To Lt. Resnick's credit, the best mess officer in the army would not have done much better with the poor supplies shipped to Baltra. Lt. Resnick did not help his case by being an aggressive, opinionated person who was far too thin-skinned to peaceably absorb the complaints made by squadron personnel. He decided that Capt. Goodwyn was his chief critic among those who were unhappy with the food being served. Aircrews were especially critical of the flight lunches. Some of us were simply more outspoken than others.
During the normal course of mission flight scheduling, Capt. Goodwyn's crew was selected to fly the miserable twelve-hour Triangle Patrol. The flight originated at Baltra, flew a triangular course over the Pacific Ocean, and returned to Baltra. Other long missions had a refueling stop at a city where the crew could take a fresh water shower and enjoy good food. On this mission, Capt. Goodwyn's crew had to eat their flight lunches far out at sea after flying 1,000 miles from Baltra.
When the crew opened their lunch packages, they were shocked to see the miserable contents. Each lunch contained one tin of oily sardines, two hard tack biscuits, and a large green onion. No bully beef. No peanut butter sandwich. No fig/chocolate bar. Capt. Goodwyn was even more perturbed when he discovered that the coffee was stone cold.
Capt. Goodwyn concluded that Lt. Resnick had deliberately prepared the worst meal possible for this mission. When the hungry crew opened their sardine tins, a horrible stench filled the airplane. The odor persisted for the remainder of the flight, and some crew members said it made their eyes water. The stench made Capt. Goodwyn certain that he would have a major confrontation with Lt. Resnick soon after landing. Capt. Harper Miller, the Squadron Adjutant, met Capt. Goodwyn's plane at its parking spot. When Capt. Goodwyn emerged from the exit hatch, his first words were, “Harper, where is Resnick?” His Southern accent had an edge of steel in it. Capt. Harper replied, “He's in the mess tent. What's the problem?” Capt. Goodwyn said, “Come with me. I prefer to say what's on my mind directly to Resnick.”
They walked rapidly to the mess tent where Lt. Resnick was supervising the preparation of the evening meal. Capt. Goodwyn walked straight to Lt. Resnick and poured out an emotional complaint that topped anything the speechless Mess Officer had ever heard. Lt. Resnick listened to a detailed analysis of the contents of that day's flight lunch. It was food more like a booby trap than the usual, lousy flight lunch. This lunch had stinking sardines, a green onion, concrete biscuits, and frigid coffee. No peanut butter/jelly sandwich, no dessert bar, no warm coffee. It was food fit for an enemy POW in a battle field compound, but not fit for an Air Corps crew on a patrol mission.
Capt. Goodwyn accused Lt. Resnick of deliberately putting garbage on the plane in the guise of flight lunches when more palatable food was available. The heated conversation flowed in one direction. Lt. Resnick remained silent when challenged to show Capt. Goodwyn and the Adjutant what was in the storeroom. They found great stacks of bully beef, plenty of fig/chocolate bars, and some fresh bread. Next to the bread were stacks of canned peanut butter and tins of jelly. Mess Officer Resnick did not offer a satisfactory explanation for the poor flight lunches. Considering all the food that was available in the storeroom, it appeared that Captain Marvin Goodwyn was justified to accuse 2nd. Lt. Nathan Resnick of deliberately preparing a substandard meal for his flight crew.
At this point, the Adjutant persuaded Capt. Goodwyn to accompany him to explain the event to Major Oscar Schaaf, the Squadron CO. Major Schaaf knew about the poor food served in the mess tent and in all the flight lunches. He described the young, inexperienced mess officer as very sensitive to criticism, and apt to sound off whenever someone voiced a not-so-gentle barb concerning the food served in the mess tent. Corrective action was in order, so Major Schaaf reassigned 2nd. Lt. Resnick to duty as the Squadron Supply Officer.
M/Sgt. H.C. West, a senior airman in the 45th Bomb Squadron, had been a Mess Sergeant earlier in his military service. Major Schaaf knew this, and appointed Sgt. West as Mess NCOIC to replace Lt. Resnick. It was remarkable how quickly the quality of food served in the mess tent improved. M/Sgt. West went fishing in the local waters, and the next evening's dinner featured swordfish steaks. He had patrol aircrews, who were scheduled to refuel at Guatemala City, collect money before the mission, and use it to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and milk in the city markets during the refueling stop.
M/Sgt. H.C. West had hidden qualities as a Mess Sergeant the same as a diamond has hidden value before it is cut. Personally, I will never forget the wonderful steak meal he prepared when the 45th Bomb Squadron was alerted to transfer to the States in June 1945. It was a memorable meal to celebrate a memorable event.
Lt. Nathan Resnick did a good job as Squadron Supply Officer. After everyone forgot the Sardine Flight Lunch, Captain Goodwyn and Lt. Resnick began to speak to each other as friends.