... another mission through the long, dark night
By Gene Holman
By Gene Holman - 1998
Our name was on the bulletin board.
For our crew, it was time to go.
Another mission through the long, dark night.
Lord how we feared it so.
We never knew when our time might come.
It had happened to many we knew.
But it was why we were in China, you see.
So we had to see it through.
It was '44 during World War II,
When this story I tell took place.
'though fifty years ago it was,
The memories will not erase.
There were 50 crews and 50 planes,
And we all had a mission to do.
To bomb Jap ships in the China Sea,
To let our troops get through.
We called them "Big-assed Birds,"
B-24 Liberator bombers they were.
Each wore a name the crew had given,
A pretty gal's name or a joke to infer.
The Philippine Islands was the goal
And I've heard we did our part
To help the Forces find a way
To break the Japanese heart.
Our job was quite clear, as you will see
When I explain the procedure we used.
Our planes had radar to search the sea.
We carried 12 bombs, all of them fused.
After briefing, telling us where we would go,
We took off at dusk when 'twas cool.
Five hundred miles to the coast it was,
And we always worried about fuel.
We flew at ten thousand feet all the way,
Until we arrived at the shore.
It was cold but our heated suits kept us warm,
As we listened to the engines' roar.
When we reached the coast, as radar man,
It was my job to lower the radome,
That housed the radar's antenna you see.
It took fifty turns to set it home.
It was a helluva job at that altitude, for sure,
Even now I remember it well
For now in my seventies, it's hard to breathe.
Little then could I foretell.
Then we dropped to five-thousand feet,
With my radar sweeping the sea.
If a ship was there within fifty miles,
The image would come back to me.
If a target I found, I'd aim on it,
And tell the pilot which direction to go.
The last twenty miles, to 400 feet we'd drop
And I would lock on for the final show.
The image I struggled to keep sharp and clear.
It went to the Bombardier's bombsight.
And he locked onto the target with care,
As we bore on through the night.
Then over the target he dropped three bombs
And he hollered, "Bombs away!"
The gunners were watching to see what we hit.
We always worried what they'd say.
The first run was free, no shots were fired.
The Japs didn't know we were coming.
But if we had to come in again,
Their guns would surely be humming.
If the target we missed, it was try again.
Out twenty miles and then we'd turn around.
Then back again through the same routine,
But this time their guns made a fearful sound.
We carried twelve bombs to make four runs,
But how we dreaded to return.
Fear would be real and we prayed for sure.
Lord God, for peace did we yearn.
Sometimes we were lucky and made a hit
And we could watch the fiery Hell,
Of the poor devils below in the awful melee,
As they listened to their own death knell.
But often we missed and had to go back again,
And again and again, trying to do our job.
And each time it seemed harder than before,
Until sometimes we would almost sob.
But finally at last, our bombs would be spent,
And we'd have to head home for our base.
'Twas a long way to go with no navigation aids,
And running out of fuel was often the case.
Of the fifty crews and planes who started,
Over half the crews were lost.
Young men we were, some, boys at best,
Lord God, what a terrible cost!
And those of us who made it home,
Then looked at all of the holes
In the wings and fuselage of the plane,
Thanked The Lord for saving our souls.
Then every weary crew did get,
A good breakfast and a shot of booze.
Nothing ever did taste so good
For those of us who did not lose.
And so this ends my little story.
It's all I can think of to tell.
Except to say without hesitation,
It is true that war is Hell!
OUR CREW: Front row, left to right, Lt. Van Petten, co-pilot; Capt. Fulk, pilot; Lt. Seamans, navigator; Lt. Maloney, bombardier. Standing, George Young, flight engineer; Jim McGinnis, waist gunner; Warren Jewett, waist gunner; Patrick Kane, radio operator; Gene Holman, radar operator; and Mike Dominguez, tail gunner.
May 5, 2000