Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pappy Boyington as a prisoner towards the end of the war

Another, possibly the last, installment (pgs 289-290) from Baa Baa Black Sheep - though there are plenty of other excerpts worthy of posting. In this episode Boyington has been a prisoner for about a year (January 1945). The first significant air raids over the Tokyo Bay area have just begun with a carrier based strike. Ofuna, the interrogation camp where Boyington is stationed, is about 10 miles from Yokosuka:

After the New Year’s incident [see book for details – ed.] life seemed to go on much the same as before until the latter part of February 1945. Then all hell appeared to break loose over our peaceful country valley. It all started by hearing the distant wail of air-raid sirens, which we prisoners paid no attention to because we hadn’t dreamed this could be anything but a drill. But in a matter of some twenty everybody in Japan came to the realization that this was no drill. Just twelve miles from our camp the large Jap naval base of Yokosuka was taking a thumping something terrific.

Dive bomber after dive bomber started down, the hills between the target area and our camp momentarily chopping each bomber from view, making it appear as though they were diving into the hills. But in a few seconds we saw them pull out about the same time we heard the ka-lumph of the exploding bomb. Even at this distance the noise from so many engines sounded much the same as a gigantic waterfall – a steady roar. Obviously this was not a moral strike like the Doolittle raid; this was concentrated, and we knew that this carrier raid was the beginning of the end for Japan.

Prisoners were ordered by the guards to go to their cells, and to keep away from the windows or they would be beaten. This order was analogous to asking a person to stop breathing, one can stand it only so long. None of the guards bothered me, as I was in the kitchen, and I was able to get an eyeful.

What a sight, I thought, as I saw a Zero scooting low along the hilltops directly over our camp, being chased by a Navy F6F. An old familiar feeling came over me, causing a tingling to run through my body, as I watched the F6F pour his .50-caliber machine guns into the hapless Zero, which belched flame and crashed into the hillside as the F6F pulled skyward. I knew he was looking for new prey, for I felt close enough to the action, while standing there on the ground, almost to feel that I was thinking for that Navy F6F pilot.

I was thrilled by the sights of two more shootdowns before one of the guards shooed me inside through the back door of the kitchen. As much as I wanted to remain and continue watching, I had seen enough, so I didn’t mind.

Curly, the cook, was frightened half to death, and he was pleading: “What is the best thing to do? Where is the safest place?”

“Flat on your belly is the safest place I know of.” I tried to console this excited and frightened man. Curly must have taken me as an authority when I spoke, for he was flat on his face before I had finished.

After the racket had subsided and nothing was visible but a huge column of smoke rising behind the hills in the direction of Yokosuka, Curly looked up from the deck like a little child and said: “Is it all right to stand up now, Major?” And this was the first, last, and only time the little cook ever addressed me by my rank.

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