South Pacific

From out of that twenty square mile hole in the Bougainville jungle, surrounded on three sides by high mountains with peaks of up to ten thousand feet, infested with Japanese troops and armaments, Com. Air SoPac set out to strangle the mighty bastion of Rabaul, 250 miles to the north.

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As I turn over the litter of memory, I’m certain that we skipped “Shit on a Shingle” that dark, final morning at Espiritu Santo. Instead, I think we loaded up with some foul-tasting, dehydrated scrambled eggs and canned

baked beans.

We manned our planes at dawn, started the engines, checked the mags, and worked our way on down the TBF preflight check list. At the signal for takeoff, we roared down the runway and climbed out over the sea—two- plane sections at a time. Circling into a loose formation led by Maj. Bill Dean, we took a northwest heading at 10,000 feet altitude. Some four hours later, we let down, entering into the landing pattern at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. On the Canal, we refueled and holed up for the night. The next day, we had an uneventful three-hour flight straight up The Slot.

Flying along the edges of Bougainville, it was hard to ignore the wild, dark beauty of the big island. We flew alongside jagged mountain peaks, all jungle green with occasional outcroppings of stone. Dense foliage spilled all the way down to the water line.

In the final flight pattern at Torokina’s Piva Yoke air strip, we could see in the distance white clouds of steam rising from two, live, Bougainville volcanoes, blending with a mass of dark, threatening, cumulus clouds. A heavy, torrent of tropical rain opened up on us as the last few planes groped their way in. That night and for several nights to come, we also heard the sounds of sporadic shellfire in the jungle.

Marine C-47 transports followed a day later with our ground crews, duffel bags and equipment. Meanwhile, VMTB-232’s weary ground echelon, still waiting to be relieved, welcomed us to Bougainville in the rain.

I shared a four-man tent with George Manning, Bill Batten and Capt. Hank Hise.

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