NEWSLETTER #43 - Summer 2010
by Roger W. Caputo
This is a story of one person's experience in World War II and the title grows out of the time served on the Continent of Australia (the term "Dream Time" is borrowed from the Australian Aborigine use of the term to describe the distant past of mankind). The writing was done because of the urgings of one family member and was completed in 1995. No claim is made that the story is one of a kind or especially unique, no more than each of us is some different from the other. Reproduced here by permission of the author.
Because of the length of the manuscript, we will tell Roger's story in various installments, in succeeding issues of THE FLYING CIRCUS Quarterly, as page space permits.
Roger Caputo was an NCO who was assigned to Group Headquarters, Administrative Section, in Intelligence.
After MacArthur had leap-frogged all the way up to Dutch New Guinea, the way was opened to the Philippines. The central Pacific thrust by the Navy and Marines was closing the gap in an East to West direction and the combination of the two advances made the Philippine invasion possible. When the Philippines were stabilized, the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies, though still there, were history. They were no longer a threat to anyone and the 380th could move from the remote air base in the "Outback" up to Darwin which put us nearer to the remaining targets by 100 miles. The round trip on every mission was now 200 miles shorter, a savings of 1-1/4 hours of air time which translated into a savings of 250 gallons of fuel equal to three 500 pound bombs. So we moved to Darwin. From the viewpoint of the ground forces, the only advantages were the ever-present sea breezes and the beach for some diversified recreation. The tents were improved by the presence of wooden floors, but everything else remained about the same. Swimming in the ocean was not recommended because of a tropical jelly fish called the Portuguese man-of-war. It was extremely poisonous and its sting could cause death.
A lot of new faces begun to show up in the Group. Some air crews were rotated home and new ones took their place. Some changes also took place among the ground echelon, but to a lesser degree. One change took place in our HQ S-2 Section. A lieutenant reported in as a photo interpreter officer and became the officer I reported to. I knew nothing of his background, but he appeared to be a 90-day wonder and did not seem to have any sense of direction or purpose; in fact, he didn't and wouldn't do a damn thing. What was worse, he wouldn't allow anyone else, me, to do anything. Strike photos began to pile up on a big layout table which was covered only by a tent and the sides kept rolled up for ventilation, so every pile of photos had to have a rock on it to keep from blowing away. Security was zero and everything was in chaos. I repeatedly appealed to him for permission to sort them out by targets and file them away. He continued to refuse without offering any explanation. I had been working under Major Fain soon after our arrival in Australia, and he had given me a free hand and depended on me to keep things in order. At this point I should have by the Military rules and "let the war go to hell and sit on my butt." (My hindsight is that would not have worked either!) Instead, I proceeded on my own to sort the photos and file them away after staring at the disorder for over a week. That was a mistake! The lieutenant flew into a rage when he discovered what I had done and he had me assigned to a day's KP as punishment for disobeying the order of an Officer and Gentleman. It was humiliating for me, but everyone in the HQ Section got a big laugh out the incident, laughing not at me, but at him for being such a jerk. There had to be something wrong with the guy! The next day when I returned to my normal duties, he was gone, never to be seen again. Some right-thinking authority in HQ had figured out what had happened and shipped the lieutenant out to points unknown. If an Officer behaved like that in the infantry during combat, he'd been accidentally shot dead by friendly fire. It takes all kinds to make a world, but we don't need many like him!
The long-range planners in Bomber Command could foresee the day when the 380th Group would be needed in the Philippines and so preparations were begun to provide a replacement for the 380th. The United States provided enough B-24s to equip a couple of Aussie Squadrons and they were assigned to us for training and orientation. They were integrated with us and flew with us just as though we all belonged to one outfit. They were great people and displayed that rugged frontier spirit and can-do attitude that the Australians were so famous for. I don't ever expect to fight another war, but if I had to, I'd like to do it surrounded by Aussies on my side! Their free spirit was displayed in so many ways. One in particular occurred when on a bombing mission over Dutch New Guinea. After the bombing run was completed, a couple of Aussies peeled out of formation and made a high speed run right down the center of the enemy runway 100 feet off the deck with all ten 50-caliber machine guns blazing away … take that, you bloody bastards! More salty than salt!
The Australian Aborigine's culture included something about how they came into existence in the beginning of time; it is an inspirational concept indicating their belief in a Great Spirit. They refer to this early time in their existence as "Dream Time," a very poetic description!
So it was the end of dream time for the 380th Bomb Group when they departed Darwin for the move to the Philippines. The trained Aussies left behind were more than capable of taking over the remaining work left in the Dutch East Indies. We bid them goodbye with considerable feeling as Australia, as war zones go, had been very, very good to us. To the last man we remembered Australia with the kindest of feelings!
As a member of the ground echelon, I always had to suffer the long moves aboard ship, but not this time; I got to make the trip from Darwin to Mindoro Island in the Philippines riding in a B-24 bomber. I never understood how it all came to be, but I was certainly overjoyed! It was a long trip, about 2,000 miles, requiring about 12 hours nonstop in the daylight. Most of the route was over hostile territory, but only hostile if there was an emergency. Water, water, everywhere; what land masses that lay along the course, seemed to be nothing compared to the amount of water!
The airbase on Mindoro Island was on the Southwest coast near the town of San Jose. Mindoro was one of the lesser islands lying about mid-way North and South within the Philippine group. San Jose is 125 miles due south of Manila and 300 miles northwest of where the Americans first landed on Leyte. Mindoro is about 50 miles wide by 115 miles long with the highest elevation being 2,500 feet. It faces the South China Sea to the west.
The Philippines was then a third-world country with a long history of colonial occupation. The culture and infrastructure of the islands' rural areas displayed only the beginnings of development. The rural Filipino homes were set on stilts, to minimize the invasion of the creepy crawly things that are common to the tropics. The mid-point of the island group rests a straddle of 12 degrees north latitude, or about 700 miles north of the equator. I observed only one stretch of paved highway near Clark Field on Luzon. It almost looked out of place in comparison to its surroundings. The City of Manila, the capital, was known as the "Pearl of the Orient," a modern city in every respect, but I did not get to see it.
The village of San Jose was so nondescript that if I was ever in it, no lasting impression registered. All of the lower elevation lands were tropical with coconut palms everywhere. At the higher elevations, such as around Baguio, in the mountains of Luzon at 3,000 feet, temperate zone pine trees were present. All of the surface water in the Philippines was unfit for drinking or bathing. Every imaginable parasite known to mankind was present in the groundwater. The drinking water taken from bored wells was purified by the addition of chlorine and was not pleasant to drink. There was none of that good Aussie beer and not even any rot gut whiskey. The Philippines was absolutely the last place to go camping, but we did of necessity.
Our campsite was located on a knoll of ground (needed to stay out of the runoff from torrential rains) and it was extremely crowded and primitive.
Getting laundry done was near impossible until we got into letting the native Filipinos do it on a spot basis for a token fee. The letting out of the laundry was up to the individual and each one of us found a family of Filipinos to take in the wash. In the flat land, around our campsite, were numerous Filipino rural dwellings, each housing a family and we would walk down to the huts on the stilts with a bundle of laundry and hand it over to the lady of the house. For the most part they spoke no English and we spoke no Tagalog, so the communication was by hand signals. I shall never forget the occasion when I had drawn a new issue of khakis, shirt and pants, and after a few days they needed washing, so I took them to the "laundry." In a day or so, when I picked them up, I couldn't believe my eyes; they were nearly white as though I had them for years. It took me awhile to figure out what had happened. I had observed a Filipino lady on her hands and knees beside a small stream doing the laundry. The clothes were laid out on some flat rocks at the edge of the stream and she was pounding the clothes with a rock in her hand! We furnished the soap power; they furnished the muscle!
When we were in Australia, the 380th enjoyed a large measure of autonomy, located as it was all by itself. The move to the Philippines changed all that completely. We became just another unit in MacArthur's army that did his bidding. There were no targets in the Philippines worthy of a Heavy Bomb Group's efforts so we were assigned targets in far-off, strange places such as: Indo China (Vietnam), 1500 miles west across the open South China Sea; or Formosa (Taiwan), 1,200 miles north. These were civilized areas which had been developed and there were large cities to attack. The Japanese had occupied all these territories and it was using them to support the Japanese war effort, so they became legitimate targets. The HQ specialty section, such as S-2, became almost spectators as none of our talents were required. The 5th Bomber Command did all the planning and analysis both before and after the missions. My section became a fifth wheel in the scheme of things. This, of course, did nothing for our morale, or sense of accomplishment, or sense of value. Given our experience in the isolated area of Australia, where atrophy of the mind begins to set in, the Philippine experience sort of finished off the process. This was not true of the aircrews, who still laid it on the line on every mission, or the ground crews, who continued to bust their butts 24/7; just the office types who really never had a mission from the outset!
I was going crazy for something to do, until I got a letter from Virginia, telling of her brother, Bill, who was with the Army Field Artillery on the Island of Luzon, the big one. I knew his unit number so it was relatively easy to pinpoint his exact location through the intelligence channels. His unit was dug in near Baguio in the mountains of Luzon. MacArthur's forces had either captured (not many), or killed, or driven the Japanese survivors into the hills where they holed up and only needed to be kept in an ineffective condition. There was no point wasting effort and lives trying to root them out; just let hunger take over! I asked Major Fain for permission to travel to Luzon for a visit with Bill; at least we could have a sort of a family (to be) reunion and I knew Virginia and her family back home, as well as Bill's wife, might appreciate an eyewitness report.
And so began the great and daring adventure. Special orders were cut (nobody moves anywhere in the Military until the "Clerk Typist" types do their thing on the typewriters). Since we were an air outfit, there was always traffic to and fro between Mindoro and Fifth Bomber Command, then located on the big pre-war air base at Clark Field. Clark Field was located on Luzon near the town of Angeles, 200 air miles due north. It was the same Clark Field upon which the Japanese caught our B-17 bombers on the ground, doing business as usual, one day in December 1941 (right after Pearl Harbor) and smashed the whole bunch; we had nothing to fight back with. The 380th HQ arranged for me to catch an airplane ride to Clark Field. Prior to departure, I made preparations to join the War, because that is exactly where I was going -- where the War was. I scrounged together a steel helmet; a gun belt with a canteen; ammo pouches; a 45-caliber automatic Army-issue pistol with holster to hang on the belt (to carry a carbine would have been too clumsy and I reasoned if I needed a weapon, it would be under very close range circumstances, like the enemy jumping out from behind a tree); a back pack into which I put my mess kit, toilet articles, a rain poncho, spare socks (all infantry-trained soldiers carry spare socks because the feet are most important); and one change of underwear and khakis. I was ready; look out, War, here I come!
The ride to Clark Field was uneventful, but arrival was near dusk, so I reported to the Base Command for overnight quarters and was assigned accordingly. Next morning I departed for Baguio, showing my orders to the perimeter MPs as I exited on foot and asked for hints on ground transport to Baguio. I was on my own and responsible for working out the transport details. The MPs were no help, but the highway passing the Base was heavy with Military traffic; lots and lots of trucks. I stood beside the road with my thumb in the air, just like at home, and I was soon picked up by a truck. "Where ya go'in, buddy?" "Baguio," I replied. "Hop in, I just happen to be going there too!" It was about 15 road miles to Baguio, given all the crooks and turns as the truck wound its way up into the mountains. I don't remember the driving time, but it must have been something like 4 hours, and I was there by noon. The truck driver knew of the outfit I was looking for and he dropped me practically on their doorstep. All was quiet that day in Baguio and Bill was available and we got right to the serious business of visiting. Bill showed me around the camp and the artillery pieces set in place to fire on a moment's notice.
There was extra space in Bill's tent and I bunked in with him on a standard Army cot, exactly as I was used to at home (Mindoro). I can no longer remember whether I stayed one night or two. I do remember taking a stroll around the resort town of Baguio as Bill's outfit was camped just on the edge of town. Baguio was a lovely place nestled in amongst the pine trees. The breezes were cool and dry. The Elite of Manila kept summer places in Baguio to escape the oppressive heat of the tropical low lands. This was before the days of central air conditioning. MacArthur in his days of service before the War had a place in Baguio.
The day came to depart from Baguio and I looked about for some of our Military trucks and none were to be found. I faced a crisis in transportation! Someone mentioned there was a Filipino civilian bus which ran a regular route from Baguio down into the low lands. After a bit of search, I was able to locate the bus loading up on the town square. I had visions of it being crammed full, with people riding on the top with goats and what-not. Such was not the case; there was a seat available inside among all the women and children; there were no men present, but the driver was a young male. To describe the bus as vintage would have been accurate. It had a square-like body; a flat roof for those extra passengers and chickens; the color was somewhere between an orange and a yellow.
Off we went in a cloud of dust, roaring down the narrow unpaved two-lane (marginally so) mountain road. There were absolutely no guard rails anywhere along the route. Like all mountain roads, this one made generous use of the switchback arrangement, so that half of the time I'm looking out the window to straight down! The driver was not the least bit inhibited about going too fast. I really couldn't tell if what I was seeing was his normal speed or the brakes were not working. Thoughts began to go through my mind about the possible hometown newspaper headlines -- "Local boy killed in the Philippines ... a civilian bus ... mountain road ... and etc. ... he is survived by ... and etc.!" That wild ride lasted less than an hour, and that's a long time to hold your breath! At last we reached the more or less level coastal plain and the tension was relieved. The bus did not go to Clark Field and I got off at a stop along the main highway and thumbed a military truck which eventually deposited me at the gates to the Air Base.
Next day I caught a flight back to Mindoro and I don't remember a single detail of it, but I did get back within the time limits specified in my orders. End of the adventure!
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Last updated: 22 May 2014