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Bailing Out Over New Guinea
by Wesley E. "Wes" Dickinson pilot of B-25C 41-12491

While I had not become blase enough to consider combat as ho-hum, our May 23 mission came close. Moresby's S-2 (intelligence) wanted us to bomb our usual target: Lae airport. On previous missions against Lae we had safely flown through their anti-aircraft fire and had weather fighter attacks by their Zeros. This time we had six B-25s, Our leader Captain Lowry, the 89th BS commander hand Timlin and Keel on his wings and I had Shearer and Birnn on mine. Lt. Wuerpel, one of the rare Mexican-American pilots was my co-pilot. He had co-piloted for me before but an ear infection had grounded him. This was his first flight since he came back on duty. He told me he was happy to be flying with me again.

When we started to board our B-25 in its revetment, Cpl Sevene one of the maintenance crew on my plane walked over and asked me, "Lt. can I go with you?"

He was not part of the crew, but I once before had let one of the ground crew fly with me. "OK, I just hope we don't have any trouble. Grab yourself a parachute. You can ride in the navigator's compartment.

When we took off from Port Moresby, Shearer failed to join formation, which left us with just five B-25. Izzy, I knew, would claim plane trouble and his absence did not surprise me. He had avoided combat often. No one wanted to die, but each of us reacted differently to being shot at. A few pilots had not gone to their commanders and said they would not fly combat anymore. I don't know what happened to those guys they just disappeared. Izzy would fly up from Charters Towers, but recently before leaving Port Moresby he often would concoct some excuse. Not something you would expect from a West Pointer. Some guys were so nervous that if they ate before a mission they threw up. A few enjoyed the missions, much as some people thrill to a scary roller-coaster ride. Must of us just followed orders and if others thought like i did, we assumed someone else would get shot, but not me. Enlisted me, our bombardiers and gunners had few options, they went with the pilot.

We approached Lae, as usual by coming towards it from the sea. I noticed that Sevene had leaned forward in the navigator's compartment until his head was between Wuerpel and mine, watching the action. When we opened our bomb bay doors at six thousand feet and 210 mph, a Japanese Zero started a head-on attack on Lowry's plane. Just after we dropped our bombs, a shell from this Zero exploded in Henry Keel's right engine. Lowry throttled his engines back and nosed down so that Henry, limited by one engine might stay with us for a while and be protected somewhat from further attack by our formation, but Henry either could not keep up or did not want to increase our exposure to the fighters attacks. Henry waved me ahead and I moved into his right wing position. He dropped back and down to our right where I could no longer see his plane. Wuerpel, my co-pilot strained to watch Henry's plane from his right-side window.

A few minutes later, Wuerpel leaned towards me and almost in tears said, "Henry landed on the water near the beach." Wuerpel crossed himself, "I pray to God he'll be ok."

Near the point where we usually turned towards Moresby, Lowry climbed to about four thousand feet and turned west. Almost immediately a Japanese Zero surprised us with another head on attack on Lowry's plane. I wondered if this was the same Zero which had aimed at Lowry before and instead hit Keel's plane on Lowry's right wing. Now I flew in Keel's old position. I soon had the answer.

A shell exploded in the cockpit. White smoke blinded me and I smelled burnt gun powder. A deafening rushing sound drowned out my engines. I felt ok, but I could see nothing for about 20 seconds. When the smoke started to clear, I saw that Lowry and the other planes were now far ahead. I was on my own. I turned to speak to Wuerpel, but what I saw turned me away. Wuerpel had received the full power of the explosion, his body was shredded beyond recognition. Although I did not believe in God, I knew that Wuerpel was religious. If ever there was a time for my conversion this was it, but all I could think was "He's yours now God."

I saw my right engine had stopped. I tried to feather its propeller to reduce its drag, but couldn't do it. I trimmed the plane's controls to compensate for the missing engine. I thought about our situation. I would have to climb several thousands of feel to get through the pass to Port Moresby. We were about a hundred miles from Port Moresby, over territory not occupied by the Japanese, and bailing out seemed best. Seconds later I felt a hand on my right shoulder, it was Sgt. Webb, my bombardier. He had crawled back through the navigator's compartment just behind my seat. I flipped the emergency bail out switch and bells in the front and back of the plane rang.

"We're bailing out" I yelled at Webb. "Pull the door release down there." When I pointed back at the navigator's compartment, I saw for the first time the mechanic, Sevene who had come with us to see what combat was like, lying crumpled on the floor. Webb knelt to examine him. "Sevene's dead" Webb yelled up at me. "He head's a mess and I can't open the door because he is lying on it."

"For Christ's sake, Webb, you've got to." I screamed. "Shove him in the bombardier's tunnel. I can't help I've got to fly the plane."

Sevene outweighed Webb by at least fifty pounds. Every time I glanced back, I saw that Webb with his feet braced against the side of the compartment, had moved Seven's body further into the tunnel.

"He's out of the way now." Webb yelled and pulled the door release. When the door left, a 200 mph wind shrieked up from the navigator's compartment adding to the other noise and the plane nosed down. I leveled the B-25 and looked back just in time to see Webb slip out of the opening.

I called on the intercom "Gunners are you still there?" I heard no response. I tried again and the emergency bells still rang. Either they've left or they've been shot There no way for them to com up front.

Before bailing out, I re-adjusted the trim tabs for a minute or so. The plane had to fly straight and level, with my hands and feet off the controls, at least long enough for me to get out of the open door. When satisfied with my trim settings, I unfastened my safety belt, climbed down into the navigator's compartment and without hesitation slipped through the opening.

I grabbed the parachute release ring, yanked it and threw it away. My parachute jerked me to a stop and I saw my plane speed away. My plane started a slow turn to the left that resurrected an old fear. While in flying school I had once dreamed that I had bailed out and the unoccupied plane circled around, came back at me and its propeller chewed me to bits. Now this dream appeared to be happening. I decided to collapse my chute if necessary by pulling the cords on one side, to dodge the plane. About three quarters of the way around, my fears were relieved, the plane nosed down and with its engine screaming, dove into the jungle.

Then the silence was overwhelming me. I wondered if I had lost my hearing. I tapped my ear, No, this silence was real. In the B-25 beginning with the explosion, the sounds deafened me - air rushed thought he cockpit hole, alarm bells clanged, hurricane winds whistled when the door dropped away. They were all gone now. I floated in absolute silence a half mile up, suspended by hundreds of white chords ascending to a silk mushroom.

Although I knew I must be dropping, I felt almost stuck in space. I needed help. At first the ground below looked like green velvet. Gradually the velvet turned into bushes and trees. Off to the left some distance away I saw reason for hope: some palm trees, unlike the rest of the greenery. I'll bet that was a village. I watched those palms until I dropped into the trees.

I had landed in a shallow, tree-filled swamp. The tree branches had slowed my fall and softened my landing. I knew there was emergency equipment in my parachute seat pack. I unfastened the zipper and happily grabbed a compass. The palm trees were south, south west of me. In the seat pack there was also a large sharp bowie knife, which might be useful to cut through the underbrush, a water bag, some water purification pills, some quinine pills and some matches. I read the directions on the water purification pills: 'Fill your water bag, drop in a pill and wait at least 15 minutes before drinking.' I stood in murky swamp water about four inches deep. I filled the bag put a pill in it and noted the time.

Small trees and undergrowth enclosed me. A small snake slithered across the surface of the water to remind me I was not the only creature in these parts.

I headed southwest hacking my way through the undergrowth by breaking branches or something cutting them with my knife. I was glad that the swamp never got much deeper. After fifteen minutes, I succumbed to a craving for a drink from my water bag. One swing curbed that desire. After another ten minutes, I came to an opening and saw a smooth section of damp mud that I guessed was a path. I confirmed this when I saw human foot prints several yards further along.

"Hoary" i shouted and dashed down the path. Ten minutes later, out of breath, I rounded another corner into a clearing where I saw six natives standing about 100 yards away. I raised my hand waved and yelled 'Hello". They shrank back.

I saw these men as my saviors and I did not want to scare them. I approached them quietly and slowly and when I was near one man I offered my hand. The man took my hand tentatively. I smiled. He smiled in return, to me a startling smile that revealed shiny black teeth and bright red gums. With their fear dispelled, the others came to me and shook my hand.

They had accepted me. The other men's smiles revealed the same shiny black teeth and pink gums. The man who seemed to be their leader, spoke to me in pidgin english. "My name Hungery." [His name was actually spelled Hangiri].

In response I showed him my Army dog tags which hung around my neck and he laughed. "Me no school boy" he said I knew that he meant he could not read. Hungery pointed and said "Go home" and the men strode along the path and I followed.

When we approached their village, my new found friends shouted something and the entire village, about fifty men, women and children came out an lined up to greet me. I shook each of their hands, while they chattered and giggled as I followed Hungery into their village.

Hungery led me to a seat near a fire pit n their village and beckoned me to sit there. It was then that, although I had not noticed it before, a native pointed to blood on my right sleeve. I zipped down my flight overalls and pulled my arm out of the sleeve. There was a small hole about 3/8 of an inch diameter, in my bicep. It had stopped bleeding, and since it did not affect my arm movement, I did not think it serious. Nevertheless, in a few minutes one of the natives brought me a pan of warm water to wash my arm. Other natives brought some citrus fruit from their garden.

Gradually, as I sat there, I realized how lucky I was. Here I was, a complete stranger, who had arrived unexpectedly and did not speak their language, and yet they had made me feel welcome. Earlier that day I had been in combat. Now I knew that at least for a while, I would not be shot at. I felt like I had dropped into a different world.

While I ate some fruit and rinsed my arm, all the villagers crowded around. Hungary and I tried to talk, He interpreted for the villagers. I had to work to make myself understood. When ever I could not understand Hungery, he recognized it and said, "You no listen?"

Hungery made me understand that they saw me falling in my parachute but were afraid to come and help. He told me that he once had been a houseboy for an Australian in Port Moresby. When I asked the name of his village he said something like "Papoda". I tried but could not pronounce it to Hungery's satisfaction. (A few years ago, my son John came up with an explanation of the name he said, 'I think he was trying to say Papua, the name of the island, not the name of the village.' I agree.) [ The village name was actually Fufuda]

Hungery knew about happenings outside his village, for instance he knew that a war was going on although nothing yet had occurred near his village.

I realized that these natives did not live in isolation, they had such things as: old cooking pans, knives, and clothes especially the colorful cotton worn by some of the women. They lived in thatched huts about 8x10 feet. The floors were raised by poles about three feet off the ground. Besides the village, near a small stream they had a large garden, and the coconut palm trees I had seen. Small dogs and pigs wandered about the village.

I told Hungery they could have my parachute. He did not understand the word parachute until I pantomimed it. When he figured out what I meant, he laughed and sent several young men to go after it. They ran off and about a half hour later returned with it. I showed them how to put it on. They young boys and men took turns putting it on and laughed when they pretended to be hanging in the air. From their laughter, I knew they would play 'parachute' long after I had left.

Before the sun went down Hungery took me to his thatched hut and pointed to a shelf like extension, about 3 feet wide by 8 feet long on the end of his hut. He pantomimed that I could sleep there that night. He gave me a straw matt to lie on. I was too excited that night to sleep. Surrounded by smoke from a smoldering fire under Hungery's house to keep insects away would have made sleep impossible anyway. Early the next morning Hungery said, "Go Buna".

I had never heard of Buna, but I was in his care. After eating some fruit, Hungery, two other men and I climbed into their outrigger canoes made from a hollowed out log. They paddled downstream, through the jungle to the ocean where we got out and walked south east along the beach. We walked for two hours, waded through three rivers, one deep enough to come up to my chest. Apparently thinking I might be tired we stopped and sat in the shade of some palm trees. While we rested one of Hungery's companions scrambled up a palm to fetch a coconut. Using my knife with a few deft swings he hacked the husk away and handed me a coconut cup of cool, delicious juice. While sitting there Hungery said "Mission close off."

I did not understand but soon after we began walking again, he pointed to a thatched building on the beach ahead. When we arrived at that building, the Gona Mission Station, I was warmly greeted by Mavis Hayman, Anne Parkinson and the minister, Reverend Benson. Their thatched house significantly bigger than the village huts, looked like a mansion to me. It was about a hundred feet from a beach lined with palm trees and a large lawn covered the ground around the back of their house. There were a few small building in the rear.

Reverend Benson spoke to Hungery in his language and Hungery nodded. Then the reverend turned to me, "The Australian military are at Buna about 10 km along the beach will reward him for helping you. Write a message for Buna to send to Port Moresby." He said, "They have radio contact with them."

I knew Hungary had envied my bowie knife from the time he first saw it. Before he and his companions left Gona I gave it to him. [Collins No. 18 knife, also known as the "Gung Ho" knife. It was included as part of the survival gear. Later, the USAAF changed to a folding machete.] He rewarded me with a huge smile of glistening black teeth that I'll never forget. We said goodbye and they walked towards Buna. Unfortunately, I did not see my saviors when they passed by Gona on their return trip to their village. Reverend Benson explained that their black teeth and red gums were caused by their chewing on betel nuts.

Reverend Benson was a heavy man, well tanned and in his fifties. Miss Hayman was the nurse and Miss Parkinson was the school teacher. They took me into their thatched house and showed me the kitchen, dining room and bedrooms. My coveralls were torn, bloodied and dirty. Reverend Benson brought me a shirt and pants which though much too large fit surprisingly well when I tied a sash around my waist. Unexpectedly, I had become a missionary of sorts.

Mavis Hayman, a petite woman about thrity-five looked grim when she examined my wound. Already there was some pus drainage. She cleaned it with alcohol, put medication on it, and wrapped it in a bandage. "Your infection worries me. I don't have much in the way of medicine. This is a horrible place to have an open wound." she said.

Reverend Benson ran the mission. He came from England. His denomination was the Church of England - called the Episcopal Church in the United States. Miss Parkinson and Miss Hayman were Australians. Anne Parkinson conducted a school for natives and Mavis Hayman cared for their medical needs as best she could. Periodically, these three missionaries hiked to villages within a 20 mile radius. For adult natives stayed at the mission as servants for them. The Church of England had several missions along the Papua east coast. Their mission headquarters was at Wedau, near the eastern tip of New Guinea. Fearful of the war, the mission headquarters had urged them to leave Gona, but Reverend Benson and the tow women had decided to stay.

A mission supply boat traveled along the coast and stopped at each mission station to deliver goods and take orders for the next trip. When they told me they expected the boat soon, I decided to wait at Gona until it came.

Two days after my arrival at Gona I received the following message: "BUNA 26th May 1942 Lt. Dickinson, Gona. Dear Sir, We have just received the following radio (at 10:30am): For Lt. Dickinson from RAAF stop. Advise exact position 491 stop regret no transport only fast ship which can bring salvage mil command moresby 1750 hours 24.5.42"

Nothing else had been received, but I will send messages to you as they arrive. Please retain the Papuan Constable to bring any messages you may have back to this station and advise if there is anything else we can do. Yours faithfully, Sgt. Major Yeoman, ANGAU Patrol Officer, Buna.

Since I had already planned to ride the mission supply boat south, I sent that message back with the constable. I did not contact Buna station again.

The missionary's native built house was comfortable. Located about 100 feet from the beach, It was cooled by sea breezes. Thatched palm-free fronts covered the roof and kept the rooms dry except during torrential rains. A few welcome geckos, small lizards scampered around on the walls, floor and ceilings of their rooms and devoured insects.

All the missionaries meat came out of cans. Bully beef almost always graced the table. They had a garden and grew vegetables peculiar to the tropics like taro, but a few that I was familiar with. Their meals were as good as the army food back at Charters Towers, and far superior to the food at Port Moresby. At meals Reverend Benson said grace but all the times I stayed with them they never discussed religion with me.

I explored the mission premises. The sandy beach, shaded by numerous palm trees, would have caused any resort owner to drool. Although New Guinea is near the equator, the sea breezes kept Gona comfortable. I often walked along the beach but I never went into the water. I had seen too many sharks swimming along the New Guinea coast when I was flying. Twice, I saw a B-25, perhaps from my squadron, fly over and I tried to signal using a small mirror. I learned how difficult it was to aim a mirror at something in the sky. These planes only served to remind me that I was still in the Air Corps. I spent many days sitting in the shade of the palm trees on the beach cooled by the breeze off the ocean, reading books from the missionaries' bookshelf. I felt more relaxed and at peace that I had since before the war began. The three missionaries treated me as a special guest.

Servants cared for the 50 x 100 foot lawn behind the house. Two natives using long sharp knives knelt on the lawn and swung their knives like scythes for hours to cut that grass. When they were finished, it looked like it had been mowed. Nothing would have please those natives more than lawn mower.

Anne, perhaps twenty years old, had blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles across her nose and cheeks, and white teeth, which beamed when she smiled. Shy at first, she and I spent most of our evenings together. Rather a plain looking girl when she was serious, she blossomed when she laughed. She told me about her growing up near Sydney, Australia where she had graduated from the equivalent of our high school.

"I only went out with boys two times, I was too shy." She said. "My folks heard about this job at the mission and urged me to take it. Not having anything else to do, I accepted. I'm happy I came now, although I was homesick at first. Now guess what?" She laughed. "My folks are begging me to come home, they're worried about the war."

"I wish you would go home Anne, the Japanese aren't far away." I said, "You never know what might happen."

"What is there to be afraid of Wes?" She sounded defiant. "I know God won't let the Japanese bother our little mission."

I told her about my life, how I had met Averyl, and how I had gotten shot down.

On many evenings Anne took her portable wind-up phonograph and her precious Gilbert & Sullivan records out to the beach. Waves lapped a slow rhythm against the shore, stars eaves dropped through the palm trees and a flowery fragrance filled the air. We wormed our toes in the sand, lay back and sang along with her scratchy records. When the record player slowed down, we did too. Since neither of us sang well, we laughed a lot. It was a romantic setting, but I was inhibited. I had committed myself to Averyl even though I had dated her only four times. I knew Anne far better than I did Averyl. If I had never met Averyl, Anne in Gona, New Guinea would have been my choice.

Lt. Dickinson survived the war.  Anne was captured by the Japanese who landed at Gona in July, and killed in August.  Wes Dickinson's story about the May 23 mission that he sent to Malchus from his book "I Was Lucky" pages 125-139.

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