In memory: Douglas Canning passed away February 20, 2016
Douglas S. Canning was born in Wayne, Nebraska on July 4, 1919. Nicknamed "Doug". During World War II, he flew 67 Missions Guadalcanal, first tour P-400's, 2nd and 3rd tour P-38. Combat in Korea- 37 P-51 Missions, 64 A-26 reconnaissance missions Chinese and Russian borders. Vietnam he flew the C-133 carrying helicopters. He Retired in 1969 as Lt Colonel after 29 years service. Today, he is 90 years old and in good health.
Tell a little about yourself, joining the USAAF and training
I was born 4 July 1919 in Wayne, NE. While attending Wayne State Teachers College. I took CPT (Civilian Primary Training), got 40 hours in a tandem Aeronica and a private pilots license. Then attended Secondary CPT at the Sioux City, IA airport, flew Waco (almost exact copy of Stearman biplane) for 60 more hours, mostly acrobatics and navigation. Then admitted to Army Air Corp Class 41-G and flew primary at Hemet, CA, then two stages in San Antonio, TX and graduated as a pilot and 2nd Lt on 26 September 1941.
In college, I first worked as a caddy, lawnmower and grocery store clerk to cashier, then to manager of the Sealtest "Dairy Bar" where I had five other guys working for me. After graduation I took a 10 day leave and so am alive today. Of the 30 41-G graduates sent to Hamilton Field those who got checked out in P-40's (18) were shipped to go to the Philippines but on 7 December  instead went to Australia, here they were put on the Aircraft carrier, the USS Langley (CV-1), to go to Java. About an hour out, the Japs sank the Langley. Two wounded 41-G'ers were put on a destroyer and taken back to Australia. The rest were put on another destroyer and headed for Java but the ship vanished from the ocean.
Where were you on December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
Because I had taken a 10 day leave I did not get checked out in P-40's and was not in the Langley bunch. Instead was a member of the 70th Pursuit Squadron which had 10 earlier graduated plus 20 41-G, H, and I.
On December 7 we returned from the ship to Hamilton Field where shortly later we were sent to Alamada Naval Field with P-40's and several instructors. Here we were given about an hour and a half briefing on the P-40. Then we sat in one for 30 minutes to memorize the cockpit instruments, given a blindfold check to point out where they were. A crew chief then started the engine, we got aboard for our first fighter plane takeoff. After an hour of flying we returned to land. An instructor was in the tower and as we were landing gave us continuous instruction which were so confusing in my first landing I dropped so far I had to do a go around. This time as I got on final I turned my radio off and made a perfect landing and upon encountering him told him my radio had quit working.
President Monroe Overseas
Then in early January 1942 we were loaded on the President Monroe, a passenger freighter ship with all officers two to a cabin and about 600 enlisted men below deck plus crated P-39's and a Bell technical representative on board. A day out of Fiji (our then unknown destination) our convoy stopped for a day. We learned later two New Zealand flown Boston Hudsons had come out and sunk a Jap sub that was lying in wait to sink us. It turns out in many places the Germans had planted spies. As in most stories this was a good looking women with a radio transmitter who had learned of our convoy's pending arrival and the Japs after receiving her message sent a sub to sink us. She was detected, arrested and taken to Australia where she was hanged.
The P-39's and us went to Latoka Airfield is where the P-39's were assembled and flown to Nadi Airfield and we moved to a former sugar plantation where the home was our mess hall and O Club and we lived in Bures (a copy of the Fijians home, thatched roofs, thatched sides with 8 of us per Bure). At Nadi we 41-G, H and I-ers were checked out in the P-39 and until 15 September, 1942 were given great and excellent fighter training by the more senior flying time pilots. Fiji was a delightful touristy Island unused by us as we were too busy learning to be fighter pilots.
67th Fighter Squadron
On 15 Sept. 1942 John Mitchell and 14 others of us were loaded on a Gooney Bird (C-47) and flown to Tontouta Airfield on New Caledonia( about 50 miles from its capitol Noumea) and joined the 67th Fighter Squadron.
The 67th Fighter Squadron started out at Selfridge Field near Detroit then to Harding Field near Baton Rouge then to New York then on ship to Australia where they were further loaded on another ship and sent to New Caledonia with 44 P-400's and one P-39D, then assembled and flown off Tontouta Airfield and two or three other New Caledonia airfields.
After our C-47 flight to Henderson we flew P-400's (P-39). There everyday at noon the Jap Betty bombers arrived. The food was good until the Japs put two 5 inch naval guns which could hit anywhere in our area and when you heard them fired you had 10 seconds to get in a foxhole. We owned a half mile deep and one and a half mile wide area with about 20,000 Marines repelling and then advancing on the Japs. The five inchers [5" shells] always fired at the cooking sites which soon quit cooking and we lived out of tin cans.
With no hot water for sterilizing our mess kits diarrhea became rampart and so we couldn't fly anymore and were returned to New Cal where it was cured. We lived in tents and slept in cots with mosquito nets and and also got bombed every night by Sewing Machine Charley [Washing Machine Charlie], a twin engine plane with unsynchronized engines plus bombs every hour or so. Finally some enlisted guys found a cave in a nearby riverbank and for a week I slept there until I returned to New Caledonia. At Tontuta by now the P-38's were assembled and I checked out in them plus I was transferred to the newly formed 339th Pursuit Squadron. At Henderson Field while we were staying in out tent in a coconut grove two battleships from about midnight to 5 in the morning fired 998 15 inch shells. It was terrifying but we got no hits but a Marine pilots foxhole nearby had a direct hit and all were killed in it.
On September 15, 1942 John Mitchell and 14 others of us were loaded on a Gooney Bird (C-47) and flown to Tontouta Airfield on New Caledonia (and joined the 67th Pursuit Squadron. They had P-400's(cheap P-39 made for British but rejected by them). The 67th was headquartered in a farmhouse which had a swimming pool. The 67th had flights at three other locations in New Cal but I never saw them.
They had P-400's (Airacobras made for British but rejected by them). The 67th was headquartered in a farmhouse which had a swimming pool. The 67th had flights at three other locations in New Cal but I never saw them. The 67th there were two groups of pilots, one led by Mitchell and the other led by Bill Sharpsteen. Then in August 1942, D. D. Brannon led a flight to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.
Meanwhile in Fiji the 70th had P-39's, with about ten older pilots with Henry Viccelio as commander. Also we had about 25 pilots from classes 41-G, H and I all of whom were loaded on a boat to sail to the Philippines on Dec 7 but our voyage was canceled and Fiji substituted to go about three weeks later. In Sept Vic told Capt. John Mitchell to pick 14 other 70th FS pilots to depart for New Caledonia on 15 Sept, 1942 to join the 67th FS. On 1 October I was on my way to Henderson.
In New Cal P-38's then arrived and assembled in New Cal and the 339th was formed with D. D. as its first C. O. Then the 68th P-40's went to Guadalcanal from Tongatabu Airfield and the 12th out of Christmas Island came to Guadalcanal where the 339th FS now flew the P-38's one day and the 12th flew them the next. At the same time the 67th, 68th, 70th and 339th were all joined as the 347th Fighter Group, headquartered in New Caledonia.
I never ferried any fighters from New Cal to Guadalcanal but those who did had a B-17 leading them and one trailing them, the latter to drop rescue equipment if needed. They first flew to Espiritu Santo Marine Air Field and then to the Canal.
First Tour of Duty at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal
On October 1, 1942 six of us were flown to Guadalcanal as passenger in C-47 (six of us going to 67th unit on Guadalcanal via Espiritu Santo from a Marine Airfield.
At Henderson Field, we used abandoned Jap hangers at far end of runway, ate at Marine cooking facilities and slept in tent in a coconut grove (with nearby large foxhole).
We were bombed daily at Tokyo time (1200 AM) the Jap Betty bombers arrived. The food was good until the Japs put two 5 inch naval guns which could hit anywhere in our area and when you heard them fired you had 10 seconds to get in a foxhole. We owned a half mile deep and one and a half mile wide area with Marine infantry repelling and then advancing on the Japs.
Shelled frequently by Jap Navy including two battleships firing 998 15" shells on 13 October, 1943. Constant shelling is probably the most terrifying thing you can go thru. At Henderson while we were staying in out tent in a coconut grove two battleships from about midnight to 5 in the morning fired 998 shells. It was terrifying but we got no hits but a Marine pilots foxhole nearby had a direct hit and all were killed in it.
When "Pistol Pete" five inch gun [Japanese heavy artillery] fired at us from the time we heard the firing till it it hit was ten seconds so the area was covered with many reachable foxholes. The five inchers always fired at the cooking sites which soon quit cooking and we lived out of tin cans. With no hot water for sterilizing our mess kits diarrhea became rampart and so we couldn't fly anymore and were returned to New Cal where it was cured. We lived in tents and slept in cots with mosquito nets and and also got bombed every night by "Washing Machine Charlie" with unsynchronized engines flew over us and from time to time dropped a bomb to disrupt us from sleeping.
After the shelling got to be a regular thing some of the enlisted men discovered a cave along a river bank and they were kind enough to ask me to join them. We slept on a blanket on the sand and it was certainly a relief to be able to go to sleep and know you wouldn't have to get up. After no cooking, no sanitation and many, many had diarrhea so bad we were useless and so returned to New Caledonia where we got ten days of paregoric treatment which cured us.
Conversion to P-38 Lightning
At Tontuta by now the P-38's were assembled and I checked out in them plus I was transferred to the newly formed 339th Pursuit Squadron. After my first tour we checked out in the P-38 which was a superior plane but had no aileron boost so it took a lot of muscle to turn. Initially there were a few E and F models with about 30 more G-10-LO's. As we learned the 38 while making one turn were in great danger as the Zero could easily make 2 turns at the same time, so the tactic we used was to get to altitude and dive, shoot, pull up and regain altitude and dive again if they were still on hand.
Second Tour of Duty at Fighter 2, Guadalcanal
My second tour was half from Fighter 2 and the other half at Fighter 3 flying the P-38, a great fighter plane. While flying at Fighter 1 we received word that we were to go to Fighter 2 which was on the other side of Henderson Field to the east. Our missions remained the same which was now principally escorting B-17's and B-24's. On one of our earlier ones led by Major D. D. Brannon with eight of us escorting five B-17's. As we neared Bouganville a huge cloud was to our right and coming from the left side were about 30 Zero's and we immediately mixed it up with them and Goerke (my wingman) immediately and I each shot down a Zero. I think we got a total of eight down and no losses. Meantime the B-17's reversed course and went back home.
In another mission led by Capt Tom Lanphier with Rex Barber and Joe Moore in his flight and I was leading the second element with my usual wingman we came to a harbor which had a large freighter evidently loaded with munitions. Our 50 caliber bullets didnt seem to do any good. I thought about when we practised skip bombing in Fiji and so attacked the ship by dropping my belly tanks at what seemed the right moment. The tanks hit the bridge spreading gasolene every where and my wingman fired into the gas(our shells were armor piercing, standard and incendiary). The ship began to burn and the Marines sent a Blackcat PBY to watch and saw it blow up about midnite. For this I soon received a letter which I still have from Admiral Halsy stating "Congratulations on your bigtime hot foot, your use of heat was neat and hard to beat -COMSOPAC."
One time after landing at Fighter 2 I saw the Pharmacist from Wayne who used to treat my lips canker sores. We called him Doc which I did when I also saw him approaching Operations as I was. I yelled out "Hey Doc what the hell are you doing here and asked me the same. It turned out as a Marine pilot he had survived Midway where he flew an F-3 which was definitely not the plane to be fighting Zeroes.
Later he was wounded in action and sent to a hospitol in New Cal. While I was also there I and my wingman had gone to get our squadron ration of booze in Noumea via jeep and on our way back knowing where Doc was we stopped by. When he learned of the case of booze we had he said lets get a party going and we did with multiple nurse and guys there so finally when it was over we got back to base but only had three bottles but to our surprise we were not castigated for what we had done.
Third Tour of Duty
Later on my third tour flying form Fighter 3 we lived in a tent and I had a foxhole dug deep and wide enough for a cot and always spent my nights there.
Bill Sharpsteen had one or two victories but something went astray with him and he avoided enemy contact and as the senior 1st Lieutenant I was put in charge of his bunch and so I led all the missions I was on until at the end of my 3rd tour, when Mitchell led the Yamamoto pilots.
When the 12th Fighter Squadron arrived, they had no P-38's so one day the 339th flew their P-38's and the next day the 12th did and initially all the pilots going on the Y Mission ["Operation Peacock" April 18, 1943 Yamamoto mission] were 339th pilots but Lou Kittel (off and an C. O. of the 12th) asked Mitchell if the 12th could have half the slots which Mitchell rapidly agreed to do.
Thank you for the interview, Mr. Canning
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Douglas S. Canning
13th Fighter Command pages 31, 33, 34, 36, 54-55, 58-59, 80, 92, 105, 122, 139, 141, 144, 147, 155, 226
Doug Canning via Wayback Machine December 17, 2014
Doug Canning and the Yamamoto Mission via Wayback Machine accessed February 15, 2015
FindAGrave - Douglas Canning (obituary)
"DOUGLAS CANNING of Maitland, FL died of natural causes. Preceded in death by his wife, Betty and daughter, Cheryl Murphy, surviving are children, Douglas, Jr (Edie) and Patricia (Lacey) Biles; grandchildren, Jennifer Carter, Leslie Purgason, Courtney Canning, Michael Biles, Stephen Biles and 6 great-grandchildren. Douglas graduated from Wayne State College, was a WWII, U.S. Army Air Corp veteran, a highly-decorated veteran of WWll, Korean Conflict and Vietnam, was the last surviving member of the Yamamoto Shoot-Down mission and had a teaching career where he taught Science for 13 years in Apopka, FL. Services will be held at the Episcopal Church of Good Shepherd in Maitland, FL on April 21, 2016. Published in the Orlando Sentinel April 18, 2016."