May 17, 2020: Pacific Wrecks called Mr. Shott to wish him the best on the 75th anniversary of his crash on Formosa. He's 98 and told us:
John Shott: “I remember everything that happened to me in World War II. This morning, on the 75th anniversary of my crash, I didn't think about it much, to be honest all I was thinking was what am I going to have for breakfast! But, I thank you for calling me and remembering.”
John Shott was born on July 4, 1922 the oldest of three brothers in in Aliquippa, PA a rural steel mill town.
He completed four years of high school. On January 21, 1943 drafted into the U. S. Army at Pittsburgh, PA as a private with serial number 33421756 and was initially assigned to the infantry and sent to Camp Robinson in Arkansas before being sent to Fort Meade, Maryland where the 76th Infantry Division was being formed. Instead, a call was made for Air Corps personnel and went to Baltimore and passed the test.
Assigned to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) Shott was transfered to Greensburo, North Carolina for basic training then underwent a two year course at course at Lynchburg College. Next, to Nashville, Tennessee for training as a radio operator. Afterwards, to Scottsdale, Arizona for more training and Yuma, Arizona for aerial gunnery practice. Shott was to be assigned to a B-17 Flying Fortress crew, but told his instructor he did not want to be on a heavy bomber and instead was assigned to the crew of a B-25 Mitchell.
Sent to Columbia, South Carolina where he had additional training and was assigned to an air crew and was considered the best radio operator in the squadron. Assigned to a B-25 crew at Birmingham, Alabama. One of the other crew members was William J. Kozak who got married two weeks before we deployed overseas and his wife Helen who was in the U. S. Coast Guard (USCG) came to see us off.
The crew ferried their B-25 across the United States to Mather Field in California where they worked to install an extra fuel tank in the bomb bay for the flight across the Pacific and removed all armament to save weight. Departing Mather Field, his B-25 was flown to Hickham Field remained there for several days before departing across the Pacific via Christmas Island Airfield, Johnson Airfield, Tarawa Airfield and Guadalcanal before reaching Finschafen Airfield and was there for a couple days before continuing to Biak Island.
At Biak, the crew was assigned to another B-25J Mitchell and went to Nadzab Airfield for combat training, flying at low level and practicing skip bombing the first time. Shott recalled, "I remember seeing reeds [kunai grass] out the waist window, that is how low we were! Stateside, all Shott's training was medium altitude bombing.
Afterwards, flown northward to San Marcelio Airfield on Luzon in the Philippines where he was assigned to the 345th Bombardment Group "Air Apaches", 500th Bombardment Squadron "Rough Raiders". He flew his first combat missions in the Philippines over the mountains before transferring with the unit to Clark Field and began flying combat missions over Formosa (Taiwan) and Indochina (Vietnam). All missions were flown low level.
Over Formosa, the B-25s flew with a reduced crew, without a navigator or extra gunners, with only a navigator in the lead plane. Flying at low level, the mission would drop 500 pound bombs or parafrag bombs or napalm and perform strafing. As radio operator and gunner, Shott usually shot right behind the bomb bay and would operate the waist guns or tail gun position as required. Usually, he was not required to serve as backup radio operator and would wear headphones an listen to the formation's radio traffic.
On May 17, 1945 during the early morning took off took off from Clark Field (Borax Strip) on Luzon as radio-gunner aboard B-25J Mitchell 44-30164 as one of five B-25s on a low level bombing and strafing mission against rail road targets near Taihoku (Taipei) on Formosa (Taiwan). The weather was overcast with visibility of five miles.
John Shott recalled:
"Our B-25J had a solid nose, with eight machine guns plus two package guns on each side for a total of twelve guns the pilot could fire. Plus, a waist gun at each waist position and two in the top turret and tail turret. We were flying at tree-top level in a valley, I could see muzzle flashes and they must have hit us because we crashed. During the mission, my usual position was right behind the bomb bay, but could go to the waist or climb into the tail gunner position. During mission, the lead plane’s radio operator would do all the communications. In combat, I’d go in the tail and put on the headphones and listen. I did not say much, just listened. I could hear the cockpit conversation and the formation’s communication. I would hear 'approaching target' and that meant it was time to put on my helmet/ Mostly my job was to be an aerial gunner. Returning, all the shell cases would drop on the waist floor and were sometimes piled up to my ankles! On the way back I was slipping on all the shell casings."
Over the target, near Taihoku in the northern portion of the island, this B-25 was flying at low level down a valley east of Komo and was hit by anti-aircraft fire from cliffs on the edge of the valley. At roughly 9:20am, this B-25 crashed roughly 4 miles east of Komo in northwestern Formosa. Last seen by Captain Richard J. Lewis and 2nd Lt. William G. Paukovich.
During the mission, Shott was in the tail gunner position and was knocked unconscious but survived the crash. The rest of the crew died in the cockpit section of the aircraft. When this B-25 failed to return, the crew was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
Shott recalls: "When we were shot down, I was flying in a valley. I could see caves, there were four of them out to the left, i could see muzzle flashes, higher than us! We were probably hit. I was strafing, aiming at the caves. A couple people along the rail road track with a water buffalo, I dont know if soldiers or civilians, strafed them, I dont known i hit them or not. It was a single rail road track.
We were flying along, making evasive moves, then the next thing I knew… I woke up from being unconscious. I remember it was cloudy. I came to…. I didn't even know I went down! During the crash, the tail section broke off behind me. Rest of plane was 1/4 mile or 1/3 mile away in a field. I got up, went over to crashed plane. I didn't see any bodies, but knew they were all dead. I was sure they were all dead. If you were in there, no way to get out, it was just a big pile of junk. No fire or smoke, but it was drizzling, so maybe the rain put it out.
My flight suit was torn from the crash. I had four broken ribs, cut on my right rear where helmet slit and cut my ear, I've still go a piece of my ear missing. I had one kidney damaged I was later learned. Afterwards, I had no medical attention, it all healed naturally.
I was scared… all the airmen I heard about were killed. Our supply man, Silverman would say “if your ever shot down, before your taken POW, save a bullet for yourself. In other words, commit suicide before being taken prisoner. I was scared to commit suicide. I was really scared to do it.
For the first several days, they didn't catch me. I had a little backpack with Chinese writing and we carried Chinese money. We were told to evade capture by heading east into the mountains, where the aboriginals lived. I would travel only at night. During the day, I would hide in bushes or a ditch where I could not be seen. Spotting a garden, I watched for activity then stole a head of cabbage. While sitting down to eat it, I was captured by two Japanese soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets and became a Prisoner Of War (POW).
Prisoner Of War
On May 18, 1945, the second day after the crash I was captured by the Japanese and became a Prisoner Of War (POW). They took away all my clothing so I was naked and humiliated. It was impossible to hide anything they took everything.
They wanted me to draw pictures of my base, so I drew a runway and airplanes, like kindergarten kid would draw. Next, they marched me out into courtyard and there were four soldiers with rifles that marched me to a brick wall and they put a blindfold over my eyes. I thought that was it! I was so scared,moaning and groaning. Anyone who told you they were not scared of being executed is full of baloney. I heard officer say something in Japanese, then I heard the click of rifle bolts being cocked and he hollered again. They did pull the trigger, but there were no bullets loaded. It was a mock execution to scare me.
Afterwards, they questioned me again then put me on a train that was crowded and I had to stand up the entire time. Civilians were poking me, none of them were friendly.
I was taken to main camp in the capital of Taipei (Taihoku) and taken to the city jail, it took a week to get there. It was near a big rail yard, I could hear train noises nearby. They put me in solitary confinement. The cell was 8x10’, had a bucket as a toilet. They would tie you up, sat there on the floor. I had lice, i was itching so bad, sit against the wall, it was rough and would use it to itch. I could not itch my face.
In the early weeks of my captivity, I was interrogate more, usually by a little Japanese officer, who would hit me with a bamboo stick with whisks on it with a handle that looked like a whisk broom. It was really sharp and hurt. Around that time, the nearby rail road yard was bombed and it was really loud! During the attack, the roof caved in. Afterwards, the Japanese officer beat me with the broom. I heard later there was a British prisoners across from me. He escaped and tried to swim off the island but was caught and executed.
Another radio operator was captured and put in cell near me. He was also from the 345th Bombardment Group (345th BG), Kelvin Beck from Louisville, KY shot down a few weeks later than me. We would tap on the door with Morse code. I never saw Beck, there were heavy wooden doors, with little windows and bars. I never saw him until the end of the Pacific War.
I had one rice ball, about the size of a tennis ball and a cup of hot tea. In a way, we were lucky with the hot tea, because it was boiled and not polluted. I do not begrudge the Japanese for the lack of food, they did not have much food either. Conditions were very very rough for them too, they were cut off.
When I was in solitary, there were no more interrogations. When I took the bucket out, one Japanese guy was nice to me, he gave me a cigarette and would ask me English words. He treated me good. He taught me some Japanese words and he was always good to me. There were some younger guys that were guards that were never nice. They would hit you when you walked by.
They didn't tell us anything. One day, I was by truck to main camp, where a saw other Allied Prisoners Of War (POWs) from the Bataan Death March and British guys captured at Singapore. I really got angry at the Japanese seeing those guys. They got it far worse condition. We were there for a month. For this reason, I will never own a Japanese car to this day. Maybe it is wrong, but I still have a little hatred for the Japanese. If we had to invade, a lot would have died. If the U. S. invaded Formosa or Japan, all the prisoners would have been killed. I was also worried about being killed by U. S. bombs! When bombs fall they sound like a freight train. I was most scared because of all the ways to die, I did not want to be killed by an American bomb!
Later we were joined by crew members from B-25J "Apache Princess" 43-28152 crashed May 27, 1945. At Main camp, I got beriberi from lack of protein because I was only eating rice and sometimes sweet potatoes. There was an English colonel who was a doctor that had me lay down, to elevate my legs and rest.
At the end of the Pacific War, they were going to put me on a Royal Navy aircraft carrier to go to the Philippines but I told one of the American Lieutenants I did not want to go with the British. Instead, they put me on a U. S. Navy destroyer-escort to the Philippines. I was there for a week then transported to San Francisco and was in the hospital for a week. Afterwards, they sent us to Greenbrier Resort where we would eat for free to gain weight and rest. I had a room for two, the sign said the rate was $1,200 per day! I learned to play golf and basketball while staying there. I was discharged from the U. S. Army at Fort Meade in Maryland.
Back home, my family got a war department telegram that said I was Missing In Action (MIA). They did not know anything and thought I was missing. They did not know I was a prisoner and alive. They were very happy when they learned I was liberated as you can imagine. At that time my family was my mother and three brothers, I was the oldest. My father had passed away when I was seventeen.
The first thing I did when I got home was took a train to Philadelphia to see William J. Kodak's wife, Helen. She had come to see us off and they had only been married for two weeks so I felt obligated to see her and tell her what happened. When I took the train there I did not arrive to her house until 2:00am or 3:00am and knocked on her door. I should have waited until the next morning, but I did not. She came down and we stayed up all night telling her what really happened. Afterwards, I told her "I guess I'll go catch a train home" but she let me stay hat her house for the night.
Afterwards, I went back to Pittsburgh and enrolled in drafting school for four months. Afterwards, I looked for a job but all the companies wanted people with 2-3 years of experience so I could not get a job! Although Helen was a widow, I fell in love with her and we later got married. We got married and had four kids. Later, I got a job with American Airlines in Syracuse doing air freight, ticketing and retired as a supervisor in 1983. In 2000, Helen C. "Kit" Shott passes away.
Shott and his family lived in Syracuse, NY. He worked for American Airlines until he retired in 1983. His story is included in the book Warpath Across the Pacific by Larry Hickey who interviewed him for several hours. In 2000, his wife Helen C. "Kit" Shott passed away. He lives in retirement in
North Syracuse. During June 2016, Shott was given a complementary ride aboard B-25J "Panchito" at the Syracuse International Airshow. My daughter was scared I would not want to go because of mu crash, but I wanted to go! During the flight, I was behind cockpit, I would rather fly in the waist, to see out the windows. When the B-25's engines started, it was a thrill! I felt safe in that plane, it was a good airplane! Today, it is small, i thought it was big plane back then. The flight brought back a lot of memories, I consider myself lucky.
Missing Air Crew Report 14447 (MACR 14447) created May 18, 1945
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John Shott
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - John Shott
Warpath Across the Pacific pages 321-323, 378, 396
FindAGrave - Helen Carol "Kit" Shott (grave photo)
Helen C. "Kit" Shott, 80, of North Syracuse died Saturday at Community-General Hospital. Born in Scranton, Pa., she lived 47 years in North Syracuse. She was a member of Pitcher Hill Community Church, where she taught Sunday school. She was a Coast Guard veteran of World War II. Survivors: Her husband of 52 years, John; two daughters, Lois Burns of Otisco and Linda Dunlap of Syracuse; a son, Michael C. of Durham, N.C.; a sister, Ann Dushlek of Pensacola, Fla.; four grandchildren. Services: 10 a.m. Wednesday at Fergerson Funeral Home. Burial, Sunset Chapel Mausoleum, Woodlawn Cemetery
Syracuse.com "WWII vet, 93, flies in B-25 over Syracuse 71 years after Japanese shot him down" June 11, 2016
Syracuse.com "Story of WWII vet who flew in B-25 at Syracuse airshow draws attention" June 13, 2016
Pacific Wrecks interview with John Shott, June 13, 2016
Thanks to John Shott for additional information