Monday, May 26, 2014

RIP, 2nd Lt Wallace F. Kaufman, Navigator

Wallace F. Kaufman was a friend of mine.

I've seen that little snippet of footage of the bomber wing exploding before, but it was always fleeting, in a montage, and grainy. It was often commented upon as an example of friendly fire, a defamation of the other airmen in the squadron. Cleaned up like this, you can clearly see that it was hit from below by AA fire. But some people's desire to find the ignoble in everyone but themselves trumps everything. They wish Catch 22 was true, so it must be. The Internet is full of these armchair historians today, Memorial Day, reminding us what bad people we were to drop atomic weapons on the Japanese. I wonder what Wallace F. Kaufman would say about that.

My father was a crewman in a B-24J Liberator. He hung below his, named Les Miserables, in a little plastic ball, like a hamster. There were ten or eleven crewmen on board during a mission. The very last one to survive anything would be the ball gunner. Once you climb down into it, they close the hatch behind you, swivel it, then lower it, and you can't get back out without reversing the operation. My father was tall for his time, and they always put the short guy in the ball, so that makes me wonder if some short straw was chosen by, or for, my father. More likely no one else wanted to do it, and he said sure with his Irish chuckle and thought the view would be nice.

That video, right there, is the view.

My father told me a little about his tours of duty in a B-24 before he died. He didn't talk about it at all when I was younger. I didn't realize the significance of it to him until he had one foot in the grave. I looked up all the names he told me, as best as I could remember them, and then of course he was gone, and I couldn't ask again.  

That plane in the video is B-24M-15-CO "Brief", serial number 44-42058. The plane was in the 7th Air Force, 494th Bombardment Group, in the 867th Squadron. The were flying from Angaur to bomb Koror in the Palau island group.

My father flew in B-24-J-175-CO "Les Miserables" Serial number 44-40666. The plane was in the 7th Air Force, 494th Bombardment Group, in the 866th Squadron. Dad told me that he flew from Angaur, and bombed Koror, and Kwajalein, and the Phillipines, and a bunch of other places.

These two bomber groups flew together, and my father may very well have known some or all the men on that plane in the video. Their squadron records are online, and their missions are nearly identical. For all I know my father is in that video somewhere off on the horizon, though I cannot make out any markings on the planes that are from his squadron. They had two vertical stripes on the tail, and the 867th had those checkerboard squares.

Who was Wallace F. Kaufman? He was the navigator in that plane you see, sheared in half in front of your eyes, fluttering into the sea. Among the eleven men on that plane, he was the only one that survived the crash.

It's almost inconceivable that anyone could survive that. My dad told me that it was just as likely as not you would end up dead because you ran out of gas, or the weather was bad, or the flying bulldozer that a B-24J resembles wouldn't cooperate all of a sudden. That view of his in the ball was all empty ocean and sharks. The Japanese were just the last in a string of bad luck you might find.

Dad didn't die in a crash, but the Les Miserables crashed into the ocean in bad weather shortly after the war was over, filled with American fliers [Update:That's mistaken. They were from Great Britain, apparently] that had been in an internment camp for much of  the war. All aboard were lost.

So it's a sort of miracle that my friend, Wallace F. Kaufman, survived that explosion and crash. Of course he wasn't my friend exactly; but he was probably my father's friend, and that's close enough for me.

We know Wallace F. Kaufman survived that crash. After the war, an interesting man named Pat Scannon went to Japan, and found and interviewed a Japanese soldier that had been on Koror that day, who told him that he had immediately captured Wallace F. Kaufman.

Along with three other airmen and ten missionaries, they beheaded Wallace F. Kaufman with a sword.


Thud said...

God bless both him and your father.I just finished reading bomber boys a book on bomber commands campaign over Germany 1943, I felt very small upon finishing it.

Dan Patterson said...

"The damn thing made so much noise you couldn't half think, much less talk, until it got in the air and then it was a little better. You just sat in your position and and tried not to think anything about what all could go wrong, kept busy with the radio and checked the guns. Once we got up pretty high it started getting cold right quick and then you was busy with the suits and such. Pretty soon it was time for the others to get to their guns and we didn't see much of one another til we was clear and on the way home. If you looked out it was a pretty sight from up there and all. The boys up front were working like they were breaking new ground and the sweat would show through their shirts even as cold as it was.
When we got close to the target we all got right smart busy. You could hear the Jap bullets whiz through the ship and sometimes it sounded like rain on a roof. There were calls on the radio for help but we never could do much for anybody except try to stay close and keep as many guns working as we could."

TwoDogs said...

All of those bastards, man, woman and child incinerated in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and every other place we could reach them had it coming. I can muster a bit of sympathy for them individually, but collectively it's just too bad we didn't kill them all. I hope we can eventually muster the moxie to do what needs doing to their 21st century equivalents. I am not optimistic.

John The River said...

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

Very interesting book, the war history in it isn't the sort of stuff that anyone likes to talk about.

Nine airmen shot down in the Pacific, grim and horrible fates for most. One airman survived. George H. Bush.

Anonymous said...

Today I was at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens NY, with my Aunt, who was Wallace f. Kaufman's first cousin (as was my deceased mother). We talked a lot about Wally all day and then googled his name. Growing up at many family gatherings I heard about my mom's cousin who was "beheaded by the "japs". I have his purple heart. I will be sharing all of this information with my aunt about her cousin Wally. It is truly amazing to read this stuff! thank you all .. Diane

Tony Gutierrez said...

I wish I had been Douglas McArthur because I would of ordered executions on all the Japs after the signature of surrender aboard the U.S.S.Missouri. Then order 2 more atom bombs on Japan for inconvenience.

Ben said...

My great uncle James Clapperton from Edinburgh, Scotland was onboard B-24J Liberator #44-40666, "Le Miserables" when it crashed, sadly he lost his life. I recently visited the Memorial in Hong Kong where his name is inscribed.

Deborah Chabrian said...

My Father, Tech Sgt Albert Chabrian, was the Radio Operator and Right waist gunner on "Les Miserables" from July 1944, until late June 1945. I heard the story that while on leave from the army, he saw his plane go down on a newsreel, he saw at the theater. I am wondering when exactly that was, and if there are photos of it? Where exactly did it go down? I would love to know anything more I can about his time in WW2, Angaur, Peleliu, the Philipines etc. Ben... I am wondering if your great uncle knew my father?

Anonymous said...

My uncle is buried next to the mass grave of all of those airman who perished on May 4th, 1945. For the past 45 years I have left flowers on their unvisited graves when I visit my Father and Uncle's graves at Pinelawn Cemetery in Long Island NY. They were kids when they died and just today I googled their names and saw the film of their plane getting shot down and read about the souls on board that flight. I thank God for their sacrifices as those men gave us their lives so we can live in freedom today. If was nice to read everyone's comments. Please pray for all of those brave kids who gave the ultimate sacrifice including Wallace Kaufman who was executed after surviving the crash. They never had a chance to experience life and were take way too young as was my uncle who was on 19.