My son, Darin C. Maurer – a Continental Airline pilot— suggested that my Christmas present would have to wait until February. It was a trip to Northwest Field, Guam, which would fulfill our forever dream of walking down Northwest Field runway together. This was the runway that the 315th Bomb Wing used to fly the longest and very last mission that truly ended WWII. As the radio operator of the B-29 The Boomerang, I had been aboard for that war ending mission
The Japanese did
not surrender even after the A-bomb destruction of Nagasaki August 9th.
Subsequently 779 B-29 missions were ordered to Japan beginning August
13th and the last war-ending mission was flown August 15th. This last
and longest continuous bombing mission on record was flown by the 315th
Bomb Wing-- a secret B-29 wing that carried only tail guns. The 315th
was designed to bomb petroleum targets under the cover of night and in
all weather conditions. The B-29Bs featured the newly developed MIT Eagle
Radar System, which introduced synchronized bombing. This type of bombing
required the coordination of the radar operator, the bombardier and the
Shortly before our
Continental DC 10 entered its down wind for landing, I saw the point of
land that I recognized as Northwest Field. I had seen it many times before.
It had become a part of my young life and would be etched in my mind forever
more. If our B-29 were crippled and too low on landing we would have bought
the farm somewhere between the ocean and the top of that cliff. On takeoff
the sheer 500-foot cliff that marked Northwest Field at both ends of the
runway, was a blessing. We could nose down and gain much needed flying
speed before we leveled and began our climb back to altitude. As our DC
10 flew downwind of the Guam landing strip I could see the impressive
array of hotels on Tumon Bay and I wondered if this were really Guam?
As I looked back I remembered Guam with a curious stream of consciousness:
jungle, rats, bad food, outside privies, an outside movie theatre, wading
out on the coral and shooting at sharks, B-29s, the beautiful coral runways,
the exhausting 14 hour missions. I recalled the small Capitol town of
Agana, and the navy hospital where I saw one of my buddies die after his
B-29 and crew went in. Now I was looking at the latest designs in resort
hotels and structures of advanced civilization. What a remarkable change!
Now I saw a beautiful Island that we used to refer to as the "rock". I
felt a little sheepish that I had looked at it that way. But conditions
were a bit different then as you would expect.
Jim on Guam 1945
My son Darin and I were guests of Governor Gutierrez and the First Lady who treated us to hospitality beyond our imagination. The Governor's staff including Barbara Ashe, Monica Okada, Elmer Gardoma, and John Blaz (also head of Veteran's Affairs) turned this beautiful Island inside out for us.
The high point of our visit came with our trip to Northwest Field as guests of Commanding General Thomas Waskow. Reporters as well as Historical Officer Deryl Danner of the 13th AF and the 36th Air Base Wing were present along with the military led by Lt. Bert Jean. That contingent took us to the old runway site. There were two runways on Northwest and the most astonishing thing to me is that they looked exactly the same as they did 54 years ago. No worse for the wear and tear of time. But foliage had overgrown the broken pieces of coral and rocks which had once attested to the recent and miraculous work of the Sea Bees.
I stood in the middle of Northwest lost for a moment in a whirlwind of remembrances and emotions. I was in The Boomerang once again feeling the takeoff thrust of the huge 18-cylinder R3350/2200 hp Wright Cyclone engines
The steamy hot summer air diminished lift and we'd use very bit of that 8500 foot coral mixed runway. We carried a full max ten ton bomb and hoped that one more time we could attain enough flying speed to lift off before we reached the cliff. Then my mind turned back to the last mission itself. The radar operator, Dick Ginster, said we were over Tokyo and I looked out to see. Tokyo was hidden in total blackness and I knew that one of our 132 B-29s ordered to this mission had triggered Tokyo's early radar warning system. Unbeknownst to us the blackout was bringing down a military revolt whose objectives were to kidnap the Emperor, hold him incommunicado, and issue orders to continue the war. One hour and 18 minutes later we sighted our Nippon Oil refinery target that was located 270 miles to the northwest. Our navigator Tony Cosola and radar operator Ginster had done a good job.
Hellish fires ignited by B-29s that preceded us, shot fireballs heavenward reaching 25 thousand feet. Japanese night fighters followed the searchlights trying to get a hit on our big bird. A kamikaze zipped by our nose slightly off the mark. Sid Siegel manned our only firepower in the tail while the two scanners, Hank Leffler and Henry Carlson watched for fighters. The violent thermals wrestled with our B-29 threatening to flip us over on our back.
At 11,000 feet we didn't have a chance to recover. Dick Marshall, the bombardier, toggled off our 20,500-pound load of bombs and we took evasive action to get out of there. The elements finally released us and we headed for home. We were two hours from touchdown at Northwest Field when President Truman radioed the official end of the war. Our celebration stopped short when all four engines began backfiring from fuel starvation. We had the best B-29 engineer alive, Hank Gorder from North Dakota, so we had a chance. Our aircraft commander, Carl Schaher, figuring the good possibility of having to crash land in the water short of the Northwest runway, ordered the crew to ditching positions. Carl and copilot, John Waltershausen, tightened their shoulder harnesses. We made it by only a Wing and a Prayer. Number three shut down on the way back to the hardstand—out of gas!
Darin shook my arm slightly to wake me from my reverie: "This is your show. Let's take a walk." As we made our way along the old strip I looked back at those dangerous days--I was 21 years old." Darin put his arm on my shoulder and we walked together down the length of one runway and then slowly back to the beginning of the west/ Northwest runway. This was the place The Boomerang had landed after the longest and last mission. This was the mission that really ended WWII--6 days after Nagasaki! Darin and I looked at one another and smiled—our long held dream had finally come true!
The actual boomerang taken on all flights