by Hap Halloran

 

During WWII I was a navigator on B-29's in the Pacific theatre, assigned to the 73rd Wing, 499th Bomb Group and 878th Squadron based on Saipan. Our crew, The Rover Boys Express, was shot down over Tokyo (target 357) on January 27, 1945.

I was visiting with my son, Dan, in early May 1999. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. I live in the San Francisco area. Dan is now 40 years old and is my best friend.

Out of the clear blue sky one evening he caught my full attention when he asked, "Dad, do you think maybe we could take a trip together to your WWII combat area?"

I was thrilled with his obvious interest in events of 54 years ago (WWII days).

Three weeks later he flew to San Francisco and we embarked on our "Pacific Journey".

The flight from San Francisco was on a United Air Lines 747. This was quite a contrast to my 1944 trip in a brand new B-29. The sky was a brilliant blue and the Pacific Ocean was calm 32,000 feet below. Elapsed time to Honolulu was 4 hours and 20 minutes - another contrast to the 11 hour and 20 minutes on our B-29 fifty-five years earlier. We had a great Father and Son visit as we moved west. We were both obviously very excited about what lie ahead.

Hap and Dan at Honolulu National Cemetery

In Honolulu we spent several days doing the "tourist things" - Pearl Harbor, Battleships Missouri and Arizona. On the second morning we visited Punchbowl National Cemetery. There I visited three of my crew members; two at their grave sites and one commemorated on the Missing in Action wall. At first my son remained some distance away as I knelt and visited with my former crew members. Slowly he moved closer. I felt him sharing my feelings of love and sadness. As we left the cemetery we were both quiet and reserved. Later we discussed this segment of our Pacific Journey. He was no longer a spectator. He became an understanding partner as we moved westward.


Hap at Diamond Head

Next we flew the Honolulu-to-Guam leg in a Continental Air Lines DC10-30 non-stop flight. In 1944 we had a fueling layover stop in Kwajalein. Not necessary in our journey today. We crossed the International Dateline and less than 8 hours after takeoff we let down for the Guam landing. Now we were in the Marianna Islands - the combat lair of the B-29's in those 1944-1945 days of glory, days of sadness.

We boarded an Air Micronesia 727 for the short hop to Saipan. The young Captain and Co-pilot were real WWII buffs and specifically about those great B-29's that launched the air war against the Japanese mainland from air bases on Saipan, Tinian and Guam. We visited in the cockpit. I could sense Dan was intensely interested as the crew of the 727 asked a myriad of questions about "B-29's and those days."

As we crossed over Tinian, the Captain used the public address system to provide a guided tour; calling out the significant points of interest - Broadway (the main street), T-Town, the Invasion Beaches, North field runways and the 2 Bomb Loading Pit areas for Tibbetts and Sweeney's August missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Crossing the narrow ocean channel between Tinian and Saipan, the Captain announced to the 100+ passengers on the 727 that this evening was s special occasion and we would completely do a circle tour around Saipan offshore South to North before returning to land at Isley Field on the South end of Saipan. He tersely commented, "We have a WWII B-29 guy aboard who flew B29 combat missions against Japan from Saipan 54 years ago - -".


What a thrill - there was Isley Field at 9 o'clock low - then Maqicienne Bay which we crossed after takeoff; then moving North the Old Man of the Sea and Bird Island; then passing by Marpi Point and Suicide Cliff at the North end of Saipan. Memories of those days and those places were vivid in my mind. I told Dan all about them. Continuing south we passed Garapan and the Invasion Beaches before turning to set up the landing pattern into Isley Field.

The "A" runway of WWII days has been converted to a taxi strip while runway "B" (resurfaced) is in the exact same place, all 8,500 feet still heading 67.

The next four days on Saipan were spent touring and visiting every significant spot on the Island - the hardstands and taxi strips and living quarters of the 499th and 500th Bomb Groups, the old swimming hole along Obyan Beach - all reeked of memories of friends and places and joy and sadness.

Dan and Hap on Saipan hardstand

We visited all the areas of the 497th and 498th Bomb Groups. One can drive over the former taxiways and hardstand areas. Tantangan trees cover much of the area adjacent to present day Isley Field and former living quarters.

 


City of Garapan, Saipan