by Major General Earl L. Johnson, USAF (Retired)
Time: January 2,1941
Warren G. Roeser and Earl L. Johnson check into Glenview Army Air Corps Primary Flying School, Glenview, Illinois, for 9 weeks of Primary Flying School pilot training. Glenview, now a major Navy Air Base, was some 30 miles north of Chicago and forty-six new cadets were going to learn to fly open-cockpit, PT- I 7's.
Pearl Harbor was still 11 months away but war clouds were gathering and these two were casting their futures with an Army Air Corps that was just getting underway.
After below zero flying in the open cockpits and several frozen faces, traces of spring arrived and thirteen flying cadets were graduated and sent off to Gunter Army Air Field near Montgomery, Alabama where a welcomed spring had surely arrived.I Roeser and Johnson were still among those present.
After another 9 weeks of pilot training, this time in Vultee BT- I 3's, it came time for "advanced". Johnson was sent to Maxwell Army Air Corps Base on the west of Montgomery but Roeser was sent to a new pursuit training base at Selma, Alabama, where he would take advanced training in North American AT-6's and P-40's.
Johnson was kept at Maxwell as a flying instructor and Roeser disappeared into the gathering war clouds as a pursuit pilot (now called a fighter pilot). Neither recalled seeing each other after that.
Time: June 1945 -- Place North Field, Tinian -- Pacific Theater
Maj. Johnson is assigned to the 9th Bomb Group, 313th Bomb Wing, 20th Air Force. He has spent over 3-years as an advanced flying school instructor during which he amassed almost 3,000 flying hours. Finally in mid- 1944 he volunteered for a combat assignment and ended up as a B-29 lead crew commander then an operations staff officer in the 9th Bomb Group.
He had flown several missions against Japan including the first low -altitude, fire-bomb mission. Roeser's location was unknown to Johnson.
One day a message came through to the 9th Bomb Group directing them to provide three-B-29's to act as escort and provide navigation for a Group of P-47's being transferred from Saipan (which is only three miles from Tinian) to Okinawa. Okinawa was about 1,000-nautical miles from Saipan and all over water except for a small rock by the name of Parece Vela which is about halfway. The P-47's were not equipped for long over-water navigation thus the three B-29's to lead them. The fighters were actually going to le Shima off the west coast of Okinawa where the famous journalist, Ernie Pile had been killed just days before. And the Battle of Okinawa was going full blast which made it necessary to get the P-47's there quickly.
Somehow Maj. Johnson got the message and not being busy at the moment said he would get the three, B-29's and crews and lead the flight. It was to be about a tenhour mission and since it went into (and, in fact, over the Okinawa battlefield) each B-29 participant was to be awarded 1/2 combat mission credit
The next morning at 10:00 A. M. at 10,000 feet over Saipan, three-B-29's circled and forty-five, P-47's rose to fall into loose formation. One Squadron of P-47's of 15 airplanes was assigned to each B-29 and off went the gaggle toward Okinawa, some 5 hours away.
|Maj. Johnson being the lead B-29 got the distinct privilege of escorting the senior Squadron Commander of the P-47 Group with his 15-airplanes. Conversations went back and forth by radio from "B-29 Leader to Red Leader" on a discrete frequency while other conversations on another radio frequency went on between "Green Leader" and "Blue Leader" and their respective B-29 navigating airplanes.
From the surface this must have looked like a much of small birds chasing three big hawks with almost (50) airplanes headed off northwest from Saipan toward Okinawa.
As always on long flights the three, B-29's went on autopilot, while crew members put their feet up somewhere and got comfortable. Flying over-water for long stretches can get boring.
On the other hand, the poor P-47 jocks had to maintain some kind of formation, even though loose, for remember there happened to be fifteen of them following each B29. The B-29's also maintained some semblance of position although they might have been two or three miles apart.
As this "mighty Armada" of America's finest got near Parece Vela, Johnson in the lead B-29 noticed a layer of clouds ahead at near their altitude of 10,000. Now flying formation in clouds is not all that difficult if the clouds aren't too thick and these clouds didn't look like more than layer clouds without a lot of vertical build-up.
Nonetheless, he thought it wise to call his Red Leader to "close it up" which he did. Red Leader acknowledged the request and could be heard calling in all his "chickens" to "close it up". Bomber pilots are not considered good formation flyers for a good reason. Their aircraft are much bigger and slower to make slight corrections needed in formation flying while fighter pilots have smaller, more sensitive aircraft and better visibility from the cockpit. They can get in very close and this is exactly what Red Leader did as he pulled in on B-29 Leaders left wing.x
P-47 Bubble |
B-29 Leader Johnson watching all this from the left seat of the B-29 marveled (and was probably a little jealous) of all those P-47's getting in so close as the formation entered the cloud-layer at 10,000 feet.
In fact, he was really watching Red Leader as his P-47 tucked in within just a few feet and slightly below the left wing of the B-29. In fact, the P-47 was so close that Maj. Johnson could look down and into the cockpit of the P-47 and clearly see the P-47 Red Leader who had his goggles up on his forehead.
And who did he see - You guessed it! None other than his old friend, from Glenview and Gunter, one each Warren Roeser.
"Red Leader, this is B-29 Leader.
What is Red Leader's name and rank-"
"B-29 Leader, this is Red Leader. This is Major Roeser", came back the reply.
"Warren, you old son-of-a-bitch, this is Major Johnson".
"Earl, you old bastard, what the hell you doing flying that old 4-engine, bag of bolts- I can't believe it.Don't get us lost there's lots of water and sharks out here."
"Don't worry, old boy".
And someone listening to this radio conversation must have thought both Roeser and Johnson were off their respective rockers. Of all places in the world these two guys have to run into each other at 10,000 feet over Parece Vela, in the clouds, in formation in two different airplanes.
As it turned out Major Roeser could not transfer fuel in his P-47 and had to go back to Saipan. Johnson told him to land over on Tinian and spend the night with him in his tent. So when Johnson landed back on Tinian he taxied over past Base Operations and there sat a lone P-47.
Suffice to say some whiskey glasses were raised that night.
Time: Summertime 1957 -- Place: Washington, DC
Let's transfer to first-person for this sequel.
After Air War College graduation in 1955, 1 was transferred to the Pentagon in Washington, DC. I was married and had a four-year old daughter, Donna. Near our house in Alexandria, Virginia, someone had started a private swimming club with a new swimming pool so we took a family membership. Donna was taking swimming lessons and my wife and I were sitting around trying to keep cool.
Suddenly I noticed a guy in the water. He had his back to me and all I could see was the back of his head and neck but I told my wife, "Peg, I know that guy. It's Warren Roeser".
I ran around to the other side of the pool where I could see him in the face and sure enough it was Warren.
After a few yells and introductions to his wife, Lois and my wife, Peg, we settled down to going over the past 12-years of our lives since we met at 10,000 feet over the Pacific.
Warren was an FBI agent. His wife, Lois, ran the stewardess school for United Airlines at Washington National Airport. As Warren used to say his job with the FBI was as a "street man" which I found out meant that he worked outdoors and did a lot of following. We let it drop at that but through Warren and Lois we meant a lot of FBI people and some of them lived in our neighborhood in Alexandria.
Warren Roeser now lives in Santa Barbara, California. Every once in a whhile we get on the telephone and run up our respective phone bills but don't let anyone ever tell you it's not a small world.
- Earl L. Johnson Maj. Gen. USAF (Ret)