Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Ides of March, 1945

The Japanese proverb '2-gatsu wa nigeru 3-gatsu wa saru', (February slips away, March departs) hints that both months are scurrying months; the issues we face are how to seize days. The Ides of March per Roman calendar is March 15, the day Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. My favorite author, Thornton Wilder, wrote a masterpiece of the same name as a novel in letters, creating imagined documents, including Caesar's journal. I don't deny the somber mood these days may brew. Another Ides of March 2011 will soon be upon us be it good or bad.

The following is the story of the Ides of March, 1945. The US Library of Congress Cat No. 83-90348 “King Of the Heavies” by Glenn R. Horton, has an account on Pages 84/85 by the Navigator Lt. Harry Hagen, of Lt. Carl Ortman’s crew of the 528th Squadron, 380th Bomb Group revealing his experience of March 15. Lt. Hagen's flight had been on a weather recon, heading up to Formosa. The flight had left its base in Mindora, Philippines at 3:00 AM, flew to Formosa and probably searched for an hour before checking in with the weather data. At this point, the plane started developing engine problems on the return trip. The problems kept getting worse until it became quite serious and the pilot ordered to abandon the plane. This location was about one hour flying time from Formosa. Lt. Hagen thought that he had been in the water for nine and a half hours before he had an opportunity to signal a search plane. To his relief, the search plane spotted him and dropped a life raft.

Yes, Lt. Hagen and other crew members were all rescued. Who rescued them? It was Raymond Warner II, with whom I share our granddaughter and grandson (Raymond IV). He had his own version of the story. He was not on the search mission but miraculously flew over the drifters. Raymond IV, now 8 years old, calls him Grandpa Ray and me Grandpa Rio.

Ray, the B-25 navigator, 822nd Bomb Squadron, 38th Bomb Group, took off from Lingayen, Luzon on March 15 with fighter escorts gleaming in the sunshine toward the northwest destination where the Japanese convoys had been reported. However, the weather was beginning to change and up ahead, a definite line of a fog bank could be seen from the southern tip of Formosa out to the west past Pratas Island on over toward the coast of China. Approaching the designated target area the weather got even worse and it became even more difficult to see the wing tips. The order was issued to proceed to a secondary target to the west coast of Borneo.

Ray wrote in his memoir that "we were offshore quite a distance, about hundred and twenty miles, when we made our turn. We were flying at 3,000 ft. once again. Ten minutes after we made the turn I saw a flash from the surface of water. It appeared to be the reflection of the sun from a mirror directed at us. I immediately notified Tate who contacted the Squadron commander, we asked permission to go down and investigate. Permission was granted and we descended closer to the surface of the water. Floating in a Mae West inflated vest was a man trying to get our attention. Air Sea Rescue was contacted and another B-25 from our base back at Lingayan was sent out to relieve us".

Ray volunteered to fly again as an air-rescue member to make sure everyone in the wild ocean drifting further apart was picked up by sea-rescue teams.

Ray recalls, he had observed a few weeks before, another "Bail Out" B-25 crew, looking safe in a life raft, waiting for air-sea rescue. Sadly this crew became MIAs, as the search encountered weather problems and were unable to spot the drifting raft. He promised himself that he would react more aggressively and ensure rescue at all costs. He seized, subconsciously, the momentous flash of light and made sure they were survivors instead of MIAs on the Ides of March, 1945.

I am very proud of "Grandpa Ray" and look forward to seeing him again soon, surrounded by immediate families on my next visit to the U.S.
Ray II far left with his children and the Imamura in-laws
Photo was taken at the March Air Force Base, Nov. 5, 1999

1 comment:

Paul Dion, STL said...

The ides of March used to be the deadline for reporting and paying federal taxes in the United States. Many years ago (? don't know) the date was pushed back to April 15. The extra 30 days do not make the task any easier. it is a shipwreck every year and leaves no survivors!
Good stuff, Rio.