the Nagoya mission, our target was the Mitsubishi engine
plant. Once on the bomb run, we took a flak burst
in our number one engine. Since flying on three
engines was quite a common occurrence, we feathered it
an flew out to sea. Our course was set straight
for Guam, which took us some distance from Iwo Jima.
was fine until the engineer began to transfer fuel to
the number two tank, which was consuming more gas due
to the disablement of the number one engine. When
the transfer pump “burned out” it became obvious that
in a short time number two would be out of fuel.
From past experience, we knew that a B-29 wouldn’t fly
well with two engines out on the same side – especially
proceeded to lighten the plane by jettisoning everything
we could - ammunition and the like. When number
two stopped turning it was quickly feathered, We began
to lose altitude despite frantic efforts by Senger and
Kowalke. In an effort to further lighten the plane
we began ripping out equipment and throwing it overboard,
As we worked in the radar compartment, I noticed the radar
man lying curled up on the floor. I tried to awaken
him with the thought in mind that he could be of help
to us, but got no response. I later learned that he had
gone into a comatose state when it became obvious that
we were going down, (This sort of thing, or similar reactions,
happened to quite a few good men when under extreme stress
they would reach their breaking point). In this
case, the radar operator was filling in as a replacement
for Ernest Smith, who was in the hospital on Guam having
a cyst removed from his tailbone. His replacement
was killed when we hit the water.
we continued to lose altitude. Senqer ordered us into
ditching positions, I think I set a record in getting
back to the tail, About that time, someone decided to
jettison the bomb bay gasoline tank, normally, the big
doors would respond quickly when opening or closing, but
that day they refused to close. With the bomb bay
doors open and two engines out, we simply stopped flying.
We touched down very hard with the doors in an open position,
as I recall. We hit the water at about 150 miles
per hour, no tail touching, no gentle letdown, but rather
a terrific slam into the water and then an instant loss
of forward motion, the deceleration force was indescribable.
Later I found that my back bore the Imprint of the flight
suit fabric and was black and blue from the bruises.
impact, the belly of the plane was ripped out and the
fuselage broke apart just aft of the radar compartment.
The tail section, with me, (Durrance) in it, sank immediately.
Somehow, on the way down, I managed to exit the escape
hatch, pull the CO-2 bottles on my Mae West, and shoot
upward to the surface. I then inflated my life raft and
climbed aboard. The only sound I heard was the slap
of waves against the aircraft wreckage that was slowly
submerging nose first. Initially, it appeared
that I was the only survivor, but as the broken fuselage
tilted upright, I saw Marvin Conlev come shooting out
the rear end of the tunnel and plunge into a mass of debris.
I was certain he was badly injured, but he escaped without
even a cut.
about the same time, Robert Harrision broke the surface
streaming blood from a deep cut above the right eyebrow.
Later, in the raft, we found that he also had a broken
leg and crushed pelvis. As he struggled toward me
in the water, I had the fleeting thought that if he did
reach me, he might swamp us both. I comptemplated
whacking him on the head with a paddle, but instead reached
out, got him by the collar of his flight suit and pulled
him up into my lap. In that manner, I paddled around
the floating right wing of the aircraft to where the rest
of the crew were getting into large eight man rafts.
Brook Harris, in his seat-pack raft, began to drift away,
all the while pleading for someone to help him.
Suddenly, he disappeared from sight in the raging sea.
We lashed the two larger rafts together and evenly divided
the rest of us between-the two dinghies. Harrison,
due to hip injuries, took up fully one end of a raft.
In the angry sea, the lashing pulled out of one raft allowing
the air to escape. Since I was the smallest man
on the crew, I thought I could remain in the deflating
raft, however, when the water reached my waist, I was
forced to join the others in the one remaining raft. With
one end occupied by the severely injured Harrison, there
we were jammed together in a tossing life raft in the
midst of the hostile Pacific. A quick check indicated
that Mervin Stanton, the CFC gunner, and the radar officer
were missing, as was Harris, the right gunner. In
addition to our crew, we had aboard an airplane commander
and flight engineer of a new crew. They were flying
this mission with us to observe certain flight and cruise
control procedures. (Undoubtedly, they would just as soon
have missed this one).
the raft was, overcrowded, we had only a few inches of
it above water. As the seas increased its fury,
we had a wall of water enveloping us with nearly every
to the ingestion of salt water most of us became quite
nauseous and had to vomit over the side. With the
increasingly high seas, we were concerned that we would
be swamped. If this happened, it was a near certainty
that Harrison would drown. Conley and I had given
him two morphine surettes but they did little to ease
his pain. He had now become delirious and thought
he was back in Tennessee. In an effort to secure him,
I got a firm grip on the belt of his flight suit and a
tighter grip on the raft and locked on for the duration
of the night. In the morning, I couldn't let go
and Bates had to force both my hands open.
bobbed along wondering what, if anything, we could do.
Conley said he had been transmitting a steady SOS when
we were hit. Bates believed we were drifting west
due to the flow of the current. If so, we were getting
increasingly farther away from the area where a search
plane would be likely patrolling. Bates brought
ripple of hope, though, when he remarked that we were
only seven miles from land. That hope evaporated
quickly, however, when he added, 'Straight down.
Someone suggested that we pray. When no one else offered
a prayer, I recited the 23rd Psalm.
were wet, sick, cold and crowded. The A/C that was
with us was so sick he could barely move. Several
times, in getting to the injured Harrison. I was
compelled to crawl over him. He was in almost as
bad shape as Harrison.
were still concerned about Harris, who had drifted away
from us soon after we had ditched. During
the early hours of the morning, Senger rose up and shouted.
"Harris." Suddenly out of the darkness a voice replied,
'Here.'" It was the missing Harris! He came paddling
toward its atop a wave and tied onto the big raft.
Harris said he had heard nothing until he heard Senger's
call. It seems as if a voice had told Senger when
to call out.
found us a rather beat-up lot. Everyone was sore
and miserable from being wet and cold all night.
Harrison was conscious but numb from the waist down.
In the light of day we were able to determine the seriousness
of his injuries.
the afternoon of that day, some planes spotted us from
our own squadron. Initially, they had seen the flashes
from our signaling mirrors. Soon, a PBY appeared and circled
over us. It wasn't long before we saw the superstructure
of a ship coming toward us at full speed.
as some air crews had been picked up by Japanese vessels,
those of us that still had our 45's proceeded to chamber
a round and be prepared just in case. Fortunately,
it was a destroyer escort-- the USS Doherty. In
its haste to get to us, it almost ran us down. Soon
we were taken aboard the rescue vessel accompanied by
the cheers of the crew. Though we were ecstatic
to see them, we hardly expected such a reception.
They had been on rescue duty in the Aleutians duty, and
we were the first crew they had picked up alive - hence
were treated like royalty and given the best they had
to offer. Normally a ship of the Doherty's
size didn't have a doctor aboard, but fortunately on this
patrol, they did. It was a welcome answer to our prayers
as Harrison was, in grave condition. He was rushed
to sick bay and ice was packed around his waist.
By this time, his scrotum had swelled to nearly the size
of a volleyball.
could still see our plane floating nose-down, due to the
empty gas tanks. The ship's Captain thought it best
that we sink "773" as it might be a navigational hazard.
The Doherty, situated about 100 yards away, commenced firing
when the command was given. It seemed as if every
gun they had sprang into action. It was the
first time the Doherty had fired its guns so the entire
crew was ready and eager when it found a target. "Old
773" endured a volley of cannon and small arms fire, then
slowly slipped beneath the waves. The crew of the
Doherty cheered – all of Crew 21 cried."