A World War II story about the 54th Fighter Sqdn. Alaskan Defense Command
Before I get too engrossed in a story or two, I want to recognize my two pilots. Captain George C. Liven and Lt. Banks.
Lt Banks was a nice guy (kid). I used to put candy and gum and other such things in the cockpit for him when he went out on a long haul. A LONG haul meant either 8 or 9 or sometimes 10 hours of flight ,sitting on your BUTT , confined to a CHAIR in a FIGHTER which meant some times you had to PEE in your pants cause there was “NO” relief tube for the pilot to UTILIZE. IT DID HAPPEN. A lot of times we kept belly tanks installed, full and ready for a mission. This particular day he was ordered to go out on patrol, NO BELLY TANKS. So I dropped them and moved the ship back and away from the dropped tanks and fire danger. Well he started engines, taxied out and took off. Some time later the weather closed in and covered the island, and that left BANKS blind to where the runway was. So what happened?? HE WAS LOST AT SEA !!!!! Not enough fuel, poor kid. I learned to fly, or got my 3rd class in 1947 and I often wonder what Lt Banks last few minutes were like.
CAPT. LAVEN will always be “ CAPTAIN “to me even tho he retired as a COLONEL. The last time I saw him, he was a Capt.
I have a story about him and his Capt’s bars. We (notice I said WE) had a broken rear view mirror on OUR P-38 and Capt. Laven had asked me to replace it. I don’t know how it became damaged, shot out, flak, kicked, or whatever, but broke it was. So off to salvage I went. Tools in hand I located one on a ship that had belly landed.
I got busy removing the mirror and some M/Sgt came ROARING out of the salvage hut and pronounced in no uncertain terms to get my hands off that mirror and get the HELL out of there. I left and proceeded to find “MY” Captain LAVEN.
The Capt. Wore a sheep skin flying jacket with his BARS on the UNDER side of the collar. Well here we came --- me with tools in hand and Laven with “ AUTHORITY “. Started to work again and sure enough the M/Sgt came roaring out of the shack once more and started telling us how he was going to HANG OUR BUTTS.
Now the fun part, Capt. Laven just rolled up his collar and showed those 40 miles of bright shinning railroad track. Boy did that M/Sgt cool off --- not a word--- just walked back into the shack like a little lamb. We went home with our mirror and every one was happy, (well almost every one ).
Don’t ask me what our CO'S name was on ADAK because it’s been to long and I wasn’t his bosom buddy any how. As the story went, he thought our moral was LOW and wanted to-do something to pick it up. He took a C-47 and flew back to Anchorage, bought enough liquor to give each enlisted man a 1/5th (quart). I don’t know where all the money came from, I can only guess that the officers kicked in some ???????. He brought back every kind of hard liquor there was. If you wanted a bottle, you came and picked up what you wanted --- it was free. (at least mine was).
Did we have a party, man o man. I can only tell you about our Quonset hut. Early in the evening, it was only card games. Then some one said something somebody didn’t like and it went from there.
We had two coal stoves in the hut for heat and of course they were full of BLACK SOOT. They came down with a crash and rolled NORTH and SOUTH. As for the wrestling that went on, no one really got hurt. Soot, blood, and beds all over the place. When the fun was over we looked around and some one said “get a mop”. To no avail, the floor was BLACK_BLACK_BLACK !!!!!!!. Then some one turned on a “LIGHT-BULB” in his head and suggested turning the floor over. ( The floor was ¾ inch by 4ft by 4ft ply board not nailed down, but fit together like a gig saw puzzle. So over it went, stoves reset, bunks in order, beds made, and guess what, the WHITEST, CLEANEST, looking floor you ever saw.
In comes the C/O for inspection, (maybe he just heard about our floor). He looked around, GRINNED, and said “did you have a good time”?
We had a young man by the name of TERRY. He must have had connections with the hospital because about once a month he came home with a 5 GAL. Can of grain ALCOHOL. We could only buy a 1/5th, IF—IF—IF you had a bottle or container. We tried aluminum water jug, but that just melted, slowly, and we ended up getting sick. So we went to glass containers.
Terry sold a 1/5th for $100.00 DOLLARS. Every one was glad to get it. There was no other place to spend our money, no P/X, no girls, no anything. One guy would buy a beer bottle full for $25.00 then nurse it for a week. He drank it straight, boy I’ll bet he has no belly left today. It was 180 PROOF.
Those guys from our sister SQDN”S, 37th and 38th , that went to England and worked on their aircraft with Natzi bombs falling around, then at night , went to bed with a nice soft warm body , had it made, yeah they saw it rough?????????.
The only battle I ever saw was between two jap fighters and two P-40’s. The battle took place right over the beach where our revetments were, on the Island of UMNAK,. There we were, with our heads all looking skywards trying to see it all. The event took place very low, I would say between 100 feet and 2000 feet altitude.
Each P-40 had his own Jap aircraft to himself. The Jap’s had been trying to stay together because they would dive and come toward each other, and then climb back up. Then dive back down again to elude their pursuer.
Well one Jap came barreling by at about 200 feet; P-40 in pursuit, from a 90 degree angle comes #2 at about 500 feet. The P-40 following #1 Jap pulled up sharply right under his buddy. The lower P-40 prop cut the top P-40 absolutely in two. The astonishing part was that they were so low to the ground; we could see the pilot twist around in his chair, because that’s where the prop chewed thru the ship, INCHES behind the pilot. He had the strangest look on his face, then the craft nosed over and went into the water. The pilot was killed, not by the crash, but by drowning or the drop into the water. It all happened in seconds. The other P-40 spewed steam from antifreeze and smoke from oil lines that were crushed, and fluttered like a leaf and settled down to the water. He came out OK. I’ll never forget that young man’s face as he turned and looked out at the blue sky and hard ground.
Well gang --- It’s been nice talking with you again, see ya soon – I hope.
54th Interceptor Sqdn.
343rd Fighter Group
Alaskan Defense Command