Bailing Out – A World War II Tale
Lt. Christopher H. "Kit" Williams, Jr.
May 4–8, 1943
The following document was typed up by my father after he experienced his B-24 failing to make it back from a bombing mission. Undertaken by the 373rd Bomb Squadron of the 308th Bombardment Group of the 14th Air Force, this "Mission #1," as it was designated, originated at the squadron's base in Yangkai, China, and was targeted on the then-occupied Hainan Island off the south coast of China. The bail-out and subsequent hike took place in northern Indo-China (now Vietnam). His crew on the "Dippy Dave" (Serial 41-23143) consisted of pilot David L. "Dave" Willis, co-pilot Junior G. "Hank" Hull, navigator Russell J. Greene, engineer Stanley L. Marshall, radioman James E. Johnson, assistant engineer Carl C. Burgess, assistant radioman Arthur B. Franklin and tail-gunner Irvin R. "Shorty" Howland. My father was Kit Williams, the bombardier. I have transcribed this into electronic form preserving all spelling and punctuation and – as much as possible – the look and feel of the original document.
1st Lieutenant Christopher H. Williams, Bombardier
Liberator (B-24) "Dippy Dave"
Gen. Claire Chennault’s 14th U.S. Air Force in China
Time: After 14th Air Force’s raid on Jap-held islands in the China
Sea, May 4, 1943
"The authorities have kept me from saying anything at all about the experience we had after one of our bombing missions, but due to the fact that Anne and other people seem to have seen things about it in the newspapers, I may just as well tell you all about it, so there will be no mix-up. First of all let me say that I am perfectly well, and was in no way hurt at any time.
"On our way back from a mission, we were still two hours away from our base, when the engines began to cut out, catch for a while, then go out completely. Dave gave us the signal to bail out. I was a little disturbed at the idea, because I hadn't had anything to eat all day and it had been an eight-hour mission. At the time we were flying over rugged mountainous country. We bailed out of the ship surprisingly fast, for never having had any sort of drill on the subject!! As far as I know, we got out of the ship in this order: Johnson, Hull, Burgess, Howland Greene (Greene and I being in the nose, of course), then Franklin, I, Marshall, and finally Dave. Before I jumped, I looked up to see whether anyone was still flying the plane. I saw that Dave was working like a mule to keep the thing flying--we were then descending at the rate of 2000 feet per minute. Dave motioned for me to jump quickly, so I did, after looking back at him in the plane, mainly to make sure he wasn't going to try to land it somewhere; if that had been the case, I was going with him.
Marshall had had to go from the front to the rear of the ship to get his chute, so he and Dave came floating out of the ship soon after I did. Actually the jump is something I never want to do again. At the time the chute opens after you have pulled the ripcord and waited for what seems like an eternity, the jerk on your legs and back is terrific. One boy made the remark that he truly "looked his Maker in the face all the way down." Suddenly after floating for some time and seemingly making no progress toward the ground at all, it appeared to jump up at me and I hit on the side of a mountain harder than I have ever hit anywhere before and very much harder than I ever want to hit again. My first thought was that I could have landed easier had I had no chute at all! Naturally, I was very thankful about the whole thing--that we had all left the ship and were safe as far as I knew. "Dippy Dave" crashed very soon after Dave jumped, and it was hopelessly burned and torn to pieces. I didn't go back to the ship, but some of the boys did, as I learned when our whole crew luckily met in a small town several days later.
"When I gathered my wits after hitting the ground, I hid my chute under some rocks, not knowing whether I was in Jap-held territory or not. It turned out that had we jumped 10 or 15 minutes sooner, we would have been behind enemy lines, and probably would have had a much harder time getting back to the base--if at all.
"I had with me one box of ration chocolate; enough so that for the next 2˝ days I allowed myself one square per meal, three times a day. I also had with me my web belt with my pistol (which was the greatest comfort), my canteen, extra .45 calibre shells, my large "jungle" knife, and the emergency money belt with Chinese money, a small silk map of the area, and a small semi-accurate compass, and a card with the Chinese flag on it and Chinese writing which explains that I am "American Citizen in China to help fight the enemies of the Chinese--please take me to the nearest town or friendly authorities." About two-thirds of the mountaineer Chinese I met along my walk could not even read, but they usually made me an offer to come with them to eat something and spend the night and 'they would help me in the morning.' Not being sure I could trust any of them, I didn't take them up on any invitations, but continued to walk along the river I had found--walking upstream away from the coast and the Japs.
"The night of the third day when I had walked as far as I could possibly walk, I sighted a small town ahead and walked on to it! The Chinese were as nice as anyone could possibly be to me. I hope than an American would be half as thoughtful of a Chinese boy who had bailed out of his plane and was lost! They even gave me a pan to soak my obviously tired, dirty and blistered feet. One older man was apparently very learned for the village and he wrote a letter to the authorities, Chinese Military--explaining what I had explained to him by signs and all sorts of motions. He even provided me with a Chinese soldier as escort and guide to the next town. We had a good night's sleep that night and some soggy rice cakes that I wouldn't have fed to a dog, but at the time they tasted like a turkey dinner to me. From then on things were comparatively easy. At eleven the next morning my military escort and I started walking towards the next town. It turned out to be a good sized town and the "mayor" telegraphed the nearest American Air Field that I was there. It was this night that, while walking towards the hotel, I happened to see Howland, Greene, Franklin, and Burgess in a little café, eating hard-boiled eggs and drinking wine. Naturally it was like finding your lost brothers. Before dark the entire crew except Marshall had happened into that eating place! Marshall didn't get back til three days after we had been here. The next day a truck was sent for us and we rode over a terrible mountain road all afternoon to an emergency Air Field. The next day an Army Transport came to get us and brought us back here.
"One thing startled me, and that was the fact that I had been drinking water right out of the river and about 400 yards from where I had taken a drink, I found two Chinese bodies lying half in the river! They still had some skin stretched over one arm and leg and a little on one of their chests. One head was lying about 10 feet away. The water still tasted good to me as thirsty as I was. Once I had to pull my gun which I had already loaded, on two Chinese men who were coming up to me with long curved knives behind them, which I luckily saw. Fortunately, they both stopped so quickly that they took several steps backward, and it was unnecessary for me to pull the trigger, which I would have done without hesitation.
"The most miserable night was the first one, when I slept on the bank of the river and it poured rain all night long. I got so cold that I used all my matches trying to start a fire under a rock. The next day it was cloudy almost all day, and I had to walk for twelve and a half hours with wet, cold clothes on. I tried to remember what Dad had told me about walking--so I walked 55 minutes and rested 5. I stopped for 20 minutes for "lunch."
"It's all over now and it was a good experience to have behind you. We have a new airplane and everything is going on as usual.