NOTES: John "Johnny" Bartek was a private in the Army Air Force who served as the flight mechanic with the crew assigned to fly Eddie Rickenbacker from Hawaii to the New Guinea headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur. Because of reasons discussed below, pilot William Cherry ditched this flight in the Pacific Ocean near Canton Island. Rickenbacker and Cherry's crew spent 3 weeks lost at sea. All but one survived.
Those lost at sea: Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker; Col. Hans Christian Adamson (Protocol Officer accompaning Rickenbacker); Capt. William T. Cherry, pilot; Lt. James C. Whittaker, co-pilot; Lt. John DeAngelis, navigator; Sgt. Frank Reynolds, radio operator; Pvt. John Bartek, flight engineer; and Sgt. Alex Kaczmarzyck, passenger returning to his unit after hospitalization.
Below is the unedited transcript of the interview Mr. Bartek gave to Dr. David Lewis, Distinguished University Professor, and Dr. Dwayne Cox, University Archivist, at Auburn University, Alabama.
David Lewis: If I ask any question that you don't want to answer that's fine.
John Bartek: If I can answer I'll answer, but if I can't answer...
DL: Well, if there is any question that I ask you that you are not comfortable in answering I want you to feel that way because this is not a grand jury procedure. This is simply trying to fill in details of the story as it really happened. Several things you said at lunch yesterday really gave me some added perspective on this flight. One was according to what I understand, it was only a very few minutes after Captain Eddie and Colonel Adamson got on the plane that you took off. Is that true?
JB: Yes, a couple of seconds, yes. We were all revved up and gone just about...didn't waste any time.
DL: They had barely time to sit down.
JB: That's right.
DL: And the interior of the plane was dark.
JB: Dark because everything...the whole Hawaiian Islands had at a black out.
DL: So in the dark you were trying to find a place to sit down and found that Colonel Adamson was sitting where you thought you were going to sit...
DL: ...and it was then that you grabbed whole of something and got your fingers caught.
JB: It felt as though my finger began to put pressure to it. I didn't know what it was.
DL: By that time it was ground looping probably.
JB: Yes. Now, what we were doing was swaying along the runway because he had no control over the airplane.
DL: Now, what was the explanation you gave in your speech yesterday about why the brake has to be applied during a take off?
JB: On take off they have a cross wind in Hawaii.
DL: Oh, okay.
JB: I'm not a pilot so I don't know but according to Cherry's report you have a cross wind and you've got to slightly brake the wheel to keep the plane on an even keel, on a straight course, otherwise you are... It just like, I guess, you're on a boat and you have a sail on a boat. The wind will push you off to the side so he was braking the one wheel and when he was doing it the brake expander went and when that let lose then he had no control. So otherwise we would swerve off the runway someplace. So he had to slow it down with--I don't know how we ____ -- controlling the engines and also the other brake and we finally ground looped it. In other words, we were going in the other direction.
DL: Yes, as I understand it, it was the right expander _____.
JB: Right expander. I didn't know for sure which one it was because I didn't get a chance to inspect the plane.
DL: That's the next question I was going to ask. Maybe you can't answer this but do you know how long it was after the B-17 was rolled out and Rickenbacker got aboard? Was there time to adequately inspect the plane?
JB: There was no time at all to inspect the plane. Not that I know of because I was told, I went with the other plane to begin but then I had to come back to the ... I don't know what was going on at that time. All I knew was they told us we had to take off in another airplane. So by the time we got the baggage off and all that it was possibly 1: 30 or 1: 20.
DL: Well, now, I'm talking about the first take off when you ground looped.
DL: And before that first take off there was time to really...
JB: There was no time either. The only thing is I went out that afternoon to check the plane and Cherry was out there also. Cherry is a very careful pilot and what he told me was, he said, "I'm not here to check on your work," but he said, "Every time I fly I like to look the plane over myself personally for my own satisfaction. I'm not checking up on your job." He made that very, very clear.
DL: That was in the afternoon?
JB: But he said "I have to fly this airplane and I like to look it over myself." He checks everything all the way around the whole plane.
DL: Naturally the expander tube was not something he could...?
JB: No, that's hidden within the wheel. None of us knew anything about that and I didn't know anything about the B-17s. I didn't know that was the problem and even if I did there was no way of me saying we can't take off with or without it.
DL: So what I am trying to get at is that first of all you were unfamiliar with B-17s to begin with.
JB: I knew nothing about the -17s.
DL: How familiar--you may not be able to answer this question. How familiar was Cherry with B-17s?
JB: I don't know.
DL: Okay. You had flown with him on a B-24?
DL: You had had only one mission with him?
JB: That was the first mission, yes.
DL: Prior to this flight you had flown with him from Brisbane to...?
JB: I had flown from California, Hawaii, to Brisbane.
DL: With Cherry?
JB: With Cherry.
JB: And there were three other airplanes flying behind us. We were the lead plane.
JB: But on the way back we caught a ride back. We had to wait for transportation to take us back to Hawaii when a few days later then we came back to Hawaii. Then there were four B-17s they told us we had to take to the States. They were obsolete for one reason because they had no tail gun. It was the only reason but we were taking them back training future bomber pilots, four engine bomber pilots. So we checked our airplane that morning because we were going to be the lead plane but also we were going east so all you have to do is wait for the sun to rise in the morning to know that you are on right track. It had nothing to do with navigation, but we wanted to hit, I guess Frisco, where we were going to right on the button. But anyway we would never get lost. But instead I went out to the airplane after a while that afternoon and Captain Cherry then told me, he said, we are not going back to the States, he said we are going back out west." I said, "What for?" "Well," he said, "we are going on a special mission," but he said "I think you will be pleased with who's coming aboard." Well, I said "what do you mean by that? Well, he said, somebody that you will be happy to meet." I said who, like Colonel Lindbergh? Because I wasn't thinking of Eddie Rickenbacker because he was injured less than a year ago. Then I said President Roosevelt? He said no. I said Mickey Mouse? And he just laughed. But he said I know you will be happy and he was all smiles.
DL: Now, had you flown with any of the other men ...?
JB: No, I haven't. See, in the military every flight we took we always went up with a different crew. It didn't matter. It's just like I thought the airlines flew with the same crew. The airlines don't fly with the same crew. They change constantly. I didn't know that but I read that in one of the magazines. I don't know if it was _____, Air and Space or one before that. None of the crews ever fly together. Why they do it I don't know.
DL: So prior to this flight to [Canton Island] you did not know Whitaker or Reynolds?
JB: No, I didn't. Only on the trip to Brisbane.
DL: Oh, they were on the trip to Brisbane?
JB: Oh, yes. All the way to Brisbane and we all came back together. But then when we came back to the States then we would go back to our home base and then they would have other engineers, they had other pilots, and they would give each one of them a chance. All they do is pick them up off of a board, this man had ____ _____.
DL: What I'm trying to get at here is that the crew that you flew from Hickenfield to Canton Island on which you got lost. You had already flown with that exact same crew from the United States to Brisbane, back to Hawaii.
DL: Okay, except for Kaczmarzyck?
DL: And we've heard that he was put on because he knew B-17s.
JB: He was the crew chief, B-17 crew chief. I figured that he was a good man to take aboard since I was not checked out on the B-17. I didn't realize the way the military operates. But there was a war going on and things... I always thought you had to be educated into your job, you had to be told something about something. But in the military they tell you nothing. All they do in the military, they have a board in there and they say we have three P-47s out there (I'm talking about fighter planes) that have to be checked for certain things and go out and check them and that's the way the orders were given, or we have twenty-five B-25s just came and we want you to check these things on this B-25. And then we would have to go out and check them. Well, they would say we have some 17s out there and we want you to pull the props through and drain the gas out of them. You had a little pet cock under each engine, under each gas tank or whatever it was. You had to drain out maybe a gallon of gas out of it to get the water out of it. But this is the way our orders were given or they may say there's a C-47 out that that has to have a wing tank changed and then we just go out and work on it. But there was never such thing as thorough education because that would take maybe four to six years.
DL: Yes. That leads me to another question partly because Eddie made an issue in what he wrote about how much training he'd had.
JB: No training really. He's right.
DL: Yes. I wonder if you could summarize just for the sake of the record what sort of training did you have, how long was it, what did they teach you, did they have actual engines for you to work on?
JB: They didn't have any [then]. I went to Roosevelt Field and all they taught us was something like this is they way you would _____ a piece of pipe, and this is the spark plug, and this is the way you set the gap on spark plugs, and this is the way you tie down a bolt. Every bolt that was put in an airplane you had to what they call fasten it. You had to put a wire around it in a certain way and fasten it to another so it doesn't vibrate lose. And these are the [Zeus] fasteners and this is the reason you use the [Zeus] fastener. But as far as the airplane goes, they taught us nothing about the airplane at that time in mechanic school. They didn't even have an engine in there. We had a B-10 Martin Bomber at Roosevelt Field. It was a civilian training school. I guess it was military when the war broke out and we were just allowed to sort of sit in it and crawl through it but they didn't tell us anything about where the gas tanks are at or nothing about the airplane. But then when I graduated from there supposedly, that was possibly one of the best schools in the country, but that was a good civilian school. But when the war broke out everything changed. So then they sent me to B-24 school, that was in Smyrna, Tennessee, and that's where we flew but they would take as many as ten men aboard the airplane and when you are in a small airplane the fellow up front is telling you how to check to transfer fuel but if you are all the way in the back you didn't hear him because he is all the way up front. You don't even know where the controls are. So what you are doing is you are going on this flight and he is talking about invertors and generators but you've got a cockpit that's only that big and you've got twelve men in the back and you don't know what he's talking about, and the noise of the airplane, you're not hearing anything. So this is the way we were trained.
DL: How many missions had you flown across the Pacific before the Rickenbacker mission?
JB: I didn't fly any across the Pacific.
DL: Just the one to Brisbane?
JB: Just the one. But then after that I flew to Tokyo. We were the first ones in Tokyo.
DL: Wow. Now, when you flew the first flight from San Frisco to Hawaii to Brisbane by B-24s, was Canton Island on the flight?
JB: On the flight? Yes.
DL: So you had flown between Hawaii and Canton?
JB: Yes. But I think when we flew it then we flew from Hawaii to Palmyra and then from Palmyra to Canton or the Christmas Island, I don't know.
DL: I have some descriptions of Canton but if you can add anything to it, what was Canton Island like at the time? What did they have there?
JB: Nothing. One palm tree.
DL: Any facilities? Hangars?
JB: I don't really know because all we did is fly in there, gas up and check a few things around the plane to make sure nothing was loose on it because we handled the spare parts so we couldn't do anything any way. All we could do is check it if anything looked bad then we would have to wait for a plane they'd have to call in for the part.
DL: Do you remember what the runway was like at Canton, what it was surfaced with?
JB: I don't know what it was surfaced with but it was probably sand because of hard coral they could make a landing on it. I don't remember any hard top or anything like that.
DL: And you had gone there by way of Palmyra?
JB: I don't know but I think so. I don't think we went directly from...
DL: That's what I was going to ask, was it unusual when you flew with Rickenbacker on that flight to Canton, was it unusual that you went directly from Hawaii to Canton instead of going by way of another island?
JB: The reason we went to Canton, I think it was directly, because Rickenbacker was in a hurry so we didn't want to have any lay overs. He was pressing for time.
DL: Yes. Okay. Well, you've said what I sort of expected you to say on this. In other words the normal procedure, I guess, would have been to go by way of a nearer island and...
JB: Pray and then gas up again and check everything, get a little rest and then go on to the next island. That would give you a bigger gas supply heading to the next island. Well, when you have 1,800 miles to fly and if you miss that island you've got a problem because there is no island close enough to make the next island. It is better to make the short hops.
JB: Especially with an inexperience in some of the crew members.
DL: Yes. Now I've lost my train of though temporarily but I had a question that was... Oh, yes, you had said at lunch yesterday that after you ground looped, you're back where you started, Cherry really did not want to take off in the next plane?
JB: Well, I wasn't around at that time. This is what I've been hearing all the time since then. And if I know Cherry, Cherry wouldn't want to take off unless the plane was checked. Cherry is a pilot, a hundred percent pilot.
DL: You had made the statement yesterday and I gather from what you've just said that this was something that you've heard from somebody else but you said that Cherry not only did not want to take off but almost refused to take off.
JB: He refused to take off. When they said to Cherry that if you are too scared to fly the plane or don't want to fly, I don't know what words they used, they said we'll get another crew. So then Cherry said, well, it isn't that, we'll take off. So off we went. While we were out there on the raft I didn't know anything, we didn't talk about anything out there. We had another problem. That wasn't the problem any more.
DL: Now this next question is something that you might not consider yourself qualified to answer. I have heard and I'm not trying to place blame on anybody, I have heard that normal procedure would have called after the ground looping--first of all normal procedure would have called for that octave that DeAngelis used to be secured before the take off. Is that...?
JB: Right, supposedly. I don't know, see, I don't know what a navigator does with it. He's down below.
DL: That's why I was asking you, you might feel uncomfortable with the question but I have been told that normal procedure before a take off, and we are talking for the first take off, before the ground looping take off, that normal procedure would have called for DeAngelis to have that octave in some kind of a secure position.
JB: I have no idea what the procedure of a navigator is plus he was a lieutenant and I was only a private. The only thing is that DeAngelis, I didn't know at that time, because like I say it was dark, but I heard he was downstairs with the ______ and it fell off the table and he laid it on the table, and he picked it up off the floor. But he shouldn't have been down below because in case the airplane should have collapsed on the runway, say the landing gear gave out he would be right under it. We were taught when we were flying the B-24s to never sit in the nose wheel area, always sit in the top deck coming in for a landing. When we were at Smyrna, Tennessee, training one of the fellows was sitting in the nose because he wanted to see the runway as he came in, he was training to be an engineer and when he came in they disqualified him from an engineer right there. They didn't even warn him about it at the time.
DL: So you had understood that on the first take off...
JB: ...take off everybody's got to be above deck.
DL: But you had understood that DeAngelis was down below on that take off?
JB: That's the way I thought he was because it was dark and I couldn't see.
DL: He wasn't in the cockpit?
JB: No, he wasn't in the cockpit. See, his room, I didn't know where it was whether it was slightly below or whether it was right behind me, I don't know, because it was dark.
DL: It was down in the nose.
JB: Once we were lost I wasn't concerned about _____. I think he was in the nose.
DL: Now between the first take off and the second take off did you get off the plane when you got back after the ground looping take off and wait somewhere?
JB: No, I went with the airplane that we ground looped. I was assuming that we were going to get the brake fixed. That's what they said it was, a brake problem. But I was assuming, you see, we don't carry any gear with us. The base itself has the gear. But I thought it would take maybe about three hours to repair it. It shouldn't take more than that with the _______ crew on the ground they have all the equipment there. We carried no equipment. All we carried was a little tool box. That's about it.
DL: So you went with the plane?
JB: I was with the plane then I heard that they were not going to fix the airplane, they were going to give us another one so then I came back to the plane, the other plane, and I wasn't going to mill around with the generals and I wasn't going to mill around with the higher ups there because I was only a private and I didn't want to get in their way. I was an ex-serviceman like I told you before. I was in there >37 to >40. The military was tough between officers and enlisted men. So, I was not a draftee. I was an ex-serviceman and I respected the rank and I knew to stay out of their way. We never socialized in a peace-time army. Everything was this is an officer and this is you. That's the way it was kept.
DL: By the time you got back after the first plane was taken back to the hangar and you learned that it was not going to be fixed but they were going to use a second plane and then you went out...
JB: Went back to the second plane...
DL: And it was there?
JB: Ready to go.
DL: I don't want to put words in your mouth but did they really have time to adequately look over that plane or had it been checked before?
JB: There was a black out. It wasn't the checking the outside structure of the airplane. That had nothing to do with it. The airplane was all riveted together and there was nothing wrong with that. But what you have to check is we had to go up... First thing I have to check to make sure the tanks are full of gas, then I have to check the oil on all the engines. So then we go up for a two-hour flight. In the meantime when we come back then I fill each one of the tanks to see how much gas that they are using. I've got to check the oil again to see whether one is burning more oil than the other, or one engine is burning more than the other so then we'll know what condition we are in all the time. And also they check the way the plane flies, whether it is flying with a drag on it. That would be the pilot would tell you "Now, this plane is dragging a little bit," in case you have to get that extra fifty miles in there she's going to coast on in. And the pilot checks for the feel of the plane where everything is at. The navigators checks his readings with that with the compass on the airplane to see whether that's correct with the log book. You have a log book ____ ____if you were four degrees off here they are supposed to put that in a book so when the navigator works he knows he's four degrees off course and he has to make that correction. But we found out after we--Whitaker gave a talk in some business meeting and the captain said he flew that airplane and he said that airplane had a defective directional finder. It's loop was not operating and they should have repaired that. And he also said that the plane was not four degrees off, the airplane was four degrees plus fourteen, so we were eighteen degrees off on the navigational end of it.
DL: And Whitaker said he knew that before the flight?
JB: I don't know whether Whitaker said he knew about that. The first thing you get in and you check your log book. Like I checked the log book and I see the airplane's on an "X" that means that has to be fixed, what they call a red "X" in a book, that has to be fixed. That airplane can't fly no matter if the general asked to fly, he can't fly that airplane. That's an "X" unless he signs for it he's responsible but if it is on a red slant that means look into it. I mean be careful, but look into it. If none of those are on there then you can maybe make a notation of something. They may say, you know, your tail wheel--we noticed that maybe the wheel is a little--the tires aren't that good. Let's say the tires don't look that good. They'll make a notation in there and then it is up to you to check the tires to see whether you want to take off in that airplane.
DL: Now from what you are telling me there was no time to do any of that.
JB: None of that.
DL: Okay. Furthermore from what I understood from your talk yesterday the defective direction finder had not been checked into the log book. Is that true? I mean that the log book didn't...
JB: I don't know. I didn't have a chance to check it. I don't even know whether the pilot had a chance. I don't know because they were already in the airplane. Probably they looked at it real quick and just threw it aside. I don't know.
DL: I may return to this aspect of the flight but I'd like to ask a few questions about just where everybody was in the plane before you ditched? In other words where was Whitaker--well, Whitaker and Cherry would be in the cockpit and you would be in the cockpit.
JB: I was in the cockpit area.
DL: Okay. Where was DeAngelis?
JB: DeAngelis was in back of the airplane. Reynolds was at his control in the back of the airplane. That's where the radio was at.
DL: The radio was in the back?
JB: Back of the airplane.
JB: Eddie Rickenbacker was sitting by the window in the back of the airplane. Colonel Adamson was sitting with his back up against the bulk head. He had a mattress behind him and he was sitting so when we came in for the landing he wanted his back up against the bulk head and Sergeant Kaczmarzyck, he was sitting on the floor and Lieutenant DeAngelis was sitting on the floor with their feet up against... Kaczmarzyck was sitting sort of right behind Reynolds and Reynolds and DeAngelis were laying out on the floor and the colonel was here and he was laying up on the floor with his feet up against the bulk head so he was laying up on it.
DL: Was the radio equipment in a separate enclosure in a little room or what?
JB: The radio equipment? That was just in the back of the plane that I know.
DL: Out in the open?
JB: Right in the... You don't have that much room. But then when I went back to check Captain Cherry then told me to come and report when they're ready. So I come back and I asked the fellow, I said, "Are you all ready for the landing?" And they said "Yes," and then I ran to the forward of the plane and I told Cherry about it. I said, "Cherry," I said "They are all ready for the landing." Well, when I looked at Cherry and I looked at Lieutenant Whitaker, they were sitting at arms length away from the control panel they were going to come in so I knew this was going to be a hard landing. Well, I didn't know whether Cherry wanted me to go to the back of the airplane or not. But my own decision was he had enough problems of his own bring that airplane in and where he gave Whitaker orders to cut power on command. But me, I let the top escape hatch go so we could get out through the top but then I realized that the life raft release is right above my head, right behind Whitaker. So I sat right behind Whitaker because I figured if Captain Cherry and Lieutenant Whitaker get killed who's going to let the life rafts out, I'm in the back. I mean my own common sense is telling me now don't worry about officers, don't worry about rank, don't worry about position. Take care of your own life. So I sat right where the release was.
DL: So when the plane came in and was ditched, when it hit the ocean you were sitting right behind Whitaker?
DL: Was it a pulling mechanism?
JB: A pulling mechanism, yes, to pull. Just a little--about a four-inch wire like and it was on a cable. Just pull it and...
DL: That released both?
JB: That released one. Of course, you had two releases. Now, I released one of them when I thought we were stopped but the reason I wasn't positive we were stopped was because the waves rocking the airplane and I didn't want to let the life raft out. I hesitated a second because if I let the life rafts out too early and we were still moving we would have to swim back to the life rafts and that would be pretty difficult to try to find the life rafts. I didn't know anything about the life rafts. I didn't even know whether the life rafts were good. I mean we were just in an airplane and there's a war going on. The Japs might have shot a hole in them through that area. I didn't know this. Then I got to thinking that if the life rafts don't inflate automatically this is going to be difficult if we have to pump them up in case we were injured. That becomes the next problem. These were all the things I was thinking about that I wasn't even trained in. So...
DL: ...that as soon as you were sure that the plane was stopped...
JB: I wasn't sure all the time. It was when Whitaker got out of his seat and he reached for my hand. He said "Yank the other one!"
DL: You had already yanked the first one?
JB: I had already yanked the first one but he grabbed a hold of my hand and he actually yanked it with my hand. But I wasn't going to release the raft like I said, when we were still moving.
DL: So you had released the first one and then he grabbed your arm...
JB: Right. That would be maybe five seconds later.
DL: I have from all the sources I have read Whitaker was probably physically the most powerful man on board the plane.
JB: Right. We called him the "iron man of the army."
DL: Now, tell me, the third raft, I understand, was in the back of the plane.
DL: The small raft?
JB: The small raft.
DL: Where would that be stowed normally?
JB: Well, just all the way to the back of the plane that's all. You had no place to store it really.
DL: Somebody back there or some people back there threw the raft out?
JB: Lieutenant DeAngelis and Sergeant Kaczmarzyck, the sick kid, that was their job to take that raft out. You see, we had a plan that when the plane goes out we had three men on this side and three...they were going to come forward, Eddie Rickenbacker and the colonel, they were going to come forward. But before that all happened they had to get Eddie Rickenbacker out the back escape hatch and they had to get the colonel out. Now, the colonel is pretty heavy so...
DL: Oh, so Rickenbacker and the colonel went out the back hatch?
JB: Out the back hatch. The went up the top, they were on the fuselage. Now, they are starting to walk along the fuselage. And I was already out from the front hatch and I'm there on a wing and I saw those two walking across.
DL: So if I get the picture right Reynolds, Rickenbacker, the colonel, they were in the back of the plane, Kaczmarzyck was back there. Did they all go out through the rear hatch?
JB: They all went out through the rear hatch.
DL: Okay. And there were three of you in the front of the plane.
JB: In the front of the plane.
JB: No, we didn't all come up through the front of the plane. Whitaker and myself come up through the front of the plane. I'm not sure how Captain Cherry got out because Captain Cherry walked through the airplane looking for food. While I was busy trying to break the line away from the plane, I didn't know whether the plane would pull us down. I heard it was hooked up that the minute the plane goes down that it automatically snaps the line to let the life raft float. But I wasn't taking those chances so I wanted to break that line. I wanted to make sure I was away from it.
DL: Sure, so it wouldn't...
JB: That's right. I'm not going to be ______ with that plane going down, you know.
Dwayne Cox: I've wondered about that, the idea that the line would snap. Was that just hearsay in the army or was it in the manual?
JB: It was just gossip among the fellows. While we are working on a field we have different things to talk about and this was one of them but none of us ever think that we are going to go down so it wasn't really a major discussion. A major discussion was checking the props and to make sure that the engines were right, you know, gassing up the plane. They were the main subjects.
DL: Now my understanding from Rickenbacker's chapter about this and from one of the other sources is that when they knew that you were going to have to ditch the plane they had already prepared some food and water.
JB: Yes, they did.
DL: And stashed it somewhere?
JB: That's what they said...
DL: That's what they said.
JB: ...but I was in the back of the plane too and it wasn't that much food. There wasn't that much water. What I thought was possibly we had maybe less than a quart of liquid and maybe there was maybe half a sandwich or a sandwich and that to me wasn't worth going back for because I knew with Rickenbacker on this secret mission they would locate us within a day or two. Why take a chance?
DL: So you are saying that there wasn't much food to stow?
JB: No, hardly anything.
DL: I had a picture of stowing a fair number of supplies in a box or something like that and that isn't quite the way it was, right?
JB: No. Well, I don't know whether they put them in a box or not because I was busy doing other things.
DL: Yes. Just one detail, Adamson says that sometime during the flight you were showing them photographs that you had taken. I didn't bring Adamson's book but he says that at some point during the flight you were showing him and Eddie some photographs.
JB: No, I don't think so. I don't think so because I wasn't that familiar with Eddie and I wasn't about to get into that and especially the colonel. I wasn't about to talk to the colonel about--I might have but like I say, an officer was an officer to me and the colonel was way up there for me.
DL: Tell us about the camera, the Leica. It was a Leica camera?
JB: A Leica camera.
DL: You had it with you?
DL: Did you jettison it or did you just leave it in the plane when the plane...?
JB: I think I just probably left it or just threw it out real quick or something. It just had no interest to me at this time although I was anxious to get pictures but my most important job was the men themselves. I had to get them out. That was the most important because if I took a sensational picture and one man died because of me I'm in trouble. In other words, in anything I do I mainly try to use common sense. I don't try to be sensational. I'm not that type of a fellow.
DL: How long had you owned the Leica?
JB: Probably less than a year.
DL: And you had saved up a lot of money to buy it?
JB: That was the profession I wanted. When I joined the air force I wanted to be a photographer but we had three choices, mechanic, mechanic, or mechanic. So I became a mechanic.
DL: I've been thinking all along, both of your book, Life out There, and Adamson's biography of Rickenbacker mentioned the specific figure $482.
JB: Well, I don't know whether that's _______ ______, but I mean it was a lot of money.
DL: Somewhere in the ball park? And that was a lot of money back in those days. [NOTE: According to S. Morgan Friedman's The Inflation Calculator website (URL: http://www.westegg.com/inflation/), $482 in 1942 was worth $5302.93 in 1999.]
JB: Right. It had a good lens on it. It was a good camera.
DL: You must have had to saved a long time to buy that camera?
JB: I did.
DL: You bought it on the islands?
JB: No, I think I bought probably in California or New York, maybe New York probably at [Olden Camera].
DL: You know, my dad, during the late '30s was probably earning about $35 a week and that was a decent wage back then. So when you think of how much would have to be saved to own a $482 camera, a ball park figure, that was a very valuable camera.
JB: I had the filters with it, you know you have to get the filters, and the filters were special because of the camera. The camera itself was probably $350 but with the little detachments, the little portrait attachments.
DL: So that was your most prized possession?
JB: Yes, because the reason I picked a Leica at the time was when I was in the peace-time army, our lieutenant, I mean the officers and enlisted men never got along, and I had a little, about a $29 camera, one of those folding types that had little bellows on it and you opened it up and I used to take pictures of, cause I had no money in Hawaii we got $19.25. So I would go downtown and I would take pictures of like the Lei Day parade and the different boats that came in the harbor and I would sell them to the fellows in the outfit or I would take a portrait of them or take a group of fellows and I would sell the pictures to the fellows.
DL: These would be black and white?
JB: These would be black and white. I had access to the corporal. The corporal worked in the motor poor at that time. He was in charge of the motor pool and he had a darkroom and he let me use his darkroom and then I got a darkroom right in Honolulu at the YMCA, I got a little room in there, I think it was fifty cents a months, they let me have a little room. It was like a closet and I bought myself a little enlarger in there and I used to print my own pictures in there. The reason the corporal and I got along very well was he asked me to go out with him, the USS Honolulu was coming in at that time. He said "You want to be a newspaper photographer why don't you come along?" I said "Okay." So I went along with him and we were taking pictures but I wasn't taking any pictures. He was telling me to go get this fellow over there and bring him over here with the mascot dog and do this, and do this, and I'm saying when am I going to take a picture. So after a while I got a little disgusted with him in which I shouldn't have gotten disgusted with him. I said "When am I going to take a picture?" I'm young, I'm only eighteen. So he says to me "If you want to get a good picture why don't you go up and take a picture of the hula dancers up there right in front of the boat?" There were two girls up there doing the hula. So when I went up there to take a picture of the girls I went up real quick, I went about twelve-foot away from the stage and I laid down on the floor so I wouldn't obstruct the view of the other people that were watching the show and I took the picture and girl did the hula and when she did the hula she gave me a little wink and the skirt went out and I had the most beautiful shot that was ever taken of a girl and the guard came along and he threw me...
Dwayne Cox: Do you still have it?
JB: No. Here's what happened. He threw me over the gate. So what happened was I had the picture developed, I took it downtown at first and had it developed because I knew it was going to be a pretty good picture. I was proud of it and I made a little print of it and all the guys liked it. Now this corporal sees this picture and he says "Can I have that picture?" He said "You can use my darkroom and you can read my books." Oh, that's great now I'm in with the corporal and this guy is in charge of the motor pool so I gave him the picture but I heard that he sold that picture to the Honolulu lines, one of the boat lines, and they made a great big picture like this thing to use for their display and I heard that he got 500 bucks for it.
DL: Wow. When you talk about the corporal this was, do you remember who it was? This was nobody that was subsequently...?
JB: He was in our outfit.
DL: And this was quite a while before the flight.
JB: This was in 1938.
DL: Oh, okay, when you were in the coastal artillery.
JB: And that's why I like photography because I had a good eye for it. Then after that he would every once in a while say to me "Let's go down to the blow hole down there." That was on the side of Diamond Head and you go out on the cycle and sit in the side car and I had a little transportation, I had a darkroom. I had my own little darkroom in town too and I had books to read. That was a rarity.
DL: So the corporal lived up to that part of the bargain?
JB: Yes, he was good. I didn't socialize with him though.
DL: Rickenbacker's physical appearance when he got on the plane, very thin?
JB: He looked very thin. He looked like he should have been in the hospital rather than climbing aboard an airplane and I wondered who he was when he came aboard the airplane. He had a fedora on top of his head--hat on top of his head.
DL: The famous gray hat.
JB: And he had the cane in his hand and he was limping. I said "I wonder who this man is?" I wasn't facing him, I think I was up in the airplane at that time, up in the doorway. And then he came in and I was introduced to him. I said "How do you do?" I looked but it was still dark and I wasn't able to see him that good. Then the colonel came aboard.
DL: So Rickenbacker's physical appearance was really...?
JB: Really down, really down.
DL: And here he had this over a three-week ordeal ahead of him. I think I recalled you saying yesterday that his neck was so thin that there was a space between the collar and the neck.
JB: I didn't notice it but I think it was. As you look back a little bit, I think the shirt didn't look like it fit him and the suit didn't look like it fit him either.
DL: Yes, sort of hanging on him?
JB: You know, he looked like he was a derelict.
DL: Of course, you got a better look at him the next day?
JB: Oh, yes, yes. But the next day though we began to have the problems so I wasn't looking at him that much either.
DL: Just tiny little details. When I look at a B-17D the picture you brought showed us--that tail area is not big. I mean it tapers down but by the time you get back to the tail... Rickenbacker makes a point that he and Adamson were sleeping on cots during the night.
JB: That's right.
DL: Were the cots way back there in...?
JB: I didn't go back there once they... because there wasn't that much room back there so I just stayed up front. There was no reason for me to go in the back, I had no reason at all. But Alex took care of them two.
DL: Alex was back there?
DL: He was the one who was staying with them in the back of the plane?
JB: Well, I don't know whether he was staying back--he was wondering back and forth, you know.
DL: And the night was clear?
JB: The night was very clear. We had a nice beautiful moon. No problems.
DL: No clouds?
JB: No nothing--clouds, but you know, we're flying at about 9,000 feet.
DL: Okay. Do you have any questions?
DL: Let's shift to this vivid description you gave yesterday of getting out of the plane. As I recall it after the plane had been ditched you were on one side of the plane...
JB: I was on the wing.
DL: On the wing--the left wing?
JB: Facing this way forward that would be on the right wing.
DL: You were on the right wing and Rickenbacker and Adamson were on that side of the plane?
JB: They were on the fuselage. They were walking along the top of the fuselage.
DL: And you have the life raft has been deployed?
JB: Right. It's laying on the wing and I got it in order. I had it up very close to the wing in the water. I couldn't pull it up on the wing because it was too difficult, too heavy.
DL: And the life raft had automatically inflated when you pulled that lever?
DL: Actually if it was on the right side that would have been the lever that you and Whitaker pulled together?
JB: No, no. That would be the one that I pulled first.
DL: Oh, you pulled first? Oh, okay, fine.
JB: I imagine. I don't know how ____ ____ ____.
DL: Well, that's a minor detail but anyway, the raft is already inflated, it is on the wing, you are on the wing, you are pushing the raft off...
JB: Into the water.
DL: Into the water, Rickenbacker and Adamson are up on the fuselage.
JB: Rickenbacker was first and then the colonel was right behind him.
DL: And Reynolds somewhere in there too?
JB: Reynolds was on the other side of the airplane. I don't remember him even getting out of it.
DL: Kaczmarzyck was on your side of the plane?
JB: No, Kaczmarzyck was in the back of the airplane with DeAngelis throwing out the small raft.
DL: Okay. So it was you, and Rickenbacker, and Adamson were sort of there?
DL: And had you decided before hand--Rickenbacker indicates that you had already decided who was going to be in what rafts?
JB: I imagine we did decide. I'm not sure of that, what procedure that was supposed to take place but things happened so fast. We had so many things to think about. I wasn't concerned mainly about that. I was a little ______ to that. All I was concerned about was to get the life raft out and make sure the men got in them. I wasn't concerned about details. Details weren't important to me.
DL: Rickenbacker's account indicates that one of the reasons at least that Kaczmarzyck and DeAngelis were going to occupy the little raft is because they were the smallest people on the plane?
JB: Yes, well, that's what I would gather, yes.
DL: But they occupied the raft that they threw out?
DL: Okay. And so getting back to you're on the wing, you've pushed the life raft into the sea so Rickenbacker and Adamson are up there on the fuselage and you help. Which one of them got on the raft first?
JB: The colonel got on there first because he was hurt. He said he was hurt so Rickenbacker said we should get him aboard first.
DL: So, did he slide down to the raft?
JB: He sort of slid down off the fuselage into the raft.
DL: Okay. And then Rickenbacker.
JB: Then when he got into the raft the waves came along and pulled the colonel and the raft out and I was holding onto the rope, and then I slid off the wing of the airplane because the colonel weighed about 200 pounds and the raft possibly weighed a hundred pounds and that's three hundred pounds against my _____. I wasn't sure footed on that wing because it was wet so what I did was I threw Eddie the line in the water, I quick threw him the line...
DL: From the raft?
JB: From the raft. The line is detached to the airplane where it came out but I also sort of swung him the line. It wasn't that high to swing it up there and he caught the line and then he pulled it in, and then I got back up on the wing and then I put the rope around my hand real good and I grabbed a hold where the raft come out the compartment of the raft because that door was open. I pulled the raft in with that and then Eddie jumped into the raft.
DL: Oh, okay. He jumped into the raft.
JB: He jumped and then a second later I jumped in. I don't think it was more than half a second.
DL: So from the way I gather this you were in the raft and then you got out of the raft back up on the wing...
JB: I wasn't in the raft until Eddie got in.
DL: Oh, you weren't?
JB: Oh, no, no. See, this is wartime and I believed in heros and you've got to save the top man. It was the colonel, and Eddie first, and then I got in. A private is not going to jump in ahead of the colonel.
DL: Okay, that's right. I'm sort of getting the picture here that when Adamson slides down into the raft the raft starts getting away from the plane, you have control of the line so you pull the line in so that the raft gets back closer to the plane and then Eddie gets into the raft, slides down into it, I guess, and then you get into the raft. Okay, it was then that you have this problem... Tell me what kind of a line it was?
JB: Well, I guess it was almost a quarter of an inch thick.
DL: Okay. Made out of?
JB: I don't what it was made out of but it looked like it was tightly woven. I mean it was a real strong line. It was stronger than a clothes line. It was like a thin clothes line really tightly woven.
DL: That connected the raft to the airplane?
DL: And you wanted to get that--naturally, you wanted to cut somehow that line because it would pull you down into the drink.
JB: I thought it would pull me down.
DL: Well, sure.
JB: I wasn't sure.
DL: Now, I have varying accounts of this, one of them indicates that you were sort of trying to saw the line against the wing.
JB: No, I wasn't. I was in the raft away from the airplane. We were like, maybe twenty feet away from the airplane and then I tried to break the line with my hands.
DL: Just grabbing it?
JB: Just grabbing it and breaking it because the tension that I was under at that time, you know, you get super strength. I didn't have the super strength to even...
DL: And Eddie fortunately had a knife along?
JB: He had a knife. He took the knife and he cut it.
DL: Was it a jack knife?
JB: I don't know what it was at that time. It was just a little knife.
DL: Just a little knife but you cut the...
JB: They have a picture in Life magazine but I'm wondering whether they have a picture of the knife that he had. Remember they had a picture in Life magazine, like his hat.
DL: I'll look for that. A number of the picturers in the Life magazine are artists drawings of what the artist imagined what it was like, but I do think there is a picture in one of those articles that shows the equipment that you had.
JB: But I don't know whether they showed the knife or not.
DL: While you are doing all of this Cherry, Whitaker, Reynolds, and Kaczmarzyck and DeAngelis, they are all on the other side of the plane?
JB: ...other side.
DL: Okay, so you don't even see what's going on there?
JB: No. I just heard them shouting when they were getting into the small raft. I saw the raft turn over but I wasn't concerned about them because we were trying to...
DL: This is Kaczmarzyck and DeAngelis? Their raft turns over.
JB: ...DeAngelis--they had trouble getting into their raft but I didn't see the other raft or what was going on at all. All I know is they were saying something about Cherry but Cherry was in the airplane looking for supplies.
DL: Yes, and he would be the last man to get out?
DL: So, presumably although I don't know whether you saw this or not, Cherry and Whitaker had gotten out and Reynolds (I'm trying to account for everybody here.)... Cherry, Whitaker, and Reynolds were in one raft on the other side of the plane from you and Kaczmarzyck and DeAngelis were in the little raft and their raft overturned but they somehow got it righted
DL: And presumably Cherry and Whitaker had the same problem you did of breaking the line.
JB: I don't know how they broke the line.
DL: You don't know how they broke the line?
JB: No. Cherry probably knew more about it than I did because he was the pilot. I mean he had been flying them so he knew the procedure. Also probably Whitaker knew about it and Reynolds probably knew about it.
DL: Any how the picture I have is once everybody is in the rafts you are trying to get away from the plan as quickly as you can.
DL: Because you don't want to be sucked down with the plane.
JB: Right. The vortex _____ _____.
DL: Yes, the vortex. So somehow all of the party in their respective rafts got away from the plane maybe with the aid of the oars that some of the rafts...
JB: Oh, yes.
DL: So you sort of all get together in the same area and unexpectedly the plane stays afloat longer than you thought it would?
JB: I thought it stayed afloat quite a while, but see, we had maybe ten to fifteen feet swells out there at that time. And as we started to drift away what takes place is you just lose sight of the plane but it was up as long as I kept looking at it until it got beyond a certain point and I wasn't able to see it. So I don't know when it sunk. It could have sunk two hours later because the tanks were empty and the plane was really light weight. We had everything out of it and an airplane is aluminum.
DL: So you really didn't see the plane go down?
JB: I didn't see it go down, no. I just saw it disappear from over the horizon. But I thought it stood up a long time.
DL: So any account that talks about how the plan went down must have been somebody besides you? I'm thinking there is some source of talks about how the tail goes up in the air. Maybe that's just...
JB: Well the tail was up in the air because that's the highest part of the airplane, in other words the tail because the wings are down here. So it doesn't matter even if you are out on the desert the last you would see is the tail.
DL: The plane had not broken in two during the landing. The tail had broken open?
JB: I don't know whether it did or not. I don't think so. It might have when we...
DL: I think its Adamson's account or Rickenbacker's account. You have to remember Rickenbacker's account was ghost written anyway.
JB: They all are.
DL: Yes, in the autobiography. But I have the picture of somehow the tail breaking open and water coming in through windows...
JB: It came in through the windows from the top most likely and the way he is headed and also from our window going down and also came in through the top on in. I don't know whether anything broke up in the plane. There was no way of checking and you don't care about it.
DL: Sure, yes. So basically you are now out, the plane has presumably sunk and the party is out on the rafts, and you are fairly close together, close enough that you could lash the rafts together.
JB: That's the line that Eddie Rickenbacker put around his waist. When I went back to check the crew Eddie Rickenbacker had this line around his waist and I was wondering why did he have a line around his waist when we were going in for a crash landing. But I said to myself Eddie Rickenbacker must know what he is doing because he's Eddie Rickenbacker and he looked kind of silly sitting there with a fedora on the top of his head, he's got this line around him and he's got the life raft preserver over the top and then he had a business suit on. He looked odd for this. But he did make that use. He took that line that was around his waist...
DL: I wanted to ask you another little detail. You all put on Mae West jackets when you knew that the plane was going to have to be ditched. So there was enough to go around including Kaczmarzyck?
JB: Right. No problems.
DL: No problems with that. Now, the inventory of the equipment that you had on the rafts, tell me about the paddles. Were they aluminum?
DL: And they were hinged or something so that they could be conveniently stashed and then...?
JB: I imagine they were but I didn't put them together. They probably were in two pieces because the raft compartment is only about that big so they would have had to be in two pieces.
DL: They would fold up?
JB: I wasn't that concerned about that because, I mean, I didn't take--I'm a funny guy when I do things. I look at things from a different perspective than a lot of other people. I thought we were a hundred miles away from someplace why worry about paddles. I'm not going to paddle to it.
DL: So how many paddles were there? Two to a raft?
JB: There were paddles in each one of the rafts. There were two paddles in each one of the rafts.
DL: Okay. What else did you have? The Very pistol and we had eighteen flares to put in the Very pistol.
DL: Did each raft have a Very pistol or...?
JB: I think only one. I think we only had the one Very pistol.
DL: Could you describe a Very pistol to me because I...
JB: Not really because all it is to me it was just like a little gun that's all and they put this big cartridge in which is about seven inches long and one and a half inches in diameter and you threw the thing in and then you fired it. I mean I didn't do the firing only because it was in Cherry's raft.
DL: Eddie is constantly talking about Very pistols in World War I and in World War II. I don't know that I've ever seen a Very pistol.
JB: I've never seen it up close which is no concern to me. Cherry had the thing and...
DL: ...convening and Mr. Bartek is talking about how right after they got off the plane they were more hungry than they were thirsty and then they got... Why don't you put it in your own words?
JB: Well, what happened was the way I felt about it, it's only my own feelings, when we first went down I felt as though I was more hungry than I was thirsty. After awhile after the sixth day, now we were very thirsty. When we got our first rainwater that quenched the thirst for that little bit of time but as time went on when we went to about the ninth or tenth day the hunger wasn't quite there. We were hungry but we were more thirsty all the time and as time went on the thirst took over rather than the hunger. You almost forgot about the hunger. You were hungry but the thirst was the thing.
DL: Yes, you were becoming dehydrated.
JB: Right and this is the way you lose your weight. We were urinating and as we were urinating we were losing all the moisture out of our bodies. I guess that's the reason we were losing the weight.
DL: This might be a good time--you said that yesterday one of the things that you would have talked about if you had had time was the physical pain and sensation you went through with all of these ulcers and your eyes feeling like they had needles. Why don't you describe how you felt physically?
JB: Physically you felt--well, there's nothing you can do about it. Like my hand, when I cut my hand the hand never healed. I cut the four fingers of my hand and they never healed in the twenty-one days we were out there. When the sores would start they would get deeper and they would enlarge and there was no way we could stop it because our backs were rubbing up against the raft which was irritating and our feet were always in the water. So there was no way of us keeping our feet and our bodies away from the side of the raft. Our eyes [paining] was the crusting of the salt air and it, I guess, hit our eyes, I guess, around the eyelashes were [paining] the eyes so we weren't able to really see. It was only after we got a little rain we put our heads up to the sky and washed away that salt and then our eyes were fine again. But if we didn't get the rain then they would began to [pain].
DL: And, of course, during the day it was just very hot.
JB: It was very hot. It could have been because we were right on the equator as you might say, just about on the equator and it would get up to it seemed like 150 degrees. And if the ocean was still without the waves you were baking out there. Then when it dropped the temperature to maybe 70 degrees in the evening well there's a air--it seems like there was a 50 to 70 degree change although it was just cool and comfortable for a person on land it become very cold to us. The nights were black and it seemed like the cold was penetrating our bodies while we were sitting there. It might have been in the 70s.
DL: You were probably getting very severe sunburn.
JB: Oh, yes, the sunburn. Reynolds and I didn't have anything to protect ourselves. But Captain Eddie Rickenbacker had his hat on, the fedora that he kept. He kept it bent down all the time and he kept it on top of his head. He would once in a while put water in it and stuff it right on his head. Captain Cherry and Lieutenant Whitaker had their hats on and the colonel had his hat on. The colonel just laid in the raft but he just had his hat over his eyes and he just laid there.
DL: Is this a military hat with the visor?
JB: Military hat, right. And I think DeAngelis had his hat I'm not sure.
DL: You did not?
JB: I did not and Reynolds didn't and we're both fair skin so we burned more than the rest of them.
DC: Did you put anything over your head like a handkerchief?
JB: Well, I tried it for a while then you put the handkerchief into a little water, you put that on your head and now the water drips into your eyes and now your eyes are going to pain little bit more and the handkerchief isn't thick enough to....well, I had hair on my head in those days so I thought that, you know, I didn't need a hat.
DL: Eddie mentions that he had some handkerchiefs with him that Adelaide had given him and that he distributed them.
JB: I don't remember him distributing them because I didn't get any of them. And if he distributed them he would have distributed at least maybe one to me because I was the one that was in need of it.
DL: See, he had this description in his book of how you were all wearing these handkerchiefs bandit style around your faces.
DC: That's in the movie, too.
JB: Not really, I don't think so. I don't remember too much of that.
DL: In fact there was a school child who drew his artistic vision of a raft episode that showed these men in a raft with bandit style handkerchiefs over their noses.
JB: That makes a good movie though.
DL: Yes, but that wasn't how it was?
JB: I don't remember any of that.
DL: You made a point about how dark the nights were.
DL: Black--but also these visions you were having in the heavens were these real or were they just hallucinations.
JB: They were real to us. In other words we had no contact with the outside world we would sit there. About the fourteenth or fifteenth day and we would look at the sky and it seemed like you would visualize that there is a cloud with a woman sitting with a child in her arms or there would be a dog over there and the clouds began to look like a dog. It would the light and shade--you would begin to think that this is what you were seeing. I was seeing these things and I asked Eddie about it. I said "Do you see that woman up there sitting with a child in her lap?", or something. I don't know what it was.
DL: This was during the daytime?
JB: During the daytime, yes.
DL: Clouds during the day?
JB: During the daytime and Eddie says "Yes, I see them up there." So then I was trying to see whether I was going out of my mind. That was the only conversation really that you could have because you couldn't talk out there because you didn't have the saliva in your mouth to talk. You had to save the saliva in your mouth so you weren't shouting or you weren't talking. You were not doing too much of anything. You had nothing to look forward to. Now, when I say I saw my sister up there, my sister that died. She was seventeen years old when she died. The reason I wasn't called home for the funeral because my father knew a war was going on and secondly, he knew there was nothing I could do about it so they waited until after she was buried and they sent me the letter when I was in Long Beach, California. But then I thought of going home anyway because I could have caught a flight home being in the military. I could have gotten the Red Cross's permission and went. But then I got orders to go on a B-24. I didn't know what the orders were so I decided to take the flight and maybe get away for a while.
DL: And that was the flight to Brisbane?
JB: That was the flight to Brisbane. Then when we got back when Cherry told me that we were going back out on the Pacific I thought, well, this is a good excuse because I didn't want to go back on the Pacific. There's nothing out there. I didn't want to go out there and I thought of asking to be relieved off the duty, "Can I go back to the States?" But then I thought no, this is the orders, I might as well go, and then after I got out into the Pacific out there, now I wished I had asked. I was in a doomful situation now, you know, looking back.
DL: Now, I'm just getting a picture here. Most of the time you spent in Hawaii itself was on your first tour of duty in the coastal artillery. You really hadn't been in Hawaii that long before the Rickenbacker mission?
JB: I was in Hawaii in the peacetime army, I was in from '37 to '40 and ______ Field was right adjacent to our field. We had to go through _____ Field to get off our base. So I was watching ______ Field being built at that time. So being in the coastal artillery for about a little over a year I said, "Gee, I like aviation why don't I find out whether I can transfer over?" So I went over to ______ Field and I asked them about a transfer. So while I was over there I got a picture of Amelia [Earhart] and her airplane. But when I asked for the transfer they told me I could transfer providing I wanted to sign up for another hitch. That means another three years in the army. So I said no, I don't want to sign up for another three years because they said they wanted to train me for a certain job but if I had signed up I would have been there when they bombed Pearl Harbor because they hit _____ Field.
DL: I wondered if--you said there were four B-17s.
DL: I wondered there were thirty B-17 D's destroyed on the ground by the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was wondering were they were new or whether these were left over from then or you'd have no idea, they were just...?
JB: These were the ones that probably were not destroyed. These were the ones that were saved.
JB: Pardon me, but if I'm not mistaken I may be wrong but I think they were bringing in the B-17s when I left the island because these were the early ones. I remember they had the Douglas bombers out there. They were like silver colored. They looked real pretty but then they sort of brought in another type of airplane and I think it was the B-17, maybe the B models.
DL: This is when you were in Hawaii?
JB: When I was in Hawaii before I left in 1940. They were the early models. They probably had maybe two of them out there. I don't know, but I felt as there was a different airplane out there. I didn't know that much about airplanes. All I knew about that Douglas and they had the Martin bomber, I think, out too.
DL: But one of the things, and again, I do understand from Rickenbacker's account that while you were out there confessing your sins to one another and what not, there were confidences exchanged that he was not going to break and I wouldn't expect you to break them either. I feel very handicapped here by not being able to talk to Cherry and the question that naturally occurs to me is why this feeling on the part of Cherry toward Rickenbacker. So this is the background out of which I am coming. Was there anything that happened during the twenty-one days on the raft which would account for this feeling between Rickenbacker and Cherry?
JB: I always thought that Cherry felt pretty good about everything but once we got down in the Pacific things begin to change your own outlook on the other person because we knew we shouldn't have taken off like we did. It was like something forced upon you. It would be just like the fellows going into outer space, they check those space vehicles right to the last second. They don't _____ ______ and supposed they fired them off and there was something wrong and they said "Well, look, let it go anyway. We hope that it will be all right." And that was the same predicament we were in. But see I was young then and I was new and I had no say so to begin with. But now that I've got more brains just like even flying down here, I like to fly Delta. I don't care for some of the other airlines. I don't know how well they are... But I would like someday to go through a Delta place there where they check the planes and find out how they check these planes. I would like to go through all the rest of the...find out what their facilities are and what qualifications the men have and...
DL: What you seem to be telling me and I don't want to put words in your mouth is that after you were out there in the Pacific and began to think back about how little preparation that you had...
JB: Very little.
DL: There was some discussion about that, maybe.
JB: There was discussion in which I didn't hear.
DL: I see.
JB: Because now I am loading the stuff onto the other airplane and that's causing a lot of commotion and noise and the officers are off to the side.
DL: But what I'm talking about is after--from an interview that DeAngelis had with Mr. Sheehan out in Hollywood. I gather that after you were all on the rafts that during the first or second day DeAngelis was saying "Why did we have to leave so suddenly?" "Why couldn't we have inspected the plane?" "Why, why, why?"
JB: I didn't hear any of that.
DL: You didn't hear any of that? There was no discussion of things like that on the rafts?
JB: DeAngelis was very quiet out there because I felt as though he felt pretty bad about it. I didn't know what the reason was. Even then at that time I still didn't know that the ____ _ or _____ or whatever they carry hit the floor. I didn't know about that. It was after we got rescued that I began to know about it and I didn't know that anybody else knew about the secret mission but then I got a letter from a fellow from Massachusetts, he says we talked about your mission while you were out there and he says you're on a secret mission. And I said how does he know we're on a secret mission when it was supposed to be a secret. The whole world knew about it and we thought everything was a secret.
DL: But what I'm trying to get at was anything that was going on between Rickenbacker and Cherry while you were out there on the rafts that may have created bad feelings between them?
JB: The only thing I remember wasn't nothing that Rickenbacker said or Cherry said but the fifth day when the colonel went overboard Rickenbacker said, that I remember, I think it was that day, he said "If we have to make a major decision who would be in charge to make the decision?" And Captain Cherry said "I am the captain of the plane, but I am the captain on land, sea or air until I am relieved of my duties." So he said "I am in command." Possibly, Eddie didn't like that.
DL: Well, I had understood from one of the accounts that Adamson at one point said "I'm a colonel. I outrank everybody here." You don't remember him saying that?
JB: I don't remember him saying that, no. He was the colonel but I don't think he ever... Colonel Adamson was very quiet. Now don't forget this man now had a pain in his back, he's not apt to try to take over or anything because he is the colonel. Plus he doesn't know how to fly I don't think. He was a colonel of some place else, you know. I don't know what his position was outside of being the protocol for Eddie Rickenbacker.
DL: But while he was out there on the raft Adamson wasn't trying to...?
JB: Adamson was very nice, a real gentleman. He was hurting.
DL: Yes, sure.
JB: That's why he probably went over the side. He wanted to end it all. I don't think he wanted to commit suicide but I never knew what a back pain was until I get them once in a while. And when my back goes out there's nothing I can do. I'm hurting. My back can go out, I'd be sitting here and pick up this thing and my back goes out for no reason at all.
DC: Can you tell us as near as you can recollect, no expletives deleted, what Eddie Rickenbacker said to Adamson after he got him back into the raft?
JB: Well, he just told us that he just told him that he didn't want to lose his best friend and not to do it again. He said I've been through tough spots before and when I pulled through them and we are going to pull through this one. And when I heard that I said to myself if Eddie can do it, I can do it. That gave me the confidence to go on. As long as Eddie was there I felt confident. I didn't think I was as good as Eddie but I knew that I could do it because I was younger. You've got to have somebody so that you've got to look at things and think things out. Otherwise it is very easy to go off the deep end.
DL: I have the DeAngelis interview here and...
DC: So Eddie was kind of an inspiration to you?
JB: To me it was, yes. To me it was an inspiration. Also Captain Cherry was an inspiration and Lieutenant Whitaker was an inspiration because I thought, I'm sure, and I still do, Captain Cherry is the best pilot I ever flew with. And now I have Captain Eddie who's an ace, who is not going to give up and I knew he wasn't going to give up, and I figured I'm going to stay right along side of him. And Whitaker looked like he was in good shape and I was wondering why I wasn't in as good a shape that he was in because he was a much older man. You sort of look up to as you might say images and that's what kept me going. You've got to have that.
DC: So Eddie Rickenbacker, at least to you, was not the sole glue that held the group together?
JB: Oh, no. Oh, no.
DC: Do you think any of them saw him in that way?
JB: I don't really know what the others were thinking.
DC: I mean you didn't get any perception one way or another?
JB: No. I don't believe ____ _____ discussed even after it.
DC: Did you sense in any way that people resented the plane having taking off prematurely and blamed Rickenbacker for that?
JB: What I've heard, a lot of people did blame Rickenbacker. There must have been at Rickenbacker's discretion that we take off immediately. But I thought even you did say that I thought it was up to the military officers on the base, the engineering officer or whoever was in charge of the plane should have been there to give us permission or to tell us that the plane has these faults or something else is wrong with it. We probably shouldn't take off but there was nobody but a general or two out there and I don't think the general or two that know anything about there, just were just in charge of a unit. I mean they didn't have anything to do with the airplanes. The airplanes were just sitting out there in the fields.
DC: That feeling that Rickenbacker was partly the blame possibly for your situation, was that in your mind at all when you were out there?
JB: Oh, yes. It was in my mind because how did we miss the island because we didn't check the airplane, because this is what we were trained to do. When you are flying stateside if you go from here to El Paso and you can't land there you can land in California, you can land in Mexico, you can land over there. You don't care about things. When you are out in the Pacific heading for only one destination and you have no way of returning back because you don't have fuel supply, you better make sure that airplane is perfect, everything.
DC: Do you have any reason to think that was in other people's minds at that time?
JB: Oh, I don't know about other...
DL: The reason I gave you a copy of the interview the other night I wanted you to be able to refresh your memory with it. You were asked a series of questions in that interview about certain things that happened and I want to read out of this interview what you said at the time.
JB: Before you get into that--when I first got off the raft I was being interviewed by everybody and their cousin and I got so sick of talking to people. It was why can't I have one interview, and at that time I was nervous for one reason, I'm in the military and I don't want anything to happen between me and the military. I just wanted to serve my time and get out. The military is tough. When they get something on you, you're going to have a tough job talking your way out of it. But we were questioned all the time. We were questioned in Hawaii, we were questioned when we got back to Long Beach, I was questioned in Chicago, I was questioned in New York, I was questioned in Washington, DC. And they were constantly hammering plus all the news reporters that come around. They keep asking you questions and you just answer. The one thing they told me "Don't say anything about the mission. Don't say where you were at." So I had nothing to say and then I didn't know the crew by their names like I knew Reynolds by Reynolds, not James Reynolds. I knew Captain Cherry and I don't think I even knew his name was Bill. All I knew was Captain Cherry and usually when I talked, I talked to Captain Cherry. Then all of a sudden I get all these questions pouring at you and this is the same thing you've done here.
DL: Well, this man asked you, he said "What did Rickenbacker say to the colonel when he went into the water?" And your answer was "He gave him hell. I never heard so many swear words in all my life."
JB: He probably did say swear words, right.
DL: Question: "He was in the boat with Adamson. If Adamson went over to kill himself that gave Rickenbacker and you much more room in the boat."
JB: I don't think that was the reason. But that's what it says there, yea.
DL: You say yes but that's....so the only reason he gave him hell then was to keep up his courage, to make him mad enough not to do it again.
JB: That's right. But it wasn't so much to do it again it was because it took a lot of effort to get him back into the boat. We were thinking of ourselves. It was strenuous getting him in.
DL: The questioner was saying to you, "I should think Rickenbacker did an important thing." Your answer "That is true, too. If we didn't have the colonel and Rickenbacker when we cracked up we would have had three life rafts and a lot of room, too. They were extra weight." Question: "It seems to me that Rickenbacker was concerned about himself but also terribly concerned about everybody else." Your answer was: "He was." Question: "You have to be concerned about a man who will go overboard to give you more room and then pull him back and give him hell to try to keep him alive." Answer: "That was Rickenbacker's best buddy. They had been friends for years. He would have done that for any of else. That was natural with all of us. Rickenbacker wasn't the one that pulled him in. He helped."
JB: He helped. He grabbed him by the collar and held him there until Cherry and Whitaker, which were the two biggest men in the other raft to pull him in. Reynolds couldn't do it. DeAngelis probably could have done it because he was wiry. But even then I don't think he would have been able to put him in.
DL: "Did you all feel that you didn't want to see him do it, I guess, kill himself?" Answer: "We got him back in. We didn't want to see him do it but why sit and argue with the guy."
JB: Well, you are not arguing for one reason. You're tired, you're hungry, you're thirsty. You've got your own problems.
DL: Question: "What did Rickenbacker say to Adamson?" Answer: "I think he called him an old fool. Goddamn you, you old fool."
JB: That's right. He probably did.
DL: "Get in there and sit down. Shut up! He used stronger language than that." Question: "Did he also try to reason with him aside from cursing him out and telling him it was not proper to take one's own life? Did he quote any biblical terms?" Answer: "No. He didn't quote the Bible but he tried to reason with him." But anyway, everything I've ever heard about Eddie and this comes from his son Bill, too, was that when he got into a rage he just flew. Bill said it was like a thunder and lightening storm, that he just...he was an expert at cursing people out and I just wondered, you know, I didn't want you to feel bashful about just what he did, what he said to Adamson on that occasion because your account now is just a little milder.
JB: Well, that's because over the years I've got--let's see how you put that--the account there is about right. What I've changed is my language by saying cursing. The religious people don't like to hear you say cursing or just like you say urinate and something. They just don't.... We were in the army then, we had a language of our own in the army. We all smoked in the army. When I got out of the army I quit smoking but in the army you've got to be one of the fellows because when you meet the other fellows that's their language they use there. It's the company that you are in.
DL: So Rickenbacker did use some pretty foul language?
JB: He used some pretty tough language but he didn't harp about it. He just told him once and that's it. He didn't talk to him about it because he was saving his energy also.
DL: When Cherry decides he wants to--now this is midway through the ordeal when Cherry is thinking about separating the rafts and going in various directions and Rickenbacker opposes, was there a kind of a bitter argument or...?
JB: At what time are you referring?
DL: Well, from what I understand Cherry had been discussing separating the rafts well before he did.
JB: That was on the seventh day.
JB: The seventh day Cherry decided we should separate. I don't really know what Rickenbacker said but he didn't really say too much at that time. But Cherry says "I think if we rowed away from you two we may have a better chance of being located because we were spread out." So I think Rickenbacker didn't think the idea was too good. I'm not saying I think he didn't think but there wasn't that much of an argument and there was no argument from me. I didn't know whether that was a good idea or not. So they separated. I think it was Cherry and it was Lieutenant Whitaker, and Lieutenant DeAngelis. Now, they take the three strongest men and they go off in their own boat. That leaves the colonel which was the bad back, and that leaves Rickenbacker, and that leaves Reynolds, and it leaves me, and Kaszmarzyck who was sick. So I think they didn't argue that much but what can you do. I mean you are in a predicament. I didn't know whether it was a good idea or not. But I didn't bother getting into a discussion or didn't bother arguing. In the first place I was a private and they wouldn't listen to me anyway. So off they went and I just prayed silently to myself and hoped God takes care of us and takes care of them. _____ ______.
DL: I was just wondering whether it was a bitter argument or...
DL: It wasn't.
JB: No, but to me... Cherry on the eighteenth day when we spotted our first airplane, the nineteenth day we saw two airplanes. They were the Kingfishers. I assumed that those Kingfishers were catapulted from heavy cruisers or battle ships out there and they were just doing a scouting. Were they American or Japs we didn't know, they were too far away. So the nineteenth day Captain Cherry says "I'm going to break lose." He said "I think we ought to separate, have a better chance of finding us." Now this is where Captain Eddie says he doesn't want him to separate, it is better that we stay as one big target rather than three small targets from the aircrafts traveling. Cherry said it doesn't matter, he says, but I'm going to cut lose he told DeAngelis because DeAngelis was alone in the small raft now because Kaczmarzyck died already. He said I want your raft. He said you get in with Whitaker. So Cherry took the small raft and off he went.
DL: Okay, so was that a bitter argument?
JB: It wasn't a bitter argument but Rickenbacker didn't want him to go. Rickenbacker felt a bigger target is better than three small targets. How would you feel out there? You are out there for nineteen days now and you are dying, what decision do you make? Is it better or isn't it? I didn't know.
DL: All I'm trying to do is to account for why is there such bitter feelings on Cherry's part about Rickenbacker? I wondered whether those arguments, if there were arguments that they got into over issues like this had anything to do with that. I wondered if they didn't get along during the ordeal, if there was unpleasantries.
JB: No, we just floated that's all. I mean what can you do? I mean if you are sitting there and you're sitting here and I'm sitting here and there's no food on the table and there is no water here and we've been here three weeks now what's there for me to argue with you about? We had nothing.
DL: Let me shift the focus briefly to Kaczmarzyck because we've discussed this before. In one interview and I can dig it out here Rickenbacker, I don't know if we are taking too much time now to do it or not, but he is talking about Kaczmarzyck going overboard. He says quite definitely here that the sharks got him, that Kaczmarzyck had not floated far from the raft when a shark hit him.
JB: I don't remember anything on that and don't remember any of the men saying anything about it. As far as I was concerned we put him overboard, the sea was fairly calm, and he just slowly drifted away and I would have heard things because my hearing is always excellent. But I didn't hear anything. That could be maybe he did but that could be a nice dramatic point too.
DL: Well, Bill Rickenbacker, one criticism, of course, you have to recall that the people on the other side of the Rickenbacker family didn't like Bill very much. But when I was talking about some things Bill said to me his granddaughter said "Well, Bill always exaggerated and dramatized" like that. I was wondering whether Eddie was doing this. Here's what Eddie says about the nineteenth day. "To go back on the evening of the nineteenth I was suddenly upset by the statement from Captain Cherry that he was going to trade places with DeAngelis who was in the small raft alone..."
JB: That's right.
DL: "...and that DeAngelis preferred to be in the other large raft with Whitaker and Reynolds which meant that Cherry threw what in my opinion was a breaking of the mental process (in other words, he is thinking here that Cherry is losing his mind) had decided to go off on his own alone. I was involved in this. We were shouting back and forth in conversation."
JB: Who was that?
DL: Rickenbacker was saying it. "Cherry asked DeAngelis to change places with him and then he made the statement that he wanted to cut lose and go off by himself which brought about a very prolonged effort on my part to convince him that I thought it was an error. And I still think it was an error in spite of the fact that they saw him first because it was much easier to see the three of us tied together than it was to see the smallest raft alone. After an hour's effort to persuade him to stay I was convinced it was useless to continue."
JB: It wasn't no hour, it was only a few seconds, a few minutes. Now the reason is maybe Rickenbacker wanted to be with the crew as we all got picked up together. But being that Cherry now becomes the hero of the thing by being picked up first took a little of the polish maybe off of Rickenbacker. Do you get what I mean? I mean I'm only thinking--I'm not saying it is or maybe that was... The only thing I thought of it was just like when Rickenbacker had the rope around his waist, he knew what he was doing and I figured Captain Cherry has been with the air corp and Captain Cherry has flown enough, and Captain Cherry is well educated, and Captain Cherry knew about these airplanes, he probably knew that there was an island close by. He probably even knew about Funafuti in which I don't know. I just thought that maybe he knew a little bit more than we did and that was the reason he had to go. And he probably knew about the war in Guadalcanal that all the military was down there. In other words, the heavy cruisers were possibly down in Guadalcanal so they are not catapulting these things. We must be near an island that the airplanes are taking off from. This is what...
DL: ...Cherry might have been thinking.
JB: I don't know because I thought that Cherry knew more than anybody out there about the Pacific. Cherry was probably up to date because Cherry was very, very confident in everything he did. You could look at Cherry and look him straight in the eye and you knew he was telling you like it was. He wouldn't ever argue with you. Cherry would never argue. Cherry would just say this is the way. I mean it seems like he had everything well thought out, you could almost read his mind.
DL: Let me continue with what Rickenbacker says here. And remember he is composing this, probably dictating it sometime early in 1943. This is only one of several versions that he gives. "After an hour's effort to persuade him to stay, i.e. Cherry, I was convinced it was useless to continue my efforts. I wished him well and bade him good bye."
JB: He said that, yes.
DL: "This seemed to create a desire on the part of Lieutenant Whitaker to do the same with his boat. I again remonstrated with him and DeAngelis because Reynolds was more dead than alive and had nothing to say. I again gave in after some rather harsh words probably due to my weakened physical condition and the realization that they were not entirely rational. There was a question of who was going to keep the rope that tied together the two large rafts. I not knowing what the future held felt that as long as they insisted on going their way they would have to leave the rope behind because we might find need for it, for I had two men in my boat who were more dead than alive."
JB: That's right.
DL: That was you and Adamson. "Naturally some queer thoughts ran through my mind through the night into the early hours when I had a beautiful dream. The discussion about which I have been talking, I might say, took place just before dark and the separation took place also just before dark." In other words Cherry separated his raft late in the day, just before dark?
JB: To me I thought it was about the afternoon.
DL: Of course, what sort of a sense of time would anybody have out there.
JB: I thought it was somewhere maybe around two o'clock or something like that. I don't know.
DL: "The two rafts did not go off together. Cherry had the little one and got away probably an hour before the second one went. When dark fell I was alone with two men more dead than alive."
JB: That's right.
DL: "Before it was completely dark both rafts were out of sight. It was a dull overcast night. It cleared during the night. I had practically no sleep at all and no dozing. Cherry just drifted off. He was not rowing."
JB: Just drifted, yes. There was no place to row. Where are you going to row to? You didn't have the energy to row to begin with. So which way would you go, this way, this way, or this way?
DL: Rickenbacker said there were harsh words, they were arguing.
JB: It wasn't that much, no. Cherry just told him what he was going to do and that was it. Of course, Rickenbacker... I think what Rickenbacker was, he was afraid of his own life possibly, because he had the two strong men leave and that was Cherry and Whitaker. If the colonel went overboard I'm sure Eddie and I couldn't get him back in again. So I think he had possibly a fear for his life. Eddie could have had a fear for his life. But I didn't look at it as fear I figured myself I'd die, that's it. I didn't think of it as fear, I just figured we had to do what had to be done.
DL: Since it is twenty-five minutes of noon let's go ahead to the day of the rescue itself. In other words in your own words again could you tell us exactly how it happened these two planes in which you thought were four but they were two were heading towards you, so you are just about to be spotted. So take the story there and tell it in your own words again.
JB: Well it was the twenty-first day, I think it was the twenty-first day, we were in a stupor, all of us. Eddie Rickenbacker was in a stupor and I was in a stupor. We weren't communicating. We had our heads down. We could hardly hold our heads up. The colonel was still laying in the bottom of the raft like he was dead and then I heard a motor. I said "Eddie, Eddie I hear an airplane. I hear an airplane." So Eddie quick wakes up sort of shaky. We get up and I looked up and I thought I saw four Kingfishers, two here and two there. They had gone right over us about maybe a thousand feet or maybe even a little less. They were very close. Bleary eyed I thought I saw four but there were two later on I found out. So the airplanes went out and I prayed then to God to please send one of those airplanes back and if He did I would always believe. I don't know how much time, it seemed like maybe ten minutes or twenty minutes later because I know nothing about time, they just disappeared and I figured they were gone forever. One plane turned around and he come back and then as he come back he was right, oh, no more than 200 feet in front of us and maybe 100 foot high and he just tips his wings and he waves and we saw the U.S. emblem on the plane and we knew that we were in safe hands. So then he circled for a while and the other airplane circled for a while. I think maybe it was circling and we were wondering why they didn't drop any food. Well, if they did drop food after a while I got to thinking if they did drop food I would have gone overboard for the food and probably would have drowned because I couldn't swim. Of course, Eddie would possibly have stopped me. But anyway, you are not thinking that way. You are thinking about food and water. But then we wanted to tell them that the other two rafts were still out there someplace, that they had been alive. That was our main concern then. So then the airplane started--this was getting along towards evening--then to the right of us as we were sitting in the raft, I don't know whether it was right or left but out there in the ocean to the right of me I saw a big storm come in. I told Eddie, I said "There's a big storm coming in to the right," and then the airplanes left. They went away from the storm. So I said to Eddie, I said "Maybe they are going to pick us up in the storm because there's probably a heavy cruiser out there and they didn't dare stop because if the Japs ever saw them they would put a torpedo into it. Now that there's a storm coming in they are going to pull up along side the raft and pick us up." Eddie says "Yeah, yeah, yeah," something in that order. Then the storm came in and I mean to tell you it was a big one. It was possibly the biggest one out that we had except for one night, I think it was the eighth night we had a bad storm out there then when the raft turned over.
DL: Eddie described it as a squall.
JB: It was a squall, yeah, but it was a vicious one.
DL: It was a vicious squall.
JB: So Eddie told me he said "Get busy and catch more rain water." I said "What for? We're saved, we're saved!" Eddie said "We can't take that chance, we can't take that chance!" And "Don't waste a drop." He said we don't know when we are going to get picked up. It may be another three or four days. He said we may drift away from the area and I was mad at him because I was tired and I was sleepy. I just felt as though it was better for me to go overboard but I had to work and I worked, and I worked, and I worked hard. While I was giving him the rags that were wet--I was giving them to Eddie and Eddie was ringing them out. We finally got them all rung out and the storm passed on.
DL: He was ringing them out and somehow getting them into his Mae West jacket?
JB: Yes, he was ringing them out in a little bucket he had and then he would tilt the bucket up and put the water in his mouth and then he would transfer it over to the little pencil tube like that and then he would lock the thing up.
DL: So he was doing that while you were catching.
JB: While I was catching rain water. The colonel wasn't catching any rain. He was out. So then we waited a while and then it got dark and then we saw the plane come out. Then we said "What are they going to do now?" So the plane came out and he kept circling and circling and then another plane came out and then the first plane dropped a white flare to guide the other plane over to the raft, I guess, and then that plane went on in again and then another plane and dropped a red and white flare. He dropped the red flare in which we didn't know until later. The red flare was to guide a PT boat in which they didn't want to have radio communication because the Japs were up in the Gilberts. They were using the flares to guide and then he dropped a white flare and he made a landing at just about sunset. When he made the landing we drifted, he pulled the airplane up and we drifted right up to the pontoon of the airplane. At the pontoon of the airplane then Lieutenant [Eady], the pilot, introduced himself and he also introduced his radio man, Lester Boutte. Eddie Rickenbacker introduced himself and he introduced the colonel and he introduced me. So then Eddie says something in the order we've got to get the colonel up there first but Eddie said where are you going to put us in that small airplane. Lieutenant [Eady] said we'll take care of that, don't worry about it. So then as they lifted the colonel up I'd say even though he lost the weight he was still a heavy man and that's quite a distance to lift him up. Lieutenant [Eady] was not a big guy as far as I was concerned, maybe he was taller than I thought he was. Maybe he did have the weight and all but they had the strength to pick him up. Lester Boutte was pretty husky. So they lifted him up and as they were lifting him up Eddie howls to me, he says "What are you doing?" he says "Loafing?" He said "Why don't you help the men lift him up?" I couldn't stand up myself, you know. I didn't listen to him. I just listened to Lieutenant [Eady] then, I didn't care about anybody else. Then they got the colonel and they put him where the radio man sits in the back of the airplane. Then they lifted me up and they put me up on the right wing because the raft was on the other side of pontoon. Then they lifted Captain Eddie up and they put him on a wing and then we drank all the water that we had saved because we were that thirsty. We knew that we could do that now. So they put a rope around my waist and they put a rope around Eddie Rickenbacker's waist and they pulled it through the cockpit so in case when we were taxing if I fell off the wing Eddie would be my anchor. If Eddie fell off the wing I would be his anchor. You couldn't pull us through the cockpit. Lester Boutte straddled the cockpit and he held us both by the collar also with each hand. So we taxied about twenty minutes in complete darkness. Then the PT boat pulled up along side and then they told us that we were going to have get off the wing of the airplane and that the boat is gong to take us in. So Eddie goes in the boat and I go in the boat...
DL: They untied you?
JB: They untied us and Lester Boutte brought us over to the PT boat and then they had the job of lifting us up again because the PT boat, I didn't realize, they are pretty high off the water.
DL: Now when you say he brought you over, you weren't towing the raft were you?
JB: Oh no, no. He was just in the water. The raft was cut lose from everything.
DL: So when you say he took you over...
JB: They didn't want to get the plane and boat too close together because...
DL: Was he swimming with you or...?
DL: Boutte. How did he get you from...?
JB: I think he probably paddled us over there. He probably pushed like _____ ______ to bring us over, I wasn't sure because it was night time. But he got us over there. Then after he got us over there I think they put the rafts back probably on the boat. I don't know what happened to the raft because there was no sense in taking that. Then Boutte went back to the plane and then he sat on the wing where I was sitting, to ride it in. When they rode it in he couldn't take off at night because of the swells so he followed in the wake of the PT boat. I didn't see all this because I'm on the deck. I'm in the back ____ _____ front deck.
DL: I just want to make sure I understand this that when they rescued you and tied you down to the wings and Boutte is up there straddling the cockpit holding you, they had secured the life raft to the plane?
JB: To the plane yes. It was right by the pontoon.
DL: Okay, so they were towing it?
JB: They were towing it.
DL: So they still had it with them when you reached the PT boat?
JB: Yeah, right.
DL: But they did not use it to get you from the plane to the PT boat?
JB: They used the boat, yeah.
DL: The raft?
JB: The raft, yeah. They used the raft.
DL: And then you don't know what happened to it after that?
JB: The raft, no.
DL: You never saw it again?
JB: I never saw it. I only saw the pictures of it. I didn't care to see it ____ _____.
DL: I don't think you would. They must have gotten it back to Funafuti though. I don't know whether they did or not.
JB: Well, those pictures were taken on Funafuti I think, the raft.
DL: Yes, they were, you're right. Could you describe the little hospital on Funafuti?
JB: When they found out that we were out there they immediately got together, I guess the CB's out there, ____ ____ _____, and they put up that thing, I guess, in less than a day. All it was, was a screened in.... It was possibly about 20x20 screened in with a little roof over it for our little hospital. When we were coming in I remember the palm trees, the most beautiful palm trees in the world and Eddie says the same thing in his book. It was the most beautiful island in the whole world because that was the first land we had seen in three weeks. To me it was heaven on earth and then we were brought into the hospital. So when we were brought into the hospital I asked Eddie, I said "Eddie can I have my picture taken with you?" Eddie says, "No, it is more important that you get well first." So I didn't like his answer there. I'm out there for all this time and he's having his picture taken with all the rest of the big shots there and he's not having any picture of me. I don't think any of us had our picture taken with him outside of there's one picture where they are eating in Samoa on the island.
DL: I know that picture, yeah.
JB: Well, I was supposed to be in that picture but I was so hungry and I was only an enlisted man, at that time the fellows in the enlisted said "You come with us, you're the king." So they took me in their mess hall and they were going to eat an hour and a half or two hours later so I decided I'm going to eat with these fellows because I'm still hungry.
DL: This is on Samoa?
JB: I think that's on Samoa. I wasn't sure.
DL: Yes, it is.
JB: But I wasn't there. They wondered where I was. I was in the mess hall with the other fellows. I had about four meals.
DL: How long did you stay on Funafuti before you were taken to Samoa?
JB: When we were on Funafuti they came in and I knew they were limited with planes just like any occasion, so the PBY came in, the twin engine PBY, they said that they were taking Captain Cherry, Captain Rickenbacker, and then Lieutenant DeAngelis, and the colonel with them. So I said, "What about me?" They said you are too sick to go. I didn't say that to them but I said to myself you're taking the colonel and he's sicker than I am. But they wanted to take the colonel because of his condition. They didn't have the facilities on Funafuti. I wasn't thinking in those terms. I was thinking when they said you're too sick to go, so off they went. But I found out they had three PBY's come in. Why three, I don't know. That's what I heard. I never asked about it because it wasn't that important. They probably had two PBY's they brought them in. I think they went to Wallace Island first which was a little chain and... In the meantime while they are doing that they were also patrolling the waters. That was their reason for going from island to island. So then a couple of days later they made me a cane, I stayed my walk and they patched up my...
DL: You were still on [Funi Fudi]?
JB: I was still on [Funi Fudi] but Reynolds wasn't there. Reynolds was on a boat called the Tender. He was too sick to be ____ _____, taken of that. So I didn't see Reynolds at all. So now I am on Funafuti all alone and I looked around and there wasn't much there and I said "Gees, I hope they get me off of this island." I think Hawaii is bad this is really worst. But it was heaven to me both at the same time I was rescued. So then a PBY came in and the pilot comes over to me and he says, by the way, "Are you ready to go?" I said "Yes, I'm ready to go." He said if you can climb aboard that PBY he said you can go but you have to make it on your own.
DL: So he took you to...?
JB: I climbed aboard that thing. They're pretty high. You don't think they're high but they are pretty high up there--about six steps up and I was still in a weak condition. I climbed aboard that thing and they said you're in command, what do you want? I said I want to go home. So off they went.
DL: Now that picture that was taken, we have shown so often, it is in the flier of you, Cherry, DeAngelis, and Reynolds--no--you, Cherry, DeAngelis, and Whitaker looking out of a PBY, when was that taken?
JB: That was taken in Hawaii.
DL: After you got back?
JB: Yes, see when we were at Samoa we left Eddie there. Eddie was recuperating. What they did there was they called in for another airplane to complete the mission for Eddie but the colonel wasn't able to go because he was still too sick so he stayed on Samoa. Somehow they got Reynolds going and they got him to Samoa. Reynolds and the colonel were at Samoa. In the meantime Eddie gets well enough to complete the mission. So he completes the mission. JL: Right. That leaves the four of you?
JB: That leaves the four of us in Hawaii and we took from Hawaii. I think we flew the Pan American plane to come back to--the Pan American clipper.JL: That picture then was snapped, I guess, shortly after you arrived back in Hawaii from Samoa?
JB: Right when we arrived that's when they took it that day. That day they took it and then the plane took off again. They landed at Pearl Harbor.
DL: I wondered why you looked...
JB: No, they landed at _____ Field, of course, they had the wheels on. They landed at ______. I imagine they did. The pictures were taken there. I remember a photographer being around taking pictures.
DL: You don't recall and maybe you wouldn't have been able to identify it any way, what kind of Pan American clipper was it?
JB: I have no idea. I think we had that because I know I flew a Pan American clipper once from over there so I don't know whether it was that mission or not. But I felt as that was the mission. But that was a real slow plane. They took around seventeen hours in the air.
DL: From Hawaii to the United States?
JB: Yes. We could make it in a military plane between nine and eleven hours.
DLAnd you landed back in San Francisco?
DL: Okay...and went our separate ways?
JB: Then we went our separate ways. We were questioned at Frisco, we were questioned at my base in Long Beach, and I was questioned in Hawaii. I was questioned in, like I say, Washington, New York.
DL: You went through a lot of grilling?
JB: A lot of questions.
DL: Have you seen the transcripts of any of those briefings? You haven't? I haven't either and I'm beginning to think somewhere they have to be but in the National Archives or somewhere like that.
JB: The thing about all that was we never met after that again. I often wondered what happened until we had a reunion forty years later. I found out Captain Cherry was sent to India right after that. Maybe that could be the reason he--maybe he got something against Rickenbacker.
DL: I don't know. He was in Burma when Lowell Thomas saw him.
JB: I know I wouldn't want to be in India.
DL: And he won four decorations apparently.
DL: Cherry did according to that one article. I read that article last night about what happened out in Iowa. Oh, one more thing that occurs to me, is it true that throughout the whole ordeal Adamson was clutching something to his chest?
JB: Right. I don't know what it was, he was just laying there like that with his hands clutching something. I didn't bother asking because in the first place he's the colonel, it is none of my business, and I figured he's just resting that way, and I figured that was just a natural way of resting. But I found out he had some kind of... ...I don't remember it but I imagine they did. I think they had it but then I think it went bad, after a while it just got corrosion in it. But I wasn't too interested in a compass at that time for one reason, we're out there in the middle of the Pacific and there's no island throughout and why have a compass, which way are you going? In the first place we didn't know where we were at so which way are we going?
DL: And you couldn't control where you were going.
JB: No. See, I try to use...
DL: That's what Felix Lowe said to me, my agent, when we were discussing this one night, he said "Where would they have known where to go if they had a usable compass or maps or anything like this?"
JB: What they did was I think it was about the second night or the first night they were talking about the celestial navigation. They were looking at the heavens and we're in a different hemisphere now. So they kind of talked about it. I remember them talking about it but I wasn't that interested in it. I was still thinking that I'm two or three hundred-four hundred away from land and even if I do know exactly where I'm at but I wanted the people that were looking for us know where we were at according to the stars.
DL: You mentioned that the nights were so dark and you couldn't see anything. None of the nights were moon lit?
JB: Some of them were moon lit and when it was dark it was dark. When I say dark dark it made no matter if there were clouds over them that's why the clouds ______ all night.
DL: But there were some nights that were moon light?
JB: Oh, yes, beautiful.
DL: And stars?
JB: Stars and real light--almost like daylight.
DL: My understand is especially when you're on the equator if you are in the tropics when the sun goes down it just goes down all of a sudden.
JB: All of a sudden, yes, because you're on the horizon. You don't have any mountains or hills, or you don't have any trees or anything else. That's it, it's like a curtain.
DLI want to ask you about these religious services that Eddie says he had.
JB: Oh, yes, we talked about it. We were talking about singing. I wanted to sing a song [or] about Jesus this I know, o'er His grace to overthrow or something in that order. My father always sang it. I figured it was a simple song that everybody should know. But nobody seemed to join in and I didn't sing it too loud. Of course, I'm not a singer. But I thought we ought to have sort of a little song. But when I got back years later I got to thinking about it, the reason the rest of them didn't join. Rickenbacker believed by the golden rule so I don't think he probably knew the song. Secondly, I don't think Rickenbacker could sing. I don't know, maybe he could. The colonel wasn't singing because he was hurt and Cherry, I don't know whether he went to church or not but he lived by a different rule and Whitaker was a atheist, and DeAngelis was Catholic, so they don't sing those songs, and also Kaczmarzyck. So who would be the singer? I would be the only one, so we couldn't sing. Then I don't know whether they tried to sing something like C not the Star Spangled Banner but one of the...
DL: Onward Christian Soldiers.
JB: ...Onward Christian Soldiers or something. But that didn't seem... I don't think they sang two notes of it. You were tired and you were thirsty and you were hungry and you just didn't have the energy to... You could sing that if you saw a ship maybe in sight and they were coming to rescue you then you could sing.
DL: Well, you get the impression especially from Rickenbacker's autobiography that you had regular prayer or services at night and...
JB: No we didn't. I read at first and also the colonel would read because he was laying down.
DL: Oh, I see, okay.
JB: I think Cherry read a little bit but what it was, was our eyes were getting bad and we were getting tired. We were mentally fatigued, emotionally, mentally, hungry. We didn't want to talk too much. They probably read it but then they would just give it back to me, the testament. But you were just in such a state that you didn't want to really do anything just to rest and keep looking and try to find out what's around you. That's all. The main thing was looking for food.
DL: So you would just drift for hours without anybody saying a thing?
JB: Nobody saying anything. All night nobody saying anything, but yet you weren't asleep. You didn't think you were asleep but probably you were. It would be just like you're looking at TV sometimes and you doze off for a second and you get up but you don't know anything about time. All the time I was out there I thought I didn't sleep a wink before Cherry told me. He said, well, you're the only man in this world, he says, you ought to go in the book of records some place that can snore while you are awake. So I must have been sleeping but I didn't know I was sleeping. I thought I as awake for the whole twenty-one days.
DL: You do talk about all these strange dreams?
JB: The dreams, but that was like you're looking at the clouds and you're seeing them and you sort of drift...
DL: Sort of a waking vision.
JB: Right. Your mind is just working. And I think you are dreaming these certain dreams because you're thinking like I'm thinking of home and when I got home I asked my mother about it. My mother told me, she said when Ruthie died, my sister, the day before my mother dreamt that she and I were in a chariot and we were going away. She told my father that too. So when Ruthie died and then I went down in the Pacific at the same time--shortly thereafter, my father as religious as he was, and my mother was usually correct on her dreams, a lot of this stuff. He felt for sure that I was dead also. My father went down hill and he was a strong man. They said that everybody in town that knew my father and they said your father was a living dead. Your father wouldn't have lived. If you didn't get picked up your father would have died, your father would have died right there, because he didn't want anything. And he thought of the dream that my mother said because my mother--when the Hindenberg, remember when the Hindenberg went down in ...?
DL: Yes. Your mother saw that?
JB: No. But she told me the day before that happened she says to me, she says... I was talking to her about the zeppelin coming in because I remember it, see I'm interested in navigation I was telling her. My mother says yes, "I had a dream last night that that thing crashed and it was on fire." And when that came in it came right on over Freehold. I was in town and I was driving my Ford, I think, I had a Ford then. I was driving my Ford and I saw the zeppelin right overhead and I ran into the house and I told my mother. I said "The zepplein is overhead." She came down and looked and she said "Yes, they can fall down and burn up." She said "They are dangerous," something in that order. Then I went out in the car and I started driving again and I heard that the thing exploded. She said "See, ____ ____ ____."
DL: You didn't see it explode but you saw it just before it did.
JB: No, I was going to go down there. It went over Freehold and then it went in--because Freehold isn't too far from Lakehurst, maybe twenty miles. It seems like it is right over your house but it is way up there, it's a big thing. And then I was going to go out to Lakehurst at that time but then the radio announcement said they didn't want anybody in the area, all the roads were closed off. I wanted to take some pictures of it.
DL: Whitaker makes a big point in We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing about how he was an atheist and how he would pooh pooh things that people would say during the ordeal about God and how he gradually got...
JB: Well, usually atheists do that.
JB: Atheists do do that, you know.
DL: He would sort of joke with you about...?
JB: Not really, not really. He was just normal.
DLDo you think he was exaggerating?
JB: I think so. Maybe in his own mind he was thinking of it. You know, he would probably look at me and say look at that eight ball. It is just like people walking out and they'll see people going to college and say look at them trying to sharpen up their brains. They think they're smart. I mean as you go by you think of these things, you know, where they will say how come he's working down there and he should get himself a better job, and you may not even think of these things. I think this is what happened to Whitaker.
DL: Now when Rickenbacker, and I quoted it in my article, but he makes this big point about how he was chewing you guys out to try to keep you alive and he really goes into detail, you know, how he did this and did that. You don't remember any of that then?
JB: He didn't really have that much.... To me he was nothing out there. He was just another person. He couldn't help us in any way. Cherry couldn't help us. Nobody could help us. There was no chewing out. What's there to chew out?
DL: So there's a considerable amount of exaggeration then.
JB: I imagine so. Well, the people wanted him to be a hero and I personally think maybe he's not saying it himself, but I think the writers that wrote the articles for him knew him to be supposedly a hero, in which he was, and I admired the man for that, but I think the writers had more to do with it than Rickenbacker himself. I don't think Rickenbacker had that much time to express to them what he was thinking. Rickenbacker's time was worth money to him. A man that's in his life from World War I to World War II and all the time in the public eye he doesn't have that much time to sit down like you and I are sitting down here talking. Rickenbacker was busy. What he was doing I don't know, but he had a lot to think on. He talked about finances and everything else in the airlines, airplanes, and personnel. It's a responsibility.
DL: That brings to mind, you visited Rickenbacker in his office twice after the ordeal. You didn't stay for too long in either...?
JB: No, he just sat at his desk and, you know, he shook hands with me, sat down and talked a little bit. But he looked like he was busy and I, you know, you think you better get out of here.
DL: You said the phones were ringing constantly and nothing significant.
JB: Nothing like, you know, he just said, "Gees, glad to see you Johnny, nice for you to stop in." He didn't say like let's go out for lunch or something as I expected. But it wasn't anything like, yeah, we've got to get together, how about coming some other time? Nothing like that.
DL: Now during the whole ordeal and I asked you this question specifically in a letter, he never expressed any desire for a drink or saying, "Gee I could..."?
JB: Oh, no, no. Not out there.
DL: Did you really talk about milkshakes?
JB: Oh, yes. We told him to keep quiet about the milkshake because that would drive all of us crazy.
DL: Rickenbacker this is?
JB: Well, we all did, thinking about, you know, I said, "Gees, I'd like to be back and having a milkshake" or something like that ____ ____ keep quiet, don't say anything. We were told not to bring that up. That would bring on the hunger or the thirst.
DL: I wondered about that when I was reading--I mean you get the impression from Rickenbacker that you guys wee just talking interminably about milkshakes and ice cream cones, and hamburgers, and stuff like that.
JB: Maybe we talked once or twice a little bit and another guy would say something later on about something like that but then we would say when we get out of here we're going to all meet and have hamburgs and some of this together. But when we got back it was the end of it.
DL: Did Rickenbacker hold [Kasmarcic] in his arms for a while?
JB: While he was in the raft so he had to hold him because there wasn't that much room in the raft. But after about a day and a half Kaczmarzyck was sort of jumpy out there. Being that the colonel was hurt and Rickenbacker wasn't feeling that good Kaczmarzyck was put back in the small raft. Then I stayed with Kaczmarzyck that day.
DL: And he was delirious?
JB: He was delirious, yes because he wanted... I could understand it.
JB: But there was nothing we could do about it. We had maybe a quart of water or maybe less than a quart, maybe a pint of water because it was the early part of the trip, the twelfth day he died. We started catching water the sixth day and it wasn't that much water but if we had given him that little water that we had we knew his condition and regardless even if we gave him the water, the way I looked at it, I wasn't telling them because they were officers, and Rickenbacker had the stuff in his vest, the water. But even if we gave him all the water it wouldn't save Kaczmarzyck. He would go anyway the next day or the day after that. The way I felt as though our decision is to try to save ourselves, what little we have to go on a little bit longer than he can.
DL: He was mumbling about his girlfriend, Snooks?
JB: Oh, yes. Years after that Snooks comes to visit me about every two years. She lives in California now, Corona, California. Do you know where Corona is?
JB: Right around Los Angeles, southwest Los Angeles going on the way to Palm Springs.
DL: So she is still alive?
JB: She's still alive, yes.
DL: What is her real name?
JB: Corrine [Schwenk] or something like that.
DL: Could you get her address for me?
DL: I'd love to correspond with her. I'd like to learn more about Kaczmarzyck.
JB: She was only...
DL: She's married?
JB: Yes, she's married and I think her husband died and now she's married again. But she was only his girlfriend and what he did was, when he was in Hawaii he had nothing to do in the hospital so he wrote letters ahead of time and had all these letters lined up and he told the fellows there at the island to send her each one of these letters at a certain date. Every day she got a letter. In the meantime he's out there on the raft and she was getting these letters. She said they were really just friends, as you might say, they were not girlfriend/boyfriend. She said they were young and they were just close, that's all. It wasn't anything else. She's very nice.
DL: I'm just trying to pick little things out of the air that I might have forgotten to talk about and, of course, John and I can correspond about these things and I just find myself reaching right now for--I think I've asked most of what I want to ask today is what I'm saying. So if you have anything that you would like to ask as a result of hearing all this why don't you take over.
DC: I did ask Mr. Bartek, I think the tape was off, but he made reference several times to the difference between the old army, the prewar army, and the GIs who in a sense kind of democratized the army and lessened distance between officers and enlisted men were at least not as readily differential to officers. I mean were there some of the people who showed that on your crew? Were some of these draftees who didn't have that same respect that you had?
JB: I had a lot of respect for officers because that's the way I was trained. All my life I had been trained a certain way. It is pretty hard to break the tradition.
DL: Here's something that interesting. Let me read you out of DeAngelis's interview. Question: Who scoffed at the Bible?, he was asking. This is very important to be correcting that it be proper. We understood that Adamson and Whitaker were both unbelievers, atheists. Answer: Whitaker especially. Question: Whitaker was an atheist and Adamson said he had been making a search for God all his life and never found him. Adamson is a scientist and used to be a newspaper man in Albany. He worked on Martin Glenn's paper (whatever that means), he's ordained, he's an explorer, and wherever he wants to have a cheerful outing he goes out hunting for dinosaurs in Mexico or Arizona or someplace. Did Adamson talk about any of those things?
JB: Not anything out there. Adamson was too sick, like I say. He had to save his energy. We wouldn't have listened to him anyway if he talked about dinosaurs. We'd really tell him to shut up.
DL: Were they in different to the reading of the Bible or did they resent it? Now here's what...
JB: No, they didn't say anything.
DL: Here's what DeAngelis says. "This Whitaker was outright resentful of anything we did concerning prayer. He was..."
JB: No he wasn't.
JB: He just sat there and listened. Whitaker was very quiet out there. Whitaker was just quiet.
DL: "He was especially of myself. He ridiculed me and told me anybody knows, he says, nobody is going to help us now. It's just yourself. If you can do it, okay."
JB: Well that part is probably right.
DL: Did he laugh or scoff and say those prayers don't mean anything? Did anybody change? Answer: He started praying after two weeks. Because Whitaker really got religion after...
JB: So he said, I don't know. I never met him after that.
DL: In his book he really... What is Cherry's religion? Answer: He was very religious out there.
JB: I wouldn't say he was very religious but I would say Cherry was more of a believer than the average person. I think Cherry took certain things seriously because I mean being a pilot and flying, you know. That's way I believe. When I believe God I don't believe just because somebody says there is a God. I look at the earth and I look at he wonders of the earth and I look at space and radio and the separation of the molecules for--you take a computer and two seconds later everything comes through and all they are going through little wires. I mean this earth is got to be something more powerful than just a planet like Mars. Mars doesn't have anything on it. You could never develop a computer on Mars I don't think because the earth itself, I feel as though is God's place.
DL: In other words what I'm gathering here is that all of these accounts of the episode, there's a good deal of exaggeration.
JB: Exaggeration, yes.
DL: In all of them.
JB: And I think a lot of this exaggeration was possibly done by reporters or the way your tone of voice comes across to the reporter and they exaggerated it.
DL: There is one important question that I forgot and I do want to ask you and that is involving your book Life Out There because up until we've talked about it I was inclined to take that book more seriously than I should, I suppose. Can you just summarize what there is about the book that is inaccurate?
JB: Well I didn't proofread it. That was the main thing. I could have eliminated more than half of it and I could have corrected a few things. I could have straightened a few things out. A lot of times I would talk about something. I've noticed I have the tape on when I was talking to the air force out there in McGuire and I meant to say like Captain Cherry but instead I would say Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. In other words I was thinking of one captain and I'm talking about another captain. That's what happened. You can talk and your mind is drifting someplace else and you think you know what you are saying.
DL: What were the outright errors that they made?
JB: Oh, a lot of women, a lot of them. Eddie puts in there about my girlfriend. That was alright that he put my girlfriend Diane Courtney is in there that I was going with in New York. Now if I was writing the book to publish I wouldn't put her in there because she has nothing to do with it. I had the ______ and I had the bishop there for about a day and a half talking to him and they didn't ask me any questions. I'm sitting there with a court stenographer in front of me, I's scared to death, and the army told me not to say anything that's going to get me into trouble and I'm right off the raft and I didn't know what Eddie Rickenbacker was saying or any of those so I'm keeping my mouth shut. You know I had to say something. I just talked, talked and talked and every time I sneezed she got that on that there...
DL: Didn't you indicate that some of your duties and some of the things that you did on the plane got misstated, that there were mistakes made about some of the functions, the procedures that you--just real factual errors?
JB: I don't remember anything like that. As I say...
DL: That might be an unfair...
JB: I only read the book about twice. I don't care for it. The reason the book was written was because Captain Eddie wrote a book and Whitaker wrote a book and actually what took place was Whitaker, when we were in Hawaii, Whitaker comes up to Jed DeAngelis and me and Whitaker says to me "We've got a nice story here." Oh, I said "Yes, we've got a nice story here." So Whitaker says "You know, we can sell this story for maybe $500 to Collier's magazine or Saturday Evening Post. I said "$500, man," I said "that's a lot of money." He said "Yes, but we've go to cooperate, all of us get together and we'll write this article and we'll all get $500." That to me was a lot of money. So anyway I waited a while and time goes on and pretty soon Rickenbacker's got a book out and Whitaker's got a book out. Where's the Collier's magazine, you know what I mean? I start to lose faith in everything, I mean faith in mankind himself. They've got the books out. Where am I?
DL: So is that about the time you went to Buffalo?
JB: Well I went to Buffalo at Christmas right after that. But that's when I talked to the bishop up there and the bishop had all these books ____ _____ I said I would like to write a book and said do you ever think of writing your story? I said I don't know. He said I can get you a publisher and I thought this was the greatest deal in the world. But they were not the ones asking the questions because the bishop wasn't in the service. He didn't know what questions to ask militarily. And the guy from Scribner's, he was just there to listen to it. So I had nobody there to steer me or help me or assist me, or tell me what's going to happen. But all I told them was I said send me the proof and if I like the proof, I said, I'll let you print it. So any way I had to go back now to my base. I went back to my base and then I got the book, I think it was the book. They said we printed your book. I said why didn't you let me proof read it. I didn't know anything about proofreading but I knew I wanted to check some things. If I'm going to write a letter I want to check it. They said we thought we would get it out fast so not to waist any time but we'll send you the proof later. I said what good is it going to do me. I asked them would they change the book. "Oh, no, the book is already in the press, we can't change it." I said what good is the proof sheet, why should I read it? I was at the USO reading it at the time. I didn't like and then I got on the plane and I came back and I told them to take it off the market.
DL: And they did?
JB: They took it off the market. But this is the way...
DL: Somehow we got a copy of it. That shows how good our collection is because it probably is a very rare book if they took it off the market. I'm asking you these questions because, you know, it is possible that not only myself or some student in the future may pick up this book and I'd like to establish something about how authentic it is. What you could do if you were so inclined which we be a big favor would be if you could overcome your reluctance to read it once more, if you could read that book and at least let me know what is there in that book that is flat out erroneous. What statements does it make about your duties or your functions or what...?"
JB: I would have worded it differently. Like I say I only had one year of high school and to me and the way I was brought up you don't talk about anything you just do it. In other words I got married when I got married--I mean all this here... I learned how to work on motorcycles, I didn't read a book on them. I learned how to fix engines on cars. I didn't read books on that outside of reading little popular magazines, Popular Science or Popular Mechanics. On three homes I've built an average of one and one half rooms on each one of the homes. I didn't draw up any plans, I don't make sketches, I don't make diagrams, I just know I've got to go three feet down, get below the frost line, I've got to put up the cement blocks, I've got to put my footing in, a certain footing, I know I've got to put the _____ up, match it up with the house, and I've got to tie it all in whether it's shingles, or whether it's a roof. I learned that when I was young. I had to put a room on because I was married and I wanted a room and a half and I called in carpenters and I didn't have any money, it was November and I asked them what it would cost to put on a room and a half onto my house, my little bungalow down at the shore. They said, well, it is going to cost around three or four thousand dollars, it may run a little higher (back in the '50s), and he said it was going to take four men and take probably three or four months to get this thing done. I looked at them and I said good bye. ...make sure the car was far enough away so when the roof came over and wouldn't hit the car, judged that distance and my other in-laws came around and we dug the three feet down. I had a friend down there which was delivering concrete and I said put down a pretty hard concrete in there so we got the concrete down to the level in the ground. I also at the same time had another fellow I knew had the cement blocks there and I finished that and I put my seal on. The seal is about that high up--about three or four blocks up and I had it all up in one day--about twenty feet long this way and about twelve feet out this way. The next day because I had my seal up already, I had that boulder down, we put up the floor, we put up the sides, we laid them right on the deck of the floor, laid out those, put them up, put up the sides, put up the roof, and put up all the sides on it. We didn't put the windows in yet. The next day we put the windows in, put the roof on, put the tar paper on the roof--this is wintertime--short nights. One week's time I had the whole thing up. It cost me $700. My brother worked for a warehouse lumber company at that time and I said bring me enough lumber to finish the house. He brought the lumber in and it cost me $700. It took me about three weeks to finish the inside. I had to finish the floor of and I had to put up my own wall board, put my own electric lines in.
DL: Sounds like Jimmy Carter--Habitat.
JB: But that's the way I operate. Another fellow there when we sold that house because it was always under water because we lived right on the peninsula, we were at sea level, the septic tank would overflow so what I did was, of course there's laws against a lot of things, I didn't check about the laws, I just went about twelve feet away from there and when the tide was low I dug down as deep as I could dig and then I poured water in there and I found out the water wasn't coming up. In other words I knew I was at the water level and I could get rid of the water and threw in a lot of pipes--that many pipes around. I threw them all in the bottom there, covered the thing over, ran a line from the other one right to that thing. Nobody knew the difference. I had done it all by myself and I had always done anything. I bought another house which was on the highest ground there in the same area and this was a wreck and everybody felt that we were crazy for buying it. They didn't even bother talking to use. I said I'm going to make this a palace and I worked all day and all night. I put on my flood lights that I had for photography and I put them on the house at night and I could put on my shingles then and do all my painting. We had trouble with the septic tank and I also put my own septic in and then I ordered a furnace in the spring because we bought it in the spring and the fellow says come September... I asked him "When are you going to put the furnace in, winter is coming?" Well, he said he didn't order it yet. I said winter will be here. I went down and bought myself a furnace for $200 and I put my own furnace in, put down all my--______ central heating and I wanted it to go to different rooms. I put out my different pipes, put the furnace--but I wasn't sure whether I could fire it up. So I called up the guy to come down and just tune it for me. He came down and tuned it for me and said it was all right. But I don't have time to--I have to do things on my own.
DL: In other words you are not a man of books.
JB: At the same place I wanted kitchen cabinets because it didn't have any kitchen cabinets in there and this fellow lived across the street from me and he was an engineer _____ ___ _____. A pretty smart guy. Everything had to be done in detail. So I asked him--his name was Richard and I called him Dick. I said "Dick, how about helping me out?" He said "What about?" I said I've got to get some cabinets in my kitchen and I said I want the cabinets down below. Oh, he said, I'll be more than glad to help. He said I'll come over tomorrow and he said I'm going to take measurements of what we have to do and then he said when I get time I'm going to draw out a diagram and then we are going to figure out the types of wood we're going to have and what kind of counter tops you are going to have. I said, Dick, look, I've got to get cabinets up and I don't want to think about it. I've got to get them up tomorrow. He said you can't get them up tomorrow. The reason I knew about it he takes time and he's building a little--like a row boat over here and he has spent seven years on this row boat and he's only got the [spas] in it and he's got around two little pieces of _____ _____ the bottom. He says you've got to wait for the wood to season ____ _____ _____. So I said to him, because he had all his tools down there, so real quick I went down to the lumber yard and I got the lumber, he said to bring it over so I got over the lumber. I said we've got to cut this here is for the cabinets, this square. Then I said we've got to cut these boards this way and I want a little curve on them this way, and I want this side cut in this way so when they close they close all right. We cut them all up in one evening and we had everything put together and brought them over to the house and put them up and that was it. I painted them the next day. The cabinets were all done in about a day, a day and a half.
DL: You're quite a man.
JB: What I mean is if I were building for this place I would have to build it nice. Now you need engineers because this place is beautiful. See that's what I mean about different things. Some people do things one way and others do the other. When I cut grass or anything I have speed, I go right through it. Other people sometimes it takes them all day and they buy all these new gadgets that don't amount to nothing like raking up leaves. The way I get my leaves is I just clear out a little place in the center of the lawn and I put a great big tarpaulin down on the ground and I rake all the leaves towards the tarpaulin, tie it all up and throw it out to the curb the day they are going to pick up the leaves and there they go. You know, a twenty minute job. Some people do all--now I'm doing it because my wife doesn't like the leaves around so--I mean this wife here she wants me to mow them every time. It's all right because I'm retired so I can do it. But before that I had other things to do. I had to work at my job in a factory. I also had my photography work on the side in which I wanted to do and enjoyed very much. Every once in a while I would paint houses for a living and I didn't mind painting. You know, nothing for me to paint. Paint's paint. You just put it on and paint. I got good money for it so why not do it. So one day I was short of money and I saw this car. It was $200 at that time. It was a Nash. Do you remember the Nash Ramblers with the big fenders on them? I was coming out of the _____ _____ plant and I see this Nash and the guy says $200. My wife didn't work. I was only one that worked. I didn't believe too much in my wife working. She didn't want to work so I said okay, stay at home. I liked good cooked meals and that's what I was used to all my life. So I see this Nash and I think the guy said $200 or $400 for the Nash. Four hundred dollars I think he said. Gees, I said that's nice. I asked him how come nobody wants to buy that car? He said because it's a Nash and it has the big fender, nobody wants it. But I said it was nice. It was a nice green color. So I went over to Fort ______ and asked them if they had any jobs over here. The military said why don't you ask the civilian over there. So I asked the civilian and they do all the clean up around there. He said we have to clean the latrines. But anyway I got a job cleaning the latrines which is no job at all because they are all concrete floors and all you do is just get the hose in there and you spray it. So a fellow says to me, the neighbor across the street, he said what the hell you are cleaning latrines for? I said because I want to buy a car. He said can't you save the money? He and his wife were both working, see. She had always worked and he had always worked. I said I don't have any money. He said that's a dirty job. I said, "Listen, I did it in the army for nothing, why can't I do it for 400 bucks?" I got my $400, went down and bought the car, forget about the job and rode around in my Nash.
DL: Bless your heart.
JB: That's my life. Because if you're not educated--what took place, people don't realize this here. What took place was before the war even if you didn't have an education you could get ______ ______ a good job. You had common sense but what started to take place was they began to get into research. Now when you go to sign an application for a job they give you an application, you sign it and then they give you another application for a high school, and then they give you another one for college. When they had your application and you didn't go to high school they would take it and ______--high school and then they'd look at it. They may file it, but college, you're in. But that was right after the war that all happened.
DL: Eddie never went pass the seventh grade.
JB: I'm the same way. I went through one year of high school.
DC: Well, the GI Bill made a college education much more common place.
JB: Oh, yes, that's when all that happened. Well, I went to photographic school and I was glad I did because it pulled me though a lot of tough jobs. I loved it. I studied portrait, and I studied commercial and advertising, I studied color photography in those days and I studied camera repair. I was a whiz at all of them. Color photography isn't like what it is today. I don't know whether you are familiar with it what they called a [carbro process] and a [dye transfer process]. In those days you took to make a color print I would go out and I would shoot--let's say I'm shooting a transparency, a 4x5 transparency. Now, I had to take that transparency and use three different filters, a primary--I forget which is the color. Now you take the three filters and you put on three black and white films. Each film had to be different because one film is more sensitive to reds and another one is more sensitive to greens. So you had to use the filters and you had to use that. So that gave you three negatives. Then you took those three negatives and then you put it on your matrix, they called it. Now you had to put those three on a matrix--one, two, three matrixes. So you had the size you wanted--you want an 8x10, you put it on an 8x10 matrix. Now you've got it on that matrix and then you took these three matrixes which was like a sponge but it only had certain designs because you separated this negative into three different black and whites only you picked up certain ones. It would be like a stamp or like a press, all you do is get the letters. You took that and then you put it in three different dyes, red, yellow, and green, or whatever it was. Then you took that and you put that onto a big board with a piece of cellophane on it and you put it up against the marks, you put that up there and then you rolled that on. You rolled the first color on, say yellow. Then you rolled the next color on. You took the other matrix and then you rolled the next color on. But if it isn't enough yellow you may have to take that and put it back into that and put it in alkaline.
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