DL refers to Dr. David Lewis, Distinguished University Professor
in History. Introduced Mr. Bartek
JB is Mr. John Bartek, survivor, with Eddie Rickenbacker and others, of three weeks lost at sea in 1942.
SB is Dr. Stella Bentley, Dean of the Auburn University Libraries.
DL: ...and our speaker was to speak for thirty minutes and then we were going to have thirty minutes for questioning. I think it would really be a crime since you all know who I am and see me around everyday for me to occupy thirty minutes of your time speaking to introduce, which is all that I want to do, one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.
I do think that I had better tell you how it is that Mr. Bartek is here and how I became very interested in having him here. All throughout my professional career I have wanted to write a biography. I have written many biographical articles but I have never written a book-length biography and I wondered if the time would ever come that the subject would reveal itself to me. It happened in 1991 when I was sitting in front of my word processor writing a biographical article about Eddie Rickenbacker. Why was I doing that? Because Eddie Rickenbacker had played a somewhat modest role in the history of Delta Airlines that I coauthored, so when one of my friends at the University of Georgia assigned me ten or twelve articles to write for an encyclopedia he threw Eddie Rickenbacker into the mix and I agreed to write an article on Eddie Rickenbacker.
As I was sitting there in front of the word processor, a whole host of memories flooded in on me because there had never been a time in my life that I had not known who Eddie Rickenbacker was. He was simply one of the great American heroes of the twentieth century. He was America's "Ace of Aces" in World War I. He shot down twenty-six German planes, he was constantly in the news. But what flooded back into my memory more than anything else was what happened in late 1942. When I was an eleven-year-old boy growing up in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, eagerly devouring every scrap of information that I could get about what was going on in the war and late in October of 1942 the shocking news came through that Eddie Rickenbacker had gone down at sea and was presumed to be lost but they weren't sure. Every evening radio commentators like Lowell Thomas, Gabriel Heatter and H.B. Kaltenborn. I'm dating myself here but there are people in this room who remember those names but I would greedily listen to every scrap of information--"Are they going to find Eddie?", "Are they going to find the crew that went down with him?" One week passed, and then two weeks passed, and by that time most people had given up hope that Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew would never be found. The newspapers were coming out with all these funereal cartoons many of which we have now in our Rickenbacker scrapbooks in the archives, and then low and behold, it happened. After three long weeks the news was flashed over the radio and in the newspapers, and in every conceivable media you could name "Eddie Rickenbacker has been found," "Rickenbacker is alive after three weeks of exposure." Rickenbacker and his comrades all except one had been found. They were alive.
Now, can you imagine what it would be like to spend three weeks with seven other people, one of whom died at sea, on three tiny little rubber rafts, two of which were no bigger than a bath tub, one of which was no bigger than a wash tub. So you have three people in one of these so-called big rafts, three people in another one of the so-called big rafts, and two people somehow managing to fit into that tiny wash tub size raft with no food, except for four oranges, with no drinking water, not knowing exactly where they were, thinking that it would be just as likely that they might be discovered by Japanese aviators or naval vessels as by Americans and wondering about the tortures they might suffer if they were and enduring conditions like that. That gripped my imagination as an eleven-year-old and it all came flooding back to me that day as I sat in front of my word processor and suddenly it was like a light bulb went off inside my head and I thought, "This is it. This the biography that I have been waiting to write. I am going to do a biography of Eddie Rickenbacker."
The next year I happened to be a guess professor at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. I spent a lot of time at the Library of Congress going through 130 boxes of Eddie Rickenbacker's papers and I would say that conservatively speaking about thirty percent of all of the letters and telegrams and other materials that I read had to do with two years of Eddie's life, 1942 and 1943. That raft episode captured the public imagination in a way like few other developments in that war torn period did. So it all came back to me and I learned so much more about it than I had ever known before. Eventually and I won't bore you with this story, you may have read about it in a little circular that Dean Bentley was kind enough to have distributed, how it came to be that we have a very large collection of Eddie Rickenbacker's papers here at Auburn University, and one that is growing. We have twenty-six of Eddie Rickenbacker's scrapbooks here and two of those scrapbooks have literally thousands of clippings and cartoons and other materials about the raft episode. Of course, I wanted to find out everything I possibly could not only about Rickenbacker because there was not one hero out there on those rafts. There were eight heroes out there, one of whom died.
I wanted to learn as much as I could not only about Eddie but about the people who shared this ordeal with him. I tried very hard to make contact with one person I knew was still alive and whose feelings about what happened on the raft are so intense that he still refuses to talk about it. He has never answered any of my letters, he has never answered any of the entreaties of people who have contacted him on my behalf, the pilot of the plane, William T. Cherry lives in California but for all of his life he has steadfastly refused to talk to anybody about what happened out there, including me. Thank goodness one person who was out there did agree to talk to me and I will be everlastingly grateful to him. I knew that if anybody was, besides Captain Cherry, was likely to have survived it would possibly be John Bartek because he was the youngest member of the crew. I reasoned that he would be in his late seventies and there was a good chance that he would be alive, and so one day I walked into Marty Olliff's little office in the Archives and I said, "Marty, I understand that there is a computer program that you can put in a few key strokes and you can come up with the name and the address of anybody in the United States." And he said, "That is true." So I said, "Well, I want you to come up with the address of everybody in the United States whose name is John F. Bartek." So within about two minutes he had four names complete with addresses and he handed them to me and the very first one lived in Mercerville, New Jersey, and since the John Bartek I knew about came from Freehold, New Jersey, I thought that must be the man. So I wrote a letter to Mr. Bartek and waited expectantly and eagerly for a reply. When it came I was delighted to find yes, this was the John Bartek and furthermore, he was delighted to talk about his experiences. He was very helpful to me in writing an article about the raft episode that was recently published and I invited him to come here to Auburn to be interviewed and to speak to a university-wide audience on this subject and he agreed to do so. This is one of the most amazing stories to me of the twentieth century. What this man and seven other people went through in the central Pacific is beyond my power to imagine and we have the good fortune to have a survivor of that dramatic episode here among us, I think is just a piece of good fortune not only for me but for everybody at Auburn. So I am delighted to introduce to you Mr. John Bartek.
JB: Thank you very much for the introduction. Can you all hear me back there? I'm not used to a microphone. But anyway, thank you very much. You should have went on with the story and completed it and then I wouldn't have to say anything because I'm not accustomed to public speaking. What I do want to say is on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor I knew that I would be drafted. The reason I knew I would be drafted was because I was an ex-serviceman. I was in Hawaii for almost three years and I got out in 1940. The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. So I wanted to join the Air Force. Where I was stationed in Hawaii was a placed called Fort Kamahameha which was a Coast artillery battalion. We had eight-inch disappearing guns there to protect the harbor. I didn't like the Coast artillery. I wanted to join the air corps. So I went down and joined the air corps.
When I went in the army I asked to become a photographer. We had three choices at that time--the choices were mechanic, mechanic, or mechanic. So I became a mechanic. But being a mechanic didn't interest me any because I wanted to fly. I wanted to at least drop a few bombs on the enemy. We were also into the German war at that time or I imagine we were or we were going to get into it. So I wanted to drop a few bombs on the Germans, Italians, and the Japs. But being a mechanic I thought I'd be on the ground but instead I was picked out of about 2,500 men I was sent to engineering school. They sent me to B-24 school.
After graduating from engineering school they sent me to California. In California I didn't do any flying for about two or three months there and then I got orders for a flight. The flight was a secret at the time until we got airborne. We were taking four B-24s to Brisbane, Australia. We were the lead ship and Captain Cherry was our pilot. We got to Brisbane, we delivered the planes, and we come back to Hawaii. When we come back to Hawaii they told us we had four obsolete B-17 bombers they wanted us to take back to the states. The obsolete bombers were brought back to the states to train future bomber pilots. The reason they were obsolete was because they didn't have any tail gunners in them. Without the tail gunners the Japs would knock them down so they were brought back to the states.
Not being a B-17 engineer, we went up in the morning and tested the plane out. All we had to do was fly east to get to the West Coast. But that afternoon I went out to the plane again to check the plane for different things like where the life rafts, is the baggage tied down, do we have enough fuel in the tanks, a few things an engineer has to do to familiarize myself with the plane. While I was out there Captain Cherry said the orders have been changed, when my pilot told me this and he sort of smiled. He said "You'll enjoy the mission. It's a secret mission but you'll enjoy it." He said "We are taking somebody famous back out west." I said "Is it Lindbergh--Charles Lindbergh?" He says "No." I said "Is it President Roosevelt?" He says "No." I said "Is it Mickey Mouse?" He says "No." So anyway he says "You'll be happy."
Well, I wasn't happy for one reason and I want to go back a little bit. Just before this mission I got a letter from home saying that my sister who was born on my birthday, August 30, my sister Ruth, she was seventeen years old, an "A" student in school, she died. She died of a hemorrhage. She went roller skating the night before and she hit her head against the wall. In those days they didn't know how to operate on, I guess, the skull in those days, but she died. I was sad and I didn't want to go on this mission.
But anyway to get back the mission again, that night I was standing up in the plane and I see a staff car come up with a couple of generals get out and a man with a business suit with a fedora on top of his head and a cane in his hand. I said "I wonder why they are bringing this cripple aboard this plane." Only I said that to myself. When he came aboard the plane I was introduced to him, "This is Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, Ace of Aces." Well, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker--when I was fourteen years old he was my hero because the war, World War I, was only fifteen years old then, now I'm twenty-three years old. I said, "Wow, I'll have something to tell the boys when I get home." But now I can't because this is a secret mission and they won't believe me anyway.
So anyway, we started to board the plane. Eddie Rickenbacker sat right behind the pilot. We have four seats in the cockpit area, Eddie Rickenbacker sat behind the pilot on the left side and the colonel sat behind the co-pilot. I turned on the generators and inverters, Captain Cherry, the pilot, revved up the engine and off we went and as I looked about in the dark groping for a place to sit because now I am unfamiliar with the plane, I started to go off balance and I wondered what happened. What happened was I found out later Captain Cherry ground looped the airplane. We were doing over 60 mph and he had no brake and when you take off in Hawaii according to them, I'm not the pilot, according to him, Captain Cherry, he said you've got to brake it a little bit because you've got a cross wind and the brake went out, so he ground looped it. It could have been fatal at that time if the thing had crashed or something right on the runway because we had over 4,000 gallons of gas on board. It could have been fatal.
So anyway, we come back to the hanger and we're going to fix it, repair it. It should take about two or three hours. In the meantime I wasn't with the crew at that time I found out a little later on that Captain Cherry refused to the take plane, the plane they were giving us. The reason he refused was because when you are going on an overseas flight with only one destination with only so much gasoline you better check everything on that plane, navigation, the mechanical condition of the airplane, you've got to check the radio, you've got to check everything to see if it functions. They gave us this plane---now, Hawaii at that time was in a black-out so you couldn't see anything. They just gave us an airplane and off we went. Everything was fine so they said.
Well, anyway, as we approached the island we flew all night, Captain Rickenbacker got up in the morning and Captain Cherry asked him if he cared to fly the airplane. Rickenbacker says "Okay, I'll fly it." So Rickenbacker sat in the cockpit where the pilot sat. He flew for about an hour. I said to myself, "I'm the proudest man in the world." I said "I've got Eddie Rickenbacker for my pilot. Nobody else can say that but I can say that." So anyway, Cherry again took over and as we approached the island we let down about an hour and a half ahead of time because we were on a secret mission. We just wanted to go in and locate the island without any interference. Our time of arrival was overdue. In the meantime the navigator was beginning to look a little worried. The pilot talked to him, went down in the navigation room with him and talked to him about it. They were not sure what was wrong. I wasn't interfering now we've got a problem. I didn't want to interfere with what the pilot's doing or what the navigators are doing. I didn't know anything about what they were doing anyway so it wouldn't help.
But anyway, what took place then was Captain Cherry said "Well, that shouldn't be a problem I'll turn on the directional finder." The directional finder when you turn it on you get the station you tune it in there's a little loop on the outside of the airplane, you turn that loop and that gives you the direction of the island you're going for. He turned on the directional finder and when he went to turn the loop that's on the outside of the plane the loop was jammed. So we couldn't use that. Oh, he said there was no problem. So then he called the island and he asked for lost plane procedure. But when he called about the lost plane procedure what took place then was the island called back and said we have had the equipment here for two weeks but we haven't had time to set it up yet. So that put us into a different category now. Then they called the island again and said they were going to get us on radar. Well, radar was new in those days and I never did know what happened to the radar until a lot later on, like forty years later, what happened to the radar.
Back to the radar. I got a letter from a fellow in Wading River, Long Island, and he said that he was the radar operator that day and he picked us up at two o'clock on the radar screen. I don't know if you are familiar with radar screens. Radar screens are like a clock and from two o'clock he saw our plane and he told them to make a 90 degree turn to, I guess, the right or whatever it was, I forget what it was, and then come straight on it. We were about 90 miles out. Well, the captain in charge of the island looked at that and the captain got worried. He thought maybe it was the Japs zeroing in on us. So he said "Get off the target." And he said "I'll send up two B-17s and go up and look for them. Well, the B-17s, I guess, didn't have any radar either. So he sent them up and in the meantime we asked the island to fire anti-aircraft shells at 8,000 feet. We climbed to 8,000 feet to see whether we could see the burst at 8,000 feet. Well, we climbed to 8,000 feet and we didn't see any burst for about a half an hour.
Captain Cherry then decided, well, the best we could do is we'll fly around in what they call a square. You fly for maybe thirty minutes or forty-five minutes north, and you fly east, and you fly south, and then you fly west. We could look on each side of the plane to see whether we could see ships at sea or something down there. Well, we flew the whole course and in the meantime we saw nothing out in the vast Pacific. We covered hundreds of miles and still nothing. I figured we would at least find somebody trying to get away from the war in some ship out there, some little sail boat or something, find the Japs or something, but there was nothing out there. But we realized how big the ocean was. So then Captain Cherry decided well, we've got to figure out a way to bring this plane in because we don't have enough gas to go to the next island. We only had--oh, I don't know how many gallons of gas, but we didn't have enough to get there regardless of which direction we were turned. So we decided how we were going to ditch this plane. In the meantime we threw everything overboard to make the plane a little bit lighter. When the time comes for you to make a decision on something like that, no matter how valuable it is your life is more valuable than all the valuables you have and everything went overboard. My camera which was worth about four hundred and some dollars, a Leica camera at that time, that went overboard too. That took all of my life savings. That was all I ever owned, I guess. I kept a testament--I had a little testament that the Baptist Church gave me, Freehold Baptist Church. I tucked that in my pocket.
Anyway, Captain Cherry was telling Rickenbacker how he would like to bring the plane in. Now no B-17 before had ever been brought in without cracking up in two and losing half of the crew. So Cherry and Whitaker and myself there felt --well, we said we don't want to lose our lives. Rickenbacker, the colonel, and the rest of them didn't want to lose their lives, so we had to figure this thing out. Captain Cherry came up with the idea that he wanted to come in--he wanted to land between swells and as he brought the plane on command he wanted Whitaker to cut the power, the electrical power, that shuts everything down. So what we did then was we cut the two inboard engines off, it was a four engine plane, we left the two outboards on _____ and we come down.
In the meantime, Cherry says to me, he said go back in the plane and check to see if the men are tied down. So I went back into the plane and looked at the men and there's Captain Eddie sitting there with his hat on his head and he has a rope tied around his waist. I said "I wonder what he is going to do with that rope? It looks kind of silly out here. We're ditching the plane what does he need a rope for?" I said, "Captain Eddie must know what he is doing."
So anyway, I went around to the front of the plane then I hesitated a minute, took the top hatch off and threw that out. Right above my head was the life rafts releases and I didn't know whether Captain Cherry wanted me to go to the back of the plane also. If you read the story you'll probably hear that I went to the back of the plane. I didn't go to the back of the plane because, I mean, I may be a private in the army which was the lowest rank in the army at that time, but I'm not stupid because the life rafts' release is right over my head. I said, "Suppose those two get killed in the front and I'm in the back? I'm in trouble." That's where the two big rafts are. The third raft is in the back of the airplane. That's the small one, the two man raft. I said "I'll sit up front." So, anyway, I sat up front and I went to look for cushions so I could put them in front of me because of the crash landing. I knew we were going to land at close to a hundred miles an hour and I wanted some protection. But when I looked at Captain Cherry and I looked at Lieutenant Whitaker and the co-pilot, they were sitting an arms length away from the control panel and they had the cushions in front of them and I said this is going to be a bumpy landing. So I sat right behind Lieutenant Whitaker. He was just a little bit bigger than Cherry, about maybe ten pounds more but any way he was bigger. I sat right behind him, the two life raft releases right above my head. Well, I said, "If those two get killed I'm going to use Whitaker as my cushion." I had no other choice. Anyway that's why I believe in seat belts. I did have that.
In the meantime, also, I want to get back to the back of the plane again. When I went to the back of the plane I noticed the colonel was sitting up against the bulkhead backwards coming in. Well, I wanted to tell him "I think it would be better for you to face forward because when you crash it is going to go forward." But I didn't want to tell the colonel--I don't know if you know what ranks are in the army but the colonel is way up there in military rank and I'm way down here. I wasn't about to talk to him. I was an old army man and you don't talk to colonels unless they ask to talk to you. So, anyway, he sat with his back up against the bulkhead. He had a mattress up against him and he looked pretty good at that. So, anyway, I got up front.
I think first now we are coming in at a hundred miles an hour and when you are [up] a hundred feet or so a little bit everything looks still pretty quiet but as you get lower to the surface you realize that the waves are pretty high. We had about ten to fifteen foot waves out there and we were coming between the swells. When we come between the swells I looked at Captain Cherry. He was in complete command of that ship. He knew exactly where he was going to put that plane. So I was pretty confident even coming in. I wasn't scared, I was very confident. None of the men seemed to be scared of anything. I guess they had confidence in Cherry, too. As we were coming in I kept watching the air speed. I knew the air speed is the thing I've got to watch. My timing may be wrong also, to sort of hold myself, get myself together. I watched the air speed. The air speed kept dropping from a hundred, went down to ninety, it seemed to waver. It suddenly started to flutter a little bit and in the meantime Captain Cherry hollered "cut." When he hollered cut Cherry put the tail down in the water and that put a drag on the plane and then the plane flopped right down. It had flopped down but it stopped suddenly. Our eyeballs began to roll. It was a sudden stop.
When we come in and stopped the first thing I did I let one life raft out because I wasn't sure at the time whether we stopped completely. I didn't want to go back swimming another block or so in the middle of the ocean with sharks possibly in there at that time for the raft so I hesitated a second and then Whitaker got up out of his seat and he said pull the other release. I had a hold of the release but I didn't pull the thing until Whitaker got my hand and he yanked it with me and then we yanked the other raft out. In the meantime the other fellows were in the back of the plane they let the third raft down, but they had to do that by themselves. I got up on a fuselage and I got out to the wing and I saw the raft out there and the colonel and Eddie Rickenbacker was up there atop the fuselage. The colonel said "I'm hurt, I'm hurt." What he did he had hurt his back in the crash landing. So I said we've got to get the colonel in first. So I pulled the raft in close and we got the colonel in. Well, the colonel weighed about 200 pounds. When the colonel got in I was holding on to the raft, I was standing on a wing, and a wave came over and the colonel and the raft both went out away from me and I went down into the water because the colonel weighed about 200 pounds and the raft must have weighed about a hundred pounds or maybe more. I only weighed 130 pounds. I'm standing on a bumpy wet surface, a rocking surface as you might say, so he started to drift away and I tried to hold on, in the meantime I cut my hand holding on to the plane up there in which I wasn't sure but that didn't matter at the time.
When I got into the raft I tried cutting the line, I tried breaking the line that's tied to the plane with my hand. Now that they were safe in the raft I didn't want the plane to pull the raft down with it. But I tried cutting the rope and I couldn't do it. Eddie Rickenbacker pulled out a knife and he did it the easy way, he cut the string. So anyway, now we are adrift. On the other side of the raft I didn't know what was going on. But in the back of the plane the other two fellows, they had trouble getting into the raft because it kept turning over on them. They finally got it righted up and then they come around the tail of the airplane. In the meantime, Cherry comes out of the plane and he gets into the raft on the other side. He was in the plane to see whether there was any food around so when we get to floating out there we've got something to eat. He come out with three oranges. Now DeAngelis who was in the raft in the back of the plane come out with one orange. So we had four oranges.
Anyway, I thought of maybe going back into the plane, not to be a hero now, I mean I'll be honest, to do anything, I could swim pretty good, but the reason I didn't go back in we didn't have that much food in the plane the last I remembered. We had food during the evening. We didn't have very much water plus another thing is we had Captain Eddie Rickenbacker aboard our life raft and since they sent the SOS the whole army, navy, and the air force, and the Japs and everybody would be looking for us and in three days we should be picked up. Why worry about three days? I could do without eating for three days. That was a wrong decision I made. We all make little decisions that aren't quite right at times. So, anyway, we are afloat out there. The first thing we did, we took inventory and the main thing is we didn't have water, we didn't have any food. We had a fishing line but that was sort of rotted. We had to double, triple up on that. We had about four fish hooks that weren't too big. You couldn't catch a big fish with it and we had no bait.
So the second day comes around we had an eighth of an orange and Eddie Rickenbacker was chosen to divide that orange. When I say an eighth of an orange I don't think you've got scales in this whole university that could measure an eighth of an orange as accurate as he did. An eighth of an orange with us hungry men all looking at that we made sure we got our eighth of an orange. No more and no less. One of the fellows says while we are eating the orange, he said don't eat the peels. While thinking about that over a little bit, I said "I never heard of a man dying of eating orange peels but they do die of starvation." This is food so I ate my peel. In the meantime some of the fellows decided they would use the orange peel to try to fish but the fish wouldn't bite. So the third day went on and we had another eighth of an orange and I figured today should be the day that the air force would be out to look for us because the search party had to go from Hawaii to Canton Island and then they had to get themselves together, oriented and then they would go search the to Canton Island area where we went down, and also the planes from the States should be in Hawaii in one day and then the second day they should be at Canton Island searching. So today should be a happy day. So we had another eighth of an orange. So that's two oranges gone now. In the meantime, the fourth day we didn't have anything.
Now what happens is the nights are very cold. The nights are black, when I say black you don't see anything. You can't see your eyeball in front of you. I mean that's how dark it is, you don't see the other rafts. Plus on top of that it is cold and the salt spray gets on your face and gets on your eyes, and in the meantime we were thirsty, dying of thirst. Then the fifth day came along we decided to have another eighth of an orange. So we had an eighth of an orange. In the meantime on the fifth day while the colonel was laying in the raft because he hurt his back in our raft, Eddie and I are right here next to him and the colonel is on this part of the raft laying down, he toppled out of the raft, just like that. He just rolled right out, his whole body just rolled right out.. I don't know how he did it yet but he did. I didn't know whether he was trying to commit suicide or what but he went off to the side. But when he did that Captain Rickenbacker, now who was in the Atlanta crash, I don't know whether you are familiar with that story, but he crashed in Atlanta, Georgia, and he came aboard our plane with a cane in his hand he was recuperating from the injury he had about less than a year ago. Eddie Rickenbacker was up like a flash. I've never seen a man like that. He leaped up on the other side of raft and when he did that the raft started to go over and I leaned back on the opposite side of the raft. Rick grabbed the colonel by his collar and in the meantime Captain Cherry, the pilot, and the co-pilot, Lieutenant Whitaker, they helped put him aboard our raft. So Rickenbacker gave him a little talking to and told him, he said "I don't want you to try that again." He said, "We've been friends a long time," and he gave him a little hell about it. So, anyway, Eddie was rough. Eddie was rough when he told him that. He said "I don't want to lose my best friend," because Adamson was his best friend and Adamson went along for protocol only. See, Rickenbacker was in civilian clothes and was going to see General MacArthur and in the meantime he's got to have an officer with him, a military officer. So in the meantime the colonel lays down and he puts his hat over his head and I guess he felt ashamed of himself.
We didn't have much to say because Eddie Rickenbacker told us we shouldn't talk too much, we had to save the saliva in our mouth because when we dry it that would be the end. So the sixth day came along we had sighted nothing. No planes, no nothing but sharks. Well, the sharks were bumping the bottom of the raft, I think, was the second day, and I asked Eddie, I said "How come the sharks are bumping the bottom of the raft?" I wasn't familiar with sharks and I thought, you know, he's a man of the world right next to me and I don't have to shout to him. Eddie says, "Well, they are just scratching their backs." Well, I thought differently. I thought they were looking for a snack.
The sixth day came along and we were a little depressed, all of us were. Anyway, I was. I felt the other fellows were too because we expected to be picked up in the meantime. What I was about to do I felt kind of ashamed at first because here I've got Captain Eddie, supposedly the greatest hero of our time, and there was the colonel, who is high up in the military and I've got Captain Cherry, the pilot, and I've got the lieutenant, and I've got another lieutenant here, I've got a sergeant here--two sergeants, and who am I. So I pulled out my testament and it was water logged. It had a little zipper on it, the First Baptist Church gave me, and I read it in undertone because I didn't want to read it too loud because things may not happen the way they expect them to happen. I didn't even expect it to happen at the time. I read from Matthew the sixth chapter, thirty-first to the thirty-fourth verse. It says "Therefore take no [thought] for tomorrow what you shall eat, what you shall drink, or wherewithal shall you be clothed." I read that and the men sort of looked, you know, those that heard it. I said to myself, "You've got to be crazy. If the military can't find us or nothing that means it's ridiculous." Right after reading that a sea gull began circling and it circled, and circled and landed right on top of Captain Eddie's head. Eddie reached up slowly--we sort of guided him because we did want to scare the sea gull. I didn't guide him but I think it was Captain Cherry that sort of said "take it easy, take it easy, come on up." The sea gull was looking the other way so Eddie's hands were in the front and then he started to rub his nose a little but. You know, he wanted to get that bird not so much for the food of the hunger of us but we wanted the bird to fish with. We needed the bait. He reached up real quick and wrung his head. He took the bird and he threw it to the colonel to defeather it. I would think he would have given it to me because I'm the private but he gave it to the colonel. The colonel looked out from under his hat, he had a little hat over his head all the time, he was laying there and he looked out from under his hat and he sort of had a twinkle in his eye and a little smile. I guess he figured all is forgiven between him and Eddie. Then he plucked a few feathers and then Eddie took it back again and finished the job and then he carved it all up and gave us all a piece of the bird. It tasted fishy but really delicious. A lot of people ask me did you cook it. No, we didn't cook it. We didn't have a fire.
In the meantime waiting around a while, maybe a couple of hours later, a rain squall came over. When we saw the rain squall and it just happened I started praying then. I figured, "Well, there's something to this prayer." I prayed that the rain squall would come our way and the rain squall did come our way. When it came over us it only lasted for maybe eight minutes, ten minutes, maybe less. So we quickly took our underwear off and our handkerchiefs and put them on our shoulders, and put them on our heads, and put them on our knees, and when they were soaked--the second they were soaked we wrung them out to get the salt out of them and then we put them there again and quickly wrung them out to get the salt out. Then what we did we caught the fresh water and we wrung it out in a bucket. Well, Eddie Rickenbacker was doing the wringing and we were doing the catching.
So the sixth day we've got our rain water and we've got the sea gull, we've got the food but I was cold nights, I was shivering nights. I only had a little shirt on. I figured I was going to freeze to death out there because the nights are very cold because you are going from a temperature that seems like 150 degrees and you go down to 70 degrees you're cold, 70 should be warm. But its that change of temperature is so rapid. When the sun goes down--I mean you are real hot until the sun--the sun drops like you are pulling a curtain and then it is black again and then you get cold, all within half an hour.
So the seventh day comes around and another sea gull begins circling. Well, just before this and after we got the rain and we got the sea gull, the colonel says to me, he says "May I see that passage in the testament?" So I give the testament to the colonel and he read it aloud for all the men to hear and then he gave it back to me. So the seventh day came along, the sea gull begins circling and landed right on Rickenbacker's shoulder. Ahhh, this is good, another sea gull. Rickenbacker took the sea gull, I was surprised, he took sea gull and held it in his hands like holding a child, a baby. He looked at the sea gull and I looked at the sea gull and the poor sea gull was looking at us and we took a vote. As hungry as we all were we all voted to let that sea gull go because we had to bait the fish with it. We didn't want to take another life.
So then later on that day Cherry decided maybe we ought to spread out. Maybe they are searching for us but we're... But in the meantime, just before all this happened we were out there we decided the first night that we were going to fire--they would be out searching for us--we fired three flares. We had eighteen flares aboard the rafts. We were going to fire three flares a night. One just at sunset, one at midnight, and one at day break. When we fired the flares we found out one was a dud, one was a half a dud, and the other one was all right. So then we had to change our plans for that so we decided to fire one at midnight. We found out they were duds too. So we only had a couple of flares so we had to save the flares now in case if we do see a plane we are going to fire a flare. So the other fellows decided they were going to drift off to the side and we would have a better chance of being found. They rowed all that day, Cherry, the copilot, and they took, I think, the navigator with them because he was a strong strapping Italian fellow. Well, they figured well, they would get the three strong men and then he rowed away. So they rowed all that day and then all that night they drifted. The next morning the eighth day, I thought I heard voices so there was the other raft right along side of us. So they got no place, so we must be in the gulf stream or something.
So anyway, the eighth day Captain Cherry then decided to do a little fishing. Reynolds was fishing--I don't know who it was, I don't remember, and they caught a shark, about a two-foot shark. Then they put the two-foot shark in water, I mean, they saw the two-foot shark there, before they noticed the shark bit on the bait that we had. We got him in the boat, we got him in the life boat. I was in the other life boat. As Captain Cherry was figuring out he was going to carve this shark up, the shark comes to life and wanted to jump out. Captain Cherry had his knife in his hand, put the knife right through the shark's head and in the meantime he also put a little hole in the bottom of the boat. There was a little slit maybe half an inch or a quarter of an inch split. I don't know because I never inspected it. I wasn't over in that raft. But Cherry said we shouldn't worry about it we'll take care of that later once we eat the shark. Well, they cut me a piece of the shark and it was repulsive. We couldn't eat it. After a while we threw him overboard. Well, I left a little piece in the bottom of the boat. I thought maybe if it rots a little bit it would taste a little bit better. It's tough.
So that night Cherry went to fire another flare. When he went to fire a flare the flare was another dud, went up about fifty feet. I guess they are supposed to go up about 200 feet. I don't know. I never did check upon it. There were so many things to you don't have time to check upon everything. So it went up about fifty feet and it's magnesium, I think it is, that's burning in those things. I never did check that out either. I just do what I have to do. But it went up and it landed right between the rafts. When that happened two fish jumped in the boat. But if that dud landed on one of the life rafts or landed on one of us it would go right through you. It's just like going through butter.
So anyway we had the two fish. In the meantime all this time since we started catching a little rain water we caught about from the sixth day on out we started catching enough to give us about an ounce and a half or two ounces a day. What we did was the way we divided that was we had the flare tube that they used in the Very gun to fire the flares we had the flare tube and Eddie Rickenbacker was chosen most of the time to put the water in there to make sure we had two ounces of water. That was measured out pretty close, too, without any graduated scales on it. You could look by eye and tell.
The ninth day we noticed that the sergeant, Kaczmarczyk, who was thirstier, he was the crew chief on B-17s. He was going along with us and he was just going to go to Australia to catch up with his outfit. The reason he was going along was in the first place he was the crew chief on the B-17 and I was not. He was going to teach me a few things about the B-17. I would ask him a lot of questions. But the reason he was hospitalized there was with yellow jaundice and appendicitis, so now he is aboard our airplane. Normally in the military they didn't take you. But why we took him, I don't know. But I guess they figured since he was an engineer or crew chief, or mechanic on the B-17, it would be a help in which he was. But we had no reason to use him because...I'll tell you a little later. But what took place then was he was asking for water and we didn't have any water to give him. Our main concern was surviving ourselves and also the main concern was, I guess, Eddie Rickenbacker because he was on a secret mission. I guess he was the main concern. We had to get Eddie Rickenbacker to where he was going.
The tenth day, the sick kid, he was getting restless so Rickenbacker said "Why don't you put him in my raft and maybe I can take care of him better because the small raft in which Alex and DeAngelis were in, they were sought of crowded. When they sat there the raft was so small that either one fellow had his legs on his shoulders or the other fellow his had his legs...you didn't want your legs off the side of the raft because of the sharks coming around. So you had to sort of put your feet on the other fellow's shoulders. Well, anyway, Sergeant Alex Kaczmarczyk then went in with Eddie Rickenbacker and I went over mean not the colonel, with Lieutenant DeAngelis in the small raft. In about a day and a half or two days Rickenbacker--I guess he was hurt and also the colonel was hurt and he was thrashing about so he wanted to go back into the small raft. So they put him back in the small raft and I stayed with him in the small raft. While I was with him that night he began mumbling. He mumbled something about--I don't know whether it was his mother or his girlfriend, Snooks--Snooksie, he called her, and then he said Amen and he just died about three o'clock in the morning. So I called Captain Cherry and I called Eddie Rickenbacker and I told them, I said, "I think Alex has died." They said "We'll wait until morning to see what to do with him." So we waited until morning and found out he was dead, they looked him over. So we took what possessions he had and we can't carry a dead body on board of a life raft out there in the hot sun so we put him overboard. Lieutenant DeAngelis said a prayer over him because he was Catholic--in Latin I imagine--and I said a silent prayer over him and we just laid him in the water and he just floated away. So I asked them before we do that I said "Can I have his jacket?" He had the leather jacket. I said I'm shivering at night so I got a jacket. So the new testament came back again. "Therefore take no thought for tomorrow what you shall eat, what you would drink or wherewithal shall we be clothed." And now I've got the clothes. Now I felt fairly warm.
So anyway, the thirteenth day then I got to thinking the rafts are tied in line, in other words, the two big rafts and the small raft in the back. I'm not a sailor of any type and never took up sailing. I swam a lot. But anyway, I noticed when the two big rafts would go over a wave the third raft would sort of act as an anchor. It took a little while before that one got over. I said we are taking two steps forward and we are taking one step back and that isn't any good. I wondered what I could do about it and then I thought back to the seventh day when Captain Cherry broke lose with the other two men and he drifted back to us so we must be in a gulf stream or something. So without telling the other fellows, I guess they thought I was crazy or something. After a while I kind of thought I ___________. So I cut lose from the other rafts. So I'm out there drifting all night all by myself and I got up the next morning and I looked at a five foot string in the back of the raft and I looked up and saw the string on top of the water means that I'm moving right along at a good pace. I guess, oh, about maybe eight o'clock in the morning I hear a voice hollering out there. "Johnny, Johnny." It was Eddie Rickenbacker calling. So I looked around, the waves are about maybe five or six foot out there at that time, so as I look around I didn't see the other rafts in sight, well, I said, I must be dreaming maybe I died already. You know, why worry? About ten, fifteen, twenty minutes later--because I don't know anything about time out there, time doesn't mean a thing--I hear it again, "Johnny." So I decided to look a little bit better and there are the other two rafts about two blocks away from me. So I asked the fellows, I said to them, "Here I am." I said "How about rowing over here?" because they had the oars. I have but one oar. They said "You row over here,"so I rowed over there but it took me all day, but at least it gave me something to do and kept my mind off from where I was. I got back into the raft with and Eddie Rickenbacker said "I want you to sit back in this raft again so I can keep a good eye on you," and he said "Why did you do it?" I gave no reason. I had no reason to apologize to them. I was out there and I as trying to survive. They are not helping me any. Nobody's helping me why should I apologize. Apologize to who for what? That's the way I saw it. I mean I'm not a wise guy or nothing but it was just nothing to apologize for. I'm just normal, trying to live.
So anyway about the thirteenth and fourteenth day we started having dreams and I was dreaming that I saw these beautiful pictures of a woman with a dog on her lap and this and that and then I dreamt my sister, Ruth, who died, she was out there and she is talking to me and she told me she had been flower gardening up there, not to worry about her, she's all right, but she said I will survive. The other dream I had was looking at the clouds and this and that with my mother telling me "I told you, Johnny, you'll get in trouble and you are going to have to depend on somebody more than mankind himself. You are going to have to depend on God to pull through this. So in the meantime I had other dreams. I had another dream where I stopped by the water fountain and I had drank the fountain dry with a thousand people behind me waiting to have a drink. The other dream I had was I stopped to get a Coke or something and a hamburger, to order something, and just about the time I'm ready to eat it I got orders to go back to the base. I asked Eddie, "Do you see the clouds up there, do you see that like a sea gull up there, do you see that chicken up there, do you see that woman up there?" He said "Yes, I see it. I figured "Well, I'm not going out of my mind because Eddie sees it. He knows what he is talking about." The reason I'm talking more to Eddie on this is because I'm right next to him. To talk loud out there you would lose the saliva out of your mouth, so I'm talking mainly to Eddie. Then we decided to confess our sins. I didn't have anything to confess. I mean I'm young, I'm really innocent, what did I do? I always liked to help my fellow man, I was brought up in church. What did I have to confess? Well, none of them really confessed and I didn't bother listening to them, but Eddie Rickenbacker said something to the effect, he said "If I start confessing I have so many sins I wouldn't know where to start." So anyway, he passed that on.
We were still out there and we were doing about the same thing. We were catching a little rain water every day. We only had about an ounce and a half or two ounces a day. One of the men would sit at the edge of the raft and they would always say, "Well, maybe I'll go overboard but I'll wait until I get my little drink of water." We had a little bit in the morning and we had a little bit in the evening. He was waiting for that little bit.
The eighteenth night--all hope was gone now--the eighteenth day we heard an airplane. At first I thought it was Lieutenant DeAngelis, the navigator, heard it but I found out later I think it was Captain Cherry that heard it. We heard an airplane they said five miles away. I say it was a mile away. Out there you can't really tell. We just heard an airplane. It was a Kingfisher, the same the Americans had and the Japs had the same but we didn't know what nationality they were. I wouldn't want to be captured by any Japs because that would have been it. They would have had us--probably dumped us overboard after spending all this time out there. But anyway the eighteenth day went by but we didn't have any flares to fire because we lost the flares the eighth day--did I tell you about the raft turning over?
Anyway, the night of the eighth day we hit a violent storm out there. Captain Cherry's raft turned over with Lieutenant Whitaker and Sergeant Reynolds in there, the radio man. When it turned over at night, we couldn't see anything. Captain Cherry grabbed a hold of Whitaker by his hair and held onto him until they got the raft turned over and Whitaker couldn't swim. He got him back into the raft. I told you about the cut in the raft that Cherry put in. Right after that we decided to repair the raft but when we went to use the repair material, the repair material was dried up so we couldn't use that. We had no patching to patch the hole with. So what took place then was somebody had decided why don't we put the forty-five slug in there. We had two forty-five guns with us. So we put a forty-five slug in there and it kept the water from seeping in. Now, the reason was it was seeping in--the water was seeping in slowly but the weaker we were getting we didn't have the strength to bail the raft out. You're all right if you are in good shape but the way things were going we had to plug the hole. But then somebody stepped on the plug and down it went and we lost the slug and the water began seeping in again. So somebody come up the idea we'll tie a string on the next one. So they put a string on it and when it goes through we can retrieve it.
Rickenbacker promised to pay a hundred dollars to the man that spots the first plane, ship, or anything. Now, the eighteenth day, we spotted the airplane so I said Captain Cherry or DeAngelis got themselves an extra hundred bucks. I guess Eddie figured that we wouldn't be out there more than three days. I think that after a couple of weeks Eddie would have given anybody a thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars to spot an airplane. I said to myself if we are not picked up soon the fellow won't be able to collect that money, the hundred bucks. So the next day we spotted two airplanes--one going one way and about a half an hour later or maybe two hours later going the other way. So I figured they were the military ships out there, they used the scout planes. I figured there must be some military ship out there--it must be probably a heavy cruiser or battle ship out here.
Captain Cherry, when he saw that, he said "We've got to divide our raft, we've all got to go our own way." He said it would be a better target. He said they will drift in different directions. Captain Rickenbacker was against that a hundred percent. He said, "No, no, we've got to stay together." And there was a reason for that of staying together. I thought it was a pretty good idea to stay together but also I thought it was a good idea to break lose. To make a decision out there, there is no decision to make. You just do what you think is right. I mean you're out there now nineteen days and this is it. But Cherry said I'm taking command so he takes the small raft from DeAngelis and he drifts off. About twenty minutes later or half an hour or whatever it was, Lieutenant Whitaker, the co-pilot, said "I'm going, too." So he takes the other two men with him and off he goes. So that left Rickenbacker, myself, and the colonel out there. The colonel was more than half dead from the fifteenth day on up. He was in bad shape and I never realized it until later that he also had diabetes. He was missing his injections or his pills or whatever it was. That's why he was in the condition that he was in, plus his back hurting.
Well, Eddie and I were drifting and the next day I dreamt the rafts would be all together the same as before when I didn't drift any further than the other rafts when the rode away the seventh day and come back to us, I figured we would all meet. But it wasn't. There were no rafts around. That was about the loneliest day of my whole life being out there. Eddie was about gone, the colonel was gone, and I was about gone. We were drifting along, the sun pouring down, the stillness of the doldrums out there where nothing is moving. The ocean was like glass . We weren't moving an inch. Just baking and the ulcers on my feet were getting larger and the ulcers on my back were getting larger. So I figured this was the end and then just at the next day coming into the twenty-first day I noticed that the waves were a little choppier. It wasn't much but they were a little choppier, but I didn't know why. We didn't talk--Eddie and I didn't talk. Eddie didn't have the strength to talk and neither did I. We had our heads down. When Eddie would give me a little drink of the water I think I probably spilled more than I drank.
But anyway as we were sitting out there I was bleary eyed and I thought I heard a plane. I shook Eddie. I said "Rick, Rick, I hear a plane." "I hear a plane. Oh, there's four of them, four of them." Well, it wasn't four of them there were two of them but bleary eyed I thought I saw four and when they went by I held onto Eddie's arm and I held my underwear in my other hand and I tried to stand up in the raft but the rubbery bottom of the raft and I haven't walked in three weeks, and the ulcers on my feet, it was impossible to stand but I just stood for about a second and then I went down and the planes went on past. The planes went on past and I prayed to God that one of those planes would come back. "If one of those planes come back I'll believe for the rest of my life there's a God." Well, about right after saying one of the planes did turn around and come back. He said he thought he saw something, that's after he picked us up. So now he comes in low over the water, tips his wings saying "Hi, we see you," and we are happy. When he saw us now, the main thing is we read across the plane it was the U.S. Navy. We were happy about that. We knew it was an American plane. If it were Japs I think we would have been dumped in the water. But anyway, Rickenbacker had secret stuff with him. But anyway, he circled a little bit and then all of a sudden a storm started to come in from the right and it was a tremendous storm that came in. So the airplane left. I said to Eddie, I said to him "Maybe there's a heavy cruiser in that storm and they'll come in close and they'll pick us up because if they stop in the middle of the ocean the Japs are liable to torpedo it. This way the storm is coming in, they'll follow it in and pick us up." Eddie didn't say anything. I don't think he was even listening to me. I didn't care because my voice was gone. Maybe he didn't hear me. But anyway, the storm came and the storm passed over. When the storm was in there Eddie says to me, "Gotta catch more rain water." I said "What for? We're saved!!" "We're saved.!!." "We're saved!!" I mean I was desperately hollering that "We're saved!!" Eddie said "We can't take that chance, we can't take that chance!!" "Get busy," and he said don't waste a drop. "Get busy there!!" Gee, as tired as I was I had to start to catch more rain water and I caught four quarts of water. We kept that in our life jacket.
What I want to do is get back a little bit, when the raft turned over the eighth day before Cherry had the water in a little bucket that he had and he lost the bucket and he lost all the water so he had to figure another way of saving our water in case we all turned over. So one of the fellows come up with the idea of putting in it our life vest to preserve it and Eddie Rickenbacker was chosen to do the job. We couldn't trust anybody else, we felt. Eddie would take the water that he had in his bucket, put it in his mouth and then he would put it in this little pencil tube to go down into the jacket. But all the time he was putting the water in his mouth I found out later that we were all watching his Adam's apple. If he had took one swallow I don't know what would have happened. I mean this is life and death. This is desperate. I mean ____ thinking a drop of water is going to be a drop of water but out there it is life or death.
So anyway, we caught enough water and then the plane came again, the plane spotted us, and they kept circling and circling and it became dark. I said "Are they going to pick us up, Eddie?" I said, "Are they going to pick us up?" He said "I don't know." But we weren't thinking of ourselves then we were thinking of the other fellows, what happened to the other two rafts. We wanted to tell them immediately that there were two more rafts out there. We were spotted. We didn't care whether they really picked us up, tell them about the other two. So finally one plane drops a white flare and then later on another plane comes out. He drops two flares, a red one and a white one. When he dropped the last flare and it was dark now, he made a landing at the sea, Kingfisher sea plane. When he made a landing he pulled up to the raft and we were introduced to Lieutenant William F. Eadie and Lester Boutte of the Navy. Eddie Rickenbacker says "Where are you going to put us on that little plane?" It was only a two-seater. What they did was they put Colonel Adamson in the back where the radio man sits but before doing that Eddie and I and the colonel we finished the rest of the water that we had. We were so thirsty. What they did with me was they put me on the right wing of the airplane and they put a rope around my waist and they put Eddie on the left wing of the airplane and they put a rope around him and they tied us both to through the cockpit so in case I fell off Eddie Rickenbacker would be my anchor and if Eddie fell off I would be his anchor.
In the meantime we started taxing towards the island which we were forty-five miles away. So, we taxied for about twenty minutes or half an hour when a PT boat came out and then they told us that we had to get off the plane, they were going to put us on a PT boat. That was all right with me. I think I felt a little bit more comfortable on a boat than I did on the wing of a plane because it was very difficult for me to hold on. In the meantime, the way they held me, they not only tied us but the radio man of the plane he also held us by our collars and also we had a little soup on the plane that they had in the cockpit of the plane. So when we got on the PT boat--Eddie Rickenbacker and I got on the PT boat and the radio man of the Navy, Boutte, he rowed us over to the PT and then he had to get us up. The PT boats are pretty high off the water. I never realized it. They had to kind of struggle to get us up to the deck but they had to struggle also getting us onto the airplane wing, these two fellows. You are in a bouncy raft, the plane is up there bouncing and there must be maybe eight feet from the surface of the water and you are trying to lift people up there it is pretty tough. So they were pretty strong boys.
We're on the PT boat now and as I looked down, they put Rickenbacker down into the little cabin down there and they put me on the top deck. I looked down at the cabin there and I see Eddie Rickenbacker eating down there. So I told the fellows, I said to them on a PT boat, I said, "I'm hungry too." I said "I was with him." Rickenbacker said "Don't feed him, he has to be seen by a doctor first." The fellows didn't take their advice. They went over there and they got me some pineapple juice and some pineapple. They told me to eat slow. Well, that didn't fool Eddie either. Eddie says after a while, "You're mighty quiet up there Johnny. Are you eating?" I didn't bother to answer. I was in good hands then. I was warm now for the first time and it was the first time I was able to rest. I just laid there and went to sleep.
That morning come in just before sunrise they had the boat in the harbor, the plane didn't take off. The plane taxied, the colonel in the back of the airplane and the plane followed in the wake of the PT boat coming into the island but they had to stop every so often because the engine was getting hot on the plane and they wanted to feed the colonel because the colonel was in bad shape. They gave him a little of that soup. They had trouble coming into the island because the Japs were in the Gilberts at that time. What the guy on the PT boat told them what to do--what the guy on the plane told them to do was to shine their search light, I guess, maybe every half an hour, I forget what the timing was, for just a couple of seconds in the sky in the direction of where the island was. See, they didn't want radio communication then because like I said, the Japs were just north of us. But they couldn't see the flare of search lights out there. You'd think they were pretty powerful but you can't see them from out there at forty-five miles out so it was a little difficult coming in. But they came in anyway. Then they had to come into a lagoon to bring us in.
The next thing I knew I was being carried off of the ship into a little army vehicle and then over to a little screened-in porch and that was their hospital at that time. So we were there and I asked Captain Eddie, I said, "Gees, Captain Eddie," I said, "Can I have my picture taken with you?" He said "It is better that you get well first." I said, "Gees, all this time that I am out there three weeks with him [I want] to have a picture of him and I. I was a little disappointed in the answer. So then I asked him, I said "Where about is my testament?" He said "I have it," and he said "Thank God for your testament, Johnny." I gave him my testament. What they did then was about a day or so they took and flew Eddie Rickenbacker and Captain Cherry, the pilot, Lieutenant Whitaker, DeAngelis, and they also took the colonel... They figured the colonel couldn't last on that island, so they had to get him to Samoa. So they brought in a couple of PBY's and they took them over to Samoa. I said "Why can't I go?" They said, "Well, you're too sick." But I was only a private so I didn't matter to them.
A couple of days later another PBY boat comes in and the fellows come over to me and they said "If you can climb aboard that plane you're in charge, tell us where you want to go." I said "I want to go home." And I went up and boarded that plane and I was on that plane--a PBY. In the Navy--what they call a flying boat with two engines on it. They took me over to Samoa and later on ____________. Reynolds, the radio operator, was still on the island. It took him about two months to recuperate that's how bad he was. Captain Cherry, the pilot, myself, Lieutenant Whitaker, and DeAngelis, the navigator, we all flew back to the states and Eddie Rickenbacker finished his mission with another crew. I don't know what the mission was about. That's about the end of the story.
DL: I think we may have time for one question.
JB: Did I talk too long?
DL: No. No!! We listened to one of the great adventure stories of the twentieth century or any other century. So maybe somebody would like to ask... Yes.
AUD: What about the other man in the other raft?
AUD: When did they find them?
JB: Oh yeah, oh yeah! That's a good question. Captain Cherry was picked up a day before we were picked up and he told them that we were still out there. He was maybe fifteen miles off the coast of Funafuti, an island called I had never heard of it before but it was one of the Ellis Island group at that time. The other three fellows in the raft said they saw palm trees off in the distance. When they saw palm trees they rowed towards the palm trees and they got on the island but they were on the eastern side of the island and they decided they had to get on the western side of the island so they picked up the raft and they went over to the western side of the island. But in the meantime, the radio man was [so bad] they couldn't figure out why he was losing his pants. He couldn't walk. They were trying to drag him and they couldn't figure out why he couldn't keep his pants on him. Well, he couldn't keep his pants on because he didn't tighten his belt and he had lost all that weight and they weren't thinking of that. They were only thinking of food at that time and finding shelter. Well, while they were there the natives spotted them and the natives notified that they had the radio operator there on the island. The radio operators were from New Zealand. They were on a different island. There were eleven radio operators that come from New Zealand and they went to the different islands--they went up in the Gilberts and they were also on Funafuti and Nukufetau. Those were the two islands and they landed on ________. The fellows that were in the Gilberts, the Japs captured them and massacred all of them. So you see what position we were in. The reason the communication was down to nothing, they didn't want to send radio communication, was because the Japs may zero in on them knowing that the Americans were there. I don't think the Japs knew the Americans were on Funafuti yet, because it was a small island at that time. Now the islands are called Tuvalu. They changed the name and the amazing thing about that, I think it was Queen Elizabeth or Philip, I don't know who they are, the British, when they took a cruise they had three islands to go to see. They could see either New Zealand, I think it was, the Ellis Island, and I don't know what the other island was. They chose to go to Funafuti down where we were picked up at to dedicate a twenty-six bed hospital there, they had no hospital. I have a tape on that from the Peace Corp. The Peace Corp was there and they taped it showing the procession of the king and queen. The ship was way out at sea and the canoe went out and picked them up and brought them in.
DL: I will supply only one detail at this point because we need to go to our reception that is being held over in the conference room. Rickenbacker's special mission was to carry an official reprimand to Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur had been making all sorts of uncomplimentary statements about Franklin D. Roosevelt, about American policy, about American war plans in which he considered hopelessly out of date and wrong headed. Henry Stimson who was Secretary of War was very angry about this and it was out of the question to recall MacArthur, I mean who had been built up into this warrior god, so Stemson got the idea of a reprimand. On the other hand, the reprimand had to be secret. Nobody should know that MacArthur had been reprimanded. Rickenbacker was told by Stimson to commit the reprimand to memory. He did not want to put it on paper. So Rickenbacker was carrying this memorized reprimand to Douglas MacArthur. He eventually got through to Douglas MacArthur. The reason Rickenbacker was picked for this mission was because Rickenbacker had never cared much for Douglas MacArthur. And the reason he didn't care much for Douglas MacArthur was because MacArthur had made all sorts of statements about air power being not very important in war. By the time Eddie Rickenbacker got to Fort Moresby on New Guinea to see Douglas MacArthur, MacArthur had been very well indoctrinated in air power. The reason he had, he had a very brilliant American general for air, General Kenny, who was a brilliant tactician and by the time Rickenbacker got there MacArthur's eyes had been well opened to the utility of air power. He had been converted and so Rickenbacker delivered the reprimand, MacArthur accepted it in silence, knowing that he was only listening to a messenger. They had a very good time together. They were reconciled to one another. For the rest of his life, Eddie Rickenbacker practically idolized Douglas MacArthur. If he could have put his hand on one person and made him president of the United States, it would have been Douglas MacArthur. He worshiped the man but that was the purpose of the mission and one day... You were writing a book about your part of it.
JB: My part--see, this was supposed to be a secret mission, never to be told to anybody in the world. Secretary Stimson, Rickenbacker, and MacArthur were the only three that were supposed to know this. Now all of a sudden I don't want to contradict your statement but I'm only a private in the army at the time and I thought definitely what the mission was about... What I thought the mission was about, was about the atom bomb. I'm saying this with sincerity. They tested the atom bomb just before they dropped the atom bomb. I forget where--Las Vegas or someplace... Whatever it was they dropped the bomb. Well, I think the mission was not to bomb three or four cities in Japan because they wanted to test the power of the atom bomb. If they bombed the cities and they dropped the atom bomb they wouldn't know the destructive power of that bomb. They wanted a city that was clean. Days before--way days before that--B-29's were flying around Nagasaki... Nagasaki was it? Hiroshima...? Hiroshima and Nagasaki but they never dropped any bombs. The only time they ever dropped a bomb on one of the cities was when they couldn't get their target the bombs went out, they didn't want to bring the bombs back and they may drop a few bombs down on the city. They didn't want to take them back to their base because Japan is under cloud cover quite a bit. It is like Hawaii, you can fly under 29,000 feet because they have clouds. They wanted three or four targets because they didn't want to bring the atom bomb back to the base once they took off and they had that thing set to go off. That was the last thing they wanted to do is come in for a landing on their own strip and they only had the two bombs. That's why they picked three or four targets in case one was under cloud cover the other one wasn't. One of them was a military base, military supply army, and the other one was a naval base that we dropped it on. Nagasaki was the naval I'm pretty sure and Hiroshima was the army. As the army was located there to supply the troops that there in the south part of Japan. That's the part of the story I think what happened. I don't think he went over there just to slap MacArthur. He had to remember this here like as if he were a two-year old and you know you've got to tell MacArthur this. I think it was more important than that. I think it was the...I maybe wrong.
DL: The only thing that's wrong with that is they were all three years in the future.
JB: After that they told everybody then what they did.
DL: Eddie was supposed to carry that secret to his grave, whatever it was.
JB: Yes, I know, I know.
DL: He told it to Bill Rickenbacker. Bill Rickenbacker told it to Finis Farr who wrote a biography of Eddie and Farr spilled the beans in that biography. So, anyway, whatever the purpose was it was one of the great adventure stories of all time and you are looking at a person who lived through it and as far as I am concerned, this man is a hero. So, let's close this...
SB: We invite you all to go across the hall where we have refreshments.
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