Submitted by: S/Sgt Edward Heiberger
Now at the age of eighty six, I have self-published my book "Angels On Our Shoulders", very interesting, educational, and entertaining. Also large picture sections plus incredible and humorous events. Here is an account of two of our completed tour of thirty-five combat missions over Japan.
When we encountered fighters, usually there never seemed to be a lull in the attack. They were fearless fighters and very tenacious. We were lucky on some of the missions they were not Kamikaze suicide fighters. It seemed if a crew survived the first five missions, the survival chances seemed to increase. Then on February 19, 1945, it was our sixth mission to Tokyo aircraft factory. The bomb load was 6,955 pounds, 13 general purpose bombs, 7,500 rounds of ammunition, 100 B-29s going over the target at 26,000 feet. There were 30 to 45 fighters. I could almost reach out and touch the fighters. A few dived in so close when they turned their belly up the whole sky was blotted out! My guns got so hot they cooked off and I almost shot our tail off. We shot down three fighters. A one foot by one foot hole got shot in our vertical stabilizer. The plane was riddled with holes from twenty millimeter and caliber thirty ammunition. Left gunner Miller, was wounded in the right hand, pilot Standen was wounded in the left foot. When he took his shoe off, the blood just poured out. I saw one B-29 get rammed and go down in two pieces aflame. Every man of the crew at one time or another came within three feet of being killed by holes in the plane. We came home on three engines, we were told to prepare for crash landing on Saipan. At the time of this mission the bomb bay doors were operated electrically. The landing gear would not come down, we tried everything. The backup system would not work. The flight engineer Taschinger said he knew of one more method, he climbed out into the bomb bay. At the junction box, he switched the bomb bay circuit to the landing gear circuit which brought the gear down. He also saw two bombs still hanging up which we had to land with, wonderful landing, three man coordination. Our pilot operated the elevators, the co-pilot operated the rudders and the engineer cut engines as soon as we hit the ground. We had to land on a B-24 runway.
On April 7, 1945 we were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying our 13th mission, a day mission, at an altitude of 15,000 feet to the Tokyo area, to bomb the Makashino aircraft plant. We had five 2,000 pound general purpose bombs. We had the P51s out of Iwo Jima for fighter protection. The Japanese put up about 200 fighters, we got over 45 fighter attacks on our plane. We had 7,500 rounds of ammunition. Two or three attempts were made to ram us, and then a Jap fighter came at us at 12:00 position, straight on. I thought my life was over! Our pilot at the last second took evasive action and pulled the plane up so sharply that the B-29 just shook. Our tail gunner said that the plane missed
our tail guns by about six inches. There were caliber 30 holes in our tail and on the number four engine. A 20 millimeter hole in the right wing. Our lower rear turret and our lower forward turret were destroyed by anti-aircraft fire. They even dropped phosphorus bombs in an attempt at air to air bombing. Our left gunner, bombadier, and I claimed probable or kills. I got credit for a kill. We had to feather number four engine after leaving landfall and were unable to make it to Saipan. We had to land at Iwo Jima. We slept that night in our plane and went from Iwo Jima to Saipan on a C-46 the next day. For mission number 13, by direction of the president under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 2, 1926 announcement is made of the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. For extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight over Japan on April 7, 1945 each individual was a member of a B-29 crew which participated in an unprecedented medium altitude delayed attack on the Makashino aircraft plant in Tokyo, Japan.
After the war there were times I reflected on the part I had in the destruction of Japan. I do feel remorse at times at the thought of the thousands and thousands of American lives lost and the incredible suffering of the Japanese people. However I knew it was them or us. It was something that had to be done. I truly hope that someday, somehow there is a peace in the world.
At the age of seventeen, I enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Force and was on active duty, February 22, 1944, two weeks after age eighteen. This interrupted my college education. Our crew represented eleven different states. The B-29 Superfortress was the most awesome bomber of WWII. On arrival at Saipan, we were assigned to the 73rd Bomb Wing, 500th Bombardment Group, 883rd Squadron. Each round trip mission to Japan was 3,000 miles over the ocean.