National Geographic : 1943 Jan
American Bombers Attacking from Australia had one for himself. Bostwick helped me into the apparatus, then said, "Well, there's nothing to do now but just sit down, hold tight, and wait." A Wait with Death Threatening Five of us in the rear of the ship just sat and waited-waited for Captain H.'s order to bail out. Richardson, the Princeton grad uate, tried to write a letter. Tail gunner Irons busily extracted handy articles and a chocolate bar from a knapsack and stuffed them into his pockets. The extra man, a ground officer, stared at the floor with wide eyes. Bostwick seemed as nonchalant as if he were waiting for a streetcar. In his usual calm manner he spoke close to my ear be cause of noise from wind and motors. "When you bail out, remember two things: Don't put your hand on the rip cord while actually jumping from the plane-you'll find it soon enough once you're clear of the ship; and cross your legs when you think you're get ting near the ground. It'll keep you from getting hung up in a tree." We waited. No order. We waited. Suddenly someone pointed through the window. Lights on the landing field! Safely down. Entering the room I had occupied before the mission, I switched on the light, to find a wounded officer in the bed. Broad band aging swathed his head like a white turban. He nonchalantly raised himself to a sitting position and apologized for inconveniencing me in finding another place to sleep. He said the captain who usually slept here was in hospital. Before seeking another bed, however, I heard his story. He was Second Lieut. James Hilton, co-pilot. On a recent mission the Japs had shot up the engines of his Flying Fortress, which somehow had continued to function. There had been nothing to do but try to get back to an Allied base. Thirty miles from a friendly airfield all four engines had given up, and the pilot had crash-landed at night in the bush. When trees tore off the right wing, the bomber had dropped like a keg of gunpowder and burst into flames. One side gunner and the tail gunner, he told me, died in the crash. For another side gunner life was a matter of a few more hours. The radio operator, still conscious, suffered from a deep gash across his abdomen. Through a rent in the battered fuselage, pilot and co-pilot crawled to safety. Navigator and bombardier miraculously extricated them- selves from the tangle of burning debris; so did the engineer. Of all the crew Lieut. Everett Davis, the bombardier, was least hurt. While the ship blazed furiously, he fought his way through the confusion of twisted white-hot girders and roaring flames to pull out the tail gunner. He went back for a side gunner, returned for the other side gunner. Finally he even thrust himself into the cen ter of the conflagration and struggled out with the radio operator. Complimented for his guts by friends in the unit, Davis said simply, "There's not a fellow in the outfit who would not have done exactly the same under similar conditions." Heroes Are Modest For his heroic work Davis was awarded the Soldiers' Medal by General MacArthur. I saw the citation in a newspaper. And right under it I read: "Second Lieutenant James A. Hilton of South Dakota, who was also in the plane, has been awarded a similar decoration for saving the lives of two members of the crew." Hilton had never mentioned to me what he had done; the first I knew of it appeared in the paper. As a result of the crash, pilot and navi gator had gone into hospital at the opera tional base (page 70). Some of us visited regularly to try to cheer them up. Usually they cheered us up instead. According to bedside table evidence, Cap tain Smith, the pilot, entertained himself with children's stories about native animals of Aus tralia, such as Willie Wallaby, Jackie the 'Roo, Peter Platypus, and Caspar Koala. Lieutenant Hayman, the navigator, just sat up in bed, smiling and smoking a huge cigar.* Smith and Hayman weren't the type of men to linger in a hospital. Soon they were knocking around the officers' quarters, trying to overcome their self-consciousness at being considered wounded men. The evening Captain Smith left the hospital, he and another pilot gave a party for the rest of the officers; the two pilots had recently received promotions to major. A number of the officers were asked to speak. Some of the talks struck a humorous note, some serious. In everyday life, Hayman, one of the last to be called on, was capable of more mischievous pressure to the square inch than any other in the outfit. But in his speech * Hayman holds the DFC, besides the Purple Heart.