St. John’s Residents Share Their Perspectives on Foreign Wars

“It was our third mission to Japan, and our first to bomb Tokyo,” remembers Mason Fitch, then a member of an 11-man combat crew aboard a B-29 bomber. “I had been trained as a radar operator . . . also as a gunner.”

The Boeing B-29 was a high-altitude bomber, and on February 19, 1945 the 313th Bombardment Wing took off from the North Field of Tinian Airport—then part of the largest military base in the world. Flying at 35,000 feet, the fleet of nine B-29’s made the 1,500 mile journey towards their target—the heart of the Japanese Empire.  “It was a very clear daylight raid, so we didn’t need radar,” Mason recalls. “I was able to stand behind the gunners and watch the (Japanese) fighter attacks and the flak outside the window.”  

Mason shared the vivid details from this memorable mission he participated in over 70 years ago with a group of his fellow Brickstone by St. John’s and St. John’s Meadows residents during a special program on June 30. Resident Reflections from World War II and the Korean War provided a comfortable forum for military veterans to reflect on their personal experiences during the two 20th Century conflicts.

Jay Bourne is another resident who was in the air during WWII. He used a letter he received from a child after completing a recent Honor Flight Mission to help tell two harrowing tales from his time as a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps. He told those stories in detail, and cited his training and his diligent work familiarizing himself with the airplanes he flew as the reason he was able to walk away from every mission he flew in. “Our training had put us in as good of a position as possible—and I’m still alive.”

In all, six veterans told their stories—ranging from a rather humorous account of one man’s experience as a Prisoner of War in Germany at the end of WWII to another’s time as an infantry replacement on the main line of resistance with Chinese forces close by during the Korean War. Another resident told of his time as a young boy in Switzerland during the early 1940’s and seeing Americans for the first time when he came across pilots who had been forced to perform emergency landings while flying missions over Europe. Each story gave the audience a new, unique perspective on a very important period in American and world history.        

As for Mason Fitch, his mission turned out to be a historically significant one. After overshooting their target, they were forced to reverse course and fly back over Tokyo to drop their bombs.  They later realized that a significant tailwind forced the fleet to arrive at their target sooner than they had anticipated. But it wasn’t until recently that Mason, while doing some online research, learned the exact reason for the phenomenon. B-29 bombers are credited with uncovering the mystery of the Jet Stream over England in January, 1945. A month later, their counterparts in the Pacific did the same. “I am proud to say that I was on the flight that discovered the Jet Stream in the Pacific”

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