Branch: United States Army Air Force
Service period: March, 1943 to January, 1946
Marion’s Jack Graham was seventeen when he graduated high school in 1942, a fact that kept him out of the Second World War until March of the following year.
“I was 17 and you couldn’t be drafted until you turned eighteen; I was drafted in March of ’42, not long after my birthday, into the Army.”
Raised in a working-class neighborhood in Marion, Jack had a brother and sister. His father provided for the family through his job at the Marion Steam Shovel and Dredge Company.
“I worked there after graduation until I had to go (into the military)”, he remarked. “I was only allowed to work eight hours a day; when I turned 18 I worked twelve hours. (When his draft notice came) Mom was hoping I would flunk the physical but no such luck.”
Graham said he left for basic training not long after receiving his notice.
“We got on a troop train at Fort Hayes in Columbus, where we had our physicals, and that took us to Camp Walters, Texas. When we got there, a group of guys (already in basic) started (taunting) ‘you’ll be sorry.’ It was a rough thirteen weeks, hotter than blazes. Our drill instructors were strict, we were mostly 18-year-olds, and they worked the daylights out of us. They did what they had to do.”
Jack said he became a heavy machine gunner in the infantry during training. “It was a thirty-caliber machine gun but I was also trained on mortars. I learned during training that the life expectancy of a heavy machine gunner was about three minutes in combat. I thought, ‘I don’t like that’, but then an announcement was posted on the (bulletin) board that anyone who could pass the physical and mental exams could go into the air cadets program, so I took it and passed it. The one test was loaded with mathematics questions and my Dad had made me take all the college-level math courses I could, so I did really well on it. One of the instructors asked me how much college I had and I told him I didn’t have any, I just got out of high school.”
The young soldier soon learned he would have to go through basic training again, this time with the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“That was a piece of cake compared to the infantry, though”, he joked.
Graham next went to a base in north Texas, though he was unable to recall where, and then was transferred to Ellensburg, Washington for three months of college courses at Central Washington College of Education. “It all seemed like basic high school stuff to me.”
Ground school with the Army Air Force followed in Santa Ana, California.
“We hadn’t really entered the air cadets (program) yet, so this was our ground school. We were taught Morse code, sending and receiving it; I remember the instructor’s name was Goff, he was really good. I don’t remember much else, other than we were there for a month or two.”
Jack said his next assignment was to the Army Air Corps’ field in Hondo, Texas, about fifteen miles west of San Antonio.
“First of all, we had to pass a coordination test, that was like a penny arcade and I really enjoyed that. There were all kinds of physical exercises to see how well we were coordinated. (They checked our) night vision, it was the toughest physical I ever had. There were about 60 of us that went down there and after all the testing only a few of us made it. The next day (after testing), when we went back to the barracks, nearly every bunk had a pink slip on it, the guys who didn’t make it; mine didn’t have a pink slip. I passed all three (phases) so I had the choice of being a pilot, bombardier or navigator, and I told them I wanted to be a pilot.”
Flying an airplane, however, wasn’t in Graham’s future.
“They started me in pilot’s school, I had some pilot training, but an order came down that anyone who qualified for navigation training had to be transferred, they really needed them because we were going to the south Pacific. That’s when I became a navigator.”
Navigation training was greatly condensed due to that urgent need.
“That was normally a two-year course; we did it in nine months”, he remarked. “They taught us celestial navigation with a sextant, you had to know which stars were navigation stars because, out in the Pacific over water, there weren’t any landmarks you could use.” Jack graduated from nav school in September of 1944.
Crew training occurred at Muroc Army Airfield in California, in the Mojave desert; that location is now known as Edwards Air Force Base. Muroc provided final crew training prior to deployment to a combat zone.
“That’s where I was introduced to the B-24; we had a crew of ten men in the plane. That training was probably three or 4 months long. After we finished they gave us a brand-new airplane and we flew to Hawaii, Hickam Field.”
Assigned to the 7th Air Force’s Eleventh Bomb Group, Jack said they became part of the 26th Bombardment Squadron.
“We moved from Hawaii to Saipan, I guess it was, and we flew bombing missions from there. We bombed the (islands of ) Truk, Bokissa; we weren’t there too long because the war was moving (westward). We then moved up to Okinawa, where we flew missions over Japan. As a matter of fact, we flew a mission the day after that first (atomic) bomb was dropped.”
“We knew something had happened but we didn’t know what exactly, nobody knew because it had been a secret mission. They called us in for our flight briefing the next day; they wanted us to go in after a battleship that was in (a Japanese harbor). They told us then that the bomb had been dropped (over Hiroshima) and told us to stay at least seventy-five miles away from there. We did, but that told us how powerful that bomb was. My pilot, we’re the only two left from our crew, we talk on the phone once in awhile and he’s got some kind of cancer; he thinks its because we flew through some of that (radioactive) debris. Anyway, we went in (after the ship) in waves; there was so much anti-aircraft fire from their ships, the sky was just black, that I wondered ‘how will we ever get through that?’ but we did. Our aircraft didn’t have one hole in it.”
All told, Jack said his crew flew a total of eleven missions. “We only ever saw one (Japanese) fighter plane and he didn’t want anything to do with us.”
Jack was back on Okinawa when it was announced that the Empire of Japan had surrendered. “The Navy had all kinds of ships (ported) there, too, and they let loose with all kinds of guns in celebration up in the air. I was worried about our own (shells) falling on us”, he laughed. “It was quite a show.”
2nd Lieutenant Jack Graham made his last flight in the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, which he and his crew had nicknamed “Sweet Routine”, to San Francisco when he came home, mustering out of the Army Air Corps in Indiana in January of 1946. Returning to the Marion area, the young veteran began classes at Ohio Northern University, graduating in 1949 with a degree in education. Jack taught in the Marion school district for the next twenty-nine years, retiring in 1979.
A widower, Graham has two daughters and still lives in the Marion area, often spending his days socializing at the city’s Senior Center.
Of his service during World War II, Jack observed, “I was just glad I was able to do something and that God permitted me to pass the air force test. Back then, we were young and thought we were indestructible; I think about things that happened (during the war) almost every day.”