VI BOMBER COMMAND
IN DEFENSE OF THE PANAMA CANAL
1941 - 45
Areas of Interest:
VI Bombardment Command History:
6th BGp (Heavy)
3rd BS (Heavy)
29th BS (Heavy)
74th BS (Heavy)
397th BS (Heavy)
9th BGp (Heavy)
1st BS (Heavy)
5th BS (Heavy)
99th BS (Heavy)
430th BS (Heavy)
25th BGp (Medium)
12th BS (Medium)
35th BS (Medium)
59th BS (Medium)
417th BS (Medium)
40th BGp (Heavy)
25th BS (Heavy)
44th BS (Heavy)
45th BS (Heavy)
395th BS (Heavy)
Units Attached to VI Bomber Command
10th BS (Heavy)
15th BS (Light)
6th Bombardment Group
397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)
The 7th Aero Squadron (later to be known as the 397th Bombardment Squadron) was organized on March 29, 1917, and assigned to the Panama Canal Department, with duty station at Ancon, CZ. The 7th Aero Squadron was stationed at Empire, CZ, in May 1917; Ft Sherman, CZ, in August 29, 1917; Cristobal, CZ, in March 1918; and Coco Walk (later France Field), CZ, in May 1918. The 7th Aero was assigned to the 3rd Observation Group (later 6th Observation, 6th Composite, and 6th Bombardment Group) on September 30, 1919, and redesignated the 7th Squadron (Observation) in April 1921; 7th Observation Squadron in 1923; and the 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium Range) on September 1, 1937. The 7th Recconnaisance Squadron's status was changed from assigned to the 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy) to attached to the 6th Bomb Group on February 1, 1940, with its duty station remaining at France Field, Canal Zone.
The 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium Range) was redesignated 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) on November 20, 1940.
Movement from France Field to its permanent station at Howard Field, Fort Kobbe, Canal Zone, was accomplished on November 26, 1941 (General Orders No. 56, Headquarters Panama Canal Department, November 26, 1941). The 7th Squadron, on that date, had 250 assigned personnel, eight B-17's, and one other aircraft.
Relocation from Howard Field, CZ, to David, R. de P., occurred on December 11, 1941, employing motor convoys and available tactical aircraft.
Much of the 7th Reconnaisance Squadron’s flying personnel, under the command of 1st. Lt. T. K. Hampton (later Lt. Col. Hampton), went to the United States to secure RLB-30-type planes for delivery to the 25th Bombardment Squadron in Salinas, Ecuador.
The 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) again was assigned to the 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on February 25, 1942
The 7th's flying personnel delivered the RLB-30 type planes secured in January 1942 to the 25th Bombardment Squadron at Salinas, Ecuador, in March 1942, and returned to David, R. de P., in April 1942.
The 7th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy) was redesignated the 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), by General Order Number 18, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, May 11, 1942.
On June 19, all flying personnel, consisting of 70 officers and enlisted men of the then tactically inoperative 397th Bombardment Squadron were detached to Guatemala City, Guatemala, for duty with the 74th Bombardment. Squadron movement was made by tactical aircraft of the Group while in normal function of patrols and special flights.
The 397th's flying personnel placed on detached service to the 74th Bombardment Squadron in Guatemala City in June returned to David, R. de P., at intervals up to and including August 10, 1942.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron departed its temporary station at David, R. de P., on August 15, for temporary station at Tulara, Peru, arriving at that station on August 18, 1942 (paragraph 1b, Special Order Number 194, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, August 3, 1942). The move was accomplished exclusively by water transportation, except for the small detachment at Guatemala that returned later to Tulara, Peru, via Galapagos and Salinas. The unit remained tactically inoperative until all facilities for tactical function were completed at the new station.
General Orders No. 41, Headquarters Sixth Air Force, August 8, 1942 inactivated the Hq. & Hq. Squadron, 6th Bomb Group. Nineteen (19) personnel went to the 397th Bombardment Squadron at Tulara, Peru.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron had 202 assigned personnel, and no aircraft, as of August 31.
Three hundred and thirteen (313) officers and enlisted men (47 officers, 266 enlisted men), and five four-engine aircraft and one other aircraft were assigned, as of December 31.
The Army Air Base at Tulara, Peru, became the permanent duty station of the 397th Bombardment Squadron, under the authority of Movement Order No. 1, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, March 27, 1943.
On May 4, 1943, a new cadre identified as Squadron "X," and comprised of 53 officers and 323 enlisted men from the 39th Bombardment Group (Heavy), Second Air Force, Davis-Monthan Field, Tucson, Arizona, under the command of Captain Marvin H. Aherns, arrived at Rio Hato, R. de P., replacing the former squadron personnel. On arrival at Rio Hato, the new personnel assumed the designation of the 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). The personnel of the "old" 397th Bombardment Squadron departed Tulara, Peru, on May 4, 1943, for Howard Field, CZ, and return to the United States.
The departure of the 40th Bombardment Group (Heavy) in June 1943 for redeployment in the United States, left the VI Bomber Command with only the 6th Bomb Group which was then comprised of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron at David, the 29th Bombardment Squadron at Galapagos, the 74th Bombardment Squadron at Guatemala City, and the 397th Bombardment Squadron at Rio Hato. The Headquarters, 6th Bombardment Group, and the VI Bomber Command Headquarters were then pooled to form a joint headquarters.
Award of the Air Medal was made to MSgt. Robert R. Walden, TSgt. George Todor, SSgt. Richard W. Mercer, Jr., SSgt. Russell P. Jorgenson, and Sgt. Addison G. Saxton for meritorious achievement while participating in long range patrol flights over the Pacific and Caribbean approaches to the Panama Canal (General Orders Number 41 and 44, Hq., Sixth Air Force, June 6 and 13, 1943, respectively).
Captain Marvin H. Aherns, the Commanding Officer, 397th Bombardment Squadron, was transferred to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, and was replaced by Lt. Col. Lucius G. Drafts, on June 7, 1943.
After aborting a radar search mission on July 15 because No. 1 engine of an LB-30 piloted by 2d. Lt. Clement Telep was not producing power, Lt. Telep returned the aircraft to Rio Hato Air Base. When the problem could not be duplicated on a ground check of the aircraft, Lt. Telep; his co-pilot 2d.Lt.Theodore B. Small; SSgt. Steve M. Taylor and SSgt. Earl Stopher, two other crew members; MSgt. William Armstrong, the line chief; and the crew chief, another sergeant, name unknown, re-boarded the old bomber for a test hop, in anticipation of returning to base for the rest of the crew if the hop proved the plane was okay. The test showed the balky engine still was not developing proper power, and as Lt. Telep headed the LB-30 on downwind leg of the landing pattern, the engine began to burn. Fire extinguishers only caused the blaze to falter momentarily before blistering back to life. The electric prop would not feather. Lt. Telep climbed the LB-30 to afford the aircrew an altitude of about 900 feet from which to bail out. Lt. Telep ordered Lt. Small, whose parachute got soaked with water, rendering it unusable, to go back to the waist of the Liberator and jump with one of the spare chutes left by the other crew members still waiting on the ground. Lt. Small and SSgt. Taylor bailed out from the waist of the aircraft, the unidentified crew chief having already bailed out. Lt. Small and the three-crew members who parachuted from the burning aircraft survived. MSgt. William L. Armstrong, the line chief, died because his parachute burned. When the burning Liberator crashed, Lt. Telep and SSgt. Earl Stopher, his radio operator, were still in their seats, and died in the crash.
Major Elmer A. Dixon succeeded Lt. Col. Lucius G. Drafts as the 397th's Commanding Officer on July 28, 1943.
2d. Lt. Clement Telep was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Orders Number 56, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, August 4, 1943, for heroism while participating in an aerial flight on July 15, 1943.
Award of the Air Medal was made to TSgt. Victor F. Cartwright, TSgt. Robert C. Isemann, SSgt. George Zaharakis, and Sgt. John V. Schauer for meritorious achievement while participating in long range patrol flights over the Pacific and Caribbean approaches to the Panama Canal (General Orders Number 67 and 44, Hq., Sixth Air Force, September 26 1943).
Award of the Oak Leaf Cluster in addition to the Air Medal was awarded to TSgt. Victor F. Cartwright, TSgt. Robert C. Iseman, SSgt. George Zaharakis, and Sgt. Addison G. Saxon for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial interception and tactical patrol missions over the Pacific and Caribbean approaches to the Panama Canal, and tactical flights over hazardous jungle terrain (General Orders Number 68, Hq., Sixth Air Force, September 28, 1943).
The Headquarters, 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy), was inactivated in October 1943, leaving only the headquarters of the VI Bomber Command.
2d. Lt. Eugene J. Williams, piloting a BT-13, was killed in flight on October 30, 1943 when his plane augered in straight down in a vertical dive into the ocean at the south end of the runway.
The 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons were reassigned from the 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy), and placed directly under the command jurisdiction of the VI Bomber Command on November 1, following the deactivation of the 6th Group in October.
On January 8, 1944, during a routine patrol flight to Bluefields, Nicaragua, 1st. Lt. Edwin H. Gibb, Jr., the pilot, took it upon himself to order all removable parts on LB-30 #640 thrown overboard. At 1515Z, No. 3 tachometer shaft broke. While the engineer went back to check equipment, No. 1 engine caught on fire and No. 1 oil temperature reached its extreme limit. The pilot salvoed the bombs while the co-pilot feathered the engine and pulled the fire extinguisher, extinguishing the fire in No. 1 engine. During this emergency, the altitude of the plane had dropped to 500 feet and being unable to maintain altitude, all removable parts were thrown overboard. Preparations were made to land at Limon, Costa Rica, but after an examination of the field it was decided to try and make a return flight to France Field. At 1600Z, No. 4 tachometer went out and at the same time, it was observed that No. 2 engine had developed an oil leak. Severe weather conditions were encountered on the return trip and the pilot decided to head for Bogas Del Toro, but after examining the field, it was decided that conditions would not permit a safe landing. From Bogas Del Toro to France Field, the radio operator called in their position every five minutes and finally, the plane broke out of a thunderstorm at a point adjacent to Salud, Panama. At 1855Z, a landing was made with three (3) engines at France Field. Lt. Gibb was given a commendation for the excellent manner and keen judgment used in piloting the plane to France Field under emergency conditions. The results of the missions were negative, and all planes returned to Rio Hato on January 12.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron was instructed by A-3, VI Bomber Command, APO #825, on January 1, 1944, via telephone, to dispatch four (4) planes to France Field for the purpose of participating in anti-submarine patrol throughout the Caribbean area. 1st. Lt. Edwin H. Gibb, Jr., (LB-30 #640), 1st. Lt. Jefferson F. Wilcoxson, Jr., (LB-30 #634), 2d. Lt. James E. Rinks (LB-30 #628); and 1st. Lt. John J. Hriczo (LB-30 #641) were assigned to accomplish the mission.
Letter Order #1, Subject: "Orders," Headquarters, Panama Canal Department, January 3, 1944, assigned 15 officers and 18 enlisted men to attend the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics at Orlando, Florida. The purpose of the assignment was to train the personnel in the latest tactics used by the Army Air Forces.
Good Conduct Ribbons were presented on January 12, 1944 to enlisted members of the unit who had been noted for their excellent efficiency in the manner and performance of their duties. The presentation was made in the Post Theater before the assembled Squadron.
Cpl. William M. Carter, an airplane mechanic, and a commercial artist in civilian life, painted insignias on the Squadron's bombers.
The 397th Squadron participated in a VI Bomber Command command post exercise (CPX) on January 18. Seven (7) aircraft were dispatched to search and destroy the target, an aircraft carrier off the West Coast of Costa Rica. The target was located and destroyed by Squadron aircraft with the aid of planes from the 10th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) and the 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). The Squadron received a commendation from VI Bomber Command for the efficiency displayed in the exercise.
The strength, commissioned and enlisted, was 63 officers and 348 enlisted men.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron participated in a CPX on February 6. The Squadron was notified of an alert at 1450Z, and by 1523Z the full alert status was accomplished. VI Bomber Command provided the target and operational data, and six planes were designated to perform the mission. Take-off was made at 1652Z. and the flight proceeded to David, where a rendezvous was made with two (2) B-24's of the 74th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) and three (3) B-17's of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). The formation of 11 aircraft intercepted the target- - two (2) aircraft carriers- at 2105Z. A bombing run was made on the target, simulated bombs were dropped, and the flight returned to Rio Hato. Notice was received from the umpire crediting the formation with the sinking of both carriers. The mission was a success and a commendation was received from the Commanding General, VI Bomber Command for the excellent work accomplished in the exercise.
The Squadron's combat crews were assigned to the Oxygen School at APO #825 to attend a three-day course of training in High Altitude Flying.
The strength during the month was 63 officers and 349 enlisted men.
Mock raids were made on the Canal on March 17 and again on March 27, for the purpose of testing the alertness of the searchlight Batteries and Control Stations. These raids were carried out by the 397th with the assistance of B-17's and crews from the 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), APO #832, and one (1) B-24 piloted by Col. Roberts of the VI Bomber Command. No Fighter Command Clearances were obtained, so that the element of surprise could be utilized. The powerful search-light beams of the defenders picked up some aircraft, while others took advantage of the cloud cover and smart maneuvering and successfully eluded them. Capt. Leland H. Agard (397th), 1st. Lt. Lt. H. R. Schlesinger (397th), Capt. Olin D. Mason (3rd), Capt. Britton A. Storey (3rd), Capt. Norman C. Conaway (3rd), and Capt. Earl L. Stevens (3rd) and their respective crews participated in the March 17 mission. Col. Roberts (VIBC), Capt. Robert W. Scheller (397th), 1st. Lt. John J. Hriczo (397th), 1st. Lt. Charles E. Hall (397th), 1st. Lt. William E. Christensen (3rd), 1st. Lt. Thomas L. Ruddy (3rd), and 1st. Lt. Joe E. Shelton, Jr., (3rd) participated in the March 27 mission.
Numerous night and cross-country navigation missions to Esmeraldes; Ecuador; and Kingston, Jamaica, were accomplished during the month, some with difficulty because of faulty compasses, radio beams, and bad weather.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron provided one (1) aircraft and two (2) combat crews to fly anti-submarine patrols from France Field.
All LB-30's were transferred to the Panama Air Depot (Aircraft Assignment Orders No. 47 and No. 51, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, March 15, 1944). Two (2) new B-24J's were assigned to the 397th Squadron.
Captain Roy L. Fisher, Squadron Navigator, was placed on temporary duty as Navigator to General Brett, Commanding General of the Caribbean Defense Command (Letter, Headquarters, Caribbean Defense Command, March 24, 1944).
The 397th Bombardment Squadron held its first Beer Party of the year on Saturday, March 25, 1944. The event took place at the Base Picnic Grounds, a short distance from the Officers' Club. The party began with a beer-drinking contest that was won by Sgt. John V. Schauer. Next came a series of boxing bouts. The main bout was a match between Pvt. Jack J. DeSalvo and Pvt. Charles Bond, which ended in a draw. Following this event, were football games, relay races, and a volleyball game in which the enlisted men defeated the officers.
Bob Hope, America's No. 1 comedian and his famous troupe, which included Frances Langford, Jerry Colonna, Vera Vague, Tony Romano, and Ken Niles, arrived at Rio Hato on March 11 in a silver C-47, to be greeted by a cheering throng of officers and enlisted men who had been crowded around the taxi strip for over three hours in anticipation of this famous show. The performance commenced at once with Bob Hope acting as Master of Ceremonies. The performance, consisting of jokes, antics, and songs, lasted for one-half hour, and kept the excited audience in hilarious, rollicking laughter. The show was made possible through the persistent and diligent efforts of Col. Richard M. Bristol, Air Base Commander, and Maj.. Elmer A. Dixon, Commander, 397th Bombardment Squadron
This year saw many promotions of Squadron officers, including the following: Captain to Major: Frank P. Wood, Operations Officer. First Lieutenant to Captain: Roy L. Fisher, Navigation Officer; George K. Hutchings, Intelligence Officer; George A. Dunn, Bombing Officer; Leland H. Agard, Flight Commander; and Robert W. Scheller, Assistant Operations Officer. Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant: Charles E. Hall, Pilot; John J. Hriczo, Pilot; Donald W. McMahon, Bombardier; Sumner R. Andrews, Assistant Adjutant; Lester Glew, Personal Equipment Officer; Gordon R. Sutton, Assistant Intelligence Officer; Robert P. Hazlehurst, Navigator; John S. Whittlesey, Ordnance Officer; Alphonse W. Jaegers, Communications Officer; and Donald J. Watkins, Navigator.
Chief Warrant Officer (CMO) Perry M. Mann, Assistant Intelligence Officer, was ordered to the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida, on March 14, to attend a three-week academic course of study in Intelligence.
The strength in March was 60 officers and 346 enlisted men.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) was relieved of its assignment at Rio Hato, R. de P., and transferred to the Army Air Base at Seymour Island, Galapagos, Ecuador, under the authority of Movement Order No. 4, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, April 8, 1944, and annexes thereto. The movement started on April 7 with the departure of the advance air echelon consisting of 10 officers and 20 enlisted men that were responsible for getting set-up in preparation for the arrival of the balance of the Squadron personnel.
Rio Hato Air Base personnel gave farewell parties for both the officers and enlisted men of the 397th Bombardment Squadron. The non-commissioned officers' beer party and supper were held on April 5, and the gala officers' affair took place at the officers' club on April 8.
The movement of the 397th Bombardment Squadron to the Galapagos Islands was completed on April 12 with the arrival of the water echelon consisting of five (5) officers and 181 enlisted men. A continuous air ferry service was maintained by the 397th flying personnel, ably assisted by members of the 29th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) and troop carrier aircraft of the VI Service Command. Flying was resumed on April 15 with formation and orientation flights, and gradually increased in tempo with the scheduling of numerous bombing, gunnery, and formation missions.
Four (4) new B-24J's arrived at the Squadron on April 8, bringing the total aircraft assigned up to eight (8) planes- - two (2) B-24D's and six (6) B-24Js.
2d.Lt.Felix W. Stone, Jr., (Pilot), 2d.Lt.Alfred C. Polchow (Navigator), and 2d.Lt.Francis A. Ferko (Bombardier) were promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant, by Special Order No. 85, Headquarters, Caribbean Defense Command, April 16, 1944.
Organizational strength during April was 59 officers and 348 enlisted men.
Contingents of officers and enlisted men ferried LB-30 aircraft, one of the antique planes of the VI Bomber Command, from Howard Field, APO #832, to San Diego, California, on May 1 and 18. Officers and enlisted men on the May 1 flight included 1st. Lt. Charles E. Hall, 2d.Lt.Walton C. Touchton, 2d. Lt. James F. Lambert, TSgt. Ralph V. Renner, and SSgt. James J. Dowd. 1st. Lt. Harold R. Schlesinger, 2d. Lt. Lace M. Asbury, 2d. Lt. Francis M. O'Conner, TSgt. Charles R. Krieg, and TSgt. Finnis C. Ewing ferried the LB-30 on May 18.
The 397th Squadron, on May 4, celebrated the one-year anniversary of the arrival at Rio Hato AAB of the cadre identified as Squadron "X" which replaced the personnel of the "old" 397th, and assumed the designation of the 397th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)
The 397th Bombardment Squadron's boxing team, composed of 15 stalwart sons, made its initial appearance in the "Rock" boxing ring on May 12. The Squadron boxers won three (3) out of four (4) fights on the card.
CWO Perry M. Mann returned to the Squadron for active duty on May 14, having spent a month at the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida.
B-24J, "Shoo Shoo Baby," #9951 crashed on Seymour Island at 2235Z, on May 15, 1944, one-half mile northeast of the North-South runway, which resulted in minimum injuries to the personnel involved. The plane had participated in a formation-bombing mission and was returning to base. The officers and men involved in the crash included Capt.Leland H. Agard, 1st. Lt. Felix W. Stone, Jr., 1st. Lt. Donald J. Watkins, 2d.Lt.Walter R. Meier, TSgt. Stanley Sneed, TSgt. John E. Wadinski, SSgt. Arthur J. Tjenstrom, Sgt. William F. Doyle, and Sgt. Marvin P. Jenkins. None of the crew was killed in the crash, however, Lt. Meier was seriously injured and did not return to flight duty until January 1945.
Major Frank P. Wood, former Squadron Operations Officer, assumed command of the 397th Bombardment Squadron on May 17. This popular young officer joined the 397th in July 1943. The Dallas Power and Light Company employed Major Wood, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Electrical Engineering, prior to entering the service in February 1941, as an Electrical Engineer. Upon graduation from the Brooks Field Advanced Flying School, he received his Pilot's Wings and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Corps.
A Navigation School was begun under the supervision of Captain Roy L. Fisher for the purpose of checking out Bombardiers in Dead Reckoning Navigation.
The VI Bomber Command Training Bulletin No. 2, May 22, 1944, established a schedule for a new training program for combat crews that included training blocks on Air Training, Pilot Procedures, Communications, Navigation Training, and Bombardier Refresher Course.
Newly assigned to the 397th Bombardment Squadron in May were Capt. Jesse F. Cotton, Jr., Pilot; 2d. Lt. Frances J. Yorke, Assistant Engineering Officer; and the following Pilots: 2nd. Lts. Franklin B. Allen, Irwin A. Ailara, Dennet S. Gurman, Warren M. Baldridge, Rudolph J. Cherkauer, and William R. Williams.
Numerous changes in duty assignments occurred during May. Capt. Robert W. Scheller was appointed Operations Officer, and Capt. Leland H. Agard assumed the duties of Assistant Operations Officer. 2d. Lt. Lace M. Asbury took over the duties of Technical Inspector, relieving 1st. Lt. Charles L. Smith who departed the Squadron. Capt. George K. Hutchings was appointed Orientation Officer.
1st. Lt. William B. Seaman, the Squadron's Flight Surgeon, was promoted to the rank of Captain (Radiogram, Commanding Officer, VI Bomber Command, May 21, 1944).
Organizational strength in May was 67 Officers and 346 enlisted men.
2d. Lt. Jess W. Jones, Ted V. Sawyer, and 2d. Lt. Theodore B. Small received promotions to the rank of First Lieutenant on June 1.
The month of June began with a large "send-off" in the form of a Squadron Party which took place on June 3, between the hours of 1900Z and 2400Z. Cpl. Albert C. Kunkel won the hog-calling contest. The enlisted men beat the officers two out of three games in a volleyball contest. Sgt. John V. Schauer again won the beer-drinking contest. Many officers and enlisted men, through diligent efforts and arduous labor, were responsible for the unparalleled success of the party.
Fifty-six (56) enlisted men received orders on June 6 and 22, 1944, for transfer to the United States. Replacements for the departing personnel were received.
1st. Lt. Ralph E. Gossett, Squadron Adjutant, was transferred to VI Bomber Command, APO #832, on June 8. 1st. Lt. Sumner R. Andrews, a veteran member of the 397th Squadron, took over the duties of Squadron Adjutant.
VI Bomber Command ordered the beginning of patrols on June 8. The patrols were divided into two groups. One of the groups consisted of four tracks between the Galapagos Islands and San Jose, Guatemala; and the other group was comprised of loop patrols of two tracks between the Galapagos Islands and the coast of South America. The patrols were augmented by crews from the 29th and 74th Bombardment Squadrons (Heavy), and were under the direct supervision of the 397th for operational and intelligence procedures. The patrols, a commendable success, were terminated on June 28.
B-17E's were ferried from Howard Field to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on June 21 by last. Lt. Alfred C. Polchow, 1st. Lt. Theodore B. Small, 2d.Lt.Donald A. Smolik, 2d.Lt.William F. Singleton, TSgt. W. R. Morrison, TSgt. James W. Park, and SSgt. Vernon N. Thomas.
1st. Lt. J. G. Scott was assigned to the 397th as Assistant Adjutant and Personnel Officer on June 21.
1st. Lt. Jess W. Jones, a Squadron bombardier, was detailed as Assistant Armament Officer (Additional Duty) on June 22.
397th personnel took the athletic honors of the "Rock" during June, having won the base championship in officers' softball and in enlisted men's basketball. The enlisted men's team was scheduled to represent the "Rock" in the Sixth Air Force Basketball Series which was to be held in the Zone in July.
Organizational strength in June was 65 officers and 336 enlisted men.
The 397th once again was commanded to fly security patrols for the Panama Canal in the Pacific area from July 6 to 18, 1944. This opportunity afforded Squadron personnel a chance to increase their training in operational procedure and weather penetration.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron was ordered to make a simulated attack on the locks of the Panama Canal, at dawn, on July 24, in accordance with instructions contained in a Radiogram from VI Bomber Command, July 24, 1944. Eight (8) B-24J's and one (1) B-24D took off at five (5) minute intervals. The first plane got off the ground at 0447Z, July 24, and arrived over Miraflores Locks at 1040Z, the exact time designated for the attack. The other eight planes followed at five-minute intervals. The planes landed at Howard Field, CZ, upon completion of the mission. The mission, with the aid of excellent navigation and unlimited cooperation of the personnel concerned, was considered a success.
The aircrews, which had flown the July 6-18 security patrols, were given permission to visit Havana, Cuba, in recognition of their superior work. The flight took off at 0700Z, Wednesday, July 26, and arrived at Batista Field, Cuba, at 1230Z. The flying personnel spent the day and night in Havana, and returned to Batista Field the next afternoon.
Another simulated attack was made on the locks of the Panama Canal, at 1200Z, on July 28. The first plane took off from Batista Field at 0647Z, with the rest of the planes following at five-minute intervals. The first plane arrived over the Gatun Locks at zero hour, and the remaining planes followed at five-minute intervals. Upon completion of the mission, the flight landed at Howard Field. The planes returned to home base on July 29.
2d. Lt. Burrell E. Jones and Capt. Philip Y. Bombenek, Navigator and Bombardier, respectively, were assigned to the 397th Squadron.
1st. Lt. J. G. Scott was transferred to the 23rd Tow Target Squadron, APO #832, on July 21.
Thirty-five (35) enlisted men were assigned to the 397th during the month, most of them having performed their last tour of duty in the United States. Three (3) enlisted men of the Radar Section departed for the United States for new assignments.
Col. E. M. Day, the Commanding Officer of the VI Bomber Command and his inspecting party visited the 397th Bombardment Squadron on July 16, 17, and 18. After a thorough inspection of the Squadron, Col. Day praised the organization for the vast progress in efficiency and status of training that had been accomplished during the past year, and stated that the 397th was the best in the VI Bomber Command.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron achieved more athletic honors when the Golden Gloves Championships of the "Rock" were held on the afternoon of July 4. Squadron members won championships in the Lightweight, Middleweight, Welterweight, and Heavyweight divisions.
Organizational strength in July was 67 officers and 374 enlisted men. B-24J's #0888, 0892, and 1000 were assigned to the Squadron in July. The total assigned aircraft was 11 B-24J's.
Another new B-24J, 0997, was assigned to the Squadron in August, bringing the total number of assigned B-24J's to 12. The following pilots were assigned the indicated aircraft: 1st. Lt. Edwin H. Gibb, Jr., #0745; 1st. Lt. Harold R. Schlesinger, #0675; 1st. Lt. John J. Hriczo, #9953; Capt. Leland H. Agard, #0676; 1st. Lt. Theodore B. Small, #9854; 1st. Lt. Ted V. Sawyer, #9855; 2d.Lt. James E. Rinks, #9856; Capt. Chester A. Neel, #0687; Capt. Jacob M. Huffman, Jr., #0892; 1st. Lt. Charles E. Hall, #0997; Capt. Jesse F. Cotton, Jr., #0888; and 1st. Lt. Jefferson F. Wilcoxon, Jr., # 1000.
On August 25, VI Bomber Command approved the flight of 11 B-24J's on a cross-country to Salinas, Ecuador. The flight took off at 1330Z, and flew formation to Salinas, arriving there at 1830Z. This portion of the trip afforded the 397th's bombardiers an opportunity to test their knowledge in dead- reckoning navigation. The return trip was made at night, arriving at 0430Z, and provided the navigators a chance to use the fundamentals of celestial navigation.
Four (4) enlisted men received transfer orders to the United States, and replacements for the departing personnel were received.
Organizational strength was 66 officers and 380 enlisted men.
A "gala" event in the form of a Squadron Party was held on Saturday afternoon, September 9, in the exclusive Goat Garden. Major Jesse A. Irwin and his staff were guests of the enlisted men.
Numerous cross-country flights were taken to Tulara, Peru; Salinas, Ecuador; and Guatemala City, Guatemala, throughout the month. This afforded the combat and ground personnel a chance to visit these Central and South American cities, and break the monotony of a long, tedious tour of duty on the "Rock."
1st. Lt. Allen F. Smith, Assistant Radar Officer; and 2d. Lt. Francis J. Yorke, Assistant Engineering Officer, were transferred to the 74th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on September 1 and 15, respectively.
Major General William O. Butler, Commanding General of the Sixth Air Force, conducted the first tour of inspection on September 29 and 30 and October 1, since assuming command. B-24J's of the 74th and 397th Bombardment Squadrons, in a display of air power, flew an eighteen-plane combat staggered formation highlighting the three-day visit of General Butler.
The 397th achieved more athletic honors at the Sixth Air Force Boxing Tournament held in the Zone during the week of September 23-30, winning championships in the Featherweight and Middleweight classes.
Organizational strength was 65 officers and 378 enlisted men.
Major Frank P. Wood, Commanding Officer, 397th Bombardment Squadron, returned from leave to his home in Dallas, Texas. Major Jesse A. Irwin, Executive Officer, carried on admirably in his absence.
Fifty (50) officers and enlisted men, comprising five of the Squadron's original combat crews, were rotated back to the United States for what was rumored to involve a few months of intensive training before combat. These crews were replaced by new officers and enlisted men, most of the officers being fresh out of flying schools in the States.
Captain George K. Hutchings, Intelligence Officer, SSgt. Morris Rutenberg, and SSgt. Conrad E. Costello returned to the States in October on furloughs and leaves.
Organizational strength was 59 officers and 383 enlisted men.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron participated in a CPX on November 15, 16, and 17. All available planes were dispatched to Howard Field, the operating base for attacks on a "hostile" task force approaching the Canal through the Caribbean. Although the attacks were carried out in adverse weather conditions, simulated damage was inflicted on the naval force. All participants gained valuable experience.
Major General William O. Butler carried out a personal inspection of the 397th Squadron troops and installations, and expressed satisfaction with the Squadron set-up and the appearance of personnel.
Much effort and time was spent in the accomplishment of the new Air Training Program which was divided into different phases, similar to the RTU training used in the States. The objective of these activities was to make air crews as fit and experienced as could possibly be done outside of actual combat.
Newly assigned officers in November included 2d. Lt. Frank A. Horvath, Pilot; 2d. Lt. James H. McAdoo, Pilot; 2d. Lt. James V. Pelosi, Pilot; and 1st. Lt. Warren E. Sisler, formerly assigned to A-3, VI Bomber Command, who became Assistant Adjutant.
Organizational strength was 61 officers and 385 enlisted men.
At the beginning of December, the deterioration of the runway at Galapagos made it apparent that the 397th Bombardment Squadron would have to be moved to an air base in the Republic of Panama while repair work was accomplished.
The 397th Squadron participated in CPX’s on January 27 and 28. Ten of the 397th's B-24's joined with 10 of the 74th's B-24's and took off from Galapagos at 1544Z. Flying a combat box formation, the squadrons reached an altitude of 21,300 feet true over the target that consisted of one carrier and one destroyer. One bombing run was carried out at 2030Z, position 100N-9045W. The carrier force attempted no evasive action, and the run was considered successful. Prior to reaching the target, the bomber group was attacked by 20 Corsairs from the carrier. The formation landed at San Jose Air Base, Guatemala, starting at 2133Z.
The second phase of the problem started the morning of January 28 when two of the bombers, acting as "snoopers," took off at 1106Z and picked up radar contact with the same target. The remaining 18 bombers took off beginning at 1301Z following a radio message from the "snoopers." The squadron bombers attacked the carrier and destroyer at 1440Z from an altitude of 10,500 feet. Corsairs again attacked. Returning to San Jose, the group landed, beginning at 1610Z. Both Squadrons returned to Galapagos the following day, January 29.
Six (6) officers and 34 enlisted men were promoted during the month. The following officers were promoted to the grades indicated: Promoted to Major: Captain Robert W. Scheller. Promoted to First Lieutenant: 2d. Lts. Walter R. Meier, Morris L. Hutton, Reginald Speir, Bernard B. Woodburn, and Frank A. Norman, Jr.
Captain Robert W. Tietjen, Armament Officer, and Capt. Jacob M. Huffman, Jr, Pilot, returned to the Squadron after leaves in the United States.
Organizational strength was 61 officers and 310 enlisted men. This reflected a loss of 69 enlisted men that were transferred to the Tenth RCD, Howard Field, Air Corps Unassigned, on January 30.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron was reassigned from the Galapagos Islands to Rio Hato Army Air Base, R. de P. The advance echelon left by air on February 6, 1945, for its new base. Those who did not leave by air, 165 enlisted men and 7 officers, policed the Squadron area, crated equipment which could not be packed earlier, and loaded the barges and ship which were to carry the remaining equipment and personnel to the new base. The water echelon left Galapagos Islands on February 9 on the USAT "Johnson," and arrived at Balboa on February 12. Motor transportation conveyed personnel to Rio Hato the same day. By the time the water echelon arrived, all sections were operating and a week after their arrival the intensive training program was in full swing. The move was accomplished under authority of Operations Order No. 1, Headquarters, Panama Canal Department, February 6, 1945, as designated by Commanding General, Sixth Air Force, per radiogram.
1st. Lt. William Dietsch, 0-856584, was promoted to Captain; and 2d.Lt. Francis M. O'Connor, 0-797374, was promoted to First Lieutenant.
Ten (10) officers and enlisted men, representing one complete aircrew, and consisting of Capt. Chester A. Neel, 1st. Lt. Lace M. Ashbury, 1st. Lt. Reginald Speir, 1st. Lt. Bernard B. Woodburn, TSgt. Wilbur W. Johnson, SSgt. Marvin James, SSgt. Raymond Noyes, SSgt. Manuel Sylvia, SSgt. Richard H. Stinnette, and Cpl. James B. Worden, returned to the United States for reassignment (Letter Order #1, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, February 6, 1945). The departing air crewmembers were replaced by a new aircrew comprised of 1st. Lt. Charles E. Begole, 1st. Lt. Harry W. Goodman, 1st. Lt. Robert M. Richberger, 2d. Lt. William J. Acker, 2d. Lt. Jules Resnick, TSgt. Rudolph J. Jurcich, SSgt. William L. George, Cpl. Joseph N. Jones, Pfc.. William F. Dacey, Pfc.. Peter E. Kotila, and Pfc.. John J. Murphy (Paragraphs 2 and 3, Special Order #8, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, February 8, 1945).
2d. Lt. Gene Lackey, Squadron Gunnery Officer, was assigned to the organization on February 9 (Paragraph 11, Special Order #8, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, February 8, 1945). 1st. Lt. William F. Singleton and 1st. Lt. Harold L. Lovejoy, who had been with the Squadron for 22 months, were transferred to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron
1st. Lt. Clyde J. Embert departed the Squadron on February 9 to attend a two-month course in chemical warfare at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron went on full alert status at 0145R on February 20, and remained in that status until 1200R, February 24.
The move to Rio Hato made it necessary for the 397th Squadron to suspend training for approximately two weeks. The training program, however, was resumed with full vigor a week after the Squadron arrived at Rio Hato. The 397th, upon request by VI Bomber Command, flew four (4) photographic missions during the month, in addition to conducting the training outlined in the training directive.
Organizational strength was 61 officers and 296 enlisted men.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron continued to carry out the training program as outlined by higher headquarters. Four hundred and eighty-nine hours (489:00) total training time was flown for the month.
Three (3) officers were affected by significant changes in organization structure during the month. Major Robert W. Scheller was assigned to VI Bomber Command; and Capt. Sumner R. Andrews and 1st. Lt. Lawrence H. Boeck were placed on detached service to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron and VI Bomber Command, respectively.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron participated in a CPX on May 30 and 31. The constructed enemy task force consisted of one medium- sized aircraft carrier and three escorting destroyers. A large formation of aircraft from the 3rd, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons, with a fighter escort, made a successful daylight attack on the surface force. Later, the bomber formation, with an added flight from the 29th Bombardment Squadron, made a night attack on the same enemy force. The bombers employed the use of flares.
The ending of hostilities in the European Theater, and the discharge criteria established under the War Department' demobilization plan, at this date, had affected few members of the 397th.
Organizational strength was 288 enlisted men and 62 officers.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron began to lose some personnel under the age criteria of the demobilization plan. Five enlisted men over 40 left the Squadron in June. The rotation of Radar personnel caused the loss of five men. Men with Adjusted Service Rating (ASR's) scores of over 85 began to "sweat out" replacements and orders for reassignment to the United States and eventual discharges.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron received three (3) B-24M's in the latter part of June. The following "older" pilots of the Squadron were assigned the indicated planes: 1st. Lt. Ted V. Sawyer (#1566), 1st. Lt. Theodore B. Small (#1599), and 1st. Lt. Walton C. Touchton, Jr., (#1400).
The 397th Squadron began preparation for the fulfillment of the new VI Bomber Command Advanced Training Program. A total of 60 hours flying time and 100 hours ground training per month was being scheduled. The program was to run for six months.
Nineteen (19) replacements for the men who were called to Infantry service some time ago arrived in the Squadron.
The lack of a definite policy concerning rotation, furloughs, and leaves tended to keep morale from attaining its highest level.
Organizational strength was 289 enlisted men and 61 officers. This reflected the loss of one officer, 2d.Lt.William M. Nix, Navigator, who was transferred to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), APO #841, as an instructor.
Major John R. Dunham assumed command of the 397th Bombardment Squadron on July 7, 1945, relieving Lt. Col. Frank P. Wood who returned to the United States under the rotation policy. Major Dunham had joined the 397th in May 1945. Maj.. Dunham was welcomed as the new Commanding Officer by his fellow officers during a banquet in his honor held at the Rio Hato Officers' Club on July 8.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron participated with the 3rd, 29th, and 74th Bombardment Squadrons in a combined exercise on July 26 and 27, operating as a provisional group under the direction of Col. Rice, Rio Hato AAB Commander. The exercise involved the attack of a Naval force of at least one carrier that had been reported at 1705N-7607W, as of 0830Z, on July 26. The exercise consisted of four separate missions.
The first mission of the exercise was a group attack on July 26. Thirty B-24's took off from Rio Hato, and proceeded on courses at 4,500 feet at 1207Z. A P-38 fighter force failed to rendezvous at Mandinga. Four B-24's from the 3rd at David joined the formation at Mandinga, bringing the total to 34 planes. The fighters caught up with the bombers between Mandinga and the target. The task force of one "Essex" type carrier and two destroyers as escort was sighted at 1534Z, position 1424 N-7828 W, on course 205 degrees, speed 25 knots. The bomb run was approximately two minutes, on course 317 degrees at 18,000 feet. This mission was successful in locating and attacking the target. There was no interception of the bomber force by carrier planes and the aircraft returned to Rio Hato.
The second mission was a "snooper" mission flown by a Navy "snooper" plane. The "snooper" plane experienced a malfunction of equipment and lost the carrier force, but located the carrier again and supplied position reports for later missions.
The third mission was a two-plane B-24 navigation escort to lead a Squadron of P-38's out over the target and back. The carrier, which had left its course and was quite a way from the briefed position, was not located.
The fourth and last mission, a night formation, involved a coordinated attack by 18 planes that were to drop flares on the carrier individually at one-minute intervals. The planes took off at 2309Z, at one-minute intervals and staggered in altitude. The target, the same Essex type carrier, was located at 1137N-7943W, at 0042Z, and flares were dropped to simulate bombs, at an altitude of 6,000 to 8,000'. The mission was successful, and Col. Rice concluded that the First Provisional Group had done an exceptionally good job.
The 397th Squadron continued to lose personnel under the demobilization age criteria. Men over 40 who left the Squadron in July included Cpl. Joseph F. Martin and Pfc. James C. Griffin.
Captain Harold R. Schlesinger, 1st. Lt. Francis M. O'Connor, Sgt. John W. Cadle, Cpl. Herman O. Mudge, and Cpl. Manny Raichelson left for the United States for 30-day recuperation leaves.
Captain Gordon R. Sutton, S-2, departed July 13, for Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, to attend the School for Personnel Services.
Captain William Dietsch, Radar Officer, left July 26 to attend radar school at AAF Technical School, Boca Raton, Florida.
1st. Lt. Lawrence H. Boeck, Assistant S-2, returned from detached service at VI Bomber Command where he accomplished a special photographic mission intended to supply added targets for the camera bombing program.
The VI Bomber Command Advanced Training Program, calling for six months of intensive training, was implemented during the month, and, at the end of the month, the Squadron had accomplished its quota of training for July.
Squadron training continued with relatively little interruption, except that occasioned by the celebration of the Allied triumph over the Japanese.
The combined 3rd, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons participated in a Provisional Bombardment Group mission over the Canal Zone on August 1, 1945, in observation of "Air Force Day." The 24 planes of the combined units were assembled at Rio Hato, and the mission was flown under simulated combat conditions. Camera bombing runs were made on Albrook Field, the main dock group at Cristobal, and the work sheds at Balboa docks. The mission was well planned and carried out.
The three heavy bombardment squadrons located on the Isthmus, operating as a provisional group, accomplishing two special missions on August 14 and 20. The mission flown on August 14 involved the simulated bombing of the Panama Air Depot by 27 B-24's, the dropping of a 100-pound practice bomb on Iguana Island, and fighter interception at an altitude of 19,000'. The second special mission on August 20 was essentially of the same pattern as that of the first mission. Again, 27 B-24's participated. Simulated bombing of Gatun Locks, the dropping of a 100-pound practice bomb on Villa Island, and fighter interception formed the basis of the problem. Operational altitude was 15,000'. Both problems were successfully accomplished.
The combined Squadrons flew another simulated combat mission on August 30, with 27 planes participating in the flight. A camera bombing run was made on Gatun locks from 15,000 feet. From there, the formation proceeded to Aguadulce, the second IP, and made a bomb run. The bomb pattern was good.
1st. Lt. Francis M. O'Conner, 1st. Lt. Alfred C. Polchow, 1st. Lt. Theodore B. Small, and 1st. Lt. Donald A. Smolik departed in August for leave in the United States.
1st. Lt. James E. Decker, 1st. Lt. Ted V. Sawyer, and 1st. Lt. Warren E. Sisler were promoted to the rank of Captain during August (Special Order #193, Hq. CDC, August 5, 1945).
The points necessary for discharge under the demobilization plan were lowered from 85 to 80 in September 1945, and finally to 70 for enlisted men, and 75 for officers. This resulted in a loss of almost 40 percent of the enlisted personnel in the 397th Squadron.
The first individuals to leave the organization under the demobilization plan were the enlisted men over 38 years of age. Following these were 12 men who were 35 or over with more than two years of service, and 18 men with over 80 points. Nine (9) enlisted men were honorably discharged to enlist or re-enlist in the Regular Army, and then sent to the United States on furlough, later to be returned to a theater of their choice.
Enlisted men with an ASR score of below 60 were eligible for a recuperation furlough, and six men in this category returned to the States to spend 45 days at their homes. Captain's Warren E. Sisler and Alfonse W. Jaegers were returned to the States for discharge under the point system. 1st. Lt. Walton C. Touchton departed for home leave.
Captain Gordon R. Sutton, former Intelligence Officer who left the 397th on July 13 to attend the School for Special Services in the United States, did not return to the Squadron. He had amassed over 85 points for discharge, and was held in the States for disposition.
Captain William Dietsch, former Radar Officer who left on July 26 for Radar School in the United States, also did not return to the Squadron, as scheduled. Having over two years of service in the area, he was also held in States for disposition.
1st. Lt. Francis A. Ferko, Squadron Bombing Officer, was promoted to the grade of Captain (Paragraph 12, Special Order No. 238, Hq. CDC).
Organizational strength totaled 56 officers and 281 enlisted men.
Most of the losses in October were due to the demobilization plan. Sixty-one (61) enlisted men with ASR scores of 70 to 79 were transferred to Fort Randolph, CZ, on October 5, for processing and return to the U.S. for discharge. Captain James E. Decker, Squadron Engineering Officer, and 1st. Lt. Clyde J. Embert, Ordnance Officer, left the Squadron on October 12. Major John E. Dunham, Commanding Officer, and Captain Ted V. Sawyer, Operations Officer, departed on October 30 under the same plan.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron was badly understaffed by the transfers under the demobilization plan, although a few replacements arrived on October 10 for men with ASR scores of 80 and above who left the organization.
Major Jerry W. Dismuke, who joined the Squadron on October 24 as a replacement for Major Dunham, assumed command on October 30. 1st. Lt. Woodrow E. Nielsen was assigned to the 397th on October 9.
1st. Lt. Lawrence E. Boeck, Intelligence Officer, and 2d.Lt.Earle G. Dare were transferred to Hq. & Hq. Squadron, Sixth Air Force. Lt. Boeck was assigned to the A-2 Section to write the history of the Sixth Air Force.
Nine (9) officers and 23 enlisted men were promoted in October, with all of the EM having ASR scores of 60 to 69. The following 2nd. Lts. were promoted to 1st. Lts., under paragraphs 1 and 2, Special Order No. 266, Hq. CDC, October 23, 1945: Kenneth S. Ross, James N. Henderson, Allen M. Christenson, Conrad F. Gullixson, Albert L. Panzica, Martin R. Brechbill, William J. Acker, Clifton E. La Hue, and Edward C. Van Orman.
The abbreviated training program progressed as scheduled, the 397th and 3rd Bombardment Squadrons scheduling flights two days one week and three days the following week. This system was rotated with the 74th and 29th Bombardment Squadrons. Most of these flights were test hops. Formation flights were flown on the 8th, 15, and 30th of the month, under the direction of the Commanding General, Sixth Air Force. Lt. Gen. Crittenberger called a Nullus problem on October 26, and all ground and air organizations were alerted. Rio Hato Air Base was alerted at 1112R and terminated at 1230R. The tactical Squadrons at Rio Hato Air Base assumed the role of an enemy attack force, and simulated a low-level attack on ground installations of the Panama Canal. The attacking force was theoretically launched from carriers in the Atlantic.
The 3rd Bombardment Squadron arrived at Rio Hato Army Air Base, from David, R. de P., the first part of October, and on October 29 was attached to the 397th Squadron for rations, quarters, and administration.
The 397th Bombardment Squadron participated with the 3rd, 29th, and 74th Bombardment Squadrons in a 21-plane, combined operation flight on October 8 to intercept a Pan Agra ship carrying President Rios of Chile, taking off from Rio Hato Air Base on a direct course to Columbia. After intercepting the Pan Agra ship carrying President Rios, the bombers and fighters flew escort until the Pan Agra ship made an approach for landing at Albrook Field. The bombers and fighters then circled Taboga Island and made a low-level attack on Albrook Field and the Panama Air Depot, after which the formation circled and attacked Howard Field; whereupon the formation returned to Rio Hato.
Organizational strength totaled 52 officers and 225 enlisted men.
All eligible officers and enlisted men were transferred to Fort Randolph for return to the U.S., with the majority leaving on December 21. On December 8, 37 officers were transferred to the 397th from Howard Field, CZ (Paragraph 7, Special Order No. 310, Hq. Sixth Air Force, December 6, 1945). Thirty-nine (39) enlisted men were assigned to the 397th on December 14 (Paragraph 1, Special Order No. 177, Hq. Rio Hato Army Air Base).
1st. Lt. Allen M. Christenson and 1st. Lt. Howard E. Day were placed on TDY to serve as Co-Pilot and Navigator, respectively, on a C-47 flight to San Antonio, Texas (Paragraph 7, Special Order No. 315, Hq. Sixth Air Force, December 14, 1945).
Promotions during December included 53 enlisted men, and the following officers who were promoted from 2d. Lt. To 1st. Lt.: James V. Pelosi, Jules Resnick, James H. McAdoo, Walter R. Sapp, William M. Nix, William H. Baker, Clarence E. Ellis, Norbert E. Linhof, Joseph W. Satnik, William R. Estes, Arthur W. Riley, Jerome J. Gedemer, Leo A. Dewey, Robert J. Millar, Ronald C. Morey, Howard E. Day, Morton R. Cohn, James S. Wilson, Henry F. Baldwin, Jr., Keith Cook, and Malcolm E. Hageman.
The 3rd and 397th Bombardment Squadrons were consolidated as of December 31 (Special Order No. 183, Hq. Rio Hato Army Air Base, December 24, 1945).
The 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons, participating in a combined formation flight, took off from Rio Hato for the Galapagos Islands on December 6 to participate in the filming of the Sixth Air Force motion picture, "Watch Dogs With Wings."
A C-47 with a chosen crew flew to San Antonio, Texas on December 14, for 20 days' temporary duty. The crew consisted of 1st. Lt. David D. Pollan (74th Bombardment Squadron, Pilot); 1st. Lt. Allen M. Christenson (397th Bombardment Squadron, Co-Pilot); 1st. Lt. Howard E. Day (397th Bombardment Squadron, Navigator); SSgt. Holland Rankin (29th Bombardment Squadron, Engineer); Sgt. William F. Thomey (74th Bombardment Squadron, Radio Operator); and Cpl. William J. Hale (397th Bombardment Squadron, Assistant Engineer).
A flight of five planes engaged in a tactical air force problem on December 15, each on an independent search mission. The objective of the mission was to locate two battle cruisers that were supposedly invading territorial waters. The targets were located, and the mission was considered a success.
The 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons participated in a combined formation flight on December 31 to intercept Secretary of the Navy, Forrestal who was flying down to Panama in a C-54 to make an inspection tour of the Panama Canal. After flying for two hours, the formation received a radio message that Mr. Forrestal had already landed at Albrook Field. The formation immediately proceeded to fly in review over Albrook Field at an altitude of 1,000 feet, and returned to Rio Hato Air Base.
Organizational strength was 121 officers and 270 enlisted men, representing an increase of 26 officers and 15 enlisted men over the November figures.