Stories from the Sky
The following diary entries were transcribed from my personal diary. I began the diary as a co-pilot of a brand-new B-17E departing at 0400 hours on the morning of January 11, 1942 from MacDill Army Air Field, Tampa, Florida. This was a month after my graduation from the Aviation Cadet Program on December 12, 1942 to accept a commission as a Second Lieutenant and Pilot in the Army Air Corps.
Before I returned to the United States I would fly around the world via Trinidad, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, Nigeria, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Arabia, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Java, Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Fiji and Hawaii.
Paul W. Eckley, Jr.
Lt. Colonel, USAF (Ret)
These entries were made covering the flight from Colombo, Ceylon (Later Sri Lanka) to Java and Singosari Air Base at Malang. They continue during my stay in Java and later evacuation to Australia.
February 14, 1942 (Saturday)
Dawn came and we could see clouds at all levels... went down to 500' to follow the coast. Finally arrived at our approach point (Batavia) and headed for our destination, Bandung, following a winding railroad up the mountain (really UP). Landing, we had flown 12:40 hours. Here we actually came in contact with war. Saw a ship (B-17) that was pulverized... shot to pieces in the tail. It was Smitty's plane. F.P. Smith and two other men had bailed out in a spin. Haven't been heard from. None had preservers and they were about 250 miles out. That was the first taste of war... giving me a good reason for killing. "Smitty", the first one of 41-I.
12/30/99 I remember our flying over Batavia and following of the railroad at treetop height because it was so difficult to see through the tall trees. The map I was using to direct the pilot was an old road map. When we landed at Bandung, I remember we taxied up to another B-17E that was severely damaged in the tail section... elevators, rudder, etc. When we went inside the stone operations building I remember there were some American fliers lying on the marble floor sleeping. We were told they were the crew that was aboard the shot-up B-17. After meeting up with some Japanese Zero's, their aircraft had gone into a spin. During the spin three men bailed out over the water. The pilot recovered from the spin and was able to land safely at Bandung. Regarding the statement of "Smitty" as being the first one of 41-I.... He was the first one in our Aviation Cadet Class (41-I) to die.
Took off in the afternoon for final destination with another, guide plane. Had one engine conk-out so went to alternate airport. Flight of 2:25 (Djogjakarta). Spent night there.
February 15, 1942 (Sunday)
A week ago was when F.P. got his. Can't seem to forget about it. I'm not going to be much good if killing makes me feel like this. Oh well! Took off for final destination (Malang) arriving there just before dark. Took 1:25. So this is to be home. It is nice. Japs have bombed it quite a bit. All planes are very well camouflaged. Would like to send a cable (home) ... they would like it I know. I have no use for money. Might make them happy at home. Went to town for supper... place is OK. Beds are good. You would get a kick out of seeing the woman I sleep with every night... Dutch Widow. It is a long pillow that you can wrap yourself around and think you are with what you aren't. I've got a good imagination too. It is like a full duffel bag. Have come 16,000 miles from NYC.
12/31/99 F.P. refers to "Smitty" again. I remember the quarters that we were assigned. Malang was the town. Singosari was the name of the air base. It was a grass sod field, very slippery when wet and it was wet every afternoon about 5pm. I was assigned a cot bed in a large stone walled room that was a former officer’s quarters for the Dutch. There were about six of us to a room that had a very high ceiling. Each cot was draped with a tall mosquito net. The furnishings were just that. Cots and nets and oh, yes, the Dutch Widow. We had breakfast and lunch served to us by "house-boys", but were free to go to town for supper. We would eat sumptuous meals at a big hotel in the center of town after sitting outside at a corner cafe where we could watch the "five o'clock rush" take place. Every evening everyone was riding a bicycle and they streamed past as we drank our tall Heinekens in approval.