Prewar to Air Corps

Deployed to Tinian

Tinian and Coincidence

Servicing B-29 Central Fire Control Systems

Atomic Bombs and Tinian Island

Life When Not Working on Tinian

Reunions and Memories

The War Ends

Last Thoughts

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Donald Schlenger was born in Newark, New Jersey in May 1921. His father was a World War 1 veteran and was in the automotive parts business. He had his own business during the Great Depression. He had worked in the motor pool during World War 1. He worked in his father's liquor store until Prohibition, so he decided to work in the automotive business. In 1919, that was the motor equipment business. Schlenger was lucky because his father's business was okay. They did well and he did not suffer. Schlenger was at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and was driving when he heard of Pearl Harbor [Annotator’s Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] on the car radio. One of his fraternity brothers left the next day and joined the Canadian Air Force and was killed in the war. Schlenger enlisted in the Army Air Corps Reserve. He was put on a deferred basis. On 16 March 1943, he was called up for duty. His basic training was in Boca Raton, Florida. He went to communications school in New Haven at Yale [Annotator's Note: Yale University, Connecticut] and was commissioned on 11 November 1943. He was assigned to Fort Biggs [Annotator's Note: Biggs Army Airfield], El Paso, Texas as a communications training officer for B-24s [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber]. He felt he did not belong, and his CO [Annotator's Note: commanding officer] told him of a new program for a new plane called the B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber]. He applied to it and went to Denver [Annotator's Note: Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado] to learn about the B-29's Central Fire Control System [Annotator's Note: Remote Control Turret System or RCT].

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[Annotator's Note: Donald Schlenger was chosen to work on the Central Fire Control System on Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bombers at Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado]. That was a fabulous set-up with five computers and five gyroscopic sights. The original plan was to send eight bomb groups to India, but it was difficult to get to Japan. Schlenger was assigned the 359th Air Service Group training in Pratt, Kansas. The invasion of Saipan [Annotator's Note: Saipan, Mariana Islands] started while there, as well as Tinian [Annotator's Note: Tinian, Mariana Islands] and Guam [Annotator's Note: Guam, Mariana Islands]. The whole program was then changed to operate from there. When he had earlier been sent to El Paso [Annotator's Note: Schlenger spent time at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas], he felt he was not equipped to be a radio communications instructor. He had managed to squeeze through his school and did not feel qualified. He had studied Business Administration in college. He was in Pratt [Annotator's Note: Pratt, Kansas] in the 570th Air Engineering [Annotator's Note: 570th Air Engineering Squadron]. He reported to duty to Major Gaffney [Annotator's Note: no givne name provided]. Gaffney told Schlenger to arrange a dance every Saturday night and bring in women. Schlenger became the biggest procurer of women in Pratt. That was his first job with the 570th. After the Marines took Tinian, Schlenger left Seattle, Washington on 5 November 1944 on the SS Xavier. They got two meals a day. It was so rough the first few days, people were fed intravenously. They had to sit off of Hawaii for ten days while the invasion of the Philippines took place. They arrived at Tinian not long after it was secured. The Seabees [Annotator's Note: members of US naval construction battalions] were building the airfield around the clock. It had not been as bloody a battle as Saipan. There were still Japanese in the caves on Tinian. Schlenger's outfit [Annotator's Note: 570th Air Engineering Squadron, 359th Air Service Group] arrived in early December [Annotator's Note: December 1944] and was operational in another 60 days and flying missions. In the 359th Air Service Group there were 46 officers and Schlenger was the youngest. He enjoyed it. It was maturing.

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Donald Schlenger left the service and went into his father's business. In the early 1950s, he had lunch with a man selling merchandise. The man was a B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] pilot on North Field, Tinian [Annotator's Note: Tinian, Mariana Islands]. Schlenger told him a story about watching the planes there come in at night. One B-29 was coming in on one engine and just made the runway making a crash landing. Everyone survived. This man was the pilot of that airplane and took a picture out to show him. Tinian was a fascinating place. It had the best climate in the world. It was laid out like Manhattan Island and the streets were named the same. They had the best mess hall. Schlenger was friendly with the Seabees [Annotator's Note: members of US naval construction battalions]. He engineered deals with the Seabees. He traded something secret to them in exchange for an ice cream machine. His tent was on the end of the island facing Saipan. He could see Saipan from his tent. He will never forget watching the invasion fleets for both Iwo and Okinawa [Annotator's Note: Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Japan] going between the two islands day and night. The number of ships was unbelievable. He was 22 and a young kid. It was a great experience.

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Donald Schlenger only had nine people in the Central Fire Control Group. [Annotator's Note: Schlenger was in charge of the section that maintained and repaired the Central Fire Control systems for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bombers based on Tinian, Mariana Islands.] When they were initially going over Japan, they could not compensate their sights for a nose attack [Annotator's Note: B-29s being attacked head-on by Japanese fighters]. All of the computers needed field modifications to do so. There were five turrets in the plane. It had a gyroscopic sight. Information was fed into computers that controlled the sight. Schlenger had gone to school at Lowry [Annotator's Note: Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, Colorado] and there was a PFC [Annotator's Note: Private First Class] instructor younger than him. Schlenger offered to take him overseas and promised to get him promoted. He got him transferred and this private ran the whole department. They were responsible for all of the planes in the 359th [Annotator's Note: 359th Air Service Group]– probably about 120 planes at North Field, Tinian. Saipan opened first and was bombing Japan in December 1944 and had terrible casualties.

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We [Annotator's Note: the United States] were fire-bombing Japan with 800 B-29s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] per night in July 1945. 15 brand new B-29s came into Tinian with 509th Composite Group [Annotator's Note: 509th Composite Group, 313th Bombardment Wing, 20th Air Force]. Donald Schlenger says they were stripped and only had the tail turret [Annotator's Note: gun turret]. They were put behind barbed wire and had an MP [Annotator's Note: Military Police] battalion for security. He did not know what that was all about. Schlenger knew the Armament Officer of the 509th. One night at the officer's club, Schlenger asked him when he was going to get into the war. This was two weeks before Hiroshima [Annotator's Note: nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945]. The officer told him that they were going to drop two bombs and the war would be over. He told him the bombs were so powerful that they would end the war. The Enola Gay [Annotator's Note: the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic omb on Hiroshima, Japan] took off and a friend of Schlenger's got word from Washington [Annotator's Note: Washington, District of Columbia; the United States government] that if the Enola Gay crashed on take-off, they were not to do anything. The men in Schlenger's shop knew the tail gunner of the Enola Gay. He told them they could not believe what it was like to see the plume of the bomb. They got word of the second bomb [Annotator's Note: nuclear weapon dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945]. The war ended and Schlenger was jubilant. If we [Annotator's Note: the United States] had not dropped the atomic bomb, the same thing that happened at Iwo and Okinawa [Annotator's Note: Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Japan] would have happened in an invasion of Japan. It would have been the bloodiest battle in the world. At the time, the largest hospital west of Hawaii was being built on Tinian [Annotator's Note: Tinian, Mariana Islands] in preparation for the invasion of Japan. That also meant there were 700 nurses there, so that made life on Tinian interesting. The greatest beaches were on Tinian and the nurses had to be kept entertained.

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When not working, Donald Schlenger would play poker. The 58th Bomb Wing [Annotator's Note: 58th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy), 20th Air Force] came in from India and built a great officers club. They had the biggest crap game he had ever seen. Some guys made a lot of money. They played baseball a lot. They would go over the Saipan [Annotator's Note: Saipan, Mariana Islands] and play the 73rd Wing [Annotator's Note: 73rd Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy), XXI Bomber Command]. His best friend was with the 6th Marine Division going into Okinawa [Annotator's Note: Okinawa, Japan]. He came over to visit just a short time before Okinawa [Annotator's Note: the invasion of Okinawa, Japan on 1 April 1945]. His friend had left his weapons belt on Schlenger's bed. He made it and is still around. Schlenger was on Tinian more than a year and a half from July 1944 until February 1946. After the war ended, Schlenger was the basketball coach for the Pacific Olympics. He never flew in a B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber]. He flew B-24s [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] and B-25s [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber]. He saw so many of them [Annotator's Note: B-29s] crash on landings. There was a high mortality rate. When he arrived at Tinian [Annotator's Note: Tinian, Mariana Islands], the cemetery was small; when he left it was big. He kept up with the war in Europe. There was a lot of entertainment. He remembers the Gertrude Lawrence [Annotator's Note: English actress, singer, dancer] USO [Annotator's Note: United Services Organization] show. He flew down to Guam [Annotator's Note: Guam, Mariana Islands] once, but does not remember what kind of plane. He knew President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States] was dying. He was not a great admirer of his and does not recall what his reaction to his death was. He only knew of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) bringing the atomic bombs over after it happened. [Annotator's Note: Schlenger and the interviewer discuss the Japanese sinking the ship by submarine on 30 July 1945.]

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Donald Schlenger says Louis Zamperini [Annotator's Note: US Army Air Forces Captain Louis Silvie Zamperini; Zamperini's oral history interview is also available on this Digital Collections website] was a great man. Schlenger saw Zamperini run once. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer relates a story about Zamperini being in the 1936 Olympics in Germany.] Schlenger was out to dinner and ran into Marty Mertz. They were talking about the war and Mertz said he was a navigator on B-29s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] on Tinian [Annotator's Note: Tinian, Mariana Islands]. They probably shot craps [Annotator's Note: dice game] together. He visited Schlenger and they were looking at pictures. Schlenger has a picture of himself sitting in Mertz's airplane. He wonders about stories like this. [Annotator's Note: Schlenger has packets of pictures he looks at and shows to the interviewer.] One night, a B-29 was taking off on a mining mission when an engine cut-out and it plowed into a row of planes, damaging 39 of them. Schlenger got a call from a friend on Saipan [Annotator's Note: Saipan, Mariana Islands] who asked if they were blowing up the island. [Annotator's Note: Schlenger wants to take a break to look at some very important pictures and a woman comes over to look at the pictures and they argue about saving them or giving them to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana].

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When the war ended, there was nothing for Donald Schlenger to do. They did a lot of baseball playing. The nurses were moved out. The Pacific Olympics kept them busy. On Tinian [Annotator's Note: Tinian, Mariana Islands], they had the largest mountain of beer that could be imagined. Four of them were very close and lived together. They drank beer, went to the beach, and played baseball. He gained 30 pounds in that period. Decadent living. Schlenger had arrived in December 1944 and left in February 1946. He felt the military did a great job taking care of them. They got meat from Australia. They had all the beer you ever wanted. His most memorable experience was dropping the bomb on Hiroshima [Annotator's Note: Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945]. Nothing could take the place of that. [Annotator's Note: Schlenger's wife comes to look at some pictures.] They were preparing for an invasion of Japan. After seeing the invasion fleets going into Iwo and going into Okinawa [Annotator's Note: Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Japan], you could imagine [Annotator's Note: he does not finish the thought]. Schlenger was discharged in April 1946 as a Captain. He stayed in the Reserves and they attempted to recall him for the Korean War, but he had a medical problem at the time and did not go. He did not use the G.I. Bill as he had his college degree already. He had started his basic training the day after he graduated.

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Donald Schlenger was happier in the military than being a civilian after the war. Schlenger feels there should be a compulsory draft. He never had any psychological issues. The war was a maturing experience. He came out of college as a young kid and he found out he was able to get along better with people and he learned a lot living with people, directing people. He saw a lot of people end up as psychiatric cases, but he had a great time in the service. He was working in his shop on the airstrip one day when two planes collided over the airfield. An old time Army guy told him not to go out there and said he did not want to see what he was going to see. You learn from meeting and talking to people. He matured more than anything else. He knows it contributed to his success in life, no question. He has read a lot and he thinks Churchill [Annotator's Note: British Prime Minister Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill] was the greatest man of our time. He had mixed emotions when FDR [Annotator's Note: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States] died. He did not work with Churchill early enough and only came along reluctantly. This country should have learned from World War 2 that there are certain things you have to do to preserve our way of life. After Dunkirk [Annotator's Note: Evacuation of Dunkirk in May and June 1940], the Germans could easily have conquered England. Where would be today? The job this country did in mobilizing was unreal. [Annotator's Note: Schlenger answers the telephone.] Schlenger feels that it is most important that The National WWII Museum [Annotator's Note: in New Orleans, Louisiana] becomes the museum to teach young people what his generation did to save the world.

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