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Allergic To Combat

When they dropped the atom bomb we were happy about it.

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Henderson begins the interview stating that he wouldn't be there if not for the actions of B-24 crewman.Henderson's father was a successful farmer until the depression. He did hard farm labor until he finished high school at age 16. He told his mother and father that he was leaving the farm at 17. He worked at several other jobs until World War II began.When Henderson was five years old the farm that he farmed was right in line with the pilots flying from San Antonio to Fort Worth, Texas. Every now and then they would come over at a very low level. Henderson believes that the pilots were cadets flying in a B-19 on navigation training. The cadets would wave at the kids on the ground. He indicated that he would like to fly and his father told him that the pilots were probably the sons of generals or congressmen. It took a lot of pull to get into the Army Air Corps and his father said he would never be able to do it.When World War II broke out, if you could show skills, you could fly. Henderson tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps at the age of 18 but his mother refused to sign for him. When it was announced that the military would begin drafting 18 year olds his mother signed for him.Henderson went to San Antonio, Texas to take the cadet exam and passed it. He was sworn in as a reservist then sent home in October 1942. In January 1943 Henderson was called up but not as a cadet. He felt he had been double crossed.He was sent to Sheppard Field, Texas. There were so many people being sent to Sheppard Field that it was eight days before Henderson was issued a uniform. They took training as enlisted men, not as cadets. One night after a 25 mile hike, Henderson was called out to stand retreat with rifle and leggings. When that was over he was really tired but was called out of bed to take an exam.Henderson later learned that the aviation cadets were being tested, and then sent as aviation students to college. He went to Oklahoma City University. The students were quartered in old fair grounds. He hadn't done well in the exam and was to stay at the university for four months. Henderson appreciated the strict discipline at school because he got an education that helped him later in the cadet program.He still wanted to go to pilot school. He got six hours in a Cub Cadet when his class was terminated. The other three classes had been sent to San Antonio for aviation cadet training. He was sent to Santa Ana, California for pre-flight.In Santa Ana they were classified. Out of the 100 men only two were able to go to pilot school and Henderson believes that they had some kind of help. The rest of them were classified as navigators and bombardiers. He was classified as a bombardier because he did not have enough math for navigation.After pre-flight it was determined that the crews needed a gunnery officer so they were sent to Kingman, Arizona for gunnery school. They were at gunnery school as aviation students. Typically, at the completion of gunnery school a soldier got a two stripes [Annotator's Note: promoted to corporal] and a raise in pay to 60 dollars per month. Since half of your pay would be flight pay, they should have been able to draw 90 dollars per month. Instead they were paid 75 dollars per month.Kingman, Arizona was desert and the men never went into town during their off time because the town only consisted of a feed store and a gas station.

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Henderson flew as a tail gunner on a B-17 [Annotator’s Note: American B-17 Flying Fortress bomber] until his last training mission. Their last mission was an extremely low level mission. Cadets had to volunteer to get in the ball turret. Henderson volunteered. He thought it was great. He loved it. The pilots got down very low and Henderson was able to shoot at anything he wanted to. After gunnery school he was sent to bombardier school in New Mexico. After bombardier school it was decided that they would be given six weeks of dead reckoning navigation.Henderson flew combat over the Hump and from central China to eastern China as a navigator. Henderson flew 22 combat missions as a bombardier and 12 missions as a navigator flying gasoline from India to China and from central China to eastern China.After bombardier school Henderson was sent to Tonopah, Nevada. When he finished training at Tonopah he was sent to Hamilton Field, California where they picked up a brand new B-24 [Annotator’s Note: American B-24 Liberator bomber]. They were proud of that plane. The group had all of their summer clothes taken from them and issued heavy winter clothing. They then were ordered east. They were ordered to fly from Maine to Newfoundland and to open their sealed orders when they were one hour out of the US. They opened their orders and saw that they were being assigned to Karachi, India [Annotator’s Note: present day Pakistan]. All they had was heavy winter clothes. It turned out that their new plane was a lemon [Annotator’s Note: something considered to be useless or defective.]They flew through a terrible storm flying into the Azores. From the Azores they flew to Tunis, Morocco where they lost an engine. After repairs they flew through Egypt and Oran to Karachi, India. In Karachi they lost another engine and had to wait 20 days for a replacement engine to come from the United States. In those days GIs didn't get pay until they reached their new station so they wer all broke and limited to eating GI food at the mess hall. After a stop in New Delhi for fuel they arrived in Pandaveswar, India which was the home of the 7th Bombardment Group.The 7th Bomb Group had four squadrons of B-24s. The 493rd bombardment squadron were at Pandaveswar and 5 miles away were the 436th "Outlaw" Squadron and the 492nd Squadron, which Henderson later spent ten years in flying in B-52s and B-36s.When Henderson's crew landed in Pandavesawr they were assigned the bunks of a crew that had been lost that day. It was a sad way to be introduced to combat.Henderson flew a mission soon after arriving with a crew that was not his own. On that mission he had the first of several bomb malfunctions. They would hook the arming wires over the release arms on the bomb shackles so if they had to salvo the bombs the wires were pulled out of the bombs and they went away armed. When they got to the bomb release point the bombs didn't fall. The navigator, who was an old hand, yelled to hit the salvo handle. He did and the bombs dropped even though Henderson knows that they were long [Annotator's Note: they fell past the target]. They were hitting Mandalay and the port in Mandalay. Henderson and his crew found themselves in the middle of a war between Stillwell [Annotator's Note: US Army General Joseph W. Stilwell] and Chenault [Annotator's Note: US Army Air Force Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chenault]. Chenault wanted to win it in the air and Stilwell knew it had to be won on the ground. There was much bitterness between the two. Chenault won out and that is the reason the Henderson's outfit went to China in December 1944. That's where they started hauling gasoline.The planes hauled gasoline to airbases that were in Japanese territory. They could fly the 500 miles over enemy territory because they had guns on board.They brought twenty planes to China in December 1944 and in February 1945 they brought ten of them home. 

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They got to the target [Annotator’s Note: Bridge on the River Kwai] at 9:00 in the morning and no other aircraft were there. They didn't have enough fuel to loiter so they went in after the target.Henderson dropped two bombs and got one hit. The pilot turned around for another run. By now the Japanese antiaircraft gunners had them zeroed in. Henderson dropped two more bombs which missed. On the third pass Henderson dropped his last two bombs. They also missed. As they pulled up they got clobbered by antiaircraft fire. The plane was heavily damaged.They got away from the target area. They flew out to the Andaman Islands. They didn't want to bail out over the jungle. They decided to try to continue on.They got to Akyab [Annotator’s Note: now Sittwe, Burma/Myanmar] and the pilot decided that he was going to try to save the airplane. When the plane hit the beach the main gear hit a wash of water that the pilot hadn't seen, the nose and nose gear broke off. All ten crewmen got out of the plane. The British had been tracking their IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) and an hour after they hit the ground they were on an aircraft to Akyab. Two hours after hitting the ground they were on a B-24 [Annotator’s Note: American B-24 Liberator bomber] headed back to their home base.The crew was given 3 days rest leave then sent right back into combat. Henderson believes that had they been in Europe they would have been sent home to the US.The 7th Bombardment Group started dive bombing wit the B-24s. Henderson flew a number of dive bombing training missions. He didn't like them.

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They got to the target [Annotator’s Note: Burma railway] at 9:00 in the morning and no other aircraft were there. They didn't have enough fuel to loiter so they went in after the target.Henderson dropped two bombs and got one hit. The pilot turned around for another run. By now the Japanese antiaircraft gunners had them zeroed in. Henderson dropped two more bombs which missed. On the third pass Henderson dropped his last two bombs. They also missed. As they pulled up they got clobbered by antiaircraft fire. The plane was heavily damaged.They got away from the target area. They flew out to the Andaman Islands. They didn't want to bail out over the jungle. They decided to try to continue on.They got to Akyab [Annotator’s Note: now Sittwe, Burma/Myanmar] and the pilot decided that he was going to try to save the airplane. When the plane hit the beach the main gear hit a wash of water that the pilot hadn't seen, the nose and nose gear broke off. All ten crewmen got out of the plane. The British had been tracking their IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) and an hour after they hit the ground they were on an aircraft to Akyab. Two hours after hitting the ground they were on a B-24 [Annotator’s Note: American B-24 Liberator bomber] headed back to their home base.The crew was given three days rest leave then sent right back into combat. Henderson believes that had they been in Europe they would have been sent home to the US.The 7th Bombardment Group started dive bombing with the B-24s. Henderson flew a number of dive bombing training missions. He didn't like them.

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Their first dive bombing mission was a railroad trestle in Burma. Henderson lined up over his bomb sight. He dropped his bombs and when the pilot pulled up he heard a loud noise behind him. He was immediately called by the pilot who informed him that Brad, the copilot, had been hit and that he was needed in the cockpit.Henderson got the copilot out of his seat. He put sulfa powder on the wound then cut the man’s shoe off. He applied a tourniquet and a splint and would loosen the tourniquet every 20 minutes.Years later, after Henderson wrote his book, the navigator on that flight wrote to him stating that he had never seen so much blood coming from a person before in his life and that person live.The pilot decided to land at the base at Akyab [Annotator’s Note: now Sittwe, Burma/Myanmar]. He needed Henderson's help to land the plane. Henderson got in the copilot's seat and cut the switches as soon as they touched down.The copilot was taken to the hospital and given blood plasma. The crew went to the hospital and gave blood for him.Henderson told the flight surgeon what he had done and when he had done it. The flight surgeon stated that Henderson had saved the man’s life and his leg.Henderson was not decorated for what he had done. He got his reward years later when his second crew reunion was held at his copilot's house in Montana. The copilot's mother was there greeting the people as they arrived at the house. When Henderson was introduced to her she hugged and thanke him for saving her son's life.Later a very important mission came up. They were going to attack a battleship which had been anchored in Rangoon for the entire war. They were to attack it at a flying level of 2000 feet. It was the only mission Henderson flew where he felt that he had no chance of survival.When they got to within 100 miles of where the battleship was supposed to be they were told that the British had gotten the ship and that they could turn around and go home.It was decided again that they were going to make another gas haul. Three of their squadrons went to haul fuel. The other squadron, the 493rd, stayed behind to test the Azon bomb.Henderson volunteered as base laundry officer. The machine consisted of a large water tank, three 50 gallon drums with a rod running through them and doors cut in them, and a small Briggs and Stratton engine connected to it with a belt.While there they were told that they were going to China and would fly as lead units from China to Japan. The war in Europe was over.When the atom bomb was dropped they were very happy about it. The B-24s would have been more vulnerable than the B-29s [Annotator’s Note: both American bombers] that had been hitting Japan. 

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In September Henderson was on a flight to China as navigator. He was with a crew that had to bail out on the flight before that. They had run into a bad storm. The crew bailed out but their navigator and a few other crewmen didn't survive the bail out.They flew a zigzag route. When they got to their destination they were told that they had to stay the night because of bad weather. They were put in a machinegun position and told that the communists were on the attack. A substation had already been lost and they were ordered to shoot anything trying to cross the river no matter what it was.The next morning they were told that they could take off. They could go home but were not to talk about what they had been told to anyone.When Henderson got home [Annotator's Note: his home airfield in India] he learned that all of the bombardiers, even those who had not flown any missions, had already been sent home. He was furious. He went to the First Sergeant who acknowledged the mistake and put him on a plane to Calcutta.He went aboard a liberty ship. On board there were the men returning home and 300 monkeys in cages up on deck which stunk. When they got to Ceylon [Annotator's Note: present day Sri Lanka] the British harbor pilot crashed the liberty ship, breaking open the front end of the ship.After eight days there they headed for the Suez Canal. When they got out into the Atlantic the sea was very rough. After that Henderson swore that he would never get on a ship as long as he lived.They were supposed to enter New York for the monkeys to be offloaded. They were to be used for polio experiments.They were refused entrance to New York Harbor. The dock workers were on strike and not taking any ships. There were eighty officers and civilians aboard ship.There was a captain aboard who had not seen a Caucasian woman in three years. He had transported supplies to friendly natives and in return they gave him a jade necklace for his wife.After several hours they were informed that Baltimore, Maryland would let them dock there. The people in Baltimore couldn't do enough for them. Henderson had never received such good treatment in his life. They got there at midday and by 8:00 the next morning they had their orders and train tickets home.Henderson went to San Antonio, Texas. He had had very little leave during the three years he was in the service and had a lot of leave accumulated. After going on battle leave he went to San Antonio to be separated [Annotator's Note: Separated from service]. He ran into a friend named Jim Dinova [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] from bombardier school. Jim told Henderson that if he stayed in he could assign him to a good job but he would lose his flight status. He said no but agreed to sign up for the reserves. He was called up for the Korean War.Henderson doesn't want to get into talking about serving during the Korean War and in Vietnam.Henderson feels that he should have died about eight times during World War II. 

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They would listen to Tokyo Rose [Annotator’s Note: English-speaking women broadcasters of Japanese propaganda]when they could get her up in the air. They had no radios down on the ground because they didn't have electricity.They had two good intelligence officers but had no idea what the prisoners working on the railroad were doing. Had they known they would have thrown food out of the window when they passed over the target.When Henderson's crew was on a 16 hour mission to Kurat they picked u Tokyo Rose. She made a comment welcoming the 7th Bombardment Group to Kurat and stated that they would be meeting them. He has no idea how the Japanese knew that they were headed there.Some of Henderson's crew is still living although most are not in good health.They would always put the arming wires over the shackles so that if they had to salvo the bombs they would go out armed. During one mission Henderson released the bombs. He thought they had all gone out and was surprised when he got a call from the flight engineer telling him that they had loose bombs in the bay. Henderson ripped off his parachute, grabbed a screwdriver, and headed into the bomb bay. The pilot turned control of the plane over to the copilot.Henderson saw that the bottom bomb had hung up and the others fell down onto it. The arming wires had been pulled out and they were spinning. Henderson knew that they didn't have long to get the bombs out of there because once armed, if the bombs clanged together they would blow the airplane up. He went out onto the eight inch wide catwalk over the open bomb bay and loosened the screw on the bottom bomb. Away the bombs went. Henderson's pilot had been watching and told him that he thought the bombs were going to drag him out with them.Henderson does not recall what target they were going to.He knows that they were going to a target in Burma when the antipersonnel bombs they were carrying hung up. Henderson had to jettison them when they got out over the water. He was criticized for doing so. He states that they [Annotator's Note: high ranking officers] were always ready to criticize but never ready to praise when you did something good.Henderson feels that he is prejudiced when talking about his superior officers. The officer who criticized him for dropping his bombs over the water was the type that if he didn't get an award he didn't want anyone else to get one.The flight engineer on the aircraft that took off on three engines was from his squadron. Henderson went to a China/Burma/India veterans meeting in Dallas where the engineer was living. They hadn't been promoted so they went to see their squadron commander who told them that he decided when people got promoted.Henderson hit Rangoon [Annotator’s Note: Thailand] three times. He feels that Rangoon was the heaviest defended target. It was more defended than Bangkok was. There was always heavy flak at Rangoon and the Burma Shell oilfields. 

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There were balloons in the air and was some antiaircraft fire over Bangkok [Annotator’s Note: Thailand] but it was nothing like the antiaircraft fire over Rangoon. The heaviest antiaircraft fire they got was over the Burma Shell oilfields. On that mission the British led them in. Henderson would rather lead than follow another squadron.Bobby Mathis had received his orders and had flown all of his missions. Henderson's navigator couldn't fly so Mathis flew with them. Henderson saw it as bad luc flying with a new crewman. Their plane was hit with a 20 millimeter that hit a gas tank. The tank sealed itself.Bobby made it home to Wichita Falls.Henderson had been criticized for the way he bombed a bridge. He had hit it at a 90 degree angle instead of hitting it length wise. On another case of a substitute crew member, Henderson flew as bombardier. They flew into bad weather. The pilot tried to get below the weather and got so low that they were hit by a four inch piece of a tree.The pilot of that plane was on his way to a state meeting of China/Burma/India veterans when he was killed in an accident at a rest stop.Primarily, Henderson's outfit was trying to cut the Japanese supply lines which for the most part they did.Henderson reads everything he can find on the China/Burma/India Theater.Henderson bombed an enemy troop concentration in Burma. They were supporting the British.

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Henderson's outfit was hit by enemy fighters pretty heavy on one mission. His plane was not hit. It was a long mission and they had to get more gasoline. The copilot of one plane asked if they had seen the pass that the last fighter had made on him. Then he looked and saw a string of bullet holes in the bomb bay.During a night mission Henderson had a Japanese fighter fly up next to his plane but it didn't attack them.They had complete mastery of the air by the time Henderson got into the theater. The older airmen had experienced enemy fighters but he rarely ever saw one. Once the got the P-51s [Annotator’s Note: American P-51 Mustang fighter planes] they had complete mastery of the air.Four years prior to the interview the Collins Foundation brought in a B-17 and a B-24 [Annotator’s Note: American bombers]. Henderson's children thought he would like to fly in a B-24 again and bought him a ticket.He thought that after flying combat missions in a B-52 he doesn't know how he flew his missions in one of those old buckets of bolts.The B-24 was a good aircraft but it couldn't take a lot of combat damage. The B-17 could take more combat damage but the B-24 carried a heavier bomb load and had longer range. The B-17 was more comfortable.Everything Consolidated ever built including the B-24 and the B-36 was all about the bomb bay and the hell with the crew.Henderson feels that Chiang Kai-shek was a crook who conned President Roosevelt. They knew that of the supplies they were flying over, 20 percent was being held back so Chiang could fight the communists. Henderson doesn't have much respect for Chiang Kai-shek.Henderson feels that the war changed him. He had a different outlook on life when he came home. He wasn't war weary although he was told that he laughed constantly when he got home.He never spoke about the war; he wrote a book. His daughter-in-law convinced him to record his experiences. He also wrote an article for an Air Force magazine. The best chapter in his book is a story that was sent to him about the only prisoner to successfully escape.Henderson feels that World War II was the best thing to happen to America. It was bad that we had to lose so many lives but it moved us forward as well.World War II changed the world in a number of ways. Henderson does not support communism but acknowledges what it did for China during the war.There were many advances in technology and in the way we live that are direct results of the war. 

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