Pilot: Leonard Dietz | Nickname: ? | Rank: ? | Squadron: 462nd | Plane: 643 Providence Permitten | S/N: 472855

Swift Wings over Honshu
by
Leonard A. Dietz

Introduction
Aviation was my first love. In 1927, as a four and a half year old boy on the family farm near Manistee, Michigan, I listened on a battery-powered' radio to the exciting reports of Charles Lindbergh's historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. From that time on, I longed to become a pilot. My dream was realized when I became a fighter pilot during World War II and developed a professional level of flying skill far beyond my wildest boyhood dreams. My fellow pilots and I were children of The Great Depression. Many of us, including me, learned how to fly airplanes before we learned how to drive cars. We were young, and for most of us flying airplanes was our first responsible adult occupation.

This narrative is a brief personal account of what my fellow fighter pilots and I experienced on Iwo jima (Sulphur Island) flying very long range (VLR) bomber escort and strafing missions over the North Pacific Ocean to-Japan during the last several months of the war. These were the longest fighter missions flown routinely during World War II, a difficult assignment that stretched pilot and aircraft endurance to their absolute limits. For example, there were no alternative landing sites between Iwo jlma and Japan, and we had no way of navigating accurately over the ocean, so B-29 bomber-crews did it for us. Bad weather' occurred unpredictably and frequently. It llmlted the number of missions we flew, otherwise many more of our pilots and aircraft would have been lost.

Background information for this story was gleaned from memories of what I experienced, my military pilot's official flight log, personal papers and official documents.

Wartime Demands Motivated Trainee Fighter Pilots
Learning how to fly high performance airplanes skillfully is an extraordinary and unforgettable life experience. After becoming a pilot, one sees planet Earth in a new and greatly enlarged perspective and appreciates with new Insight the marvellous flying ability of birds. We all loved flying, but few if any of us fit the Hollywood stereotype of a fighter pilot; aggressive remainder of our group, about 65 pilots, five non-pilot officers and several hundred enlisted men, embarked on a passenger ship and sailed separately to Iwo jirna, It took a week of sailing In very stormy weather to reach Honolulu and approximately another week In calmer seas to reach Guam. In March one evening at dusk I was walking down a street near a barracks in Agana, the capitol city of Guam, when several personnel carriers loaded with troops drove up. I stopped and watched as the men began to dismount. They wore camoufiaged battle fatigues, helmets and packs, and each carried a rifle. These silent, somber men moved slowly and appeared totally exhausted in mind and body. ~Who are they?," I asked a soldier standing next to me. He replied, "They're Marines, coming from Iwo jlrna." These men were some of the survivors of the ghastly battle still in progress on Iwo jima.

A Pllot's Perspective of World War
My recollections of World War II events depend strongly on visual images; these are a critical part of every pilot's experience. A sequence of remembered images experienced during a combat mission forms a vignette. Each mission is a difIerent vignette containing new experiences and different dangers. Those that made the greatest impression on me at the time are. included here with detalls about flying added at appropriate points in the . narrative. I hope the reader will experience vicariously some of the fears and concerns that troubled us. The spectacle of war in the air and its terrible consequences for many of those who fought it will become apparent. If the experiences of thousands of other airmen could be. recorded and added to my limited experlence,.it still would give only the barest glimpse of the realIty of war in the air.

I learned that war is not glorious but is about suffering and dying. Less destructive ways than going to war must be found for resolving disputes between ethnlc groups and nations. More than half a century has passed since World War II was fought, yet what happened then Is relevant today. The extreme stresses placed on. individuals and- the horrors of war have not changed, nor will they ever. War is a vile and evil business that blights everything it touches, robs-individuals of their lives and futures, and forces many good people to do bad things against their better natures. My belief that war must be abolished did not become fully developed until I had children and became concerned about their futures.
Joining the Army Air Corps and Becoming a Pilot In the'fall of 1942, I was enrolled at Michigan State College {now

Marking Time on Tlnlan
After several weeks on Guam we flew to Tlnlan, about 130 mi. northeast of Guam. where we waited a month for the Marines to secure Iwo jlrna and Seabee battalions to finish constructing a single-strip runway for us on the north end of Iwo. The days were beautiful. warm and sunny. and we had little to do. From time to time I walked to a rise overlooking North-Tlnlan Field, a huge B-29 airfield. I watched the bombers being loaded. their air crews boarding them In late afternoon. starting the engines. taxiing out to the
runway and at takeoff struggling to become airborne. As they turned and headed north In single file, climbing to altitude, I wondered. "Which Japanese city will be destroyed tonight?" A Boeing B-29 Superfortress carried up to three times the bomb load of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress used In Europe. Each major air raid on a Japanese city was as destructive as the fire bombing of Dresden. Germany. The surreal nature of the air war.against Japan already was becoming apparent to me. I felt frustrated and helpless that
everyone was In the grip of titanic forces over which we had no Influence or control. Several months later Little Boy. a uranium atomic bomb. was flown in a B-29 from this airfield to Hiroshima, destroying it. Three days later Fat Man, a plutonium atomic bomb, left here and destroyed most of Nagasaki.

Iwo jlrna
Iwo jlrna Is a small Island in the North Pacific Ocean. approximately 750 mi. south of Tokyo. Invading this island was the most costly campaign in U.S. Marine Corps history. Approximately 20,000 Japanese defenders died here, along with 6,800 American Marines dead, plus 200 missing in action and nearly 22,000 more Marines wounded, in one of the most savage and bloody battles of World War II.

In May the Marines had secured Iwo lima, our air strip was ready and we prepared for the BOO mile flight from Tinlan to Iwo. I was assigned to be our group commander's wingman, an unexpected honor, especially since I had not flown with Col. Harper before. At takeoff time on the morning of May 11th, he and I sat In our. airplanes on the end of the runway, engines idling as we waited for the 506th Group to queue up behind us on the taxi strips. I was positioned on Harper's right, in my half of the runway and slightly back of his right wing. The six 50-caliber machine guns in my wings were loaded and armed. While Sitting there waiting, I suddenly realized this was a major turning point in my life. Until this moment flying had been fun, but now we must pay the piper. Colonel Harper turned his head toward me and signaled with his right hand, then In formation we accelerated down the runway and soon became airborne. As we climbed rapidly into the sky, circling to the left, from time to time I glanced back to observe the long line of Mustangs in pairs, spiraling upward toward us from the airfield now far below. Elements of two formed into flights of four and the flights into squadrons of sixteen airplanes each. In approximately fifteen minutes the entire group was airborne. We climbed to 10,000 feet altitude and rendezvoused with several B-29 bombers, whose crews navigated for us as we flew north over the Pacific Ocean. On long flights we always cruised at this altitude-so that we did not need to use any of our limited oxygen supply.

Three hours later we arrived at Iwo lima, under an overcast sky on the verge of rain .. My first view of Iwo lima was depressing as we buzzed our 7,000 ft. runway strip called North Field and prepared to land. The barren earth beneath my wings looked like a lunar landscape, pockmarked everywhere by. shell fire. I could see no trace of any living green plant, shrub or tree. We landed, and on the ground Iwo lima was much more depressing. The stench of death was everywhere and could not be avoided. It persisted for many weeks and became especially bad after earth was bulldozed or during a rain, when parts of bodies washed out of the hillsides. The seven square miles of Iwo lima was a charnel house.


We arked our airplanes alongside the airstrip and stowed our parachutes, flotation vests, emergency survival ts an 0 er y ng gear n tents at the flight line. Friends and comrades we had not seen in three months greeted us enthusiastically. Then we were taken in personnel carriers to our bivouac area. Stlll dressed in our tan summer coverall flying suits and wearing steel infantry helmets, 45-callber pistols on our .right hips, mess kits in hand, the 55 of us walked silently in single file, down a steep path to an open air mess, where we were served a meal. It was a small, crowded area with no place to sit. I looked around and saw, not twenty feet away, the (to be continued...

 

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