506th Fighter Group - Iwo to Japan
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In the costliest battle of World War II, 4,891 U. S. Marines lost their lives in the assault beginning 19 Feb 45 on Iwo 660 miles southeast of Tokyo. It soon became a haven for battle damaged or fuel short B-29s returning from Japan. From 4 Mar 45 to war's end some 2,400 Superfortresses made emergency landings at Iwo involving some 25,000 airmen in addition to those who had bailed out or ditched in the vicinity. The largest number of B-29s to land at Iwo after a single mission was on 8 Aug 45 after the attack on Yawata when 100 landed. The busiest day on Iwo was 24 Jul 45 when 197 B-29s landed after nine separate attacks over the Japanese homeland.
Iwo Jima also served as the base for four Groups and two Squadrons of the VII Fighter Command flying P-51s, P-47s and P-61s and assigned to the 20th Air Force. From Apr to Aug 45 they flew 51 escort and strike missions over Japan, damaged or destroyed 1,062 enemy aircraft and lost 114 fighters in combat. By war's end the Iwo Fighter Groups numbered over 11,000 men with 174 killed or missing in action.
Letters From Iwo Series
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From The Beginning
The nature of war in the Central Pacific had been different from any other. The operational objectives had not been to gain land masses or capture cities. Rather, each island objective seized became an airfield from which the next jump forward could be supported. For the B-29's Superfortress of the XXI Bomber Command, the Marianas represented the beginning of the war's final phase. From bases on Guam (MAP), Tinian(Map)(Satellite View), and Saipan (MAP)(Satellite View) the heavy bombers were finally within range of Japan proper. Beginning on Thanksgiving Day 1944, the Superfortress massive bomb loads would be directed at Japan's industrial centers.
Lt. Proctor Thompson Group Headquarters Ground Echelon
At Fort Lawton staging area, the processing routine was simple: a perfunctory medical examination, a lecture on censorship, a session at the obstacle course, and the inspection of weapons."
Two P-51 groups were ready to move into Iwo just as soon as facilities could be readied for them. The Mustang's seven-league boots were legendary in the European Theater, where the war was almost over, as Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51 s easily flew from southeastern England to Berlin and back, nearly 1,200 statute miles. A few 1,500-mile shuttle missions from England to the Ukraine had also been undertaken, but once P-51s were based on Iwo they would fly round-trips of that distance as a matter of routine.
Pilots of the air echelon in P-51D aircraft arrived Iwo Jima (Map)(Satellite View) from Tinian (Map)(Satellite View) on 11 May 1945. Ground personnel of the air echelon arrived Iwo Jima in Transport Air Group from Tinian C-46's on 19 May l945. Killed in Action 1st Lt Roland E. Carter, 0-793563, Captain Kensley M. Miller, 0-65974-7. Lt Carter was killed 13 May 1945 in the crash of his P-51D when he undershot the southwest runway of North Field at the conclusion of a weather check flight.Letters From Iwo Jima: The Air War
Captain Miller was killed 26 May, presumably by enemy ground fire, while on a strafing run against Imba A/F, Japan. Strength, 1 May I945: 64 Officers, 254 EM Strength, 31 May 1945: 68 Officers, 254 EM
Planes on hand, 1 May 1945: 25 P-51D's
Planes on hand, 31 May 1945: 25 P-51D's
Losses Four (4) P-51D aircraft as follows:
16 May 1945 - Lt Carter crashed on landing. 18 May 1945 - Lt. Veld ran off the end of the runway. 27 May I945 - Lt Torgerson bailed out at sea. 23 May 1945 - Captain K. M. Miller crashed on Imba K/7, Japan.
From the 1st to the 10th of May the air echelon pilots were engaged in perfecting mutual support tactics cc West Field #4 Tinian (Map)(Satellite View) and awaiting a weather clearance for the trip to Iwo Jima (Map)(Satellite View) . Information was sent to AAFICA and ISCOM Tinian by 7th Fighter Command that North Field (see maps above) would be ready for the Air Echelon by noon of the 5th. Weather was not the only factor hampering the schedules arrival of the Echelon. Supply shortages, 110 gallon wing tanks in this case, played their usual role increasingly impatient with the promises that the tanks would arrive at Tinian *any day now* the air Echelon flew it's ships to Depot Field, Guam (MAP)(Satellite View) and installed the tanks and returned to West Field #4 for the finishing touches by maintenance personnel. B-29 escort having been secured for the 313th Wing, the trip was accomplished about noon on the 11th. (At Tinian from 1 to 10 May a total of 222.5 hours of flying time were logged by the 506th pilots)
Unit History 506th Fighter Group May 1945 Epilogue
Orderly room soldiers who had never done anything more risky than jump off the moving creeper at Hickam Field were suddenly pulling guard on a battlefield through long terror-filled nights. Pandanus tree skeletons waved weirdly against the sky, rocks clattered down the slopes of Suribachi, trip-flares shot suddenly skyward from the incredible confusion of the supply-jammed beaches, terrified animals darted about, and through the night japs crept from their caves in search of food and water, flung grenades from out of nowhere. Iwo was never silent. Guards fired at the slightest rustle. Men lay tensely awake in their foxholes, listening to shells lobbed in from the north end of the island, the scattered pop of carbine's and the dreary roar of surf breaking over wrecked landing barges. Unending was the clang of the engineers and Seabees who worked all day under the dust-veiled sun and all night under the glare of arc lights moving the shell-torn earth. Never in this Pacific war was so much fighting and dying, heaving, hauling and building crowded into so little space. Iwo was the Japs' isle of desperation and the Japs died for every handful of its dust. The only apparent sign of order in the incredible confusion was the geometric pattern of white crosses. But Iwo had to be lived on, too. On March 4, a B-29 returning from the Empire made the first emergency landing on Iwo Jima. It was no corny impulse which made crewmen stoop and kiss the sulphur-fouled ash of the island. It had saved them from the watery end that had claimed so many of their buddies in fatal ditchings. Now when weather cut their fuel margin, or when battle damage killed their engines, they could live to fly another mission. When the Iwo Combat Staging Center got into high gear, as many as 50 to 60 Superforts were landing at one time for essential repairs after tough raids or to fuel up for extra long missions.
Fighter pilots came in early, early enough to die horribly in the banzai attack when a band of Japs slit into their tents at dawn. The pilots and ground personnel fought them off like infantrymen. So when Mustangs got off on their first Empire mission on April 7 escorting B-29s to Tokyo, they had a highly personal score to settle with the Nips. Many Jap fighters went down before the guns of Iwo Mustang pilots. And P-5I kills in the air rapidly spelled the end of Jap ability or will. When aerial resistance faltered, Iwo fighters took to the dangerous task of ground strafing. Scores of Jap planes, hangars and ships were shot rocketed to bits. By V-J day Iwo was shaped up into a first class Pacific base and had balanced the high price Americans paid for its possession.
Arriving at Iwo
The three Squadrons (457th, 458th, and 462nd) of the Group had similar markings in different colors and also had different series of ident numbers (457th 500-549, 458th 550-599, and 462nd 600-649). The squadron markings consisted of painting the fin, rear fuselage and tail plane all over in a color. As shown here, the 457th was red; the 458th had black diagonal stripes over the natural metal background, and the 462nd was yellow. Otherwise the finish was standard in natural metal, including propeller spinner, with Olive Drab anti-glare panel.
The Green tails ships of the 457th, the blue tails of the 458th, and the yellow tails of the 462nd made a low buzz over the 506th residential district and set down on the asphalt paved, steam heated 5200' x 200' runway of North Field. Command of the Group was reassured by Col. Harper.
The fighter strength of the 506th now stood at 74 planes (457th – 27; 458th – 22; 462nd – 25) and 156 pilots (52 per squadron). Not included in this total were the Group rated officers who were ferried out to the Squadron for flying duty. At long last the Group was united as a fighting organization. Before we tangled with the Nips, the eager birdmen of the 506th had to serve an apprenticeship in CAP missions for the air defense of Iwo. Most especially was this true of the pilots of the ground echelon who had not been inside a plane since early February.
As prescribed by Fighter Command, CAP was to consist of 4 ships airborne and 12 ships on alert during the main part of the day; 8 ships were to be airborne and 8 on standby one hour before and after dawn and one hour before dusk. When VLR missions were returning, 12 ships were to be airborne and 4 on alert. It was decided that the Squadron schedules for CAP was to provide 8 aircraft and the other two squadrons 4 aircraft each with the scheduled Squadron maintaining the airborne flights and the others keeping stand-by-alert only. Beginning the 16th the Group flew a total of 202 CAP sorties during May.
The satisfaction experienced by the 506th pilots at getting into harness again was tempered by a slight feeling of anxiety regarding the maintenance of their aircraft. With most of the crew chiefs chiefs and the three squadrons engineering officers cooling their heels at Tinian, CAP sorties and the forthcoming strikes against the Bonin Islands would be fraught with entirely unnecessary hazards.
In its capacity as the Air Defense Command of Iwo, our higher headquarters, VII Fighter Command, is responsible for conducting strikes against a rocky inhospitable island, 150 nautical miles at an approximate heading of 19° from Iwo, known as Chichi Jima. Located on Chichi, headquarters of the Japs Bonin Island garrisons, is a harbor (Futami), miscellaneous docks, troop housings, radio and radar facilities and a small bomb pocked airfield (Susaki). To keep this field inoperative, a daily sortie is flown by VII Fighter Command aircraft with two five hundred pound bombs under their wings.
When the 506th F. G. with the 457th, 458th and 462nd squadrons arrived in mid-May, some of the strain of operations was eased for the first two groups. The 506th alternated with the 15th and 21st in making two-group missions to Japanese Empire targets, so one of the three could anticipate a stand-down when the schedule was set. It also allowed more time for crucial maintenance.
The 506th pilots were generally more experienced in P-51s than their 15th and 21st counterparts. Lt. Neil T. Smith, Jr. of the 458th squadron recalls, "Looking in my old log book, I had about 500 hours of fighter time in P-39s, 40s and Jugs, and another 150 hours in 51s before arriving at Iwo. Probably a third of the pilots in our outfit had that much 51 time, and some had other fighter time the same as I did."
One P-47N group, the 414th under Col. Hank Thorne, arrived in late July but was only active from Iwo for five weeks before the surrender. The yellow-and-black marked Thunderbirds primarily flew ground support, though some missions were made to Japan.
The comment that "maintenance on Iwo was tops" seems universal among the 51 jocks. If a pilot wanted a new carburetor all he had to do was mention it. Many crew chiefs kept their aircraft waxed and sanded for extra speed, though some joked it was because there was nothing else to do on Iwo. The mechanics conscientiously changed spark plugs after every VLR mission to avoid fouling later on, as the prolonged low-RPM cruising from Japan tended to burn up plugs.
Lt. Harve Phipps of the 72nd F. S. recalls, "The maintenance crews were excellent. The squadron had been in the Seventh from the beginning and the crew people were not rotated very often. They were experienced and we had practically no aborts because of maintenance. Pilots genuinely appreciated such hard-working mechanics; the last thing in the world they needed to worry about was engine failure 600 saltwater miles from home."
The appearance of reinforcements did nothing to rectify or relieve the psychological pressures that were brewing. The 506th Fighter Group, trained for VLR operations from its inception, and led by Colonel Bryan B. Harper, arrived from the States with 85 new Mustangs. It had an orphan's status, being assigned to the Twentieth Air Force, carried under the organization of the 301st Fighter Wing (then on Okinawa) and attached to the Seventh Fighter Command. The muddled chain of command made little difference to the pilots, however, and after taking a few pokes at Chichi Jima they were anxious for the main event. Their maiden effort was a strike against Kasumigaura Airfield on 28 May, and they made a credible showing, destroying or damaging some 50 parked aircraft and destroying one in the air for the loss of two planes and one pilot.
(60) By now, the 20th Air Force was nearing full strength -1,000 Superforts and 83,000 men. The manufacturing capability of five of Japan's major cities had been demolished. Furthermore, the mining of their waters had cost them nearly a million tons of vital shipping. The B-29s swarmed like flies over Japan, bombing day and night, against ever weakening fighter opposition. The simultaneous bombing of multiple targets had paralyzed their efforts to retaliate effectively. Their air force was becoming pitifully short of aircraft and they were saving most of these for the anticipated American invasion of their homeland.
27 May, our crew was ordered to Iwo Jima for a period of "DS" (detached service). The purpose of the assignment was two-fold: to participate in search missions for downed B-29 fliers along the Japanese coast; and to act as navigation plane for P-51s in a forthcoming strike against the seaport of Yokohama. These 1,500 mile escort missions would be the longest in fighter aircraft history. As we looked down on the tiny five and one-half mile long island, certain features stood out conspicuously. The overall view of pork chop—shaped Iwo was one of ugliness and desolation, its black volcanic ash much like the surface of the moon. Rising 556 feet at its southern tip stood historic Mount Suribachi, an inactive volcano. It was here that the valiant Fifth Marine Division had fought its way bitterly to the top. There in one of the most memorable scenes of World War II, they had planted the U. S. flag on the brim of its deep crater. Highly visible, too, were the island's three airfields situated on a flat ridge, and identified simply as Motoyama #1, #2, and #3. The most impressive sight of all, though, were Iwo's three cemeteries, each with its long orderly rows of white crosses. They stood in striking contrast against the black sandy background; the final resting places of over 6,800 Americans lost in the battle for Iwo. Add to this about 19,000 injured, and it ranked as one of the bloodiest of all battles in American history.
Out of an estimated 21,000 Japanese troops, only 1,000 had been taken prisoner. The rest died in combat, were incinerated or sealed in caves, or chose to die by committing suicide. There were 353 Congressional Medals of Honor bestowed during the four years of World War II, both in Europe and the Pacific. Of this number, 27 of them went to the veterans of Iwo in an operation lasting just over a month. Our quarters, a twelve man tent, sat at the base of a steep bluff. Outfitted with canvas cots, it housed our entire crew, both officers and enlisted men. Our meals were a daily repetition of dehydrated foods, designated in the military as "C" or "K" rations. No matter how they were served - cold, heated, or in between - they tasted the same — bad.
28 May, came the call for our first mission out of Iwo Jima. We were to serve as a navigation plane for P-51s in a flight to Japan. They in turn would provide fighter escort for a B-29 strike on Yokohama. Each "mother Superfort" would be responsible for taking four Mustangs up to the Japanese coast. There the P-51s would accompany bomb-laden B-29s into and away from the target. Upon withdrawal, each of the “chickens" would rendezvous with its "mother" and be shepherded back to Iwo.
Of interest on this mission was an attempt by a Jap fighter to sneak in on us. He made one pass, only to be promptly shot down by one of the Mustangs.
Accompanying us, as passenger, on this eight and one-alf hour mission, was a Lt. Reider of a Sea Bee group on Iwo Jima. This marked the beginning of a strong friendship between members of his unit and Crew Five.
VLR Mission No 13 (FC Mission #161) 28 May 1945
Back from a mission
A second and final pass on the Field was made by Maj Watters' Dooley Blue flight. Following the main show a number of runs were made on Jap airfields in the immediate neighborhood. Col. Harper, Dooley Red Leader, strafed Yachimata and 4 aircraft of the 462nd delivered fire on parked aircraft, at Imba (the secondary target). It was at Imba that Capt Kensley N. Miller, a veteran of the African Campaign, made a head on pass into a revetment where it is believed he crashed and was lost. At either Togane or Maruto Airfield, a strafing run was conducted by 4 aircraft of the 458th. A field south of Kasumigaura, thought to be Ryugasaki, was the target of a 2 plane attack. Flak defenses of the primary target were described as moderate, light and medium, inaccurate; a similar verdict was passed on anti aircraft fire encountered at the other targets. At Kasumigaura, it was noted, the attack appeared to have caught the Nips with their G-strings down.. The net result of the mission, the farthest penetration of the Empire by fighter aircraft, was 1 destroyed and 2 damaged in the air; 5 destroyed, 1 probable, and 50 damaged on the ground. Such a score was subject, of course, to the assessment of the gun camera film by the Claims Board. When the gun camera films were exhibited a number of disturbing facts came to light. The pictures failed to confirm the ambitious damage claims. A number of hits were made, but exceptionally high speed and the temptation to spray bullets indiscriminately at a wide variety of targets greatly reduced the effectiveness of the fire.
On the Group's first pay dirt mission, it was only natural to expect the boys to shove the throttle to the fire wall, particularly in view of the detailed indoctrination of the strength of enemy flak given by the S-2 at the briefing. Older hands at the game were, however, much less impetuous. Observation of the film of Lt Willis of the 462nd , for example, veteran of some 80 missions in Africa, showed the damage that could be inflicted on the enemy by deck strafing with a P-51 aircraft. The final assessment submitted in the Squadron Claims Annex slightly reduced the estimates of the mission report. Enemy aircraft destroyed were listed at 1 in the air and 5 on the ground, probably destroyed 1 (ground) , and damaged 1 in the air and 42 on the ground which was certainly on the generous side. The most serious objection leveled against the conduct of the mission concerned the tactics that were employed, or to be more specific, the tactics that were not employed, during the strafing run. At the end of the pass over the target, the 506th planes were spread all over the map, "from Hell to breakfast", as one of the participants phrased it. They would have been duck soup for aggressive Jap planes.Unit History 506th Fighter Group June 1945 VLR Mission No 15 (FC Mission #167 1 June 1945 - Black Friday)
>read the full story from the pilots that survived this mission<
Force: 148 P-51 of the 506th, 21st and 15th Groups
(506th Group) VII Fighter Command Air: 1 Nick destroyed. Sea; 4 to 5 picket or fishing craft damaged, Katsuma bay. Ground: Radio station at Taichi strafed; radio station at Naga Hae strafed, and left burning.
LOSSES: 462nd, Capt. L.D. Smith, MIA; 1st Lt. G.L. Loomis, MIA; 1st Lt. A.C. Ridley, MIA. 457th, 2nd Lt. J.E. Best, MIA; 2nd Lt. R.H. Griffith, MIA; 2nd Lt. R.C. Klippel, MIA; 2nd Lt. L.J. Kloibor, MIA; 2nd Lt. W.E. Saks, MIA. 458th, 2nd Lt. R. Harvey, MIA. 506th, Lt. Col. H.J. Scandrstt, MIA. Hq. Capt. E.M. Crenshaw, MIA.
Between the 1st and the 7 of June the Group reposed on its collective derriers awaiting a weather clearance for missions to the Empire. Several attempts were set a foot by the Fighter Command to inaugurate missions. On the morning of the 4th, an Osaka escort mission was scheduled for the next day; Later that morning notification was received that the target was changed from Osaka to Kobe. At 1430 that afternoon, VII Fighter informed us that the escort mission had been shelved and replaced by a possible strafing attack on an airfield in the vicinity of Kobe or Osaka. A few minutes later the mission was cancelled.
As it turned out, the stretch of inclement weather which dictated the abandonment of the escort mission came at a most inopportune time. At Kobe on 5 June the B-29's ran into 150 to l60 Jap planes who made a total of 647 attacks on their formations. At a cost of 3 bombers destroyed and 18 damaged by fighters plus 3 more destroyed and 9 more damaged by flak and fighters and flak combined, the B-29's racked up a score of 44 destroyed, 22 probables () and 44 damaged. This score, incidentally, topped anything achieved to date (18) by escort missions of the Iwo based Mustangs. On the afternoon of the 5th word was received of an Osaka escort scheduled for the 7th .
VLR Mission No 16 (FC Mission #174) 7 June 1945
Aborts: Red 3, replaced by Spare 3; Green 4, replaced by Spare 1.
DAMAGE TO THE ENEMY: (506th Group) Air: 1 e/a destroyed, Lt. Col. Brown. LOSSES: None.
TARGET: VLR escort to Osaka area
Supporting a maximum effort strike by the XXI BomCom, the 506th, 15th, and 21st Fighter Groups were to maintain patrol of the bomber route between the IP and the target. The escorting fighters, contrary to the practice followed on the weather hop of the 1st, were to be dispatched in shifts, with the 506th as the second serial, at intervals of 15 minutes. If business in and around the bomber stream proved to be a trifle slack the fighters were ordered to pick up an extra dividend by an attack on Jap airfields in the vicinity, Itami was selected as the 506th 's target. At the Group briefing at 2000 on the 6th the S-2, Captain Gilges, gave a general resume of the flak situation in and around the bomber target, concluding with the reassuring thought that the heavy AA guns would be primarily directed at the B-29's and that fire from these batteries encountered by the fighter escort, approximately 5000' from the bomber stream, would be extremely poor gun laying by the Jap AAA.
Detailed information on the defenses and dispersal areas at Itami was also presented. The plan of attack called for a repetition of the flak buster and deck strafing tactics followed at Kasumigaura in late May. Takeoff with 59 A/C — of whom 7 returned early — was accomplished at 0842 (19). Arriving at the departure point at 1200 the Group provided area protection for the bomber stream for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. A lone Jap SE A/C. blissfully unaware of the presence of our P-51's some 4000' above him was observed at 16000' Just S of the Target apparently directing AA fire on the bombers. A mad scramble for the Nip's scalp ensued between Lt Col Brown's flight and Lt Zagorsky's flight of the 462nd Squadron. Assorted passes were made by all 8 A/C with the result that the Jap, after several pathetic attempts at evasive action, disappeared in flames into the clouds. Results for all three groups were uniformly meager. In addition to the SE destroyed by the 506th, a Nick was destroyed and a Dinah damaged by the other outfits. (20) Flak over the Empire gave the pilots very little trouble. Miscellaneous bursts of heavy AA encountered at the DP, about 5 miles SE of the Ip, in the target area, and at the RP were described as meager and inaccurate. Results of the 2800 tons of incendiary and HE bombs dropped by the escorted B-29's included 3.4 square miles of the city of Osaka newly devastated. (21) While the Osaka escort was underway on the 7th, notification was received of a strafing mission on Meiji, Toyohashi, and Yamamatsu A/Fs. Two abortive weather missions and an untold number of postponements were incurred in connection with these targets during the remainder of the month. The first of the Meiji weather hops became airborne with 60 A/C at 0945 on the morning of the 8th (22).June 8th
The 506th together with the 15th Group scheduled to attack Kagamgahara, Suzuka, and Akenogahara, encountered & front some 60 miles on course reaching up to 28000' - 30000'. The Group returned to Base and stooged around the Island for awhile to get rid of some of their gas, before landing at 1134. The following day a routine Bonin Islands (Map ) strike was scheduled (23).
From A-2 of the Fighter Command a report was received of a boat 40' long having been sighted in the vicinity of Chichi. The 12 A/C plus Josephine and escort of the 457th were unable to locate the boat however, and unloaded their bombs on Sasaki A/F, on a radio station, and on what was described as a "large warehouse". A low level strafing job was conducted on several wooden ships (24).
VLR Mission No 18 (FC Mission #177) 9 June 1945
Two squadrons attacked Kamoyama airfield mistaking it for Kagamigahara, the primary target. Communications troubles and 8/10 clouds were factors which contributed to difficulty in identifying target. Third squadron strafed Kagamigahara, destroying 3 and damaging an estimated 11 enemy aircraft on the ground. Hangars, AW positions and other installations were also strafed. Retiring to the south, Okazaki, Toyohashi, Hamamatsu, Mikatagahara airfields were attacked, 4 additional enemy aircraft being destroyed and 4 damaged. One Oscar was probably destroyed in the air and 2 S/E were damaged. One 40 foot vessel was probably sunk and one 100 foot Sugar type boat was damaged. Two P-51s and two pilots were lost to flak in target area and 1 P-51 was lost 10 miles north of base on the return. The pilot was picked up. Several P-51s were holed by AW fire.
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Many of the 506th pilots came from other theaters of operations (Mediterranean, Europe) many instructors and most experienced flyers of other aircraft than the P-51D that they were flying at Iwo. Here Captain JJ Grant 462nd with his P-40 fighter. (click to enlarge)
Picture taken from a B-29 Superfortress with P-51D Mustang fighter planes escorting her to Japan.
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Letters From Iwo Jima: The Air War - aboard the Bloemfenstein somewhere in the Pacific Ocean heading for Iwo Jima. We are all rather anxious to get where we are going, to get to a place where we can unpack and fix it up and call it home for a little while. Most of us are anxious to start flying again - sometimes I think this flying business has gotten into my blood. I sure hope when peacetime comes that I can have a plane (of course a school teacher could not afford one) (JJ never did get his plane - he did obtain a Lt Colonel status in the Reserves but never flew after Iwo) All the enlisted men aboard got paid the other day. You could not walk around the decks without stepping into a crap game, a poker game or some type of game where they had a chance to increase their money.
Letters From Iwo Jima: The Air War