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Interview of Jack Voss by James Scott,
October 3, 2003; 12:05 pm to 1:31 pm
SCOTT: The very kind Jack Voss has invited us into his home to speak about his experiences as bomber pilot n the Pacific Theatre during the 2nd World War.
Prior to your entering active duty in the 2nd World War can you tell us a little about your life, your background, where you grew up, what you were interested in and how you got into the military?
VOSS: That's an interesting story. I graduated from Sacramento High School in 1940 and that was before Pearl. And then at the time I went to Sacramento City College, Sacramento Junior College in those days and when I was going there in 1941 of course, December 7th, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. And a bunch of us were sitting out on the lawn wondering well what are we going to do now. That's at the school, while I am a little ahead of myself. I was up in the tree picking oranges out in the Fair Oaks area for a gentlemen and I remember I'm up in the tree and I was being paid 10 cents a lug. Mr. Harper was his name, he came out and said, “Well son it looks like you are going to be in the service.” And I'm up in the tree and I said, “What are you talking about Mr. Harper?” and he says, “The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor.” I said, “What!” well anyway as it turned out I was still in college and I worked part time at the YMCA as a swimming instructor. I am an eagle scout and I had a Red Cross rating for lifeguarding and so I was hired at the YMCA to teach little boys how to swim. They were from seven to about eleven or twelve years old. I was a teacher and I was working for 35 cents an hour, I got a raise. Anyways, one day, it is easy to teach little kids how to swim; they don't have any fear of the water that's why these parents that have swimming pools have got to watch their little kids they don't have any fear of the water they just jump in and think they are going to float.
Anyways I was teaching these kids to swim, one day this major walks in, silver wings, he was a major and gold leaf on his shoulder and he says “You're Jack Voss aren't you?” and I said “Yes, sir, what can I do for you?” He says, “Do you think you could teach me to swim?” And I looked at him and I said “Major”, he was a big, robust guy, “Major, yes I think I can teach you how to swim but it's not going to be easy.” He said, “Why is that?” and I said, “Because you are not five to eight years old and you have fear of the water” and he said, “How'd you know that?” and I said, “Experience.” So I did teach the major how to swim, float so for, went through the whole thing. And he said, “Jack, did you ever want to learn to fly?” And I said, “Yes, Major, ever since I saw John Wayne in the Flying Tigers and I always wanted to fly.” And he said, “Well come to my office, I am the recruiting officer for the Army Air Corp and take the test. You are going to Sacramento Junior College aren't you, it will be comparably easy for you and I did. And I went down and took the test and made it ok and the next thing I now I'm being called into the service. And that's how I got started in the Army Air Corp
SCOTT: What year is this about?
VOSS: The first part of 1942, right after Pearl Harbor, it was in the spring of '42 and I was sent to basic training. I went to college first, to the University of Tennessee, they didn't have enough airfields to train pilots. They didn't have these small strips, like even Sacramento Municipal was even a training field, all of them they just were set up for training Army Air Corp people. So they sent me to the University of Tennessee, I was a volunteer for a while and I'd go to college. I was there about six months and a bunch of us we were all a bunch of guys all signed into the Air Corp. After that we were transferred finally to “Pre-flight” and that was down in Maxwell Field.
SCOTT: Where's Maxwell Field?
VOSS: Well anyways I ended up down in basic training in “Pre-flight” but you know all the air force guys in those days had to take basic training, basic army training we had to learn how do shoot a rifle, take it all apart. We even had to go on ??? where we had to camp overnight. We had to run 2-3 miles and we're all beginning to think what's this have to do with flying? Anyways we did get to fly in a cub, they had an airplane out at the airport. The University Tennessee was at Knoxville and they took us out and we got to handle the controls a little of the cub and that was not exciting it was like flying a kite. It ended there and we were finally shipped out to primary training, and that's the beginning. We were flying Steerman trainers, biplanes and I couldn't solo. It's like learning to drive. I remember my dad teaching me to drive, you're nervous. I couldn't solo, I was the last one in our flight, we had about 5-6 guys in our flight and each one had soloed and I hadn't. But anyways our instructor threw a party for our flight and he had some good alcoholic imbibes and I got feeling pretty good that night see and the guys were kidding me saying, “You're not going to make it boss, you've got to solo.” Anyway, I guessed the instructor liked me or something because the next day he said, “By the way boss, you are flying tomorrow”, a boy with a hangover. Anyways I went out to the field with him and he put me in that Steerman and said, “Alright, it's all yours, I'm not going with you, go kill yourself.” Jesus, that was a thrill for me, boy to take that plane off all by myself.
SCOTT: That must have been exhilarating?
VOSS: That made day and I came around and he wanted me to shoot three landings, which I did very nicely. He didn't say a word. I taxied up and got him and he got in the back seat and said, “Ok take me home.” So we went back to base and he didn't say anything to me, that I passed or what I did or anything else but the next thing I know is I was going through all the different things they teach you in primary training – spins, rolls and all that.
SCOTT: How long was primary training?
VOSS: Two months.
SCOTT: How old were you at that time?
VOSS: That was '42 and I was born in '22, I guess I was twenty years old.
SCOTT: So you were a young guy?
VOSS: Well how old are you?
SCOTT: Thirty-three, I can't imagine flying a plane at twenty.
VOSS: Twenty years old.
SCOTT: That's amazing, so at the age of twenty, you are in primary training. Now tell me about your family, did you have
VOSS: Yes, I had a brother who joined the Navy.
SCOTT: Did you have a girlfriend in Sacramento?
VOSS: Lots of them.
SCOTT: Did you meet any girls in Knoxville?
VOSS: Yes, an experience like Knoxville the University of Tennessee it's the first time they have a bunch of young recruits.
SCOTT: So you are kind of foot loose and fancy free?
VOSS: Yes, we had some free time and I ran around with a girl whose father owned a hosiery mill. Ash Hosiery Mill, I can remember that her name was Helen Ash. They took a liking to me and invited me over to dinner. They had a boat out on the river and I had a quite enjoyable time at the University of Tennessee and then of course I had to say goodbye when we were shipped out. We went from college to “Pre-flight” at Maxwell Field and there I became a cadet Lieutenant? And do you know why? Because I was an Eagle Scout. It was on my record.
SCOTT: I was going to ask you about that?
VOSS: They had that on my record that I was an Eagle Scout, and when I was in Basic Training its funny, this drill sergeant, they called us “Misters”, cadets we were “Misters”, this guy he was rough like Sergeants are, the hat down on the knoll and they stare at you and he says, “Any of you misters been in the Boy Scouts?” And of course me being naïve, I raise my arm. And he says, “Step out here Mister.” And I went out there and I'm standing nose to nose with him and he doesn't want any one else to hear, “You're a Boy Scout, what rank are you?” and I said, “I'm an Eagle, Sarg.” “Damn that's one thing I didn't do, I made Life rank and I went into the service and I never got my Eagle rank and that's one thing I'm sorry for. Do you know close order drill? Can you take this platoon? Can you march this platoon, close order drill?” They are standing at ease, boy I gave them the “TEN hut, right face forward march” and I had them marching down, “To the rear march, and they turned around and came back, platoon halt, right face at ease.” The Sergeant says “Man you did a pretty good job and that went on my record.”
SCOTT: As you are going basic training, pre-flight can you remember some friends or buddies you made.
VOSS: I lost my closest buddy in the war; he went to the Pacific with me, but we haven't got to that end of it yet. Willie Ricks, he was from Guyton, Georgia, Guyton is a little town on the Ogichee River it's not to far from the name of the town next to the coast. And he always talked about the wonderful hunting and fishing he had there.
SCOTT: That is Savannah area?
VOSS: Yes, near Savannah. That's another story...Willie and I were really close, he talked about his sister; he had a wonderful sister and family. I was close to him and another guy we really got close to was Tobin Armstrong. That won't mean anything to you until I tell you that his wife was Nixon's Secretary of State, she worked under President Nixon. And I find out later, which I am getting to, so Toby and Willie and I bummed around together. From Primary Training after a couple of months we went to Basic Training and that's in a little more power airplane a BT13, we used to call it a Volti-vibrator, because it was really underpowered but was flyable.
SCOTT: Now all along the way here are you earmarked to be a pilot?
VOSS: Once you solo in Primary, but you can get washed out easily, once they give you airbags and things like that they can wash you out. We finally, we all, Willie, Toby we went to Basic Training flying in the BT13.
SCOTT: Where is Basic Training?
VOSS: Cochran Field, Memphis, Tennessee and we are there for two months. And we are there for two months and when you are there you learn to land at night. I was cadet, you are still a cadet, and you haven't got your commission yet. The way they would fly you is they would have four aircraft and three of you would be say up at 2,000 ft, 3,000 ft and 4,000 ft and the other one would be shooting landings at night. Of course the field is lit and the aircraft has lights on it and that's all the lighting you can. But you can see the strip where you are landing. So I am up there waiting to be called and Capt Benson was Capt and I'm up there taking it easy, flying around watching my altitude, you have to stay up there at 4,000 ft and the engine quit. And so I called “Mayday”, Capt. Benson said, “Who's that hollering Mayday?” and I said “This is Voss in plane # whatever”, he said, “What's wrong?” I said, “My engine quit.” He gave me the checklist, goes over the checklist but I couldn't start my engine and in the meantime the BT13 is not a glider. So I was down to 3,000 ft. Capt. said, “Voss what's your altitude? I said, “3,000 feet sir.” He says, “Have you checked everything?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Take it out east and bail out.” Well this is at night. And I'm right over the field and I gave see his tower. I said, “Capt. I'm not going to bail out of this thing.” I didn't follow orders did I? So I said, “I'm going to bring it in”. Boy it got quiet on the other side. The Capt. said, “What's your airspeed?” I was giving him the air speed. I said, “I'm losing altitude pretty good, but I got the field in sight.” He said, “Well don't talk anymore, I'll talk to you.” So anyway I'm coming down like this and I'm circling around, I got it in the circle so I would come right over the top of the tower. God I hope I can hold this glide enough to where I can stay over the top of the tower see and then right beyond the tower was a dirt field and he said to land on the dirt not the asphalt because that's hard and you can destroy yourself. Anyways I did and just about time when I got over the tower he said, “Voss where the hell are you?” And I said, “Right over the tower sir.” He saw that BT right in front of him and I guess he got excited too. He said, “Now take it easy, and don't stall it. What's your airspeed, watch your airspeed?” That was the main thing, keep that airspeed down because when you level off and have a little airspeed to set it down. Well I did and I got it down on the ground. Then he's hollering at me don't step on the brakes, on your rudder pedals you have brakes and well if I stood them to hard you are going to turn the thing over. He said, “Stay off those brakes Voss, I'll tell you when you can slow down.” I couldn't see the other end of the field of course it was night. But I made it. The fire trucks come out along side of me, the officer of the day in the car, he's right with me and because here I am landing and they are right along side me and so I stopped right up against the fence. And I sat there a minute and the OD gets out of that car, comes right over and jumps up on the wings and he looks in the cockpit and says, “You ok mister?” I said, “Yes, I'm ok.” He says, “Well get out of the aircraft and get in the car.” Didn't say another word, so I did. I didn't know what was going on, but I was grounded, couldn't fly. So about three days, my buddies Willie and Toby they were doing ok and said, “Oh, Voss they are going to wash you out, you didn't follow orders, why didn't you bail out?” So anyway Capt Benson finally called me into the office, orderly came and said Capt Benson wants to see you and I think “Oh Jeez this is where I get washed out.” So I go in and typical of your CO's or whatever they will doing something with some paperwork they don't even pay any attention to you and you are standing there at attention waiting for them to look up so you can salute. Because I knocked on the door and he said, “Come in”, and I go in and I'm standing there in a cold sweat. He finally looked up and said, “Voss, how come you didn't follow my orders?” and I said, “Captain Benson it's night”, and I said “I don't alligators and I don't' like snakes and this is Georgia”, and I said, “No way was I going to bail out and besides I saved an aircraft.” He didn't smile or say a word but said, “That will be all.” So I popped him a salute and got out. I get the call the next day by the Colonel and I give him the same answer. Well I guess it went on my record. So I got through Basic Training good and I went to Advanced. Advanced Training was in Doughfin, Alabama, to Napier Field. Single engine. Now big guys like me normally go to bombers but Toby, Willie and I all got…we're looking at the multi-engine list we weren't on there. We look at the single engine list the AT-6's, Napier Field, and there are the three of us on there. So I say, “Geez whiz, we get to go single engine.” That's what we wanted to do. So I went to see Captain Benson afterwards because we were going to be leaving out in a couple of days. I said, “Captain, I want to thank you. I don't know if you want any thanks but I'm going to thank you for sending me to single engine, that's what I wanted to fly. I need that training, ever since I saw John Wayne in the 'Flying Tigers'”. He smiled. I say, “That's what I want to fly.” And besides Toby Armstrong is a big guy and so was Willie, we were all tall. He sent them too. And I say, “I noticed you've got two of my buddies on there too.” He says, “Well I knew you guys were running around and I sent them to single engine too.” I said, “I really appreciate that.” But anyway that's how I happened to…I went to Advanced Training and because I guess it was also on my record the reason he sent me. Oh, he also said, “Voss, I want to tell you something. You did something that's unheard of. For a cadet to land at night, dead stick, no power, is impossible.
What I did was impossible; because normally a cadet would crash, he'll stall the aircraft, run out of airspeed, turns it up to soon. He said, “What you did was amazing.”
SCOTT: Of all the things you accomplished in training would you say that was the most…?
VOSS: That was the most outstanding.
SCOTT: The most outstanding and what you are most proud of.
VOSS: You bet ya, I'll never forget that. I don't like snakes, the cottonmouth and everything else, Georgia. I'm not going to bail out at night. You don't know what you are going to hit.
So anyways, in Advanced Training I was made a Cadet Colonel. I was the highest ranking cadet, because someone has to run the platoon and make sure they get to the mess hall and the whole bit. I had a few perks; I could go off base more than the other guys and in fact my dad came to visit me when I got my wings there. He was there for my graduation when I got my commission. Those are memories of my flying days and while there of course I got through Advanced terrific and they sent me out…I thought I was going to going to fighters because that's what you are being trained. No, Willie and I were sent to Randolph Field, Texas to learn to be instructors. And that's called “flying in the backseat”, there's two seats in a T-6 and we learned to fly in the front seat, the instructor sits in the back seat. Well you have go down there to learn to fly the back seat. Willie and I went down there and then we were sent back to Napier Field. And this Major, Major Weaver he asked Willie and I, which was a surprise instead of ordering it, would we be instrument instructors. And that's a dull job. They put a shroud over the cadet's head and he has fly by instruments and you are just sitting back there making sure he is doing everything right. We didn't want to do that, hell we were taught to fly, in formation and everything, to aerobatics down in Randolph, boy we got good training down in Texas. Anyways, that's what happened to me there. Major Weaver…one time I was…well we had when I was instructing we had a little blond girl who was a WAC in the office and she was the one who assigned aircraft and set up the schedule for the day. Well she was at a base dance and I asked her to dance. You are not supposed to fraternize with the unlisted personnel, you see I had my commission then and the Colonel saw me and he said to Major Weaver “Whose that dancing with that blond over there?” Major Weaver said, “Oh, that Lt. Voss.” The Colonel said, “Tell him I want to see him in the morning.” Well I was in trouble again. And the Major, it was his pleasure boy, because he didn't like it that we turned him down for instrument flying. So I went to see the Colonel and he said, “Haven't you read the Officers Code?” I said, “Yes sir.” He says, “About fraternizing with unlisted personnel.” I said, “But Colonel she worked for us in the office and this was a base dance and I'm not dating her.” And he said, “That's no excuse Voss.” So the next thing I know we got news that they needed more pilots for the B-24's because it's two pilots not just one. And low and behold, they didn't send Toby, because Toby didn't go to Randolph, Willie and I were sent to B-24 Liberators. That's like driving a truck after flying an AT-6 because we were doing aerobatics and you can't do that with a B-24.
But anyways, we were sent there and that's how we happened to move from Napier Field and Major Weaver I guess he felt good about that, he got rid of us. The two of us went down and we had to take transition down in Panama City, Florida. Timmel?? AFB down there and we learned to fly a B-24 and like I say it's like driving a truck, a big heavy bomber. But we got through it and both of us went overseas and I joined the 'Jolly Roger' Bomb Group and Willie was with the 'King's Men' that was another bomb group.
SCOTT: Where are you stationed once you get to the Pacific?
VOSS: Well originally we first… the Jolly Rogers were gone already, but we were sent to New Guinea. We were down in New Guinea. Te Jolly Roger Bomb Group that was well known in the Pacific had already moved up to the Philippines. MacArthur had already taken the Philippines but he hadn't taken Corregidor as yet. But we were down there and we flew a couple of missions down there, we went to Rabaul and Wewak?? just to fly formation and to know what it is like to fly in a bombing group. And finally we were transferred up to the Philippines to Mindoro. And from there on Mindoro, we bombed Corregidor a couple of times but our bombs were not hitting…you know they had caves on Corregidor and that's where they put the good ole B-25's with the skip bombs. They'd go in like this and release that bomb and it would “Boom” go this way instead of that way.
SCOTT: Much more agile than the B-25.
VOSS: Oh yeah, the B-25, just twin engines too. So anyways, that's where Willie and I were but he was in the King's Men. on Mindoro on the same island in the Philippines. One time… I got in eighteen missions but I was shot down on our 18th mission but on one mission the weatherman at briefing say “Well, gentlemen…” they always called us gentlemen “Well, gentlemen you are going to have to go a long way today, you going to go to China. You are going to bomb Canton, China and we are going to give you extra fuel and you are going to be carrying two bombs and they weigh a ton each.” The first thing we talking about the pilots is “Jesus, are we going to be able to get this thing off the ground?” Because the engineers when they built the strips over there they weren't dirt strips, they used metal so that even in the rain you could still take off. And these metal strips, these engineers would only build it just to what the orders said, whether it be 100,000 feet or 1,500 feet or whatever that's all they would build, stuck. Well we had a case, and we were taught, we were briefed, and we said, “Look you wind up those engines, you hold your brakes and you sit back there and wind those engines full bore and then release the brakes so you get a good start and hopefully you have flying status when you get to the end of the runway. And don't pull up the wheels right away because there is a road at the edge of the ocean and if you sink down like this and sometimes you hit the road and it will bounce you back.” We saw a couple of planes go right into the water and they went beyond the road and down they'd go. We had that problem with the B-24's; they'd give 400 gallons of gas and these 2 big 2,000 pound bombs.
Well anyway we didn't get to fly that mission, it was my birthday, July the 10th, 1945, and I was so happy because we went out to check the plane out and the name of the plane was the Harry S. Truman. And it was an old timer, it had flown a lot of missions and they were going to send it home for PR work, it had been…it had all the little pictures of bombs on the side of the plane, how many missions it had been on. They were going to send it home but anyways supposedly it was going to be it's last mission and the engines didn't check out. Well listen, when you are carrying 400 gallons of fuel and two big eggs in the belly there is no way were are going to get this thing off the ground. They did abort us and we didn't go, we didn't have to go. And when I got back to the tent I wrote a letter home stating “Oh, aren't I lucky I didn't have to fly on my birthday”, and I said I'm really just going to take it easy, but I didn't say why because you don't give any information like that in your letter I didn't even say where we were supposed to go. So then in the next two days we were there again, they gave us a new airplane, a new Ford, built by Ford, B-24 and it was still silver it wasn't the olive green they painted them and that was July the 12th and I flew…that was the day we were was shot down. And of course my mother got my first letter that I didn't have to fly on my birthday, what' the next thing she gets is my “missing in action”.
SCOTT: If you want to talk into the mission and everything that happened in China, go right ahead. Take us there.
VOSS: I'm working up to it. Here we had a brand new Ford, it flew real good, maybe while I'm thinking about it, see these things come to me. They weren't building B-24's fast enough, Consolidated Aircraft was the company that was building the B-24's. And they weren't building them fast enough. And Colonel Rogers, that's where they got the name Jolly Rogers, he sent a letter home or to his boss, the head of the Air Force, and said, “For God's sake, they are killing us, they are knocking our planes down faster than we can keep them going. Can't you build them faster than that”? So what did they do, they went to Henry Ford and they asked Henry if he could build airplanes like he builds automobiles. And Henry says, “How many do you want?” And they say, “Well Henry, we'll tell you when we got enough.” He said, “Ok.” And that's where Willow Run, you may have heard of Willow Run, that's where the put in the production line and a B-24 was coming off the line every 55-minutes, that's unreal. To see that production line, seeing these bombers coming off the line every 55minutes but only one thing wrong. Pratt and Whitney, the engine builders, they are calling Henry saying, “For God's sake Henry, can't you slow that thing down, you only have to build one airplane, we have to build four engines for it see.” They slowed it down a little bit but it was amazing how fast our country can produce something. The same with the battleships, the liberty ships, it's unreal. Rosie the Riveter.
So anyway we had the new B-24. And that was the only thing that we really worried about when we bailed out, we knew that the telegram always goes to the mother. And somewhere, Jim, I don't know where it is, I've got it in the house in one of the catalogs or something the telegram we sent…Dear Mrs. Voss we regret to inform you, blah, blah, blah.
That's was the story then. All right we are going to Canton, China, it is 750 miles over the Pacific Ocean…and the target…the target was…what are we bombing China for and he said, “Well, the Japanese are in retreat”. They had all of South China and all that area, Borneo, Saigon, Vietnam, they had it all and they were in retreat headed north. They had warehouses full of supplies, their supplies and we were to bomb the warehouse and that was the target of the day. So anyway, we get close to Canton and boy one of those poor old Pratt and Whitney's, we were losing oil pressure and you know you don't drive your car when you are losing oil pressure. Well it is the same way with those engines because they can start a fire. And we looked at that thing and said, “Jesus, we are on three engines.” And then we couldn't keep up with our bomb group, because the whole group is together. We couldn't keep up with them and getting to be stragglers and so the cannons…you can see the flashing of the cannons and well holy crimeny it looked like a whole bunch of them were…we were looking down there and we says “Hey they are shooting at us”. A crazy bunch of kids huh? Well anyway it takes fifteen seconds for that shell to get up there and when they fire it down there you can change your altitude, you can drop it down a little bit or turn, it gives you a few seconds to move out of the way. Well you want to see something scary is flying threw a load of flak and they always say it is heavier than the streets and you see the things breaking and of course you hope when your brakes see the shrapnel…it finally knocked out another engine, after when lost the oil pressure it knocked out another engine, no fire, we were lucky. So we were on two engines and we became stragglers. And Air-Sea Rescue, we called and said that we got engine trouble, we were only on two engines and of course we were ordered to bail out over the ocean. Air-Sea rescue says, “Come on out we'll come and pick you up”. Well I already heard when you bail out over the ocean somebody drowns. The shoot tangles up when they hit the water and they can't get out, or they can't swim, they aren't good swimmers. And Harvey Delfatti, the 1st pilot, I was his co-pilot, well that was another thing I had changed groups. Harvey was a good pilot and we talked about it and I said, “Hey Harv, Jesus we can't have these boys…” boys I call them, I was twenty-three years old and Harvey was the same age, I said, “We can't have these guys bail out over the water, they don't even know what the ocean is. They all were from back east, eighteen, nineteen years old, the gunners, we can't have them bail out over the water, we'd lose somebody”. Well it turned out there was a mission later on over China and they had to bail out over water and they lost eight out of the crew of ten. They don't talk about that, they lost eight. And another plane ditched, twenty-four ditches in the ocean and they lost five. So we did the right thing Jim, we did the right thing. I was concerned about these kids and were having them bail out and we're bailing out, strange area let me tell you. Never thought about it much at the time when you are bailing out because all you are concerned about is getting out of that aircraft and pulling that ripcord and hoping your shoot opens.
SCOTT: What was your altitude at the time when you actually left the plane?
VOSS: Well we were bombing at…that was other thing we bombed at low altitudes, around 10,000 feet, and so it wouldn't hold, on two engines it couldn't hold, don't forgot we are still carrying that 400 gallons of gas, well half of it maybe and those two big bombs. And Novak, our bombardier, we started talking about going inland and bailing out and he said, “Hey wait a minute what are we going to do about these two eggs I've got back here can't we get them on target?” I said, “Ya Ed”, now the Norden bomb sight I don't know if you are familiar with it, you can fly that airplane with a Norden bomb sight once the bombardier gets it you turn it over to him because he's got his eye on the target he's looking through the scope. I said, “Ed you got your eye on that target”? He says, “Ya, let me have it.” So I talked to Harvey, 1st pilot and he says “Hey, give it to him, let's get rid of these bombs”. So Ed put them right on that warehouse, what an explosion but when he let go of those two bombs the plane went right straight up because of the weight. I said, “Good shot Ed!” and we banked off and headed west, go inland. We felt that there wouldn't be any Japanese there, they are on the coast and they are in retreat and they headed North and what would they be doing headed inland, just a bunch of rice paddies. We flew in then and kept losing altitude and like in the picture it had low mountains and we knew we weren't going to be able to fly over them so we decide to bail out…this side of…and we did, picked out a little village and put the auto-pilot in a circle and it was pretty smart to do that and I'm thinking all the time and Del was doing the flying and I say, “Hey Del, let's put this thing in a circle so when we bail out we'll all going to be close together”. If we go this way we'll be a hundred miles apart, you don't all jump at once. So we put it in a circle and so I called Novak, Ed the Bombardier, because he was the senior officer in the back of the plane or I told him to go back because he is usually up front at the bomb site and I said, “Ed you've done your job but make sure those members back there jump when we give the order, because we won't have a whole lot of time. You've got to get out of this airplane.” He went back there and he finally called and said, “Hey Jack, Lucky won't jump.” I said, “Well kick his ass out.” And he did because he is over the photography window is about the same square as this coffee table right there and it's open because he had it open and that's what they used to take pictures through there and so they you could just roll out. And here's Lucky waiting to be told when to jump and he froze he panicked. And Ed did kick him out and by God he remembered to open his shoot and pull that ripcord. You don't even think about it, you are so trained, you don't think about your own life, I never thought about me but as soon as I opened the shoot I looking around and I'm counting the shoots because we hadn't hit the ground yet, we got out pretty fast. Everybody got out of the aircraft, Ed Novak was a…he passed away, I just got notice of it the other day from his wife…he was a pretty devout Catholic and I said, “Ed, when you get those crew members out of there, you jump”. I says, “Good luck to you, I'll make it, but God be with you.” And I said, “I sure hope he is because I have to have that shoot open”. It's funny you don't think about what you are going to do; you make something light of something. He got out and I finally jumped and when I got on the ground that's where I saw the radio operator, Sparky, hanging in the tree and I had to go over and cut him down. And about that time when Ed say's “God be with you”, I turn around and look down the hill and we were in the foothills, looks like our foothills around Placerville, I see this person coming up the hill had a long while robe, long hair, beard, hair clear down over his shoulders, staff in his hands and he's walking up towards us and there's I don't know how many 75-100 little boys following him. And he comes up to me and I waited for him there and he came up and said, “Lieutenant, I'm Father Challini”. I said, “Father Challini, I thought you were Jesus Christ himself”. He says, “I'm working on it, but I'm not there yet”.
SCOTT: That's beautiful.
VOSS: Isn't it, here a priest comes to receive us, I mean God be with us boy I'll tell you. I got a religious then.
VOSS: I said, “How's the rest of my crew”? And he says, “Oh, your about the last one out of the airplane weren't you?” And I said, “Yes,” and he says, “Well they're all down at the church and they are all ready to take a bath and clean up.” Well we got down there and that started the whole thing. Well the thing was when we jumped we were seen by an army but it wasn't the Japanese Army it was the Chinese Communist Army and he was a general. We called him General Tom because he had a long Chinese name and we couldn't pronounce it. Anyways he gave us a banquet that night and he sat there with us and we talked about the war and politics and he spoke fluent English just like you and I are talking. He was a general and I asked the general “Where did you learn to speak such good English?” and he said, “I went to college in the United States.” I said, “You did.” And he said, “I went to college in the United States and got my degree. I come back here and I'm a general.” So he became a general and he apologized because he had just a small army of two million under him. I said, “Well General, I'm sure glad you are on our side.” He said, “You know we don't have to talk politics much but I learned one thing about your democracy, the freedom that you have in your country, no other country has. I know that and I've traveled a lot before the war.” I said, “Well General, I'm sure glad you are around now to taking care of our crew.” He said, “Well the Japanese know where you are and we are going to get you out of here in the morning, early. And we'll keep an eye on them, it's just a patrol, it's not the army. My people will sure keep us aware of where they are, because they want you and they've put a ransom on your head already.” Pilots have big ransom; they want the pilots more than anything else, the gunners they all have ransom. I said, “Do they ever pay it?” “It's never been proven.” So that banquet, that night was something. We were in the Quanzi Province and I don't even know what the name of that village was but he said we are going to take most every town in China with a river along side of it, you know why? Take care of the sewage, they don't have toilets. We couldn't get used to that when you had to go to the toilet you had to go to the edge of the river and they'd have a little straw or bamboo place built, place to sit and think, very primitive. But you always knew when you were coming up to a village because you could smell it, the river flowed and actually the sewage I guess would flow down the river and now we know why the Chinese don't drink water. Why? Because they have to boil the water if they drink tea and that's why tea is the drink not water and we found that out.
SCOTT: Please talk about your extraction from China and your odyssey on the way out?
VOSS: On the way out and the next morning, we stayed in a so called hotel that night, it was board for a pillow, but the next morning they had a sampan big enough to carry the ten of us and the crew. They had a crew of Chinese about 2-3 coolies and they were the ones that were going to go down the river in this sampan. And let me tell you like the American River when it is going flowing fast, they guided that thing down among the rocks and it was just amazing how they could guide that thing and move us down the river pretty fast. It took the whole day and we got to this village where there was another priest that met us, he name was…they were Maryknoll priest and I don't know if you've ever read the book about Maryknoll priests but they are missionaries who were over in China and this was Father Canelli. He met us at the shore of the river and we stayed with him and a Protestant minister, I stayed with Father Canelli and I don't know how I happened…well Del stayed with the Protestant minister, we split the crew a little bit we had four of the boys with one and four with the other. And they fed us and took care of us. And the name of this village I remember because it's called Lo-ting. That's how we started and then our trip out, they told us we were going to walk, they don't have roads and sidewalks and things like that, that we are going to have to hike. We had pretty good shoes and no problem there. I said, “Well I've had enough years in scouting, I know how to hike.” And that's how we got started and they made us Chinese clothes, they sewed, the tailors they made me, in fact one of my sons has my outfit. It's all done in black, the mandarin type clothes with the blouse and pants and it's made with raw silk. And we saw the silk worms would make the threads and stuff in the streets. And in Lo-ting itself, we were there about a week, because we wanted to rest up and get in good shape and we were fed pretty well. I can't complain about the food at all, they apologized because they had to feed us rice a lot, they didn't think that in the United States we ate rice but everybody eats rice.
So Father Canelli came to me one day and he says, “Jack would you do me a favor?” and I said, “Father Canelli how could you ask me that 'do us a favor', look what you are doing for us!” He said, “'Well, you may not want to but I'll tell you what it amounts to. You see that cart out there?” It was a two-wheel cart like a great big yard cart with two wheels and a big box. And in the cart they had little boxes about the size of a shoebox, a whole bunch of them in this cart. He said, “I'll take you down and one of the orphanages, they had an orphanage there, little girls, one of the girls will go with you and show you what you have to do.” And I'm still wondering what do we have to do. Anyways we go and we go down the streets, well so called streets, they are kind of rural to the village and here's these little babies in the gutter, well it would be a gutter and they'd be in straw or a little bed and they wouldn't be any bigger than the size of a small chicken. The mother would have that baby that night, and have her baby and the next day be working in the fields for food. That's how rough it was. And we'd pick up these little babies and sometimes they'd die and here I'm holding a little baby about the size of a chicken and it's crying a little bit and then all of a sudden it quits crying it had been that way maybe all night. And some of them…they wouldn't come back to the church alive and they'd have a graveyard there where they'd bury these little girls. Holy criminey little wooden crosses in the graveyard of babies they'd pick up after the next day. We saw poverty and we'd stayed there a week. One time I was down the street and I was walking with somebody who spoke some English and somebody started pulling on my pants and I look down and here's a little girl pulling on my pants. I said, “What does she want?” and the person I was with said, “I don't know she can't speak Chinese even and she is blind.” I said, “Oh brother”, she's blind and wants something to eat. I said, “Do you get them food sometimes.” And she said, “Oh yes, they come over to the church and they feed them.” But every once in a while a lot of these orphans, they are blind and they don't know where they are, their parents…their little girls and the boys they keep because they can sell boys to the army. I found that out about the Chinese, the women just couldn't afford to keep the girls because who's going to take care of them. That was a story there. We saw poverty you just couldn't believe, if they had chickens or a goat or a pig or anything like that, at night those animals were in the house with them. Why? Because someone else would steal them to eat. We saw that and you look back and think what a wonderful country we live in. I don't whether the conditions ever change and I ended up in the food business and there was a Chinese running the produce market in our store, over at Sacramento Cannery sales, his name was Arnold Gee and somebody came in one day and they said “Did you ever pay for that B-24 you lost over China?” And Arnold says, “Were you in China?” I said, “Yeah Arnie we were bombing Canton.” He said, “You tried to kill me.” He was in Canton at the time when we were bombing Canton. It's a small world, huh?
SCOTT: Wow! Very, very small.
VOSS: And when the war ended, why he ended up over here, because he had some relatives already in the United States. Arnie was a great guy, he said, “Oh, Jack I got to take you back.” I told him, “You know where Lo-ting, in the Quanzi province?” He said, “Yes, I know where all the places are”
SCOTT: How long did it take you to get out of the country, say from Lo-ting?
VOSS: From Lo-ting, that's where we walked and I figured out between 300-350 miles.
SCOTT: Did you ever see any Japanese along the way?
VOSS: No way, no, no, because the Chinese army they knew all…you just brought up a good question. The OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, same as the CIA, well they knew where we were because they bailed out…a Chinese bailed out as an interpreter and found us and they knew where we were. And he joined us one day and he said was a certain name and everything and so we said, “Gee whiz”, after we had been hiking with him for about three days, “where can we get a drink of water?” We are always getting tea. We said, “Can't you in Chinese order one of these coolies to go ahead in the next village to get some water ready?” He said, “Sure I can do that.” He told them to boil water and put it in a tub and put a gunney sack around it so you can get it wet and the water will be a little cool.” So what do we get when we get to the next village? Boiled eggs. We finally did get some cool water and the village was watching us, they thought we were crazy we were throwing water all over us and drinking it. They don't drink water because of the sewage problem, which was another thing that we learned.
It took us almost thirty days, now our destination was, we didn't know it was Kunming. Chaing Kai-shek's world and the Communist Army had to turn us over to the Nationalist Army and they were mad at each other and that was quite a ceremony. Boy you could tell there was no love between them. They had us and they were real proud that they were taking care of us and so our destination was Kunming. Oh, at our briefing that morning we were told that if we had trouble there was an airstrip available in China where you could fly to, and that's where we headed west but we hit the mountain range and we couldn't get over it. But you know what we found out - that strip was mined, if we had landed on there we would have been blown to the devil. That strip was mined so our intelligence wasn't that up to date and that was a real problem, how lucky we were that we bailed instead of trying to land an airplane on a bomb laddened strip. And then another strip when we got to one where they were going to fly in...see the Communist Army was pretty up to date, they sent a C-47 in for us, a cargo plane to pick us up at another strip. And the strip was pock marked with bomb holes and we had to wait a couple of days while the coolies carried dirt in big sacks over there shoulders, they must have had fifty and they were bringing this dirt and somebody would be tamping it, getting it ready.
SCOTT: And it was the C-47 that took you out of China?
VOSS: The C-47 took us to Kunming and then from Kunming they sent a C-54, a four-engine plane to fly us back to the Philippines. We did get that, we got to Kunming and then from there…that's where I had that little picture developed. I was hoping…I had lost the camera, the little box camera, I had mentioned it at the banquet that night, and I keep you going back because it reminds me of things. I mentioned it at the banquet that night I was talking to Father Challini and the General heard. He said, “Did you loose a camera Jack?” I said, “Yes, it wasn't anything military on it, it was a picture of my radio operator and me, he had been caught in a tree and my bombardier took the picture. I just hope if somebody finds it they don't expose the film because it was just that one picture.” And he says, “Oh, we'll get the camera back.” And I said, “Don't worry about it General.” Well we are on the trail now imagine, it was a week after that a coolie runs up and hands a package to the Chinese guy who bails out and they talk back and forth a little bit and he took off. And the Chinese guy says, “Jack here's your camera.” I said, “What!” He said, “Yea, I got your camera.” So I went back to get it, he brought up the rear of the trail. I went and got it and said, “Geez, who would turn a souvenir in like that, here they see these guys coming in out of the sky and they have a souvenir of a camera.” He said, “Oh, that was easy, the General said he'd burn the town down if they didn't turn it in.” Because we were his guests and he didn't want to lose face. Isn't that something? Gee I'm glad they turned it in.
SCOTT: So then the C-54 picked us up in Kunming and flew us back to the Philippine Islands but they weren't there and they moved up to Ie Shima which is right off of the coast of Okinawa, the Jolly Rogers were up there so we just stayed there temporarily overnight. They flew us on up to Ie Shima and that's where our group was. You know what bothers me…oh, while we were in the Philippines General MacArthur's headquarters had us in for briefing and they had us just one at a time not all together. They didn't just want one story they wanted to see what we had seen. And we told them about General Tom and his army and how he took care of us. The questions that they asked were just pertinent. They wanted to know how well equipped they were and we threw all our ammunition overboard, they found all the shells, to lighten the aircraft. General MacArthur was really interested in what we had seen and to know if there was anything different. That was quite interesting; we were paid more attention to by MacArthur's group than our own. I was a little discouraged because the Jolly Rogers…maybe it's just an everyday incident they lose…here we are with crew of ten, ten guys that were shot down and we get out all alive, nobody captured and we get safely back to the group and you know we didn't get much attention. I guess the flight was an everyday event or whatever; we never thought about it much. It bothers me a little bit because we really had to make an effort to get out of China.
SCOTT: It's an amazing story.
VOSS: Well, it is, there are so many things you see and it reminds you of hardships. A lumberyard they would pay a kid to split say a four by four, they'd want it split into a two by four, a hand saw, no electricity, hand saw all day, a young boy, a way he earned his food that the way he'd get to eat at night. He'd split that one board. The way our guys complain here about labor, they don't know.
SCOTT: Jumping way ahead, because we only have a few minutes left.
VOSS: Oh, do you have a date?
SCOTT: I've got to work at 1 o'clock at the university. But can you tell me after the war, you came back and were involved in the food service?
VOSS: Quickly, I was up at Ie Shima finally got up there, joined the group and there wasn't much to do. But they needed the pilots, the war had ended and our mission was to fly our POW's, our guys that were prisoners of the Japanese, out of Japan. So they converted our B-24's to make them more comfortable for them and we flew up there and picked up our guys. Skeletons. I'll never forget that, I'll never forget that part. Of course we had two pilots so we could spend time and go back and talk to them. They said, “Where are we going?” I said, “You are going home.” They said, “Home, where's home?” There minds were already torn apart. I said, “United States, America.” “America!” they said. I said, “Yes, we are taking you to the Philippine Islands and from there you are going to be on a hospital ship so they can straighten you out. You haven't been eating to well have you?” They said, “No. We eat bugs, rats, god anything to stay alive.” That was horrible just to see the way they had been treated. And we saw a Japanese prison in the Philippines, they are fat and sassy, they are happy, they don't want to go back to Japan. They were being taken care of where they were. That bothered me a little bit and I'm young, I was only twenty-three years old and when I talk to guys like you it reminds me of a lot of this stuff that I saw and how our guys were treated, terrible, terrible. But that was our mission and we flew two or three missions out of Japan and they had a lot of B-24's working, doing that. We got them out of Japan and got them onto a hospital ship where they were being taken care of.
To bring a kind of an end to this story, I'm in the tent one day after we had done that mission, and Sam Sharp, he was a C.O. and he sticks his head into the tent and says “Hey boss how'd you like to take a B-24 back to Mather Field?” I said, “What! You're kidding?” He said, “Hey I'm not kidding, be ready to go in two days, get your stuff packed. You'll be taking some war wearies home.” These are guys who have enough battle points to get out of the service and all of us we had the battle points so we knew we could get out as soon as we could get home. And that was a thrill for me to fly these guys home and there were new B-24's as they built all these new B-24's for the invasion of Japan. Boy when I called the tower for landing instructions I will never forget it. Then I called my dad and he answered the phone and said “Hey Dad, come on out and pick me up.” He said, “Where are you?” I said, “I'm out on Mather Field, you know where that is don't you?” He couldn't believe it. He said, “Mather Field, I thought you were out on the Philippine Islands.” I said, “I was.” He came out and picked me up and that was…
SCOTT: That's beautiful stuff.
VOSS: I shook the crew's hands; I was a crazy kid but a good pilot. But is scares me to think of it now. You know Land Park Drive? You know where the Tower Theatre is? All right, we were practicing bombing before we went into combat; we were practicing bombing the bay bridges with a camera they do that. So going back I asked the crew, “You guys want to see where I live?” They said, “Yeah!” Ok, so anyway we're coming up Highway 40 past Davis and I said to the nose gunner and Ed the bombardier “When you see that tower, that's the Tower Theatre, I'm going to circle around it and go right down my street.”
SCOTT: Did you grow up on Land Park Drive?
VOSS: Yes, the folks did then. And the trees, it was kind of new, they built it in 1939, the house, and there was a vacant lot right on the corner. I put that ole 24 right down on the deck and Linman Colms, he was the other pilot, he never will forget that ride I was just above the trees and the telephone poles and I'm going right towards the house and the kitchen window was facing this was and the vacant lot and all that my dad could see was four engines coming right at the kitchen window. It was a Sunday morning and he just happened to be at the kitchen window and he thought “Holy cow, here comes Jack.” That was wild and I banked around and went around again and I said, “It's that white house next to the vacant house.” I was a crazy pilot but I am here to talk about it.
SCOTT: Thank you to Mr. Jack Voss for his kindness and sharing this time for this interview.
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Last updated November 18, 2002. Please send comments, questions, and reports of problems to firstname.lastname@example.org. Composed by: James Christian Scott, CSUS Reference Librarian. Copyright ©: 2001.