Coincidences? I Can’t Believe It! or God Was On Our Side

May 23rd 1945: We, a bomber crew flying “Uncle Sam’s Milk Wagon,” took off from Tinian Island in the Marianas, sixty miles north of Guam. Destination: Tokyo.

All went well on our 7-hour flight to Tokyo; everything was routine. When we started our bombing run, for some unknown and unexplained reason, I did not put the Automatic pilot on “standby” and take over the controls and fly the plane manually over the target as I had done on all 16 previous missions. Instead, I flew by using the control of the autopilot. Just after we released our bombs on Tokyo, Japanese night fighters put one cannon shell into the right outboard engine, another into the cockpit just in front of the co-pilot, Lt. Jo Novak, and another in the gunners compartment with a fragment of it hitting Sgt. Anderson, breaking his leg. Another fragment cut the left rudder cable in two.

Thank the Lord that we were on autopilot, because it had a separate set of cables going to each control surface from the regular airplane cables. Consequently, when the right outboard engine was knocked out, we needed the left rudder to keep the plane from rolling over to the right and crashing. We were only at 8000 feet, which doesn’t allow much time for action.

The co-pilot was killed instantly by the shell exploding in front of him, and I was saved by the shell exploding on the other side of his control column from me. I only received flak in my right arm, my right leg and right side of my face, none serious.

The shell came through the large group of electrical wires on the side of the cabin next to the co-pilot and this knocked out the entire electrical system. It also set fire to the hydraulic fluid that operated the brakes. The flight engineer, Lt. Huhn, using the fire extinguisher, put the fire out.

The oxygen bottle that was just behind the pilot’s seat was punctured in several places by fragments of the shell and bright orange-colored flames were coming out of it in several directions. Lt. Huhn handed the burning oxygen bottle to me and I tossed it out the window next to me. It evidently got by the #2 engine. The time was 2:20 am.

By using the control buttons on the autopilot we were able to get back out over the ocean, and then by using his wonderful knowledge of celestial navigation, Lt. Downing directed us back to Iwo Jima. Flying time – 6 hours.

The #2 propeller had a hole in one blade that you could put your hand through and it caused the plane to shake so bad that we were afraid we wouldn’t make it to Iwo Jima. (I thanked again, all those that were killed capturing Iwo Jima.)

We wanted to land on the 8000-ft, center runway but the smoke from the volcano, Mt. Suribachi obscured it, so we continued south, hoping to land on the 5000-ft. southern runway, but it too, was obscured by smoke. So we continued around the island to the 5000-ft, north runway, which we saw was clear when we passed it.

Lt. Huhn, the flight engineer, had cranked the landing gear down so we landed and hoped to collapse the nose wheel and skid down the runway to a stop. However, upon landing, the right main gear came up instead, and we skidded down the runway like a bird with a broken wing for a short distance and then off the runway in the soft sand, which stopped us instantly.

Everyone was in crash position, except Lt. Huhn, who was serving as co-pilot, and myself. (Lt. Novak’s body had been wrapped in a parachute and placed in the aisle between the pilot and co-pilot’s seats.)

The sudden stop of the plane threw Lt. Huhn upside down into the nose of the plane, but he managed to get up and crawl out my window and almost landed on top of me. Sgt. Bond, who was 5’2″ tall and weighed about 120 lbs., picked up Sgt. Anderson and carried him to the back door of the plane and jumped out with him. When they landed in the sand, they both fell, but Sgt. Bond again picked up Sgt. Anderson, who weighed 170 lbs., in his arms and carried him up the 10 to 12 ft. embankment of loose sand and then down the runway about 200 ft. away from the plane. He could not pick up Sgt. Anderson that way when he tried later.
Although the engines were torn from their mountings and rolled up under the wing, the fuselage broken and buckled in front of the wing and again back of the wing, we had no fire. I don’t remember seeing an airplane as completely demolished without burning.

We went over the target on autopilot instead of manual controls. With the loss of the left rudder and the right outboard engine at the same time, I feel sure we would not have been able to get right side up before crashing. If we had landed on the center 8000 ft. B-29 runway and skidded off either right or left, we would have hit parked airplanes. If we had landed on the southern 5000 ft, runway and skidded off to the right, we would have hit parked planes. If we had skidded off the north 5000 ft. runway to the left, we would have hit parked planes. But we skidded off the north runway to the right, which had no parked planes.


I do NOT think so! I have wondered thousands of times of times which man or men on that crew did God have a special use for in later years. I cannot believe that we could have had that many coincidences on one mission, every one of which was vital to the safety of the crew.

Lt. Parks and his crew were members of the 24th squadron, 6th Bomb Group, 313th wing of the 20th Air Force, based on Tinian.

The flight crew was made up of:
Lt. Sam A. Parks, Airplane Commander and pilot (wounded)
Lt. Jo Novak, Co-pilot (killed)
Lt. B.E. Downing, Navigator
Lt. W.T. Hutson, Jr., Bombardier
Lt. Clifford W. Huhn, Flight Engineer
Sgt. Walter L. Maryanski, Radio Operator
Sgt. Clinton P. Bond, Radar Operator
Sgt. J.E. Farrell, Jr., Central Fire Control Gunner
Sgt. Willis N. Gross, Right Gunner
Sgt. Herman L Anderson, Left Gunner (wounded)
Sgt. A.H. Biernert, Tail Gunner
S/Sgt. Horthon L. Peterson ANZIO

I was assigned as a replacement to the 5th Army, 45th Division, 179th Regiment, on January 20, 1944. After a few days, the 179th was detached from the 45th and attached to the 1st armored division, and on January 22nd, made an amphibious landing on Anzio. The landing caught the Germans completely off guard, and we went inland about five miles, made our foxholes, and awaited orders. Some rangers joined us, and some paratroopers also landed. Two days later, hell broke loose on Anzio Beach.

We were barraged with shells firing overhead on the beachhead. For us in the infantry, it was like sitting under the grand finale of a July 4th fireworks display. There were shells from boats, planes, and artillery overhead. A few weeks after our landing, we were attacked by the Germans; they were approaching from all directins. And we were forced to abandon our positions. I ran down the bank of Mussolini Canal for about two miles. There were only a handful of us from Company G that weren’t captured. There were months spent in foxholes, which were about half a block apart forming the front line. There were one or two of us in each hole. I was alone most of the time, as I was a squad leader. We did our best to sleep in the daytime; at night, we’d sneak out of the foxholes, one hole a time, to get our food ration. One man would call out to the next, when it was his turn to go. The food rations were dumped, by jeep, in a ha[hazard pile by a tree or some other object that we could use as a landmark. This information would also be passed from hole to hole. The food was “K” rations in a waterproof box, about the size of a Cracker Jack box. It contained three meals, after being mixed with water. It was bitter cold; my feet would burn inside wet socks that had become half-frozen. We were cold, wet hungry, and even too exhausted to keep awake under the endless firing of the German guns. On half a dozen occasions I was instructed to go on patrol with 5 or 6 other men looking for the German front line, and also for telephone wires lying on the ground. We would tap into these wires, and run a line back to headquarters. There were many land mines in this No-man’s-land between us. If we made it through the next patrol, we would use this as a path to go up and back the ext time. Most of these patrols were hands and knees in a single file about 12 feet apart. Two of my men were Indian, and very adept.

Edgar McElroy (A/C) flew the aircraft for a couple of missions but discovered that injuries sustained while participating in the Doolittle raid prevented him from flying long missions.  On the May 23 mission [Mission 43], 1/Lt Sam A. Parks (A/C) was wounded, 2/Lt. Jo Novak (Pilot) was killed and Sgt Herman L. Anderson (L Gunner) was wounded.In Memoriam

Herman L. Anderson, Lady Lake, Fla., died in November 2002.  He served in the 24th Squadron as a left gunner with Crew 3906 on the B-29 Uncle Sam’s Milk Wagon.  Anderson received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star due to injuries he sustained during an incendiary mission over Tokyo on May 23, 1945.  Historians later would describe the fire bomb raid as “Tokyo’s most terrific pounding.”  His wife, Phyllis, survives him.  [6BG Newsletter, Jan 2003, p. 7]

McElroy, Edgar E., passed away in August 2003.  He was from Lubbock, TX – 24th Squadron Tokyo Raid 42 and bailed out over China.  [6BG Newsletter, Oct 2003, p. 3]

The Airplanes

This crew primarily flew “Ernie Pyle’s Milkwagon / Uncle Sam’s Milkwagon”.