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First Day of the War

by Monte Ballew

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"When they started loading 5" HVAR rockets I got the idea this wasn't going to be a mock raid on Okinawa."

The Third Bomb Group was stationed at Johnson Field at the time the "Police Action" broke. However, we had been at Ashiya Air Base for about a week waiting for the weather to break so the Group could pull some mock bombing raids on Okinawa. The weather system seemed determined to be there for a while, so three 13th crews, Jim Morrow, Leslie Lyons and myself were dispatched to Matsushima, Japan, where the 13th was about to begin maneuvers - that was the 25th of June. We were turned around the next morning to return to Ashiya, and upon arrival I saw the armament guys backing a dolly under the wings of my aircraft. When they started loading 5in HVAR rockets I got the idea this wasn't going to be a mock raid on Okinawa. We flew the first mission the next morning on the 27th with nine aircraft. My navigator was Hammond Bittman and the gunner was Dewey Halcomb.

We were briefed to hit targets of opportunity in the area just north of Seoul. I had a six gun hardnosed airplane, designated "Z", with about ten bombs on board, 14 5" HVAR rockets and 50 caliber ammo. When we took off for the target, Remer Harding's airplane had difficulty and came back in. The weather was bad and the airplane crashed attempting to land. That was the first air fatality of the Korean war.

When we got into the target area we split up into groups to hit whatever we could find. Morrow and a couple of others took some targets along the river there at Seoul. Siborsky's crew (an 8th crew) went further west and was letting down through the clouds over the water when they evidently lost control of the aircraft. The navigator, Lt. Lister, survived the bailout and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat. He said Siborsky went out ahead of him and was hung up on the upper turret when the plane went down.

Three of us, Major Abe Shook, myself, and another crew went for the marshalling yards there at Kaesong. We found a troop train and worked it over good. We had dropped all our bombs and rockets and were using up the .50 calibre ammunition when we were hit by a hail of small arms fire. I lost the right engine and three jugs on the other. I could only get about 28 in. on the operating engine and knew we weren't going to get back to Ashiya on it with one engine feathered. Bittman said, "Lets don't bai1 out. I've got on loafers." He had been shot down on mission #3 in WW II and sat out the war as a POW.

We found the airfield at Suwon, which seemed the most likely place to put it down. We didn't know whether it was held by the North or South Koreans at the time. Major Shook was flying my wing as I made the approach to the touchdown. There wasn't much he could do for us, but it was comforting to know he was there. By the time I had rolled half the length of the runway I saw an American officer standing there with a big eagle on his cap and I knew we were in pretty good shape. I rolled off the end of the runway and parked the plane.

Our aircraft was of course left at Suwon. Later pictures show it with the left gear collapsed after every crew in the 13th tried to destroy it so it would not fall into Commie hands. Jim Morrows aircraft received so much battle damage that it was "class 26ed" (junked) when the crew got back to Ashiya.

-- Monte Ballew, Pilot
13th Bomb Squadron
Monte Ballew