In late 1944, our 40th Bomb Group's B-29 formation was attacked by many Japanese fighter aircraft immediately after our bombs were released on an Omura, Japan, aircraft factory. Most of the fighters were making diving, head-on attacks.

During one head-on attack, our Bombardier, Marshall "Shorty" Norton, fired our B-29's upper forward guns at a Zeke that was diving toward us from one o'clock high. Copilot Alvin Hills and I crouched to keep the sheets of bullet proof glass installed above our instrument panels between us and the fighter plane. As the Zeke flashed by overhead, Shorty had to turn in his seat to keep his guns aimed at the fighter. He saw us crouched in our seats, and yelled, "You yellow cowards! You're hiding behind that bullet proof glass while I'm sitting here with only thin Plexiglas in front of me."

Before I could reply, Shorty turned to face forward and began to fire at other attacking aircraft. When our formation withdrew to the Yellow Sea, the Japanese Pilots turned back because they did not want to risk having to bail out over water. The formation of B-29s spread out, and we all relaxed as we headed across the water toward the east coast of friendly China.

While Shorty used the quiet interval to make his log entries, and to check his gunsight and bomb panel, Copilot Hills and I discussed our defensive strategy to use the bullet proof glass as protection during a frontal attack. We considered our weaving and crouching behind the glass as prudent. After all, the heavy glass was installed to protect the Pilots from injuries that might result in their losing control of the airplane. Shorty had never turned in his seat during an attack because he concentrated on the action in front of our plane.

When he had completed his tasks, Shorty removed his helmet and oxygen mask, wiped his sweaty face, then turned toward me. A frown had replaced the smile and pleasant look that normally covered his face. I spoke first. I touched Shorty on the shoulder and said, "If you had been sitting back here with Alvin and me, you would duck behind the glass just as we did." Shorty's face relaxed into his normal, good-natured grin. He replied, "I know that. But it's not fair that there is only a thin sheet of Plexiglas in front of me." I agreed by nodding and saying nothing more. As friends, we put the matter to rest.

On the 40th Bomb Group's next mission to Omura, a Bombardier was killed by a Japanese Zero's bullets that penetrated the bomber's Plexiglas nose section. His Pilots survived. Did you know that General Sherman first said the cliche: War is hell?

* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *