This event happened in late November 1944 at our advanced base at Hsinching Airfield in Western China. My crew had flown 15 hours on a combat mission against an aircraft factory in Japan, and when we landed, we were very tired. When mission debriefing was completed, we ate a quick meal and went to bed. The sky was clear, and the light of a full moon bathed the countryside and the B-29s sitting quietly on their hard stands. Conditions were ideal for Japanese bombers from Hankow to attack Hsinching using moonlight for low level bomb runs.
I awoke from a deep sleep, and although my ears were ringing, I could hear water running from the thatched roof. Moonlight was shining through the windows so how could it be raining? The sound of falling water was not the only strange thing that was happening. The air reeked with the pungent aroma of damp soil and the acrid smell of gunpowder.
I looked around the room and saw only empty bunks. Rolling onto my side, I peered below calling for my Bombardier who bunked below me. The bunk was empty. I was alone. Since I was not fully awake, and was puzzled by the sound of falling water and the smell of nauseous odors, I didn't realize the significance of the drone of a plane flying at low altitude. Suddenly, the plane's engines surged to higher power, and its roar told me a Japanese bomber we called Betty was diving for a bomb run. It seemed to be very low and coming closer.
I slid out of my sleeping bag, dropped to the dirt floor and raced through the open door. Water from the eaves spattered my face as I dashed from the building and rounded the corner of the hostel. The Betty flew directly at me as I ran toward a foot path that crossed the rice paddies to our air raid shelter -- the raised mounds in a cemetery. I could see the plane's twin exhausts, and I wondered if the crew could see me.
A muffled blast told me a canister of fragmentation bombs had been released and in a few seconds frag bombs would be exploding everywhere. I dived into a shallow ditch and hugged the ground just as the ripping blasts of several bombs shattered the night air. The Betty skimmed over the hostel roof, then climbed steeply and flew out of sight toward Hankow.
I stood up and noticed that paddy water was gurgling as it poured into a huge bomb crater only a few feet from the hostel. It was then I realized I had slept through part of the bombing raid, and while I slumbered, a large bomb landed in the paddy. We later learned the bomb penetrated 30 feet before exploding and showering the hostel with water, mud, and soil. I had been spared the hazard of flying shards of glass because the window panes were made of rice paper.
After trotting across the paddy's foot path to the grassy mounds in the cemetery, I heard voices and saw a cigarette's glowing tip. My squadron buddies were crouching in the safest place they could find. When I called out to them, my Bombardier replied in his Texas drawl, "Where the Hell have you been? I called you three times and shook you as hard as I could. Don't you remember me telling you it was a three-ball alert?"
I slumped into the grass next to him and replied, "No. I never heard a thing until after that big bomb hit the paddy. You birds must have been in a real panic to run out and leave me asleep." My Bombardier, who was accustomed to having the last word, replied, "You better wake up the next time. When a Betty is diving for a bomb run, there isn't time to stand around and jaw with you about getting out of bed!"
For the remainder of the war, I was known as the man who could sleep through anything -- including an air raid.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *