ROBERT M. FREEBORN
Robert M. Freeborn of Alhambra, California was assigned to the 40th Bomb Group, 44th Bomb Squadron in July 1945 while the unit was stationed at West Field, Tinian. At the time, he was a twenty-year old B-29 Copilot. Although his tenure with the 40th Bomb Group lasted for only four months, he was assigned duties that put his name in the historical records of the group. He earned this distinguished honor by being the officer who closed down the 40th Bomb Group on Tinian at the end of World War II. This is his story as he recalled it 37 years later.
The end of the war came with unexpected suddenness. On August 6, 1945, the Fat Man atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan and three days later, on August 9, the Little Boy atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Russia entered the war on that same day. On August 14-15, the 58th Bomb Wing sent 167 B-29s to bomb the Hikari Naval Arsenal. They delivered 3,540 five-hundred pound general purpose bombs with 64% of the bombs landing within 1,000 feet of the aiming point. Seven B-29s were damaged by flak, but none were lost. The Japanese surrendered on August 15. V-J day was celebrated on September 2, 1945, while all flyable B-29s took part in a flyover as the surrender document was being signed in Tokyo Bay.
Following the surrender, there were a few POW missions that dropped supplies into POW camps and some official flights while the 40th Bomb Group was being rapidly demobilized. Flight personnel with ten or more missions were rotated back to the States. Ground support personnel with a sufficient accumulation of "points" were rotated. The remaining members of the 40th Bomb Group were assigned to the 313th Bomb Wing stationed at North Field, Tinian.
On October 5, 1945, Tinian was hit by a typhoon that did considerable damage to most installations. At times, wind speed exceeded 100 miles an hour. Flooding, caused by a deluge of rain, also caused much damage.
By October 15, much of the 40th's equipment had been transferred to other units, and most of its personnel were gone. It was on that day, a Sunday, Major Evans called Lt. Freeborn into his office and informed him that he was the group's Liaison Officer who would deactivate the 40th Bomb Group. Lt. Freeborn was given a list of specific tasks and supervisory duties, and was assigned a jeep. During the next few days, he inspected the flight line, signed releases and documents confirming the transfer and reassignment of equipment, supervised cleanup operations, and made several trips to the Port of Tinian.
On Friday, October 19 the transfer of equipment, materiel, and personnel was completed. Lt. Freeborn's orders were to report the following day to the 313th Bomb Group for duty. He spent a lonely Friday evening and a solitary, restless night on the deserted West Field that had been home for a bustling, war-oriented B-29 bomb group. Lt. Freeborn awoke early Saturday morning and hurriedly made a final check of his ghost town. He made sure that all water and electricity was turned off. Then he loaded his personal gear into his jeep, and, with mixed emotions, drove to the 313th Bomb Group Headquarters where he relinquished his Liaison Officer's authority and his jeep.
For sentimental reasons, Lt. Freeborn visited West Field several times in the following months. He was pleased to find that a small security group was taking good care of his airfield.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *