AGAINST ALL THE ODDS- MISSION COMPLETE
(Courtesy of the Iwo Jima Marines and their Navy and Coast Guard Comrades)
The blood soaked island of Iwo Jima had been wrenched by force from Japanese hands.
So our crippled bombers returning from strikes would have an emergency haven to land.
At a cost of 26,000 Leatherneck casualties, including 6,800 killed in action ---, IN 36 DAYS --, "bloody Iwo" was in American
The price had been blood, heartbreak and pain, the Marine Corps had paid a terrible toll.
Surabachi was now an "American flag pole", as the Stars And Stripes waved from the mount.
A poignant reminder to all of the world that war takes a toll too awesome to count.
But now the bombers, shot up and crippled ---, or disabled by mechanical failure ---, had some hope of reaching a strip.
And that meant fewer "missing in action" ---, fewer ditching’s at sea --, and most important --, fewer heartbreaking
"one way trips".
That meant fewer War Department telegrams ---, or dreaded knocks upon the door.
That was the "gift" to American airmen ----, and their families ---, the ULTIMATE "gift" from the "guys in the Corps".
Now the Superfort crews could continue their job in a quest to bring an end to the war.
That was the mission OF every mission, the job they were trained and "engineered" for.
A classic example of the skill and the courage that was common among the crews of these ships,
Was "highlighted" by a lone Superfort --, struggling to make it to the emergency strip.
Crippled with three engines out -, the lone engine labored at maximum power.
In the pilot seat an exhausted "kid", was counting the minutes that seemed more like hours.
As he fought the controls he was thinking ahead, could they make "Iwo" by stretching their glide?
With the laboring engine set at full power he knew what would happen if it coughed and died.
In the ocean below the hungry sharks waited, that's the reality of a ditching at sea.
And if they survived would they be rescued, or "missing in action" would they always be?
The lone engine labored to keep them aloft, the dead engines were "dragging" the opposite wing.
Holding full rudder to counter the yaw, what EXTRA challenge would the next minute bring?
This is what's called "just sweating it out", while doing your best to simply survive.
Would "Lady Luck" and that overworked engine get them to "Iwo" and keep them alive?
At last off of the nose Iwo Jima appeared, a safe haven at last IF "Lady Luck" smiles.
But with the bomber losing more altitude each inch of ocean seemed more like a mile!
And Iwo appeared a million miles distant, yet just off the nose and just up ahead.
There was one chance and ONLY ONE CHANCE, do it right first or they would be dead!
A B-29 in perfect condition can challenge the skill of most any man.
Less "forgiving" than the B-17, bigger ---, more cumbersome --, and "hotter" to land!
Crippled with only one engine , the odds of a landing – -, and survival ---, were "daunting" at best the crew understood.
BUT the pilot up front had brought them this far -, in spite of the odds -, he HAD to be good!
A straight in approach, no room for mistakes, --, single engine – --, maximum power ---, FULL opposite rudder to
counter the yaw,
And on the island Marines were observing, it was hard to believe the scene that they saw.
Three feathered props on the Superfort's wings, one engine alone was propelling the "ship".
The Leathernecks held their breath as they watched, could the struggling bomber get to the strip?
The B-29 was not engineered to fly on one engine the Leathernecks knew.
Yet here was a poignant exception to "law", three engines were "dead" but the Superfort FLEW!
Controlling decent with only one engine, yet holding some altitude, a priceless "insurance".
Was testing the nerve and skill of the pilot, aircraft response and "engine endurance"!
The thundering engine was howling in protest, yet it was still keeping the plane in the air.
If only it lasted on final approach with enough air speed for the pilot to flare.
And as the drama was being played out, in the minds of observers admiration was stirred.
Though crippled and struggling to say in the air, this Superfort was still a magnificent bird.
The thoughts and the hopes of each witness observing were focused upon the Superfort's crew.
They couldn't "reach out" and lend them a hand, "wishing them well" was all they could do.
And they were aware each crewman aboard had families and friends who were far from these shores.
And only luck and the skill of the pilot would spare them "that telegram" or "knock on their door".
Closer and closer the crippled plane limped, as the Leathernecks "willed it" to safety ashore.
These "heroes of Iwo" recognized valor, a "comrade in arms" in the nightmare of war.
At maximum power the struggling engine was "tugging" the Superfort to safety ahead.
The pilot intent on a one shot chance, one minor mistake and they would be dead.
At last the crew had hope of survival, that survival and safety was now in their reach.
As the giant bomber lined up on the runway, lowered the wheels and passed over the beach.
Then a perfect landing in view of the circumstance, the Leathernecks cheered the miraculous feat.
Uncommon courage and the skill of an Artist had "chalked up another "mission complete"!
Ivan L. Fail
Note: About 6 years ago a long time friend and WWII Marine who made the Guadalcanal, Guam and Iwo Jima invasions told me
that he watched this aircraft fly over on only one engine but he never learned it’s ultimate fate. Although I didn’t
land on Iwo Jima until exactly 11 years after his "D-Day" landing on Iwo -, I was able to tell him that the bomber had made
a safe "one engine landing" that day because I had read about it in a story about this epic battle.