Herb Wild of Port Charlotte, Fla. joined the Navy in 1942 during World War II as an 18 –year-old electronics assistant’s mate. His job was to repair the newfangled electronic equipment on airplanes flown by Navy pilots in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.
“I was assigned to a night fighter squadron of F6F Hellcat fighters stationed near Honolulu just about the time the squadron disbanded,” the 84-year-old former Navy man recalled. “Then I was reassigned to a unit that repaired all the Navy planes that came through Honolulu.
“From September 1944 until February 1945 I worked on planes in Honolulu, but I wanted to see some action. So I and a buddy, Joe Northrup, volunteered for a PBM squadron (flying boats) some place east of Guam, but we didn’t know where,” he said.
“We ended up in VPB-19, a flying boat squadron based in Saipan that went to Iwo Jima for the invasion. That was a disaster for our squadron because we lost every one of our PBMs before leaving Iwo,” Wild explained. “Most of our planes were damaged by high seas at Iwo. Only one was shot down by enemy fire.”
His first action came when he and Joe were sent by whale boat, while the battle was still raging, was to recover some electronic equipment aboard a damaged PBM that had washed up on the beach at Iwo Jima.
“We got out there in a 52-foot motor launch and were caught by a huge wave that split the boat in two. The sailor at the wheel swung the boat around just in time in between swells and headed back to our ship. We made it back just barely,” he said.
After returning to Saipan with his unit, he and Joe were transferred to squadron VPB-21 headed for Okinawa. They arrived two days before the biggest battle in the Pacific war began.
The big, lumbering twin-engine sea planes were used to scout for enemy ships and aircraft headed for the last major island battle before the invasion of the Japanese home islands. With all the electronic equipment they carried the flying boat was the perfect plane for the job.
Wild flew several 14-hour night patrols aboard a PBM that took off from Okinawa and flew to China and then along the Yellow Sea coast of Japan and back to Okinawa.
“On one of these night patrols headed for Japan, because I was a radar technician the man on the radar asked me to tune up his radar. When I finished working on his scope I saw a target and told the pilot,” he said. “A little while later I saw two more targets. Then there were more and more targets coming our way.
“The pilot said, ‘This can’t be. There’s something wrong with the radar.’ I assured him the radar was working fine.
“When we returned to base the next morning we found out Okinawa had been attacked by the biggest flight of Japanese planes ever. We had flown right through several formations of enemy planes headed for Okinawa. That’s what we had seen on the radar the night before,” Wild said.
He and his squadron were there for the entire 82-day battle of Okinawa. After that the squadron began preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Unexpectedly atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Japanese surrendered unconditionally on Sept. 2, 1945 aboard the battleship Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. After that each province in the country surrendered individually. Wild and his PBM squadron were involved in the surrender ceremony at Ominato, Japan on Sept. 13.
“The whole squadron, 15 PMBs, took off from Okinawa and flew over Ominato during the surrender ceremony. We flew in formation and then landed. There was a big Japanese naval facility at Ominato we wanted to use,” Wild said. “While there a few of us took sampans ashore and hitchhiked around the area. Japanese soldiers would pick us up hitch-hiking – no problem.”
By the time he returned from World War II, Wild was a Petty Officer 1st Class. He took the G.I. Bill and attended Syracuse University where he graduated with a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
“For 37 years I worked as a computer designer for IBM. I started designing computers in the 1950s and worked on the first commercial computers IBM built,” Wild said. “I was also in charge of design for the first FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) traffic control system used by the federal government.”
He and his wife, Evelyn, retired and moved to Deep Creek in 1982.
Name: Herbert Wild
Hometown: Syracuse, NY
Currently: Deep Creek, Fla
Entered Service: 1942
Rank: Petty Officer 1st Class
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. Monday, November 23, 2009. It is republished on the web with permission.