Harold Hayden of Punta Gorda, Fla. was a flight engineer aboard a C-47 twin-engine transport plane attached to Troop Carrier Wing 322, 374th Group, 24th Squadron, part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s army in the Southwest Pacific during World War II.
Hayden and his unit flew troops, fuel, ammunition and food all over the Pacific. He took part in the New Guinea, Luzon, and southern Philippine campaigns.
“If it hadn’t been for the troop carrier planes in the Pacific, the Pacific War would have lasted much longer,” the 84-year-old local resident said. “MacArthur was committed to ‘island hopping’ and supplies were very important. The general relied on our C-47s to supply him.
“We flew every day from 5 a.m. to whenever, three C-47s in a flight, flying on the deck about 800 feet off the ground. If Japanese fighters dove on us they couldn’t pull up, but mostly they didn’t bother with us because we weren’t the right targets,” Hayden said.
The way the Troop Carrier wings worked, C-47s would load up at a base behind the lines and land their cargo on a temporary steel plate runway, quickly constructed strip in the jungle, or on a beach at the front. After off-loading their supplies, the transports would be reloaded with wounded soldiers and marines for a flight back to the nearest military hospital.
“Each C-47 had an official tonnage weight stamped on a plate in the airplane, but we didn’t pay any attention to that,” he said. “We loaded the plane until we couldn’t force another thing through the door. The pilot, co-pilot and radio man would have to go through the escape hatch to get into the plane to fly it.
“We supplied the Leyte Invasion. We flew out of Biak, New Guinea, up to Leyte in the Philippines, and landed on a steel runway on the beach. On the return trip, we flew back 20 or more soldiers in litters,” he said.
Not often, but occasionally they would lose a transport because of weather, mechanical difficulties or from enemy fire.
“We had one plane go down in the jungle in New Guinea,” Hayden said. “It took the crew two months to walk out, but they all survived.”
One day while MacArthur’s headquarters was being moved by their C-47 unit from Hollandia, New Guinea, to Manila, Philippines, one of their pilots was searching for a safe air route over a high mountain range that runs down the spine of New Guinea to get the general’s staff and supplies to the Philippines. He flew over a beautiful valley nestled in high hills far off the beaten path.
“He made a second pass over the area and couldn’t believe what he saw below him,” Hayden said. “There were cultivated terrace farms below fed by a stream that ran out of the mountainside and ended up back in the mountain at the other end. It was a very strange area the pilot called Shangri-La.”
In a book published by the 54th Troop Carrier Wing after the war it notes, “The valley is 160 miles northwest of Nadzab, New Guinea, nestled 5500 feet above sea level on the other side of the Kubor Mountain Range near Mount Hagen.”
“I’ve seen Shangri-La. I’ve flown over it several times,” Hayden said. “What makes it so strange is that it’s surrounded by dense jungle inhabited by head hunters. The indigenous Filipino people who live in this valley are farmers.
*“One day while we were moving MacArthur to Manila, this new pilot was taking a planeload of WACS to the Philippines. They’d heard about Shangri-La and wanted to see it. They talked the pilot into flying them over the valley. Because he was new with little experience, he make the mistake of coming in too low on a second pass, and because of the air currents he crashed the plane,” Hayden said.
They searched the area for the downed WACS, but found nothing. Then sometime later, another plane flew over the area and spotted the wreckage. An engineer and two WACS had survived the crash. The engineer was as able to communicate by radio with the plane circling above and explained they were in dire straits.
“The problem was, how do we get them out?” Hayden said. “They dropped a glider in with a Filipino pilot that set up a glider snatch.”
The rescue of the trio made headlines around the world.
“Our C-47 flew some Time-Life reporters and photographers from Hollandia to Manila to meet with the survivors after they were rescued,” Hayden said. “I’m sure if you searched the Time-Life archives, you’d find their Shangri-La story. It was April or May 1945 when we made the flight.”
One day while working on one of the engines in their C-47 at an air strip at Gamboanga, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, a native walked up.
“‘You got a smoke, Joe?’ he said to me.
“‘Yea,’ I replied as I climbed off the crew chief’s stand where I was working and gave him a cigarette.
“‘You got a cup of coffee, Joe?’ he asked. I got him some coffee.
“Then we sat there smoking and drinking our coffee. He told me a tale.
“He said he was the only one left in his family. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, he had a wife and three daughters. The Japanese took his wife and three daughters, tied them to trees and used them for bayonet practice.”
Hayden said he didn’t know what to say. He asked the Filipino if he had any food and he said no. The sergeant told the native he would see what he could do to help him out after he finished working on the engine. He collected some G.I. food, put the chow and the native in a truck, and drove him home.
“Come to find out the man was a sword maker. He made native short swords inlaid with gold, silver and mother-of-pearl.” Hayden asked the man to make him a native war sword.
“One day our commanding officer announced that we were all to fall out for a movie because he planned to make an important announcement before the show began,” he said. “When we got there, our C.O. told us every plane that could be would be in the air tomorrow at 5 a.m.
“He said we would all fly to Clark Field on Luzon, where we would pick up troops and fly on to Okinawa where we would stage for the invasion of Japan,” Hayden said. “After the movie, I went back and sacked out. I was lying in my sack and all of a sudden there was all this shouting.
“I climbed out of my bunk, walked outside and someone yelled, ‘THE WAR IS OVER!'”
* Editor’s Note: Hayden’s memory of the Shangri-La story was a bit off the mark. What we assume he was referring to was the story in the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, Lost in Shangri-la.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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Harold R. Hayden dead at 87
September 16, 1923 – April 13, 2011
Harold R. Hayden 87, of Punta Gorda passed away on Wednesday April 13, 2011. Funeral arrangements entrusted to Kays-Ponger Uselton Funeral Home and Cremation Services Port Charlotte Chapel.