Aviator recalls life and B-29 bombers on Tinian Island

Guice Johnson graduated from the Aviation Cadet Program during World War II. He was a bombardier flying raids over Japan in a B-29 "Superfortress." Photo provided

Guice Johnson graduated from the Aviation Cadet Program during World War II. He was a bombardier flying raids over Japan in a B-29 “Superfortress.” Photo provided

1st. Lt. Guice Johnson was the bombardier on the 12-man crew of the first B-29 to land on Tinian Island during the closing months of World War II.

In fact, when Capt. Walter Schroder put down the wheels, the Seabees were still working to build the runway.

Johnson was in the 484th Squadron, 505th Bomb Group, 313th Bomb Wing, 20th Air Force commanded by Gen. Curtis LeMay.

“We were supposed to land on Guam, but we refueled at Wake Island, and our commander decided to go on to Tinian. The captain heard a lot about that later on from the higher-ups,” Johnson said.

Before the war was over, Johnson flew 36 combat missions over Japan. Half of them were bombing raids on Tokyo.

“On our first mission, eight out of our 12 bombers were shot down,” the 84-year-old resident of the Royal Palm Retirement Center in Port Charlotte, Fla. said. “One time we had a three-aircraft formation. We were on the right wing, and both the lead aircraft and the left-wing aircraft got shot down.

“We got shot up a little bit and had to land at Iwo Jima on our way home and get an engine replaced,” Johnson said. “On takeoff somebody on the ground shot a hole through the propeller on our No. 2 engine. We shut it down and kept going.”

The problem was, in the beginning his squadron was flying high-altitude bombing runs. They were dropping their loads at 30,000 feet or more. Head winds at that altitude slowed them to a crawl and made the huge silver bombers sitting ducks for enemy ground fire and fighters.

“Several of us got together and decided we had a better way to bomb. We asked to speak to General LeMay. We went to see him at his headquarters on Guam,” Johnson recalls.

“LeMay was sitting there with a 2-inch piece of half-chewed cigar in his mouth. He had one foot in the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet and the other one up on his desk as he leaned back in his chair,” he said. “We told him we wanted to go in low and fast and escape the high-altitude flak problems and the head winds.

“LeMay looked at us and said, ‘If you … want to kill yourselves it’s OK with me.’ He gave us permission to do low-level bombing. Lo and behold, when it became a success, he invented it. It was LeMay’s idea.”

B-29s similar to the one above was used primarily by the US Air Force to burn most of the Japanese cities to the ground during World War II. Photo provided

B-29s similar to the one above were used primarily by the US Air Force to burn most of the Japanese major cities to the ground during World War II. Photo provided

When he wasn’t in the air over enemy territory, Johnson liked to explore Tinian with a couple of buddies. The trouble was that the 7-mile-long, 2-mile-wide island was still not rid of Japanese soldiers.

“The island was declared secure, but that should have been in quotes because there were an awful lot of enemy soldiers still around,” he said. “They’d steal American uniforms and get in our chow lines at times.

“One day my two buddies and I were walking though a sugarcane field the Seabees had just plowed down with a bulldozer. As we stepped out of one side of the cane into the clearing, a Japanese lieutenant and two enlisted men stepped out of the other side,” Johnson said.

“The Japanese lieutenant reached for his pistol. I pulled out my .38 revolver and shot him twice. I’d been practicing quick draw and I was fast. I had converted an Air Force shoulder holster to a holster strapped to my leg. I whipped that revolver out and shot him. The enlisted men took off back into the cane field and disappeared.

“The only thing I took off the dead marine was his Nambu pistol. My pilot had just paid $150 for one just like it. The other guys I was with took the rest of his stuff. He had his Samurai sword, a hari-kari knife, a Sam Brown belt and a high hat with a plume.

“He was a huge 7-foot-tall Japanese Imperial Marine. We marked the place best we could. When I got back to my outfit, I told my superiors so they could properly care for the guy’s body,” he said.

B-29s bristled with armament. They had quad .50-caliber machine guns in the upper turret and two more in the lower turret. There were twin .50s in the lower-forward turret, two in the aft-upper turret, two in the aft-lower turret, and a couple more .50-caliber machine guns in the tail, which also had a 20-mm cannon.

As bombardier, Johnson not only dropped the bombs, but he also controlled the four .50s in the forward-upper turret and the two in the lower-forward turret. They were computerized guns, and he tracked the enemy planes through a monitor in front of him.

“One day on a high-altitude flight, our B-29 shot down seven enemy aircraft. That day I had three confirmed kills. By the end of the war, I had 14 confirmed kills,” he said.

Johnson had been on Tinian for months when Col. Paul Tibbets showed up piloting the “Enola Gay.” It was Tibbets and his crew who dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

“When we were going through B-29 training back in the states, Tibbets’ crew didn’t make the grade. They were held back, but they finally did get it right in training,” he said. “This was before he became a war hero.”

When the war was over, Johnson wasn’t at all pleased about going home. For him, home was Tinian.

“When I got back to San Francisco, I ran into a friend who was able to get some orders cut sending me back to Tinian. When I got aboard a plane to fly out to Hawaii, I hadn’t had any sleep in hours. I laid down on a couple of seats and pulled a blanket over me,” he said. “When I woke up, I heard these people speaking Japanese. At first I thought, ‘God, I’ve been captured.’ I peaked out from under the blanket and here were these Japanese-American soldiers playing cards speaking Japanese. They were interpreters for our occupation forces,” Johnson said.

“When I got back to Tinian, our group commander said, ‘ Guice , what the hell took you so long? We had a pool going in the outfit betting on how long it would take you to get back here.'”

It wasn’t long after that Johnson ‘s unit was relocated to Clark Field near Manila, Philippines. Shortly after that, he returned home for the second time.

Former Air Force Lieutenant Guice Johnson of Royal Palm Retirement Center in Port Charlotte, Fla. looks at a book about the Aviation Cadet Program in Texas. He graduated from the program during the second World War. Sun photo by Don Moore

Former Air Force Lieutenant Guice Johnson of Royal Palm Retirement Center in Port Charlotte, Fla. looks at a book about the Aviation Cadet Program in Texas. He graduated from the program during the Second World War. Sun photo by Don Moore

He went on to fly B-29s during the Korean War and completed his military service as an electronic warfare officer in a Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber. It was his job to protect the giant bomber against missile attacks.

In 1964, he retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force after 26 years. He and his wife Margie moved to Florida that same year.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, June 26, 2005 and is republished with permission.


Whiskey was the B-29’s mascot

Don Moore, Senior Writer

The Punta Gorda, Fla. bombardier took his Cocker Spaniel to war – Guice Johnson of Punta Gorda, Fla. was a bombardier aboard a B-29 “Superfortress” in the 505th Bomb Group, 20th Air Force flying off Tinian Island on bombing raids over Japan at the close of World War II. What makes his war experiences different was a pup he called “Whiskey.”

“Whiskey was a beautiful, five-week-old, solid black Cocker Spaniel. We immediately fell madly in love with each other. But I was a B-29 crew member headed to war in the Pacific Theater of Operations,” Johnson wrote.

“I didn’t believe there was anything that could part us. All I had to do was look into his big, brown eyes and I was trapped. Whiskey flew with us aboard my B-29 sitting on the floor of the bomber or in my lap on our way to Tinian in the Mariana Island chain.

“Whiskey also flew several combat missions with us, but he was at his best at crew parties after a mission. He would get completely looped. After some of these glorious parties Whiskey would be so hung over he would crawl under our Quonset hut, dig a hole and bury himself in the cool, damp earth.

“Sunday mornings, following one of our Saturday night flings, were the worst on the pup. The chaplain would stand in the front yard blowing “church call” on his bugle. Whiskey would cover his ears and moan. I don’t think Whiskey was an atheist.

“After Whiskey and I won the war, I was ordered back to the States. How was I going to get him home?

“The harbor master was a young Navy lieutenant junior grade I knew in college who would help me out smuggle Whiskey out. He came from Papalote, Texas about 30 miles from my home.

“The only ship ready to leave was the Papero. It was captained by a hard-nosed Downeaster, Capt. Earl Smith from Bangor, Maine. I got the flight surgeon to help me work out the dose of phenolbarbitol needed to knock Whiskey out long enough to sneak him aboard. I liberated a Norden Bombsite canvas carrying case to hide him in.

“I was assigned the first mates’ cabin. These were fairly luxurious digs compared to what I had been accustomed to. I even had room service by pushing a button by my bed.

“As I knew he would, the captain discovered Whiskey after we were well out to sea. It wasn’t long before the three of us were good friends. The skipper was crazy about my dog.

“Capt. Smith would feed Whiskey ice cream, fresh meat and anything else he could think of. The crew loved the pup, too. The foolish dog became so sea wise he would jump up on the railing around the weather deck and bark at the flying fish.

“We sailed into San Francisco Bay the night of the VJ (Victory over Japan) Day Celebration. The next morning their was someone pounding at my door aboard ship. Capt. Smith had radioed a message to Fort Mason that a VIP aboard needed immediate transportation ashore.

“Whiskey was the VIP. The U.S. Army furnished our transportation. When I arrived at Fort Mason, I advised them I needed to get a ride to a local veterinarian to have Whiskey checked out and shipped to Dallas, Tex.

“Whiskey and I had survived the war.”

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 18, 2002 and is republished with permission.


Radio club founder dies – Guice Johnson suffers massive stroke

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, Fla.) – Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006
Author: ALYSSA SCHNUGG; Staff Writer

The voice that once communicated with possibly thousands of people over ham radios in Charlotte County was silenced Sunday.

Guice W. Johnson , founder of the Charlotte Amateur Radio Society, died Sunday from complications he suffered after a massive stroke Saturday.

Johnson , 86, moved to Punta Gorda with his wife Margie in 1964 after retiring from the U.S. Air Force after 26 years. In 1976, he founded the radio society where he often coordinated communications for local events such as the local Christmas parade and March of Dimes WalkAmerica — until his health started to fail about five years ago.

Bob Carpenter, who ran Fishermen’s Village for several years in the late 1970s and early ’80s, remembered first meeting with Johnson .

“The Chamber of Commerce did an annual Christmas parade across from Fishermen’s Village, and Guice supplied us with the necessary communications we needed,” Carpenter said. “We became and stayed friends from then on. Anything you asked of him, he was always there for you.”

Johnson ‘s wife, Margie, said the two were married for 58 years at the time of his death. They had no children.

“All of our lives,” she said Wednesday. “Felt like it anyway.”

After Hurricane Charley destroyed their house, the two moved into the Royal Palm assisted living facility.

“He wanted to move into a retirement community before that, but I resisted it,” Margie said. “But Charley made up our minds for us.”

Margie said her husband kept active after retirement, starting the ham radio club and joining the Charlotte County PC Users Group, which meets at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County. He did publicity for the club and often wrote columns for the Sun.

“He enjoyed computers,” Margie said.

Johnson will be cremated and interred at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Fla.


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Comments

  1. My father, Charles James Kernats, was in the 505th 484th bombardment group. He was on the crew of a plane called the lazy Susan. If there is anyone one there who knew him, i would love to hear from you..
    Frank Kernats
    Bloomingdale, Illinois

  2. My uncle Paul Clifton Ward was copilot of the White Mistress crew 4007. His son has a great photo of Emperor Hirohitos palace taken from the plane on their way to a bombing mission. Following orders they were forbidden to bomb the palace so he took a photo as they flew over it.

  3. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the brave men and women who fought in WW2, if not for them, I shudder to think what would have happened if Germany and Japan had won the war. God bless them all.

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