It was their last mission aboard “Betty-J,” a B-24 four-engine bomber named for the pilot, Jack Bates’ wife, that Elbert Bishop of Paradise Park, east of Punta Gorda, remembers most. The crew was part of the 42nd Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group, 7th Air Force.
“We were scheduled to bomb Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, but our mission was changed and we ended up bombing an airbase in Kumamoto, Japan,” the 89-year-old former nose gunner and radar operator recalled almost 70 years later. “While we were still in the air we could see from a distance this huge mushroom cloud rising over Nagasaki from a distance. Of course we didn’t know what was going on.”
Bishop and the other nine members of “Betty-J” made 12 combat missions on Japanese-held Pacific islands and eventually the Japanese home islands. Their first flight was on May 4, 1945. They bombed Marcus Island, an 11-hour and 20-minute mission, which was their longest.
They wrapped up their missions over enemy-held territory aboard “Betty-J’ on a flight to Kumamoto, Japan on Aug. 10, 1945 that lasted six-hours and 45-minutes. This was a week before the Japanese agreed to an “unconditional surrender” to allied forces that took place aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
“At the very end of the war the 42nd Squadron moved its base of operation from Tinian to Okinawa. We were flying out of there when the Japanese surrender delegation flew into le Shima Island (a small atoll adjacent to Okinawa),” Bishop explained. “Two white Betty bombers with big green crosses on their wings and body brought the Japanese soldiers to the island.
le Shima was where journalist Ernie Pyle was killed by a Japanese sniper. There’s a monument noting his death on the beach at le Shima. The bronze plaque on his marker reads: “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, ERNIE PYLE, 18 April 1945.”
The Japanese generals that comprised the surrender delegation got off the two enemy bombers and boarded an American C-54 transport plane for the final leg of their journey to meet with Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur, supreme commander in the Southern Pacific, at his headquarters in Manila. They returned a few hours later, boarded their bombers and flew back to Japan to give the emperor the final account of their surrender activities.
Besides their last mission aboard “Betty-J,” where the crew witnessed the final atomic blast that ended World War II, Bishop says their second combat mission to the Island of Truck on May 10, 1945 was also one he hasn’t forgotten despite seven decades have passed since the incident.
“This was the mission that the 42nd Squadron lost its only B-24 in the war. One of the bombers in our squadron was all shot up from anti-aircraft flak,” he said. “The pilot of the plane told his crew to jettison everything that wasn’t nailed down. When they finished throwing their .50 caliber machine-guns and the ammunition for these guns and lots of other things out they were still losing altitude.
“The pilot then ordered the crew to bail out over the Pacific. All but the engineer parachuted from the plane. With the other crew-members gone the engineer realized the plane had stopped losing altitude.
“He decided to try and fly the bomber back to Tinian, their home base. Unfortunately the engineer crash-landed the B-24 and he was killed. Ironically, the other nine members of the crew were rescued by an American submarine and returned safely.” Bishop said.
The crew of “Betty-J” was about to fly a 13th combat mission Aug 11, 1945 when they were told the Japanese were on the verge of surrendering.
“We unloaded our bombs. An hour or so later the word was that the Japanese weren’t surrendering, it was just emery propaganda we had been listening to. We reloaded our bombs and we were preparing to takeoff once more when we learned the surrender was back on once more. We unloaded our bombs again.
“We did this three times before the Japanese finally decided to call it quits.”
The night the sky over Okinawa was lit up with celebratory gun and cannon fire from celebrating American troops who couldn’t believe they had survived the war.
Since “Betty-J’s” crew was one of the last B-24 crews to arrive in the Pacific near war’s end, it was the last bomber crew to fly home. They arrived back in California in early December 1945. Bishop received his discharge from the Army Air Corps on Dec. 11, 1945.
“By then my wife, Minnie, was pregnant with our first child and so were the wives of the pilot and bombardier,” Bishop said with a smile. “I went back to work in the Portsmouth shipyard as a sheet-metal worker building ships. I did that until 1973 when I retired at 49 with 41 years of shipbuilding at the same shipyard.”
The couple has been coming to Paradise Park for the past 28 years. In recent years they arrived at the park in January and return to their home near Kitty Hawk, N.C. the end of March.
The Bishops have three grown children: Jackie, Larry and Paul.
Name: Elbert M. Bishop, Jr.
D.O.B: 27 May 1924
Hometown: Bath, NC
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: Feb. 1944
Discharged: 11 Dec. 1945
Unit: 42nd Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group, 7th Air Force
Commendations: Air Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, World War II Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Japan
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on March 17, 2014 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.
Click here to view Bishop’s collection in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.