Sgt. Francis Drab of Venice, Fla. was a member of the 5th Air Force stationed in the Pacific during World War II. He has a war story that almost rivals James Mitchner’s “Tales of the South Pacific.”
“In the fall of 1944 I was shipped to New Guinea for Air Force combat duty,” he wrote me. “I knew nothing much about the place, but learned it was the second largest island in the world—1,500 miles long by 500 miles wide, located just south of the equator.
“It has hot, steamy, impenetrable jungle infested by deadly snakes and insects. It’s populated by natives who are hostile cannibals.
“On my second day on this beautiful, tropical island I wanted to explore the beach. I was clad in only my shorts and a hat. After walking several miles from camp I arrived at a deserted spot where the pure white sand beach was narrow between the beautiful clear blue water and the high coral cliffs that rose straight up,” Drab wrote.
“At that point I notice two dugout canoes a short distance out in the water with five natives in each canoe. As I quickened my pace they paddled faster. When I slowed down, they did likewise.
“All eyes were on me. I knew they wanted me for Sunday dinner. The cannibals had found a fresh, very white soft and tender specimen,” the former sergeant explained in his note.
“My only weapon, a sheath knife, was already in my hand. I had no place to run.
“Finally the leader, a giant of a man—huge and muscular—with dark brown skin, hair dyed yellow and stuck full of bright feathers, a strand of beads made of teeth around his neck, wearing only a loin cloth, stepped out of the dugout and waded toward me,” Dash wrote.
“I was so frightened I could not move a muscle.
“In one hand he held a long metal-tipped spear with feathers and what I assumed were human scalps hanging from it. I felt sure the spear point had just been dipped in paralyzing poison. In his other hand he held what looked like a hand grenade,” the sergeant wrote.
“He stepped up to me and with a large smile, showing beetle-stained teeth filed into points said, ‘Hello Joe, have any chewing gum?’ “He tried to barter with me in his pidgin English. Having nothing to trade he said, ‘Goodbye Joe.’
“He turned, climbed back in his canoe and left me standing on the beach shaking.”
Drab later found out the natives in the dugouts were the house boys back at his Air Corps camp on the island. Since it was Sunday they were off for the day and looking for new recruits with thing to trade.
“I decided combat had to be a breeze if I could face down a tribe of cannibals and still live to write about it,” he concluded.
Drab went on to fly more than 100 hours as a waist gunner on a B-24 “Liberator” four-engine bomber over Japan as part of the 403rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group of the 5th Air Force.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. and is republished with permission.
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