Former Staff Sgt. Jim Hicks of Emerald Lake Mobile Home Park in Punta Gorda, Fla. was the tail-gunner on a B-25, twin-engine attack bomber, part of 81st Squadron, 12th Bombardment Group, 10th Air Force in the China Burma and India Theatre (CBI) during World War II.
His squadron’s primary duty was to provide air support for “Merrill’s Marauders,” a highly regarded American long-range jungle penetration unit. The outfit’s main accomplishment was capturing the Japanese all-weather air base at Myitkyina, Burma and destroying enemy troops and communications on the way to the base.
Looking back on this military career the 93-year-old local resident recalled, “I wanted to be in Naval Aviation, so I joined the Aviation Cadet Program, but I flunked the physical—I had a heart problem. Then I signed up for the Army Air Corps, lied about my medical condition, and was accepted.”
After basic training he attended gunnery school at Buckingham Army Air Field in Fort Myers and graduated in August 1943. From there Hicks went to Columbia, S.C. where he became part of a five-man B-25 bomber crew.
“After we crewed-up they loaded us into B-24, four-engine bombers converted into troop transports and were flown to North Africa and then on to Karachi, India. We ended up in a little town called Fenny, India.
“Fenny was a very crude, rural Indian village. All the buildings were made of bamboo,” Hicks said. “Our barracks housed 16 to 18 men and it was made of bamboo. It had bamboo floors, sides of bamboo and a thatched roof of bamboo.
“I flew 27 combat missions but never saw a Japanese plane. Our job was to attack the enemy wherever they were camped in support of ‘Merrill’s Marauders’ in Burma,” Hicks explained. “Our first mission was Christmas Day 1944. Our last mission was sometime in March 1945.”
The ‘Marauder’s’ official designation was the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill. He and his battalion marched 800 miles from India through the dense jungle of Burma, over the 29,000 foot Himalayan Mountains and on until they captured the Japanese airfield at Myitkyina that took them four months. Everything they required was carried on the soldiers’ backs or on the pack animals.
By the time their successful incursion into Burma was over they had fought five engagements with the Japanese 18th Division. Each time they won.
Their biggest headache during the time Hicks B-25 squadron provided air support for “Merrill’s Marauders” was a bridge over the Prom River in India.
“I don’t know how many times we bombed it. We never did knock it down,” he said.
For Hicks, It was their last flight, — the one that started in Fenny and took his crew on a bombing run to an enemy airport outside Bangkok, Thailand — he remembers most. It was the longest flight flown by a B-25 in World War II, he said. His bomber crew was awarded the Air Medal for their efforts during that mission.
“Most of our crew had no idea where we were going. On our return flight we didn’t have enough fuel to reach Fenny. We had to land at an airfield on an island off the coast of Burma the British had just captured.”
“I’ll never forget it, our pilot was talking to the tower about landing. The tower told him: ‘Ol’ boy, there’s a C-47 transport plane ahead of you that’s about to land.’ Our pilot replied, ‘You better tell that SOB to get out of my way or I’ll shoot him down.’ The C-47 pilot got out of our way an we landed first.
“Before we could taxi off the runway we ran out of fuel,” Hicks said.
Mostly he recalls how dull his service was during the war. When they weren’t flying a mission there was little to do. One of his buddies in his bunk that was covered with mosquito netting was reading a book .
“This guy was sitting in his bed when he head this plop on the netting above him, but saw nothing. Pretty soon there was a second plop on the netting and then a third plop. By this time one of the plops fell on his bunk. It was a cobra about 2 1/2 to 3 feet in length. All three plops were snakes about the same size that were living in our barrack’s thatched roof.
So what do you do when you have cobras in your thatched roof? We took everything out of our barracks. Then we lit a match and burned the place down. How else would you get cobras out of your thatched roof?
“We got our WOGs (Worthy Oriental Gentlemen) who worked for us to rebuild our barracks. It only took them a day or so to put up another barracks,” Hicks said.
“After we finished our combat missions in Fenny we were sent to a base outside Calcutta, India where we trained to fly A-26 “invader” bombers at the end of the war. We were training to skip bomb a Japanese battleship bottled up in the harbor at Singapore.
“We were told, if they sent 10 A-26s out to sink the battleship they only expected two of the bombers to return from the mission,” Hicks explained.
It was early June 1945 and he and his buddies got word the president was going to make an announcement over Armed Forces Radio.
“We sat around all night playing bridge and waiting for the president to speak. It was 4 a.m (our time) when President Truman came on the air and announced the Japanese were going to surrender. I hadn’t cared much for the president up until then. After that announcement I loved him.”
Hicks sailed home from India to New York City on a troop ship. It took them 31 days to reach the Port of New York. He was discharged from the Air Corps just before Christmas 1945.
He took the G.I. Bill and attended a little college in his hometown. At the same time he went to work in a local lumber yard owned by the family of a high school friend. He stayed with the lumber company for nine years until he took a job with a building supply firm where he worked for more than 20 years. After that he was employed by Sony for 11 more years after the Japanese firm purchased a CBS plant in the area.
Hicks and his wife, Harriet, retired and purchased a home in Punta Gorda in 2000. Two years later it was blown down by Hurricane Charley. The couple moved to Emerald Lakes where they currently live.
They have six children: Andy, Chris, Cindy, Ron, Susie and Tom.
Name: James O. Hicks
D.O.B: 1 June 1924
Hometown: Elyria, Ohio
Currently: Puneta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 17 Nov. 1943
Discharged: 6 Sept. 1945
Rank: Staff Sergeant–Aerial Gunner B-25 Bomber
Unit: 81st Squadron, 12th Bomb Group, 10th Air Force, CBI
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal, American Theater Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon w/2 Bronze Stars
Battles/Campaigns: China, Burma, India Theater of Operation, World War II
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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