Staff Sgt. Robert Wollitz flew 73 combat missions as gunner aboard B-29 bomber in Korea

Jane Russell was painted on the nose of a B-29, four-engine bomber flying out of Kadina Air Force Base on Okinawa in the Pacific during the Korean War. Emblazoned below her shapely form was “The Outlaw,” the name of her latest movie.

Staff Sergeant Robert Wollitz of River’s Edge Mobile Home Park, south of Fort Ogden near Arcadia, was a side-gunner on the bomber during the war. He flew 73 combat missions on “The Outlaw” during the Korean conflict.

He was a member of the 28th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group, 20th Air Force. Wollitz’s outfit flew ground support missions for U.S. Marines and Army troops battling the North Koreans and Chinese. In addition, they carpet bombed many of the North Korean’s major cities with incendiary bombs that disintegrated them.

“Our plane was the first bomber to fly 15 combat missions in Korea,” Wollitz recalled nearly 70 years later. “‘The Outlaw’s crew received special recognition for this feat.”

The crew of “The Outlaw” was recognized for being the first B-29 bomber in the 20th Air Force to fly 15 combat missions during the Korean War. Photo provided

They flew over the Chosin Reservoir as part of an attempt by the 20th Air Force to provide air support to Gen. H.M. “Howling Mad” Smith and his 20,000-plus members of the 1st Marine Division surround by hundreds of thousands of enemy North Korean and Chinese troops.

“We were supporting our Marines when we were flying against targets above the Chosin Reservoir,” Wollitz recalled. “By then they were already encircled by the enemy.”

With the help of Wollitz and other B-29 crews above, the “Leathernecks” fought their way back down to the coast 75 miles away. They travelled on a narrow rutted road along steep mountain terrain to waiting transport ships that took them out of harm’s way. But not before hundreds of Marines froze to death in the sub-zero cold in one of the most daring battles in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Wollitz remembered how cold it was even inside their pressurized bomber during those flights over the reservoir.

This is the shoulder patch worn by members of the 28th Bomber Squadron Wollitz served in during the Korean War. Sun photo by Don Moore

“When we flew those Chosin Reservoir missions the outside air temperature was -70 degrees below zero. In our bomber you could have frozen water even though our cabin was pressurized,” he said. “When it got that cold outside we had to divert all the heat to the engines to keep them running.”

It was during this period that Wollitz’s B-29 crew was ordered to make a flight over Manchuria looking for more Chinese troops.

“We knew nothing about the orders until we were airborne. We flew into Manchuria all by ourselves looking for the enemy.”

Wollitz doesn’t remember what they found in Manchuria, but he does recall it was a quick flight in and out of enemy territory.

It was at this point that Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur, the supreme Allied commander in Korea, was thinking about running the Chinese forces out of the country and back to Manchuria. The general was even considering using A-Bombs against the enemy. That’s when President Harry Truman removed him from his command for insubordination.

“We got hit by a lot of anti-aircraft fire. When we came back from a mission we’d find all kinds of shrapnel holes in our plane. I had one piece of shrapnel pass about a foot over my head and put a hole in the side of the airplane. We were lucky because we never had any anti-aircraft fire that put us out of commission.
Wollitz was a 20-year-old side gunner on his B-29 bomber. It was his job to man one of the ten .50 caliber machine-guns aboard the plane.

Shortly after arriving at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam in June 1950 they were told to prepare a small kit of personal things and bring an extra set of fatigues. Their 28th Squadron was going to take part in some action in Korea they knew little about.

“At the time I couldn’t have told you where Korea was,” he said. “Our 19th Bomb Group got about a dozen of its 45 B-29s in the air by midnight. When we got to Kadina we didn’t have a clue what was going on. Things got serious in a hurry. The next day, June 2, 1950, we flew our first combat mission against the railroad station at Seoul, South Korea. We bombed the hell out of it.

“We never got bothered much by MIG fighters. They usually left our bomber formations alone. We could see the enemy fighters coming off the field in Manchuria on the other side of the river. If we stayed in formation we never had a big problem with the MIGS. If you got caught out on your own you could be in deep trouble.

“They called this area ‘MIG Alley.’

“Losing an engine on a bombing run was a bit unnerving. On occasion we came back to Kadina a time or two on three engines,” he said. “These missions strained a B-29 pretty hard. We could run 10 hours or more and we might have to stop in Japan on the way back to base to fuel up. We had no aerial refueling.”

Transportation targets were their main objectives -— railroad lines and bridges. Other times they would carpet bomb enemy cities with incendiary bombs.

Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, was a favorite target of Wollitz’s bomb group. It repeatedly dropped incendiary bombs on the city turning it to toast.

Wollitz’s most vivid recollection of a single mission was when “The Outlaw” got a 2,000 pound bomb stuck in the bomb bay that wouldn’t eject.

“We depressurized and I went back in the bomb bay and tried to get it out. First I made sure the wires that triggered the bomb’s fuses were still in place which they were,” he said. “There was a little catwalk in the bomb bay and I was skinny enough I could get on it and push the bomb. It wouldn’t budge.

“There was nothing below the tip of my toes. Nothing but 15,000-feet down to the Sea of Japan!

“When we landed the damn bomb was still in our bomb bay. We taxied off the runway and were headed for our hard stand where the bomber was parked when we hit a bump. Out the unexploded bomb went, but it didn’t explode.

“Later a crew loaded the bomb into a truck. They took it and dumped it into the ocean at Okinawa,” he said.

“Our pilot was trying to get me a ‘Distinguished Flying Cross’ for my efforts to get the bomb out of our bomb bay,” Wollitz said. “I never got my ‘DFC,’ but I’m just happy I made it back from that war.“

From June 1950 until January of the following year Wollitz flew with the 20th Air Force on B-29 bombing raids over Korea. The rest of his hitch was served with the 301st Bomb Group, a Boeing B-47 Bomber Squadron based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. The B-47 was atomic bomb compatable.

When Wollitz got out of the Air Force he went to work for General Motors. For 30 years he worked as a tool and die maker with G.M.

In 1991 he retired and Wollitz and his late wife, Norma, moved to Florida in 1999. The couple has three adult children: John, Kathy and Jeanne.

Name: Robert Alan Wollitz
D.O.B:  2 June 1929
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service:  20 Oct. 19
Discharged:  21 Aug. 1951
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 19th Bomb Group, 28th Bomb Squadron, 20th Air Force
Commendations: Air Medal with six Oakleaf Clusters
Battles/Campaigns: Korean War

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 2, 2018 and is republished with permission.

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