Lundy flew with `Jungle Air Force' based in Guadalcanal
Memorial Day Tribute
Flying bombing runs from Henderson Field in Guadalcanal for almost a year during World War II, Robert "Bob" Lundy survived one wreck and had several other close calls.
"We lost 80 percent of our flying personnel," the 91-year-old Madras resident said last week, while recalling his military service.
Lundy was living with his parents in Myrtle Point, Ore., and working on their dairy farm when he was drafted into the Army at age 21. "I was real happy to serve," he said.
When he reported for duty, he said, "The Army gave you aptitude tests and discovered I should be in the Air Corps, which was a three-year hitch." As a result, at the indiction, his military pay was jumped from $21 to $30 per month.
He was sent to airplane mechanic's school, and graduated at Sheppard Field, Texas. Afterwards, at an old air strip in Ephrata, Wash., he worked getting B-17s ready to go to Europe for the war effort.
Next, he went to gunner school in Las Vegas, Nev., then Sioux City, Iowa, to train as a gunner and flight engineer for four-engine, heavy bombardment planes.
"There were lots of us gunners, mechanics and pilots waiting to be put into heavy bombardment crews," Lundy said, noting a crew is made up of a pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer and assistant, radio operator and assistant, bombardier, and tail gunner.
In October 1942, 36 new B-24 bombers were flown into Sioux City and each crew was assigned their ship, then headed to Hawaii for more training.
"In Hawaii, we flew sea searches, looking for submarines or foreign ships. We'd leave at daylight, fly 700 miles out, 100 miles another way, and back -- a total of about 1,500 miles, which would take us 10 hours," he said.
"We also had night flight training, and you needed a good navigator to find your way back home," he noted.
Around Christmas time, he said everything was hush, hush, but the crews knew they were going somewhere.
Dec. 22, they were told, "Get onboard, you're leaving," and 26 bombers headed to Midway Island. From Midway, they flew out at 4 p.m., to bomb Wake Island on Christmas Eve.
"Along toward midnight, we hit Wake Island with 26 planeloads of bombs, and got back to Midway at 7 a.m., with no losses and just one bullet hole in one bomber," Lundy recalled.
The planes returned to Hawaii, until Jan. 3, when his plane and two others were selected for a reconnaissance mission.
"We were actually taxi drivers," he said of the mission. "We were carrying important photographers with high tech photo equipment. We flew them to photograph the Marshall and Gilbert Islands to see the number of enemy ships and planes. We flew two missions, which were 17 hours each," Lundy said.
"We were the first plane on an airstrip that had just been completed, and it was a little short and pretty tricky," he added.
The big bombers could fly much longer distances than smaller fighter planes, because they could carry more fuel, he said, explaining how they refueled.
Fifty-five-gallon drums of fuel were unloaded from ships and floated to shore, where they were then picked up and hauled to the planes.
"We loaded 3,200 gallons of fuel on each plane, and also carried two 500-pound bombs, a 300-pound depth charge, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition," Lundy said.
Flying back to Canton Island, he said they were joined by two other squadrons and were all sent to Guadalcanal. He flew with the 307th bomb Group, 13th Air Force, also known as the "Jungle Air Force."
He said there were never over 16 or 18 planes at a time on Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, until later when more air strips were put in.
"We bombed all north of the Solomon Islands, trying to destroy Japanese shipping, aircraft and supply lines and did that until I came home," he said.
Tragedy struck in May 1943, when his plane had a problem during takeoff and wrecked, killing all but three of the crew.
Lundy survived, but was out of the flying action for several months, until July 1943 when another pilot asked him to be part of his crew on a plane they nicknamed the "Frenisi."
He said the Frenisi flew "thirty-seven missions with lots of trigger shoots." On the runs, the plane hauled 300-, 500- and 1,000-pound bombs and flew at an elevation of 20,000 feet.
"We had intelligence officers and we knew from photos where the ships, airfields and how many Japanese `Zeros' there were to intercept us. The missions were all planned by intelligence," he related.
"We'd drop bombs, then fight off fighter planes. On the first mission in the Solomons, we lost three planes out of six. There were usually 20-30 Zeros, and anti-aircraft shooting at you," Lundy said.
Deciding daylight runs were too dangerous, they switched to night raids, with one plane taking off every hour from Guadalcanal. From 9,000 feet, each plane had one hour to dive down to 3,000 feet on three passes to drop fragmentation bombs.
"It was to create havoc, and just keep them awake," he said, noting it was hard on the flight crew, too.
"The pilot would take evasive action, making sharp turns to avoid the search lights and anti-aircraft fire. On 200 mph dives, he would pull up like a stunt plane, then peel off. We had to hang on and it was terrible," Lundy said.
After the Russell Islands were captured by Allied forces, they went back to daylight missions, looking for Japanese ships and supply convoys.
His most unusual mission was a noncombat one -- escorting Eleanor Roosevelt from Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands, to Guadalcanal to visit soldiers in hospitals.
"She got in a Navy plane and we escorted it up and back. Everybody gave her gifts and she was overloaded with loot on the way back and said `Would any of you boys like any of this?'" Lundy said, explaining how he acquired a commemorative bamboo cup carved with Eleanor's name and the date Sept. 17, 1943.
Twice during missions, Lundy said he was about to board a plane when he was replaced by someone else at the last minute. And both those planes never came back from battle.
In October 1943, Lundy and two members of his crew, the pilot and radio operator, had earned enough points to come home. "The rest of the crew had to stay another month -- but they went down at Bougainville and were lost," he said.
Back in the states, he instructed gunners in Casper, Wyo., then applied for pilot training and spent two years waiting with 960 others at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, to get into pilot school.
Finally, he began intense pilot training in B-29s in San Antonio, Texas, and graduated from that phase. But the war was about over by then, and the pilot training abruptly ended.
He was told he could go to B-29 flight engineer school instead and get a flight officer commission, which he did, training at Lowry Field in Denver, Colo.
In November 1945, he met Helen Cyronec at a Denver USO dance, and they were married on Feb. 22, 1946, the day after he was discharged from the military. For his service in the South Pacific, Lundy was awarded seven air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross Award.
He and Helen returned to Coquille, Ore., where he managed the Pacific Feed and Seed Co. Then, partnering with another couple, they opened a John Deere dealership.
The Lundys sold out to their partner and moved to Madras on Jan. 29, 1950, and bought a farm on Bear Drive, where they raised potatoes, clover and wheat.
After nine years, they leased their farm out and he went to work for the John Deere Caterpillar dealership in Madras, then was the manager at Newhouse Manufacturers for 26 years, retiring in 1995 at the age of 75.
The Lundys raised three children, Connie Craft (who passed away in 2005), Sally Warren of Madras, and Jeff Lundy of Los Angeles, and have five grandchildren. After 65 years of marriage, Helen passed away in September 2011, and daughter Sally came to live with her dad on the home place.
Today, Lundy enjoys raising corn and potatoes to give away to friends, and visiting with his grandkids. In June, he's looking forward to attending a gathering of "Accomplished Airmen" at Ron Ochs' place, which includes test pilots, Korean War and World War II airmen.