Truman Henderson’s Jungle Adventure

As is well known, April 16, 1944 was a dark day for Fifth Air Force crews. Many of the men were on missions that day when a front set in, wreaking havoc on their journey home. Thirty-seven planes were lost due to the terrible weather, through crashes, running out of fuel or losing their way. Among the planes lost was one belonging to the 22nd Bomb Group’s 408th Squadron. It was flown by 1/Lt. Robert Stone, who was returning from a mission to Hollandia when the weather moved in.

Because visibility was poor and planes were being tossed around so much, there was a higher potential for a mid-air collision. Stone made the decision to separate from the rest of his squadron and head back home alone. The B-24 was caught in numerous up and down drafts, rendering the plane almost uncontrollable. The pilot continued through the storm for nearly two hours before realizing he was lost and, with no fuel left to spare, he made the decision to bail out. He took the plane up to 18,000 feet where the crew jumped out over the Finisterre Mountains 25 miles south of Saidor. The men experienced snow and sleet during their decent, and soon became separated in the heavy cloud cover.

Bombardier 1/Lt. Truman T. Henderson landed in the jungle alone. He spent the afternoon searching and calling for the rest of his crew, but never heard a reply. With that, he found a somewhat sheltered spot in the jungle, where he spent a miserably soggy night. The next morning, Henderson decided that his best chance of survival would be to head for the coast, keeping in mind that there were still small groups of Japanese moving through the area after the Allies seized it. The allegiance of the natives was also questionable, so he was cautious about any interactions with them, lest they turn him over to the Japanese.

He spent the day trekking through the rugged terrain along a river, only stopping once to eat a chocolate bar. When night fell, he sought the shelter of giant tree roots, where he was unable to sleep. His confidence in his survival buoyed his spirits and he got an early start the following morning. This time, he found a trail, which he followed to a clearing. In this clearing was a garden, full of sweet potatoes, green beans, sugar cane and corn. Henderson called out to see if anyone was around before helping himself to some of the produce. He spent the rest of the day and the night at the garden to gather his strength for the next leg of his journey.

Before setting off again on the 19th, Henderson packed his parachute bag with some of the garden’s produce. He saw a couple of natives, who ran away when they spotted the American. Eventually, it was time to find a spot to rest for the night. His best bet would be to cross the river he had been following and find a good spot there. The river was wide, and it was apparent there was no easy way to cross it. If he fell into the water, the current could easily sweep him downstream and over a 60-foot waterfall. About eight feet into the middle of the river was a rock Henderson could land on, provided he could make the jump. He felt he could do it and leaped off the shore, only to land short of the rock. He hung onto it for dear life, spending about five minutes fighting the current as he struggled to climb on the rock. There, he would spend another night, hoping he’d have the strength to make the jump to the other side the next day.

Morning brought a renewed determination to get to the shore and Henderson successfully crossed the river. After following another trail, he happened on a lean-to, whose occupants again fled when they saw the American. (Henderson later learned that Japanese soldiers were raiding the villages.) He stopped to roast some of his corn over a fire when he saw two local men cautiously heading towards him. After some attempts to show he was friendly, Henderson was taken to a village where he met the chief, who promised to give him a guide to the coast the next day. He was fed very well by the natives, before turning in for the night.

The following three days were spent hiking up and down the slopes and crossing swamps. Henderson learned how to get drinking water by cutting green bamboo canes and how to cook food like that of the locals. When the group reached the coast, Henderson took the opportunity to bathe in the ocean. It was his first bath in a week. On the following morning, they got an early start and encountered an American Army patrol that had been sent out to search for the crew. He went back to the base with the patrol, where he planned on beginning his journey home the next day. After a morning of swimming and an afternoon of target practice, Henderson headed for a boat to Saidor and ran into three of his crew members, who had spent six days making their way to the coast. Nine days after leaving Nadzab, the four men finally returned to the 22nd Bomb Group. The final three members of their crew arrived at Nadzab two days later, all with stories of their journey.

Black Sunday: Part 1

Int'l Historical Research Associates:

“It was the worst blow I took in the whole war.” –General George C. Kenney

Originally posted on IHRA:

The 312th was back to attacking Hollandia with bombers from the rest of Fifth Air Force: B-24s from the 22nd, 43rd and 90th Bomb Groups, B-25s from the 38th and 345th, and A-20s from the 312th, 3rd and 417th (a new bomber unit). These 216 planes with 76 P-38 escorts from the 8th and 475th Fighter Groups would be in the air once again on April 16, 1944. The only 312th Squadron not flying along was the 386th.

Bad weather at Hollandia delayed the Group from leaving Gusap until 1055. The crews bombed their targets of barges, stores and fuel dumps in between Sentani Lake and Jautefa Bay. After making their runs, the 312th formed up and headed for Gusap. With decent weather for the first half of the journey back, the men were able to grab a bite to eat while they flew home.
Hollandia
This photo from the Black…

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Lt. Clifford Taylor Goes to Wewak

Because we like you readers so much, we’re bringing you not one, but two excerpts from Lt. Clifford Taylor’s diary this week. He was a member of the 3rd Bomb Group’s 13th Squadron.

August 17, 1943— Today we went on a mission that was right out of the books & one of the most successful. We were briefed in the morning & found our target to be Wewak, a trip of over 1000 miles. Our take-off time was 615 & we were in slot #9. I was with “Gerry” & we were loaded with 12 clusters of 3 23 lb. parachute frags. Our real target was the Boram strip just off the Wewak strip, where a hundred fighters and bombers were reported, and we were to destroy as many as possible. On this raid we took off knowing that 20 percent of our aircraft were expected not to return due to ack-ack & expecting to get “hopped.” Overhead we had the comforting sight of 50 P-38s & weren’t too worried about “Zekes.” We headed up the south coast of New Guinea past Yule Island & then headed over land. After two hours & forty minutes we arrived at our target. Everything seemed to be in our favor, the clouds went down to 900 feet & we had a nice hill to come around to complete the surprise.

As we dropped thru the clouds we opened our bomb bays came up abreast & started opening fire with our .50s. We were 8 B-25s & between us had 64 guns firing simultaneously. The raid was completely unexpected & the Japs were caught napping. As we came over the drome lines of Zekes were all over. It reminded me of an inspection day at a training school. Before we got over the planes I saw six break into flame & explode by out bullets. As we went over the drome we dropped our para-frags & the strips was completely covered. In our strafing run we caught quite a few Japs still at their planes. I saw two break & run and after running about 25 feet, I saw them stop & crumble in their tracks. A few  less to contend with! We were forced to continue across Wewak strip, as if we turned our bellys toward the ack-ack they would have a better shot at us. About this time we started catching the ack-ack. I saw tow lines of tracers criss-cross over our nose, but by the grace of God we got thru it. As we turned away our biggest worry was  keeping from hitting each other & getting up over the small mountain.

We started climbing & hit some clouds & went on instruments for about 15 sec., as we came out of the clouds we were no more than 25 feet from a B-25 up front. We were quite happy to have missed him. We then headed overland climbing up to 14,000 to get over the mountains. The return trip was uneventful & we landed six hours later, tired yet successful. One B-25 was lost!

 

 

August 18th— Today we drew the supply depots up at Wewak. Our take-off time was 645 & I went will Bill Beroch. We were loaded with we 100 lb. 8-11 second delay bombs. We went up with 11 other planes from our squadron, but three had to turn back due to trouble with their planes. We had P-38s as top cover but we knew that this mission would really be rough. Preceding us up to the targets were the “heavy-boys” & our element of surprise was nil. To make matters worse, visibility was down to a half mile & the ceiling lay at about 100 feet. We arrived north of the target & came back over advertising that we were coming down for an attack. We went out the harbor a ways & turned to make our run in.

About this time all hell broke loose from shore. I could see hundreds of places where machine gun fire was coming up from & all around us black puffs of ack-ack kept bursting making us realize how close it was coming. We came in over the peninsula & strung our bombs north of the runway. About this time we caught a burst of ack-ack & threw our left wing up & put us in a sharp turn to the right. I thought sure our right engine had caught it & we were on single engine. I looked out & she was still going, so I breathed a real sigh of relief. We were still flying thru a curtain of ack-ack that was the heaviest I’ve seen. We continued down over the Wewak strip right on the deck & got them there unscathed. As we pulled up away from the target, five “Zekes” stopped our group. One “Zeke” made a pass at an 8th Sqn. ship & put the right engine & nose on fire.

He immediately fell off into a spin & crashed about five miles from Wewak. We later found out it was Sheppard, a boy we came across with. The P-38s then got to the “Zekes” & took care of them, shooting down quite a few. We then headed for home, waiting for a flock of Zeros to come barreling for us. Things went along okay & we got back without further happenings. When we got on the ground, the station had gotten a plot on 200 “Zekes” searching for us, from Lae to Wewak. What saved us was the overcast. Our ship was hit in a couple of places & Craig’s had been hit one inch from their gas line. When we got the reports we found that 2 B-25s were shot down, 4 B-24s & 2 P-38s were also lost. However things weren’t unbalanced as we (all groups combined) destroyed in air and on the ground a total of 272 Jap aircraft. We got complete credit for the Boram strip & of 106 planes there, we destroyed completely 72 and damaged others. Quite a blow to Tojo!

The Squadron Misfits

By June 1943, there were some changes being made in the 38th Bomb Group’s established squadrons, the 71st and 405th. Major Ezra Best took over leadership of the 71st and both squadrons were seeing an influx of new men. The 822nd and 823rd Squadrons had recently arrived in Durand, giving the 71st and 405th a chance to pass along their troublemakers to the new squadrons. The 823rd Squadron leader, Capt. Barney Johnson, suspected that something like this would happen and refused to let most of the men into his squadron. As a result, they ended up with Maj. Walter Krell in the 822nd Squadron.

“Fortunately,” Krell later wrote, “I had been an Infantry officer on active duty before becoming a Flying Cadet. Familiar with the type, and having glanced over their records, I called together about nine of them and had them sit around in a circle. I sat down on top of one of those Army safes that opened at the top and I simply told them that I didn’t want to read their records and didn’t want anyone else to read them either. They would all be given a fresh start with no holdover from previous black marks. I went on about regarding them as the very best men available to do a top job in getting this new outfit off to a good start, and I would always feel this way until they did something to change my mind.” Afterwards, he locked their records in a safe and threw the key into an overgrown ravine. The men were asked to take the safe somewhere out of the way. As time passed, Krell never had a problem with the now-former troublemakers of his squadron. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make things interesting for him once in a while.

Both the 822nd and 823rd set to work building their camps, which consisted of latrines, mess tents, armament storage, ammo dumps, operational and medical headquarters. The 822nd was still missing their officers’ and enlisted men’s clubs, but building supplies were hard to find.

Soon, news got around that General MacArthur would pay Port Moresby a visit. Building supplies were acquired for his quarters and the location was guarded to prevent any filching of materials. Krell’s former troublemakers found out where the supplies were being kept and devised a plan to procure them. One night, they woke Maj. Krell to get permission to borrow a couple of trucks. Krell got out of bed and looked down the hillside. There were 18-20 trucks along with all the non-commissioned men in the 822nd. One look at the scene below told him that his men were getting into mischief. He said, “I’m not going to ask any questions, you haven’t got my permission but I’m not going to stop you. Whatever you’re going to do, you’d better do it right because if you get this outfit in a jam you’ll wish you’d thought it over.” They assured him that they had and went on their way. Krell went back to bed.

When Krell met with General Roger Ramey at Port Moresby the next day, chaos reigned over the news of MacArthur’s building supplies being stolen. The guards had been offered profuse amounts of alcohol and gotten drunk enough to not remember what happened. Krell never mentioned the previous night’s encounter with his men. For the next few weeks, “…there emerged two very nice buildings: clubs for the non-coms and officers,” Krell continued. “Bit by bit, there appeared a few two-by-fours here, a few sacks of cement there. I was always grateful to think we had the right people on our side.”

For Want of an Airplane

As the war progressed in October 1944, the Allies were finally able to return to the Philippines, beginning with the island of Leyte and its one airfield, Tacloban. As always, a new base had its headaches. The Allies soon discovered that the soil on Leyte turned to mud during the rainy season. This thwarted plans for building other airbases on the island. Over the course of a few weeks, there were three attempts to build bases elsewhere on the island that were soon abandoned because the ground was too wet. Eventually, they were able to build a base at Tanuan, located on the east coast of the island. For the time being, Tacloban would serve as the only airdrome on Leyte, which meant that it would become the O’Hare of the Pacific.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Pettus, C.O. of the 43rd Bomb Group, was given the job of airdrome commander. “There were constant decisions to make, i.e. where were aircraft to park, where to put the maintenance area, hospital, and air evac sites (these had to be accessible day and night), bomb shelters and fuel storage, provide aircraft refueling for transients, tower operation and dozens of other problems,” he wrote. Usually, a service squadron would handle most of the decisions, but there was no room for one at the base. With that, Pettus and his assistants had to do their best to keep Tacloban organized and operating smoothly.

It wasn’t always easy to keep track of which planes belonged to which group, or if someone took the opportunity to “borrow” an entire aircraft. This was the case for the 63rd Squadron. B-24 #42-63903 made an emergency landing at Middleburg Island, then vanished a short time later. A crew was sent to Middleburg to find the plane, only to discover that it had left the island. An assistant operations officer was told to find the B-24 and given a per diem to do so. After about ten days of “searching” Sydney bars and nightclubs, his money ran out, beginning the real hunt for the plane.

The B-24 was finally discovered to be in the hands of the 22nd Bomb Group. They had stripped the gun turrets and turned the plane into a “fat cat,” which brought fresh food and alcohol from Australia. Needless to say, the officer commandeered the plane and the 63rd Squadron enjoyed a nice party that evening. The aircraft’s changing of hands didn’t end there. It was soon taken by Group Headquarters, then out of the 43rd all together when V Bomber Command heard about the new fat cat.

Shot Down over Yulin Bay: Part 2

About an hour and a half after 1/Lt. James McGuire crashed in Yulin Bay on March 30, 1945, a Japanese patrol boat inspected the crash site. Men hauled McGuire and the other survivor, 2/Lt. Eugene L. Harviell, aboard, then offered them some tea. The men gratefully drank it and let the sun warm them as they rode back to shore. The Japanese tied their hands behind their backs and led them off the boat, through a bad-tempered crowd (someone threw a rock at McGuire) and onto a truck. From there, they were taken to Samah, where they would spend the rest of the war as POWs. That night, McGuire and Harviell were given bottles containing tea, but no food. They spent a long, uncomfortable night wondering if they would be shot the next day.

1/Lt. James McGuire

The next morning, they were untied and each given a tennis ball-sized portion of rice, followed by some tea. Afterwards, they were interrogated separately about MacArthur’s plans and the base’s dispersal area. A few weeks before their capture, the 345th had been told by a Navy intelligence officer to tell the Japanese whatever they wanted to know in order to avoid being tortured. At this point of the war, it wouldn’t matter if they had this information. The interrogations stopped after a couple of days.

A couple of weeks into their imprisonment, Harviell, who had suffered burns on his entire right side before the crash, was given treatment. Though the POWs were not beaten or tortured, as happened at other Japanese POW camps, they didn’t receive nearly enough food and water. Their diet consisted of white rice, tea, “fish soup” (warm water that tasted fishy) and on rare occasion some seaweed. McGuire befriended one of the guards who brought the men a little extra food or vitamin powder a few times and did other small favors for them. But without proper nutrition or real medical care, the men continued to deteriorate. By the end of July 1945, they suffered from malaria and beriberi, a vitamin deficiency that swelled the lower limbs and caused pain when walking. Harviell was left unable to stand, and the Japanese guards punished him by shrinking his already small rations. On death’s door, Harviell simply stopped trying to live.

Six days later, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 16th. The three remaining prisoners on Samah were taken to a nearby hospital and treated for their illnesses. From then on, they were also given nourishing meals as well as alcohol. McGuire and the other prisoners finally left the island at the end of the month, and eventually returned to the U.S. after further recuperation in Allied hospitals.

Shot Down over Yulin Bay: Part 1

For the 500th Squadron, planes were hard to come by in late March 1945. A quarter of their B-25s and crews had been lost over the last month, with additional planes being grounded due to combat damage. The remaining crews felt stretched thin as they continued to fly missions over the South China Sea. On this particular day, March 30th, 1/Lt. James McGuire was hoping he wouldn’t have to fly, as he felt sick and fatigued. He was slated as a spare pilot for the mission to Yulin Bay (located on the southeast tip of Hainan Island), meaning he would only have to complete the mission if one of the scheduled planes turned back. Unfortunately for him, one of the planes did turn back and McGuire took his place in the flight.

The crews were hoping to find the rest of a convoy that had escaped under the cover of stormy weather the previous day. They flew a few miles beyond the bay before heading back towards it to fool the Japanese guarding Yulin Bay. As the B-25s came over the ridge, they discovered they had not mislead the Japanese who greeted them with heavy antiaircraft fire.

McGuire and another B-25, piloted by Lt. Vernon Sawyer, paired off and began their run over the ships in the bay. He briefly thought of his previous wingmen who had been shot down during recent missions and had a feeling his turn had come. As he neared the ships, there was an explosion 20 feet off his left wing. Shortly after that, there was a second explosion a few feet away from his right wing, and then a fire erupted on top of the wing. Burning fuel was sucked into the plane, setting the turret gunner, S/Sgt. Harvey Baron, on fire. Navigator 2/Lt. Eugene L. Harviell’s skin also began to burn from the fire in the fuselage.

McGuire Shot Down

A photo of B-25J-22 #44-29350, piloted by 1/Lt. James McGuire, taken moments before it crashed into Yulin Bay.

 

As the plane lost altitude, it continued to burn. McGuire salvoed his bomb load, looking for a spot to ditch. He watched the swells carefully, then splashed down. Transfixed by what just happened, Sawyer nearly followed the B-25 into the water until his co-pilot, 2/Lt. Roger W. Lovett, jerked the plane upwards. Over the intercom, there were reports of McGuire’s B-25 breaking up as it hit the water. Sawyer wanted to go back and search for survivors, but was deterred by heavy antiaircraft fire. It was just too dangerous. The rest of the Squadron headed home, leaving McGuire and his crew behind—if anyone had survived.

Twenty feet below the surface of the water, McGuire still sat in his seat and watched the cockpit fill with water. He tried to stay calm as he struggled to get out of his seat, then realized his seat belt was still fastened. After he undid it, he swam out of the cockpit, inflated his Mae West and used it to help get him to the surface faster. He watched the B-25s disappear from sight, feeling utterly alone, exhausted and in pain from two dislocated shoulders. McGuire saw a badly burned Harviell surface a few feet away. He noticed a wheel floating nearby and grabbed hold of it. The two men floated alone in the middle of the enemy harbor as time seemed to stretch out beyond measure.

Stay tuned! The exciting conclusion to this tale will be posted next week.

The Joker

312th Bomb Group A-20s over Clark Field on Jan 14, 1945On the Philippine island of Luzon, elements of the 312th Bombardment Group, nicknamed the Roarin’ 20’s, sweep across Japanese-occupied Clark Field near Manila on January 14, 1945. The attack was executed in a line abreast formation at 100 feet or less above the airfield complex. First lieutenant Wilbur L. Cleveland of the 387th Bomb Squadron, flying an A-20G sporting a winning poker hand with the face of Batman’s nemesis, “the Joker,” narrowly avoids colliding with the squadron commanding officer, Capt. John C. Alsup, in his fatally damaged A-20. A burst of flak had just exploded in the bomb bay of Alsup’s A-20, causing it to nose up and burst into flames. It then crashed into the target, killing him and his gunner, Cpl. Oscar C. Rush. The third plane was flown by 1/Lt. Ormonde J. Frison of the 386th Squadron. Clark Field was the most important and heavily defended Japanese airfield on Luzon, and the low-level attacks were key to neutralizing Japanese airpower on the island during the critical week of the American amphibious landing at nearby Lingayen Gulf. This artwork is published in our book Rampage of the Roarin’ 20’s. You can also purchase this piece through our website.

 

Also, don’t forget to check out our new ebook, Stories from Fifth Air Force, on Amazon!

Tragedy Above the Bismarck Sea

Int'l Historical Research Associates:

It has been 72 years since this fateful day for one B-17 crew participating in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Originally posted on IHRA:

On February 26, 1943, a Japanese convoy was spotted by Allied forces at Rabaul. At this point in the war, the Japanese were trying to build up their strength in New Guinea after losing control of the Solomon Islands. Fifth Air Force would try to keep a close eye on this convoy, but due to the weather, could not watch it for two days. On March 1st, the weather finally cleared up enough for a 90th Bomb Group crew to see the convoy on its way from Rabaul to Lae. The crew immediately reported the situation as well as the size of the convoy. With six troop transports, two vessels carrying aviation fuel, a boat full of Japanese marines, eight destroyer escorts, and 100 fighter planes, this was not a target to be missed. B-17s from the 63rd Squadron were soon sent to bomb the convoy, but were thwarted by…

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Betting Against the Weather

This week, we have an entry from Col. Donald P. Hall’s diary. The C.O. of the 89th Bomb Squadron wrote about a particularly exciting mission on July 28, 1943.

Henebry led the 90th [Bomb Squadron] this AM and hit barges beyond Cape Gloucester in New Britain. Got 11 barges. The P-38 escort tangled with enemy fighters and shot down six. All our planes returned. Took 15 B-25s, T.O. 1300 composed of planes from 8th, 13th and 90th to go to north coast of New Britain and hunt more barges. Weather bad on route out and I received call from ground station saying something about a destroyer and transport somewhere en route. P-38s called and said they were going back because of weather. I decided to take a chance and go on without cover and use the bad weather alone. You don’t get a chance at a destroyer and a transport every day.

Buck Good decided to go as co-pilot for me as he hadn’t flown in a B-25 in a long time. He’d just came back from leave that A.M. We hit Cape Bushing on the south coast of New Britain in light rain. No barges. As we rounded the point at Cape Gloucester saw everything at once. 2 destroyers lying off shore (I thought one was transport it was so large). As we headed for them, 20 Zeros passed directly over-head but didn’t attack right then. “Oh Boy!” I thought this is going to be rough.

A Jap air transport or bomber was circling over the boats and four of the boys headed for it. They fired a long burst into it, but it didn’t go down. So all planes except mine headed for 1st destroyer which was by now throwing up lots of ack-ack. Took my flight toward enemy air transport as it landed at Cape Gloucester. 16 Japs passed out of it but we cut all of them down. “Pappy” Gunn flying No. 2 position on my wing laid a 75mm shell under it. The wing caught fire from our bullets by the time it had stopped rolling. Buck Good let go a couple or three bombs as we went over it and that finished it.

Buck Good an I then headed for large destroyer which had not been touched. Looked over my shoulder and saw enemy planes coming from about 10,000 feet, but there was too juicy a target to stop now. I could see that the boys in Henebry’s, Wilkins’, and Hawkins’ flight had the other destroyer burning and were still bombing and strafing it. We dropped down on our run for the large destroyer and it lit up like a Christmas tree as its ack-ack tried to knock us down before we bombed them. While Buck opened the bomb doors for me, I started to tap rudders and rake the deck with my 50’s [nose guns].

You could see Japs all over the decks trying to get cover someplace. We released our bombs as we pulled up to clear the mast, then dropped to the water to get out of their heavy gun fire. As we turned sharply to the left I could see we scored two direct hits as the destroyer rolled back and forth, then began to burn. Oh Boy! Buck and I shook hands on that job!

As we could see the Zeros coming in among us, I wiggled my wings to collect the formation but it was hard to do as they were still in a circle around the first destroyer. I could see that it was finished too. We finally got together and left the target with a few Zeros on our tail. The rest of my flight had been unable to release their bombs, so it was lucky that Buck and I had thrown ours into the sides of the large destroyer.

I knew some of the boys had been hit as the planes couldn’t close their bomb doors. Lt. Nuchols’ plane (13th SQ) I found out later was badly shot up by enemy fighters and rudder about gone. Radioed our report home and came straight home. After the bombing, Nuchols was still flying around and someone saw parachutes descending. Later it was found out that everyone got out except Lt. Nuchols who had lost too much altitude to make it. He crashed and burned about 15 miles from drone. Took his co-pilot two days to get back here.

Received wire from Gen. Ramey and phone calls from others [saying] congratulations in our job. The boys were really happy. We stayed up late to see the photos. Buck said he’s never seen me so happy and excited over the target, but he didn’t exactly take out his knitting either! Only two planes had 300 lb. bombs and rest had only 100 lb. Lucky for us 300 lb. were along and I was glad I had one of the planes with this load.