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.”

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