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.

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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.

The exciting conclusion to this tale can be found here.