As a kid I always enjoyed trips to my grandmother's. When my grandfather retired from dairy farming, they moved into a small house near the center of Greensboro, and they would tell us romantic tales of work and play back on the farm. An old black-and-white picture of a handsome young man in uniform hung on the wall. It was my uncle Mark, who never came back from the Pacific in World War II.
After bombing Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese had the initiative, invading Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma, and parts of Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is a huge island between Australia and Asia, hot and thick with jungles, and a steep mountain range for a spine. Papua New Guinea was Mark's first duty station. Imagine going from a college in a sleepy southern town, to flying warplanes in the tropical Pacific!
In 1942, the Allies still occupied Port Moresby on the south coast near the middle of the island, while the Japanese held the eastern end, including Milne Bay, 250 miles away, about the same distance as Ottumwa from Storm Lake. The Japanese and Allies fought an aerial battle, swapping bombing raids on each other, until later in the war, when the Japanese had to move their forces to the Coral Sea.
Mark was the bombardier of a B25. The B25 was a small, maneuverable bomber, used extensively in the Pacific theater, because many of the enemy targets were relatively small, squirreled away in pockets of jungle. One of the techniques used by the B25s to attack shipping was "skip bombing" in which the bombs were released at a very low altitude over water, and skipped along the surface, striking the enemy ship on its side.
The bombardier sat in the very front of the plane, behind a plexiglass bubble, with a clear view of everything ahead, above and underneath, almost like sitting out in the open, ahead of the plane. It's not hard to envision Mark trying to stay focused on the instruments as the plane flew fast and low into the target area, weaving through a kaleidoscope of jungle, buildings, and anchored ships, while red tracers of anit-aircraft fire flickered by.
The crew of Mark's plane consisted of Capt. James L. Orr, from Georgia and a graduate of West Point. The co-pilot was 2nd Lt Charles V. Berdine, from New Jersey. My uncle was the bombardier, 2nd Lt Mark P. Hubert, North Carolina. The Navigator was 2nd Lt Norman K. Miller, from Illinois, the turret gunner was Sgt. Nelson A. Boyd, from Mississippi, and the radioman/gunner was Royal Australian Air Force Sgt John C. Patton. Being an Aussie you can just imagine the rest of the crew teasing him about his accent.
They flew out of "seven mile drome," an airfield named because it was seven miles inland from Port Moresby.
At this stage, early in the war, the Japanese had better fighter planes than the Allies, and they had more of them. Lots of American planes didn't return from missions. The crew of my uncle's plane named it Boomerang because a boomerang always comes back.
According to the website "Pacific Wrecks," on August 25, 1942, USAAF B-25C Boomerang, bn 41-12499 departed Seven-Mile Drome in Port Moresby, Papau New Guinea, to bomb Japanese shipping in the Milne Bay area, on the eastern end of the island, and did not return. Several B-25s made the bombing run with Mark's plane, and other members of the group reported seeing a bright flash over the target where Boomerang had been. They assumed Mark's plane dropped its bombs too low, or was hit by anti-aircraft fire.
The crew was declared dead on December 12, 1945. No trace of the crew or plane was ever found. All are listed as KIA/MIA.
Mark was born and raised on a quiet dairy farm in rural North Carolina, where hard physical work paid the bills. He was in college when the war broke out, joined up, and was killed within a year. My grandmother never forgave the Japanese for their "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor.
My brother Mike and I joined the Navy after high school, but Uncle Mark is the only member of our immediate family to have been killed in war. I sure wish I could have met him.