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Corporal | Infantry

All ten air sections of the 40th Division occupied the same airstrip in a nameless valley along the Kumwha-Kumsong line.  The Division replaced the 24th in early January 1952 during a fierce Korean winter.  Even layers of cold weather clothing could not prevent the chill from piercing through to one’s skin.  The airstrip itself was 2600 feet long with tentage along the east side for living quarters, maintenance facilities, and a mess hall.  Planes buzzed in and out on daily missions at the hands of veteran aviators and observers, most of whom were pilots in World War II and had stayed on through the Army’s transition into the use of light aircraft.


Part of the section’s complement of aircraft was five L-19s supported by thirteen mechanics.  Most had been with the unit since they arrived in Japan, including William Donovan who had been a crew chief on an L-19 for nine months in Sendai before deploying for Korea.  Their days became routine.  In the early morning, they began by removing all aircraft covers and cleaning control surfaces of any ice that had accumulated overnight.  Preheating the engine required a hot air blower initially, and once started and up to temperature they reviewed again to ensure proper function before a flight.


The extreme cold made maintenance difficult.    While the nose or the tail of any aircraft could sneak under a tent, any work beyond these areas had to be done outside.  Gloves hindered dexterity the more intricate the work became and frequently Donovan was working with his bare hands.  The mechanics had to be careful when using metal tools that could stick to their skin in the sub-zero temperatures.  Ultimately, it took two to do the work – one man to perform the maintenance and one man to direct the heater blower.


The routine was only broken in early March when a couple of Marine corsairs accidentally bombed the strip, causing an unforgettable moment of mayhem for those who were present for it.  It was the closest many of the section came to the distress of combat during their first six months in Korea.   After the frigid winter abated into spring, outdoor work became much more pleasant and by June, just before they faced the opposite extreme of a Korean summer, Donovan was on orders to return home to his position at Trans World Airlines.


Donovan kneeling (first from left) with other enlisted members of the section.


Ketchum, Hugh W. A History of 40th Division Army Aviation in Korea, 1952-1954. Capstone Pub., 2004.

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