WILBUR E. LEWIS
Lieutenant | United States Air Force
Since joining the 746th Bomb Squadron on July 27, 1944, Lieutenant Lewis constantly confronted accurate anti-aircraft and swarms of aggressive enemy fighters from the ‘greenhouse’ nose of his B-24. From his position of great visibility and vulnerability, he witnessed ships to his left and right torn apart, disintegrate, and plummet to the earth smoldering. Even without enemy activity, conditions were not easy to deal with. Terrible weather often plagued missions and rugged mountain terrain was particularly hazardous. The squadron flew from Stornara, Italy deep into enemy occupied territory throughout France, Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Austria, and the Balkans to strike strategic targets such as factories, refineries, viaducts, airfields, and railroads.
Their mission on October 13th over Hungary culminated in the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross. Lewis happened to be lead bombardier for Baker Box aiming for the primary target – Székesfehérvár marshalling yard in Hungary. After crushing two other rail cities in recent days, Székesfehérvár was a remaining crucial point that, if destroyed, would greatly benefit the Soviet and open a third avenue for advance into Germany. Similar types of long-range missions continued for months. In April, the Group supported the Fifth Army and British 8th Army during the final push through Italy. Gun positions, bridges, roads, depots and rail lines were all common targets until the end of the war when they transitioned to transporting supplies instead of dropping bombs. Eukie was back in the United States by June after almost a year of peering through his bombsight at the European landscape.
Korea was a vastly different war in the air than what Eukie saw over Europe, but the mission objectives remained the same – strategic bombing runs to destroy the enemy’s access to power plants, supplies, railways, bridges and anything else deemed essential to their needs, occasionally including strikes on troop and artillery positions. To do this, the 30th Bomb Squadron flew the massive B-29 Superfortress, a gleaming marvel of modern technology with a pressurized cabin, computer-controlled gun systems, and guided bombs. Despite all of its new age advantages, the B-29 was often victim to Russian MiGs zipping over Korea. After too many bombers were shot down early in the war, daytime missions ceased and the crews flew over enemy territory at night.
Eukie’s last mission began at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, over 800 miles from their distant targets beyond the 38th Parallel. Their ship was Miss Jackie the Rebel, adorned with a sultry red-head wearing a bandeau detailed with the Stars and Bars. Miss Jackie was always tying a lace up sandal with a flirtatious smirk. When they took off on June 10th, it was the last time the ground crew would see of her.
Their target was a railroad bridge at Kwakson, several miles inland off the coast of the Yellow Sea and halfway between Pyongyang and the Manchurian border. Miss Jackie was accompanied by two other B-29s: Apache, a fierce looking lady posed in a chieftain’s feather headdress and Hot To Go, stretched out sunning herself in a bikini that was only recently applied with some reluctance. After reaching altitude and pulling the pins on the bombs, Eukie waited until the pilot relinquished control of the ship. The intercom fell silent in the moments leading up to the target. Only Eukie’s voice crackled through as he updated the pilot on approach and then concluded with ‘bombs away’ as their payload tumbled out of the bomb bay.
Just after the successful run, searchlights from the ground illuminated the undersides of the ships with long beams of white light. Hopeful anti-aircraft fire chased their targets, scoring several hits on the trio. A single MiG appeared firing from a distance, interrupting the normal paperwork of post-bombing activities as the crew scrambled to defend Miss Jackie. The Russian’s shots missed, but he returned for a second pass against the huge bomber which could do little to maneuver. The second attack of rockets and cannon fire tore through an engine on the left wing and he returned for a third and fourth assault under cover of darkness absent the searchlights. An engine on the right wing ignited and Miss Jackie began plummeting toward the sea. She twisted to the left and exploded, littering flaming debris across the area of Simni-do island. What remained of the wreckage crashed into the dark sea.
Strangely, the crew sent no distress signals during the event – their last transmission was Eukie’s ‘bombs away.’ The squadron on Okinawa had no indication of what happened until 3:15 in the morning when the ship was considered well overdue. The only information of their fate came from Apache who returned to K-19 full of bullet holes and several dead and wounded on board. They reported that Miss Jackie and Hot to Go were shot down by the AA fire, apparently unaware of the damage dealt by the MiG. Later, information came from Soviet 64th Fighter Aviation Corps Headquarters who issued a search party the night after the crash, June 11th, and found debris from the crash and eight corpses. It is the only shred of evidence of Eukie’s ultimate fate and he has been carried as missing in action since June 10th, 1952.