Don't Land

Don’t Land! Don’t Land!

 By Oliver Bateman with Willie Nest


“Don’t land! Don’t land!” screamed the tower operator at Loahwangping. Eight P-51s of the 118th TRS “Black Lightning” squadron were returning from a skip bombing mission. A P-51 had a 500pound RDX high explosive bomb hung up under his wing.

As Willie Nest dove on the target, he released his bombs. One smashed into his target, but the other hung up under his right wing. On the way back from the target, “ I tried every maneuver I could think of, but it wouldn’t release.” Coming in low over the field with the bomb dangling from one hook, Willie was advised to clear the field area, climb to altitude and bail out.

Willie was a chubby, easygoing, redhead from West New York, NJ with a brogue thicker than a double-crusted pizza. “Hell, I didn’t want to lose my nice Mustang, but I didn’t want to get blown up either. So I climbed to five thousand feet. Fearful of the bomb exploding if I rolled over to fall out, I opened the canopy and tried to climb out of the cockpit. The wind pressure was so great it kept forcing me back in so I said ‘I don’t want to bailout anyway. I’ll take her on in.’ For some reason I couldn’t hear the tower and touched down gently, the most perfect landing I ever made.

“A second after touchdown and going about eighty miles per hour, and not waiting for the damn bomb to blow up, I rolled out over the wing and down the runway. Lying cut and bruised and covered with gravel all over me on the runway, I saw my plane coming to rest without the damn bomb! Jeez, where the hell is it, trying to dig myself deeper into the gravel. When the rescue squad picked me up and hauled me to operations, I heard the bomb had dropped off on approach, about a half mile off the end of the runway when I put full flaps down for landing. But it didn’t explode. Lucky me!”

 But Leroy Price wasn’t so lucky. He too had a bomb hang up on his P-51. His was probably more dangerous than a bomb. He had a one hundred pound all-purpose bomb plus a bunch of anti-personnel fragmentation bombs hung up under his wing. Guys in the armaments section had jerry-rigged little fragmentation bombs to the one hundred pound bomb for low level bombing against enemy troops. Leroy Price got stuck with one of the Rube Goldberg contraptions. Price was a little, quiet, soft-spoken guy but a superb pilot. He too tried everything to shake the bomb loose. It was hanging by the back shackle. He dove, climbed, roller, snapped and stalled out but couldn’t get the bomb loose. Loahwangping was leery but finally the base commander decided the bomb was secure and ordered him to land.

Leroy put the P-51 down on the gravel strip smooth as silk, but at the instant of touch down the bomb released and exploded, engulfing the plane in flames. Price had no choice; he opened the canopy and rolled out. He was a fireball as he rolled down the runway. Oliver Bateman, Wayne Johnson, and several enlisted men standing along the runway jumped in a jeep, raced after Price and rolled him into the muddy ditch to put out the flames. Price, fortunately, still had his gas mask and goggles on which saved his lungs and eyes. However, he suffered severe burns on his face, arms and legs but no other serious injuries. Flames shot up his pants legs close to a ‘vital’ area, no damage there. Lucky Him! The flight surgeon expressed his usual sympathy when Bateman and Johnson complained about their burned hands. He swabbed on a little ointment, we thought it was axle grease, and said, “you’ll live.” Thanks!