The Saint

The Saint and Other Characters

By Oliver Bateman

118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron


    Raymond St. John (the Saint) from Texas and I became great friends. A ‘Saint’ he was not, but a caring sensitive guy, a typical fighter pilot, and each time I look at photos it triggers most fond and interesting memories. On one memorable mission, both the flight leader and element leader aborted, leaving us alone going to the target. But I guess the powers in charge soon realized it was the ‘blind leading the blind,’ so they called us back. Smart thinking on their part! A few days later we tried again, this time with Colonel Ed Rector, 23rd Group commander, leading. My element leader had to abort, but Rector said to close up and come along. We escorted B-24s and B-25s to target, and on the way back hit targets of opportunity. My target started to shoot back, right unfriendly of him, and I became so enamored with the shooting that I made pass after pass until I ran out of ammo. Not very smart, but I got caught up in the challenge. And then I got lost, hopelessly lost. Rector called for me to join up but I couldn’t find him, so he finally took St. John back. Surprise, I made it back to base, thanks to the help of a radio team in the mountains that vectored me towards home. Colonel Rector, to say the least, was quite miffed when I couldn’t find him, less so when he realized that I was hopelessly lost, but downright elated (and paternal) when I coasted in with about a pint of gas in my tanks. He allowed I had the makings of a good fighter pilot, just needed a little fine-tuning, which I got!

    My most vivid memory of the Saint was an experience at Loahwangping. Before daylight, in our P-51s parked next to each other, we were waiting for orders to take off. It was than blazes and I dozed off. The Saint was fiddling with the switches, turning his gun sight off and on, and then he hit the wrong switch. All six 50-calibers roared to life, that woke me up, and made the guys on the hill quite peeved when his bullets tore hell out of their radar shack, luckily no injuries! The Saint’s comment;” Looks like I screwed up a little.” Fortunately the war ended before we got into any real trouble!

    Some of my other favorite characters besides the Saint were Willie Nest, Bob Leavell, Gil Connor, and Whitey Johnson. (The Saint is now gone but memories remain.) Bob, Whitey, and I remain close friends to this day, despite sharing a tent together during our wanderings about China as our squadron moved from base to base. We lived in a British type tent at Loahwangping with a wood floor and wood door. Connor had decorated the door with the name ‘Fools Paradise.’ We were all from different backgrounds and different areas” St. John from Texas, Willie Nest from New Jersey, Whitey from Minnesota, Bob Leavell from Mississippi, and Connor from Brooklyn, all scared kids. But we were fighter pilots sharing experiences together that forged bonds of friendship never separated by time.

    Willie Nest put on the front as being one of the real tough guys from New Jersey. He picked up a little dog that I think he called Black Lightning. He fed and coddled and protected it. It was rumored that well-fed dogs were considered a delicacy to some of our Chinese friends. Willie, I’m sure, would have guarded his pet with his life.

    Gil Connor was a real character. He had worked baking donuts for Doughnut Corporation of America and called himself the ‘Donut King.’ But he usually referred to himself as Conner Fool and all others he knew with the same adjective. To him, anyone who found himself in China was a damned fool. He claimed he could pick up the best looking girls in Asia, but we found him less than discriminating!  Bob Leavell was probably the only real literate one in the bunch. He wrote beautiful scripted love missives to his sweetheart everyday. Whitey and I enjoyed many escapades together, but I can’t say too much about him for the censors will certainly snip it out. These are some of the characters I fondly remember.