When Tigers Flew In China
Robert Carson Appleby
Bob Appleby was a Hero to everyone in our family, even before WWII. He was the eldest son of Claude and Lona
Appleby and had five younger brothers, all swirling around him, any time he was home. I, a double-cousin, swirled, too.
Soon, after the death of my father, my father's brother and his wife, my mother's sister, welcomed me into their home. It was
not an unusual arrangement, we had all been a close-knit family from birth. From early childhood, we kids felt at home with either set of parents.
Bob was employed out of town for two or three years before he enlisted, so the family had already let him go, a little
bit. Although, having him out of town was not the same as having him out of the country and into the middle of a war.
On the 24th of August 1943, Bob spent the early morning hours of his 25th Birthday in the China skies bombing the Hankow Air Drome. At the time it was Headquarters for the Japanese Air Force in Southern China.
On that August Day, Bob wrote in his Journal:
We made an early morning take-off and at 4:00A.M. all our planes were in formation and we were on course
for Hankow, climbing as we went.
When the sun finally came-out, we were deep inside enemy territory. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the
sun hurt your eyes, even though it had not reached full brilliance. The tension was great and the air seemed
chargedto the bursting point, as the Jap interception should be on us at any time.
Suddenly, the attack began. Our target was in sight, some forty miles dead ahead, as the Zeros came-in from
every direction. We fought our way into the target and just as soon as our bomb-bay doors were beginning to
open, the anti-aircraft shells began exploding all around us. I had taken the attack by the Zeros for granted, but
those big puffs of black, brown and white smoke was another story. That's something you just can't fight back
We still had a one minute run to make, before our bombs would be released. I was covering the area from six
o'clock to twelve o'clock, left side, and had full vision of the seven B-24's making their bombing run. They were a
quarter of mile to our left and were to hit a target along side of ours. I saw a large red and black blossom spurt-up
in front of them and it took a moment for me to realize that it was their lead ship, "Cabin In the Clouds", exploding.
That was the first American plane I had seen hit by the enemy and some-how, it seemed like a dream. Then, two
more B-24's exploded, closely followed by two more, which began settling over the target. Several parachutes
opened, but not enough to account for all the crew members.
Our bombs were being dropped at last and as our bomb-bay doors closed, the noses of our B-25's were pointed
down at a sharp angle, so as to gain speed and get out of the immediate danger zone. Even though we were still
mixing it up with the zeros. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I knew we were heading for home.
The B-24's finally pulled the Japs off of us, although they followed us most of the way to the home base.
We had to land on a flat tire, which had been punctured by the anti-aircraft fire.
Flight time: 4 hrs. 45 min.
Two years from the day that Bob wrote (the above) entry in his Journal in China, he was on the Island of Okinawa.
Peace had just been declared and Bob wrote his final wartime poem on his 27th birthday on the 24th of August 1945.
As I Knelt to Pray
The guns are silenced, the shooting has ceased.
No more torturing for the maimed and deceased.
And so, last evening, as I knelt to pray,
I thanked our God for bringing this day.
Amidst din and flash, of celebrating guns,
My thoughts went back, to those mothers, whose sons,
Had forfeited their lives, that this one day
Would eventually come, bringing peace to stay.
For whom do we rejoice, for the living or dead?
Or is it that future blood needn't be shed?
Perhaps, we rejoice that our lives were spared
Not thinking of others, who worried and cared.
NO! None shall forget, those thousands of lives
Snatched from their mothers, their children and wives.
Thank you, Dear God, Thank you for this day
Thus, I spoke unto Him, As I knelt to pray.
Bob Appleby, Okinawa 24 August 1945
poem used by permission
Appleby Heritage note:
Bob came home on furlough after China and we discussed the possible publication of his poems. I got as far as the preparation, but regret to say that it never happened as it was a busy and hectic time for the family. Furlough over, Bob received orders for Okinawa, then war over, he came home, met and married, and was ready to forget the war years. Like most Veterans, he never forgot, but the poems were stashed away for years. Time has brought us new and greatly advanced types of wars. World War II was one-of-a-kind. It was a time set apart, like no other.
14 Sept 2004
16 Nov 2010