We finally moved from Lingayen Gulf to a Jap field 150 to 200 miles behind enemy lines. ..that’s an experience for you! ! The Philippine Guerillas attacked the Jap air strip at the upper end of Luzon and made it safe for us to land. Cargo planes brought in all of the needed supplies. They unloaded quickly and went back to get more. The gas was stored in barrels, but somehow the gas got mixed up and I got some 80 octane jeep gas in my airplane. P-51Ds like to drink l00 octane fuel and I took off with 80 octane fuel! I checked the magnetos and everything to make sure everything was ok on the ground. I barely got airborne and the engine started cutting out. I had to get it down! I had to belly it in wherever I could! With the throttle half way back, it ran just as smooth as could be! I dumped the bombs on safety, so I wouldn’t blow up any Filipino friends, and then I circled out to sea and came back to the airstrip and landed ok. The mechanics ran it up to the highest rpms they could and it sounded fine to them, so they released it for flight. They gassed it up again -gas is for jeeps, not planes!
A friend of mine, Spence, took my plane out and had the same problems. He ditched his bombs safely, but they went through a Filipino village. Amazingly, no one was hurt! I was really mad and upset that they let the plane go out again without finding the cause of the problems. All of the gasolines had different color coding and the gas they put in my plane was the wrong color! They tested the gas and found out, sure enough, it was 80 octane! Two of us flew it and lived to tell the tale! Once they put l00 octane fuel in, it ran like a new watch!
Many years later, I was in the uranium business and had a mine in Colorado. I got acquainted with Don Andrews who lived in Nucla, Colorado at the time. He flew his plane to Grand Junction when he needed to. We compared notes and found that we were both in the same part of the world -Loaog! He flew C-46s, which were twin engine cargo planes. He was involved in bringing supplies to Loaog. He asked me if I had heard about the bad gas story. I said, “Hell! I flew the plane!”
The runway was 1300 feet long, which is short by any standard, and had big chuck holes in it. It took every bit of runway to get airborne and our airstrip ended at the Loaog River. We had to miss a hill near stalling speed, so we had to be careful. The hill wasn’t big, but it felt like the Alps because of the conditions we were flying under. It took everything we had to get airborne, but we did it.
When we came back from a mission, the planes were very light. We came in at 400 mph, made a loop over the airstrip and landed at the end of the loop. We came in with gear down, flaps down and practically upside down and then set it down on the strip. ..typical fighter pilot landing -one right after the other 32 planes, 4 at a time or, on some fields, 2 at a time and sometimes I at a time. An air show at the end of every mission.
Our control tower was a shack on top of 3 palm tree trunks stacked side by side up and down. The requirement was to have a pilot with the enlisted men in the tower when fighter planes were landing. It was quite a show!
One time, Flight Officer Lee hit the end of the strip during his loop. His wing tip hit the strip when he was Y2 way rolled over and the plane cart wheeled down the runway. The tail was gone, the prop was gone, the canopy was gone, the wings were ragged stubs and it was upside down spinning like a top. The cockpit was buried in the dirt, so the men tied a chain from a crane around what was left of the fuselage to try to get the remains out of the cockpit. I told the guys to slow down and not work so hard in the heat. They were digging in the coral to try to get him out (many runways were made from crushed coral). I said, “Slow down, he’s dead, anyway .” Then we heard a voice say, “Like hell! Get me outta here! !” Lee released his seat belt and landed on his head! He hadn’t been injured at all until he fell on his head!
The Japanese had a giant rice bowl that was 12 to 14 feet across and it looked like a WWI helmet. It was a monstrous thing! They used it to cook rice in. We had a hose running to it and used it for a bathtub. We would get cleaned up after a flight and go to the mess hall.
We had been flying to Formosa, now called Taiwan, and other far away points. It was much better to be at the northern end of Luzon because we were much closer. One day we were at “Honey Strip” in Lingayen Gulf, which was near the town of Dagupan. We heard that ground forces were stalled at Villa Verde mountain pass, which was close to our unit. We flew a lot of missions up there for ground troop support. They were bogged down with Japs, jungle and high passes. They had trouble with friendly fire, so they wanted to meet with our C.O., our Operations Officer and flight leaders. We met with the officers in charge of the ground operation and came up with a good plan. We began executing the plan the next day and never hit even one of our people. It was the cooperative effort that made it work!