Prattan Ivan Phillips and his pilot Ernest DeGraw spent some time together in Pratt recalling their missions in their B-24 "Glamoura's during World War II.
A pair of old friends got together in Pratt to recall their adventures from decades ago. These two men, Ivan Phillips from Pratt and Ernest DeGraw of Pueblo West, Colo. have some unique memories to share. DeGraw was a pilot and Phillips was a crewman on the same B-24 J during World War II.
The men flew on the "Glamoura's" in the 2nd Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. They were the only two crew members that served the entire time on that particular B-24. The crews were very young men. The oldest crew member was 26 and the rest were just 20, Phillips said.
Although Glamoura's lost no men, the 2nd Photo Squadron suffered just two losses. The squadron mascot was a squirrel. It's image included two red stars in honor of the two men lost just as they were coming off a mission.
Lt. Col. Ernest DeGraw, Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force, served from 1941 to 1967 in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He also flew President Dwight Eisenhower. The served in New Guinea and the Philippines.
Sgt. Ivan Phillips was in the Army Air Corp as a gunner from 1943 to 1946. He manned one of ten 50-caliber guns to defend the plane. He said he could fly any position on the B-24 except the ball turret gunner position.
Phillips flew 13 missions in "Glamoura's" with DeGraw who also flew an additional 11 missions with other crews out of Morotai, Philippines.
Their mission was photo reconnaissance for photo mapping. Among their missions was to photograph beaches in Borneo in preparation for an Australian invasion. The photos were especially valuable for locating mines. While they couldn't see the actual mines, the photos did reveal the indentation in the ground where the mines were buried, DeGraw said.
While they were a photo reconnaissance plane, they were fired upon with shrapnel during missions and the plane was hit but not badly. They could fly so high, from 24,000 to 27,000 feet, the Japanese fighter planes couldn't reach them so they just had to worry about ground fire.
Phillips position on the plane in a turret didn't give him a view of where they were flying. Because the B-24 could fly so high, about 27,000 feet, when they flew over enemy positions, the enemy wouldn't bother to shoot at them because they thought they couldn't be seen from that altitude. They were wrong, Phillips said.
While each mission gathered valuable information, some missions had unexpected twists that affected the crew. On one mission, the plane got caught in the tail end of a typhoon and fell 6,000 feet, blowing out the eardrums on the crew. The B-24s were not pressurized so they had no protection from the sudden change in altitude.
DeGraw's injuries were so bad, he was transferred back to the States to a hospital in Memphis for recovery before going back into regular service. His eardrums were treated with cigarette rolling papers. The inner ear was irritated they the cigarette paper was inserted and the eardrum eventually healed.
"It was two months before I could fly again," DeGraw said.
Above all, DeGraw wanted to take care of his crew. He taught each crew member how to land the plane so they could take over if he was injured or killed.
As they were coming in for a landing after a mission and one of the other crew members was at the control, the plane suddenly angled upwards and Phillips found himself heading for the cockpit and almost running up hill. The crew member had completely missed the runway, about 300 yards, and DeGraw had to take the controls and climb out of the landing.
"You could hear every rivet pop on that plane," said Phillips who once suffered an injury to his finger when a piece of ammunition went off in his hand. He was cut but just bandaged it and kept on the mission without getting it treated.
One non-combat mission was particular tough to deal with. They were moving new planes between Hawaii and Easter Island at 23,000 feet when one of the planes just banked over and fell out of the sky. DeGraw said he kept looking for parachutes but saw none. It was daylight and he circled for sometime but saw no survivors. A submarine arrived but they found no survivors among the 10 crew members either.
Although he doesn't know for certain what happened, he thinks the crew's oxygen supply either ran out or malfunctioned. The crew simply passed out and the plane went down.
Ironically, the night before the accident, one of the crew members, named Wilkerson, of the plane that went down was eating and said it was his final meal.
Since B-24s were not pressurized, the crew had to be on oxygen the entire time. The planes were not heated so they had to wear very heavy coats and pants because the temperature at altitude was 20 degrees below zero.
Phillips was a gunner but when his chance came to be checked out as a first engineer, DeGraw took him to the commanding officer and convinced him Phillips should be an engineer because of his mission experience.
While the missions were serious, there were some lighter moments that were memorable. Some Dutch E Boats arrived where Phillips and DeGrew were stationed. Instead of tying up at the dock, the boats came straight onto the beach. The commanding officer, a Dutch Lieutenant, was dressed in ragged cut off shorts, an oil stained shirt with cut off sleeves and boots. He jumped off the bow of the boat onto the beach and wanted to know where the club was because he needed a beer.
There was no club at that location so the officer got in touch with his uncle who happens to be Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The next day, a plane arrived with an ample beer supply.
The commanding officer was Philip Mountbatten who is better known today as 96-year-old Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and consort (husband) to Queen Elizabeth II.
DeGraw got three bottles of ale out of this encounter. It tasted good and that's all he could remember.
"We could do things then they can't do today," DeGraw said. "Today, the have to be politically correct."
On one mission, all the gunners decided to fire out one side of the plane. The pilots eyes were really big because he thought the plane had been hit.
The tail gunner had to be careful about moving the gun too much because it weighed so much, it could actually effect the control of the plane, DeGraw said.
Being on the beach had other advantages. They built their own showers on the beach that allowed the water to run off. While is was a simple thing, it meant a lot to the men, Phillips said.
For all their missions, the Glamoura's was a good plane and every one got home safely.
"We all made it through New Guinea and that was something," Phillips said.
"She was a good old bird," DeGraw said. "We never lost a man. I brought everybody home."
After World War II, DeGraw continued to serve as a pilot until 1967 flying 25 combat missions in Korea in an A 26 and seven combat missions in Vietnam in an A 1. He was injured twice by shrapnel, once in the knee and in the shoulder. He served for 27 years.