Pilot Survival Reports

Training for survival when forced to land or parachute in unknown or unfriendly territory or over water is an important part of the indoctrination of any combat flyer. During the Philippines campaign, many a Marine pilot shot down or caused to make a forced landing because of mechanical difficulties, lived to fight again, largely as a result of this special training. Pilots who returned successfully after such experiences were required to submit survival reports in order that fellow flyers might profit from their experiences. Reports included discussions of mistakes as well as successes, so that the survival training program might be augmented or improved.

The following survival narratives are typical; they are recounted herewith to acquaint the reader with a few of the problems involved.


On the morning of 11 December 1944, I became airborne as part of a four plane division, VMF-218, from Tacloban Strip. A Japanese convoy had been sighted in the Visayan Sea north of the island of Cebu. With orders to attack this convoy, our Corsairs had each been loaded with a 1000 pound, instantaneously fused bomb in addition to the normal war load of 50 calibre ammunition.

The flight to target was uneventful, but a scheduled rendezvous with Army P47's, which were to furnish cover for the strike, failed to materialize by their non-appearance. Instead, there were seven Hamps (Japanese fighters) in the area to harass our attack.

I followed my division leader, Major Robert T. Kingsbury, III, in an immediate dive from 10,000 feet, the seven "red ball" craft in hot pursuit. Our aiming point was a large destroyer serving as a convoy escort, but my glide path to target was disrupted when a 40mm shell from the ship struck my plane. I felt a sharp stab of pain in my right leg, but as I pulled out of the dive I was too busy to realize much feeling. The engine had lost power and I was unable to keep up with my division leader while climbing to altitude.

While struggling upward, a single Hamp approached head-on, both of us firing simultaneously. My already limping plane was twice hit by the Jap's 20mm, one hit the cowl and ricocheted through the canopy, the other into the engine. As I pulled up my adversary passed beneath me, smoke streaming from his right wing root, but at that moment my engine quit completely and gasoline poured into the cockpit, drenching me.

From about 8,000 feet I began a rapid descent toward the water and, until I was below 4,000 feet, a Jap followed me, firing, but I was


apparently out of his range. At 2,000 feet I jettisoned the hood and prepared for a water landing given a short radio call to that effect. The engine was dead with the propeller merely windmilling, the gauge indicated no fuel pressure but raw gas continued to spray on me.

The F4U settled easily onto the Visayan Sea and remained afloat for approximately 40 to 50 seconds. By that time I had inflated my Mae West and was in the water. While thrashing around above and beneath the surface in a vain attempt to inflate the small life raft, the air in the Mae West dissipated. This necessitated oral repumping, a tiring process which had to be repeated numerous times because of slow leakage. Attempts to inflate the raft were abandoned, for one side of the parachute had been ripped to shreds by the shrapnel in the cockpit and I could only assume that this had also caused the failure of the raft.

Thereupon, I discarded the useless raft, the chute and my shoes. Within 45 minutes I allowed my belt, from which was suspended my gun and holster, first aid packet, jungle kit and knife, to drop into the sea. Still later I gave up the leaking Mae West and all my clothing, every article seemed to drag me down and exhaust me further.

Not being an exceptional swimmer, the situation became less hopeful. Luck smiled upon me, though, for after another 45 minutes of floating and paddling in the raw I spotted a large log bobbing temptingly. Distance and time were exaggerated twofold before I reached and clutched its welcome support.

During the late afternoon I saw a total of 16 Japanese planes flying in a southwesterly direction toward Negros Island. All seemed to be straggling back in twos or threes from some mission. None of them gave any indication of spotting me.

I apparently was only semi-conscious of my surroundings during most of the night. I saw nothing of interest but was occasionally aware of small fish in the vicinity of my wounded leg and I thrashed my legs around in the water from time to time to chase them away. The current seemed to be carrying me in a southwesterly direction toward Negros, but at dawn the current reversed itself and once more I drifted toward my original position.

In the early morning light I noticed two enemy planes headed east, and later a Navy Liberator, evidently on patrol, passed to the northwest without seeing me. I felt famished that morning, and frequent cramps only served to remind me of it. A small crab found its way to my precious log, and I saw it clinging luringly to the opposite end. Sensing its danger my would-be meal disappeared before I could reach it.

I could see islands to the south of me but the current was against my progress in that direction. In the early afternoon there were a few small sailing vessels at too great a distance to query their friendliness. Later I had definite recognition of two Japanese destroyers and an oil tanker to the northwest of me. The current swept me in the direction of their course until I seemed barely 100 feet from them; a half mile would be a more rational calculation however. I felt all too conspicuous and in spite of being ready to get out of the water, I was not that eager.

I was passed unobserved and minutes later four P-38's circled twice above the enemy ships. As they started down, apparently in a strafing run, one destroyer fired a few bursts of AA at them and the P-38's pulled up without finishing their run and headed for home without firing a shot.

About the same time I spotted ten small fishing boats headed for me from the south. It was apparent that I was seen by them but because the wind was against them I was still not close enough to be recognized as friend or foe. After almost an hour all of the boats except one turned away perhaps assuming I was a Japanese off of one of the convoy ships which were still in sight.

After still another 45 minutes the last little boat approached and circled me cautiously. My closely cropped blond hair, when they were within calling distance, led them to show further caution. Was I German or American, they shouted? Once in the boat I remember nothing more of the ride, I had lost consciousness.

My next short memory was of being carried from the boat to a house, another lapse, and


then of being given artificial respiration which had caused me to vomit quantities of salt water. It was difficult to breathe, and when a native doctor arrived I was given two shots of adrenelin for my heartbeat was very irregular.

Twenty-four hours of sleep followed, and at 2000 on the night of 13 December I became aware that all of this had taken place in a native seashore shack on the island of Bantayan near the village of Madredijas. This was the northern tip of a 10 mile long island just east of the northern end of Cebu Island.

The next morning I was taken into Madredijas and there given the best of food and care. The more wealthy citizens of the town gave me clothes, shoes, soap, toothbrush and all the incidentals I needed. I had been the first American to be seen by these natives since the beginning of the war. Everyone wanted to know when the Americans were going to liberate Cebu; there had been no Japanese on Bantayan because there were no ports and the terrain was impossible for airstrip construction. The natives had had matches and chocolate bars, sent in by MacArthur in 1942 by submarine, which had emblazoned on the covers and wrappers, "I Shall Return."

Rumor had it that a Liberator crew was in the town of Bantayan to the south of the island, and on the 16th I had recuperated sufficiently to be carried there by ox cart. The same day of my arrival the natives brought in two Japanese prisoners from a dive bomber which had crashed on the seashore nearby.

The pilot appeared to be about 18 years old and the gunner was probably 20 or 21. As the two Japanese were marched into town and down the street their captors beat them with the back side of bolo knives. Although the gunner withstood his punishment, the young pilot was crying openly. One of the crew members of the Liberator was given a Japanese Luger and asked if he wanted to shoot the prisoners. The boy refused and one by one all of the Americans were given the same opportunity, all declined. The natives then made the Japs get down on the ground and told them that if they would get up and run for the woods they would be free if they could make it. Both jumped up and started to run and were shot down by the natives.

While in Bantayan I stayed in the home economics building of the school, which was being used as a hospital and as living quarters for all of the Americans. Those of us who needed any treatment were attended by a woman doctor who had received her Doctor of Medicine degree from the university of Manila. She was a young women about 26 years old, very clean and quite nice looking.

By that time I was well enough to be up and around and was free to come and go as I pleased. At each meal I was feted by one and another of the leading citizens, each attempting to outdo the other in their most generous hospitality. Several had been well educated in Philippine colleges and some few had attended universities in the United States. Most of the better class were part Spanish or Chinese. Their homes were well kept, usually maintained by servants and were fitted with many of the modern conveniences.

On Sunday the local citizenry turned out for the usual cock fights, and on this occasion the Americans and the woman doctor were the guests of honor. Another favorite pastime was the old Chinese game of Mah Jong, a social custom enjoyed by them as the game of bridge is in the United States.

I found everyone most anxious to impart to me all of the information they had as to Japanese activities on nearby Cebu. They related that the guerrillas were holding most of the island and that they wanted more weapons with which to fight. They told of gun emplacements around the city of Cebu guarding the valleys and all approaches to the city, that the town is well garrisoned with Japanese troops but the exact size of the detachment was unknown for the natives were not allowed in or near the city. I was told, too, of an airstrip on Negros Island which was three kilometers south of a large pre-war sawmill. This operationally active strip was said to be by a river and the revetments were well camouflaged and covered by coconut logs and earth.

An incident occurring earlier in the war on Cebu was related to me. A Topsy (Japanese transport), carrying a staff of Japanese officers


and piloted by a German, had made a forced landing on the island. The natives killed all its passengers, and in retaliation 1000 Cebu civilians, men, women and children, were butchered. An edict was then posted threatening the death of 10 civilians for each Japanese killed, or should a Colonel or above meet with such fate the whole province would be killed.

Since my initial water rescue I had dictated messages every two or three days which departed through guerrilla grapevine. However, only one of these messages was ever known to reach Allied sources, and that relayed through a pilot by natives returning him to Leyte on a guerrilla barge.

Three days after I had been picked up two natives in a fishing boat contacted a PT boat at Calubian. Informed of the rescue of a downed pilot and given instructions as to where to pick me up on Bantayan, the PT skipper surmised it to be a Japanese trick and dared not navigate into a possible trap.

It was four days after my arrival at Bantayan, on the morning of 19 December 1944, that I departed with one native in a sail boat for Calubian on Leyte Island, a trip of about 50 nautical miles and 14 to 16 uneventful hours.

At Calubian, after spending the night with an Army artillery unit, I concluded my journey, first, on an LSM, and finally, the last leg in an Army Colonel's motor launch. It was almost nightfall on 20 December that I arrived in VMF-218's camp area at Tacloban, weary, nervous and quite run down from loss of weight.

NOTE.--Subsequent to his return, Lieutenant Bean, on advice of the squadron doctor, was sent to Emirau for a two week rest before rejoining his outfit in a flying status.


I took off from Guiuan airfield on the 23rd, [January] in a flight of eight planes scheduled to cover a convoy west of Panay. Returning from the mission, we ran into bad weather southwest of Leyte and became separated. I was unable to get directions from any radio station, and soon found that I was out of radio contact with the other members of my flight, although later I was told that they could hear me. I flew on instruments for an hour and a half, but was unable to break out of the overcast; my gas supply finally ran low and I decided to bring my plane down to make a water landing. As I came down out of the overcast, I found myself over land, at an altitude of about 500 feet. As I swung out over the water, I noticed I was being fired on by small-arms. The sea was fairly calm, with long easy swells, and I set the plane down easily, tail first. It remained afloat for about a minute, giving me plenty of time to get out of the cockpit and onto the right wing, from which I lowered myself into the water and inflated my rubber boat. It was early afternoon, and land was about a half-mile away.

After I had been on the water a short time, three small canoes put out from shore, headed toward me. The men appeared to be Filipinos and seemed friendly, so I allowed myself to be placed in one of the canoes, while my rubber raft was taken in tow by another. As we headed for shore we were met by Japanese small-arms fire; the natives all dove into the water and swam away, although all the shots landed short.

I regained my raft and had begun to drift shoreward, when I noticed a Japanese soldier paddling out toward me in a small boat. A brief exchange of shots sent the enemy scurrying back to land, followed by bullets from my .45 pistol.

I spent the rest of the day trying to keep away from the shoreline, but when I found myself still being dragged toward land by the current, I abandoned the raft and tried to swim out. At dusk the tide began to ebb, and I decided to try to swim diagonally toward the shore. After a two-hour pull, I finally came ashore in the dark on a small coral beach which ended abruptly in dense jungle a short distance from the water's edge. It had been seven hours since my plane had hit the water.

I remained on the little beach for almost two days, I was unable to walk far on the sharp coral, since I had left my shoes with the rest of my equipment on the raft. On the 25th, I started inland, and in less than an hour came


upon a group of huts in a clearing. I was unable to determine whether they were occupied by friend or foe, so I started to leave, but suddenly fifteen or twenty Filipinos appeared and ran up to me. They seemed to understand that I was the pilot of the plane which had gone down two days before, and one of them spoke a little English. They took me back into the jungle, where they brought me water and food, including rice, boiled chicken, eggs, bananas, and coconuts. I rested there until early evening on a mat they'd brought me, when my English-speaking friend returned with a pair of Japanese sandals for my feet. I learned then that my benefactor was a member of the Cebu Home Defense Force, and that we were on the narrow northern peninsula of Mactan Island, near the island of Cebu. Moving out in the dark, we crossed over to the eastern coast of the peninsula where we waited three hours for a boat which was to take us to Santa Rosa Island, the first step back towards Leyte. It appeared at about ten p. m. and added the two of us to its cargo of nine refugees from Cebu City and their household goods. At this juncture, a man who spoke fairly good English identified himself as a Captain in the Home Defense of Mactan and took charge of the situation until we made contact with American forces on Leyte. On Santa Rosa, I was hailed as a hero by the people of the island, who had not had a white visitor since 1940; I was escorted in triumph to a native village where I was provided with a hut, bamboo bed, pillows and mosquito netting, and supplied with American cigarettes, boiled eggs, and Philippine beer. My hosts were eagerly hospitable and seemed delighted to share everything they owned with me. I was able to learn very valuable information concerning antiaircraft and land-mine defenses on Mactan. The next day, a Filipino nurse treated the coral cuts on my feet and repaired my flight suit, and once again I was well fed. When my Captain guide appeared with news that he had procured a boat for the trip to Leyte, we found it difficult to dissuade the entire village of 400 people from accompanying us. Stopping on the way at another island, Caubian, I was again received in grand style by the natives, who carried me ashore on their shoulders. I was taken to the house of a lieutenant of the local guerrilla band and given a pair of socks and GI shoes. The natives wanted to take me back to Leyte themselves, but I went on with my captain friend from Mactan, firing a 'salute' with my pistol as I left. We passed the night on another island, Nonocen, where I was again supplied with a house, cigarettes, and food, and where I slept with six natives who took turns guarding me while I slept.

Departing the next morning, the 27th, we arrived at Bay Bay on Leyte in the evening. I went ashore and contacted an American Army M. P. detachment, and reported to the Philippine Civil Affairs Unit the names of those who had aided me. After securing food for my Filipino friends, I bade them goodbye, drew a clothing issue from the army, and left the next afternoon for Burauen, where I spent the night. The next day I traveled by jeep to Tacloban, whence I was flown to Guiuan airstrip, arriving there on January 29th, six days after I'd taken off.


On 27 February 1945 Major Phillip B. May of VMF-211, was conducting a strafing run on a Japanese airfield at Davao, on Mindanao, in the face of Jap anti-aircraft fire, when he felt a tremendous jar in his plane, lost control of the left rudder, and saw that the instrument panel was shattered:

I leveled off and headed the smoking plane for nearby Davao Gulf for a water landing, but as I passed over the airfield's runway, I saw that I was losing altitude and couldn't reach the water. I opened the hood and jumped, landing in a group of coconut trees about 100 yards off the runway, while my plane burned about 25 feet away. As I hit the ground, I fell and saw that my trousers were on fire and that a piece of shrapnel was embedded in my left lower leg. Jap bullets were striking the trees all around, but the other planes in my flight started to strafe around me, holding down the ground troops who had started after me. I quickly got out of my parachute harness and ran north along a path, but ran into a Japanese soldier running toward me. I shot twice


with my .38 pistol, and the Jap fell and rolled off the path; I ran on, following a drainage ditch, and came upon a Filipino who pointed out the direction of the Japanese. I continued to run, falling in thickets in heavily-wooded areas, passing through clearings under cultivation, and finally dropped down, in an abaca grove, tired and thirsty, after an hour's running without stop. Within a few minutes I heard Japanese voices close by, yelling and screaming, and quickly began to cover myself with grass and leaves. A Jap slowly approaching, and I pulled out my pistol and lay still and ready. The Jap passed within five feet of me but did not look down to where I was lying, and the six or seven others in the searching squad were spread out over a large area. Finally I heard them get into a truck and drive off.

I stayed in that spot for about four hours, until dark, and then set out to the north with the aid of a compass, having been briefed at the base that there were friendly Filipinos in the northern section of the Davao Gulf area. I passed one farmhouse and saw several people I took to be friendly Filipinos, but was frightened off by the barking of a dog and continued my trek to the north. The going became difficult as I came upon a muddy swamp, but when I fell into it, I noticed that the water tasted salty, so I figured that I was close to the Gulf and would be able to make better time following the water. But the tide was up when I reached the Gulf, and the beach under water. However, luck was with me, for I found a canoe there on stilts. I pulled it out into the water, climbed in and set out, using a loose seat board for a paddle. The wind prevented my continuing to the north, so I started the long pull eastwards across the gulf. After about two hours of steady paddling, I came upon another small craft with two men silhouetted in the moonlight. I could hear them talking, and assumed they were looking for me, because there were several other boats dispersed about 500 feet apart. I stopped, waiting for them to move on, which they did about an hour later, and then paddled on towards Samal Island, in the middle of the gulf, where I hoped to find fresh water. As I approached, a plane came down from the north and dropped some incendiary bombs on the island, so I decided that it wasn't worth the risk with the enemy awakened, and continued across the gulf. I found that whenever I tried to lie back in the canoe and rest I became cold and sore, so I decided it was easier to keep paddling without stopping. About five o'clock I reached the shoreline, and located a wooded area where I could go ashore to rest through the day before continuing the trip northward. I was so thirsty, though, that I started out right away by foot to locate some fresh water. I came upon a hut where I saw three women, but waited almost two hours before deciding to approach them. They ran away at first, but I sat down on a log and waited for them to appear again, and then motioned to them, holding out my arms, smiling and repeating, "I am your friend, I am an American." They came back, listened to my story, and then got me fresh water, and insisted that I go to their hut and rest. They informed me that the Japs were about 3 kilometers away, and that the guerillas were to the north as I thought; they would help me get to them. The women wanted me to stay a day and night, but I wanted to get back to friendly troops as soon as possible. When the word got around in the neighborhood that an American was there, natives started to arrive, asking me questions eagerly about the arrival of the Americans. Two men volunteered to lead me to the guerrillas, so we started out about noon. All along the beach friendly Filipinos came out to see me and try to talk with me; I was the first American they had seen in four years. At one point a whole village turned out to welcome me; the mayor made a speech and the villagers clapped and laughed and came up to touch me and to shake my hand. They were overjoyed to know that the Americans would soon chase the Japs away from the Davao Gulf area. The mayor sent runners to the guerilla lines to have an escort sent to take me to their leader. When they arrived that night, a squad of barefoot soldiers loaded with hand grenades and carrying carbines, the village had a celebration in which I played the drums in a four-piece


"orchestra," and taught them "The Marines' Hymn."

The next morning I was taken to the guerrilla's headquarters where a doctor treated my leg. They notified the U.S. Navy which picked me up three days later in a PBM, and returned me to my base at Tacloban.

On March 7 my wingman, Lieutenant Roy Butler, and I loaded our planes with badly-needed medical supplies for my guerrilla friends and flew to their camp to deliver them. I set my plane down on a roadway, but as I was coming to a stop, it slipped off and nosed-up in a swamp; I immediately radioed Butler that it was too muddy and dangerous to attempt a landing, so he returned to the base. The guerillas were overjoyed to see me and the medical supplies. I had also brought two loaves of bread, which I doled out crumb by crumb to hundreds of the natives. While I waited at the guerrilla camp to be picked up, the natives built an airfield, hoping that other planes might come down to bring supplies. It took about four weeks and the efforts of about 2,000 men working around the clock, bringing up buckets of dirt and gravel to fill in parts of the swamp. When it was more or less completed, Guerrilla Headquarters again radioed the air base and they sent a plane out for me. During my time at the guerrilla camp, I learned that the Japs had tortured and finally killed about 50 Filipinos and their families in the area where I had been shot down, for their failure to produce me.


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