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Georgetown, Tennessee -
"A little levity does not take away from the seriousness of the purpose."
- Herb Harper
Let Us Not Forget
"Those who cannot remember the past
As a fourteen year old school boy, I was unaware that I was actually living in an era and an area where history was then and there being made. On that cool August morning in 1944, standing near a tall pecan tree near our house, I was vaguely conscious of a muffled rumbling noise in the distance. A few minutes later that muffled rumble became a thunderous roar as the huge B-24 Liberator appeared out of the sun and flew almost directly overhead not more than one hundred fifty feet high. As I looked up, I could see the face of one of the crew members looking down at me from the left gunners position. Some twenty years later I was to meet and become close friends with Dan White, one of those crew members.
At the controls was Charles Colville, a local pilot bidding his family and home town of Loudon, Tennessee goodbye before proceeding on to the CBI (China, Burma, India) theatre of operations to do his bit for history. After a few passes over the small town, the thunderous roar faded and once again became a muffled rumble in the distance.
Standing there still in amazement with leaves, branches, and pecans drifting down around me, I recalled reading just twelve months before about more than one hundred fifty of these giants, flying no higher than this one, raiding a place called Ploesti, Rumania. With just one of these war machines shaking the pecan tree and the earth around me as it had just done, I could not begin to imagine what it would be like to have more than a hundred of these planes dropping bombs, shooting hundreds of machine guns and at the same time being shot at from the ground, and with German fighters in the air as well. That was history being made. It would be just another twelve months until I would again be reading another historical fact. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a mere thirty miles away, was to become synonymous with Hiroshima, Japan and the atomic bomb. Let us not forget that within these major operations there were thousands of individuals, each of them making their own personal contribution to history.
Training for War
I attended public schools through tenth grade. I completed my high school level education through GED in 1949, after enlisting in the United States Air Force on 14 June 1948. I had basic training at Lackland Air Force Base from June to September 1948. After that I attended Primary Armament School, Lowery Air Force Base in Colorado from September 1948 to March 1949.
I was assigned to the 345th Bomb Squadron, 98th Bomb Group, at Spokane Air Force Base, Washington, in March 1949 as an Airplane Armorer, MOS 911. My MOS was later converted to Air Force Weapons Maintenance Technician AFSC 462XX. I was assigned to a B-29 combat crew for mobility and maintenance support for TDY's and extended cross country and overseas flights. I flew as a spare gunner on these flights, but did not qualify as a gunner because of eyesight.
After the Korean War broke out I was deployed to Yokota Air Force Base with the 98th in August 1950 for combat operations. I flew one mission into the combat zone for the purpose of retrieving the bomb sight and guns from a combat damaged B-29 that would not fly again.
Tough But Fair
When I was first assigned to the 345th Bomb Squadron, 98th Bomb Group in March 1949, our First Sergeant was John Davis, an easy-going, well-liked guy. This was not to be for very long. The first time I saw Sgt. Carmen Murabito was one morning as the CQ was turning on the lights in the barracks. Although he was married and lived off base, he had come in that first day to greet us. His reputation had preceded him and we had heard he was the meanest SOB first sergeant in the Air Force. He didn't waste any time and in just a few words let us know there would be a formation in front of the orderly room immediately after chow.
After an open ranks inspection his next words were, "In case anyone doesn't know who I am," but we all knew. He then proceeded to inform us of his disappointment in the way we looked to him. He then continued to tell us what he expected from us and what we could expect of him. Aside from the usual things like shined shoes, clean uniforms, shaves and haircuts, he mentioned uniform regulations, not just the buttoned pockets, etc. I guess after the war and with the Air Force becoming a separate unit, we were becoming lax. We still wore the army-type uniforms. OD socks, as well as OD undershorts and undershirts were still the uniform of the day; however, white undershirts were starting to make their appearance, and the V-neck could usually be worn with the class-B uniform (open collar) without detection. White socks were a different matter. Without stuttering, he informed us that all discrepancies noted that day were on him, but any further uniform violations would be an automatic reduction in rank. Two nights later, I sat in the barracks with "Corporal" McKay as he sewed on his new PFC stripes. At this time I became aware that Sergeant Murabito had made us believers.
The once-a-month Saturday open ranks inspection and base-wide parades were common. On one such occasion Sergeant Murabito informed us that the best squadron in the parade would be selected to march in a big parade in downtown Spokane. After the exercise, he was really put out that we had not won and another squadron would march in the Spokane parade. I don't know why he picked on me to ask, "Who is the best squadron on base?" For lack of common sense, I blurted out, "That other squadron." He then asked me what I had planned for the weekend. I knew then that I was in trouble and said, "I think I will pull some KP if it's okay with you." His reply was, "Exactly. Report to the orderly room after dismissal." I didn't have to go on KP, but I did get the lecture of my life on "esprit de corps". If there is anything higher than a PhD on ass-chewing, he had it.
After our arrival in Japan and our first mission to Korea on 7 August 1950, the second mission a few days later saw Sergeant Murabito with a parachute and a place on one of the planes. His comment was, "I've got to be with my troops." He flew a total of 14 missions before he was grounded by higher headquarters.
When we first arrived at Yokota, we were restricted to base for the first 30 days. Then we were given temporary passes, but had to request one each time we wanted to go into town. Of course, the occupation of Japan was still in effect, so there were a lot of restrictions and a midnight curfew. Buck Sergeants and below had to be off the streets even if they had an overnight pass. The top three could be out if they were on their way to the base.
One night in October I let the time get away from me and realized I could not get back to the base before midnight. Even though I had an overnight pass, as NCOIC of armament flight line maintenance, it was my responsibility to supervise the arming of the bombs for the day's mission. This had to be accomplished starting about 3 a.m. So the dilemma was, if I came through the gate after midnight I would be written up. If I stayed over and the mission didn't get off??? Well, I elected to come on in and take the consequences, knowing it was a squadron policy for automatic reduction in grade for breaking curfew. The next morning, I was at Sergeant Murabito's desk when he came in. I explained to him what happened. He checked and asked why I came through the gate when I had an overnight pass. Remembering the lecture many months before about esprit de corps and the emphasis on each individual sacrificing himself for the good of the squadron, the squadron for the group, etc., I explained as best I could how I felt about accepting my responsibility and making sure everyone could depend on me. He ordered me to report to my place of duty while he conferred with the commander. Later he called me back and told me he had checked my past record with my supervisor and OIC. Apparently he and the commander decided to make an exception under the circumstances and decided I would not lose a stripe. I was not to get off free, however. I would have to pull CQ duty every third night, as well as my regular duty for two weeks. He then went on to compliment me for my devotion to duty and said I was the kind of man he wanted in his outfit.
Later when the 98th was having their "Big Bust" party in preparation to returning to the States, certain duties had to be performed, so he asked how I felt about pulling CQ while the rest of the squadron personnel partied. "Volunteering" to perform this duty would leave me out of all the festivities. Do you think Sergeant Murabito let it go at that? Not at all. During the three-day celebration he would periodically get someone to relive me so I could join the rest. He explained to me that even though I had broken the rules, I was still a part of the organization, and deserved to participate. After all, we were one happy family and the best damn squadron in the Air Force. Unfortunately, a few days later the Chinese came into the fray and the best squadron in the best group in the US Air Force got to spend several more months together.
Introduction to Police Action
At the time of the following incident, I was a Corporal in the United States Air Force with an MOS#911 (Airplane Armorer). Later my MOS was AFSC 462XX (Aircraft Weapons Maintenance Technician). I was not a regular combat air crew member, but was assigned to a B-29 aircrew for maintenance support and mobility on temporary duties (TDYs), deployment, and long cross country flights. I had failed the Gunners physical exam for defective eyesight, but pretty much knew the B-29 gunnery and bombing systems, and often flew on training flights in a scanner's (gunner's) place. I was also on a B-29 Ferry and Acceptance Team, that ferried B-29s to other organizations, and inspected and accepted newly acquired B-29s to the 98th Bomb Group.
Looking back and remembering over sixty years after the outbreak of the Korean police action, I am reminded of the events that happened to me on 25 June 1950. I had gone swimming on that Sunday morning at Medical Lake, near Spokane AFB, Washington. A short time later, the Washington State Police located me on the lake shore and directed me to accompany them. They would not tell me anything except that they were ordered to return me to Spokane AFB.
When we arrived back at the base they took me directly to the 345th Squadron operations and I was to report to the operations officer. When I reported to him, I was still in my bathing trunks. He informed me that an armed conflict had broken out and that the 98th Bomb Group was sending six (6) B-29s and I had two hours to get packed and back at operations.
When I returned about one hour and fifteen minutes later, he told me the orders had been changed and that the whole 92nd Bomb Group, which was also at Spokane, would deploy to the Far East. I was then ordered to report to the "Captain of the Guard" in the Big Hangar. There I was issued an M-1 carbine and ammunition and posted on a B-29 as a guard. My instructions were to allow NO ONE on the aircraft without proper authority. Not asking or being told what "proper authority" was, I took my post. This began a most boring night with one exception.
Sometime later, a Staff car emblazoned with stars and flags approached my post. I challenged the driver to "HALT and be recognized". He presented an ID and I asked, "What is your authority to approach my post?" He pointed to the back seat. Slowly the rear window was lowered and an ID card was thrust at me. I almost lost it when I read the card: Curtis LeMay, General USAF. I asked if his intention was to enter my post or the B-29, and, if so, "What is your authority?" My mind was running wild by this time wondering, "What do I do now?" I began to think back to basic training when we practiced guard duty. I was about to shout, "Captain of the Guard" when the General said he did not intend to enter my post or the aircraft, but was only checking base security. All during this time my carbine was loaded and cocked with the safety on. I never heard another word about this.
The next day, all 98th B-29 maintenance personnel, along with the 92nd, moved the 98th B-29s out of the hangars and the 92nd B-29s in. We 98th and 92nd worked together doing preventative maintenance on 92nd aircraft until they departed about a week later. Then the 98th B-29s were serviced and departed about 1 August 1950. I got to Yokota Air Base, Japan, on the 6th of August 1950. I worked all night loading bombs along with the air crews, who then had to fly their first mission to North Korea on 7 August 1950.
About February 1951, a rotation system was set up and original air crews began to rotate out as replacement crews arrived. Ground support personnel also began to rotate out as their replacement arrived. Being single and without a close family back home, I volunteered to extend and remained at Yokota until August 1952. I was probably the last, or among the last, of the original 98th members to rotate. By this time some of the originals were returning for a second tour.
When my tour of duty was over in the Far East Air Force (FEAF), I was rotated to Smokey Hill Air Force Base in Kansas in August 1952. I continued in the small arms maintenance and aircraft weapons maintenance on B-29 and B-47 aircraft until I was discharged at Smokey Hill in July 1954. I reenlisted in the Air Force at McGee-Tyson Airport in July 1954. My duties were as Aircraft Weapons Supervisor on F-86D aircraft tasked with armed alert to guard the nuclear facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
In January 1955 I arrived at Erding Air Base, Germany. My duties there included training Germans in small arms maintenance. When the German occupation ended, I was assigned to the Royal Air Force (RAF) at Burtonwood, England. My duties included small arms and aircraft weapons depot level maintenance. When my tour of duty in England ended I was assigned to the 82nd Fighter Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in California in January 1958, where I was a weapons maintenance supervisor.
Returning to the Far East in November 1960, I arrived at Itazuke Air Base, Japan, where I was assigned to the 8th TFW as F-100 aircraft weapons supervisor. About one-third of that tour was TDY to Osan, Korea in two-week increments. Further duty stations in the 1960s included:
In Vietnam I was an armament supervisor for Robin Olds' F-4 Phantom. Robin Olds was credited with four MiG kills during that war, plus 13 German kills in World War II.
I retired from the Air Force at Warner-Robbins Air Force Base, Georgia, in September 1970 as an E-7 Master Sergeant. My philosophy of "keeping all things in moderation" was the theme of a newspaper article that appeared about me in a local paper called The Weekly in 1995. View the article HERE. My favorite quote is, "A little levity does not take away from the seriousness of the purpose."
Awards and Decorations
After I retired I began to research the history of the 98th Bomb Group, including various incidents that involved flight crews of the 98th BG. My microfilm "History of The 98th Bomb Group" is four reels of about 6,000 documents. The span of time covers only from 1942 to about early 1950. No Korean War documents are included. So in some cases, I have gone to some extensive research to try to clear unanswered questions, with meager results. In my search for official documents from 1950 to 1953, often I run into blank walls. Often in my search, I am reminded that much of the 98th history for that period is "still classified".
Covert Action by the 98th Bomb Group in the Korean Conflict?
Although the AF, DOD, State Department and other agencies will neither confirm or deny this fact, it is common knowledge the 98th B-29s did fly covert missions. The limit of my access to classified data during my time in the 98th, was as NCOIC 345th Flight Line Armament. I was given the Armament FRAG Order by squadron intelligence so I could configure the bombing systems for the daily missions. Having an "FBI/CIA, FINAL Top Secret Background Clearance" and having completed the Basic Intelligence Fundamentals and Intelligence Officer courses through the USAF Extension Course Institute, I have never been assigned to, nor worked within the intelligence community. With all this being said, I will now get into some 98th history, which I find to be quite puzzling and incomplete from my investigation attempts.
After I was appointed 98th Association Historian, with some success I set up a network with individuals and organizations to share data. Of course, I cannot confirm nor deny the accuracy of the data collected. One case is not that much of a secret, but certain aspects of the full details are still missing. RB-29, S/N 44-62217 of the 91st SRS was shot down in North Korea on 12 January 1953. Some of the crew were KIA. Those that bailed out and survived were later taken to China, charged and convicted. Most of the crew were not released until 1955--two years after Big Switch. Two of the crew just disappeared. Official documents state they "died while MIA". However, one of the surviving crew members maintains this is not the full story. They just disappear from the POW camp in China. Facts unconfirmed.
I have in my archives a manuscript written by a 345th Tail Gunner (now deceased) who flew on a search and rescue mission for a missing B-29. He maintains that he spotted a B-29 in the water "just off the coast". He reported his sighting to his aircraft commander. They did not circle the wreck, nor was his report noted. They just continued onward. A few minutes later, he called the A/C and asked if his message had been received. He was told, "Do not clutter the intercom." He was not questioned after they landed. Several years later, he decided to pursue the incident. Through some high ranking officers, he was put in contact with some intelligence organization (CIA). He went through several interviews, but was never really told many facts of the investigation.
RB-29 44-69392 (Maj. Kassel Monford Keene)
One of the most intriguing investigations I have worked on is the case of Maj. Kassel M. Keene, 345th Bomb Squadron. Shot down on the night of 19 November 1952, Major Keene was one of 14 members aboard B-29, S/N 44-69392. It is not known what crew duties he fulfilled. He was not one of the regular crew. Why would this crew have 14 men aboard and a "spare pilot", as Major Keene was listed?
Major Keene was a pilot and had served in some capacity with the OSS during World War II. It is my understanding that he was fluent in the Russian language. Although all the crew had bailed out, only the pilot and copilot were rescued. Parachutes and other equipment found indicate several did land on or reach Cho-do Island. One crew member was found with a bullet hole in his head.
Initial reports are that Major Keene was first reported as KIA, then as MIA, and yet again he is reported as having been a POW. Further reports are that in 1953 he was convicted for "abuse of a fellow prisoner", sentenced to two and a half years (or 21-1/2 years) (different reports list different times) "without regard to repatriation." In my search for details, I questioned a contact in the Pentagon. My questions were: "Who were his captors and who convicted him? What does without regard for repatriation mean? Who was the fellow prisoner? What was the specific offense and what had his fellow prisoner done?" The immediate reply I received was, "Where are you getting your information?" and "What is your need to know?" That pretty much ended one of my sources of information. My latest data is a government report that questions the validity of Major Keene's status as a POW and this report suggests that Major Keene was not a POW at all. It goes on to suggest that the POW report was probably referring to another (not identified) POW case. Still all unanswered questions.
LTC Vance Eugene Black
One last case is that of LTC Vance Black. Black was from 5th AF Headquarters flying with the 345th when the aircraft he was on was shot down on 7 May 1951. Only four men were able to bail out, LTC Black being one of them. Although badly burned, he did survive for a time and died in a North Korean POW camp. I have reports with some names of Chinese and Russians, who interrogated him. So it is that we know the Chinese and Russians were very much involved with our Korean POWs. Of the four survivors of this shoot down, one man, whom I shall not name here, is still alive. He did apply to accompany a DOD team that had permission by the North Koreans to search the crash site in about 1996. His request was denied. On this search, all four engines and twelve machine guns were found, however all the aluminum had been recovered. No crew remains were reportedly found.
In civilian life I worked for Esso Oil Company (now Exxon) in warehouse distribution from 1970 to 1974. From 1974 to 1991 I worked at an Industrial Maintenance Technician at Duracell Battery Company. I retired in 1991 to become an unpaid handyman!! <smile> Coin collecting has been my hobby for the past 35 years. I also like to garden. I was historian of the 98th Bomb Group Veterans Association for six years, and attend St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee.
I married Joan Norvill in Liverpool, England in 1956. We have three children: Suzanne Harper Curtis, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with a Master of Education degree; Ian Harper, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, with a Bachelor's degree in finance; and Keith Harper, a graduate of East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennesee, with a Bachelor's degree in finance. Suzanne teaches kindergarten in Cleveland, Tennessee, is married with two children, and is presently working on her Ed.S. Ian is a self-employed Certified Public Accountant who owns his own accounting and CPA business in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is married with two children. Keith is self-employed and works with computers as a webmaster who designs and manages web pages. He designed and maintains the 98th website. In addition to our children, Joan and I are the proud grandparents of Will, Kate, Emma, and Allie.
During my time at Yokota, I witnessed many things, such as loading and flying 4,000-pound Block Buster bombs. On many occasions, during Maximum Efforts, Armorers were asked to fly as gunners were in short supply. I declined as I did have a seeing problem and did not want to compromise the efficiency/effectiveness of the crew. However, I did fly one mission into the combat zone to recover the bomb sight and guns from a downed B-29. During my time at Yokota, I went from Corporal to Staff Sergeant in rank. My rotation orders were to the 310th Bomb Group at Smokey Hill AFB, Kansas. An interesting fact is that while I was at Smokey Hill, B-29 Serial number 44-62070 was assigned to the 310th. This B-29 is now known as "Fifi"--the only flyable B-29 in the world.
Herb Harper's Musings
After 22 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force, I decided to "hang up the sword and shield". Having served on four continents, including occupation duty in Germany after WWII, two years of combat operations in Korea, one year of combat operations in South East Asia during the Vietnam Conflict and temporary duty in places such as Libya, North Africa and Spain, I felt like putting down a cornerstone in a place of more Permanente abode.
My decision to settle in Bradley County, East Tennessee, is another story. However, that is--along with my family, where we ended up. Going back to my farming roots, I desired a few acres where I could raise corn, beans, tomatoes, and turnip greens, as well as dogs, cats, cattle, goats, chickens, and ducks, I found just the place in thirty-five acres located in "No Pone Valley".
After building our dream house and settling in, former associates from my Air Force days began asking the perplexing question, "How did No Pone Valley get its name? What does No Pone mean?" I asked the same questions, however, was never able to get the same answers from two different neighbors. Usually the answer I got was, "Why, Honey, I don't know and have never thought about it." I did think about it often and set about trying to get the answer. This turned out to be more difficult than one would think. Soooo, I set about writing my own version of how No Pone Valley got its name. And here it is....
As most everyone here knows, the Cherokee Indians occupied these hills and valleys long before the White Man settled here. Many of the names and phrases we use every day are of Cherokee origin. Names such as Ocoee, Hiawassee, Chilhowie etc. The Cherokees also adopted some of the white man's words and terminology as well, giving their children names such as Brave Eagle, White Dove, Running Deer and such. So it was that there was an Indian Chief, named "White Oak", from where White Oak Mountain got its name.
Now it seems that Chief White Oak had three sons. As is well known, the Indians had a custom that when a young Indian male approached manhood, he was challenged to prove himself. Usually it was the chief of the tribe to put forth the challenge, then award him on his merits or accomplishments.
The holdings of Chief White Oak were quite extensive, stretching from White Oak Mountain in Hamilton County northward of the Hiawassee River and beyond into McMinn County, and from the east along what is now Candie's Creek Ridge and westward into Meigs and Hamilton County along a mountainous ridge of "humpback" hills known as "The Pone Knobs" (explained later).
The eldest of Chief White Oak's sons was named Joe Candie. As mentioned earlier, a white man derivative name. Joe Candie's challenge was to go out into the world and make his mark. So he set out and was gone for some length of time. When he returned with his success recorded, he had been outstanding successful at fishing. His reward was what is NOW known as Candie's Creek and the farm land bordering the creek. Even today Candies Creek is well-known to Bradley county residents.
The second son's name was "Pone". Where this name came from or what it means is lost somewhere in antiquity. At any rate it soon became Pone's time to prove himself. So off he went with provisions for many moons. Upon his reappearance, it was evident his fortee was his prowess as a great hunter. Subsequently his reward was the row of mountainous humpback hills commonly known as The Pone Knobs, since these hills were plentiful in deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrels and other game. As it is now, it was also in those days. Often, it seemed to the second offspring or the middle child that he was often treated differently or was less appreciated than the oldest or youngest child. Pone was never quite satisfied with his portion and asked for the surrounding valley as well. The chief's reply was always, "Pone Knobs, No Pone Valley", as the plan was for the valley to go to the youngest son. Pone was persistent and kept demanding the valley. Chief White Oak always came back with the same answer, "Pone Knobs, No Pone Valley". This phrase was always repeated by Chief White Oak "Pone Knobs, No Pone Valley" whenever Pone demanded more.
Soon it was time for the youngest son to go forth in his quest for his fame and fortune. As his brothers before him, he set out not knowing where he would go or when he would return. As the moons passed and his return was anticipated, day after day his return never materialized. After many, many moons, the chief became concerned and started to send out search parties. The search parties always came back without finding the missing son. As time went on word was put forth to be on the Lookout or watch for the missing youngest son. The chief vowed and made the whole tribe and all their descendents to promise never give up the search.
Today the search still goes on throughout the mountains and hills of Tennessee. As you drive along the mountainous roads, you will often see signs which read, "Look out for Falling Rock", "watch for Falling Rock", as the third son's name was "Falling Rock". If he had returned, I would now be living in Falling Rock Valley instead of "No Pone Valley."
Wassail is a hot spiced punch often associated with Christmas. Particularly popular in European countries and is this day, very popular in England (Joan Harper's home country). The term itself is a contraction of the Anglo-Saxon term, waes haeil, meaning, "Be Healthy."
Herb and Joan Harper started their tradition of serving wassail to family, neighbors, friends and strangers shortly after their marriage in 1956. They have, somewhat, altered and adapted some of their own ideas in content, preparation and other methods such as adding the traditional "mulling" explained later.
Although in olden times the basic ingredients were usually wine, mead, brandy or other alcoholic based content. Our basic ingredient is Apple Cider. Since we serve our Wassail to such a wide variety of individuals, we stay away from the alcohol even though a slosh of Brandy does add more zest if you desire.
As stated, basically we start with Apple Cider and add a whole apple studded with cloves, and add other spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and other secret ingredients. Heat the contents to a NEAR boiling point and let it simmer.
Herb has taken the "mulling" procedure from the Scottish tradition of plunging a HOT poker into the contents to "Set" the spices. As the family tradition has developed, Herb uses the family branding iron (H) heated to a red hot condition into the prepared wassail, along with a quick prayer to family, friends, and neighbors for good health and good luck.
So this Wassail is to you.
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