“These were the tragedies of the war as we experienced it, as we saw it. It was a terrible thing, but we were . . . a courageous, fearless lot
of well-trained pilots, navigators, and bombardiers.
Flying High with the Thirteenth Air Force
-An oral history of Billy Lindley

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Personal Profile | Audio Interview

Mr. Billy Lindley joined the Texas Air National Guard not long after President Roosevelt mobilized the National Guard on August 27, 1940. After completing his training in Oregon, Mr. Lindley joined the 111th Observational Squadron. With the 111th he served as an air gunner on patrols of the U.S.-Mexico border. Billy and his coworkers watched for German submarines attempting to disrupt American trade in the Gulf of Mexico. He clearly remembers the day his role in America’s defense was changed—the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. “I was still in the State at that time . . . and I accepted a transfer from the Texas National Guard into [pilot] training.”

Mr. Lindley completed pilot training in June 1943, and was sent to Florida to begin flying B-24 bombers. He was soon sent overseas to serve as a combat pilot with the Thirteenth Air Force, 307th bomb group, 372nd bomb squadron. Mr. Lindley’s first mission in the Pacific was to take out a target on Rabaul. He recalls, “Rabaul was one of the most heavily fortified islands the Japanese had. Not only was it a harbor for their ships, but they also had an airfield . . . oil storage, gasoline storage, food . . . so it was an ideal target.” Billy continues, “We took a beating at first, losing many airplanes and also crew members, but we kept pounding the target until we annihilated it. . . . It became of no use to the Japanese and no threat to the Thirteenth Air Force,” he proudly proclaims.

Mr. Lindley “had missions all up and down the coast” and numerous brushes with death. One day while flying in a bombing formation called the “Tail End Charlie,” Billy nearly lost his life. He explains, “Just as we got over the target and dropped our bombs . . . we got hit in our plane and . . . lost our hydraulic system. The hydraulic system operated the landing gear. . . . We had no alternative but to do the best we could. . . . We had to crank the nose wheel down manually.” Mr. Lindley and the crew safely returned to the base because the plane was equipped with a self-sealing gas tank and lost no fuel.

After flying nearly fifty missions, Mr. Lindley was relieved of combat duty. During his former crew’s first flight without him, “they went into a cloud bank.” He continues, “When they broke through . . . they were in a head-on collision. The B-24s blew up and, of course, all twenty men were killed.” Mr. Lindley sadly notes, “These were the tragedies of war as we experienced it, as we saw it. It was a terrible thing.”

When Billy Lindley completed his combat duty, he returned to the U.S. and became a B-24 flight instructor. He also ferried planes from San Antonio to Boca Raton, Florida and earned the rank of First Lieutenant. As an officer, Mr. Lindley tried to treat the enlisted men with respect and generosity. He recalls the thrill he felt when permitted to fly a plane as an untrained enlisted man. “It gave me [the] enthusiasm to become a pilot, and I did so.” Billy tried to give his crew members “a little stick time” during routine flights with the hope that they would be inspired, just as he was.

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