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"I wonder at times how we keep going here": the 1941-42 Philippines diary of Lt. John P. Burns, 21st Pursuit Squadron.

In my research in the 1980s for Doomed at the Start--the story of the 24th Pursuit Group in the ill-fated Philippines campaign of 1941-1942--one of my main sources of information were the entries in the diaries kept by a number of the pursuit pilots. The diaries were invaluable in affording me an insight into the day-by-day feelings and experiences of the young men caught up in the depressing events of the five-month campaign. However, for the experiences of the pilots assigned to two of the Pursuit squadrons--the 21st and 34th--who had arrived less than three weeks before the initial Japanese aerial attack on the Philippines of December 8, 1941, I was handicapped by the lack of any diaries and had to rely on memoirs and correspondence years after the events they experienced.

In February 2006, while assisting John Lukacs, who is preparing the first biography of Ed Dyess, the commanding officer of the 21st Pursuit Squadron whose POW experiences and escape made him famous during World War II, I learned that John Burns--one of the 21st Pursuit pilots--did keep a diary and that it was in the possession of his younger brother, Reverend Richard Lee Burns. Reverend Burns kindly made a copy of it for Lukacs and allowed him to make a copy for me too.

How the diary ended up in the hands of the Burns family turned out to be a story in itself. According to Rev. Burns, it was received in a package in 1945 from an American soldier who had been engaged in the seizure of Buna, New Guinea, from the Japanese in early January 1943. The soldier indicated that he had taken the diary off the body of a Japanese soldier killed in the battle. Following his return to the U.S. at the end of the War, the American soldier--whose name is no longer remembered--was able to locate the Burns family to return the diary.

Research by the author would seem to indicate that the Japanese soldier was a member of the 41st Infantry Regiment, which on May 9, 1942, had captured the American air base at Del Monte, Mindanao and its satellite fields, ending the Philippines campaign. The 41st Regiment was subsequently assigned to the New Guinea campaign, arriving in July 1942. It fought its last battle in defense of Buna in early January 1943, at which time the Japanese soldier was evidently killed.

One wonders how the Japanese soldier came into possession of Burns' diary and why he was carrying it on his body at the time he was killed. Burns had been killed in an accident taking off from Dalirig strip, Mindanao, on April 13, 1942, and was buried at nearby Del Monte that evening. It is likely the chaplain who buried him--probably Joseph V. LaFleur, the chaplain of the 19th Bomb Group who was at Del Monte at the time--found the diary in Burns' living quarters and kept it for return to the family as part of his duties. His intention would have been thwarted when he was taken prisoner with the rest of the surrendering American force at Del Monte and turned over the "souvenir" when ordered by the Japanese.

The diary provides an invaluable day-by-day account of the activities of Burns from the time of his departure from the U.S. on November 1, 1940 through April 11, 1942, two days before his death. It is the only contemporary source that exists of the initial operations of the 21st Pursuit Squadron and its subsequent experiences on beach defense and at Bataan Field in January, February, and March 1942. Had I known of its existence at the time of writing Doomed, it would have provided me better documentation for my coverage of the squadron's operations.

In the way of background information, John Patterson Burns was born on September 22, 1917, in Mansfield, Ohio, and graduated from Uniontown High School in 1936. In June 1940, he graduated from Ohio University with a degree in electrical engineering and a commission in the Infantry of the Army Reserve. Burns received his wings from Kelly Field on February 7, 1941, in the class of 41A, fulfilling a childhood ambition. He was subsequently assigned to the 21st Pursuit Squadron of the 35th Pursuit Group at Hamilton Field, California, where he served until his squadron and the sister 34th Pursuit Squadron were ordered in October 1941 to "PLUM", the code name for the Philippines.

In 1949, John's body was returned home after being disinterred from its original Del Monte grave. He is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, Uniontown, Ohio.

November 1, 1941

Left San Francisco at noon on the S.S. President Coolidge. An awful day to be starting to go someplace and not know where. Under the Golden Gate bridge at last; by boat, damn.

Along with Burns, 12 other pilots of the 21st Pursuit Squadron (under command of 1st Lt. Ed Dyess) and 15 pilots of the 34th Pursuit Squadron (under 1st Lt. Sam Marett) were being sent to PLUM, along with the enlisted men of the two squadrons. The remaining officers of the two squadrons of the 35th Pursuit Group were to follow on the next transport. Along with the 28 Pursuiters, there were 85 officers and accompanying enlisted men of the 27th Bomb Group (Light) on board, also assigned to PLUM.

November 2, 1941

Water, water, everywhere and God how it does heave. Not sick, but I've felt better plenty of times. Boat O.D. today, Sunday, but you wouldn't know it.

November 3, 1941

Finally caught up on my sleep. Now to read and catch up on my letter writing. The food is mighty fine. I wonder, are they fattening us for the kill?"

The Coolidge was a luxury liner on its first run as an Army transport and was still fitted out with two swimming pools, a gym, huge sun deck, with fine meals and movies every night. (1)

November 4, 1941

Good thing Clark and Parcher are easy to get along with. I fear that before we get to Manila that lots of nerves will be close to the breaking point.

The junior officers on board were assigned three to a cabin, while the senior officers had a stateroom to themselves. (2) Second Lt. Robert D. Clark was Burns' classmate at Ohio University, a 41-C Kelly Field graduate, while 1st Lt. Larry Parcher was the administrative, non-flying, officer of the 21st Pursuit.

November 5, 1941

Tomorrow we get to Honolulu. Thank God for that, never thought I'd get tired of having nothing to do, be unable to sleep, and that sort of thing, but here it is.

November 6, 1941

Woke up this morning and there was Oahu. Spent 9 hours on shore, some place. Clark and I decided it would be a swell place to shack up. Oh days at Bolinas or in the mountain.

The Coolidge had arrived at dawn and all were given short leave, to be back for sailing that afternoon. (3)

November 7, 1941

Blackout last night and from now on. Rather annoying to say the least. At this point I'd sure like to get inside an airplane and have a date.

November 8, 1941

Today, approximately 3000 miles from San Francisco, about 5000 from Manila. We still wonder where PLUM is. Poker not bad today.

Evidently the pilots had been informed they were going to Manila, but they evidently thought that PLUM was a code name for a location in the Philippines, not for the Philippines as a whole.

November 9, 1941

We crossed the international dateline today. Now I don't know what day this is or tomorrow will be. Poker good today. Time to start writing letters home and to friends.

November 11, 1941

Lost a day, maybe sometime I'll make it up. Weather hot, feel sticky all the time. Hear we are going to Guam so the Pierce can pick up water. Astoria, a light cruiser, the watch dog.

The President Coolidge had picked up the President Pierce (actually, the Hugh L. Scott, as renamed in July 1941) and the Astoria (CA-34, actually a heavy cruiser) that would be serving as armed escort, in departing Honolulu. (4)

November 12, 1941

Wrote letters and drank scotch today, got a mighty fine buzz on. Getting hotter, must be getting close to the equator.

November 13, 1941

Noon today--half way from Honolulu to Manila. Wrote four letters today. Scott had some trouble so the distance covered was pretty small, 337 miles. Makes us late to Manila.

November 14, 1941

Same old stuff, not making much headway. Getting hotter and hotter.

November 15, 1941

Today we were supposed to reach Guam but won't be there until tomorrow morning. Today starts the third week of this.

November 16, 1941

Sunday again, you wouldn't know it, no church services or nothing. Woke up outside Guam. Navy planes patrolling all the time. We lay off harbor. Funny tubs about 100 miles/hr.

November 17, 1941

Moving at a pretty good clip again. Will be in Manila Thursday. Find out where PLUM is then. Sky cloudy, frequent rains, air sultry.

November 18, 1941

Only 750 miles to go--tomorrow we'll be among the islands. Went to amature [sic] show, very good, one kid sang "Does your heart beat for me", takes me back to Texas. Captain's farewell dinner.

November 19, 1941

In San Bernardino Straits today--Islands on all sides. Good to see land again. Swell day but cloudy in spots. Everyone feeling fine.

November 20, 1941

Disembarked at about 9:00 a.m. Very hot on boat and not much cooler off, Seems like everyone has classmates here but me. Thanksgiving Day.

The Coolidge docked in Manila "amidst playing of "Dixie" by a Filipino band." They were greeted by "a crowd of soldiers, civilians, and whatnot." (5) There were no pursuit pilots already based in the Philippines who had graduated from Kelly Field in 41-A with Burns. However, his fellow passenger, 2nd Lt. Don Pagel of the 34th Pursuit, was also a 41-A member, but graduated from Brooks Field, not Kelly.

November 21, 1941

Reported to Nichols Field this morning and N.F. is PLUM for the present. We are to be someplace in the P.I.'s. We are not happy about it.

Nichols Field was just south of Manila, where the 17th Pursuit was currently based. Evidently the 21st and 34th Pursuit pilots still thought that PLUM was a base in the Philippines to which they were being assigned.

November 22, 1941

Today we rented an Apt. Darn nice, hope we are here long enough to get some good out of it. Manila is an awful dirty place. Very little of value.

November 23, 1941

Looked town over and loafed. I can't see what the US. sees in this place that is worth fighting for. It sure is a bee hive, though.

November 24, 1941

Squadron got a couple P-35s today to fly until 40's ready. Tomorrow we fly, been over a month. Field looks awful small on ground.

The 21st and 34th were being given the old P-35As discarded by the 24th Pursuit Group as the 3rd and 17th Pursuit switched to 50 P-40Es that had arrived at the end of September 1941. Dyess and Marett had been informed prior to leaving Hamilton Field that 50 P-40Es would await them on their arrival in the Philippines, but the crated ships had not yet reached Manila.

November 25, 1941

Flew a P-35A for first time today. Not a bad plane but could be much better. Will be glad when the P-40Es are fixed. Shouldn't get lost in this country.

On this day, a freighter brought 24 crated P-40Es into Manila Bay, the first part of a shipment of the new aircraft being sent for the two newly-arrived squadrons of the 35th Group. Fifty P-40Es had been taken from the production line to equip the two squadrons. In order to speed up delivery to their squadrons, some of the 21st's and 34th's mechanics were at the Philippine Air Depot helping its personnel uncrate and assemble the ships.

November 26, 1941

Enough time for flight pay now. Tomorrow we start formation again. Things getting settled down fine. Must be about time for them to move us now. One week gone.

November 27, 1941

Today 2nd Thanksgiving--half day off. Plenty to do. Landed at Clark Field first time today--field big but rough.

November 28, 1941

Formation with Dyess today--6 ships in a loop--rough but fun, best work out in a long time. Started getting P-40Es today, probably fly them tomorrow.

In Doomed, I had indicated that the 21st began receiving its P-40Es on December 4th, when 10 were reported delivered. Burns' diary provides first-hand information that the turn-over was six days earlier.

November 29, 1941

Today we went on a 24 hr. alert. Available at all times. Moving within three days. All planes fully loaded and charged at all times. Looks like they mean business. Called to field at 9:00 p. Practice.

Maj. Gen. Brereton had issued an order putting the FEAF on a "readiness" alert. The pursuit pilots including the 21st and the 17th at Nichols Field--were put on one hour's notice to take off in their combat-loaded P-40Es and intercept in the event of a Japanese attack.

November 30, 1941

Quiet day--moved out near the field. Still on alert, have 9 P-40Es now. 34th left this morning. No air raid drills.

The 21st was assigned to Nichols Field, while the 34th was being sent to Del Carmen field, fifteen miles south of Clark Field. In Doomed I had indicated the 34th's pilots flew into Del Carmen on November 27th, but Burns' diary provides first-hand evidence they arrived three days later. Marett and his pilots were miffed that the 21st was being given all the 24 newly-arrived P-40s and would have to wait for theirs until the next half of the shipment arrived. Reluctantly, they left Nichols in some 12 to 15 of the cast-off P-35As, a plane they had never flown before arriving in the Philippines. Six of them were ground-looped when their pilots came in to land at the newly-operational field.

December 1, 1941

No flying today-crews working on planes. Getting armament fixed on all planes. Looks serious. Half squadron on alert at all times.

The armorers of the 21st Pursuit were boiling off the thick Cosmoline in which the .50 caliber guns had been packed, then installing the guns in the wings and boresighting them.

December 2, 1941

Looks worse every day. Col. George called us together and told us would be only a matter of a couple days. Have oxygen masks in planes, headsets, etc. already to go. Dyess has me weaving at hot spot at present.

Other sources suggested that the meeting of the pilots of the 17th and 21st Pursuit Squadrons with Colonel George occurred on the morning of December 6th, four days later. However, the date of Burns' diary should be taken as authoritative, being the only contemporary source.

December 3, 1941

Not letting us fly now. Want planes ready to go all the time. Bad business--they need slow time and bugs removed. Plans always changing.

December 4, 1941

Got a couple of pilots from the 17th today to make three flights. I now have "C" Flight, no more weaver. I guess I am glad.

Four pilots of the 17th Squadron---John Vogel, Charles Burris, Bob Krantz, and another unidentified, plus Bob Newman from the 3d Pursuit, were assigned to the 21st to reach the 18 required for three flights. Four days later, for an unknown reason, Burns' buddy Bob Clark had taken over "C" Flight, though as a 41-C graduate he was junior to Burns.

December 5, 1941

On fifteen minute alert today. Could not get off field all day, left at 6 p.m. though. All kinds of stories around. Going to San Marcilinas [sic] soon, bad spot we are told.

This is the first reference I've ever seen that the 21st Pursuit was going to be assigned to San Marcelino field, on the west coast of Luzon. The 27th Bomb Group was to be assigned there too on arrival of their A-24s and apparently the 21st Pursuit was going to provide it protection. It was indeed a "bad spot." The just -completed field lacked a water supply, nor did it have any facilities for maintaining aircraft. (6)

December 6, 1941

Finally got in the air today. Slow time. Plane sure is different with the guns fully loaded. Still on alert. Doing nothing is sure getting on my nerves.

The 21st Pursuit had received another 10 P-40Es this date, with two more scheduled to be turned over to it on December 8th.

December 7, 1941

Sunday again but you would never know it. Flew this morning. More slow time. Would like to get some practice in tactics, shoot the guns.

Due to a shortage of .50 caliber ammunition and gun-charging mechanism problems, none of the pursuit squadrons had fired their .50 caliber guns as of this date.

December 8, 1941

Two alerts before daylight. War started. Had patrol about noon. Moved to C.F. just before dark. C.F. bombed to hell and while we were patrolling over N.F. No air defense at C.F. Complete surprise.

At about 11:45, Dyess had received a phone call ordering him to take his squadron to Clark Field. A and B Flights took off, but C Flight--led by Bob Clark--was delayed in getting off due to engine difficulties and was unable to locate the other two flights. Evidently Burns was flying with A or B Flight rather than his C, for some unknown reason. As Dyess led A and B Flights to Clark, he received a radio call from 24th Group operations to turn around and return to the Manila area, where he was to await Japanese bombers expected from the west to attack Manila. In the meantime, the P-40Es of Bob Clark and his wingman Jimmy May--not yet completely slow-timed--were throwing oil on their windscreens and the two were obliged to return to Nichols, with Sam Grashio taking over the flight. Not having picked up the call from Group, Grashio led the four to Clark Field, where they ran into the Japanese attack on the field that began at 12:35. A and B Flights patrolled over Manila area--as did the three flights of the 17th Pursuit--and did not encounter any Japanese bombers, a group of which--53 Bettys--had hit Iba Field on the west coast at 12:40 while the other group of 53 (Bettys and Nells) bombed Clark. (7)

At 5:30 p.m., the 17th and 21st Squadrons received orders to shift their aircraft up to Clark Field, a runway there reportedly in good enough shape for landings. The 21st flew up its 18 remaining operational ships in a group with the 17th Pursuits. Those of Joe Cole, Bob Clark, Jimmy May, and Sam Grashio were left behind. (8)

December 9, 1941

Took off before daylight. R.D. Clark killed on take-off. Also wrecked three other planes. Saw no Nips. Flew 7:00 hours. No food, sleep, or clean clothes, getting dirty as hell, also tired and weak.

Before daylight, Dyess led off his 21st Pursuit, their mission to cover the expected landing of B--17s at Clark coming in from Mindanao and their take-off for an attack on Formosa. Blinding dust after each take-off of the P-40Es caused Bob Clark to crash into a B-17 parked off to the side of the field, while L.A. Coleman wrecked his ship taxiing into a bomb crater, Johnny McCown crashed into trees after his engine failed at 100 feet, and a fourth pilot struck a field light and wrecked his ship. When no B-17s showed up, Dyess led most of his pilots to Rosales as their gas supply was getting low. Burns (and others?) evidently continued to patrol over Clark during the day.

December 10, 1941

Took off at 9:00, went Rosales and Nichols. Alert at N.F. Patrol there, just coming in when Nips hit. Didn't stay long, landed out of gas at Cabanatuan Field covered with barrels, wrecked plane.

Burns and squadron mate Gus Williams were flying a patrol over Nichols Field in late morning and low on gas were coming in to land about 12:40 when Zeros began to strafe. Williams managed to land and escape the attack, while Burns opted to head for Maniquis Field, at Cabanatuan, 60 miles north of Manila, instead. Out of gas, Burns did not wait for Filipinos to clear the field of obstacles--set up to deter a feared Japanese landing--and crashed through the drums. He was unhurt, but his ship was a complete wreck. Dyess had flown down to Manila and spotted the bombers unloading on the dock area, but his guns were not working and he landed at an auxiliary field. Lack of documentation leaves us in the dark about the activities of the other 21st Pursuiters this day.

December 11, 1941

All day at Cabanatuan, no news from C.F. Been so long without food that I could hardly eat. Rested and wrote three letters, not happy ones, I'm afraid. Have a ride to C.F. tomorrow.

Due to the heavy losses of P-40Es the first three days, USAFFE Headquarters this day ordered the pursuiters to "avoid direct combat," wanting to limit their remaining 22 ships to reconnaissance missions only.

December 12, 1941

Arrived C.F. in time for raid--9 planes went directly overhead at about 2000'. Awful to hear bombs getting closer and nothing but a hole for protection. No pursuit in the air, are saving them until we have more.

At about 10:30 this morning, 18 Japanese Betty bombers in two sections descended below the heavy overcast obscuring Clark Field and dropped their loads from about 900 feet only. Many of the bombs failed to go off and were detonated later in the day by demolition crews. It had been a terrifying experience for those on the field.

December 13, 1941

Light straffing attack on C.F. early, bombs an hour later. Left for Man. Arrived in time for raid, but it was on N.F. 54 ships. One bomb fell in city near us. They mostly missed N.F. but really cleaned out the barrio.

Joe Cole and other 21st Pursuiters arrived with Burns from Clark Field during the raid. The bombs were missing Nichols Field, falling one block west, where two 3d Pursuit pilots were hunkered down. One of them, 1st Lt. Bob Hanson, was hit and killed by bomb fragments. Many of the bombs fell on Barrio Baclaren adjacent to Nichols Field, resulting in carnage among the Filipino inhabitants.

December 14, 1941

Sunday again. Are staying in Catholic school in city, fairly safe. Several raids during day, no bombing. Good to be back with the Sqd'n again. Morale is high, everyone wants ships and a crack at the Nips.

Burns evidently had been separated from the squadron since landing at Cabanatuan on December 10th. The 21st's officers and enlisted men--who had remained behind at Nichols Field--were moved to de la Salle College in Manila city, awaiting new orders.

December 15, 1941

All of Sqd'n left for -x- today--10 officers here in M. for a while. Bombed N.F. again today, very little damage.

Dyess plus four other of the 21st's pilots and all the enlisted men were taken by bus to a new secret field seven miles west of Lubao, a small town 35 miles northwest of Manila. Burns, Sam Grashio, Gus Williams, and seven other pilots were given new assignments in non-flying activities

December 16, 1941

Very quiet day-had no raids. Reported into AF Hdq. Found jobs for all officers. Parcher and I do nothing but wait. Looks like Japs were trying to knock us out all at once--failed--now we shall see.

At Lubao, Dyess and the others were busy camouflaging the field. The officers and senior noncoms were living in a house west of the field, but the enlisted men were sweltering in nipa shacks on the field.

December 17, 1941

Another quiet day--no raids. Did very little but report into A.F. Hq. Sure wish we would get some mail. Have that last letter memorized now.

December 18, 1941

Had a raid today. Was down town at time. They hit Nichols light.

December 19, 1941

Two raids about noon, hit Cavite. Don't think much damage done. Getting tired of this doing nothing.

December 20, 1941

Been here a month now. Sure has been a busy one at times. One raid hit N.F. Am so tired of all this, war, etc. that I could scream. Give anything to be safe back in the US.

December 21, 1941

Sunday but just like every other day. I'm spoiling for something to do. I don't want to fight, just something to keep me occupied.

December 22, 1941

Japs raided at breakfast today, something new. Large landing party at Lingayen. Navy must be asleep or not strong enough to keep them out. Or maybe some plan.

The main Japanese invasion force landed at Lingayen Gulf, only 70 miles north of Clark Field. In the remaining P-40Es of the 24th Pursuit Group, pilots of the 17th Pursuit took off from Clark and strafed the troop-laden Japanese transports, followed later, relay-fashion, by the 20th Pursuit. Unknown to Burns, the Asiatic Fleet had been withdrawn south to the Dutch East Indies except for its 29 submarines. Five were ordered to Lingayen to contest the invasion ships but only one entered the shallow Gulf and actually attacked the transports. (9)

December 23, 1941

Couple air raid alarms but no planes. Landing parties not doing so well. With something to do the days aren't so long, censoring mail now.

December 24, 1941

Raided Port Area today. Started to evacuate all Air Corps troops from this vicinity. Blew up Nichols. Spent Xmas eve getting things ready to go myself. Took off about 11:00p.

The personnel of the Far East Air Force were ordered to move to Bataan peninsula. All MacArthur's forces were being evacuated to Bataan for a last-ditch resistance until the arrival of reinforcements. Col. Harold "Pursuit" George, CO of the 5th Interceptor Command, was taking over what remained of the FEAF following Brereton's orders to take his Headquarters to Australia. Engineers were ordered to blow up the runways at Nichols and set afire thousands of gallons of stored gasoline.

December 25, 1941

Rode all night and to noon. No food until night. Can't find Sqdn. Slept on ground, dirty, etc. Merry Xmas! They bombed hell out of Manila or vicinity.

Ed Dyess, the four 21st Pursuit pilots with him, and the squadron's enlisted men were just northeast of the entrance to Bataan peninsula, eating Christmas dinner at a hacienda about ten miles from Lubao field with pilots of the 20th Pursuit Squadron who had been at Clark Field and had been ordered to fly out all aircraft in commission to the secret Lubao Field the day before. They couldn't find it but after spending the night at Del Carmen Field finally located it Christmas morning. Burns and other 21st Pursuiters assigned to Manila tasks evidently missed the squadron's camouflaged field when entering Bataan.

December 26, 1941

Second day in jungle, bombings for about 3 1/2 hrs. Don't know what they were after. Not many fell near us. Wish we could find the Sqd'n. Getting even more dirty. Only eating twice a day now. Spend the day out.

December 27, 1941

Moved to A.F. Hq. Rest of detached officers there. Japs did quite a bit of bombing. Don't know how things are going up north, holding I guess.

Air Force headquarters was at a newly-established camp at Signal Hill on southern Bataan, where flying officers with no current assignments were assembled.

December 28, 1941

Sunday again. Moved again, now with 3rd Pursuit Sqd'n up in the mountains. Swell place. Lots of fresh water, clean at last. Wouldn't mind staying here a long time.

Lt. Hank Thorne had moved his 3d Pursuit Squadron high up on the peak of Mount Mariveles, on the southern end of Bataan, 2 1/2 miles from the main road. Thorne and his men transformed the primitive site into a very comfortable camp, which they called Shangri-La because it was such a beautiful place. Many unassigned pilots from the 24th Group's squadrons were staying there.

December 29, 1941

Bombed Corregidor hard today. Start of 4th week of the war. Two months today since I've had any mail. Lots of good rumors in the air but nothing definite. The Xmas season has been different than I planned.

The Shangri-La campers watched the first Japanese bombing of Corregidor this afternoon from a nearby cleared hillock. They felt frustrated as they observed the Japanese bombers--Army and Navy alike--flying unopposed over the island and unloading their bombs on Corregidor's Fort Mills.

December 30, 1941

Very little bombing today. Nothing else much. Another year is about to start, wonder what it will bring. Will probably be rough. That is OK as long as I live and get back to the States.

December 31, 1941

No bombing at all today. Doesn't seem possible that there is a war going on. Beautiful sunsets, lovely moonlight nights. This would be a nice tour of duty some other time.

Early this morning, Colonel George had called the camp to order seven of the more senior, combat-experienced, pursuit pilots there to report to his Headquarters at noon. They were being assigned to go to Australia and pick up P-40s that had arrived there as reinforcements for the Philippines and fly them back to Bataan. At 3:00 p.m. they flew out of Bataan Field in an old Beech 18 transport and headed south.


Not a bad year as a whole, finished flying school, got Pur. All set to get married. Assignment to the P.I.'s fixed that, but could have waited and am planning on it. However, I have a war to go through now. Hope I can get out OK. Will be lots of fighting though between now and then, maybe the Japs don't know my name. I hope.

January 1, 1942

Reported that a few Japs had been in Manila and left. Don't know, though. Quiet day. Still with 3rd up in Mts. I'll bet folks at home are in a storm, worrying about us.

Another group of four senior Pursuit pilots, these at Lubao, including 40-G Ben Irvin of the 21st Pursuit, joined Buzz Wagner--CO of the 17th Pursuit--Jim Rowland, and Bud Sprague, former Operations Officer of the 5th Interceptor Command--at Orani Field at the head of Bataan early this afternoon. Just after 2:00 p.m. they boarded their beat-up Beech 18 and lifted off for Mindanao, their first stop on the way to Australia. Like the others, they were to fly back P-40s that had arrived from the U.S. in crates on December 23rd at Brisbane.

January 2, 1942

Got a break today--had a low overcast and the bombers couldn't see anything to hit. They were there, though. Our Sqd'n is not far from here, tomorrow we go back. Light rain this evening.

Dyess had received orders the day before to abandon Lubao Field, which was now almost on the front lines, the Japanese only a few miles away, moving into Bataan. He led his non-flying personnel in a truck convoy early that evening for their new bivouac area, on the southern tip of Bataan near Mariveles.

January 3, 1942

Back with Sqd'n again, good feeling. Drove to Pilar, someone going to do some flying. Not much bombing today. Rumor has it that it won't be long until we get in a few licks.

Dyess was at Pilar Field, half way down the east coast of Bataan, for a meeting with pursuit pilots based at Orani and Pilar. Col. George had decided to move all of his dwindling number of P-40s to the southern island of Mindanao to get them out of harm's way, with the Japanese too close. Eighteen of the pursuiters were selected by Dyess to fly out the following day, nine from Orani Field (ten miles north of Pilar) and nine from Pilar Field. Two were from Dyess' 21st--Joe Cole and Bob Ibold--both to fly out of Pilar.

January 4, 1942

They did a lot of bombing today, but not much damage, quite a few clouds helped us Took it fairly easy today, have a sore back. Today was Sunday.

The nine Pilar pilots left for Mindanao as scheduled, but the Orani pilots under Dyess had received new orders canceling the Mindanao mission. They were to land at newly-operational Bataan Field instead, far to the south of Bataan and evidently considered out of harm's way. The Pilar pilots had not received the new instructions in time.

January 5, 1942

Today starts the 5th week of the war. Quite a few planes overhead but not many bombs fell. Did a good day's work, moved farther back into the hills.

Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-30 "Ann" single-engine bombers were operating up and down Bataan, bombing and strafing Bataan Field this date.

January 6, 1942

Went up on the rot. Mighty rough country and thick brush. Be mighty tough fighting in that stuff. Dividing Sqd'n into Platoons and going to teach them Infantry tactics. I have "C" Flight--3rd Platoon.

MacArthur's Chief of Staff, Sutherland, had told Colonel George on January 7th that he wanted all Air Corps officers and men remaining on Bataan--except flying personnel and those in support of flying operations--assigned to infantry duties on beach defense, albeit on a temporary basis. The Headquarters Squadron of the 24th Pursuit Group, plus its 3d, 21st, and 34th Squadrons, were being assigned to Brig. Gen. Selleck's 71st Division, charged with defending the west sector of Bataan. Apparently Burns and the other 21st Pursuit officers had gotten the word a day earlier. Dyess was back with his squadron and was supervising the training. He divided the enlisted men into three platoons of about fifty men each, with each platoon assigned a non-flying officer of the squadron. According to my documentation, 2d Lt. Linus Schramski was in charge of the 3rd platoon, evidently an error given Burns' first-hand statement that he was put in charge of it, converted from his old C Flight.

January 7, 1942

Took Platoon up to top today and started the inf. drill. We're going to be mighty expensive doughboys. Have three days to get everything taught. I've forgotten an awful lot of this stuff.

It was indeed an expensive use of trained Air Corps personnel and not surprisingly met with disgruntlement among many. Having taken ROTC at Ohio University and commissioned as a 2d Lt. in Infantry, Burns was familiar with basic infantry training.

January 8, 1942

Organized the 3d Plat. of the 21st A.C. Co. today. No bombers for two days now. Wonder what is up. Sure a swell bunch of men in "C" Flight and engineering.

With the abandonment of Pilar and Orani fields, all flying operations of Col. George's tiny unit--comprised of 9 P-40s, two P-35As, and one A-27--were now out of Bataan Field. They were to be used only for reconnaissance missions ordered by USAFFE.

January 9, 1942

Third day no enemy planes, must be something in the air. Walked down to coast on Vigia Point. Nice country, walked a good 20 km, plenty tired. Won't be long until I'm in good condition.

Vigia Point was on the southwest coast of Bataan, west of Mariveles.

January 10, 1942

Took it easy today, washed clothes and self. Couple enemy planes early in morning. This certainly is nice country, wish we weren't playing for keeps. Would like some candy or something sweet.

January 11, 1942

Sunday. No bombers, details most of the day. Have church services tomorrow. Been playing a little bridge in evenings, can't lose.

January 12, 1942

Mapped about 5 klm of coast. Mighty rough, out from 10:15 to 2:30. Whole bunch dead tired. R.C.A. from Jean today, best news since the war started. Sure changed my outlook on things. Also made me unfired.

January 13, 1942

Yesterday started the 6th week of the war. Easy day today, no bombers. Should write to Jean and the folks, but no use because no mail leaving anyhow. I know for sure that I'm going through this mess.

January 14, 1942

Short problem today, mostly rest though. Few bombers. All reports sound pretty good.

January 15, 1942

Another easy day, a little fatigue and that is about all. Few bombers today. Wish we would get planes and get going.

Unknown to Burns, the day before, at the request of II Corps complaining about unhampered operations of Japanese aircraft over its troops at the Main Line of Resistance that was damaging morale, MacArthur had authorized pilots flying recon missions to shoot down Japanese observation planes they encountered. On the 15th, five of the pursuiters at Bataan Field attacked Japanese planes over the Abucay area, to the cheers of the soldiers below. But Col. George only had five P-40Es and two P-40Bs at his disposal for such operations.

January 16, 1942

Easy day, quite a bit of enemy air activity though. The nights get mighty cold. Takes two blankets to keep warm.

January 17, 1942

Went to Bagac. Lot of rough, dusty riding. Dust on side of road about an inch thick. It hangs in the air for about 15 min. after a car passes. Very little air activity.

January 18, 1942

Sunday. Moved into a "bomb target." Much less walking to do. Rumor of Jap transports not far off.

January 19, 1942

Start of 7th week of hate. Saw four 40s in the air today. Sure looked good. If they would only bring one in for me to fly

The four P-40s that Burns saw had taken off from Bataan Field that morning to cover the landing of four P-40s returning to the field from Mindanao. Over the front lines, they spotted eight Japanese below them, Army Ki-27 "Nate" fighters. Engaging them in combat, they believed they shot down two, but one of their number Marshall Anderson--was downed and bailing out had been shot and killed in his chute. This atrocity enraged the Bataan Field pilots.

January 20, 1942

Not much doing today, short hike, more tomorrow. We all stayed up last night and talked about the good times we used to have in the States. That seems like another world or a swell dream.

January 21, 1942

Spent the day mapping an area. A lot of walking, plenty tired.

January 22, 1942

Spent day on recon. Covered a large area picking out locations for rifle Plat. This would sure be rough country to fight in. A friend found some wine so we had a party.

January 23, 1942

Called out at 3:00 A. and after last night. Two small detachments of Japs on our end of the island. We can't have that. Half the Sqd'n still out hunting them.

One force of 900 Japanese under Colonel Tsunehiro embarked in landing craft the night before and set out for the west coast of Bataan. However, due to inadequate maps, heavy seas, and attacks by PT 34, the Japanese became separated, one group of 300 landing at Longaskawayan Point and the others six miles north at Quinauan Point. The Longaskawayan landing was opposed by the Naval Battalion and the 3rd Pursuit, while at Quinauan, the Japanese were met by 260 men of the 34th Pursuit Squadron. Burns' 21st Pursuit was in reserve, further inland, though apparently part of the squadron had been ordered to join in the resistance the first day of the landing, returning that night to its bivouac area. (10)

January 24, 1942

Washed clothes and hunted snipers all day. After evening meal went up to 34th again, then up to front. Spent night there, very little sleep. Guns firing all night. Mighty rough country.

The 200 officers and men of the 21st Pursuit, on bivouac near the Biaan River were awakened after midnight on January 23/24 and loaded into buses for the seven-mile trip to Quinauan to reinforce the sister 34th Pursuit, now under Brig. Gen. Clinton Pierce, who had just replaced Selleck as CO of the 71st Division.

January 25, 1942

Formed lines and started a push. Working with P.C. trying to catch one group up to another when hell broke loose about 75 ft. away. In between our lines and Japs. Machine gun fire is awful. Snipers in trees. No sleep.

This morning, the 21st Pursuit was integrated with the Philippine Constabulary and Company A of the 803rd Aviation Engineers and ordered to form a skirmish line across the neck of the 1,000 yard peninsula between Quinauan and Agloloma Bays.

January 26, 1942

Pretty much tired out, ran messages and helped the doc. At dark the eng's came in, badly shot up by some Mg. nest I ran into yesterday. Got a little sleep and some decent food, but not very hungry.

January 27, 1942

With own outfit today. In a secondary line for 1st time. Spotted Jap barges up coast, got 37 mm and shelled it. One meal and some sleep. The scouts are supposed to come in tomorrow.

Another landing of Japanese had been made the night before on the promontory area between Silaiiam and Anyasan Bays. The men of the 17th Pursuit Squadron were sent in to oppose the 200 men. (11)

January 28, 1942

Scouts in, a good looking bunch of men. Beat the brush and went back to our old camp. Clean clothes, bath, etc. sure good. Dyess made Capt. today. I'm sweating out silver bars.

This morning, the 21st Pursuits men were ordered back to their camp area, along with men of the Philippine Constabulary and Company A of the 803rd Aviation Engineers, who had proved ineffective in containing the Japanese at Quinauan. They were being relieved by the 500 men of the 3d Battalion, 45th Philippine Scouts, a crack unit of professional infantry. That evening Company B of the 57th Philippine Scouts joined them as reinforcements.

January 29, 1942

Loafed most of the day. Washed a few clothes. Good to have nothing much to do and sleep a lot. Co. of scouts camped in here with us. Comforting feeling.

January 30, 1942

First year's service through now. Lazy day. Organized sniper hunting details, going hunting, maybe. Don't know why I got myself into it, but here I am.

January 31, 1942

Not much doing. Relieved Golden at 71st Div. C.P. in evening.

2d. Lt. Leo B. Golden, Jr. was one of the 21st's pilots, a 41-C graduate from Kelly Field but like the others now assigned to infantry duties.

February 1, 1942

Sunday. Quiet day. Know a little more of what goes on here. Busy night, Japs tried a landing, but accomplished little. Art. And Mg. fire stopped it pretty well.

A battalion of 500 Japanese attempted to land at Quinauan Point, but were slaughtered by strafing P-40s, PT boats, and artillery fire. (12)

February 2, 1942

Quiet day, mostly spent reorganizing positions. Art. Fire most of day. Quiet night.

February 3, 1942

Scouts mopping up on Agl. Pt. Rumored that Japs broke through our line, no confirmation. Sqd'n put on alert

Dyess received new orders this day to take his men back to Quinauan Point to reinforce the 45th Philippine Scouts, who had been unable to wipe out the dug-in Japanese during their six days of fighting, even with the addition of three light Stuart tanks. That afternoon, Dyess reported in to the Executive Officer of the 45th, who briefed him and his men on the gravity of the situation.

February 4, 1942

Sqd. here at daylight. Sent in to help mop up Agl. Pt. Didn't finish. Lt. J.E. May killed, also several enlisted men.

2d Lt. Jimmy May, another 21st flying officer assigned to infantry duties, was killed when a Japanese in a bypassed foxhole rose up and shot him as he followed behind one of the tanks.

February 5, 1942

Agl. Pt. still going. All fronts doing good. Day quiet.

By noon, all platoons of riflemen advancing behind the tanks had pushed the Japanese back to the cliff above the beach at Quinauan Point, where they had taken refuge in caves in the cliffs and below. (Aglaloma Point was also called Quinauan Point).

February 6, 1942

Day quiet. Little air activity lately. Sqd. to stay on Agl.Pt. for a while. A couple of inter island boats have come in recently.

It was proving impossible to dislodge the Japanese in the caves despite heavy fire into them.

February 7, 1942

Quiet day. Brought in several prisoners today, one spoke English. Small men. Think I'd know one if I saw him loose. Attempted landing, few got ashore, with others.

A scheme to dynamite the Japanese in the caves only collapsed some of the caves. In the afternoon, Dyess was ordered to send an officer and 12 men from his squadron to Mariveles to embark on landing craft for transport during the night to Quinauan Point, where they were to assault the beach at daybreak the following day. Dyess assigned himself to head up the operation and added 2d Lt. Jack Donalson of his squadron too.

To the north, at Silaiim Bay, several new attempts were made by the Japanese this night to land reinforcements, with some 75 managing to get ashore. They were wiped out. (13)

February 8, 1942

Sunday. Sqd. returned to camp at night. Quite a bit of air activity today.

At the beach, two whaleboats of men of the 21st under Dyess and Donalson went ashore in the morning and systematically cleaned out the Japanese on the beach after having blasted the caves with 37 mm cannon and machine guns. But several of the men were killed or wounded by Japanese dive bombers flying up and down the beach area. Inland, the Scouts worked their way down to the beaches and by 1:50 p.m. the sector was cleared of all remaining Japanese.

February 9, 1942

Enemy attempted landing last night, no luck. A lot of them floating around in water today. Cleaned it up. Quiet day and night.

The 21st this day was occupied in search and cleaning up operations, an unpleasant task due to the stench of the dead and swarms of flies. The landing attempt mentioned by Burns was again at Silaiim Bay, repulsed by artillery and machine gun fire from the beaches.

February 10, 1942

Went back to camp for a while today. Most of officers at flying field now, wish I was there. Quiet day. Lost quite a few good men on this last trip to Quin. Pt. Rumored Japs withdraw.

The 21st lost six killed and an undetermined number wounded, as against 74 killed and 234 wounded for the Scouts. This day it was relieved of its duties and went into bivouac at Kilometer Post 184.7, with the sister 34th Pursuit taking over the Quinauan beach defense from them. In the bivouac area, Gen. George paid Dyess a visit and informed him that the 21st was being assigned to Bataan and Cabcaben fields. Leo Golden, Gus Williams, and Johnny McCown were sent to Bataan Field ahead of other pilots. Pilots from the other squadrons previously flying from the two fields were to remain there, attached to the 21st Squadron, now administratively responsible for George's small flying detachment.

February 11, 1942

Day quiet. Learned in the evening that Sqd'n is moving to a field, sure is good. Men will now be doing something they are trained for. Things here in west subsector coming along fine. Planes soon I hope.

February 12, 1942

Easy day. Waiting for orders to go back to Sqd'n. Have been away much too long. Benton treated us to quite a bull session, he is a character. Must get book--Ben Aub (sic) stories sometime.

First Lt. Benjamin A. Benton, Jr. was Armament Officer of the 24th Pursuit Group until assigned to I Corps on Bataan.

February 13, 1942

Fri. the 13th. Left the 71st's C.P. in morning, returned to Sqd'n at field. Nice place, much better than sweating out alerts as we have been doing.

The evening before, Dyess and the men of the 21st Pursuit arrived at Bataan Field to formally take over flying operations. Dyess was now made Flying Detachment commander. Assigned as engineering officer was one of Dyess' non-flying officers, 2nd Lt Leo Boelens, while 1st Lt Larry Parcher was being sent to Cabcaben with 80 of the squadron's enlisted men. Burns evidently was given an administrative job at Bataan Field.

February 14, 1942

Spent day clearing place for and setting up a tent, rough work. Like the set up here more and more. Still sweating out a convoy and mail. Believe today is Val. day??

February 15, 1942

Sunday. The day I figured help would get here. But no soap. Fixed the tent up today. The A.C. can be thankful for Gen. George, he is on the ball.

Burns apparently refers to promised help from the U.S. (Then) Colonel George had moved his command to Bataan Field on January 17th in order to supervise operations of his little flying detachment directly. He was immensely popular with officers and enlisted men alike, evincing concern about their welfare and disdainful of the privileges of his rank.

From the time we left Manila for Bataan until now has been pretty near hell. Sqd'n turned Inf. and lost some of our best men fighting in the brush. We aren't getting enough to eat, and are tiring out, all troops need a rest. I can't see what they are thinking of in the States, they surely could have gotten some help in here, both troops and planes, U.S. aid for every place but the P.I.'s . There certainly have been some big errors made since this thing started. I hope I get a chance to tell about them. Would give a heck of a lot to see the folks and Jean.

February 16, 1942

Starting 11th week of this mess. They did some flying today so the field was bombed after supper. No damage. Singapore gone now. British up to their usual tactics, to the last American.

Two pilots flying their first missions under Dyess dropped ammunition to cut-off USAFFE men at Jones, northern Luzon, followed by two others dropping pamphlets in central Luzon and finally Dyess and Golden repeating the pamphlet operation.

February 17, 1942

Bombed the field again this morning. Dropped a lot of bombs but no damage. Rest of day quiet. Had tooth filled today.

February 18, 1942

Not much doing today. Climate is getting me or insufficient food and improper diet is doing it. Getting awful lazy and tire out quickly. Everyone seems to be that way.

February 19, 1942

Looked over another field today. Had tooth refilled, permanent this time. Not much traffic on roads now, gasoline ration keeps them home.

February 20, 1942 Went to finance dept. today to draw a little money, first I've gotten since early in Dec. Won at poker in evening enough to more than cover what I've lost.

February 21, 1942

Enlisted men put on show tonight, pretty good, should have them more often, good for morale. Shame that musical talent that some of the men have should be wasted on the battlefields.

Cpl. Robert L. Greenman was an accomplished concert pianist and probably was playing on a salvaged piano, as he did 10 days later.

February 22, 1942

Sunday. Quiet day. Learned in evening that I'd been made a First Lt. effective the 20th of Feb. Good news, more pay and more rank, not that it does any good.

February 23, 1942

Started to brush up on Code today. Sworn in as 1st Lt. effective Feb. 21. Must write to mother and have her buy some bonds for me out of the allotment I'm going to send her.

February 24, 1942

Have another allotment now. They are as follows: $125.00 to the Bank of America at Hamilton Fld., $8.10 insurance and $33.57 to mother. That is my total base pay as 1st Lt. $166.67.

February 25, 1942

Not much doing today. The orders making me 1st Lt. came from HQ USAFFE, Fort Mills, P.I. and are Special Orders No. 48, Par. 2. (Matter of record in case I lose the orders and need copies).

February 26, 1942

Usual thing around camp today. Every one wants candy mighty bad, also liquor, but not near as much as candy. Enlisted men have no cigarettes. Thank god I still have some.

February 27, 1942

Flew a couple hours in evening. Recon to Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf, not bad and I feel a lot better about the whole thing. Trying to send wires to Jean and the folks. Ears plugged up.

Ordered on a reconnaissance of Lingayen Gulf, Burns took off at 5:05 pm from Bataan Field and squadron mate Johnny McCown from Cabcaben Field. They flew their missions without incident.

February 28, 1942

A year ago today I reported in to Hamilton Field. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Miss the good old days and the things I didn't use to like. General, smoking too much, before I get up in bed etc. never did before. Sqd'n has been cited for its activity on Quinauan Pt. Must find out more about this.

March 1, 1942

Sunday. Went to A.F. Hq. to watch them plot an interception problem. A good set up and a good basis to work on when we really start operating.

March 2, 1942

Busy day. Radio control at Cabcabin, then about dark flew with Capt. Dyess. Straffed Grande Isl. Straffed tanker, Dyess blew it up. Wrecked plane landing at C.C. , lot of damage.

General George had received a report on the buildup of Japanese supply ships in Subic Bay, which suggested the Japanese would be trying a renewed landing on the west coast of Bataan. He ordered his pilots to take their remaining five P-40s at Bataan, Mariveles, and Cabcaben fields and attack the vessels. Round the clock strafing and bombing missions were mounted as from 1:00 p.m. As daylight was fading, Dyess and his weaver, John Burns, took off for the last attack at 6:40 p.m, Dyess in his P-40E "Kibosh" from Bataan Field and Burns in a P-40B from Cabcaben. After shooting up the dock area of Grande Island, Burns and Dyess strafed a large ship in Subic Bay and on the return flight Dyess in darkness spotted and strafed another vessel. Preparing to land at their Bataan fields, the twosome were fighting a heavy tail wind. Dyess made a rough landing, but Burns, tricked by the tail wind, came in too fast at Cabcaben and on each bounce his six .50s sprayed fire down the field. Continuing to roll past the far end of the field, Burns ran into stumps, swerved, and flipped over on one wing, tearing out the landing gear and damaging the wing and propeller. Unhurt but shaken, he slid down from the cockpit and asked, "Has anyone got a cigarette?" His armorer checked the cockpit and saw that Burns had forgotten to turn off his gun switches after the strafing attack and had inadvertently pressed the trigger switch on the stick on each bounce. His ship was the last survivor of the 31 P-40Bs received in the Philippines.

March 3, 1942

Had a party in evening for nurses from hospitals. Good time, food and liquor.

As a morale booster, General George had arranged the party, to which he invited nurses from Bataan Hospital No. 2. The pilots "whooped it up" at George's thatched shack, fueled by the alcoholic concoction they had fixed. Cpl. Greenman pounded out boogie woogie on the old piano as they danced with the 12 nurses who had accepted the invitation. The party lasted until 3:00 a.m., when the inebriated pilots drove the girls back to their hospital, a round trip of only five miles but with the lights out of their vehicles, it took one hour.

March 4, 1942

USAFFE reports that we sank 32,000 tons of shipping on the 2nd, good toll for one plane we lost, even if USAFFE doesn't admit it. Estimate 50 million dollars damage done.

MacArthur's communique reported that the pilots had destroyed three vessels of 12,000, 10,000, and 8,000 tons, plus two motor launches, and did not mention any P-40 losses. Japanese records, however, indicated only a 385-ton converted sub-chaser as sunk. (14) Burns was evidently not informed that in addition to his ship, three of the P-40Es were wrecked, two on landing at Mariveles and the third shot down, the pilot (Lt. Crellin) killed. Only Dyess' "Kibosh" was now operational.

March 5, 1942

Not much doing. Running again. Sent wire to Jean. Pretty quick after the last but better take every chance I get.

This afternoon, mechanics of the 21st succeeded in producing a hybrid P-40B/E out of Burns' ship with parts from the wrecked P-40Es. Although recorded as a P-40B in subsequent operations reports, it was known as the "P-40 Something" among the Detachment personnel.

March 6, 1942

Nothing doing today. The Japanese press release to Tokyo says we used 54 planes in the raid the other day, many of them 4 engine jobs, also report 6 were shot down.

March 7, 1942

Nothing doing today. Going to take over construction of officers mess and Asst. Adj. Will be something to do.

March 8, 1942

Worked some today. Sunday. Went to C.C. to spend a week. Will take up where I left off at B. when get back. Three months of the war gone now.

Bill Rowe (17th Pursuit) was also assigned with Burns on one week's alert duty at Cabcaben. (15)

March 9, 1942

Didn't do much. Lay around letting a sore on my foot heal and getting rid of diarr. Rumored we got Silver Stars for Subic Bay deal. Don't feel myself that it was so grand. I don't know, though.

The rumor was false; none of the Subic Bay raid pilots received Silver Stars.

March 10, 1942

Had tent put up to stay in here at C.C. Up most of the night, watch on field. Radio Tokio reports that they destroyed 32 of our planes on ground here in Bataan. Must be part of the ones we used against Subic.

March 11, 1942

Fixed tent up and moved in. Alert at field all afternoon. Evening "Voice of Freedom" announced citations for organizations, looks like almost everybody has two, means a ribbon of some sort.

March 12, 1942

Nothing doing today. News of war doesn't sound too good. I wonder at times how we keep going here, also wonder at the individuals desire to get through, the instinct of preservation.

March 13, 1942

Fri. the 13th, this is three in a row. No bad luck though. Rations cut again, food situation bad. Diet is chiefly rice, bread and gravy to go with it, once in a while some meat or other food, not often though.

Burns memory slipped: this was not the third Friday 13th in a row in January the 13th was a Wednesday. As against prewar rations of 70.9 ounces, the Americans on Bataan were now cut back to between 14.54 and 19.32 ounces, a starvation level. (16)

March 14, 1942

Cor. Doing a lot of shelling about noon. Alert in aft. Rowe flew Recon, no trouble. Golden replaced Rowe here, I go back tomorrow.

This afternoon on his final duty, Bill Rowe took off from Cabcaben on a recon mission of Nichols, Nielson, Zablan and Del Carmen fields where it was reported that some large-scale operation was being prepared by the Japanese. He spotted numerous aircraft on Nielson and Nichols Field, which he reported on landing at Bataan Field at 6:00 p.m. Rowe's replacement at Cabcaben, Leo Golden, repeated the recon the following day.

March 15, 1942

Sunday. Returned to B. by way of the hospital in aft. Fellows doing pretty well.

March 16, 1942

Not much doing today.

March 17, 1942

Wrote letters to parents and Jean, also made out will. Have a fair estate and it will get larger daily.

March 18, 1942

Spent day working on officers mess. MacArthur and George now in Australia. MacA. in high command of all United Nations forces. Maybe he and Gen. Geo. will do us some good here.

Gen. George's departure on March 11th as a member of MacArthur's evacuation party dispirited his pilots, who realized that he was very reluctantly leaving them. He promised them he would get planes up to Bataan for them no matter what. Lt. Col. Orrin Grover, previously CO of the 24th Pursuit Group, took over from George as commander of the Flying Detachment.

March 19, 1942

Not much doing, O.D. so spent most of my time at Gen. Geo.'s shack listening to the radio. KGEI really putting out some good programs now.

March 20, 1942

Quiet day. The food ration is pity-ful (sic) now. Enough to keep you from starving but not enough to do much work on. One day's food for 250 men-14 loaves of bread, 15 cans milk, 17 cans salmon.

March 21, 1942

Alert for couple hours in aft. Had party in evening. It was awful drunk out, self included. Have no interest in girls any more. Guess Jean is the xplaination (sic).

With Grover's approval, the pilots arranged another of their planned twice-a-month parties this evening, inviting 20 nurses from the hospitals. Lasting until 4:00 a.m., "it was another drunken brawl, but everyone had a good time", one of the other pilots recorded in his diary. But it looked like it would be the last one, as they were running out of alcohol.

March 22, 1942

Sun. Stayed in bed most of the day. Whit. got in from Cebu, brought me two wires, Jean and parents. Sure makes me feel good, especially Jean's. She is one in millions, love the hell out of her.

Major Hervey Whitfield, formerly Weather Officer at Clark Field, was one of the of the "Bamboo Fleet" pilots flying in medicine, food, and supplies from the southern Philippines.

March 23, 1942

Lay around most of day, headache, I believe, too much sun Sat. eyes hurt. Had a couple candy bars today, a real treat. Food very poor.

March 24, 1942

Sick today, fever, chills, etc. Terrific headache, ache all over. Japs have started pushing us again, using their big bombers again, dropping some big stuff too.

On March 23rd, the Japanese began a new aerial offensive with twin-engine bombers, 54 attacking on that day in the defenders' rear areas and following up with nine that hit Mariveles and Cabcaben on the 24th. (17)

March 25, 1942

Mother's birthday. Wish she was here to nurse me, 'cause I sure am sick. She sure used to do a good job of taking care of me. I'll bet she really worries about me.

March 26, 1942

Feel a little better, but very weak, can't eat, would like some fruit. Heavy bombing raids continuing, don't know what damage they are doing, uncomfortable to lie here in bed and wonder if they will go over us.

March 27, 1942

Got up for awhile this afternoon but so weak I had to lie down pretty quick. Started in evening feeding the pilots special food. Must be fattening us for the kill. Something brewing.

The flight surgeon of the detachment had reported to Maj. Gen. King, commander of the Luzon Force on Bataan, that if the pilots did not get extra food, there would be no more flying. A 'training table" was established for 25 of the pilots, beginning March 27th. Extra food and vitamins were to be sent from Corregidor to provide three full meals for ten days to build up their strength.

March 28, 1942

Food fine today, didn't do much, gaining back strength. Dyess told me I was going south with Brad. before dawn. Engine trouble so didn't get off, will leave tomorrow night. Darn the engine.

"Brad" was Capt. William "Jitter Bill" Bradford, the 47-year old engineering officer of Bataan Field and Bamboo Fleet pilot. Dyess had ordered Burns, Rowe, and a third pilot south, but then unaccountably canceled the order. The old Bellanca "Skyrocket" left two nights later after repairs.

March 29, 1942

Sun. Got things in better shape for leaving today. About suppertime learned that the rock has a bunch of men to go so I'm screwed. Just another thing to hate the rock for. Guess the men are need (sic) though. I go Wed. maybe.

The "rock" was Corregidor, where rumor had it the food conditions were much better than on Bataan.

March 30, 1942

Spent day at C. on alert. Saw a large Jap bomber hit by AA. Spun from about 25,000. Was an awe-inspiring sight. Sure feel sorry for poor devils in it. The nights sure are beautiful, moon and a few clouds.

In response to a report on March 28th that the Japanese were planning a landing on the east coast of Bataan, Dyess was maintaining three pilots on alert at Bataan and Cabcaben fields, day and night, ready to move the remaining two P-40s down to Mariveles if a landing materialized.

March 31, 1942

Still bombing, but little damage. Pilots food pretty good, poor for others, everyone hunting. Will have this place really cleaned out of game when we leave.

April 1, 1942

No April Fool joking this year. Alert at C. again. Wish they would get over it. Had an earthquake just after I got in bed, sure was a funny feeling.

April 2, 1942

Did not do much all day, but was up all night, bringing in and sending out ships. The 21st and 34th are now officially in Australia. Don't know what that makes us.

Other sources indicate that it was the night of March 31/April 1, rather than April 1/2, when it was like "Grand Central Station" at Bataan Field, with the Beechcraft Staggerwing of the Bamboo Fleet flying in from Mindanao and back out again, the Stearman 76D3 taking two passengers south, and the Grumman Duck taking three of the Detachment pilots to Mindanao where two of them were to fly the two P-35As--flown down to Mindanao on January 11th--back to Bataan.

April 3, 1942

Slept most of the day. Catching up for last night. Still a lot of heavy bombers in the air. Today Good Friday.

April 4, 1942

Bombers around most of the day. Up most of the night, alert in case of attack and bring plane in and out.

John Posten and Ray Gehrig brought the two P-35As in at Bataan Field from Mindanao at 7:15 a.m., the two ships loaded with candy, cigarettes, quinine, cigars, brandy, and mail.

April 5, 1942

Sunday. Easter. No rest from bombers all day. Evening a large thunderhead full of lightning up north put on quite a show. Really was something to watch. A bunch of new pilots came in in evening.

April 6, 1942

Bombed Bataan Pen. all day, spent day running to holes. Don't do much damage but it is very annoying. Bad on morale.

April 7, 1942

Up early, left for Cebu before daylight. Spent day there in Civilization [sic], it doesn't seem possible, good food, no bombers. I felt like a kid with a new toy. Left for Del Monte, arriving at dusk.

Burns doesn't indicate how he got down to Cebu and Del Monte, but he was probably a passenger in one of the Bamboo Fleet planes. However, according to Tony Bilek, a mechanic at Bataan Field, Burns flew down to Mindanao in one of the two P-35As at the field. (18) If so, it must have been flown back to Bataan that evening, as the following afternoon both P-35As were on Bataan. One would also think that Burns would have described his experience had he been a passenger (in the baggage compartment) or the pilot.

April 8, 1942

Today starts the 5th month of this mess and a new era for me. It is wonderful here. Hardly know a war is going on. Food much better as a whole than Bataan.

April 9, 1942

Rested all day. Reported in morning that things are very bad at Bataan. In evening reported that Bataan has fallen. Corr. Still holding though. Those poor guys there. I wonder how long it will be here.

April 10, 1942

Another lazy day. Not much news of Bataan. Terms being arranged. Cebu attacked. Quite a few of the pilots got out of Bataan. We wonder who. Lundee trying to get us on south from here. Dyess stayed on-naturally.

Ozzie Lunde flew south in one of the P-35As on April 8th, another pilot in his baggage compartment. Hank Thorne---the CO of the 3d Pursuit--took the other P-35A to Mindanao, with 34th Pursuiters Larry McDaniel and Ben Brown in the compartment. Joe Moore flew the "P-40 Something" out and Jack Donalson took Dyess' "Kibosh" south, but damaged it on landing at Iloilo. Dyess had refused to leave his men behind. Roland Barnick managed to get the old Grumman Duck airborne after last-minute repairs that evening and flew three 34th Pursuiters out along with Carlos Romulo, MacArthur's former press relations officer.

April 11, 1942

Day quiet. At supper time 10 B-25s and 3 B-17Es came in. Going to do a bit of bombing then back and chance to move on south. I hope I get it. Was a wonderful sight to see them come in.

At about 5:00 that afternoon, the personnel at the Del Monte Field were startled when three B-17s and 10 twin engine bombers of a type they had never seen before approached the field and came in to land. Headed by Maj. Gen. Ralph Royce, they were on a special mission from Australia to raid targets on Cebu (central Philippines), Mindanao, and (for the B-17s) Luzon. The pursuit pilots were to provide support for their operations.

April 12, 1942

(No entry).

Japanese floatplanes--Mitsubishi "Petes"-operating in pairs appeared over Del Monte field in the early morning and made unsuccessful bombing attempts on the three B-17s on the ground. In the afternoon they reappeared and again dropped their small bombs on the B-17s, hitting one and damaging two.

At the satellite fighter strip at Dalirig, eight miles south of Del Monte field, Gus Williams and John Brownewell (17th Pursuit) took off on the morning of April 13th for a strafing mission of Davao. Then they spotted two "Petes" over the area and in a dogfight Brownewell shot one down, but Williams' "P-40 Something" went into wild gyrations in climbing, then its engine quit. Williams managed to get his malfunctioning ship down safely, however.

About 12:35, a report came in from an observer post that the bothersome Japanese float planes were again approaching the area and that the one P-40 on the field at the time (a P-40E, perhaps Brownewelrs on his return from the Davao mission?) should be used to intercept. As the alert officer had gone for lunch five minutes earlier, Burns was left to take the mission. In his take-off roll, he failed to hold the ship in the center of the 200-foot wide runway and veered off into large rocks that lined both sides of the strip. The P-40E plunged over the side of the canyon that bordered the field and caught fire. No one could reach him in time and there was no fire fighting equipment at the field. Burns burned to death in the cockpit. That evening the chaplain and friends buried him in a little graveyard in a grove of trees. (19)

Sadly, he was reportedly on the list of pilots the Royce mission was to evacuate on its return flight to Australia. (20)


I am indebted to John Lukacs for drawing my attention to the existence of the diary of John Burns and putting me in touch with his brother, the Rev. Richard Lee Burns, who helped me with information about John's early life and provided documentation regarding the circumstances of his fatal accident and burial.


Except as cited below, the source for all the annotations is the author's Doomed at the Start (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992).

(1.) Lt. Roland R. Birnn, "A War Diary", The Air Power Historian, Vol. III, No. 4, October 1956, p. 195

(2.) Unpublished "War Diary" (1997) of Ronald Hubbard, 27th Bomb Group.

(3.) Birnn, loc. cit.


(5.) Unpublished diary of J. Harrison Mangan, 27th Bomb Group, November 20, 1941 entry.

(6.) William H. Bartsch, December 8, 1941: MacArthur's Pearl Harbor (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), p. 242.

(7.) Bartsch, op. cit., pp. 302-03, 310, 322, 326, 328-29, 342-43, 375-76.

(8.) Bartsch, op. cit., p. 393

(9.) W.G. Winslow, The Fleet the Gods Forgot: The U.S. Asiatic Fleet in World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982), pp. 112-13.

(10.) John W. Whitman, Bataan: Our Last Ditch (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1990), pp. 249-51, 269-70.

(11.) Whitman, op. cit., pp. 295-96 (and Doomed at the Start, pp. 276-77).

(12.) Whitman, op. cit., 304-05 (and Doomed at the Start, pp. 292-94).

(13.) Whitman, op. cit., p. 315; (and Doomed at the Start, p. 303)

(14.) General Headquarters, Far East Command, "The Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II", Japanese Monograph No. 116 (Tokyo: ca. 1947), p. 174 (and Doomed at the Start, pp. 335-36)

(15.) Letter, Rowe to Maj.Gen. Ralph Royce, April 25, 1943.

(16.) Whitman, op. cit., p. 449.

(17.) Whitman, op. cit, p. 464.

(18.) Author's telephone conversation with Tony Bilek, May 1, 2006.

(19.) Letters, Maj. Gen. Ralph Royce to Mrs. W.L. Burns, January 30, 1943 and December 20, 1945 (and Doomed at the Start, p. 399).

(20.) Author's telephone conversation with Richard Lee Burns, April 8, 2006.

Following his retirement from the United Nations system in 1992, William H. Bartsch has been consulting on employment planning in developing countries, and doing research and writing on the early campaigns of the Pacific War. His two books--Doomed at the Start (Texas A&M University Press, 1992) and December 8, 1941: MacArthur's Pearl Harbor (Texas A&M University Press, 2003)--covered the air war in the Philippines 1941-1942. He is currently working on a detailed history of the experiences of Army pursuit pilots in the defense of the Dutch East Indies, December 1941-March 1942. In its Summer 1997 issue, Air Power History published his earlier article, "Was MacArthur Ill-Served by his Air Force Commanders in the Philippines?"
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Author:Bartsch, William H.
Publication:Air Power History
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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