A couple of days ago, R.J. Carbonne and myself got orders to report to Nadzab with haste. Yesterday at 4:00 PM after sweating out a plane ride all day we got aboard a C-46 XA-38 and headed south. Ordinarily, Nadzab is a 3 ½ hour trip. After flying 2 hours we were radioed that the weather was bad down the Markham valley and suggested we land at Tadji. This was fine except the pilot didn’t know just where he was and it was dark and no moon and we couldn’t tell if we were over land or sea. On top of that the radio compass went out. We flew another hour and began to get worried. We still couldn’t distinguish the coastline. After another half hour, the pilot began figuring on how many passengers we had aboard, how many life rafts and Mae Wests in case we had to ditch the ship in the drink. We had 4 crew members and 8 passengers aboard. And 4 parachutes!
The best deal would be to crash land in the ocean if we ran out of gas. The ship, empty, would float for about 20 minutes. You can imagine what a state of consternation we were in!. Our AAF captain, who was a non-flying officer of about 40 was really scared---we all were for that matter—and said “this is the last time I’ll ride in one of these damn things”.
The pilot, Lt. James of Baton Rouge, La. , stationed me beside him on the floor of the pilot compartment to watch for lights or any visible landmarks which might show up through the clouds. Carbonne, who was going to Nadzab with me, was aiding the radio operator and helping the co-pilot follow the map. When we had about 2 hours gas left, we discovered the shoreline through the low clouds. We were down to 2500 feet and recognized a peninsula and 2 islands. This, we discovered upon checking the chart, put us directly over Jap held Wewak on the North Coast of New Guinea. The pilot immediately had the lights doused and had us watch for flak and tracer bullets as there were still several Jap anti-aircraft units operating there. We got over there without any trouble and started looking for Tadji (Aitape). We finally got in contact with their tower and they said they would shoot up green flares. After about 30 minutes we spotted lights on the shore and then saw the flares and runway lights. We landed safely and the Aussies that operated the strip fed us and put us up for the night.
In the morning after breakfast (which consisted of cold salmon, peaches, and cocoa) we discovered they had no gasoline on the strip. We didn’t have enough fuel to make Nadzab, so we had to return to Hollandia for gas. At 9:00 we started out again and arrived in Nadzab at 11:30 after no further mishap.
Coming down the Markham Valley was quite an experience. This valley goes for miles between two mountain ranges and is flat as a table top, mainly covered with kunai grass, a few coconut and banana groves, and scattered native villages. The pilot covered about 40 miles of this, flying the big transport at tree top level. At no time were we more than 50 feet above the grass. We buzzed a couple of abandoned Jap airfields and saw many native villages with their queer looking huts.
We were flying about 200 and the ground really flew past. Compared to it, my last flight from Minneapolis to Sacramento seems very tame indeed, although I will take the former any time.