Corp. William V. Cavanaugh
B-25 Crewman - Mitchell Barchuck Interview

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Transcribed from audiotape
Interview by Mitchell Barchuk of former Corporal William Vincent Cavanaugh, sole survivor of Brevik B-25 crew. 404th Bomb Squadron, 28th Composite Group - waist gunner. Crashed June 16, 1945, Shemya time. Recorded 25 May 1991 at Marion Oaks, Ocala, Fl

Mitch Barchuck: This is Bill's story. Bill what happened? Where did this happen?

Bill Cavanaugh: Well this happened in the Sea of Okatze, on June 16th, Aleutian time, 1945. We picked up a Picket boat. We had no target in particular, just whatever we saw we were to get. There were only two planes in the flight and we were at low altitude.

Mitch Barchuck: Low altitude? What do you mean? How high was this?

Bill Cavanaugh: Well, at the time I suppose we were at five or six hundred feet when we picked up the target…which was dead ahead.

Mitch Barchuck: Were you two planes? One plane?

Bill Cavanaugh: Two planes.

Mitch Barchuck: Do you remember who the other plane was?

Bill Cavanaugh: No, I don't, but you told me what the fellers name was and…

Mitch Barchuck: Yeah, that was Carl Kolba

Bill Cavanaugh: They had changed the fuses on the plane before take-off from delayed to instantaneous. Why, I don't know.

Mitch Barchuck: You mean over at Shemya?

Bill Cavanaugh: Over at Shemya. Ordnance came over and changed them…we are already out on the line when they…

Mitch Barchuck: You were a bomber or gunner, right?

Bill Cavanaugh: Bomber-gunner, I was in the waist.

Mitch Barchuck: So, did you have anything to do with the changing of the fuses?

Bill Cavanaugh: No. Ordnance changed those and they told us what they were doing. Normally on a bombing run, when you get to a certain level or coming in on the target, you would pull the pins ahead of time.

Mitch Barchuck: You would do that.

Bill Cavanaugh: I would do that. I would get the bomb ready…that was my job. Since we had instantaneous, nothing was done till Dick Brook picked up the target and said, "Call me on the intercom. We have a target. Pull the pins quick." I went flying forward to the bomb bay.

Mitch Barchuck: From where?

Bill Cavanaugh: From the waist. I was in the right waist. Two forward bomb bays were the gas tanks…auxiliary gas tanks. The two rear had the bombs. I pulled the rear pins and I had no sooner pulled the pins than they were released.

Mitch Barchuck: They were released immediately?

Bill Cavanaugh: Immediately. We were very low.

Mitch Barchuck: So you were in the bomb bay?

Bill Cavanaugh: I was in the bomb bay and we got hit. I have to assume it was from our own bombs.

Mitch Barchuck: What, they all go at once?

Bill Cavanaugh: Everything…salvo…the whole thing. There was a tremendous explosion. I had something rip my boot off of and cut my ankle. I was pulling silvers of steel out of my face for weeks after. I was fortunate I didn't get anything the eyes. From the time we got hit, turnaround and-

Mitch Barchuck: You got hit in the back of the plane?

Bill Cavanaugh: It appears from what I saw when I came to the surface…I'll get to that…I had time to jump up on the flight deck and we hit the water at the same time. It was almost-

Mitch Barchuck: You just got up on that stuff?

Bill Cavanaugh: Just between Dick and Hal Martin. Hal had hit the klaxon or the horn, whatever you want to call it, at the same time we hit. All I could remember was going forward, right over Hal's head and out the front window…it just pealed up like a can of sardines.

Mitch Barchuck: Your body? Your body?

Bill Cavanaugh: It just kept going down, down and then I came to the surface. Both life rafts were inflated. One was very close and the other was far away. I swam to the closest one and I turned around and Dick was there and I saw Hal way off…maybe 50 feet away. But Dick came to the surface pretty close to me and I pulled him in. He was pretty big to begin with.

Mitch Barchuck: So Hal got out also.

Bill Cavanaugh: He came to the surface and when I turned around …when I got Dick in the thing, I turned around and I couldn't see him. The plane was in two pieces. It was split in half right behind the wing. The tail was behind it…everything went down and that was it. I got Dick in and he had internal injuries, so I gave him some morphine-

Mitch Barchuck: Was he conscious?

Bill Cavanaugh: He was conscious but he was in pain. He was in a lot of pain and the next morning he was dead. We floated around…that was on Saturday afternoon. Sunday we floated and the Japanese were off shooting at that island or whatever it is that thing…that mountainous thing. Arrado. They were doing target practice. I could see them and I don't know how close we were but it within five miles.

Mitch Barchuck: Target practice with fighters?

Bill Cavanaugh: You could hear the machineguns and nothing happened. The next morning there was a tremendous explosion…early-

Mitch Barchuck: This would have been the third day?

Bill Cavanaugh: Monday…early Monday morning. Tremendous explosion. It almost lifted the raft out of the water and I had no idea what it was.

Mitch Barchuck: This was in darkness?

Bill Cavanaugh: It was just getting light. There was kind of a fog. Late that evening, I just kept floating and I heard a noise and it was a Japanese destroyer. It was about a half a mile away and I guess they didn't see me. They were going by me and I pulled out the flag on them and tried to shout in the air and they stopped, turned around, came back and picked us both up. I found out later that, from the Japanese, that the explosion I heard was an American submarine. It was out looking for me and it had come across that Japanese convoy and torpedoed it-

Mitch Barchuck: They told you this later?

Bill Cavanaugh: The Japanese told me. Well, Turpy told me. He was the Japanese-American interpreter. Whatever survivors the destroyer picked up…they were on the boat with me too. They took me to a naval base there, blindfolded me, interrogated me for about two or three days. They told me they were going to send me down south. They took me on a boat but the weather was too bad so they brought me back. The next day they put me on an old freighter-

Mitch Barchuck: Excuse me Bill. What was their attitude toward you?

Bill Cavanaugh: They treated me fairly well. They did a lot of interrogating. I didn't give them any information. I threw a line out about an AT-6 Texan. That nearly stumped them. They kept calling me back asking me about the AT-6 Texan. They thought it was a new miracle airplane or something. They didn't know it was an advanced trainer, that's all.

Mitch Barchuck: But when you answered their questions, you answered them honestly?

Bill Cavanaugh: Yeah

Mitch Barchuck: You know, we were told to answer any question. Just don't volunteer anything.

Bill Cavanaugh: One question (unintelligible) he was a high-ranking naval officer…I don't who he was…and he said, "Do you think we would be successful if we attacked the Aleutians again?" I said, "No way." He said, "Why?" I said, " Your line of supply is depleted…its too far away." He said, "You're right." They had their shot a few years before and it didn't work out.

Mitch Barchuck: Who was this Japanese person you were talking about a moment again? You mentioned his

Bill Cavanaugh: Well, his nickname was Turpy. I never knew-

Mitch Barchuck: Turkey?

Bill Cavanaugh: Turpy. T-U-R-P-Y. That's what his nickname was in the CAV. It was a Japanese-American name…his Sergeant couldn't pronounce it…lots of luck.

Mitch Barchuck: So he was a non-volunteer?

Bill Cavanaugh: He was from LA actually and he was visiting relatives when the war broke out. It was either get in the service or he gets shot, whatever they do over there. He took the easy way out and-

Mitch Barchuck: So what was he as far as you were concerned?

Bill Cavanaugh: He was the interpreter. He spoke perfect English. He was my age I guess…about 21 or 22. From Los Angeles. He got me extra food and told me, "Don't worry about these SOB's…this is all going to end pretty quick." He told me not to give them any information.Mitch Barchuck: So how long were you kept there before they shipped you out of there?

Bill Cavanaugh: Just a few days. Two or three days.

Mitch Barchuck: You know one story that someone told about you was that you were tied to a chair and you were put into the middle of the runway so that when our bombers came over that they would have something to hit. Was that true?

Bill Cavanaugh: Not that I know of. No, I ate fish cakes and I was in a little room. All of their cells had a straw mat on the floor and they gave you rice balls.

Mitch Barchuck: Were you able to see outside?

Bill Cavanaugh: No. They had a light on in the ceiling and one person reached up an unscrewed it. All hell broke loose. They came flying in yelling, "No! No! No!" They put the light back in…they wanted to make sure of everything.

Mitch Barchuck: Did they mention anything about any other American prisoners that they may have had?

Bill Cavanaugh: Not to the best of my knowledge. Turpy might have said something but I don't remember anything in particular.

Mitch Barchuck: Because shortly before they took you, there was a B-25 that went down and the entire crew…they survived, but some of them never made it home.

Bill Cavanaugh: Well, fortunately I did. They put me on an old tramp steamer or freighter and they had a large walk-in refrigerator on deck that wasn't being used. They put me there. It had an opening in the back and I could look right into the Captains quarters. So I spent…I guess it was close to two weeks in there…going south. They fed me well. I ate whatever the crew was eating. You know, rice and fish. They let me walk out on deck each morning for a half an hour. Funny thing happened about halfway down. There was a knock on the door one day. It opened…I couldn't open it because the handle was on the outside…and this old Japanese guy was standing there and he's smoking a cigarette and he hands it to me and he puts hit finger to his lips and closed the door. I got a cigarette. Nice old guy.

Mitch Barchuck: In other words, they weren't the monsters that we were led to believe.

Bill Cavanaugh: Well, these were civilians on a civilian boat. We docked in Okido and they took me off and took me over to the military…I guess it would be like our MPs…The first thing they did, they took me to this…in Japan they have these big village baths…they took me there and took all my clothes off and let me get in the big…it looks like a big swimming pool. I bathed in there for half an hour or so. In the meantime, they took my clothes and steam cleaned them. I had no shoes. They gave me an old pair of boots. I lost my shoes when the bomb blew my shoes off. I had an old pair of Japanese boots, fisherman's boots.

Mitch Barchuck: When did you get these boots?

Bill Cavanaugh: Well, I had them coming down because I was walking. They were an old pair of rubber boots…you see pictures of a guy fishing in a boat or scrubbing the deck or something…came halfway up my thighs. I stayed in them for a while and I had tremendous pain in my right leg where I was cut below the leg with the shrapnel. I guess I hit it going out, over the yolk on the steering column on the airplane. They brought a doctor in and he looked at it and said nothing was broken. But the pain went away…

Then up by train to Tokyo. That was an experience. We went all the way down into Tokyo. I guess we…Hokkaido is on the island above Tokyo so I guess we had to take a ferry down…the whole wing, in a civilian train with Japanese all around and two military guards. They had food. I got a rice bowl…three meals a day. In the middle of the rice bowl…they nice looking, about the size of a baseball…they had a piece of fruit in there. A cherry or orange or something like that. We got in to Tokyo and took me on a local train to Ofuna, which I understand is about 15-18 miles southwest of-

Mitch Barchuck: O-F-

Bill Cavanaugh: O-F-U-N-A. Nobody in the United States knew about that…nobody in the Air Force, nobody. One of our better known tenants was Pappy Boyington. But they had moved him out somewhere. But I had a book that he had signed. They had a lot of books that you could read in there. Also there was Louie Zamporini. I don't know if you know who that is but he was one of our Olympic runners. He was there too. So, it's late at night when they took me into Ofuna and put me in a room and locked the door. The next morning I heard a lot of noise. There was a little glass window in there and people were looking in to see who the new tenant was. Course I had…with the clothes we wore in the Aleutians wasn't the same thing they wore down in the South Pacific… they were heavier. I had heavy khaky pants on and they thought I was a Russian. Somebody said, "He must be Russian." I stood in front of him and he had a tee shirt and it said "Alaska" on it. I said, "Alaska," so they knew who it was then.

They kept me in solitary for two weeks. Nobody there but Air Force (at the camp). Air Force, Army Air Force and Navy. A lot of navy pilots there. Towards the end they were picking navy pilots out of the…I saw a couple they brought in out of Tokyo Bay. They were still soaking wet and they had fished them out of the bay. We stayed there…B-29s every night and you could see the flames…every night bright in Tokyo.

They treated us not too well in that camp as you saw from the war crimes commission movie. They hung the doctor that was there and Gentlemen Jim got like 40 years or something like that. One guy committed suicide. They got what was coming too them.
Sometime late in August there was a lot of commotion about eleven o'clock at night, everybody jumped out their room and there was these strangers around there. Quite a few of them.

Mitch Barchuck: Strangers? What do you mean?

Bill Cavanaugh: Americans…they weren't Japanese. They were all dressed up. Pretty nice looking you know.

Mitch Barchuck: Civilians?

Bill Cavanaugh: Civilians and it turns out a lot of them were Australians, but the one guy was Homer Biggen from the Herald Tribune…Pulitzer Prize winner. He said, "Anybody here from New York?" I said, "I'm from Staten Island." He said, "Write a letter." I wrote a letter and he told me to address it to my parents and he would mail it. They got it. Then the fun began because then they found out there was a prisoner of war camp that nobody knew about. The navy came over periodically…all day long, dropping packages. One chute didn't open and it went right through the roof of one of the rooms. A guy was in the room and he was killed. All the Japs were taking off…they abandoned…they were gone.

We had one room…one cell, we had cartons of cigarettes from the floor to the ceiling. Could have been in the cigarette business afterward. Navy just kept dropping packages. They come over with these TBMs and we had one guy…his name is on a list of retired prisoners… Al Einstein. Al was hiding…. everybody had dysentery…Al was hiding behind a building cause those guys were just dropping that stuff. One guy came in right over the camp and as he came in, he changed pitch and gave it the gun and Al crapped right in his pants. Well, he never lived that down.

Then we get out and they took us to Atsugi Air Force Base. They put us on a C-54. We spent a night in that. We didn't go anywhere…we just stayed there. General Wainwright came in. I saw him there. He came in and they were taking him out. He was at the Missouri I guess where they signed the agreement. We had a day there. We went around and there were a lot of cans there and all kinds of guns. I got a rifle but somebody swiped that.

Mitch Barchuck: Somebody swiped it from you?

Bill Cavanaugh: Yeah. It never got home but I know where it went. Then we flew to Okinawa and spent a couple of days there and Manila. As I said to you before, I was in Manila almost till the end of September because they couldn't figure out where I was from. Nobody could verify who I was. Finally, they cleared and we took the Howsie…General Howsie home from Manila. San Francisco. Lettermen General Hospital and they put on a train to Rhodes General Hospital in Utica. Got my 60 days and I was out. That was it.

Mitch Barchuck: What did you do when you got out of the service?

Bill Cavanaugh: Well I got out on a Saturday and got home on a Sunday and Monday morning I was back in college. Maybe I had a week off.

Mitch Barchuck: What college was this?

Bill Cavanaugh: I went to Manhattan College. They had a division on (unintelligible) before. I put two years in there.

Mitch Barchuck: What were you looking for?

Bill Cavanaugh: I was in Business Administration. I got a BBA in Business Administration. Majoring in marketing and retailing. So, I went back.

Mitch Barchuck: Anything unusual happen to you in relation to your past? You meet anyone?

Bill Cavanaugh: Just Pat Skay from-

Mitch Barchuck: Pat Skay? From where?

Bill Cavanaugh: He was in the 404th. Matter of fact, Pat put me in touch with you. He called me last Monday. I hadn't heard from Pat since 1947. That's a long time. I knew he was teaching college up in Pennsylvania at a community college up there not too far from where my business was.

Mitch Barchuck: He's a very lively fellow on the phone, isn't he?

Bill Cavanaugh: Pat has the gift of gab. He was funny. I like Pat. I got along well with Pat.

Mitch Barchuck: Just for the record here, I would like to mention the way we found each other was through a letter that Pat had written to the B-24 Liberator Club newsletter. He wrote a little request for some information there and his name and address was there, so I looked it up. I found his telephone and called him up and he told me about going to school with you. The amazing thing was that he had his old yearbook lying right on his desk. He was able to open up to the page immediately and he says, "There's his picture." He told me that he was going to copy the picture and send it to me. Then in the meantime he was going to try to find you.

Bill Cavanaugh: Yeah, he's lucky found me because they came out with a new directory last year and I sent all the information up a year ago this spring and of course we go to Pennsylvania in the summer, and they sent me a letter that said they were going to press and they wanted some more information. I gave them the information they wanted and I put my address up in Pennsylvania. When they printed the damn thing, they printed the Pennsylvania address. I'm only there four months a year, so…but fortunately the college they knew where I was because they collect money from me every year and they had my address down here. That wasn't hard. Pat called the alumni association and they gave him my number.

Mitch Barchuck: Well, it's not an ending to a story. I have a feeling it's a kind of a beginning to a story. You're going to go to the reunion aren't you?

Bill Cavanaugh: I'm planning if I don't quit between now and then. You know I'm going up on 81.

Mitch Barchuck: Well, I think you'll do all right.

Bill Cavanaugh: I still would like to know who the guy was you met in Washington. I've never been in the state of Washington.

Mitch Barchuck: Well, I do too because now you mention the boots. The rubber boots. Well you didn't mention that little story yet that I have in there. Oh, incidentally folks, for the record here; When I got out of the service…well not when I got out the service, when I was coming home…we got off the liberty boat at Ft Lawton in Seattle, Washington. A guy comes up to me in the mess hall and he taps me on the shoulder and he pointed to my Eleventh Air Force patch and he asked what outfit I was in. I told him I was with the 404th. He said, "I was with the 404th also. I was on Brevik's crew. My name is William Cavanaugh." Of course, I really wanted to talk to him because he, William Cavanaugh, you, lived on a Quonset hut next to ours on the island of Shemya. You had gone down. Your crew crashed the day before I arrived there. Some of my crew already were there and they were living in the hut. When I got there, your hut was already padlocked. When we met the Cavanaugh impostor in Ft Lawton, we went over to his barracks. That was Charlie Berry, Carlson Minetti, Irving Bramowitz, and I. We went over there and he told us the whole story of what happened. It was very similar to what you told here, but not enough. He truly was an impostor. One thing that's interesting is that he told us that he was standing between the pilot and the copilot and he had his flight boots on but he had no shoes on underneath. In the crash, his flight boots came off and he was in his stocking feet and he was in his stocking feet until he talked the Japs to give him a pair of…something to wear…they gave him a pair of knee-high rubber boots which he wore for the rest of the time he was a POW. Isn't that a coincidence?

Bill Cavanaugh: Sounds verbatim, but I don't know where he got the information.

Mitch Barchuck: Yeah. It's eerie almost. Well, I'm hoping that this recording comes out all right and with your permission, if it does, I'll send you a copy and I want one personal copy for myself, and with your permission, I would like to send one copy up to Alaska. To the University of Alaska where they have other recordings, not only from myself, but other recordings from people that were up there during World War Two. They are trying to get a kind of historical thing together. So, they have an envelope with my papers in there and my tape in there but my tape tells the wrong story. So that is why I ask you all questions. That's why I was hoping a good recording here.

Bill Cavanaugh: Fine with me. We'll create a record.