War Heroes reunite in the Twin Ports

By KBJR News 1

September 26, 2013 Updated Sep 26, 2013 at 3:49 PM CDT

Superior, WI (NNCNOW.com) - The twin engined Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter was designed for speed, long range and hard hitting fire-power for aerial battles in World War Two.

America's greatest fighter ace, Richard Bong of Poplar, flew one.

In the Pacific Theater of that war, it seems every pilot loved the aircraft.

"It was the greatest plane there is, really," said John Paul, a Lightening pilot.

Former P-38 pilot John Paul and three of his former comrades were in Superior on Wednesday to look over Major Richard Bong's Lightning and to reminisce.

Bong was in the 9th Fighter Squadron so the 339th men jokingly told each other back in the day that the Major wracked up such a high score because he was given easy targets.

"We thought that probably he was getting all the good jobs," said John Rooth, a 339th Fighter Pilot.

The 339th had their own tough job to do in World War Two.

P-38's from the unit helped shoot down Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At this reunion, though, talk was more about memories of the hot, humid life in the South Pacific.

"We went into an area and it was loaded with centipedes and scorpions and stuff like that. We'd clean the area out so we could live there."

As a fighter plane unit, centipedes, scorpions and snakes were more common than the Japanese, at least on the ground if not in the air.

The 339th did take one prisoner, though, as a Japanese holdout emerged from the jungle after a year of hiding.

"I think one guy walked through our outfit and we didn't even know who he was. He was so skinny. He was really in bad shape," said Chick Holmes.

The men at this reunion ranged in age from 89 to 91.

They're all holding up well but do admit their celebrations are getting calmer.

"We used to say we lie a lot and drink a lot but now we just sleep a lot!"

The air warriors of yesterday have advice for those flying in defense of America today.

"Keep your tail up, bud. Keep your tail up," said John Zink.

The veterans of the 339th plus their friends and families will be in the Twin Ports through Friday.

Dave Anderson
danderson@kbjr.com