Pilot: John Benbow | Nickname: | Rank: Captain | Squadron: 457th | Plane: 538 | Name: ? | S/N: 463983
Captain John Wesley Long Benbow
457th Fighter Squadron, 506th Fighter Group
Iwo Jima, 1945
Uncle John's Pilot Log has an entry on 3-10-43: "Attached to Sqd. 14, 53rd Fighter Group, Page Fld., Ft. Myers, Fla."
He moved to Venice, Fla., on June 19, 1943, where he remained as a gunnery instructor until November 17, 1944, when he transitioned to the 506th FG at Lakeland.
Capt. John Benbow was my uncle, my father's only brother. My Dad was a combat engineer in Europe during WWII and built a bridge across the Rhine. He survived the war and was actually on a troop ship headed for Okinawa to prepare for the invasion of Japan when the news came that the Japanese had surrendered. The ship changed course and docked in Boston, where Dad got the news that John was MIA.
We never knew what happened to Uncle John. The official version from the Mission Report filed on July 16, 1945, was that he probably flew through some debris from an exploding Japanese plane, and that somehow knocked him down. I first read the account of the mission in John Lambert's book, The Pineapple Air Force: From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo. Mr. Lambert in turn put me in touch with Henry Sakaida, who, along with Steve Blake, had done much of the initial research on the July 16 battle. I subsequently purchased two books by Mr. Sakaida, Pacific Air Combat: Voices from the Past and Japanese Army Air Force Aces. Both books give the same account of the battle from the viewpoint of Major Yohei Hinoki, who claims to have shot down a Mustang on that day. Further, I have the pages from Hinoki's memoirs, in Japanese, from which Sakaida quotes in his articles.
I subsequently received a copy of the article to which you referred by Steve Blake and Sakaida, "Combat over Japan: Ki. 100 vs. P-51," in which the authors quote from mission reports and Major Hinoki's memoirs, then draw the conclusion that Major Hinoki shot down Capt. Benbow. All of the accounts in the three books that I mentioned draw from this article.
It should be noted that the article states that Japanese pilots claimed 6 definite and 5 probable Mustang kills on that day. When I talked to Henry Sakaida on the phone, I asked him why he thought Hinoki's account was any more accurate than the other claims, since only one Mustang was actually lost that day. He replied that he interviewed Major Hinoki and believes him to be a credible and honorable source.
I have obtained the Mission Report from July 16 and the Missing Air Crew Report, which contains the statements of Capt. William Lawrence, the Flight Leader of Dusty Green Flight, and Lt. Joseph Winn, Uncle John's wingman (Capt. Lawrence had just received his promotion, so John was flying as second element leader despite being senior to Lawrence). Winn is deceased, I have been unable to locate Lawrence, and there is no mention in the reports as to who was flying Lawrence's wing.
I do have a letter from William Lawrence written to Uncle John's widow dated August 6, 1945. Lawrence wrote "John was flying a plane that had formerly quite a bit of mechanical trouble in previous flights, so it is my contention that engine failure or something mechanical was the basic reason. Anyway, we were about 15 miles west of Nagoya when I started an attack on a Jap plane. John was right with me all the time, and as soon as I shot the Jap down, I pulled up, but didn't see John. Another flight at a distance from us said they saw a plane gliding down, which we presume was John. There were no enemy fighters near us and no flak whatsoever, so it was not a result of enemy action." [Lawrence underlined the word "no" in his letter.]
Over the last 5 years, I have located quite a few surviving officers of the 457th Squadron, several of whom were on the July 16 mission. Those with whom I have discussed Hinoki's claim don't believe it, but they were not eyewitnesses. They just think John was too good a pilot to be ambushed like that. Mary Ellen Ramsden has been helping me track these men down, and she called me a couple of years ago and told me that I needed to call Maj. Ralph Gardner in Layton, Utah, that he had some information that I would be interested in.
It turns out that Maj. Gardner was William Lawrence's wingman on July 16, and he has a vivid memory of the mission! When I told him of Major Hinoki's claim, he replied, "No way could that have happened." He said they were diving at over 500 mph in ther attack on the EA, and the Japanese didn't have a plane that could have overtaken them at that speed. He further says that he lost all stick response as he tried to pull out of the dive, and was only able to regain control after cutting his throttle. He thinks Uncle John suffered compressibility and was unable to pull out of the dive in time.
We will never know why my uncle crashed, but there is reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of Hinoki's account. I shared Lawrence's letter and Gardner's story with Henry Sakaida, but he sticks by his interpretation that he offered in that article.
Uncle John's body was recovered in April 1946 on a mountainside near Nagoya, where the Kimpo-Tai had buried him, and he now rests at Arlington. He was a good man from all accounts (the squadron's Flight Surgeon described him as "the most popular boy in the squadron" in a letter to his wife). I miss him a great deal, even though I never knew him, and I am honored to be named for him.
Thurs. Feb 15
Kissed Maggie Au Revoir. Restricted to Post. Called Mag tonight.
Fri. Feb 16
Train at LAAF [Lakeland Army Air Field] around 07:30.
Feb 17, 18, 19
On train. Won $40 from Willie [Mansfield] in gin rummy. Saw flock of 10,000 crows. First time west of Miss. River.
Arrived Pittsburg, Cal. Hiked to Camp Stoneman. Room with Willie Mansfield.
Called Mag. $20.
Called Mag collect. $10.
Saw “Tree in Brooklyn.” Very good.
Hitch hiked to San Francisco with Willie Mansfield and Larry Grennan. Visited Chinatown.
Back to Stoneman.
Final Church service at Stoneman. Had Communion. Started mustache.
Trucks to Alameda. Boarded U.S.S. Kalinin Bay – escort carrier. Set off around 1630. Room with Abner [Aust].
March 1st, Thurs.
Same but better.
Same, still better. Didn’t toss my cookies.
OK now. Church on board ship. Had Communion.
Saw flying fish.
Pearl Harbor. Visited Waikiki Beach, town of Oahu, looked for Jimmie Nance.
Off again at 0800. Simulated attacks by Hellcats. Saw Saratoga in dock with torpedo hole. Also flight deck showed evidence of suicide dive by Jap.
Calm. Saw “American Romance.”
Calm. Latched onto a little sun.
Punch bag. Rowing machine. Sun tan.
Crossed International Date Line. Missed out on Sun. 11th.
Same as 10th.
Same as 13th.
Arrived Guam. Drove in trucks from Orote Fld. (Navy) to Depot Field. Passed through town of Agana which was completely demolished. Natives still living in beat up houses. U. S. Govt. has provided houses. Good roads being made.
Most impressed by two Marine graveyards with hundreds of little white crosses. Each one represents a life given for a cause that I hope will be won and preserved by a sensible people.
Shaved out of helmet. Went to Church with Willie.
Down to line at Orote to see how planes are coming.
Loafed. Rains every 15 minutes.
Went swimming with Larry Grennan, Gaudiani, Kloiber, and Abner. Larry and I waded way out to a reef. Killed our feet on the coral. Saw many interesting things, including blue starfish.
Tried to pick up sea urchin and got speared with 2 quills in finger. Pretty sore. Docs on beach drinking beer, went into consultation. Made my poor old finger bleed with a dull knife.
Half hour test hop at Orote. Pretty good landing. Good plane. Felt funny after having gone nearly a month without flying. Glad to be at it again.
27 years old today. Found out later that Lt. Vance Middaugh was also 27 today. Led flight of 4 from Orote to fighter strip #4 at Tinian Is.
C-45 to Orote. Led flight of 4 P-51’s back to Tinian. Gave field a good buzz.
Missed Church. Washed Willie’s plane with gasoline. Lot of Jap wrecks lying around field, all stripped for souvenirs.
Willie and I washed my plane with gas.
Slept all morning. Got a big batch of sweet letters from my sweet Maggie. Flew in afternoon – test – caught out in rain, with Larry Grennan. Flew over it, came out No. of Saipan.
Two missions Combat Air Patrol [CAP]. Investigated 2 bogeys. Missed one, other was a TBF without IFF on.
Swimming at Tinian beach with Larry Grennan.
Cleaned guns, canopy. Flew 1 hr. mission, practiced tracking.
Slept all morning. Flew one mission CAP in aft. with Lt. Col. Scandrett and Kloiber. Vectored to 5 TBF’s and 1 B-29.
Sun. April 1st
Missed Church again. Rode all over island in Jeep to see about transportation. Saw lousy USO show. Got soaking wet.
Mon. April 2nd
Scramble and radar intercept mission. B-24’s escorted by F6F’s and Corsairs. D Flight tangled wif [sic] and thoroughly whipped 2 Corsairs.
Tues. April 3rd
CAP mission in morning. Tangled wif and thoroughly whipped 2 flights of P-47’s. Started reading Bible tonight.
Wed. April 4th
Thurs. April 5th
Fri. April 6th
Two CAP missions today. Head up and locked on first one. Slowed down after landing in last third of runway, thinking #3 man, Kloiber, behind me, had also slowed down. He hadn’t. Result - 2 damn good planes nearly demolished. I am grateful to God that neither of us were hurt – not even scratched. I feel sick when I think of the waste we caused, also that we lowered the Sqd. Record, but absolutely refuse to worry about it to the extent that it gets me. Maggie was there beside me somehow during and after the accident when I needed her. She kept me cool and calm. I love that gal!
[Log entry: CAP – Ground Collision – Slowed down in last third of runway to turn off - #3 man, Kloiber, ran into me, shearing off tail.]
Sat. April 7th
On alert at Operations tent from 0600 – 1230. Worked on plane in afternoon. Murph [Dan Murphy, Squadron Engineering Officer] says they can make one good plane out of the two damaged ones.
Got mail tonight from Mag, Mub, and Med.
Sun. April 8th
Went to Church in morning. Washed clothes in afternoon.
Mon. April 9th
CAP mission in morning. Tangled with 47’s. Tower in afternoon.
Tues. April 10th
Got pay straightened out. Alert all afternoon.
Wednesday April 11th
Worked on “Murph’s Miracle” all day. Put on flaps and wing tips.
Thurs. April 12th
Guard at 0600 – 0730 at line with Willie. Tried out .45. CAP in afternoon and went to 31,000’. Prop surge. Poodaddle!
Fri. April 13th
Test hop to 32,000’ with Willie. Still prop surge. Dinghy and Jungle kit fit to chute.
Sat. April 14th
Slept all morning. Volley ball in afternoon.
Sun. April 15th
CAP in morning, then went to Church with Willie. Memorial Service for President Roosevelt. CAP in afternoon. Traded flying suit at No. Fld. after lunch.
Mon. April 16th
Alert from 0600 – 1230. Baseball in afternoon.
Tues. April 17th
Played ball. Stopped smoking fo’ 1 week.
Wed. April 18th
CAP from 0600 – 0730; 1200 – 1330.
Thurs. April 19th
Test hop on “Murph’s Miracle” this morning. Alert in afternoon.
Fri. April 20th
Stripped tails for spray painting all day.
Sat. April 21st
Two CAP missions in morning. Buzzed ground echelon both times – recognized “Skinhaid” Skiver. Stripped Willie’s plane in afternoon.
[Log entry: Buzzed ground echelon on boat.]
Sun. April 22nd
Plane stripping in morning. Went to Church with Willie. Very good sermon. Plane stripping in afternoon.
Mon. April 23rd
Sack all day nearly.
Tues. April 24th
Read all morning. CAP in afternoon. Seem to be forgetting things in flying. Will straighten up and fly right!!
Wed. April 25th
Alert in afternoon.
Thurs. April 26th
Test hop in morning. Played baseball in afternoon.
Fri. April 27th
Sqd. formation this morning. Our flight tangled with Wildcats. Willie Mansfield couldn’t pull out of low dive and crashed in sea. Was instantly killed. Spent remainder of day seeing to his personal effects. Will write his folks and Stinky.
Visited John Hall in Naval hospital. Got a beautiful letter from Mag today.
Sat. April 28th
Busy with Murph, tending to Willie’s effects. Worked late typing inventories and letters of condolence. Old “tough” Brooklyn Murph wept a little while writing to Willie’s folks.
Sun. April 29th
Murph and I got Willie’s effects packed and ready for shipment. Missed Church today.
Mon. April 30th
Played ball. Fishing off coral cliff with Larry Grennan.
Tues. May 1st
Runway control in morning. Helped load lumber for tents at Iwo. Got ice with Murph, after supper, for beer.
Wed. May 2nd
Slept most of morning. Made watch band with aid of Henry Fletcher. Saw good Navy show tonite – Claude Thornhill, Dennis Day, Jackie Cooper, Tommy Riggs, and a couple of comic dancers. Cold beer tonight as Murph and I got some ice today. Sho’ tasted good.
Played ball with Fletcher this afternoon.
I LOVE MAGGIE!
Thurs. May 3rd
Fri. May 4th
Worked on plane in morning, test hop in afternoon.
Saturday May 5th
Sunday May 6th
Church with Weill and Fletcher.
Monday May 7th
Tuesday May 8th
Test mission. Ferry to Guam and back for wing tanks.
Wednesday May 9th
Thursday May 10th
Friday May 11th
Squadron formation to Iwo Jima with 2 B-29’s navigating – with wing tanks. Good to see all the boys.
Saturday May 12th
Poured down rain all day. Grennan and Kloiber and I kept busy ditching tent. Nearly drowned. Flight CO meeting at 1900.
Sunday May 13th
Church in morning with Max Weill. Went to line in aft. to check on planes.
Monday May 14th
Bad weather all day. Ceiling practically zero, or worse. Lecture this morning on escape and evacuation – very interesting. Standby alert from 0930 – 1200. Went to So. Field in afternoon to lecture on codes – more interesting than morning lecture – given by same fellow.
Watched B-29’s making emergency landings after raid. They had a hard time of it due to the raunchy weather.
Saw two men bail out of B-29 over water. Boats got to them OK.
Meeting at 2000.
Warned of 70 mph wind at 0400 tomorrow morning. Grennan and Kloiber and I staked tent down more thoroughly.
Tuesday May 15th
Wind hit us at around dawn and lasted several hours, accompanied by heavy rain. Rain lasted all morning. Roads in pretty sad shape. Went to line in afternoon to check on planes.
Wednesday May 16th
On standby most of day. Rain messed up schedule pretty badly. What a bleak and desolate and beat-up island.
Thursday May 17th
Walked down runway with Omar [Skiver] looking at wreckage, etc. This place looks like Dante’s Inferno – steam coming out of the ground to meet the fog, wrecks of planes, guns, etc., all around.
Bullet from Jap hunting patrol ricocheted about 20 yds. from Omar and me. Bad weather sneaked in, nearly caught our boys up. Quite a few planes landed at our fld. to get down from weather.
Rode thru slime and mud for about an hr. to take chute to be repacked.
Slept most of late afternoon. Ammunition in Jap caves kept exploding all afternoon.
First mosquito attack last night. Little white mouse running across floor now. What a place.
Friday May 18th
Standby in morning. False alarm to take off. Two fatal landing accidents this morning, one in 458th, one in 462nd. One 462nd plane torn up this afternoon. Pilot OK. Test hop this afternoon. Engine rough as a cob.
Everyone pretty excited over 462nd’s run to Chi Chi today. Our turn tomorrow. I was on mission but was dropped. Later scheduled to carry rafts with Larry Grennan escorting me, but that also was called off. Poodaddle.
Saturday May 19th
Made weather hop up north west and over Kita Jima prior to 457th strike this afternoon. Fair but hazy.
Standby all afternoon. Raid went off OK. All planes returned. Everyone felt good as it was our first. I surely hated to miss out on it – was sheduled to lead 4th flight – but they could only take 3 flights. Next, was to carry life rafts – “Josephine” – in P-51 with Grennan escorting me, but that was cancelled too. Poodaddle.
Glad to see Murph and crew chiefs come up from Tinian today. Saw “Hollywood Canteen” again tonight.
Sunday May 20th
Church this morning with Max Weill. Chaplain Price gave a nice sermon. Meant to run test hops today, but bad weather prevailed. Read and slept most of day – and thought of Maggie all day. Am missing her more each day.
Monday May 21st
Down to line this morning. Got typhus and cholera shots. Standby all afternoon. Made out charts for flights.
First air raid tonight, caught us at show. Very ineffective raid. Japs apparently got scared and jettisoned bombs out to sea when one bomber was shot down right off the bat. Heard that two fighters strafed field without result, one of them being shot down.
We were really huddled in that foxhole, and, for a minute or two, really scared.
Tuesday May 22nd
Ships strafing field last night were “Peggy’s.” Dropped 16 bombs by our planes from too low an altitude. As a result they were duds.
Everyone on island today busy digging foxholes.
Slept all morning. Back hurting pretty bad. Got chiropracter at dispensary to work on it. He popped a lot of bones. Denny O’Hearn also worked on it and popped some more. Still hurts.
Bozarth collided with another plane today from 21st Grp., both boys killed. Wish these accidents would come to a halt.
Went down to line in afternoon. Ready for next raid tonight.
Alert from 0515 – 1915. Dust a-flyin’.
Scheduled for Chi Chi raid. Coolant got too hot; so did Larry’s. My engine cut out on T.O. Throttled back and remained on ground.. Worked on Q. hut with Kloiber.
Alert all day. Runway control from 1500 – 1915. Got stuck in a ditch.
First Empire raid postponed on acc. weather. Verry [sic] frustrated. Worked on hut all aft. Raid planned for tomorrow.
Raid called off again – weather. Standby all day. 2 hr. flight in afternoon. Briefing for raid tomorrow. Here’s a-hoping.
Took off at 1010 for raid to Kasimagaura Airfield, Japan. Eng. missing on right mag before takeoff. Phil Alston piled up in front of me taking off.
Very tiring mission. Fairly successful. Everyone was too spread out and attack was uncoordinated. We left field flaming. One man lost over a second field.
Our flight – flak busters – was supposed to pull out at 4000’. I got a twin eng. plane in my sights and didn’t pull out til 2000’, too high to do any good.
Ran into a few Tojos, one of which was shot down.
Landed at 1715, got skonked on cold beer and whiskey. Sweet letter from Maggie waiting for me. Went to show, but got rained out.
Alston, luckily, got out with only a head gash.
Alert in morning. Worked on Q. hut in afternoon.
Worked on Q. hut all day. Cut ankle – 3 stitches. Air raid at 0330 this morning.
Standby and runway control. 2 test hops.
Alert all day. Flew CAP.
Day off. Went to Church with Clamwinkle. Helped dig foxhole.
Alert all day. CAP.
Scheduled to lead Sqd. over Chi Chi, but bad weather cancelled it.
Alert all day.
Escort B-29 over Osaka. Flew at 21,000’, overcast at around 12,000’. Went down to check plane at 3000’ over coast hoping it was an Emily, but was only a B-29.
Tagged onto 29 on way back, flew instruments thru rain from Kita Rock for 10 minutes.
Led Sqd. of 12 to bomb and strafe Chi Chi Jima. Target was under 10/10 overcast. Went in under 2000’, dropped bombs on field and strafed ships in harbor.
Church this morning with Clamwinkle.
1st Anniversary today. Best year of my life.
Received Air Medal along with others from General Moore.
Alert all day. 2 test hops. Saw “Keys of the Kingdom.”
Tested gas mask, moved into new tent. Saw “Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble” tonight with Clamwinkle.
Alert all morning and most of afternoon.
Worked on area all day long. Plumb wore out.
Joe E. Brown was supposed to be here tonight but couldn’t make it. Hap Arnold and Gen. Giles showed up. Briefing tonight for mission tomorrow.
Worked all day on ceiling for tent, made out of gas tank boxes.
Sqd. briefing this morning for raid on Meiji Air Field, Japan. Called off on account of weather.
Got back type chute. Worked on [officers] club all afternoon. Saw Dick Jurgens and band just now. Very good.
Going to Church at 08:00 cause we missed it this morning. Going to see Kodachrome film of Kasamagaura raid tonight.
Kodachrome film came out pretty good.
Worked all day on club. Saw Joe E. Brown this afternoon. Very good show. Saw “Patrick the Great” with Clamwinkle this evening.
Started on raid to Meiji Airfield south of Nagoya – turned back on account of front. Hit Chi Chi Jima on way back, strafed it pretty well. Left wing tip shot off by flak.
Worked on club in morning. Test hop in afternoon.
Rain all day. Tail end of typhoon hit us around noon. Rode around in Jeep to PX’s this afternoon. Made table and chairs this morning for tent.
Made cabinet in morning. Alert and CAP in afternoon.
Fighter strike no. of Tokyo. Got a good rub down.
Air raid at 0130 this morning. Saw pictures of yesterday’s raid. Worked on hut in aft. Church tonight.
Worked on club and stained furniture. Saw “Devotion” with Clam.
Cemented club porch this morning. Mailed Air Medal to Mag. Rode with Abner to top of Mt. Suribachi. Test flight in afternoon. Briefing to ride in weather B-29 tonight for tomorrow’s raid.
Weather observer in B-29 (Darkeyes 1) for fighter strike to Japan. Weather too bad up near target. Planes had to turn back.
Worked on club this morning. Made Operations Officer today. Saw “Story of Dorian Gray.”
Scheduled mission to Chi Chi with Weill leading. Down to line all day. Saw Errol Flynn in “Custer” with [Daun] Anthony.
Moved Operations over behind ramp – tired out. Very sweet letter from Mag – also from Mub.
On strike mission to Japan. Got up to coast and had to turn back on account of weather. Paid today. Very sweet letter from de Beebe!
July 2nd Monday
Missed Church both times yesterday. Didn’t even know it was Sunday in the first place. In the second place, was at briefing, waiting to take off on a mission, got back too late for evening service.
Had an air raid alarm at noon today – mad scramble to get into air. False alarm. Saw Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in “Road to Zanzibar.” Sho’ was good.
July 3rd Tuesday
Down to line all day. Saw training film tonight.
This job is full of worries!!!
Got a sweet letter from Mag today.
July 4th Wednesday
CAP at 0500 this morning. Got one VLR off today and scheduled another for tomorrow.
July 5th Thursday
Mission went off today. Another scheduled for tomorrow.
July 6th Friday
On fiter [sic] strike to Japan. Hit Katori Airfield. Destroyed one ea. [enemy aircraft] single eng. fiter which was either a George, Frank, Jack, or Tojo. A good flamer.
July 7th Sat.
Down to line all day.
July 8th Sunday
Missed Church today again. Busy getting planes off for mission to Japan. 4 lost out of our group – 2 bailed out over land, 2 over water. Last 2 picked up by subs.
Didn’t get to late Church, as mission got in too late. Another sheduled for tomorrow.
July 9th Monday
On strike to Japan. Hit Navy fld. south of Nagoya – had nothing but dummies on it.
July 10th Tuesday
Down to line all day. Fighter Command briefing. Meeting of all pilots tonight. Saw “Without Love” with Spencer Tracy and K. Hepburn – very good.
Mission today postponed ‘til tomorrow. Down at line all day. Made out new schedule, worked with 4 new pilots.
July 12th Thursday
Down at line all morning. Worked on club all afternoon. Burned my hand and wrist staining walls with gas and tar mix.
July 13th Friday
Scheduled mission to Chi Chi. 462nd lost 2 planes.
July 14th Saturday
VLR mission aborted on account of weather. Premature club opening this afternoon – everyone pretty skonked. Wrote a long letter to Mag.
Sunday July 15th
Got to Church this morning. Scheduled VLR for tomorrow.