real history of the 39th Bomb Group begins at Smoky Hill Army
Air Field, Salina, Kansas on 12 April 1944. On that date, the
Group was activated as a very heavy bombardment unit to participate
in the then new B-29 Superfortress program.
reality this activation was a re-activation, for there had been
an old B-17 training Group called the 39th. However, records of
that organization are scanty and, not being a combat unit, it
bears little or no relationship to the "Fighting 39th," as the
Group is known by the men who were in it during the days when
it was helping to bomb Japan out of the war.
April and the early part of May 1944, personnel was being assigned
to the new Group in small numbers. A fourth Squadron, the 402nd,
was deactivated and the men in that outfit were assigned to the
other three Squadrons, the 60th. 61st, and 62nd.
15 May, orders were received to move the organization from Salina
to Dalhart, Texas, the "Pride of the Panhandle." It was from Dalhart
that almost all of the ground personnel and key flying personnel
were brought into the Group.
concentrated program of ground training was nearing completion
when Colonel Potter B. Paige, the Group's permanent commander,
came to Dalhart and assumed command on 15 June 1944. Four days
later Lieutenant Colonel Frank P. Sturdivant was assigned to the
position of Deputy Group Commander.
rolled along at Dalhart for many weeks, with everybody sweating
out an imminent move back to Salina where flying training was
to take place. Actually, it was not until well into August and
September that most of the Group managed to get to Smoky Hill.
it was found that the 499th Bomb Group still held the field for
training and that the 39th would have to wait until the 73rd Wing,
of which the 499th was a part, went overseas.
In the Meantime, the 39th was attached to the
499th, and the men of the former learned what they could from
the period of waiting, the lineup of personnel crystallized into
what was virtually its final and permanent form. The 60th Squadron
went under the command of Colonel Woodward B. Carpenter; Colonel
William J. Crumm took over the 61st, and Colonel Robert W. Strong
took the reins of the 62nd. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell Weir handled
the job of Group Executive and Lieutenant James H. Thompson directed
things from the Operations Officer's chair.
the first of July, a large contingent of officers and enlisted
men from the 39th went to the Army Air Forces School of Applied
Tactics at Orlando, Florida, for thirty days' training in B-29
long last, in October, came the eagerly awaited departure of the
499th Group for its overseas station at Saipan. The leaving of
this organization meant that Smoky Hill was now clear, and that
all facilities could be devoted to the job of training the 39th
for the time when it, too, would be assigned to an operational
base in the Pacific.
training under the direction of Colonel Thompson picked up again,
and class after class of ground school instruction began for all
men of the unit. Overnight bivouacs, designed to prepare the men
for field conditions, were conducted, and finally the acetate
and the grease pencils showed that everyone was trained and ready
to go into combat operations.
final phase of flying training began on 15 January when units
of the air and flight echelons went to Batista Field, Cuba for
flying and bombing training. With the completion of this work,
the Group could consider itself ready to combat, and, indeed,
on 8 January 1945, the ground echelon left Salina for the Port
of Embarkation at Seattle, Washington, where it would board the
S. S. Howell Lykes for an ultimate destination at North Field,
Howell Lykes left Seattle on 18 January and one month later arrived
at Guam. Many were the tales of life aboard an Army transport
as told by the men of the ground echelon - the enlivening of the
long voyage by a stop at Pearl Harbor, and the enjoyment of the
songs and patter of Danny O'Halloran.
the meantime, the flight echelon had returned from Cuba and the
Group was in the last stages of preparation for the ferrying of
personnel and the new flyaway B-29s to the Marianna’s base.
after the event took place, Colonel Paige was succeeded as Group
Commander by Colonel John G. Fowler, who had returned from Guam,
where he was Deputy Commander of the 314th Wing. His job was to
take the 39th overseas.
toward the latter part of March, the airplanes of the organization
began their departure from Smoky Hill, and, after processing at
Herington, Kansas, set out for the west coast and the long flight
over the Pacific to Guam and whatever might lie ahead. The members
of the air echelon went by train to San Francisco and thence by
Air Transport to Guam.
was over. The real thing was at hand. To paraphrase Colonel Thompson
just a bit, "Men, this is it!"