U.S.ARMY AIR CORPS,
5TH AIR FORCE,
43RD BOMB GROUP,
63RD BOMB SQUADRON
INTERVIEW BY JOHNNIE FAYE TAYLOR
Albert is the son of Ira Thomas Garnto and Laura Martin Garnto. He was born and raised in the Brewton Community of Laurens County, Georgia.
On December 7, 1941, Albert was at home on the family farm with his family when he heard the radio announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He and his family followed the news closely, as more details became available. Albert returned to school the next day and continued with his high school education.
He graduated from the Brewton School in 1942. Albert worked locally for about a year and one half. It was evident by then that some type of military service was in his future.
Albert was drafted into the Army Air Corps in July 1943. He was inducted at Fort MacPherson, Georgia. After his processing was completed at Fort MacPherson, Albert was sent to the Greensboro, North Carolina BTC #10 for Basic Training. This training lasted about 13 weeks. Albert had never wanted to be anything but a gunner in the Army. However, he was given an aptitude test to see if he had any ability for work in another area.
The Army Air Corps decided to send Albert to a Mechanics School at Keesler Field, Mississippi. Upon completion of the Mechanics School, Albert was qualified as a flight engineer on the B-24 airplane. One week of the Mechanics School was spent in a wooded area in Southern Mississippi. Albert learned there to work on B-24 airplanes in less than perfect conditions. A plane had been placed there as if it had had trouble that could be repaired to get the airplane flying again.
The men slept in tents while training in the woods. This was the only time Albert was assigned to an area without barracks.
Further training took place at the Gunnery School in Fort Myers, Florida. Albert was ordered to Lincoln, Nebraska at the end of the school in Fort Meyers. He was given a delay en route so he could visit his family in Dublin, Georgia.
Albert enjoyed his visit home. He met Janice Linder who was still in high school at the time. They enjoyed each other's company during Albert's leave. By the end of Albert's time at home, the young couple was sure they wanted the friendship to continue. They promised to write to each other after Albert got to his next assignment.
When Albert reached Lincoln, Nebraska, he was assigned to a flight crew on a B-24 airplane. Flight crews on the B-24 consisted of ten people. His position was turret gunner/flight engineer. Albert's crew did some training together in Lincoln on the B-24 bomber. They were then ordered to report to Casper, Wyoming for more training. The majority of the crew training took place in Wyoming. Training flights were frequent as each member of the crew learned their particular positions and how to work well with each other.
Normally crews were sent overseas after Crew Training. The authorities decided to keep Albert's crew in the States a little longer so they could attend Radar School. The crew was ordered to Langley Air Field, Virginia for that school. Albert's crew learned to use radar to locate targets and to accurately bomb the targets. Upon completion of the Radar School, the crew received their overseas orders.
They went to California and then on to New Guinea. Rumors had them believing they would be in New Guinea for awhile. This proved to be wrong when they were awakened at 4 AM the day after they had arrived on the island. Albert and the other members of his crew had breakfast, gathered their bags and left for Clark Field in the Philippines.
The men were assigned to tents when they arrived in the Philippines. The tents housed six men each. There was not quite enough room to house all the enlisted men on Albert's flight crew in one tent so one member of the crew was assigned to another tent.
Albert's crew found out when they arrived at Clark Field that they would be doing long- range missions through the night hours. It was nearing the end of the war by then and the Japanese were mostly moving about at night. They were told that weather would not be a factor. Missions would be flown regardless of the weather.
On missions that Albert's crew flew from Clark Field, they used radar in their hunt for Japanese ships in the mouth of the Yangtze River near Shanghai, China. When they couldn't find ships, they were told to bomb docks and air fields that the Japanese were using. The missions were 16 to 19 hours long because of the distance between the Philippines and China. In addition to the round trip flight, time was spent searching for targets after they reached the search area.
Their B-24 was always loaded with one half the bomb bay in four 500-pound bombs and the other half with two 500-gallon containers of gas. The gas was necessary because the airplane's tanks could not hold enough gas for the many hours of the mission's duration.
Albert remembers the gas gauge on the airplane nearly always was on empty when they returned to Clark Field. The large amount of gas carried on missions and added to the tanks en route still was not enough to ease the concern of the crew members. They were never really sure they would make it back to the Air Field. The term 'coming in on a wing and a prayer' fit their situation.
Food for the long flights was rations known as ten in one. This was a gallon can filled with ten items. Included were several kinds of food, a candy bar and a pack of cigarettes.
Flight crews were scheduled for a mission every three days. Albert recalls returning to Clark Field, going through a debriefing session, then getting some hot food and rest. The remainder of time between missions, training continued for the crews.
Albert's fifth mission took place on June 12, 1945. The normal ten-man crew had an additional man added for that particular mission. The added man had missed some of his crew's missions due to illness and wanted to fly with Albert's crew to make up one of those missed missions. His request was approved. The radio operator was told to stay on the radio as much as possible during the flight. The added crew member could take over other duties normally performed by the radio operator. The flight crew left Clark Field as they usually did on their missions, about the middle of the afternoon.
During the night at about 3 AM, the radar man picked up a ship on the radar screen. The crew dropped flares to see the size of the ship. (Since it was dark, this was the only way to determine the size.) They discovered the ship was large enough to bomb so the pilot made the turn and was on the bomb run at 150 feet off the surface of the water when the radar man gave a change in heading.
All of a sudden, they crashed into the river. The airplane had obviously been shot down. The B-24 broke into two pieces just aft of the wings. Albert was still in the turret in the front part of the plane when it hit the Yangtze River. He managed to find his way out of the airplane. Albert found the radio operator, Marvin Nester, sitting in a life raft Marvin's position was towards the rear of the plane. Albert remembers vividly the sight of Marvin in the raft and the look on Marvin's face as if to say ' what took you so long'. Marvin pulled Albert in to the raft.
Daniel Redman was the radar man on the flight crew. His position on the plane was towards the front. Albert and Daniel didn't come in contact with each other leaving the plane or in the water after they exited the wreckage. However, Marvin and Albert heard Daniel asking for help. They dragged him over the edge of the raft to get him out of the water.
The three men were reasonably sure at this point that they were the only survivors of the crash. The other eight men on the airplane had died on impact. The loss was heavy. All the men on the flight crew were young men. The oldest was 22 years old. Albert was only about 20 years old at the time.
After taking stock of the situation, the most injured man was Daniel Redman. Marvin was in pretty good shape and Albert had a cut on his back and several smaller lacerations.
Albert used his pocketknife to cut the rope holding the raft to the wreckage. They had to leave the area as soon as possible to prevent being picked up by the Japanese.
They did not find the oars in the raft nor any other way to quickly get the raft to the shore. Eventually, the raft did drift to the shore, which was about 100 yards from the wreckage.
The last time the men looked back towards the wreckage, they could see only part of the left wing. It was sticking up out of the water about eight to ten feet.
The men saw a fire out across the water but didn't know what was burning. They were all hoping it was the ship they were in the process of bombing at the time of the crash. They knew the bombardier had the bomb ready but were never sure it had been discharged from the bomb bay.
It was about 3:30 AM. The Chinese in the countryside along the river were just beginning to rouse and begin moving about. No doubt, the noise of the crash had disturbed their sleep. Albert and the other two Americans knew they needed to get away from the river where the Japanese would be looking for them.
The survivors tried to walk inland a little way but had a lot of trouble walking in the dark, boggy, rice paddy area. They decided they needed to wait until they could better see were they were trying to walk. Some Chinese men came up to see what was going on.
The Chinese argued about whether to help Albert and his friends or whether to turn them over to the Japanese. Albert recalls one of the Chinese men put up a strong argument to turn them over to the Japanese. In the end, it was decided that the Chinese would assist the Americans and escort them to the Chinese Communist Army.
Albert, Marvin and Daniel were taken to a shack near the shore where it was thought they would be safe. Albert left the shack before daylight and went back to the shore to try to destroy the raft. He checked to see if there was anything in the raft that might be of some use to the three survivors.
There were several canned goods in the raft that Albert thought might be useful to the men. During the process of removing the cans from the raft and putting them in his coverall pockets, one can accidentally opened. Albert threw the can out into the water. It turned out to be sea marker solution. This was not good! The Japanese were already looking for the men and this would help them locate the Americans. Albert quickly cut the raft in several places but it wouldn't sink. Nothing seemed to be going right that night.
The Chinese took Daniel Redman to get some medical care. Daniel's wounds were bad and the medical care was necessary. Albert and Marvin hated to see him go but had no choice but to trust the Chinese.
Albert and Marvin hid out in a ditch the first day. The two men were very alert to sounds they heard while hiding out. It was difficult to distinguish what was making the noise. Everything was so foreign to the very alert men. Albert and Marvin began walking at night with the assistance of the natives. They were able to put a little distance between themselves and the river.
Albert remembers crawling up under a bush with Marvin when they had to stop and rest one day. The men were weak and suffering from the crash. Traveling by foot was difficult for them.
A Chinese civilian came up to the walking group. Albert and Marvin's Chinese protectors told the civilian they needed wheelbarrows to get the men into the village. The civilian returned later with two men and two wheelbarrows. Albert and Marvin rode to the village in those wheelbarrows.
When Albert saw the wheelbarrows, he knew immediately what the sound was that he had heard during the early morning hours just after the crash. The wooden wheelbarrows had wooden axles and wooden wheels. They made a very distinct sound as they rolled along.
The Chinese told Albert and his American friends that the Japanese had found the crash site and the airplane. They reported to the survivors that the Japanese had used their swords to mutilate the bodies of the dead men. Also Albert was told the Japanese had been chasing the survivors since the crash. That's why it was necessary for the Chinese to be so protective of the Americans.
Albert and Marvin were turned over to the Chinese Communist Guerrilla Army in the village. It was determined that the first thing the American men needed was clothes. The Army Air Corps Coveralls they were wearing just would not do. Nor would the Army issue shoes. Albert and Marvin were given Chinese gowns to wear the first day while the Communist had Chinese Communist uniforms made for the men. They were also given Chinese slippers to wear. The American shoes left an imprint and would have made tracking them too easy. The coveralls they were wearing when they crashed also made them look very different and easy to spot.
Daniel Redman was taken to the village Communist Army Headquarters. He had received good medical treatment and appeared to be fit enough for travel.
After leaving the village, Albert, Marvin and Daniel continued to walk at night further into the interior of China. They traveled in the company of Communist Army troops who acted as escorts and protectors. It was monsoon season and very wet. They were told they couldn't call for help because of the Japanese. Everything possible was being done by the Chinese to see that Albert and his friends were kept safe until they could be delivered to American authorities.
The Chinese slippers made walking difficult. The terrain was uneven in some places. The American made shoes they had to give up back at the headquarters building had good support and were made for long distance walking. The slippers were missing the comfort feature the other shoes would have provided.
Albert recalls their diet consisted solely of rice at this time. The only variation being sometimes the rice was soupy and sometimes it was dry.
When the group came upon a Chinese Communist Army Headquarters along the way, the Americans were invited to eat with the officers. The food was good and a welcome change from the 'rice only' diet they had to eat on their walking journey.
At one of the headquarters where they stopped, Albert was sitting next to a Chinese Colonel at dinner. The Colonel had a bad arm however; he could still handle chopsticks well. He picked up an egg with the chopsticks and told Albert, who had just eaten one of the eggs, that he believed the those eggs were called rotten eggs in the United States. Albert hadn't noticed the egg tasting bad. In fact, he thought it tasted okay. He knew then that it was one of the eggs that were 100 years old which had been stored in mud. Albert had heard of those eggs and was aware that they were a real delicacy in China
A Chinese junk (boat) was located and the Americans were transported for some distance on water. The junk would be grounded sometimes for what seemed like a week to Albert. As the water rose, the sails were put up and the junk would travel a little further.
This was some help to the Americans but further walking was still in store for them.
Most of the Chinese people in the countryside where they traveled and also in the small villages had never before seen foreigners. The three American men caused quite a stir along the way. The natives would line up along the road to see them as they passed. They stared at Albert, Marvin and Daniel. Sometimes they got so close it appeared the men would suffocate there was so many of them.
Occasionally, someone would pull the hair on Albert's arm. The Chinese people didn't grow hair like the Americans. They found it strange and wanted to know how it felt to touch the hair.
Mosquitoes were a constant problem for Albert, Marvin and Daniel. Albert remembers sleeping with his socks on trying to prevent more bites. That didn't work. The mosquitoes bit him through the socks. Albert also recalls one location where they stayed a night or two when mosquito netting was provided for them. Mosquitoes came through the netting and bit Albert badly during the night. The next morning the mosquitoes were still inside the netting. They were so full of Albert's blood that they had become too fat to get back through the netting. He recalls killing hundreds of the insects that morning with his hands. Blood splattered everywhere.
Due to the mosquito bites, Albert contracted Malaria. He was very weak and sick. He also suffered constantly with Dysentery. When he became too weak to walk, a litter was built for him. Four men carried Albert on the litter for three or four days. When the Dysentery hit him, the men stopped to let him off. He was too weak to get up so he rolled off the litter onto the ground and rolled back on again when they could move on.
Albert's health improved some and he was getting stronger. He walked along with his friends always hoping to be rescued by some Americans.
Water was another big problem for the men. The drinking water came from streams, rivers or wherever it could be found. The water was always boiled before drinking it. Storage of the boiled water was in thermos type containers. It didn't seem to make any difference how poor some of the people were, they always had the thermos type containers for their water. The boiled water was never allowed to cool. Albert remembers one time he poured some water into a small bowl so it could cool. As soon as one of the Chinese men saw the water in the bowl, he threw it on the ground.
One day, Albert and the other survivors heard that the war was over. He and his friends hoped to be picked up then. They were told that no call could go through to American authorities yet. The Chinese Communist Army and the Japanese were still fighting. The Japanese refused to surrender to the Communist.
The United States flew some Chinese Nationalists troops from the center of China to the eastern part of the country. This was an effort to get the Japanese to surrender to a different Chinese Army if they would not surrender to the Communist Army.
The Chinese Communist Army protectors of Albert, Marvin and Daniel were successful in getting the men safely to a river directly across from Chinese Nationalist Army Camp. Two Nationalist Army men came across the river where Albert, Marvin and Daniel were turned over to them for the final part of their journey.
There was a feeling of distrust between the two very different Chinese Armies. Pictures were taken of the American survivors to prove that they were alive at the time of the transfer. The Communist Army personnel feared the Nationalist Army would harm the Americans and put the blame on them.
Albert recalls other photos were made of the men with the black box type camera that was owned by the Communists. The photos were very small. Separate photos were made of each one of the Americans and also a group photo was taken to the three men.
Albert and his American companions had, by this time, traveled for about two months and three weeks. As bad as the situation was and had been since the plane crash, Albert is thankful that at least some of the Chinese knew how to speak English. One of the men had a British grandfather and spoke really good English. It was helpful to have someone to tell him what was going on in words he could understand.
The Nationalist Army had uniforms made for the Americans like the ones they were wearing. The men were allowed to keep the Communist Army uniforms they had been wearing since they arrived at the first Chinese village.
The Nationalist Army had some young boys with hand clippers who cut their hair. The young boys working reminded Albert of the shoe shine boys back in the States. Albert decided to get a hair cut and also to have his beard cut off. The young boy cut his hair but didn't want to cut Albert's beard. Albert took the clippers and made a swipe through his beard. The boy smiled, took the clippers and cut the beard off. Albert had more of a beard than the other two Americans did. One of the men just had a few whiskers on his chin; the other man had almost no facial hair. Because of the beard, the Chinese thought Albert was much older than he really was.
More walking was necessary. Conditions did not improve as far as walking, sleeping, food, water and mosquitoes.
Albert walked about ten more days with the Nationalists before reaching a small village.
The airplane crash survivors had been hiding out from the Japanese, walking and using the other primitive forms of transportation for three months and three days in their pursuit to get rescued by American authorities.
In the village were six more Americans. There were three weathermen and three OSS agents. All of the Americans stayed there together for about three more days. An airplane came in and landed in a pasture. It was there to pick up the weathermen. All of the Americans left together on that plane. They were taken to Shanghai.
Marvin and Daniel were assigned to a hotel until further arrangements could be made for them.
The Malaria was still causing Albert to feel ill. He was taken to a hospital ship for treatment. One day the doctor gave Albert permission to go to town for the afternoon with Marvin. He began to feel worse and had to be returned to the hospital ship. Treatment at that time for Malaria was a drug named Atabrine. After a few days of treatment, Albert felt well enough to move on but he had no papers.
Albert's records had been lost while he was in China. New papers (of a sort) were made out for him. They had to have something for Albert to sign before he could be released from the hospital ship.
When he was ready to leave the hospital ship, he was taken to out to the street where a rickshaw was hailed for him. The man who had escorted Albert to the street gave directions, which included 'just go until you see the American flag.' You will then be at the correct building.
As Albert entered the building, the first people he saw were Marvin and Daniel. They were there to check on transport back to the States.
Albert was flown back to the United States on an Air Force Transport plane. In California, he changed to a train for his return to Fort MacPherson, Georgia. Albert was given leave for 30 days and also given orders to report after his leave to Greensboro, North Carolina for reassignment.
When Albert got home, his family was glad to see him. They had a happy family reunion. The family and Albert's friends had thought for several months that they would never get to see him again. It was a joyous time for everybody.
Albert reported to the Air Field at Greensboro, North Carolina as ordered. When Albert went to the barracks he was assigned to for the night, he discovered someone he had known at Clark Field in the Philippines. The man recognized Albert immediately.
Instead of being reassigned in Greensboro as his orders indicated, Albert was told he was being discharged. He was discharged on January 15,1946.
Albert's heroic service was awarded with a Purple Heart, the World War II Victory Ribbon, American Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal with three Bronze Stars.
Malaria continued to be a problem. Albert suffered about seven more bouts of the disease after he returned home. He went to the Navy (now V.A.) Hospital in Dublin, Georgia for treatment. The treatment he received there was only a temporary relief from the illness. Eventually, he went to Dr. Fred Coleman who was a private physician in Dublin for treatment. Dr. Coleman prescribed the drug, Quinine. The disease that had troubled Albert for one and one half years after his military discharge seemed to be finally cleared up. The Quinine had finally worked.
During Albert's long convalescence from the Malaria, he had lots of time for thinking. He came to the conclusion that the Chinese Communist treated the civilians better than the Nationalist treated civilians. This was based on his time with both groups and the actions he witnessed. It became obvious to him that even though he doesn't believe in Communism, he could better understand how the Communist got such a hold on the country of China.
Albert's health improved enough for him to begin thinking about his future. He applied for and got a job at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. Albert started to work as a mechanic.
Janice Linder had become very important to Albert. They dated for several years before their marriage on May 6, 1951. Three daughters were born to the couple during the years that followed. Jan Garnto Beaumel and Lisa Garnto Walker live in Dublin with their families. Albert and Janice's daughter, Bonnie Garnto James now lives in Tennessee.
Albert's ability and work ethics on the job were recognized and appreciated. He was promoted to Aircraft Management Technician in charge of the airplane mechanics. The last 15 years of his career were spent as a Manager in charge of maintenance for the Air Force Bases' C-130 airplanes.
Bad health forced Albert to retire in 1978. He suffered a heart attack that year. Stomach problems that started after his World War II plane crashed in the Yangtze River continue to plague him.
Marvin and Albert talk to each other on the telephone and visit together about twice a year. Their friendship in the Army Air Corps and the long ordeal of being rescued after the plane crash has made each one of them important to the other. They always talk to each other on the telephone every year on June 12th which is the anniversary of their B-24 plane crash during World War II.
Albert and Janice are members of the Jefferson Street Baptist Church in Dublin. He has enjoyed woodworking in the past. Yard work provides exercise and activity for Albert. Sometimes a grandson helps with the yard chores. Albert also enjoys fishing.