Tucked away in the confining space of a rear-gun turret on the mega-sized B-29 Superfortress was 18-year-old Harold Shockley Sr. Little did the Hamilton resident (who’s fast approaching his 92nd birthday) know then that in addition to WWII, he would go on to serve for many years through the Korean War, the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
Shockley was born and raised in Antelope near Jacksboro during his first 10 years. Growing up, his family never had a problem during the Great Depression. The family had a garden, orchard, pigs and calves — “Mama had a big pressure cooker,” he added — and a big cellar with all kinds of food.
When he was 10, Shockley moved to Montague, near Bowie, and graduated from high school there.
In 1943, Shockley was drafted into the Army Air Corps and sent for training to Fort Wolters, Sheppard Field and, lastly, Harlingen to aerial gunnery school. Assigned to the 444th Bomb Group, he was a part of Superfortress fleet that served in the Pacific Theater and helped to turn the tide of the war against the Japanese.
When Shockley entered the action, the Japanese had captured Singapore and were repairing ships from a floating British drydock.
“They had captured just about everything north of Australia,” he said.
The plane was called “Kitty Blue Eyes,” named after the girlfriend of a fellow crew member from Wisconsin. The crew member flew with another crew and had bailed out over Japan, where angry local citizens killed him.
India was the first destination for Shockley and the other 10 crew members. They flew missions to Burma, Singapore and over the Hump (Himalayan Mountains) in the China-Burma-India theater. They also flew several missions to Taiwan and were on the South Field of Tinian Island, while the Enola Gay that carried the atomic bombs dropped on Japan was on the North Field.
In the B-29, modern advances at the time allowed the guns to be fired by remote control separately from the turret guns itself— all except the tail gunner’s turret, where Shockley sat with his guns. “It was like sitting in a chair with windows all around you,” he said.
“It was really exciting because we felt like we were really doing something to help out the war effort,” Shockley said.
Although he did find the fighting and missions exciting — he once shot down an enemy plane — there were tough times, as well.
They were living in adobe huts with thatched roofs and no fan, and Shockley said the noon temperature could be as high as 120 degrees. They would go in to ready the plane for the next mission, but could only stay for about five minutes at a time. Because the air was so dry, they flew at night.
“When I was in India, it was so hot there. I was just a kid. I remember I cried; I kept it very secret because I didn’t want anyone to know I was homesick,” Shockley said. “We were all just kids during WWII.”
There were other grueling moments for him, such as the time the plane was caught in search lights and a Japanese fighter came in firing. Bullets pierced the plane and hit a piece of plywood, embedding splinters in his legs. He earned a Purple Heart.
Then there was his longest flight: 20 hours and 15 minutes. They flew to Singapore to drop mines in the harbor but there was a malfunction in the bomb releases. They circled the target three times but still couldn’t get them to release the bombs. “So, we had to take them out to deep sea and salvo them out there,” he said.
Shockley’s last mission was also an exciting one. Hundreds B-29s flew circles around the USS Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay in a show of force and in celebration on V-J Day, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur was present when the Japanese surrendered.
“It really was a celebration for us,” Shockley said. “This was also my last mission. I could go home.”
In all, he flew 35 missions during World War II, earning not only the Purple Heart, but six Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Shockley left active duty with the Army Air Corps to attend Texas A&M University, where he earned his degree in civil engineering. He would later return to get his master’s degree.
Now, with a commission as a second lieutenant, he was ready for active duty and rejoined the Air Force just in time for the Korean War in 1950. But instead of a tail gunner, he was trained as a navigator.
That was just the beginning of a new career direction for Shockley.
Next week: Shockley’s military service takes him around the world and brings new adventures, including a wife.