The following is the text of the speech given by Jim Timmons
Vice President of the 317th Veterans Group at Pope AFB, NC
on 30 Sept.2005 at the ceremony honoring 317th WWII Veterans.
A Brief History of the WW2 Jungle Skippers
Good Morning. It's my pleasure to share with you this morning a small portion of the history of the WW2 Jungle Skippers.
The Jungle Skippers were the squadrons of the 317th Troop Carrier Group. They were the 39th , 40th , 41st, and 46th Troop Carrier Squadrons. They served in the South Pacific Theater of operations under the 5th Air Force commanded by General George Kenny. The squadrons were activated at Duncan Field, Texas in Feb. 1942. They trained at Army airfields across the United States . This included training in troop drop operations at Lawson Field in Ft. Benning , GA. and glider towing training at Grenada , Mississippi . After completion of training they were deployed to Townsville , Australia in Jan. of 1943. They went right to work flying troops and supplies from Australia to Port Moresby , New Guinea . Their baptism of fire came that same month in New Guinea . The Australians were desperately trying to hold on to a vital airstrip at Wau. The Japanese were close to over running the Aussies. The 317th flew in much needed reinforcements, ammunition and artillery. The Wau airstrip was a difficult airstrip to land on even without a battle going on. The strip was uphill; it rose one foot for every twelve feet. To make matters worse there was a crescent shaped mountain at the end of the runway making a last minute go around impossible. Despite this, over sixty landings were made on that first day. There was machine gun and sniper fire at the first aircraft in, and the reinforcements left the planes with their guns firing to silence the Japanese guns. The battle for Wau was won and the Japanese were pushed further back into the jungle.
The 317th moved from Townsville to Port Morsby in Oct. of 1943 to be closer to the front. New Guinea is just a few degrees below the equator . The climate was hot, humid and often rainy. Mosquitoes were everywhere and there was always a danger of malaria. Japan had cut off the sources of quinine used to treat the disease, so a synthetic form of quinine was used. It was a drug called Atabrine. The bitter tasting little yellow pill when taken every day would prevent malaria. There was one side effect however; the drug would turn the skin yellow. The WWII Vets tell me you could always tell the new replacements by their pale white skin. The medics could tell if you weren't taking your daily pill if your yellow hue started to fade.
One of the many hazards the Jungle Skippers faced were the obsolete charts for New Guinea . Much of the jungle was still unexplored and some of the charts showed mountain ranges lower than their actual elevation. The Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea had peaks rising to over 13,000 feet. They were often cloud covered and more than one pilot shouted: “There are rocks in them clouds!” after having a close call. The squadrons began to draw their own trip maps marking the hazards and landmarks. They shared this information with each other and learned from one another. On the patch of the 317 th Troop Carrier Group are the words “I Gain by Hazard”. Each hazard they faced brought them more experience and expertise. Their crest shows a fist being put to the fire and speaks of their baptism of fire their first month in the Pacific.
From Port Morsby the Jungle Skippers moved to Finchhafen and then to Hollandia , New Guinea as the Japanese were pushed out of New Guinea . General McArthur had his eye on the Philippines and the Jungle Skippers would have a part in his return. They towed gliders and dropped paratroopers at Leyte in the Philippines . It was the 503rd Parachute Regiment airdropped by the Jungle Skippers that secured Corregidor and led to the opening of Manila Bay .
In August of 1945, after the two atom bombs were dropped on Japan , the Japanese agreed to surrender. When word of this reached Allied Headquarters, arrangements were made to establish a secure communications link with Japan and set up the formal surrender. This surrender would take place in Tokyo Bay on the battleship Missouri in Sept. of 1945, sixty years ago this month. Six C-47 Jungle Skippers from the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron flew the communications equipment from Okinawa to Japan to establish this communications link to Allied Headquarters. They were the first American aircraft to land in Japan since the war began.
Three Squadrons of the Jungle Skippers are still active today. The 46th was deactivated after the Korean War. The patches of the three remaining squadrons all speak of their experience in the Pacific during WWII.
The 39th Troop Carrier Squadron, today's 39th Airlift Squadron, are called the “Trailblazers”. Their patch displays a pioneer's covered wagon. Some of the WWII airstrips were little more than grass clearings in the jungle or a hastily repaired captured airstrip. The first plane in was said to have pioneered the airstrip, and that pilot would share what he learned about the airstrip with the other flyers.
The 40th Troop Carrier Squadron, today's 40th Airlift Squadron, are called the “Screaming Eagles”. Their patch displays a diving eagle carrying a soldier firing a rifle. This goes back to that day at Wau , when those soldiers left their planes firing their weapons.
The 41st Troop Carrier Squadron, today's 41st Airlift Squadron, are called the “Black Cats”. Their patch displays a black cat carrying a kitten. Their name comes from the Black Cat Trail in New Guinea which they flew over so many times in support of the forward airfields. That kitten, secure in the black cats mouth, represents a WWII two year safety record set by the 41st . From Feb. 1942 until Feb.1944, the 41st flew many hazardous missions without the loss of a single aircraft, passenger or crewmember. This is a real testimony to the skill of their pilots.
The name of the Jungle Skippers came about from a article written by a newspaper correspondent that was given a lift to the front lines on a 317th C-47. Forward airstrips were not very visible at altitude and were kept that way to protect them from attack. The 317th pilot was given the map coordinates which would put him in the area, but he would have to fly low, both to be less visible to the enemy and to spot the airstrip. After spotting the strip he would come in at treetop level to spot any obstacles and size up his approach. He would then line up and make his landing. When this particular correspondent wrote his article, he started it by writing “I caught a hop on one of the jungle skipping airplanes of the 317th Troop Carrier Group.” A copy of that article somehow reached Col. John Lackey the commander of the 317th . He liked the term and soon the name “Jungle Skipper” began appearing on the fuselage of 317th squadron aircraft. The Jungle Skippers kept the troops supplied with all that was needed from bombs to toothbrushes. They earned a reputation for getting the job done.
Over the years since WWII, the Troop Carrier Squadrons became Airlift Squadrons, their aircraft have changed and their locations have changed but their reputation for getting the job done has not. We veterans are proud of what the Troop Carriers have accomplished in the past and of what the Airlift Squadrons are doing today. We share a rich heritage we can all be proud of.