(Note: Howard wrote his combat diary in the form of a series of letters to his wife, which explains why I refer to this entry as a diary when it takes the ostensible form of a letter) 30th BS/19th BG (later 64/43)
10/29/42 Loss of B-17E "Clown House" 41-9235
“My Darling Wife, You have no idea how close to came to being a widow instead of a wife. I shall start from the beginning: Tues. night (27th) we ran a mission to Rabaul with ships in the Harbor as our target. Searchlights covered us as well as ack-ack but we scored a hit. Got a hole in the ship by no. 2 engine but no damage.We slept a little on Wednesday and that night went out for ships in Tonlia [Tonolei?] harbor in the Solomons. We took off at 8 pm with a bomb bay tank of gas plus a normal gas load (2100 gals total) and 4 – 500 lb. bombs. At one am Thurs. Oct 29 we had not found our target so dropped our bombs and started back to Port Moresby. Our maps were poor and navigator’s watch was broken so we could not use celestial navigation. At about 5 am we were lost at sea. Try as we did to communicate with Port Moresby, Mareeba, and Townsville. We had little success but finally got a heading for Townsville. Knowing that our gas supply could not take us in we told them we were going down at sea hoping that they would be able to find us. At 7 am Major Lindbergh made a remarkably good sea landing and we climbed out of the radio hatch and got our rubber boats out into the water along with some water, flares, emergency kit, etc. Although the Major had tried to set the ship in shallow water over a reef it went off the reef and sunk in about 2 minutes. There we were, 9 men in two rubber boats with no idea where we were. We latched the boats together and started rowing for an island that we could see in the distance. About one pm we could tell that we ere getting closer but by 6 pm we were farther away due to wind and waves being against us. Sharks were waiting like vultures for someone to go overboard. We tried a makeshift sail with little success. Darkness and despair soon overtook us although we never stopped rowing. We fired flares but never a sign of plane or ship. My faith in God played a part. I told Him that if He would save me that I would never forget it and would try to prove myself worth living. Everyone was about exhausted and could hardly keep awake. We were soaking and cold. The waves were 8 ft. high and the wind strong. We had eaten a little emergency ration chocolate and drunk no water. Fighting to keep awake was terrible but we were afraid that if we quit rowing we would be swamped by the waves or drift out to sea. At about midnight we saw a light in the north and it was like a shot in the arm. We rowed frantically for it and at 3 am on the 30th we washed upon a coral reef. It was solid and not under water so we were happy. The lights were, as we could now tell, light houses along the great barrier reef. In the moonlight we could make out an island in the direction of the lights but decided to wait until daylight before attempting to make it. Cold, wet, hungry but happy we stood on the reef to await daylight. We opened our emergency kit for a little canned food and found that in the way of food it contained 3 large cans of tomato juice—nothing more. We drank one can, ate some more chocolate and took our first drink of water. At daylight we found that we could wade to the island so we took our boats over there. It was about 200 yards wide and 1/2 mile long with sand and a little brush on it. Our good fortune was still with us. There were two sail boats of about 60 ft. there. Not entirely certain of our location or whether we were in friendly or enemy territory, we went over bto where the boats were and saw only black aboard. We called to them and after looking us over for ten minutes with much discussion among themselves one rowed to the beach and spoke fair English. We asked where we were and they said, “Pelicans Island.” We asked where Townsville was and pointing south he said, “Long way.” Cairns and Cooktown brought the same reply. We asked if they would take us to Australia so he went to talk to the captain who said that he would take us to Portland, “Plenty Americans, big aerodrome. The 43rd Group is based at iron Range just 20 miles from there and Lt. Josh Barnes who was with us for experience is from there. We boarded their boats taking their rubber boats with us and sailed. They asked if we had any “kai kai” which turned out to be food and when we said no they made hot tea for us, gave us “dumpa” (bread) jelly and baked fish. It was delicious, no kidding. We sailed for 13 hours to reach Portland and the mainland. We were taken to Iron Range where we were treated like kings. Fed delicious steaks and put to bed. My prayers were answered and I took time out to thank God. The next morning we were flow back to Mareeba. The boys had been searching the entire coastline since five pm on the 29th—when they first learned we were missing. A mixup on call letters with a Catalina who said they were o.k. so we were supposed to be safe until they discovered the mixup."