23 December 1943
Pursuant to Special Orders 356, Fifth Air Force, left Port Moresby as passenger in Troop Carrier C-47 bound for Brisbane. Accompanied by the other pilots listed below. (We were all in the 25th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron at the time.)
Capt Fredrich E. McCoy
1st Lt Van N. Bachman
1st Lt Joe T. Copenhaver
1st Lt Wallace M. Danvers
1st Lt Walter G. Payne
2nd Lt Charles H. Huebsch
2nd Lt Thomas D. Robertson
Our mission was to pick up war-weary fighters at Brisbane and ferry them back up to Port Moresby.
After a refueling stop in Townsville, a short stop at Mackay and an overnight stop at Rockhampton, we finally arrived in Brisbane at 1300 on 24 December.
24 December 1943
The fighters lines up to be ferried to Port Moresby consisted of five P-38s, one P-39 aid one P-40. Capt. McCoy volunteered to take the P-40 as he had previous experience in that aircraft. I spoke for the P-39 (because I always wanted to fly one and the others agreed to the P-38s.
25 December 1943
As we were getting into our airplanes, a flight line attendant told me he noticed that my parachute didn't have a jungle pack. He said he had just repacked a parachute and replenished the jungle pack that had been turned in by a combat pilot on his way home and it was mine if I wanted it. I readily agreed to the exchange. (Why he chose me out of the seven I don't know, but that was MIRACLE NUMBER 1 that led to my survival.)
We left Brisbane at 0900 and landed at Rockhampton at 1030 to refuel. While there we enjoyed Christmas treats furnished by ladies of the Australian Amenities We then proceeded to Townsville, arriving at 1230 and decided to spend the night there.
26 December 1943
Upon arrival at the flight line, we noticed that my P-39 was surrounded by a pool of aviation gasoline. We were advised that the fuel selector valve was faulty and that it would take all day to repair. It was our decision that the others would fly north on the 26th and that the following day I would fly alone with refueling stops at Cooktown and Horn Island enroute to Port Moresby.
That night as I was sleeping on the porch of the Townsville Hotel with all my belongings in my room, someone took my billfold with what little cash I was carrying at the time.
27 December 1943
Departed Townsville at 0900 and landed at Cooktown at 1030. After refueling, took off at 1045. Flew along beach at low altitude enjoying every minute of it. Started getting hot in the cockpit so climbed to 10,000 feet over Shelbourne Bay to cool off. Had been flying on belly tank after takeoff. Following normal procedure, I was waiting for the engine to quit before switching to wing tank. The engine quit shortly after I reached 10,000 feet. Switched to right wing tank no response - then to left wing tank - still no response. Then I noticed that both wing tanks were empty - apparently the selector valve had failed again. Glided in till I was over the coast at about 5,000 feet then bailed out. The P-39 came down in a big cloud of dust and I landed at the edge of a sand dune at high noon. Made my way through some dense underbrush and mangrove forest to the beach. It was a beautiful beach, a beautiful day and there was a nice fresh water stream nearby so I was counting my blessings and deciding what to do next. When I bailed out I took the wrong map - the one that covered the area south of me. I wasn't going that direction because I had seen that area and I didn't remember seeing anything that looked promising. Not knowing what lay to the north, I decided to go that direction after a short rest. While resting, I noticed what appeared to be a man-made object protruding from the sand. I dug it up and it turned out to be a waterproofed can of U.S. Navy rations (MIRACLE NUMBER 2).
28 - 29 December 1943
Walked north along the beach. Passed a wrecked P-39 not far north of mine. Toward the end of the day on the 29th I heard voices and I turned around to see people shouting and running toward me. At first I thought they might be Japanese, but as they came closer I saw their broad brimmed hats and realized they were Aussie soldiers -- about six in number. They told me that they were in training near Cape York and that their unit had received word that an American pilot was missing in the area. Their commanding officer had a dream (MIRACLE NUMBER 3) that I had come down near Ried Point and had sent a couple of truck loads of his soldiers to a small lake as close to Ried Point as the trucks could get. The small group that found me had hiked across the hills, coming to the beach a short time after I had passed going north. They saw my footprints in the wet sand (it was low tide). Their plan was to go south the following morning so they would have missed me if they hadn't arrived before the tide came in (MIRACLE NUMBER 4). We spent the night of the 29th on the beach. I remember the group leader talking about life in Tokyo, of all places.
30 December 1943
We walked back over the hills to the temporary camp they had set up by the shore of the small lake. I remember the lake as being quite reddish in color. We enjoyed bathing in the lake in spite of its color.
31 December 1943
Rode in the back of one of the large Army trucks as it made its way along a primitive trail. There were places where the trucks were actually running over small trees. We finally reached the telegraph line and then headed north. The road along the telegraph line looked like a fine highway after the trail we were on. I was impressed by the huge ant hills. We reached their base camp late in the afternoon New Year's Eve. I'm not sure where the base camp was. I remember them mentioning Higgins strip and Somerset. In any event, it was near Cape York. The commanding officer assigned me to the space of an officer who was away at the time. He also assigned that officer's "batman" to wait on me. I had never heard of a batman before so I didn't know what to expect. I thought I should tip him and that's the only time I missed the billfold that had been stolen in Townsville. I couldn't believe the New Year's Eve celebration in the wilderness. The officers started with a fine dinner followed by a round of toasts - first to the King and then to each officer in the room, including me.
1 January 1944
About 0500, the only people left in the mess hall were the commanding officer, the leader of the group that picked me up and me. The commanding officer asked if there would be enough "perspeck" left in my plane to make a pair of souvenir wings. I replied that there should be. Whereupon he said that he would send a party down to salvage the windows of the plane within the next few days. He asked if I wanted to go along and I said, of course.
2 January 1944
Took boat to Thursday Island - visited commander there who had an airplane fly us down to spot my P-39 so that we could get bearings from a known point on the beach. Back at base, I remember the entertainment put on by the Australian Amenities. One of the features was an acrobatic act put on by two Shipway brothers -- the only time I have ever met another Shipway.
3 - 8 January 1944
Repeated the truck trip down to the reddish colored lake then walked down to my P-39. The Aussies got their perspeck and I burned the tech orders. Things I remembered about that trip:
1) the Aussies refused to wade across the streams when sharks were present. (I assured them that the sharks hadn't bothered me while I was alone, but then I didn't know what they were.) We had to build rafts to cross the first few streams. That was so time consuming that they finally decided to cross in two groups - one group to cover those wading with their rifles to scare away any sharks. on one of those crossings, I stopped midstream to remove my orders from my shirt pocket as the water was getting deeper with each step. That's when I felt something brush against my back. The Aussies on the edge of the stream told me that a 16 foot shark had suddenly appeared from the murky center and it was too close to me to shoot.
2) Quite religiously, the Aussies would stop, get their billies out and make tea. It was the most delicious tea I have ever tasted.
3) The young Aussies were quite expert at catching a fish they called a mullett.
9 January 1944
Found a ride from Higgins Strip to Horn Island arriving at 2000.
10 January 1944
Rode as passenger to Townsville with refueling stop at Iron Range.
12 January 1944
Rode as passenger from Townsville to Port Moresby with refueling stop at Cooktown. Left Townsville at 0600; arrived at Moresby at 1100.
Dick Shipway and his wife visited Australia in August 1993 visiting Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Ayers Rock, Cairns and 4 nights at the Cape York Wilderness Lodge. Dick seemed to think that the Wilderness Lodge was in the same location as the Australian soldiers that rescued him.