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Victor Grimes
5th Bomber Command
by Leslie Grimes, daughter

Of Magic doors there is this: They are never seen - even as we are passing through.
 
Click For EnlargementIt has been a quarter of a century and I still miss my Dad.  Several years ago I unearthed from my mother’s storage closet three large albums of material from World War II.  If I ever knew it was there, I had forgotten.  Now I spent hours and hours poring over photos and newspaper clippings.  I got out my magnifying glass and studied the photos.   My Dad had made his passage into “ the wild blue yonder” with out ever speaking of his 3 years in the Southwest Pacific.  All I knew was that he was a navigator on airplanes in WWII.  I knew this because he used to take us kids out star gazing and teach us about the constellations.  I also knew that he never wanted to go camping.

Looking at the photos of tented communities in New Guinea, I realized that my Dad “had camped”  literally for 3 years in the roughest of environments.  No wonder he was not interested in camping!     There was no doubt but that the period these photos covered was pivotal in the life of our nation and the world.  Certainly it was pivotal in my parents lives  - 3 years of war at the beginning of their marriage - a life together, but not together….  3 years for my mother of waiting and watching the newspapers for any scrap of information; carefully clipping the scraps in an effort to maintain some small degree of connection to the love of her life and a dream of “happily ever after”. 

5th Bomber Command Photo Album
Click photo for enlargement and caption.

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I wanted to know more about the man who had been my father.  What was his part in this great war that saved the world from tyranny and preserved the life style which we enjoy so much today, but which cost he and my mother 3 of the best years of their lives…. cost my father his health?  This question started me on a journey, a mission. 
 
If a picture is worth a thousand words, I should have had a lot of material, but I was having difficulty interpreting the language.  Aerial photos of  Gasmata, Balikpapan, Cape Gloucester, Lae, Mindoro, Wewak , Rapopo, Noumea, Finschhafen, Jefman, Huon Penninsula, Rabaul, meant nothing to me.  There were photos of groups of men, but they were mostly unidentified.  The meaning of these photos was a mystery.  I would have to become a detective in order to search out “the rest of the story”.  A blessed few of the photos did have names. I could try to locate them.  If I could no longer ask the questions of my Dad, I could ask them, the men in the photos.  Also, there were still veterans left who were assigned in the same area, who experienced a similar history and who surely had stories to tell.   Pictures of a specific crew or aircraft were conspicuously absent.  With other vets (especially air crews) when sharing information, specific planes, squadrons, crews, flight logs, were primary material.  My mother’s main recollection was that he had started the Air/Sea Rescue operations for the 5th Bomber Command.  Without flight log books, personnel records, specific squadron or Bomb Group information few could help me.  I would have to be a super sleuth in order to find a story.
 
What I already knew......
Victor W. Grimes, Jr. was my father’s name.  He grew up in Brooklyn’s Home for Boys…..not because his parents were dead, (that might have been more dramatic, more romantic), but because his parents did not live together and his mother was unable to  work and take care of he and his sisters.    His body bore the scars of having been severely burned - scalded when a nurse, caring a pan of boiling water for a steam tent to treat his pneumonia, tripped and spilled the water over his six year old body.  Fortunately, his arm was covering his sleeping face at the time.  He grew into a handsome young man who captained the church basketball team where he caught my mother’s eye.  She was 5 years younger than he was, but my mother’s mother was drawn to him, too, and set her sights on him as a son-in-law and husband for her only daughter.  When the war came he was attending New York’s City College at night, living with friends he had roomed with at the orphanage and dating my mother.  In June 1941 he was inducted into the Army where he was initially trained as a radio operator at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.  Later, he was fortunate enough to get into pilot flight training.  Trying to landing the plane 50 feet above the ground ( a problem related to poor depth perception) caused him to wash out of the pilot training and to be sent to navigation school..  When he finished B-26 training at Barksdale and Harding Fields, Louisana he was given a furlough before being sent overseas.    He returned to New York City to marry Mother in July of 1942  just weeks before he left to go overseas to the South Pacific.
 
What I learned......
The U.S.S. Mount Vernon left SanFrancisco Sept. 23, 1942 carrying several thousand sholdiers across the equator on Sept. 30, the International date line on Oct. 5 finally arriving in Sydney, Australia October 8.  The Australians, though happy to see them, were unprepared for this huge influx of American soldiers.  The only place large enough to accommodate them was the horse race track.  They slept in bunks, in stalls, wherever they could find a spot.  Later they traveled north up the coast by train and by truck to Townsville. 

Bustling chaos was the order of the day in Townsville.   It was a huge, sprawling tent city.  Veteran pilot Robert Jones recalls they were asked what type of aircraft the new pilots wanted to fly, fighters or bombers.  It was an unsettling question for the new recruits.  But the powers were just happy to see fliers of any type.  The answer to the question determined where the guys went next.  Jones chose bombers. Obviously fighters didn't use navigators.  Jones and my Dad were both sent to Reid River to the 2nd Squadron of the 22nd Bomb Group.  Robert Jones would eventually become the CO of the outfit, while my father after only a couple months was transferred to operations of the headquarters of the 5th Bomber Command.  Perhaps, his prior "signals" background had something to do with that.  5th Bomber Command moved it's headquarters to Port Moresby, New Guinea the first week of December 1942 which is documented by the group photo of General Walker and his staff among my Dad's photos. 
 
Quote from General Kenney in The MacArthur I know......
The average guy lost 15-30lbs within the first months he arrived in New Guinea.. They slept on army cots on an air mattress with mosquito netting.   There were slit trenches directly outside the tent into which they jumped to avoid shrapnel and injury from the frequent bombing strikes of Japanese Betty bombers.  The Japanese bombers couldn’t target much accurately from 20,000 feet so they essentially peppered the area just for nuisance value, hoping to hit something.  They didn’t usually do significant damage, but the runs did serve to jangle nerves and disrupt sleep.

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