by MSgt Joe M. Gardner, USAF (ret.)
This is a true story.
The Moonshine Raiders is the name of a WWII B-29 Super-Fortress and was assigned to the 331st Bomb Group of the 315th Bombardment Wing in the 20th Air Force at Northwest Field, Guam. This airplane, along with hundreds of other B-29s in the Marianas brought Japan to its knees. A few days after the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August of 1945; B-29s from the 315th BW started flying mercy missions over China, Manchuria and Japan; the mission was to drop food, medications, cloths and other supplies to the prisoners of war in Japanese POW death camps and to give those who survived their captivity hope. This particular B-29, along with Crew #14 of the 15th Bomb Squadron of the 16th Bomb Group who were flying this aircraft on that particular day helped to save the life of my late father Lee J. “Jack” Gardner, prisoner # 1102 who was incarcerated at Camp Hoten, Mukden, Manchuria from 1942-1945.
My late father maintained a secret personal diary during his incarceration, had the Japanese guards found this diary, he might have been murdered, but it survived. After the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, B-29s started dropping food and other items on the camps, on one particular day a B-29 came over and dropped crates out the bomb bay and it hit the ground very close to where my father was standing. He and other POWs scrambled over to open the crate, because they knew that food was in there; also in the crate of food was a note from the aircrew of the B-29 that dropped it. It was from Crew #14 of the 16th BG out of Guam; they listed all their names and their hometowns and wrote a hopeful message to the POWs. On that day the name of the Aircraft Commander of the Moonshine Raiders was Captain Edward S. Wolejko. Dad wrote this note down in his diary with a small pencil. B-29s from Guam did drop food on the POWs, but Dad did not find anymore notes. I did not know anything about this diary until he died in March of 1997, at which time I found this small diary. I read the diary and remembered this incident.
In October of 2002, while I was visiting Tucson, Arizona, I decided to go out to the Pima Air Museum, a place where I had visited many times because I was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB. While I was in one of the new buildings where the B-29 named “Sentimental Journey” was located; they had a display from the 315th BW that was stationed in Guam during WWII. They had pictures of the nose art of the aircraft that was assigned to the wing. While I was looking, I ran across the picture of the “Moonshine Raiders”. Then I found a picture of Crew #14 of the 16th BG. Fifty-seven years after the fact, I was staring into the eyes of Captain Wolejko and his crew who helped save my father’s life in 1945 in that Japanese POW death camp. I was elated. The 315th Bomb Wing Association had published a very large book with all this information in it and I purchased a copy of that book.
Dad had told me many times about the B-24s and B-29s that dropped food on them after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and he told me about the note he had read, but he never told me about his secret diary. The note only mentioned the name of the airplane, the crew number and the names of the aircrew members and that it was out of Guam, but I had no idea that it was from the 315th BW. This visit on that day opened my eyes and I found the men who flew that mercy mission that helped my father survive. He had been dead for five years and never got to see the young airmen who helped save his life 57 years ago in 2002. It has been 63 years now since that time in August of 1945. I wanted to share this true story with the citizens of Luna County because it is part of the history of the old 200th & 515th Coast Artillery Regiment of the New Mexico National Guard. The dropping of the atomic bombs 63 years ago this month saved the lives of countless Americans; millions of baby boomers like me would not be alive today had not this act taken place. To those of you who might think that using the atomic bombs was a despicable act, remember this, at that time, the fanatical Japanese government would have murdered those helpless POWs and tried to cover it up. The terrorist of today can’t hold a candle to the fanatical Japanese terrorism caused by the Japanese people of WWII. Lest we forget our WWII heroes and their stories.
Joe M. Gardner, MSgt, USAF (ret.)
Son of SSgt Lee J. Gardner, Ex-POW, USA
4 August 2008
The original note that Dad wrote down in his diary. I will spell it out here for you because this note is very old now and hard to read:
We are the fellows who were lucky enough to be able to drop these supplies to you. We would like very much to hear from you. We would like to know how the majority of you are feeling and in what condition you received these supplies. We wish you a speedy return to the states and hope that our next trip is to take some of you home to your loved ones. With great desire to help you further, we remain Crew 14.
Crew 14 (Moonshine Raiders Inc.)
Hdqts. 16th Bomb Gp.
A.P.O. 1821, Box 276
% PM San Francisco, Calif.
Pilot Lt. Wolejko, Ed, Sunderland, Mass.
Pilot Lt. Vernooy, Russ, New Brunswick, NJ
Bomb. Lt. Mayer, Stan, Brooklyn, NY
Rooak. Lt. Kiel, Ken, Kinderhook, NY
Nav. Lt. Welch, Ed, Union City, Tenn.
Eng. TSgt. Hinds, Ward, Indianapolis
Radio. Sgt. Herriman, Richard, Washington, DC
Scanner. Sgt. Perrin, Jerome, Stanton Island, NY
Scanner. Sgt. Reardon, Charles, Monessen, Penna.
In 2009, Joe Gardner was able to visit with one of the crew members of the “Moonshine Raiders” who was on board the day the plane dropped food into his father's camp at Mukden in Stanton Island, New York. He said of his visit, “It was a blast.”