Veteran takes a flight on a B-25 bomber like the one he flew in WWII

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 31, 2020

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — In the war in the Pacific, Jack DeTour used to fly B-25 bombers on missions in which his aircraft would sometimes come back with extra parts.

From the Japanese ships he was attacking at a very low level.

“Along the ships they have these wires, (and returning) you’d have a wire strung on your wing,” said DeTour, 97, a retired Air Force colonel.

Last week, DeTour, who lives in Aiea, got to get up-close again with a B-25 bomber.

DeTour flew around Oahu in a twin-engine B-25 bomber on Oahu as part of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, ending the deadliest war in human history.

During the war, DeTour flew a unique brand of low-level bomber missions in the Pacific from locations including New Guinea, the Philippines and Okinawa, using uniquely outfitted B-25 Mitchells that bristled with machine guns.

The bomber, made by North American Aviation, became the most heavily armed aircraft of the war and was used for high- and low-level bombing, strafing and submarine patrol, among other tasks, according to Boeing, North American’s successor.

One version carried eight .50-caliber machine guns in the nose in an arrangement providing 14 total forward-firing guns on the aircraft.

Famously, 16 B-25s lumbered off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, in what became known as the “Doolittle Raid” and hit targets in Tokyo, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagoya in a morale-boosting strike on the Japanese home islands after the attack on Pearl Harbor four months earlier.

The B-25 bomber now on Oahu is owned by David Prescott of New York and was flown from Florida to San Diego and sailed over on the Navy amphibious assault ship USS Essex to be in the 75th observance.

DeTour said after the flight that he was probably a bit faster in his early 20s climbing up a skinny belly ladder to get into the cockpit area.

He sat behind the pilot and copilot in the narrow fuselage and joked that he was ready to take the controls.

“Oh yeah, I could have gotten in there — but they were busy,” he said.

He said he thinks “it’s great” that the 75th anniversary planners were able to bring in 14 vintage warbirds for the commemoration on Oahu, and he had particular thanks for the B-25 ride.

“I really appreciate seeing this and being able to fly in it,” he said. “It was really a pleasure.”

The B-25 was parked at Air Serv­ice Hawaii at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport early last week, where the throaty radial engines that power it and most of the other vintage warbirds into the air have been head-turners on takeoff.

DeTour enlisted in the Army Air Corps to be a pilot after graduating from high school in 1942. He completed flight training at La Junta Army Air Base in Colorado.

“I looked at the board for assignments. It had my name and it said La Junta, Colo. That’s where I was,” he recalled. “I said, ‘What the heck am I going to do here?’ and the guy said, ‘Well, you probably flunked a course, you have to take it over.’ So I asked my instructor and he said, ‘You are going to be an instructor.’ “

“So as soon as I graduated from cadets, as a 19-year-old kid or so, I’m teaching people how to fly a B-25,” he said with a laugh.

He eventually was assigned to combat and flew to New Guinea. DeTour said of about two dozen B-25 crew members he knew, less than half came back.

“It wasn’t that I’m telling you that I was any better than any of them,” DeTour said. “But I was just lucky. You see all these flashes coming off the ships and you are going over the ship at mast level. They’d hit your plane, but they wouldn’t hit you. I did lose a wingman. But it was luck, luck, luck. That’s what combat is about — luck.”

DeTour said he flew 30 actual combat missions and others that weren’t combat.

Military brass realized moving ships in the Pacific couldn’t be bombed from 5,000 or 10,000 feet accurately and devised low-level techniques and armed B-25s with “parademo” bombs with parachutes to reduce the forward speed.

Coming in low, the B-25s would hit ships with guns blazing — with the goal of passing over a ship at 300 to 350 mph to keep from getting shot up, DeTour said.

An enlisted pilot in Honolulu — Pappy Gunn — who retired before the war started, was talked into returning to service and was instrumental in up-gunning the B-25s with way more machine guns than they had earlier, DeTour said.

The loss of life on both sides was something DeTour was acutely aware of.

His B-25 would fire its big machine guns at a ship and at first, from a distance, it looked like hay bales were being hit.

“Then when you got in there, and went over the ship, those were people,” DeTour realized. “And I thought, damn, well, they were firing at me. I was firing at them. I was lucky. They weren’t lucky, and then that evening, I go back to my tent and there’s a cot that a friend of mine used to have. He’s not on it. He didn’t come back.”

He added: “That set my mind from then on. It was me against them.”

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