SSgt John Heyn U.S. Army Air Force (1941-1945)
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PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?
I had got interested in Photography in High School my Jr. and Sr. years. I did all the photographs for our Yearbook “The Arrow”, except the formal Senior Portraits. I wanted to make a career of it, but being a product of the Great Depression. there was no money for Schools. When I graduated from Watertown High School, South Dakota in May of 1941, the war in Europe had been raging for almost two years and it was just a matter of time before we became involved. The Army Air Corps had a program going whereby, if you enlisted you could choose the School you wanted, Mechanics, Communication, Photography etc. They had an excellent Photography School at Lowry Field in Denver. I had a Sister living in Omaha, so in August I went down to Omaha and on Aug. 29 I enlisted in the Air Corp with the promise to attend the Photography School. I was sworn in out at Ft. Crook along with 3 Volunteers and several Draftees. The Volunteers had enlisted to go to the Philippine Islands. When I boarded a train for Basic Training, they boarded one for the West Coast, and from there to the Phillippines. I have often wondered if those 3 guys survived the war. That is what influenced my decision to join the Air Force.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?
I never had any intentions of making the Military my career. Somebody had mentioned you had to score 110 on the GCT to qualify for OCS. I guess I would have qualified. But I had no desire to be an Officer or to stay in the Service. I just wanted to get an education in Photography and get on with my life. I was scheduled to attend the School in Denver in Jan, but Dec. 7 blew those plans out of the water. In Jan I was on the USS Ancon with the 3rd Bomb Group, headed West. Having some typing skills I was put in Group Operations as a Clerk Typist. In Aug.43 I was transferred to the 13th Squadron Operations Office. When I got there I found that they had a C-3 Camera Kit Speed Graphic. Nobody knew how to use it, but the C.O. Maj. Evanoff, was an avid shutterbug. I let him know all I needed was some film and Chemicals and I could put that Camera to good use. He made a trip to Brisbane and came back with every thing we needed for a Darkroom. He set SSgt Culbreth and myself up in the 13th Squadron Photo Shack which was very unauthorized and very unorthodox. His reasoning was that the men needed a place to get their film developed without depending on the locals, and we were at his beck and call when he wanted some photographs taken.
One of our first jobs was photographing the Squadron’s planes and crews. He lined up 13 B-25s with Combat and Ground crews in front and we photographed them all. He also decided he wanted some formation photos. The Camera was not a good one for that kind of photo, but I got my first and only ride in a B-25 and came up with a shot I like. The Photo Section that handled all of our Aerial Photography was in the 35th Air Base Group. In Aug, 43 it was transferred to the Headquarters Squadron., 3rd Bomb Group. I immediately asked for a transfer back to Headquarters Squadron and the Photo Section, and got it. I was now doing what I had enlisted to do, and would get on-the-job training in the field I wanted. In March 1945 I returned to the States. After a 21 day furlough, I was assigned to Page Field, a P-51 training base at Ft. Meyers Fla. There I met a Radio Operator at the field on the bus out to the field one nite. She was going out to pull the graveyard shift. I walked her over to the Radio Shack and talked her into a date to a movie. We spent an awful lot of time together that summer enjoying balmy Florida. I met her in May. In July I decided I wanted Jonnie to be My Jonnie, and asked her to Marry me. Without any hesitation her answer was yes. I was planning to go to Photo School in NYC when I got out, and we would get married when I finished the course. Although I had been offered an Instructors job at the School in Denver, I had no intentions of staying in the Service. I just wanted to get out and get on with my life, with my Jonnie. So that is the reason I left the Service. I had given four years of my youth to my country, spent 3 years in combat zones in the S.W. Pacific. Survived air raids and Kamikaze attacks, I figured I had done my share now I will get on with my life.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT, PEACEKEEPING OR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
I did not fly Combat Missions. Although I spent 3 years in Combat Zones I never met an enemy face to face. I did sweat out Air Raids and kamikaze attacks on our convoy, but all you had to do is jump in your slit trench with your steel helmet and you were reasonably safe, they would have to put one in the trench to kill you. Steel helmet? When those planes came over at 20K feet the Ack Ack would start exploding up there. What goes up, must come down. Best you have your steel helmet on. Kamikaze attacks in December 44 on a convoy from Leyte to Mindoro in the P.I. We were under attack for 48 hours, they sank 8 ships out of our convoy. No way you can dig a slit trench in a steel deck. You were at the mercy of the Navy Gunners and the Good Lord. The Gunners were GOOD, they shot 25 of them down, 3 of them close enough where I could photograph them.
Significant to me. The important part of my job was processing the mission film the planes brought back. Our cameras were mounted in the tail of the plane, when they started the bomb run the Gunner would hit the switch and a 150 ft. roll of film would roll thru the camera making an exposure every 3 to 4 seconds. Thus you would have a recorded record of the damage that had been inflicted on the enemy. We would pick out the best shots, print them and get them over to 5th Bomber Command. Where they would be analyzed and help the powers-that-be, in planning future missions. Life Changing? I don’t know that I had any Life Changing occurrences in my 3 years down there. Except, possibly, during Air Raids and kamikaze attacks you developed a greater appreciation of LIFE, and were thankful that you had been brought up with a firm believe in The Almighty, that you could call on for protection. And, thankfully He did respond.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Fondest Memories? A no-brainer, Page Field, Ft. Meyers, Florida, Mar. 8, 1945; 3 years, 1 month and 8 days after leaving, I sailed back under that Golden Gate Bridge. After a 21 day leave and two weeks at a Redistribution Center in California. I was assigned to Page Field, Ft. Meyers, Florida. I arrived the last Sunday in April. While waiting for a bus to take me out to the field this perky little brunette walked in and sat down across the room. She was something else, looked so neat and clean just like the girl next door was supposed to look like. She got on the Page Field bus but was too far ahead to get close to.
A couple weeks later I was in town for a movie. I got back to the bus station to get back out to the Field, and there she was again. This time I got the seat next to her. She wasn’t too anxious to strike up a conversation with a strange G.I., but I got out of her that she was a Radio Operator going out to pull the graveyard shift. She was from Kansas. Her name was Evelyn Johnson, but called Jonnie from the Johnson bit. I walked her across the field to the Radio Shack and talked her into a date to a movie. That started a relationship that would last 67 years and one day. We hit it off real good from the word go, and spent all of our off-time together. In July on the way back from a weekend in Miami I asked her to Marry me. Although we had only known each other two months, her answer was yes, no hesitations. I didn’t know it at the time but she had 2 G.I.s in Denver and a home town boy wanting to Marry her. So memories from Page Field are very fond.
Least Favorite? Once again a no-brainer. New Guinea, aka Green Hell, aka a__ hole of the universe where I spent 22 months at 4 different bases. Port Moresby being the first one, and definitely the worst. It was just as hot at midnight as it was at noon; and the mosquitoes were just as bad at noon as they were at midnight. We would now discover some of the hazards of Photography in the Hot Tropics. Nite or day I don”t think the temperature was ever under 90 degrees, I’ve seen our thermometers read 130 in daytime. The recommended temps for our processing solutions was 68 degrees. They were never under 90 degrees, if you ran film thru 90 degree Developer, the emulsion would roll right off the backing. So before you went to the Developer you ran the film thru an Alum bath first, that hardened the emulsion. That without a doubt was the Least Favorite Duty Station we encountered.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
I think possibly my Religion. I was raised in the Catholic Church, first 8 Grades were in Catholic Schools. The Depression had closed the High School, so I went to the Public School. But I was raised to get to Mass every Sunday, regardless of weather or anything else. Having been raised in the two Dakotas weather could really be a factor in the winter. In the 7th Grade in Grand Forks, North Dakota I walked to school when it was 43 degrees below zero. In those days school was never called off due to weather. I had no problem getting to Mass in the Service. Once I got to the 3rd Bomb Group, I was fortunate in that the Group had a Catholic Chaplain, Fr. Barr. We were on the Ancon 25 days heading for Australia. After the first few days Fr. Barr started having evening Rosary in his Stateroom. We would say the Rosary and then have a bull-session. You can bet if women were discussed it was a clean discussion. We didn’t manage to keep Fr. Barr for the next three years, but there was always a Catholic Chaplain and Sunday Mass some where close. In my three years down there the only time I missed Mass was when we were on a move. The Altar might be a table in a Mess Hall, or the tail gate of a 6×6 G.I. Truck but we had Mass. That has stuck with me. If I could get to Mass every Sunday 3 years in combat zones, I could surely do it at home in peace time. Today at 91 and married to a walker, and legs that are shot. It was getting more and more difficult to spend that hour in a Church pew. I recently had a discussion with our Priest about maybe making 7 AM Mass on T.V. every Sunday morning. It’s not like being in Church, but he was sure that the Good Lord would understand my situation, and he said he would bring me Communion periodically. So now, living in an Assisted Living Facility, that’s the way I get to Mass Every Sunday.
WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER? IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR OTHER SIGNIFICANT AWARDS, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
As mentioned before I was not a hero, no medals for above and beyond. I expect those 6 stars on the Asiatic/Pacific ribbon is something to be proud of. They represent 3 years in combat zones with a Unit that surely distinguished it self. 41 months of continuous Combat Duty; 2 Presidential Unit citations; 1 P.I. Presidential Unit citation, 1 Congressional Medal of Honor; 10 Campaigns; 642 Ships sunk , 2,000 Planes destroyed; 200,000 tons supplies destroyed ;1,500 Buildings destroyed; 40,000 enemy killed; approximately; 174 Aircraft lost. Of those 41 months I was a member of the Unit 34 of those months. They had started the Rotation system in July of 1944. There always seemed to be a shortage of Photo Lab Techs, I didn’t make a list until January 1945. I was one of the last of the original Personnel to get sent home. I have met a lot of WW II Ancient Ones, but damned few that spent 3 years overseas. I did it. I survived Air Raids, Kamikaze attacks and two bouts of Dengue Fever. I’m not proud for myself: I’m proud of the Third Bomber (Attack) Group. Grim Reapers.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
Since I received none of those medals or awards I guess there is only one thing to consider. The results of the GCT, 141. It proved to me I was no damned dummy. Also allowed me to become a member of Mensa Society in later years. In my 4 years in the Service I only met one guy that did better 142. It was my good friend Tack Tackaberry. Birds of feather I guess. I’ve always been pretty much of an independent thinker, and there was one time it got me in trouble. Shortly after we arrived in Australia I had a confrontation with the 1/Sgt about something, don’t remember what. He told me I was in the Army now, he would do my thinking for me. I told him I had just finished 12 years of School to learn how to think; I wasn’t about to stop just because I was in the Army. Needless to say, I spent some time on K.P. It also taught me to keep my mouth shut in the Army. I received the normal WWII Overseas and Combat Medals everyone else did.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Major Alexander Evanoff (the Mad Russian) and Lt. Dick Walker. After I thought my dream of getting into Photography in the Air Force was pretty much dead, Maj. Evanoff came to my rescue. Almost a year after I enlisted he set up the 13th Sq. Photo Shack and got me back on the right track. I never had any post war or Computer Age contact with him, but I do have constant contact with his son, Col. Bill Evanoff (USAF-Retire) If it hadn’t been for his Dad I very well could have spent 4 years in WW II as a Clerk Typist. Perish the thought. There’s a photo of him with his Plane and crew in the large photo section, that’s Group. C.O., Davies standing beside him. Also a of photo of Evanoff with his 8mm Movie Camera is below.
Lt. Walker had just joined the outfit when Evanoff set up the Photo Shack and he appointed Dick as our Photo Officer. He didn’t remain at the job for long, but he was one nice guy, and did well in the Squadron. When we got to Doba Dura he was a 1/Lt Piloting a B-25. Nov. 2, 43 we pulled a mission to Simpson Harbor, the big Japanese Naval base at Rabaul. His part in that Mission was remarkable, here is his experience:
He went on to become Operation Officer and then 13th Sq. C.O. promoted to Major at age 23. There’s a photo of him briefing his Pilots at Hollandia, New Guinea in the summer of 44 in the large photo section. I did have post war contact with him. My Jonnie had a brother living in Springfield, Missouri. When Dick retired, he had a place about 40 miles from Springfield. On one or our visits to her brother, I got out to visit Dick. We stayed in Email contact until his death a couple years ago. Both of these men were not only Officers, they were very fine Gentlemen, and my life was better for having known and worked with them.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Air Raids were a way of life in combat zones in the S.W. Pacific during WW II. The first thing we did when we arrived at Charters Towers in N.E. Queensland was dig slit trenches right outside your tent. We never ran into earth as hard to dig in as what we had there. You didn’t dig it with spade and shovel. You used a pick for every inch of that five foot trench. After you had your trench ready for occupation, you made very sure that your steel helmet was nearby. When those planes came over, usually at 20K feet, and AckAck started exploding, best you have your helmet on what goes up, must come down. One nite at Hollandia we had a Red Alert. Pretty soon the planes appeared at the usually high altitude. The search lights came on and the AckAck started exploding. My friend Tack was on duty that nite. Pretty soon he came running down thru the tents holding a steel chair over his head. He had forgotten to take his helmet to work with him. It really wasn’t funny, but we couldn’t help laughing, and it still brings a chuckle 70 years after the fact.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
Photography has been my Profession since I was 14 years old. After the war ended I went to the School of Modern Photography in NYC. I Took a job in New Jersey in July, 46. Two daughters were born there, but these two mid-westerners decided it was not the place to raise a family. I had a Sister living in Des Moines, Ia. and that is where we settled in 1949. Couldn’t get a job in Photography do I took a job as Dispatcher for a Ready Mix Concrete Company. In 51 I started shooting weddings for a local Studio. In 57 I borrowed $600.00 and started my own Wedding business out of the house. In 67 I moved it to a small shopping area on a Main Street. In 79 I sold the studio and we moved to Denver where my wife had two sisters living. I worked in J.C. Penney Camera Department, but in 1990 we both took Social Security and moved back to Des Moines where the Kids and Grand kids were. In August 2012. My Jonnie had a stress fracture in her back. It was a series of Hospital and Care Centers. In October I moved into an Apartment in an Assisted Living facility, put Jonnie in their Care Center with the hope she would get better and join me. That didn’t happen. In November they put her in Hospice. On December 6 she went into a coma. I would sit by her bedside holding hands and talking to her. She couldn’t respond, but the nurses felt she knew I was there. December 10 was our 67th Anniversary. My Grand-daughter stopped by and snapped the attached photo. At 10:20 the next morning she left me. I think she was just waiting for that date to let go. At 91, my legs useless and married to a walker, I’m just waiting for the Good Lord to let me join My Jonnie, but that is His decision, not mine. I pretty much keep busily on this Infernal Machine(PC). I have several contacts with Mates Down Under. When I got my PC in 98, I made contact with several WW II Ancient One’s. But, our ranks are getting thin. Of the approximate 200 13th Squadron members that sailed on the USS Ancon, to the best of our knowledge there are only 2 of us left.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I have never been a joiner. I have never joined any of the Veterans Organization. My oldest Sister’s husband was a WW One Vet. Had been in the Navy and was on full disability. He was an active member of the VFW, and my Sister was active too. I even played in their Drum & Bugle Corp. When I got back he immediately wanted me to join, but I just wasn’t interested, and never have joined any of them. Since I’ve never been a member, I don’t have any benefits. I am a proud member of TogetherWeServed though.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
That is another hard one. After spending 3 years in a Combat Zone, and losing 3 tent mates, 3 Photographer Buddies and countless mess mates. For a while it hardened you. You more or less accepted it as part of life. I got back to the States in March of 45. In July I attended my Grand Mothers Funeral. I couldn’t even shed a tear. But I think it did give me a greater appreciation of Life, and maybe a bit of carefulness, for instance when driving an automobile. When I got out of HS I was just another reckless teenage kid behind the wheel. When I got behind the wheel of a car after the war, I was a careful driver. I didn’t take the chances I would have taken before, and I got over my callousness of death. Every nite when I go to bed I no longer have My Jonnie’s hand to hold until I go to sleep. I now have my Rosary which I’m saying for her and although it’s been two years, I can still shed some tears. My career? My Photographic work in the Air Force has been extremely valuable in my work life, for which I will always be thankful for, and especially to Maj. Evanoff, The Mad Russian.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE AIR FORCE?
I would assume they would be young fellows or gals. In this day and age, my advice would be for them to learn the definition of DISCIPLINE and learn to live with it. In my younger days we had no problem with it. We were very familiar with it. Get out of line and you made a trip to the wood shed with your Dad. This is a different time. I a Dad were take his kid to a wood shed and beat some sense into him today, he’d probably end up in Jail. Discipline may be lost in the general population, but it is very much alive in the Military. If they are going to have a successful career in the Military they will have to learn to take orders and sit down and shut up. Also, whatever work they have chosen mechanics, communication, photography or whatever, learn all there is to know about it and get good at it. Depending on Table of Organizations, promotions will come faster. Those can be a killer. When the Photo Section was transferred from the 35th Air Base Group to the 3rd Bomb Group, there was no T of O for them in a Bombardment Group. Promotion? Forget it. I made Cpl. in summer of 1942. Two years later in the summer of 1944 I was in charge of one of our two Mobile Labs with the responsibility that went with it and I was still a Cpl. My Photo Officer, Capt. Spieth, went to bat for me with the Group. C.O. I made Sgt, and 30 days later I made S/Sgt. Advice in a nut shell ? Mind your manners, and get good at what you do.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
Well, I haven’t really been that active on it yet. When I left the Service Sept. 5, 1945 I put the Military behind me. That album of over 500 photographs was packed away in a box and seldom looked at. I only kept in touch with one friend, Tack, and I lost him in about 1976. In 1991 we started hitting 50th Anniversaries of WW II events. I started to do some remembering and wondering about guys I had served with. Personal Computers were starting to become popular, and I heard that you could find people on them. I didn’t know a damn thing about them. Finally in ’98 I got my first P.C. (Infernal Machine). The first WW II website I came across was Peter Dunn’s “Aust.at War” He had been a kid in Townsville, Queensland. I emailed him and told him I had been stationed 90 miles from there in 1942. I got a reply pronto, wanting to know if I had any photographs. That started it. You will now find Jack Heyn and his Photographs on several WW II Websites. As far as finding friends I served with, not very likely. At age18 I was a kid in the outfit. Now at 91 most of those I became friends with and served with are gone. Some, like Moose Owens, were old enough to be my Dad. More recently I discovered Together We Served, but am just now becoming familiar and active on it. We shall see.