1st Lt Harry A Boller.

90th Bomb Group, 319 Squadron (Asterperious)

By the end of his tour in the Pacific, Harry had flown a total of 63 combat missions, had approximately 380 hours of combat flying time, and over 800 hours of total flying time. He was decorated with the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters in recognition of courageous service in combat and for meritorious achievement while participating in battle. In addition, he was awarded 3 battle stars and two Presidential Citations as well as the Philippine Liberation medal.
In November of 1944, Harry left the southwest Pacific and returned to the United States. Following his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army Air Force, he returned to civilian life. He married Lula Langholz, had two children (a daughter and a son) and worked in the automotive industry for the next 40 years. He never missed a chance to salute the flag or his fellow veterans. Harry was proud to be an American who served his country and he was a patriot until his death in October of 1990.

 


B-24 Liberator The Bobby Anne of Texas & Crew

Back Row left to right: Joe Long, Charles Horzon, Jim Walker, James Deering, William DeRue.
Front Row left to right: Charles Ripley, Harry Boller, Charles Fikes, Jack Kennison

 

Harry Boller's Experience.
Bombing Raid on the Balikpapan Oil Refineries in Borneo

The Balikpapan Oil Refineries in Borneo were Japan’s source of fuel to feed their war effort.  If those refineries could be bombed and enough damage inflicted, the Japanese war effort would be severely curtailed.  Without refined oil to refuel its planes, ships and transports, it was hoped they would have no chance to regroup and rebuild.

Of the 63 missions flown by Harry as an enlisted bombardier during his 27 months in the southwest Pacific, the 2600 mile round trip mission to Borneo was one that stood out in his mind.  After various modifications were made to their B-24 Liberators to accommodate the great distance, the planes were nearly 12,000 pounds over their payload limit.  Planes from the 90th Bomb Group, also known as the legendary “Jolly Rogers”, left their camp on Biak Island and flew to the staging area on Noemfoor to join the other B-24 groups on the first raid against the Balikpapan Oil Refineries.  It would be the longest mission flown by a group of B-24’s thus far.  Shortly after midnight on September 30, 1944, that group of more than 70 Liberators rumbled off the runway at one and a half minute intervals as the ground troops lined both sides of the runway to wish them well.  To the men on the ground, it was almost a ghostly scene as the planes took off beneath a nearly full moon while they watched the lights of the planes mingle with the starry sky and disappear into the night.  Harry checked his Norden bomb sight and then settled in for the long flight.

Because of the tremendous distance to the target, this mission had no fighter escort.  Although the crews had been briefed to expect heavy enemy resistance, they were unaware that the Japanese had their best naval air unit for the defense of Balikpapan.  As dawn broke in the eastern sky and their target grew closer, Harry and the crew were on high alert.  As the bombers dropped to 13,000 feet to make their bombing run, suddenly, he heard “Bandits at 12:00!”  Moments later the Japanese fighters roared into the bomber formation, their guns chopping holes in many of the planes.  The B-24 gunners kept the fighters busy, while Harry prepared himself for the bombing run.  As he crawled into the nose of the big Liberator bomber where the bombardier compartment was located, the formation began to make a wide 180 degree turn to begin their bombing run.  They were met with heavy anti-aircraft fire and the planes bounced violently as the flak burst in black puffs around the American planes.


90th Bomb Group B-24

Determinedly ignoring the chatter of the guns from the Japanese fighters and the sound of flak bursting around the planes, Harry peered into his bombsight and unleashed his bombs.  “Bombs away!” he cried as 250 pound bombs fell from the belly of his B-24 Liberator. For more than an hour, the bombs from all the planes rained down on the refinery and nearby targets.  As their pilot made a right turn over the ocean and climbed to 20,000 feet to head for home, once again the Japanese fighters attacked the American planes.  Because he was too busy earlier to pay attention, Harry now watched in horror as the fighter planes tore into another B-24, tearing off two engines and a wing.  As the big bomber turned over, he could see that at least five or six of the crew members had bailed out of their wounded plane.  Anger and revulsion filled him as he watched the enemy planes repeatedly strafe the men in their parachutes, even after they landed in the water of the Balikpapan Bay below.  It was an image that was burned into his memory forever.  His only consolation was the fact that the heavily armed B-24’s from the 90th Bomb Group shot down at least 14 enemy fighters.  But even that didn’t diminish the fact that the entire group suffered extremely heavy losses.

As the weary airmen neared their home base, for reasons he couldn’t recall, Harry’s crew elected to bypass the airfield at Noemfoor to refuel and flew directly to Biak Island where their camp was located.  When they attempted to land at Biak, however, they were waved off because of a wreck on the runway.  Consequently, they had to cross another small body of water to another airstrip on another island.   When their B-24 landed, as their wheels touched the runway, first one engine and then another failed until all four engines were silenced.  They were completely out of fuel.  Harry considered himself one of the lucky ones to return from that harrowing mission … many did not.  It was something he never forgot.

 


Nadzab in Markham River Valley

 

   
                                  
Harry Boller - 2nd from left

Harry Boller (fr row, left) and the man standing far left is Irvin Chapman

From Harry's Daughter Linda

I remember Dad telling me that on his Balikpapan mission, he said that flak came through the floor of the Lib right under his foot, he said it was a dud.  It actually bounced his foot up in the air a bit.  He said it surprised him, but he was too busy to worry about it at the time.


Harry Boller (back row, second from right)

 

South Pacific Culture Shock

In the early 1940’s the Solomon Islands and New Guinea were unknown entities. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on Japan, going to the South Pacific very likely meant death for American soldiers and airmen.The region was extremely primitive. There were few roads or useful rivers.There were no towns or cities, no electricity, no infrastructure of any sort to support a military operation.

All food had to be shipped or airlifted in.  No ready water supplies existed, and what was there was undrinkable.  Dampness caused everything to rot or rust, clothes, tools, metal, tires, aviation fuel, wood, shoes, tents, and buildings.  Accommodation was poor.Various bomb groups and squadrons were constantly moving from one air base to another.  Hygiene was poor. Food preparation was inadequate.  Massive, overbearing, sapping heat was a constant. Crews suffered in the terrible humidity which led to foot sores, skin rashes, fungi growths, legs rubbed so raw that any movement was painful. Typhus, malaria, dengue fever, and dysentery were common. Those not on the sick list suffered constantly from headaches, eyestrain, sunburn and poor diet.  Within weeks of arriving in New Guinea, the airmen would be suffering the effects of malaria, terrible headaches, tunnel vision, and a roaring in the ears. Anyone whose aircraft crashed into the jungle in New Guinea was very rarely seen again as the lush, tropical jungle swallowed men and equipment.

New Guinea was, and still is, a land of 700 tribes, a refuge of stone-age cultures in a mysterious, cloud-draped mountain rain forest.  When the airmen of the 90th Bomb Group arrived in New Guinea, they found a strange mixture of remote tribes in untouched regions. In addition, there were wild jungles, wild rivers and beautiful coral seas. The dense jungles in combination with the incredible mountain ranges made the highland area very difficult to navigate and explore.  The coastal lowland areas were malarial and swampy which made for ghastly living conditions for the men of the Jolly Rogers.


 New Guinea Native Women

Some of the native New Guinea tribes had experienced slavery and brutality at the hands of the Japanese who initially controlled the island.  Separated from their women, the native men were made to work as slaves and the wives and young women were used to provide "comfort" for the Japanese soldiers. They soon learned that these Americans were different.  The Americans gave them clothing, cigarettes, and taught them rudimentary English.They also introduced the natives to a special treat called "Spam". In return, the tribal natives acted as interpreters, aided and comforted the wounded, provided food, rescued downed air crews, acted as guides and invited the Americans to participate in their tribal celebrations.

However, deep in the mystical, fog-shrouded jungles of New Guinea, the headhunting tribes practiced a way of life that was unthinkable to the "civilized" world.  American soldiers and airmen soon learned that most headhunter and cannibal tribes were honorable.They usually led a peaceful existence and only attacked and killed those they felt were a threat to them.

The Japanese forces who occupied New Guinea brutalized local native tribes and used them as slaves.  Unfortunately, wayward Japanese soldiers found out what happened when they used those tactics on the headhunting tribes.  Headhunting, long a tradition among warring tribes in the Dutch East Indies, actually had been outlawed in 1936.  But when it came to the hated Japanese, those tribes were known to resurrect the practice.  Regrettably, it has long been suspected that some American airmen who parachuted from crippled aircraft sometimes fell victim to those same headhunting tribes.