|1st Lt. George M. Withee
|The C.E. Daniel Collection
|356th Bomb Squadron, 331st Bomb Group, 20th Air Force
|Crew 6B5 Aircraft B-29 42-63593 "Ragged But Right"
Top row: Aircraft Commander 1Lt Charles Lees, Pilot 2Lt George Withee, Navigator 1Lt Thomas Spencer, Bombadier 2Lt Sumner
Lieberman, Radar Operator 2Lt Wilfred Dolan
Bottom row: Radio Cpl Howard Epstein, Gunner Sgt Dante Petitti, M/Sgt Raymond Buechel, Gunner Pvt John Mangieri, Gunner Cpl Andy
NOTE: It was common for both the Aircraft Commander and the Pilot to share the responsibility of piloting such a large aircraft during the
war, especially during long, rigorous missions. In this instance, both Lees and Withee aided each other in completing the long combat
flights during the war, while Lees retained command of the entire aircraft.
|"Slicker-28" and the Last Mission
|This page is dedicated to the service, sacrifice and memory of 1st Lt. George Withee, the men of Slicker 28, and those who
served all throughout the Pacific Theater of operations during WWII.
|According to his first pilot's flight log, George McClellan Withee took flight as the pilot of an aircraft on April 19th, 1943. At the controls of a
Piper J3, Withee soared above St. John's University over Collegeville, Minnesota, while training with the 87th College Training Detachment.
Withee was part of the first 150 men accepted into flight training at St. John's College, which began training airmen in March of 1943, following
the United States' entry into WWII. In less than a year, St. John's would train well over 1,000 men to become airmen in the United States Army
Air Corps, but Withee would be among the very first to undergo this training at St. John's. He had no way of knowing that this first, fateful
flight would lead him to his destiny of being involved in a historic combat mission to end WWII.
|Withee volunteered for service in the United States Army Air Corps on October 6th, 1942 and would go on to
serve at the following stations:
Feb. 10th, 1943 - Feb. 28th, 1943 BTC #8 778 TTS, Fresno, Ca.
March 4th, 1943 - May 15th, 1943 87th College Training Det., Collegeville, Mn.
May 19th, 1943 - August 30th, 1943 Santa Ana Army Air Base, Santa Ana, Ca.
August 31st, 1943 - November 2nd, 1943 11th AAFTD Squadron 8, Ryan School, Tuscon, Az.
November 4th, 1943 - January 5th, 1944 14th AFTD, Squadron 15, Polaris F.A., Lancaster, Ca.
January 8th, 1944 - March 12th, 1944 AAFAFS (Twin Engine) Fort Sumner, NM
March 24th, 1944 - June 9th, 1944 HAAF B-17 Transition, Hobbs Army Air Field, Hobbs, Nm.
June 12th, 1944 - June 22nd, 1944 Lincoln Army A.B., Squadron B, Roster 13, Lincoln, Ne.
June 25th, 1944 - July 31st, 1944 231st Base Unit, Alamogordo AAB, Alamogordo, NM
August 15th, 1944 - December 31st, 1944 331st Bombardment Grp., Dalhart Army AB, Dalhart, Tx.
January 2nd, 1945 - July 10th, 1945 331st Bombardment Group, McCook, Ne.
July 2nd, 1945 - July 15th, 1945 331st Bombardment Group, Herington, Ks.
July 15th, 1945 - July 17th, 1945 331st Bombardment Group, Mather AAF, Sacramento, Ca.
July 20th, 1945 - March 24th, 1946 331st Bombardment Group, Northwest Field, Guam
April 6th, 1946 - April 7th, 1946 Camp Knight, Oakland, Ca.
April 7th, 1946 - April 10th, 1946 Camp Beale, Marysville, Ca.
April 10th, 1946 - September 28th, 1956 Organized Reserve Corps, Inactive Duty
|"The Ghost of Five - Nine - Three"
(Army B-29 42-63593)
331st Bomb Group
'Twas ever so long ago, my son
When the Jungle ruled this land
That this self, same road was a jungle, trail
With wilderness at either hand.
Where the "Beach Club" stands at Tumon Bay
And blares its neon lights
Stood a "pill, box" grim, with angry eyes
That scanned the tropic nights;
And the pleasure boat just off the reef
That swings with ebb and flood
Casts eerie shadows ten fathoms down
Where the coral's stained with blood.
And those monstrous birds, the "dreamboats," lad,
That dimmed the rising sun,
Oh this land was seared, and scored, and scorched
Where're their wheels had run.
There was one I knew, Old five, nine, three,
That roamed this boundless blue,
Her voice was heard from Hilo to Maug,
And Okinawa heard her too.
She stalked the sky with "The Hunter."
She saw "The Cross" shine dead at dawn,
And I somehow think this very day
Her spirit carries on;
For e'en now I hear a wailing voice
And 'tis not the sea, wind's blast.
That mournful, wailing, hollow roar
Is a voice from ages past.
And what's that dark against the moon?
It's not a jungle bat;
For long ago the jungle fell
And we have no more of that!
See it, son, that shadow there...
There's but one thing it could be...
That, my boy, is the spirit thing,
The Ghost of Fine, Nine, Three
|As he progressed through his training phases, Withee would ultimately be assigned to crew 6B5. The crew was comprised of Charles Lees, Thomas
Spencer, Sumner Lieberman, Wilfred Dolan, Howard Epstein, Dante Petitti, Raymond Buechel, John Mangieri, and Andy Matonak. These would be
the men he would complete training with and fly into harms way with.
|Right: George Withee's original, wartime issued
|Crew 6B5 would be assigned to B-29 42-63593, commonly referred to by the crew as "593." Built in 1942, 593 had been a training aircraft, used
by numerous aircrews over the previous several years, and was now being pressed into service for overseas duty. Crew 6B5 didn't have a
favorable view of "593" when they first received her, but the aircraft would prove herself to still have enough life in her to get the crew through
the remainder of their training, across the Pacific and into and out of combat in one piece. Appropriately they named their aircraft "Ragged But
Right", in reference to her well used past and the song, "Ragged But Right" of the period. The aircraft was designated as aircraft number 28. The
call sign for the 331st Bomb Group was designated as "Slicker" giving 593 and her crew their dedicated call sign of "Slicker 28."
|Withee's wartime, Army Air Corps bracelets.
|The Last Mission: August 14th - 15th, 1945
|It had been five days since the United States had dropped its second atomic bomb over Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945 and all had hoped the war was
over. The crew of Slicker 28 anxiously awaited the news that the war had ended and Japan had surrendered. Their hopes would be dashed as they
were ordered into the air yet again.
It was August 14th, 1945, 1700 hours. The crew of Slicker 28 climbed aboard their heavily laden aircraft, which was now armed with 52, 250 pound,
general purpose bombs with non-delay tails. Their target for the day would be the Nippon Oil Company, located at Akita (Tsuchizaki) on the
northwest end of Honshu, Japan. This Japanese island was commonly referred to as "Gasoline Alley" due to the large number of refineries on the
island. The mission would last 17 hours and cover 3,700 miles. At an altitude of 10,200 feet, the bomb load of Ragged But Right was dropped and the
flight turned for home. In total, 132 B-29s participated in this last bombing mission, dropping 953.9 tons of explosives on the target without the loss
of a single Super Fortress.
The crew of 593 was several hours from home when San Francisco radio announced that Japan had surrendered, the war was over. Accounts of the
squadrons return to Guam have aircrews finding ground crewmen firing guns into the air and celebrating the end of hostilities. Ragged But Right
would not carry any more bombs into combat. In all the crew of 593 had dropped a total of 173 bombs totalling 43 1/4 tons of explosives over Japan.
With the war over, Slicker 28 and her crew would fly several more missions, flying supplies to various parts of the Pacific and numerous maintenance
and calibrations flights. On November 30th, 1945, Withee would stand in the control tower of Northwest Field Guam and watch Slicker 28 take off for
her return trip back to the states. She was now a combat veteran, adorned with the Ragged But Right name on the left side of her nose, her crews'
names painted along their assigned stations, and four bombs, representing the four missions she had completed with Crew 6B5. Withee would watch
her disappear out over the Pacific on her sunset mission back home. As she had always done before, the flight was a success.
|Above: A bomb arming pin retained by Withee after the last mission. As he
did after each mission, Withee wrote the details of the bombing raid on the
arming pin tag, recording the last bombing mission of WWII.
|Withee's Heart Shield Bible, given to him by his mother and father and his wartime issued pilot wings. These metal topped bibles
were designed to be carried in the soldier or airman's breast pocket, protecting their heart from harm while giving them access to the
scripture inside. A scrap of paper in the bible contains "A Pilots Prayer" given to Withee by his mother.
|Withee's first flight log book and dog tags. This particular log book covers his flight
training from April 19th, 1943 to August 24th, 1944. During his various training
phases, Withee would pilot a number of different types of aircraft, ultimately
transitioning into the B-29 Super Fortress. Some of the recorded aircraft he flew
included the Piper J3, Ryan PT-22, Vultee BT-13a, Cessna AT-17, Cessna UC-78,
Boeing B-17 F & G models, and the B-29. In addition, Withee would log just over
45 hours in various Link trainers at most of the places where he was stationed.
|Withee often retained original, wartime era reconnaissance photographs of
targets of the missions he participated in. Above are the "before" and
"after" photographs of the last mission of the war to Akita, #AF 328. The
photograph to the right shows a close up of the "after" photograph,
depicting a very heavily cratered refinery complex that was left useless
following the August 14th/15th bombing mission.
As indicated on the "after" photograph, the reconnaissance mission to
obtain the "after" photos was flown on September 6th, 1945, nearly three
weeks after the war had ended.
|The 6B5 Crew: to the left can be seen
barracks #22 where Withee lived while
stationed at Northwest Field Guam.
The photographs show the 6B5 crew
during their time together. The
numerous photographs show the crew in
flight, rest and at play. Armed with their
model 1911 .45 caliber pistols, three of
the crewmen appear ready to take on an
unknown foe, all while smiling for the
camera! This is a small cross section of
the many photographs contained within
Withee's wartime items.
|Undoubtedly not a staged photograph, the photo above shows Withee standing nearly in the same manner as the drawing of the airman on the
cover of the C-1 vest booklet. Withee is shown in his flight gear, wearing the AN-H-15 flight helmet, type B-8 goggles, his C-1 Emergency
survival vest, and his Air Corps bracelet on his right wrist. Minus his parachute, this is most likely how Withee flew into combat on each
mission. The photograph above shows the original Type C-1 vest booklet, still among Withee's items.
|Slicker 28 and her crew would fly a total of 4 "Empire" combat bombing missions
before the end of the war. The crew would fly additional missions, some deemed
practice missions and others, aiding POW's at the end of the war. As documented in
Withee's writings, these are the missions the crew were involved in:
July 27, 1945 - The target for the day was the island of Rota, a small island manned
by approximately 300 Japanese soldiers. Withee's aircraft dropped 10 500 pound,
general purpose bombs from an altitude of 15,000 feet. The mission occurred without
incident and took approximately 7 hours.
July 29th, 1945 - The target for the day was Pagan, a small island that was once
occupied by up to 2,000 Japanese soldiers. Information indicates that the raid on
Pagan was conducted to attempt to knock out a radio transmitter that was alerting
the Japanese of B-29 missions as they passed overhead. Slicker 28 dropped ten, 500
pound, semi-armour piercing bombs from 10,000 feet. The mission lasted 5 hours
and 50 minutes.
July 30th, 1945 - The target for the day was Pajaros, a small island only .98 square
miles in size. The 593 crew dropped ten, 500 pound, semi-armour piercing bombs
from 10,000 feet. The crew then flew to Iwo Jima on an orientation flight. The
mission lasted 8 hours and 15 minutes.
For additional information related to the 315th Bomb Wing, please click the link above.
Larry Miller has spent countless hours piecing together the history of this outfit, adding
photographs, personal accounts from pilots and crews, and statistical data related to the
training and combat operations of the 315th Bomb Wing. Through Larry's efforts, the
sacrifice and service of the men of the 315th will never be forgotten.
|August 1st and 2nd, 1945 - The first "Empire" mission: The target for the day was the Kawasaki Petroleum complex near Tokyo. The crew
encountered what was described as "meager" anti-aircraft fire that was very inaccurate. One Japanese fighter attacked Slicker 28 with what is
described as three "very inaccurate" bursts of machine gun fire. At the time of the fighter attack, Slicker 28 was caught in the searchlights
protecting the area. The lone Japanese fighter is reported to have made a very close, but ineffective attack, and the mission continued without
incident. Slicker 28 dropped twenty seven, 500 pound general purpose bombs from an altitude of 16,400 feet. The results of the bombing raid
were "unobserved" by anyone on the aircraft. Slicker 28 would get her first bomb insignia painted on her nose for this mission.
August 4th, 1945 - the crew was contacted by S2 intelligence officers who showed them an incendiary round which had been pulled from the tail
of Slicker 28. This was a result of the lone Japanese fighter making its pass on the aircraft during the previous mission.
August 5th and 6th, 1945 - Slicker 28 took off armed with thirty two 500 pound general purpose bombs. The target for the day was the coal
liquefaction plant located at Ube. The flight encountered no enemy opposition and the bombs were dropped from an altitude of 10,200 feet,
striking the target area.
August 9th and 10th, 1945 - armed with thirty two, 500 pound general purpose bombs, the target for the day was the Nippon Oil Company at
Amagasaki, near Osaka. Moderate anti-aircraft fire was encountered but no fighter aircraft opposition. The bombs were dropped from an altitude
of 16,400 feet striking the target area. The results of the strike were observed as "good." The missions lasted 14 hours and 40 minutes. Upon
returning to Guam, the crew learned that their previous mission to Ube had resulted in Ube being 95% destroyed.
August 14th and 15th, 1945 - the details of this last combat mission are listed below.
August 25th, 1945 - the crew flew a cargo mission to Florida Blanca Field on southern Luzon. Despite bad weather, the mission went without
incident. Total flight time was 7 hours and 15 minutes.
August 26th, 1945 - Another cargo trip to Florida Blanca, carrying 200 cargo parachutes. Total flight time was 7 hours.
August 31st, 1945 - the crew flew to Saipan to load supplies for a prisoner of war mission. Slicker 28 developed engine trouble and was left in
Saipan for repairs, the crew returning to Guam on other aircraft. Flight time was 1 hour, 45 minutes with Withee sitting in the left seat of the
aircraft for the flight.
September 5th, 1945 - the crew was ferried back to Saipan to pick up Slicker 28 following repairs. A new Dodge built engine was placed into the
number one engine slot and Slicker 28 was flown back home to Guam.
September 11th, 1945 - Slicker 28 is flown back to Saipan for her one hundred hour check up with various repairs being made.
September 22nd, 1945 - Slicker 28 is fully repaired and the crew takes her out for a test-hop and calibration mission. Withee flew the aircraft
from the left seat. Total flight time was 2 hours and 45 minutes.
September 25th, 1945 - Withee again flew from the left seat, getting additional training and aircraft command experience. Flight time was 4
hours and 30 minutes, with five practice landings.
September 27th, 1945 - Transition training from 7pm to 11pm, night flying. Withee flew from the left seat of the aircraft logging more night time
flying hours and instrument flying. Total flight time was 4 hours.
September 29th, 1945 - the crew flew more transition and instrument training from 7:30am to 11:00am. With 40+ landing on her undercarriage,
Slicker 28 is sent for an overhaul of her wheels and brakes. Withee again flew from the left seat.
October 3rd, 1945 - more transition, instrument and radar training flights. Withee flew from the left seat logging 2 hours and 40 minutes of flight
time. The GCA radar didn't function as advertised and caused the aircraft to land too far down field. Slicker 28 ended up several hundred feet
beyond the end of the runway with no damage other than the need for a new front wheel.
October 13th, 1945 - the crew flew to Saipan carrying six tons of rations to aid to Okinawa, which had been hard hit by a tropical storm. Total
flight time was 1 hour and 40 minutes, with Withee flying from the left seat.
October 14th, 1945 - proceeded to Okinawa with more cargo. The crew landed at Bolo Field #2 after the six hour flight. Japanese POW's
unloaded the cargo from Slicker 28 to haul it away.
October 15th, 1945 - Left Okinawa and returned to Guam without incident. Total flight time was 6 hours.
Slicker 28 would fly one more sortie with other pilots at the controls, providing a joy ride to a number of sailors. The 593 crew was then informed
that Slicker 28 would return to the States as a "war weary" aircraft. Her operational days of flying were over. Withee wrote fondly of the aircraft,
how well she had performed and how she had taken care of her crew.
November 30th, 1945 - Slicker 28 took off from Guam for the last time, returning back to Mathew Field, California for retirement.
|A small piece of paper depicting the group insignia
for the 331st Bomb Group.
|A few of Withee's insignia pieces and his original Ruptured Duck lapel pin.
|Like most WWII veterans, Withee would quietly return to civilian life, going to work with United Airlines and remaining there until his retirement.
In looking through his writings and the items he kept from the war, one could certainly feel the sense of pride he felt in the crew he served with and
their aircraft. He was quietly proud of his service during the war and maintained this pride for the remainder of his life.
Withee would dedicate his spare time to ensuring that the men who flew and fought in the 315th Bomb Wing, 331st Bomb Group would never be
forgotten and that their service would be well documented and preserved. He despised the cost of war on the men, the machines and the land. He
wrote of the beauty of the South Pacific and the heavy toll the war took on the islands and the people there. He also embraced the feeling that only a
pilot can know, the sensation of flight, of being free in the air and of the majesty of leaving the ground and returning safely, to fly yet again.
George Withee was a father, a grandfather, a pilot and an American airman. He was a combat veteran and at times he was a poet.
Withee would end his military career having been awarded the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal with two battle stars, the American
Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.
|A Bomber Pilot's Lament
By George M. Withee
If I should die as a falling star
That burns and sears the night,
Or fall unheard, like a wounded bird
At the end of gallant flight;
I would not shed one bitter tear,
I could not feel remorse
That I had wandered cloud-like
Along the planet's course.
If my life should end like a rocket's burst
Dripping flame upon the sea,
I would wander then forever
With the stars that were watching me.
I would wander then forevermore
With the Cross, the Swan or the Bear;
I would spend all time as a pilot-star
To guide those who ply the air.
|McCook Nebraska Crash
|On April 11th, 1945, Withee was the passenger aboard B-17 #6071 flying from Montgomery, Alabama back to McCook, Nebraska. Withee's B-29 had
encountered engine trouble while flying from McCook to Jaimaca and the crew was forced to land in Montgomery for repairs. B-17 #6071 was
dispatched from McCook to pick up Withee and the crew, then return to McCook. On their way to McCook, the B-17 landed in St. Louis and picked
up several more airmen before taking off in the dark, early morning hours to return to McCook. Due to an error with the altimeter, the B-17 would
crash into the ground in the dark countryside northwest of McCook Army Air Field. Five airmen lost their lives in the crash but Withee and the
For a more detailed account of the McCook crash, please follow the link below to Larry Miller's website, where a detailed account of the incident has
been recorded in Mr. Withee's own words.
As is indicated below, Larry Miller's website is a wealth of information and prior to his passing, Mr. Withee contributed a number of articles in his
own words about his experiences during the war.
|A dollar signed by the crew of Slicker 28. These are commonly referred to as "Short Snorters" and were a common practice by soldiers
and airmen during WWII, as a way of remembering the men they served with and in hopes they would all return home from the war.