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Memoirs of a B-29 Pilot

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Memoirs of a B-29 Pilot
  • by Charles R. Reyher, Major, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Memoir Series
      • Second Edition 2012
      • 202 6×9-inch pages
      • 26 B&W photos
      • 10 documents
      • 1 map
  • Charles Reyher passed away in 2009.
This memoir is of the author’s wartime experiences leading up to and as a B-29 Superfortress Aircraft Commander.. He was engaged in the Air Offensive--Japan from the Marianas Islands in the South Pacific. He looks back at those experiences from the professional view of a retired airline captain, having flown over 35 years of service with Trans World Airlines.


After graduation as a pilot cadet, he became a bomb approach pilot at a bombardier training base for one year. Then, rated as a B-17 Flying Fortress 1st Pilot, he spent six months duty as a B-17 instructor pilot at an airbase training new B-17 crews as replacements for the 8th Air Force in England. Many months of training to be a B-29 Aircraft Commander followed.


He arrived at newly constructed Northwest Field, Guam, in early June 1945. 125 factory-new B-29B Superfortresses made up the new 315th Very Heavy Bomb Wing. He and his crew flew 13 missions before the end of the war, all against oil targets.
In addition to covering his wartime service, the author concludes the book with several chapters detailing various aspects of the air war against Japan and how he believes attacking Japan’s oil refineries and supplies could have ended the war even without the use of the atomic bombs.
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Why the B-29 Was Built
  • Deming, New Mexico
  • The China B-29s
  • Hobbs, New Mexico
  • Sioux City, Iowa
  • Formation Flying
  • Harvard, Nebraska
  • My First Look at a B-29
  • Meeting My Crew
  • The Solo Flight With My Crew
  • The 315th Bomb Wing Readies for Guam
  • The “Chicago Queen” Leaves for Guam
  • Northwest Field, Guam
  • Air Combat Begins
  • The Special Mission of the 315th Bomb Wing
  • Status of the Air War in June 1945
  • Mission Planning and Getting Ready
  • Maximum Gross Weight Take-offs
  • A Typical Bomb Run
  • My First Mission, Kudamatsu, A Near Disaster
  • The 509th Composite Group and the Atomic Bomb
  • The Blockade of Japan
  • The Fire Bombing of Japanese Cities
  • The 7th Fighter Command
  • Air and Sea Rescue in the Pacific Combat Theaters
  • More About Iwo Jima and Okinawa
  • The Planned Invasion of Japan
  • The Kamikaze
  • Japan’s Preparation for an American Landing on Kyushu
  • More Combat Missions
  • The Last Mission of World War II
  • August 15, 1945
  • MacArthur is Appalled
  • Flight to the Philippines for Prisoner of War Supplies
  • My Prisoner of War Drop
  • A Legal Buzz Job of Japan
  • My Flight to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., and Discharge
  • Post War
  • Addendum
  • Testimony
  • B-29 Ditchings at Iwo Jima
  • About the Author
Review by Mike Keenan, CDR, USN (Ret): I recently purchased subject book (written by my uncle). I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I learned a lot more about my uncle's war experience, his flying career, and the war effort in the Pacific. Thank you so much for publishing my uncle's memoirs!
Review by Benton C. Tolley, Retired Air Force General: Your book Memoirs of a B-29 Pilot was not only interesting, but was fascinating to me. It brought back many 63-year-old memories, some I had almost forgotten. Many thanks to you, Shasha and Bill Burns. Your book inspired me to do something my family has been after me to do for a number of years. When I started to write a response, my wife said, "Now that your memory has been refreshed, why don't you prepare an account of your experience in the war that your children have been asking you to do for years, something which you have never done." Here is the result: Our experience in the B-29 program had a number of similarities. I entered the U.S. Army Flying Cadet Program in July 1941 at Hicks Field, Ft. Worth, Texas [Class of 42-A] along with 21 other cadets; all of us had been students at Washington and Lee University. I washed out in primary. I was recruited and started Navigation School at Mather Field, Sacramento, California in October 1941. I had only 13 classmates. The early instructors were Pan Am navigators. I graduated and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in January of 1942. I, along with two other members of my class was retained as an instructor by the school at Mather Field. From January 1942 [after Pearl Harbor] until November 1944, I served in the Training Command. I served in a teaching or executive capacity at Mather Field, San Marcos, Texas [new navigation school we opened], Turner Field, Albany, Georgia [instructor school we opened primarily for navigators returning from completing their missions with the 8th Air Force] and Ellington Field, Houston, Texas. I entered the B-29 Program in November of 1944. At the time I was assigned to such program, I was told the program was set up to use experienced pilots and crew members. I reported to a personnel pool at an air base in Lincoln, Nebraska where I met the members of our crew: Pilot--Aircraft Commander: Capt. John Cambier, former pilot at a Bombardier School who had many hours flying students in AT-11 aircraft. I have no knowledge of his transition into four-engine training or his aircraft commander training, but the first time I flew with him I knew he was an excellent and experienced pilot. Co-Pilot: 2nd Lieutenant Ed Burton recently graduated from pilot training. Bombardier: 1st Lieutenant John Stoney former instructor at a Bombardier School. Navigator: Capt. Benton Tolley experienced navigation instructor and navigator. Radar Operator: Capt. Percy Jones former Navigation Instructor and Navigator. [We had served together at San Marcos, Texas in the Training Command.] Flight Engineer: Sgt. Eddie Nadolski an orphan who was raised and educated at Father Flanagan's Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska [Great flight engineer, I credit him along with our Aircraft Commander with the reason we never experienced any problem with fuel at anytime we flew the B-29s.] Also on our crew was a radio operator, two scanner gunners, a central fire control operator and a tail gunner. I am embarrassed, as I do not now remember the names of these crew members. I have never kept up with my crew after we were disbanded. I do know they were all good, were devoted to their jobs and were well trained. We performed our phase training in a west Texas dust bowl located at Peyote, Texas near Pecos, Texas. Here our crew had our first flight in a B-29. What a huge bird and the wings moved up and down like a bird. Our training was intense and we completed our six cross-country training missions and it seemed we flew all over the USA. The only problem we had was a lost trailing radio antenna when we went through an electrical storm. From Peyote we traveled by a troop train to Kearney Army Air Base in Nebraska. We were traveling on secret orders. When the train arrived at the station, six of our wives were on the platform of the station waving white handkerchiefs as our train pulled in. At Kearney we picked up our beautiful new B-29. It shined like a new silver coin and we were told it would be our part time home in the future. Some of our wives had joined us in Peyote. They had stayed at a hotel in Pecos, Texas. It was here in Kearney we had to tell our wives good bye, we were now on our way overseas. [At Peyote I had given my wife a diamond wrist watch. When she got home to Washington, DC the watch stopped running. She took it to a jeweler for repair and learned the watch was full of sand from the Texas dust bowl.] From Kearney we flew to Mather Field, Sacramento, California. There we were briefed and prepared for our flight to Saigon by way of Honolulu, Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands with stopovers at each place. We left Mather on May 8, 1945 [VE-Day] and arrived at Isley Field, Saipan on May 11, 1945. We were a replacement crew assigned to the 73 Bomb Wing VH, 497th Bomb Group. WE learned within hours of our arrival that there was a protest made by the Chaplin's of the wing about the names and pictures some of the crews had selected for their B-29s. We discussed the matter with our crew and decided to name our B-29 the "Spirit of Boys Town." Our flight engineer was a graduate of Father Flanagan's Boys Town, was the only Catholic on our crew and unbeknown to any of us, had gotten the Catholic Chaplin at Mather Field to bless our B-29 before we left for Saipan. Things we learned on arrival:

     1. We would be flying a scheduled mission every three days;

     2. An emergency landing strip was available on Iwo Jima;

     3. The 7th Fighter Command was based on Iwo and the P-51 pilots would be flying escort on some of our bombing missions;

     4. The Air Sea Rescue Service would be available to us in emergencies [as the navigator, I always was furnished positions of the various rescue sources for each mission].

     5. We would be a long time in the air as our missions usually lasted between 13 to 15 hours; and

     6. On our first mission, we would have a senior experienced pilot fly with us. Our co­pilot would not fly the mission. Such did happen.

     The first four or five mission we flew were day light demolition bombings. We flew up past Iwo Jima, rendezvous off the mainland of Japan, got into formation with our group and proceeded to our assigned targets. Our bombardier dropped our bombs off the drop made by the lead crew bombardier. The Japanese flak was always heavy, but our crew was fortunate to usually be in the first part of the formation. The radio operator and I shared the compartment in our B-29, which contained the big forward gun turret. He was able to obtain some extra flak garments and we lined the floor of our compartment with these heavy garments. We wanted all the protection we could get. After our last demolition-bombing mission we lost our B-29. Some mechanical problems developed which were never solved while we were there. We were told that "The Spirit" was salvaged for parts. Because of this problem, we were assigned some of the spare B-29s for our missions. The remainder of our missions were night time individual fire bomb missions. We flew to Japan alone, dropped our bombs by radar on our assigned target alone, and came off the target alone and returned to Saipan alone. Many other B-29s did the same, bombing the same target, making the air collision risk very high. There were no navigation lights on and frequently we encountered "prop wash" from other B-29s. It was most scary, particularly with all these B-29s converging on the same target. Our crew members were constantly on the look out for other B-29's especially over the target areas. Youth and good night vision was a blessing. I did not keep any record of the various targets we bombed on the 13 missions we flew. I know we were part of the mission on Yokohama May 29, 1945. It was the most successful mission we participated in. Our last mission was our 13th and was flown in V-square 13 B-29. I have never been superstitious since. We were most fortunate, as we never had to land at Iwo. We had no engine trouble on any mission; we saw Japanese fighter aircraft only on our demolition bombing runs. Our aircraft commander and our flight engineer did a wonderful job on the fuel consumption. My navigation was done solely by celestial navigation, sun lines in the daytime with the moon, stars and planets at night. I stayed busy as I wanted to be able at any time to give my pilot a position report and a heading in the event of an emergency. Since our Radar Operator was also a navigator, on some occasions on our return to Saipan, he would crawl through our padded tunnel and take over for me. I would get into the tunnel and take a nap. The fire bombings were a very essential part of the destruction of Japan by the 20th Air Force. The fiery napalm bomblets we dropped would bum anything. I frequently was concerned that many Japanese women and children were victims of these terrible bombs. We all know war is hell. In late June 1945, our crew was pulled off missions. We were given orders to return to California and attend lead crew school. We were stationed at Muroc, California in the middle of the Mohave Desert going through extensive secret training on August 6, 1945 when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later the second was dropped on Nagasaki and on August 15 we all celebrated the end of the war. We were sent back to Mather field and there awaited air transportation back to Saipan, as our orders required. Fortunately, our orders were changed, our crew disbanded with members sent to Army bases near their homes to be discharged. I was put in charge of a troop train with some 50 GIs to go from Sacramento, California to Ft. Mead, Maryland. We were attached to freight and passenger trains making our way across the country. In Chicago, we sat in the stockyards for almost a week, waiting for a hook-up to continue our cross-country trip. During the week I did not have any of my men go AWOL or get into trouble, as they knew they were on their way home to be discharged. The demolition and fire bombings of Japan's cities and industries, the destruction of its oil refinery and storage facilities, the strategic mining of Japan's ports and the atomic bombs all carried out by B-29 aircraft, the crews who flew them, the ground crews who serviced them, and all other support personnel prevented the scheduled invasion of Japan. Had the invasion been necessary the destruction would have been enormous the casualties multitudinous. We all should be grateful for the B-29 programs of the 20th Air Force.

Review by Colonel Terry A. Yon, USA (Ret), Public Relations Officer, Valiant Air Command: Got your book yesterday and read it last night; fascinating story; you have had quite a life. My Dad was a bombadier with the 364th on Okinawa which did not get into the war, but he was sent TDY as advance party and was on Guam North Field with 314th and flew with them over Japan. Thank you for your service; they throw the word 'Hero' around a lot today, but (to me) it was folks like you in WWII that gave us the freedoms we cherish today. You were, indeed, the greatest generation!

Review in TARPA Topics, July 2008 [TWA Active Retired Pilots Association; Chuck was a TWA Captain, 1947-1982: This is a first-person account, from a pilot's perspective, of the World War II air war in the Far East and a most remarkable aircraft, the B-29 Superfortress. With the U.S. and Japan at war, the world entered a new era of global warfare with no aircraft with the range and payload capabilities of reaching the enemy's homeland. The development and production of the Boeing B-29 became one of the highest priority. The U.S. spent over three billion dollars on it, more than it spent on the entire Manhattan Project. There were 3,960 aircraft built between 1943 and 1946--excluding 847 Soviet Tu-4 "Bull's", an exact reverse-engineered copy which Russia and China flew well into the 1960s. Anyone who flew "big pistons" (or just is interested in them) will like Chuck's account of the plane and the mission: "...An uncontrollable engine fire could even shed a wing. The engines were newly developed and huge at 2200 horsepower each with four-bladed propellers over 16 feet in diameter. The problem was with engine cowling, causing overheating, and another tendency was to 'swallow valves' (cylinder failure) ... Since the 315th Wing was stripped of all guns except the tail gun, we had two gunners each without guns. They were called Scanners and kept the engines on their side of the aircraft under constant observation. We had no fire warning devices in the cockpit, nor could we see the engines from the cockpit. When over Japan the Scanners were necessary observers for enemy fighter attack or an impending side collision with another B-29 on its own individual attack." The B-29 must have been a lot like the L-1049 "Connie" [Constellation]: MGTW [Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight] B-29 - 133,500 pounds; Connie - 137,500 pounds. The big difference would have been in performance, with the B-29 totaling 8,800 hp (4 x 2,200) vs. the Connie with R-3350 DA turbo compounds rated at 3,400 hp x 4 = 13,600! Chuck tells of 2,400 emergency landings at Iwo Jima by aircraft returning from Japan in the summer of 1945. "... [They] were brave men who had a difficult job which they performed with great skill and courage." And, the same can be said of the author.
Review in The Intercom, Cape Canaveral Chapter, MOAA, August 2008: Major Charles Reyher, USAF (Ret), a member of the [Cape Canaveral Chapter of MOAA--the Military Officers Association of America], has published a book of his wartime experiences. He was engaged in the air offensive against Japan from the Marianas to the raids on Tokyo. He looks back on those experiences from the professional view of a retired airline captain, having flown over 35 years with Trans World Airlines. After graduation as a pilot cadet he was trained as a pilot and a bombardier and rated as a B-17 Flying Fortress 1st pilot. He instructed B-17 pilots, then was trained to be a B-29 Aircraft Commander. He was assigned to Guam where 125 new B-29B Superfortresses made up the new 135th Very Heavy Bomb Wing. He flew 13 combat missions against oil targets in Japan before the war ended.
Review in Military Officer, MOAA, August 2008: This memoir is of the author’s wartime experiences as a B-29 Superfortress Aircraft Commander during World War II. In addition to covering his wartime service, the author concludes the book with several chapters detailing various aspects of the air war against Japan.
Review by John K. Kelly, Retired History Professor, University of Delaware: Congratulations on your new book. It is most assuredly one of the great stories of the 20th century.
Review by Thomas G. Dickinson, M.D., Sarasota, Florida (during World War II, Tom was a Navy Flight Surgeon, and a rated pilot, assigned to carrier duty in the Pacific): I have my copy of your book and it is most interesting. I have also sent one out to an old squadron mate in California.
Review by Jay Burns: Your wonderful and personalized book has been received with much pleasure. It actualizes dreams I had in 1943, which provides a layer of enchantment. The book is a fine job and you have much to be proud of.

Review by Rob Boulis
: I want to praise your service to our country and the wonderful book that you have written to tell your place in history. [My wife] Bev had even sent a copy to my father, who was just a boy when you were at war, and he has kudos for you as well. Both Dad and I are avid readers and we like historical biographies and novels. This was a winner with us. I was moved by your personal revelations and was cheering when you went on your final mission. The followup with your private career goals finally achieved was just the American dream come true. Life experiences like this are the American dream and I applaud you and aspire to reach for the stars myself. Thank you again for penning a winning book.

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