“Holy Joe” Holy Shit!

Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.  Right?

B-29-20-BA Superfortress (s/n 42-63489) named “Holy Joe” was assigned to  the 881st Bomb Squadron, 500th Bomb Group, 20th Air Force based on Saipan.

On 18 FEB, 1945, with 1/Lt James M. Pearson in command and co-pilot 2/Lt Edward Porada they took of at 0647 HRs to bomb an aircraft factory in Tokyo Japan.  The trip to the target was met with moderate opposition of fighters and light flak. Coming off the bomb run and turning for home, things got hot.

“Seven fighters came at us in a head-on coordinated attack’ one after the other. Three 20-mm. shells hit the right inboard engine. One of them hit the oil tank, dumping all the oil for that engine, which immediately began running away, Overheated, it burst into flame. We dove steeply at more than 400 miles an hour straight at Tokyo Bay, dropping from over 25,000 feet to less than 12,000 in an effort to put out the fire and spin off the prop.

“The fire went out but the prop was still spinning and wouldn’t feather The engine caught fire again. We dove another 4000 feet and that did it. The prop whirled off all right, spinning at terrific speed. It slashed back into the fuselage, ripping a hole 10 feet long and two feet wide. We’d saved ourselves from a very awkward ditch job right in Tokyo’s front yard, but we were still in a rough spot.”

-1/Lt James M. Pearson, pilot

Pearson and  Porada nursed their crippled bomber home.  Reducing their air speed to 150 knots, it would become the longest mission of the War.  The B-29 “Mission to Albuquerque” Piloted by Major Robert Fitzgerald escorted them.  With the very real possibility of “Holy Joe” just falling apart, Fitzgerald stood close by to radio the ditch or bail out position if needed.

Maj. Fitzgerald and his co-pilot, Robert E. Copeland, were lost over Tokyo on March 16, 1945.

After 17 hours in the air, it was just after midnight when  Pearson and Porada lined up for a landing.

“After nearly 18 hours of flying, we came in sight of our base around midnight, a few hours overdue, Fitzgerald still aiding us. Can’t commend him enough. We were leery of our landing gears and the nature of our landing, made a beautiful approach and soft landing. We were just a short ways up the runway, still clipping it off, when something happened, due to lack of hydraulic pressure for brakes, I think . We ran off the strip, smashed into a truck, hit a cleat truck, turning if over, tore through an embankment and smashed into a parked B-29 (Z9) on its hard stand. I was standing up in the Radar room, got thrown clean up into the CFC (Central Fire Control) compartment, not missing anything and nothing missing me. Got out with banged up nose. Two other gunners in back with me didn’t get hurt either, nor the remainder of the crew in the front. Driver of the truck was seriously injured, cleat truck man was killed instantly. I’ll never know how the boys in the front got out, the nose was ripped off completely to the wings and twisted around, the fuselage battered on all directions, cowlings, landing gears and everything imaginable lying all over. The tail was at least 20-25 ft. in the air, the tunnel twisted, making it impossible to get thru. We had to wait for a rope to climb down. Z9 was knocked off its stand and into the embankment. It was also cut in two, the tail lying all over and the fuselage flattened By the time we got out, they were washing the blood away with a hose and a huge crowd had gathered. Our crew was intact, the pilot injured slightly and we got out of the scene immediately. Taken to the dispensary for slight treatment, received a double shot, wonderful stimulant, ate a meal and a very tired and jittery crew called it a day. Three planes out of the four in our formation, or rather element, will never fly again, but one of the crews will be back another day, less exciting, I hope.”

-S/Sgt Jack L. Heffner, Radar Operator

This isn’t a picture of “Holy Joe”, but it shows how her tail ended up 25 feet in the air.


S/Sgt Jack L Heffner received the Purple Heart and the entire crew received the Distinguished Flying Cross and a rest leave in Hawaii after this mission. S/Sgt Heffner flew 25 more missions after this one. Heffner says 1/Lt Pearson was as “cool and steady as a rock”. You can see Heffner with his broken nose in this next picture.


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