B-24J/L TAIL GUNNER

USAAF

372nd Bomber Squadron /307th Bombardment Group

 
54436167_2182447001818413_8874913450275373056_n 2
Kehayias 2

William “Bill” Vasilios Kehayias was born in New York City, July 10, 1925. His father, Zafirios Anthony Kehayias was a Greek immigrant from Chorlou, a small town in Eastern Thrace, which at the turn of the 20th Century was part of the Ottoman Empire. Zafirios was born May 21, 1893, was a cobbler and married to Vasiliki who was from the nearby town of Rodosto, also in Eastern Thrace. They immigrated to the US on the SS Argentina, arriving September 1, 1913, and settled in New York City. Zafirios eventually owned and operated a shoe repair and hat cleaners at 3675 Broadway in upper Manhattan. According to his Declaration of Intention to naturalize, submitted on June 9, 1924, he and Vasiliki were living at 228 West 149th Street. Their son Vasilios (William) was born a year later. Zafirios struggled to keep his shoe store during the Great Depression and to add to his troubles, his wife Vasiliki passed away and he was raising his son Bill by himself. The Kehayias family joined the Greek Orthodox Church community of St. Spyridon in Washington Heights, located on Wadsworth Avenue, not that close to where they lived but the most vibrant Greek community in NYC, if not among the Greek communities in the entire United States. Bill joined the St. Spyridon youth group called the EON (Elliniki Orthodox Neolea - Greek Orthodox Youth), where Bill played basketball and captained the EON baseball and football teams. Vasili “Bill” was a bright student and when he completed junior high school, applied and was accepted into one of the top public high schools in NYC, Stuyvesant High School. According to his 1943 high school yearbook, he must have excelled in there, earning a scholarship pin, making the honor roll, and was his class Vice President. A typical wartime yearbook, Bill listed that his post-high school plan was to join in the US Army Air Corps. While still a high school senior, he enlisted in the US Army Air Force on April 9, 1943, in the USAAF’s Air Cadet Program for high school students. As a 17-year-old, he needed his father’s signature on his enlistment papers and his father was reluctant to sign, giving his permission for his only son to join the army. After a few minutes, Bill got impatient and said to his Greek immigrant father: "Do you love this country? Then sign on the line!". On January 11, 1944, William “Bill” Kehayias was sworn in and inducted (went on active duty) in the USAAF. He was sent to Ft. Dix, NJ for basic training. After completing a series of different tests, including intelligence and mechanical aptitude, he was assigned to Air Mechanics School at Keesler Field, Biloxi, Mississippi. After graduating from the AM School, he was sent to Harlingen Field, Texas for Gunnery School. Bill was then sent to Tonopah, Nevada for Air Crew Training June-July 1944. He was assigned to a crew, their number was 313. Their first of many training flights took place June 18, 1944. The pilot in his crew was R.L. 'Bob' Franklin The flight engineer was named Delbert “Bud” Hostletter. An unusual but positive coincidence was that another Greek-American was part of Bill’s crew, Constantine “Gus” Skidas (for whom we are going to make a separate tribute), radioman and gunner from Pennsylvania. On September 24, 1944, the Franklin crew flew from Hamilton Field, California to Fairfield Suison Field, California then to John Rogers Air Base, Oahu, Hawaii. They arrived at John Rogers Airfield, Oahu, Hawaii on September 29, 1944. On Oct. 1, 1944, they flew from John Rogers Field, Hawaii to Canton Island. From Canton Island, the next stop was the Fiji Islands then Townsville, Australia. From Townsville, they were flown in a C-47 to Nadzab, New Guinea.

Top: Official Portrait of William 'Bill' Kehayias probably taken after his graduation from Gunnery School in Harlingen Field, Texas (Andrew Paspalas Archive) 
Bottom: Lt Franklin Crew (#313) poses in front of a 307th Bombardment Group B-24. William Kehayias kneels on the far right of the picture. Although unidentified in the photo the crew was consisting by pilot Lt. Franklin, Co-Pilot Lt. Poggi, Navigator Lt.Gray, Bombardier Lt. Durst and gunners Corporals Hosterler, Hong, Skidas, McCurry, Brena, and Kehayias. Worthy of note is that Skidas was also a Greek American and along 'Bill' they consisted one of the many bombers crews which were manned by more than one men with Hellenic parentage. (Andrew Paspalas Archive)
Kehayias 10
Kehayias 11
B-24J-195-CO, 44-41133, 'This Is It' was flown by Franklin crew for at least two missions. The nose-art was drawn by Joe Origlio was inspired by Miss October 1944, from the Esquire Magazine calendar, painted by the artist Alberto Vargas. This same image was used by several other nose art painters during the War. The original image in the calendar was drawn on a blank background. As with many of his other nose art paintings, Joe Origlio added a South Pacific theme to the setting. The model is posed here on a beach with a coconut tree, not unlike the beach near the seaside airfield on Morotai Island which was the base for the 307th Bomb Group from October 1944 until September 1945. The tail fins spray painted with the Long Rangers logo for the 307th Bombardment Group and the squadron colors were probably also painted by squadron painter Joe Origlio, who was responsible for many great artworks, except #133. Those included #176 'My Irish Colleen', #354 'Louise Mary', #442 'Indian Thummer', #548 'Polly', #554 'Dancing Dolly' and many more. (Copyright Gaetan Marie, photos by http://www.b24bestweb.com via John Origlio, further info http://www.307bg.net/Newsletters/2015/Newsletter-4-15-15.pdf)

He and his crew were assigned to the 13th Air Force, 307th Bomb Group “the Long Rangers” 372nd Bomb Squadron. Bill and the Franklin crew were not assigned a specific B-24 but many of their missions were flown in a B-24 named “This Is It”. Bill’s position in the aircraft was the tail gunner and at age 19 was the youngest of the ten men of his crew. He flew his first mission on November 8, 1944, a raid to Alicante Airdrome, Philippine Islands. Although against USAAF regulations, some bomber crewmen upon their return from a mission wrote down some details and notes of their experiences, Bill decided to write down his own post-mission notes on Red Cross stationary. Flying the B-24, it should come as no surprise that his first mission was more than 13 hours in the air! Bill’s crew and others like his, dropped 180-pound bombs, experienced moderate to heavy flak on what was only on his third mission. Worse was to come ( according to his wartime notes and post-war memories) when on November 16, 1944, the 372nd Bomb Squadron attacked Brunei Bay, Borneo, in his words; a real, "tough strike". Each B-24 used five, 1000 pound, general, general purpose bombs, attacking various Japanese naval shipping. The squadron encountered “heavy, intense accurate anti-aircraft fire and Bill’s plane received a 16-inch hole in its right rudder. Bill said "flak bursts shook the hell out of me" and the flak broke the bulletproof glass in the turret. It wasn’t always Japanese anti-aircraft fire that made the combat missions so tough, besides the difficult SW Pacific tropical weather conditions, it was also the long-range flights. On January 20, 1945, the 372nd BS bombed Nielson Field, Manila (Luzon Island, Pl) and Bill’s plane spent 12 hours and 40 minutes in the air. Rough weather caused more gas consumption than usual and Bill admitted "sweating it out" before they finally made it back to base. Bill Kehayias went on to fly a total of 40 Missions including one on December 27, 1944, that was one of the longest on record for a B-24 in the SW Pacific Theater of Operations; 13.30 Hours, the mission was a search for Japanese shipping targets. Bill and his crew earned a well-deserved leave after their 30th combat mission and spent it in Brisbane and Sydney, Australia. Many years later, Bill still fondly recalled the Greek-Australian owned "milk bars" and cafes that he enjoyed in February 1945. With his final mission, his 40th, he had flown an approximate 400 hours in combat. These missions also earned him a promotion to Staff Sergeant as well as the Air Medal with 8 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters. His last mission on April 18, 1945, earned him his 'ticket' back to the States and also a well-earned furlough home. Unfortunately, transportation was difficult and he had to wait for a boat ride home, as no flights back to the US were available but he was home in June 1945. By October 1945 Bill was at the AAF Depot in Greensboro, North Carolina and ready for his separation papers but as with most US GIs that called NYC home, he was officially discharged from Fort Dix, NJ on October 11, 1945 Returning home to New York City, he enrolled in college with the assistance of the GI Bill and studied Industrial Engineering at Columbia University. He had a successful career as an engineer with such major corporations as IBM. William was blessed to create a happy family with two children, and two grandchildren, becoming not only a grandfather but a great-grandfather too. 

Kehayias 1
Kehayias 9
Top: Franklin Crew in an unofficial photo taken while the 307th BG based in New Guinea. Crew relaxation was of great importance considering that they flew long-range missions which lasted over 12 and 13 hours! Kehayias standing far right. (Andrew Paspalas Archive)
Bottom: When V-J was announced (Victory over Japan) he was also home on furlough and a rare photo was taken of Bill with his fellow Greek-Americans from St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Washington Heights who also happened to one home leave at the same time. (Andrew Paspalas Archive)
Kehayias 7
Kehayias 6
William (Basilios) Kehayias during a visit in the National War War II Memorial in Washington, D.C in 2010. In the right photo, he is standing beside Bob Dole, a retired American politician, statesman an attorney. Dole joined the United States Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps to fight in World War II, becoming a second lieutenant in the Army's 10th Mountain Division. was decorated three times, receiving two Purple Hearts for his injuries, and the Bronze Star with "V" Device for valor for his attempt to assist a downed radio man. The World War II Memorial is a memorial of national significance dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II. Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a square and fountain, it sits on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington MonumentOpened on April 29, 2004, it was dedicated by. President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004. The memorial is administered by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group. (Andrew Paspalas Archive, further info via Wikipedia)
Kehayias 5
An official letter which was written by USAAF Lt.General George C. Kenney to Williams father, Zafirios Kehayias, explaining about his son contribution in the Air War over the South West Pacific. Kenney enlisted as a flying cadet in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps in 1917, and served on the Western Front with the 91st Aero Squadron. He was awarded a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross for actions in which he fought off German fighters and shot two down. After hostilities ended he participated in the Occupation of the Rhineland. Returning to the United States, he flew reconnaissance missions along the border between the US and Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Commissioned into the Regular Army in 1920, he attended the Air Corps Tactical School and later became an instructor there. He was responsible for the acceptance of Martin NBS-1 bombers built by Curtis, and test flew them. He also developed techniques for mounting 0.30 caliber machine guns on the wings of an Airco DH.4 aircraft. In early 1940, Kenney became Assistant Military Attaché for Air in France. As a result of his observations of German and Allied air operations during the early stages of World War II, he recommended significant changes to Air Corps equipment and tactics. In July 1942, he assumed command of the Allied Air Forces and Fifth Air Force in General Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area. Under Kenney's command, the Allied Air Forces developed innovative command structures, weapons, and tactics that reflected Kenney's orientation towards attack aviation. The new weapons and tactics won perhaps his greatest victory, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, in March 1943. In June 1944 he was appointed the commander of the Far East Air Forces (FEAF), which came to include the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Seventh Air Forces. In April 1946, Kenney became the first commander of the newly formed Strategic Air Command (SAC), but his performance in the role was criticized, and he was shifted to become commander of the Air University, a position he held from October 1948 until his retirement from the Air Force in September 1951. (Andrew Paspalas Archive, further info via wikipedia)

WILLIAM (BASILIOS) KEHAYIAS COMBAT MISSIONS

Kehayias 12

MISSION
NUMBER
MISSION
DATE
FLIGHT
DURATION
BOMBER
SERIAL & NOSEART
TARGET
108 - 11 - 194412:20B-24J-195-CO, 44-41133, 'This Is It'Alicante A/D
214 - 11 - 19443:40B-24J-165-CO, 44-40535, 'Janie'Celebes
316 - 11 - 194411:30B-24J-165-CO, 44-40535, 'Janie'Brunei Bay, IJN Fleet
423 - 11 - 19449:45B-24J-165-CO, 44-40535, 'Janie'Bacolod A/D
526 - 11 - 19449:30B-24J-165-CO, 44-40535, 'Janie'La Carlota A/D
629 - 11 - 194410:45B-24J-195-CO, 44-41133, 'This Is It'Puerto Princesa
702 - 12 - 194410:15B-24L-10-FO, 44-49617, 'Bobbie Lou Too'Dumaguete
806 - 12 - 194410:20B-24J/LBacolod
909 - 12 - 19448:55B-24J/LLingas Tank Farm
1012 - 12 - 19449:10B-24J/LBacolod A/D
1114 - 12 - 19449:55B-24J-165-CO, 44-40535, 'Janie'Mologo
1220 - 12 - 19449:40B-24J/LSanta Barbara A/D
1322 - 12 - 19442:50B-24J/LLolabata A/D
1424 - 12 - 194410:30B-24J/LPuerto Princesa
1527 - 12 - 194413:30B24J-205-CO, 44-41290, 'Gruesome 16'Shipping Search - Longest B-24 Mission to date.
1602 - 01 - 19452:05B-24J/LWasilo Bay
1705 - 01 - 19450:50B-24J/LTurn Back
1806 - 01 - 194512:05B-24J/LNielson A/D
1909 - 01 - 194512:10B-24J/LBatangas
2012 - 01 - 194512:50B-24J/LLuzon
2117 - 01 - 194512:25B-24J/LTalisay
2220 - 01 - 194512:40B-24J/LFabrica R/W
2322 - 01 - 194508:40B-24J/LFabrica A/D
2424 - 01 - 194512:15B-24J/LLuzon Naval Base
2526 - 01 - 194512:35B-24J/LBinalbagan Sugar Control
2629 - 01 - 194512:45B-24J/L
2702 - 02 - 194512:25B-24J/LCorregidor Luzon
2803 - 02 - 19454:35B-24J/LConvoy Cover
2905 - 02 - 194510:05B-24J/LSeppingan R/W
3008 - 02 - 194510:55B-24J/LManggar A/D
3111 - 02 - 194512:10B-24J/LCorregidor Luzon
3207 - 03 - 19457:10B-24J/LZamboanga
3311 - 03 - 19459:00B-24J/LZettelfield
3414 - 03 - 19458:35B-24J/LCapisan Town
3518 - 03 - 194510:20B-24J/LSeppingan R/W
3622 - 03 - 194510:50B-24J/LLiloan Town
3726 - 03 - 19459:00B-24J/LCebu City
3829 - 03 - 194512:50B-24J/LOelin
3902 - 04 - 194510:20B-24J/LCavu
4010 - 04 - 19456:45B-24J/LLiang R/W
4118 - 04 - 19456:35B-24J/LCatobato

Researched and Written by Andrew Paspalas

 

Sources

 

Andrew Paspalas personal correspondence with William 'Bill' Kehayias relatives

William 'Bill' Kehayias personal notes regarding his missions.

307th Bombardment Group Mission Narratives

307th Bombardment Group - The Long Rangers website 

B-24 Best Web

Wikipedia