Miscellaneous Photos 3
The images on this page are from material contributed by David W. Ecoff, Sr. Dave is the 20th Combat Mapping Squadron reunion coordinator, Hawkeyes Newsletter Editor, and all-around focal point for matters relating to the 20th.
Dave was one of the original 12 F-7A pilots to arrive overseas in the spring of 1944. He retired in 1980 as a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, having long before traded in his B-24 derivatives for KC-97's.
This version of 20th CMS signboard was probably photographed at Biak Island in the fall of 1944. (Compare to the earlier sign which appears at top of the home page.)
The "Hawkeyes" Group at the time was the 6th Photographic Group, Reconnaissance and included, besides the 20th CMS: the 8th, 25th, and 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadrons, all flying F-5's (photo versions of P-38 Lightnings). In late 1944 a fourth F-5 squadron was added: the 36th.
Patches and ribbons relating to the 20th Combat Mapping Squadron / 20th Reconnaissance Squadron, Long Range, Photo-RCM.
The three patches are left-to-right: (1) the squadron, "Flying Dumbos", with the four stars representing the 4th Photographic Group, to which the 20th belonged before going overseas; (2) the Fifth Air Force patch; and (3) the group symbol of the 6th Photo Group "Hawkeyes"--a diving black hawk--on a background of the 20th's squadron color, yellow.
The ribbons represent the squadron's World War II service. They are, left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Distinguished Unit Citation for 18-25 Sep 44 photo work preparatory to the invasion of Leyte; the American Theater service streamer; the Pacific-Asiatic Theater Medal with 11 service stars; the World War II Victory Medal; the Philippine Liberation Medal with three service stars; the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.
(The display was built and photographed by Dave Ecoff. This image of it was provided by Rich Lacharite, son of 20th veteran, Joseph M. Lacharite.)
The first overseas loss for the squadron was Lt. Loren Barstow's crew. In the early morning darkness of 22 May 1944, F-7A 42-73052 crashed near the peak of Mt. Wilhelm, New Guinea. All aboard perished. The crew was ultimately recovered and temporarily interred at Nadzab.
This is a color example of Al Merkling's art work. The aircraft is F-7A 42-64053, "Hangover Haven II". To the left of the nose art are mission markers for 11 missions, seven of them successful. The basic mission symbol was a black aerial camera silhouette, suggestive of a K-17 camera with 12" lens cone. A five-pointed star was painted above the camera for a successful mission. There were three defined symbol combinations for a failed mission: camera with cloud and lightning bolt for failure due to weather, camera with X for mechanical failure, and camera with C.F. for crew failure. The only one of these commonly used was the camera with cloud. Often a failed mission, whatever the reason, was represented by only a camera.
Unplanned, Unwanted, Landing at Middleburg Island
On 14 August 1944 the crews of Lts. Brower, Rives, and Ecoff departed Biak for photo mission 227Z-6 to Morotai Island. After arrival at the target, Ecoff's craft, F-7A 42-64047 "Patched Up Piece", lost oil pressure in engine #4, which was eventually shutdown. Ecoff aborted the mission and turned for home, expecting an uneventful 3-engine return. After a slow descent to 10,000 feet on the return, engine #3 followed the example of #4 and it too was shut down. With both starboard engines out, #4047 was more than a handful for both pilot and copilot, so Air-Sea Rescue was notified and a place to park the ailing bird was sought out.
To the crew's good fortune, tiny Middleburg Island had recently been occupied by American forces who were busy building a landing strip there. The navigator, Lt. Warren Riopelle, got them there with still a few thousand feet of altitude in hand. A red flare fired by flight engineer, Jim Duffy, cleared the Corps of Engineers and their equipment from the strip and Ecoff set "Patched Up Piece" down just 15 feet from the end of the runway and stopped her in 1800 feet. All four engines were later found to be dangerously low on oil.
The crew was able to depart on 16 August, after sufficient additional runway had been completed to enable a safe takeoff. (A navigation map dating from the period shows the runway was eventually 5400 feet long--virtually the entire length of the island.)
The photos below were courtesy of newsreel crews on hand to record the first landing on Middleburg. It was not intended that that honor be afforded a young 20th CMS pilot, but instead it was intended to go to a General who was on hand for the occassion. Needless to say the General was not happy to be upstaged from out of the blue. I suspect he made every effort to get that F-7A off his island, post haste.
Cameraman on Middleburg catches Dave Ecoff setting down "Patched Up Piece" on 1800 feet of incompleted runway.
The unexpected arrival of "Patched Up Piece" draws a crowd. Out of camera shot construction of the runway continues.
The crew waited nearly three days for enough runway to be completed for a safe takeoff and return to Biak. In the interim #4047 was the biggest show in town.
F-7B Crew Accepts Surrender of Japanese Airbase
On 6 September 1945, four days after the Japanese unconditional surrender, the crews of Lt. Chuck Bridge and Lt. John Bock were over Honshu engaged in a photo mission. Their primary interest was a fighter base where about 60 war-weary aircraft were assigned. Bock's aircraft, F-7B 44-42028, developed an engine problem which required it to be shut down. The loss was made worse by props that wouldn't feather, so Bock started back for his base at Okinawa. Soon thereafter a second engine failure followed the first. A 900-mile trip home on two engines was judged more than risky so he elected to return to his photo target and land. Beyond alarming the inhabitants, the landing was uneventful until the craft turned onto a taxiway and its right main wheel went through the concrete. Bridge landed after Bock to offer assistance. He stayed on the runway.
The intruders were met by the base commander who offered his sword in a gesture of surrender, having anticipated a full scale invasion. (The war was over, but no occupation troops had yet landed in the area.) Some uneasy first moments passed, communication was established, and things settled down. Having assured the safety of Bock's crew, and after removal of a few sensitive devices (e.g., Norden bombsight), Bridge departed the fighter strip for Okinawa with a rather spectacular short takeoff run.
The Japanese brought Bock's crew food, chairs, a wind-up phonograph, and Bing Crosby records to ease the stay.
All efforts to extricate the trapped aircraft failed, so it was decided to leave it--but not in one piece. After a few days a Navy PBY Catalina, escorted by eight P-38's, arrived to pick up the crew. The primary task of the P-38's was to strafe the stranded F-7B into oblivion, which they did to great effect.
F-7B 44-42028 with Japanese guard. (Guards were posted to protect the aircraft from the local citizenry who were less than happy to have an instrument of their former enemy on the ground nearby.) Note the depth to which the right main has penetrated the taxiway.
Members of the crew pose with souvenirs after their return to Okinawa.
After strafing by eight P-38's, smoke rolls up from the once-proud F-7B.
Distinguished Flying Cross Awarded 55 Years Late
On 24 October 1944 Lt. Dave Ecoff in F-7B 44-40199, Lt. John Wooten in F-7B 44-40961, and Lt. Richard Tubbs in F-7B 44-40602, staged from Morotai on Mission 298Z-3 to southern Luzon. South of Mindoro, Wooten and Ecoff's crews sighted a Japanese naval task force apparently enroute to Leyte. Upon reaching the target, cloud cover prevented the assigned mission, so the pair turned south for home. On the return more naval ships were sighted, this time west of Negros. Risking anti-aircraft fire the two F-7B's dropped down below clouds and photographed the task force.
Lt. Wooten's crew was ultimately awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for the mission, but Dave Ecoff's was not. Decades later a casual conversation at an Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in eventually changed that. Dave Ecoff and Paul DiMascio met at the 1991 Oshkosh fly-in, the two brought together by a book of World War II nose art Paul had just purchased. Paul and his wife, Donna, struck up a friendship with Dave which led to Donna's building Dave's war time letters into a book--and then campaigning to get the DFC for Dave and his crew.
Donna succeeds! With the aid of New York Congressman Gerald Solomon, and by her own perseverance, Donna got Dave Ecoff his DFC. This photo was taken on 18 June 1999 after the DFC award ceremony in Albany, New York. Veterans of the 20th Combat Mapping Squadron in attendance were, left-to-right: Roy Bailey, Ed Brown, the honored guest, and Jack Baldassare. (Chuck Varney photo)
Donna DiMascio chronicled her pursuit of the DFC in the appendices of "Descending to Go Above & Beyond", the book she authored based on Dave Ecoff's war time letters home.
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This page was last updated September 5, 2006