Aviation History

RODDENBERRY’S WAR

SECOND LIEUTENANT EUGENE WESLEY RODDENBERRY WAS JUST 21 YEARS OLD WHEN HE REPORTED FOR DUTY IN SEPTEMBER 1942 AS A COPILOT WITH THE 394TH BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON AT BELLOWS FIELD ON OAHU.

Since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 394th had been patrolling the ocean around Hawaii and training crews. Now it was preparing to go into action in the South Pacific under its new commander, West Pointer and Midway veteran Major Orin H. Rigley.

Gene Roddenberry was assigned to the crew of Lieutenant William Ripley. Beefy, ruddy Bill Ripley was a preacher’s son from Des Moines, Iowa. Other members of the crew included navigator Lieutenant Joe Jacobs, bombardier Tech. Sgt. James Kyle and flight engineer Staff Sgt. Harry Scotidas.

The 394th was ready; now all the aircrews needed was their new airplanes.

The question was, where would those new planes come from? The decision had already been made that no new B-17s would be sent to the Pacific, so it seemed likely the 394th would become a B-24 outfit.

The answer arrived in early November 1942 in the form of a dozen war-weary 19th Bomb Group B-17Es, homeward bound from Australia. After inspection, seven of the old bombers were held over for reassignment to the 394th.

By the time they were delivered to Bellows Field, the Flying Fortresses had been thoroughly overhauled and fitted with twin .50-caliber nose guns and other modifications. A few still displayed the Indian head insignia of the 93rd Bomb Squadron, and a couple had nicknames: serial no. 41-2440, the oldest of them all, was Calamity Jane; 41-2632 was Crock O’ Crap.

The 394th pondered a new question: “Would we ever get down there in those old things?”

The seven southbound B-17s took off from Bellows on November 15, led by Major Rigley, flanked by Captain Morris Slack in and Lieutenants Ripley and Roddenberry in 41-2644.

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