Stationed in Gander, Newfoundland, on Dec. 7, 1941, James “Jim” Kendrick remembers clearly the immediate security measures taken to defend his military base after word arrived that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
“Security on the base was drastically changed,” said Kendrick who retired as a lieutenant colonel with 28 years of service as a World War II military bomber pilot.
“We went on such extreme security that when the commander’s car was going somewhere and failed to stop, they put four bullets into the car,” he said.
Kendrick said the fear, just like after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was that Pearl Harbor was just the initial attack with more to come. Every military base was placed on immediate alert.
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Even after 75 years since the bombing of the U.S. Hawaiian-based naval station that forced the United States into World War II, the 97-year-old Myrtle Beach resident can still clearly recall his military unit’s response to the news. He occasionally refers to some written notes kept to help him recall event dates or he references an album of photos taken throughout his career that put him in direct contact with military dignitaries like Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was in the Pacific on the island of Ishema just off Japan where Gen. Douglas McArthur and a 17-person delegation met with the Japanese Emperor to make arrangements to end the war.
Although the initial attack in Hawaii by 353 Japanese bombers that destroyed 19 ships, 188 aircraft and killed 2,000 Americans occurred at 7:55 a.m., it was late evening, Kendrick recalled, when word arrived in Newfoundland.
“Boy, we knew things were going to happen,” he said. “I had no idea when I went to flying school that I would go to war. We thought the Germans might have planes to come in and land there. They could have come in anywhere. We knew the Japanese took no prisoners. They’d kill you.”
Kendrick said all the Newfoundland workers he called “Newfies” on base were “rounded up and guarded like prisoners.” All U.S. military outposts liked the one in Gander were secured to prevent any hostile power from acquiring a military base in the Western Hemisphere.
Thinking the Germans were going to come and bomb everything in sight, the guns were removed from landing American B17s. They were placed in revetments (a circular embankment of sandbags) preparing for attack.
“That was our anti-aircraft defense,” he said.
The Gander base, Kendrick recalled, had been established as an outpost through a deal President Franklin Roosevelt created to provide outdated WWI destroyers to Britain and other allies in return for posting U.S. troops on military bases such as Gander. That is how Kendrick ended up stationed at Gander after completing advanced flying school at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. He had trained in WWI training planes and advanced to BT13s and BT14s before receiving orders to Langley Field, Va.
“While at Langley, I was fortunate enough to get into the 20th Bomb Squadron that had B17 planes,” he said. In July 1941he heard a rumor that the 41st Reconnaissance Squadron needed a co-pilot to fly to Gander. He, at 6 feet 2 inches was partnered with a 5-foot-2 inch co-pilot and the duo soon became known as Mutt and Jeff, he said.
Six planes were to be taken to Gander. Two of the planes were equipped with cameras and Kendrick’s first mission was to photograph Labrador. “It took three months to fly that mission,” he said, “due to cloud cover.”
Right after Dec. 7, Kendrick said his squadron received orders to fly in formation.
“We had never flown the six planes together so we had to practice,” Kendrick said. “That’s the way the bombing was done in Europe.”
The formation flying turned the unit into an anti-submarine outfit, he said.
“We would fly around the convoys going to Europe with supplies. The German subs would not bother the ships in the daytime but they would torpedo them at night,” he said.
Kendrick can still remember flying over a torpedoed ship one day and seeing two bodies frozen to death in a small rescue boat, the rest of the crew missing. There was no way to reach them in time to save them.
Later in his career, Kendrick was stationed at the U.S. Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C. He retired to Myrtle Beach and says that and attending the Citadel are the best decisions he ever made.
“Being ninety-seven and one-half, I am a lucky man,” Kendrick said. A North Carolina native, he outlived the love of his life, Geneva “Ninky” Sanders Kendrick, who died almost four years ago. He is happy to be active, still driving and able to remember so many facts about his past. He is quick to say that he is a “saver of everything” but not a hero or a fighter pilot.
“I am not a World War II hero or anything. I am a bomber pilot. I wanted to be in the biggest plane made with the most engines,” he said. “I am just lucky to be alive.”