Jean Valjean Vandruff
email addendum

More Info on WW2 B24 Air Battle, Bail Out, and Rescue by USS Cobia

B-24 Liberator
NOTE: This is an addendum to the excerpted story of the submarine rescue of 7 B-24 airmen from J.V. Vandruff's Full Autobiography.

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    [We asked Birda and Dan Pelton (officer on the sub Cobia, and now President of the Cobia veterans group) about Captain Benson's (pilot of the shot-down B24 bomber) name on the public Cobia crew list as: "Boarded: S. China Sea, 4/8/45" and "Transferred: Subic Bay, 4/17/45" (see link, below). That question was answered, as well as who the artist was for the "silly certificate".]

    From Birda Pelton' email of 1/11/02.

    Captain Benson and Gareth Clift are on the crew list. Captain Becker (of the Cobia) made them both honorary crew at the reunion they attended. Neither of them had any contact with other members of their crew and we were unable to locate any of them thru normal military channels... Benson said they were not a regular crew but one made up for that mission and did not fly together again.

    ...By the way, the certificate artwork was done by Jim Marion who was also the one who dove in after Benson under the raft (for which he was awarded a Silver Star).

  • Isn't that great? He really deserved it!! It was quite an amazing insight that he had.

  • I had guessed that Jim Marion did the artwork, as his was the first signature and most "artistic".

    ...Dan says that his most vivid memory is that the "Zoomies" ate them out of house and home while aboard.

  • Man, you know it! It's no wonder they went to Subic Bay as quickly as possible - to get rid of us. We hadn't eaten food like that since we left the USA. They had fresh fruit, ice cream, steaks, every good thing you could think of. It doesn't surprise me that our eating like pigs would be the thing that they would remember about us. It is also the most vivid thing that I remember about the time that we spent on the sub!

    ...They hot bunked with the crew. Clift shared Dan's bunk. He gave Dan a part of his parachute which Dan had made into a blouse for his fiancée and his fur lined flight helmet.

  • From Joe Knapp's email (son of Hal Knapp, Cobia crewmember) of 1/10/02.

    ...It may be obvious to you, but I thought I'd mention that the big fish in the center is the "mascot" of the Cobia, also seen on its battle flag.

    WW2 Art from Cobia Submarine Artist Jim Marion

    More on the trivia front... "Nan Hai" is the Chinese name for the South China Sea.

    Taking the location of 12 degrees north latitude literally, and the fact he was five miles from shore, that places them near Cam Ranh bay. There is a detailed online map of Cam Ranh bay on the internet--but be warned that it's a one megabyte download. An internet source on Cam Ranh bay states: "Cam Ranh Bay is a two-part deep water inlet on the South China Sea in south-central Vietnam. It is approximately 20 miles long from north to south and up to 10 miles wide. It has been called the finest deep water port in Southeast Asia."

    Ahh so! THAT'S why the Cobia was snooping around there--and no doubt there would have been plenty of Japanese waiting if the survivors had go to the shore. According to the map the water is generally very shallow around those parts (less than 50 meters even many miles out), so the Cobia probably had to come in for the actual rescue on the surface as it did...

  • [Email from J.V. Vandruff on remembering the names of crew members on 11/28/01:]

  • We always called each other by our last names, or an abbreviation of that name. I was known as Van, our Captain was known as Benson. MacCutcheon was known as Mac, and Jim Steiner was known as Steiner. Can you believe it, I don't remember the first name of our bombardier, but his last name was Stahl, a tall Cherokee Indian.

  • [Email from J.V. after reading the book "The Wild Blue" by Stephen E. Ambrose:]

    Liberators in Formation

  • It has brought back a lot of memories. I'm glad I was in the South Pacific, because we didn't have it nearly as bad as they had it in Europe in terms of the flak. And we had almost no weather problems, by comparison with them.

  • We had our share of formation problems, though. On a flight back from a Philippine mission we were in tight formation when we entered some small cumulus clouds. We went through one, then another, then another, and when we came out of that one - it had been a much denser cloud, where it was impossible to see your wingtips - and two of the planes had run into each other. They went down in the mountain jungles on Mindanao Island. I don't know if the planes were ever found or not. We never heard from them, so probably none of them escaped.

  • I must have been a nut or something, because I was never frightened or scared. I never dreaded a mission and almost enjoyed the heavy encounters. It's really funny, but it's almost like I didn't have good sense. Yet, on the other hand, getting up in front of a lot of people and saying anything - or having to publicly pray - scared the begeebers out of me. I would almost be in a state of shock. How can you figure out people? Maybe I was like people, including me, who say they enjoy earthquakes, because they have never had their house fall on them or had real personal devastation. My wonderful Lord is always with me, and I am confident of his loving care.

    From Mark J. Donahue's email of 12/23/03.


    My Dad, Harry J. Donahue, was the Chief Gunner's Mate aboard the Cobia when they picked you up that fateful day. When I was a child he would recount to me (in the '50's) how that rescue took place. He was on-deck when you were "fished out."

    I write to you now since he is one of the last survivors of the COBIA and only has a few days left on this earth. As his only son I take great pride in his service/sacrifice in the subs.

    Thanks for your intriguing account of that day of rescue.

    From Don Benson's email of 1/13/04.

    I have read with great interest your autobiography and especially the part when you were my brother's co-pilot.

    I was only in my very early teens when Richard spent time as a B-24 Pilot in the 13th AirForce but I can remember waiting for his every letter. I also remember reading the many newspaper articles describing your flight with my brother when he nearly lost his life under the life raft. I remember my mother receiving copies of that story from people from all across the United States.

    I thank you for your article and allowing me to share the story with you.

  • [Email from J.V. Vandruff on 03/19/05:]

  • An extraction [below] from the records of the Cobia was sent to me. Pretty neat. It parallels with what I remembered... I remembered it as being about 2:30 pm, and they show it as being 2:04 pm on their ship's log. It also shows that the last pickup was at about 4:00 pm. That's also the way I remember it. I had anticipated the sun going down, and I would have to find the shoreline, so I had my compass out, letting it become irradiant. The only exception was that I was never aware that there were any P-38s around at all. I wonder how I could have missed them? They were supposed to be with us during the bomb-run, but never showed up. We were told they ran short of fuel and had to return to base.
  • Cobia

    From Patrick Tufts' email of 3/19/05.


    I've done a bit more research on the Cobia, and Mark Donahue (another son of a Cobia vet) gave me an annotated copy of the Captain's Log ("The Cobia at War" by Jerry Calenberg, Wisconsin Maritime Museum).

    I thought you might like to see the entry for your rescue.

    1404   Sighted one unidentified plane then two P-38's, one Liberator and a Catalina.

    [Dan Pelton: At 62 feet conducting aircraft search through scope, Henry had the watch. The Captain went back to periscope depth and saw parachutes]

    Put radar mast out of water and attempted communications. No luck.

    [Pelton: As communications officer I tried to contact on VHF voice.]

    1410   We surfaced and headed toward three life rafts in water near Catalina. P-38 circled us and headed off to southwest. Put 4 engines on line and followed him. Finally got him on VHF. He told us there were 8 to 10 survivors in water and lead us to first ones. Picked up 7 members of crew of 13th Airforce Liberator, plane shot up over Saigon, fliers strung out over about 10 miles.

    Catalina about to land, they would pick up the wounded, we would pick up the rest.

    Catalina started out toward us, circled a couple of times south and lowered her landing floats.

    Picked up six fliers, one raft out aways from ship, somebody was under raft, he thought we were a jap sub, we yelled that we were American submarine, a lot of splashing going on, and the raft flipped over with pilot of plane B-24 with knife in hand.

    [Pelton: We picked up seven. Marion swam over to him the last one the pilot and he had a knife in his hand. Had to convince him that we were American. Saved a couple of parachutes and a life raft. We were not on lifeguard duty, this rescue was just by chance. Given five minutes time either way, we would have missed them.]

    1602   Pilot informed us he was last man to jump. Four empty rafts at point of Catalina picked up. Sank floating gas tank from plane.

    Airmen on Cobia Deck Backside of above picture
    Roy Gregory Crew Pictures
    From Sandra Gregory Heidt's email of 6/8/08.

    Greetings to you, Sir,

    My father, Roy H. Gregory, was the navigator  with you on the mission which ended in your rescue by the Cobia.

    He made a career of the Air Force, retired in Orlando, and lived in his home there until a few months ago.  Health and mobility issues compelled him to move.  He  is now in an assisted living facility near me, south of Atlanta.

    Through the years he talked little of his war experiences.  Photos and memorabilia remained stored in his metal footlocker.  I was aware he had a close call during WWII, but knew little of the details.  Since he’s been up here, we’ve been going through the contents of his locker, going over photographs, and filling in a lot of personal history.

    Finding your sites and links on the www was like hitting the jackpot.  Dad doesn’t have a computer with him, but I have printed pages and pages of relevant material for him.  This has been the catalyst for many hours of conversation with his children and grandchildren, and in many other ways has been a bright positive spot at a time in his life when bright spots are especially welcome.

    Dad’s mind is very good.  He has supplied additional details and otherwise elaborated on the excerpt describing the mission and rescue from your autobiography.  I can’t overstate how beneficial this has been in so many ways.

    I am thankful for the safe return of those of you who made it back, and I congratulate you on your many  achievements after the war.

    The photos I’m attaching were, of course, among those in the footlocker. You may have similar ones.  In the photo of the four men standing, my dad is second from the left. In the photo of eight men, he is squatting in front on the right.  By the way, he thinks he can identify some, but not all of those gentlemen, as crewmembers on your plane or the other bomber on that mission.  Perhaps you can identify all of them.

    Cobia Deck Baseball Card Pictures

    Related Links and Additional Info

    Wikipedia Cobia Entry

    The Wisconsin Maritime Museum, home of the Cobia 245 submarine, which is now a US National Historic Landmark

    B24 Picture

    Cobia Tribute Website with the following interesting pages:

    ArmyAirForces Heavy Bombers site

    Excerpted story of USS Cobia Rescue on this website

    J.V. Vandruff's Full Autobiography

    Jean Vandruff
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