S/Sgt. Bruno J. Dall'Ava
It wasn't long before Operations knew that the Lady and her crew had the stuff, and she'd be up there on the toughest missions two, three, and even four times a day. She could take it, and she and her boys could sure dish it out. In fact, "Seven Day Leave" has set records for number of missions pulled and tonnage of bombs dropped in so short a time. When the Lady would get hit by ack, ack, the boys would wonder if this would be her last mission. But deep down they knew that she would get them back safely, Especially that time over Madang, when Jap ack-ack blasted a big hole in her nose, narrowly missing Capt. Graves, her pilot, by a few inches. But the plastic surgeons back on the line fixed her up, and made her look pretty as ever.
The adventures Of "Seven Day Leave" would fill a book, but here's the story of her first night missions as told to me by members of her crew. "On the night of January 17, 1944, our Intelligence was informed that the Japs were concentrating air strength on their strip at Hansa Bay, on the north coast Of New Guinea, for a strike on allied positions the next day. Somebody had to go up there and break then up. Seven Day Leave" was picked as the lead ship of a three plane formation to blast the runway and installations at the enemy base.
At about 1:00 in the morning, her crew was roused out of bed and, not yet fully awake, reported for the briefing. Then they piled into trucks and bounded down to the line, where the Armament boys loaded her with thousand pounders. Our crew chief, T/Sgt. Hans Borner, of North Bergen, New Jersey, pre-flighted her and the Lady was ready for her maiden night mission. The night was dark as Capt. Jerry P. Graves, of Neosho, Missouri and Lt. Harry C. Franklin, of Kew Gardens, Long Island, New York, took the controls and pulled her smoothly into the clouds. When our navigator, Lt. R. Walkup, of West Kingston, Rhode Island, got his bearings, he put the Lady on a course north to the target.
As we flew along the New Guinea coast, we could see the blinking lights at Alexishafen and other Jap positions. Shortly before arriving at our target we sighted a large Jap vessel. We were tempted to go in after it, but we had our assigned mission to fulfill. As we approached our target at Hansa Bay, the lights below started to go out, one by one. Capt. Graves put the ship into a fast dive as we started our bombing run. That's when you wonder if the navigator has miscalculated and if you're going to crash into a mountain in the darkness. Two of the Nip searchlights caught us as Lt. Chas. B. Kephart Jr. of Des Moines, Iowa guided Capt, Graves to the right, then left , then level over the target. We could feel the Lady shudder as the bomb bay doors opened and we let go our thousand pounders. By that time, the Nips had our range and the shells were bursting all about us. But our Skipper knew all the tricks. He stood the Lady up on her left wing, then plunged her into a steep dive to get out of the lights and away from the ack-ack. That's when S/Sgt. Harry Lt. Compton, of Coolidge, Arizona, our turret gunner, got the chance he was waiting for and poured a stream of hot lead into those search lights. After we got out of range of the ack-ack, our aerial engineer, S/Sgt. Jack Harrison, of Danville, New Jersey, made a check and reported that the Lady was O.K. Radio operator T/Sgt. George Stefanik, of Chicago, Illinois, sent out the sweetest music a combat man knows: "Mission successful, bombs dropped in target area."
On our way back we passed two Jap bombers which were probably returning from a mission. They went their way and we went ours. Everyone was in good spirits, laughing and smoking, and kidding each other over the interphone. We were all glad that we had done a good job. Dawn was just breaking as Capt. Graves set the Lady down gently on our home field. Again "Seven Day Leave" had come through with flying colors.
The next day, the Japs reported that our plane had been hit by their ack-ack and exploded in the air. But somebody must be radically mistaken because, as you can see in the picture, the Lady and her crew are very much alive.