The youngest pilot in the 22nd Bomb Group, Lt. John C. O'Donnell was known to his fellow airmen as Peach Fuzz. Reporter John Stuart described him as cherubic. O'Donnell's accomplishments however, belied his appearance. He succeeded in not only bringing his wounded B-26 Marauder home on one engine, something that stateside conventional wisdom said couldn't be done, but in destroying four enemy fighters in the process. In a newspaper clipping of unknown origin, Tom Yarbrough tells his story:
An Advanced base Allied base, Australia, June 1, (1943) v (Delayed) (AP) Lt. John C. O'Donnell, 22-year old bomber pilot from Oakland, MD, was suspicious of his left engine on a recent mission over Lae, New Guinea, but it has his OK now.
Japanese Zero fighters jumped O'Donnell's twin-engined plane and his flying mates over the target, starting a running battle which lasted 35 minutes. The right engine was machine-gunned and cannon-shelled into silence, but the suspected left one kept the bomber in the air while its two gunners shot down four Zeros. Then it pulled the plane home safely despite hits in the tail and other places. Never before has a bomber of this type been known to fly so long on one engine.
O'Donnell said tail gunner Pvt. Ivan W. Henderson, of South Bend, Wash., bagged three of the enemy fighters and Sgt. Henry Berg of Cedarville, N.J. downed the other. Lt. Louis McCord, 24, of Montgomery, Ala. Was co-pilot. Bombardier Lt. R. L. Carraway, 26, of Sequin., said: When Henderson reported he had shot down three Zeros we asked him on the phone what it was like. He shouted: �Just like shooting down clay pigeons'. The navigator, Lt. Cecil E. Riddle, 24, of Ashland, Ky., reported an exciting moment for himself and the radioman, Cpl. A. J. Capello, of Rochester, NY. (A bullet came through the fuselage,� he said, (and hissed around like a Fourth of July pinwheel. It spent itself without touching either of us.�
Still long way home from base and having a difficult time coaxing one engine to do the job of two, O'Donnell radioed the probably would have to make a forced landing. Too short on power to climb over mountains, he edged along the coast in order to crash-land on the beach if necessary. Back at the home runway, officers had about exhausted their hope and scanned the sky must once more, then scored O'Donnell's plane as missing. But in a few minutes, he roared in and sat her down. The left tire was flat, it had been punctured by a bullet. The plane spun off the runway and back on again and crunched to a stop with all hands safe.
There is more to the story. Henderson's success at knocking down three Zeros was partly the result of a bit of subterfuge. When a Zero approached, he pretended his guns were jammed. Then as the enemy closed in, a quick burst took care of him. It also fails to mention that though O'Donnell escaped injury on the mission, he did not fare as well when he got back. While en route to his quarters for some much needed nourishment and rest, the jeep in which he was riding, as one report put it, did a barrel roll and O'Donnell suffered a broken collar bone and a broken arm.
US Air Force photo
The above article and conventional wisdom to the contrary, O'Donnell's fellow pilots did not consider his escapade all that unusual. In Martin Caiden's, RAGGED, RUGGED WARRIORS, Jerry Crosson had this to say: Whoever said that the '26 couldn't fly with only one fan going is clear out of his mind. Hell, I've made dozens of flights with one of those props feathered�and I'm talking about the original '26 with the short wings. Arkie Greer and John Richardson dragged over the mountains one day with only one engine going. To which Richardson broke in: We were really loaded with fuel, bombs, and everything else. We were marginal all the way, of course, but only on one engine we dragged ourselves over the hills.
Capt. O'Donnell's new assignment was the B-26 Operational Training Unit at McDill Field, FL. There he helped de-bunk the conventional wisdom that the Marauder was a very unsafe aircraft. Later he was returned to the Pacific and served another tour in combat as Operations Officer.