Friday, April 08, 2016

Dad goes to Iceland

J. Lee Campbell -- A World War II Tale …………… (Vic Campbell - )

PBY - 5A
Dad joined the navy almost a year before the USA entered the conflict. He was assigned to VP84 when the war broke out and remained with them until sent back to CONUS for more training in 1944.  VP84 was a submarine patrol squadron based mostly on the East Coast, Newfoundland and Iceland and was the top scoring U-Boat sinking squadron of the war.

A pilot from this squadron made a now famous quote, " Sighted Sub -- Sank Same".

His remembrance of Dec 7, 1941 was he and (I think Wiley Diamond, from Jay) were strolling around Norfolk on Sunday afternoon and at some point there became very few people on the streets and very little activity. When they passed by some people they would look at them and say “those poor sailors”.  They arrived back at the base soon thereafter and were immediately handed rifles at the gate and sent to a beach to begin patrols along the water.

Dad was enlisted. He was a junior Petty Officer.  He was a machinist mate and a plane captain for one fo the PBY’s used for rescue and escort of other PBY’s and ships in trouble.  He described the nose art on his plane as a polar bear in a liferaft and the bear had a medical kit in its hands with a red cross on it.  I have never seen a picture of it.  A restored version of the PBY5A (with wheels) is in the Naval Air Museum at Pensacola.

One day - in ICELAND, at their base in Reykjavik, his plane was called on to make a mercy mission flight to get a young girl to a hospital. The pilot was Joe Higbee, of New Jersey.  They called for volunteers and dad went. He was about age 23 at the time (He was born in 1920).  Higbee and the few volunteers cranked up in very bad weather and taxied out take off into a storm.

Arriving over the fishing village - there was NOWHERE to safely set the plane down on water. A Cliff left a small patch of water with leeward protection but the beach where the people for the ride were standing was on the wrong side of the wind and waves were high.   Higbee found a way to land in the leeward soft water and taxi over nearer to the people. They came out to the plane through very rough water and were taken on board with great difficulty.  The Sick Girl and maybe one or two relatives.
J. Lee Campbell of Chumuckla

Then Higbee had to get out of there.  He aimed into the wind (against the waves) and tried a couple of times but the waves beat back the PBY boat hull and nearly swamped the engines.  He was having no luck getting up INTO the wind. Dad and the rest of the crew were all buckled down with the passengers.  HIgbee decided to make a run for it going WITH the wind … but it meant he had to go now TOWARD another cliff.  Engines roared. HIgbee piled on the speed and those big PBY wings lifted the bird up just ahead of the cliff and they swung over the cliff by mere feet as the plane climbed.

The girl got to the hospital. It saved her life. Iceland to this day has a day of remembrance for that event in the little village where the girl (now a grandmother with many children and grandchildren) lives.  Dad told me the story on tape about 1974 - soon after I came out of the Navy and we sat by a river and just talked. But the recorder batteries died right after he and Wiley Diamond learned about Pearl Harbor. Dad came to NJ to visit us about 1991 after our son was born. We tried to find Joe HIgbee but we did not succeed. Later I heard he had retired in a small town near the coast ( Maybe Red Bank?) where he had run a school bus company for many years.  Some years later, after Dad died in 2003, my brother made a Navy trip to Reykjavik with his reserve duties. He took Dad’s flight logs with him and while there discovered Icelandic researchers who knew all about that flight. They verified it with the logbook Jim showed them.  HIgbee had been brought to Iceland sometime in the 1990’s and was awarded a medal from that country.  I vaguely recall that the medal was donated to the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola after HIgbee died. I suppose it is cataloged somewhere in the archives there.  


of Allentown FL (near Chumucka, FL- Home of J. L. Campbell ....

I find your article about your Father and the Navy fascinating. Being somewhat aware of both events described I would like to add some additional information. The famous laconic phrase sent 18 January 1943 "sighted sub sank same" entered the lexicon of famous American military statements. Most folks aren't aware that it was sent by a Naval Aviation Pilot (not to be confused one whit with a Naval Aviator, an Officer.) Yes indeed Donald Mason, pilot in command was at that time an Aviation Machinist Mate First Class (Naval Aviation Pilot/NAP for short). He earned those gold wings in 1938. Furthermore, there wasn't an Officer anywhere near, nary a one on the land based Lockheed PBO-1,the crew consisted entirely of Enlisted men. 

This aircraft and crew was from VP-82 out of Argentia, Newfoundland. The PBO flown by NAP Mason was one of a small batch of Lockheed Hudson's diverted from the Royal Air Force (RAF) to the Navy. After the war, when all concerned were counting up their losses, it was determined that the submarine thought destroyed had actually survived the attack. However, on 15 March 1943 NAP Mason and crew were confirmed as sinking a different submarine, U-503. Under the command of Captain Otto Gericke, U-503 was on its first operational tour out of Bergen, Norway. Apparently U-503 was sunk with the loss of all hands! For that accomplishment NAP Mason was hauled into the officer ranks, and was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross, first was for the earlier affair.
Joseph Higbee, born January 13, 1914 in East Chicago, Indiana. Placed in an orphanage, adopted by Charles Higbee raised on a 300 acre farm, mules and horses, no tractors. Completed high school at age 20, joined the Navy 20 July 1934, doing "boot camp" in Norfolk, Virginia. He earned his "wings of gold" as a Naval Aviation Pilot in 1939. During the war NAP Higbee was Commissioned temporarily, reverting back to enlisted after the hostilities to CAP (Chief Aviation Pilot). Thus he became a Naval Aviator as an officer, reverting back to Naval aviation Pilot at the end of the war. He advanced or was promoted from "boot" through Lieutenant Commander during his 20 year career, retiring at Naval Air station Lakehurst, New Jersey 22 October 1954 as an Aviation Machinist's Mate Chief Petty Officer (AP) or ADC(AP)-AP being Aviation Pilot. 

The 11 year old girl (Halla Cusmundsdotir) was flown from Patreksfjord, Iceland to hospital in Reykjavik near death from measles complications. It was a life and death situation for Halla, she was accompanied by her father, who held her in his arms during the flight. In the 1980's Halla, a grandmother made contact with Joe thanking him for saving her life. Mercy flights weren't new for Higbee, he had previously provided emergency transportation for a woman who had suffered a heart attack. For placing himself, his crew and aircraft, at risk in quite foul weather and succeeding in saving the girl's life, Iceland awarded Joe Higbee the Icelandic Service Medal some 42 years later. During the hectic times of the war years, this feat was considered part of the job. One of his wartime achievements that most surely saved many lives and equipment was when he and his crew were patrolling a 58 ship convoy and its escorts. They sighted a submarine and attacked it. 

That action and the subsequent action of the convoy escorts kept the submarines at bay until the convoy was clear. As a Chief Aviation Pilot, Joe became one of the early helicopter pilots in the United State Navy, number 39 in December 1947. He retired from the Navy in October 1954. He worked for a number of years in the school systems in New Jersey. In 1970 he relocated to sturgis, Michigan. He is listed in the 1991 Silver Eagles roster as living in Portage, Michigan. Joe joined the Great Majority 1 April 1993 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He had been a resident of Bronson, Sturgis and Portage Michigan for the past 22 years.

I find it amazing history that your father, from Chumuckla was a crewman on that life saving flight . This added later --- " Purported to be 08095.  Back of a Silver Eagles issue.  Supplied by NAP Higbee I would think.  No bureau number visible.  I have looked considerable in an attempt to find a photo showing the bureau number.  This one however is the only one I know of ." (Quinn Elliott) 

It is possible our dad, J. Lee Campbell  (Aviation machinist 3rd or 2nd) is in this photo. He was "Plane Captain" ... that is ... he was in charge of making sure the plane was properly serviced and ready to fly and often flew with the crew. (Vic Campbell). Dad mentioned a logo on this plane indicated its status as a rescue craft for the squadron. It has an insignia on it of a polar bear in a liferaft holding a red cross kit. That MAY be the art on the side - below and a few feet back of the "star" markings. Too fuzzy to be sure of that though.

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