20th Air Force Veteran Reflects on Maintaining B-29s on Guam, 75 Years Since End of World War II

  • Published
  • By Dr. Jeremy Prichard
  • 20th Air Force Historian

When Sergeant John Dellinger watched the 3d Marine Division—his assigned B-29 aircraft, not the military ground force—take-off for Mission No. 330 on the afternoon of August 14, 1945, he was unaware it would be the last Allied combat run of the Second World War.

The next day, the Japanese government agreed to a cessation of hostilities. For the 20th Air Force veteran and many of his teammates back in Guam, however, Dellinger recalled not knowing “that the war was over until all our aircraft … returned from Japan. And that’s how I found it out.”

Mr. Dellinger turned 100 on July 31, 2020. He still recalls much of his time in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, often with genuine joy in his voice.

“Always liked airplanes”

John Samuel Dellinger traces his fascination with airplanes to his youth. He wasn’t especially interested in flying them, however. He wanted to tinker with them.

He attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps upon graduating high school—a few years before the attacks on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the war. He demurred when informed that the service was only accepting “foot soldiers.”

He would soon find himself in an olive-drab uniform after all, drafted into the Army in 1942. Despite performing well on sections of the entrance exams that tested one’s knowledge on mechanics, Dellinger received assignment to a non-aviation unit in Florida after completing Army basic training.

Dellinger speculates that someone took a fresh look at his testing records because, not long afterward, the Army transitioned Dellinger to Amarillo Army Air Field in Texas. He began training as an AT-6 aircraft mechanic before converting to the B-29 Superfortress. In October 1943, then-Private First Class Dellinger graduated the Army Air Forces’ Airplane Mechanics course.

“Walked into the Twentieth Air Force”

Dellinger crisscrossed the country for advanced B-29 instruction at Chanute Field, Illinois, and the Boeing Aircraft facility in Seattle, Washington. When he reached Great Bend, Kansas, “That is when I walked into 20th Air Force,” he gleefully reminisces. “And I was a happy camper.”

His time in Kansas—and in the Caribbean, when the harsh Midwestern winter of 1944 disrupted training—was consuming. He repaired B-29 engines after returning from lengthy training flights as aircrews prepared for extended trips across the Pacific. The challenging workload and environment notwithstanding, Dellinger always felt rewarded when his B-29 once more took to the skies. “I loved doing that, put[ting] that aircraft right back in the air again.”

Guam, 1945

His stateside training complete, Dellinger received assignment to the 30th Bombardment Squadron, a subordinate unit to the 19th Bombardment Group. He and his fellow Airmen traveled to Guam, where they remained for the duration of the war.

Guam was not a particularly hospitable environment. The island’s makeshift runway was still under construction upon Dellinger’s arrival, creating a rather unpleasant landing in February 1945. In addition to recurring typhoons and limited clean water, Dellinger recalled, “We had to put our tents back in the jungle, a mile away from the aircraft because, you see, Japan was bombing us, too.”

Dellinger was ultimately responsible for the engines on two B-29 aircraft while stationed at Guam. His unit lost the first bomber, Tail Number 42-63573, to combat damage in May 1945. They received a new B-29 a few weeks later, christening this latter one the 3d Marine Division, in honor of the ground forces that helped secure Iwo Jima for the Allies in March 1945. They later named Major General Graves B. Erskine, commander of the 3d Marine Division, “Honorary Plane Commander” at a ceremony held on the island.

Three quarters of a century later, Dellinger is most proud that neither aircraft he maintained were lost due to mechanical failures. He also “really, really liked working with the aircraft, and I liked working with the personnel. I sure did.” He likewise credits the Army soldiers and Marines stationed on Guam who provided him protection while performing his aircraft repair responsibilities.

“I owe a lot to the military”

Dellinger returned to North Carolina after his military discharge in late 1945. He resumed his pre-war employment as a mechanic on assorted machinery, but with more knowledge and awareness after three years as an aircraft mechanic in the AAF. “Very thankful for what the military taught me. I’ve got to thank the military for helping me afterwards.”

Seventy-five years after the fighting ended, 20th Air Force is ever thankful for Sergeant Dellinger’s wartime contributions and service to his nation.