Home celebrating another Fourth: Chicquette recalls WWII
Lou Chicquette was newly graduated from high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.
"We people who were of that age knew that we would be somehow involved if it came to a war, and of course it did. And so I enlisted in the summer, probably July of '42; Army Air Corp."
When Chicquette enlisted he passed the physical and written tests but, due to the large number of men enlisting at the same time, Chicquette was told that he would hear back from the Army Air Corp at a later date.
After receiving his call but failing the vision test due to his left eye a couple of months later, Chicquette re-enlisted in March 1943 and attended basic training with an artillery group before a third, and this time successful, vision test, which allowed him to learn to fly with the cadet program. When that program ended, Chicquette was told that he could attend officer school or continue with the Air Corp.
"I passed up officer training and went to gunnery school and engine school and then had crew training here in the States for a few months and then, in February of '45, we left the states and flew to Tinian."
Tinian is one of the Northern Mariana Islands about 1,500 miles from Tokyo. Chicquette worked as a tail gunner in a B-29, a bomber that was first flown in 1942. The crew called their plane the "Flak Alley Sally." A roundtrip from Tinian to Tokyo in a B-29 took an average of 12 hours. Before the war was over, Chicquette flew 33 missions.
"I was kind of tall and big for that position, but I made it work. And we had a good crew."
Chicquette was a member of the 6th Bombardment Group. He and the rest of the crew that flew the "Flak Alley Sally" was presented with a certificate of appreciation from the United States Air Force on Sept. 23, 2016, for the "longest non-stop combat bombing mission of World War II."
The "Flak Alley Sally" flew from Tinian to the Port of Rashin, Korea, and back to Tinian, covering 4,400 miles. The plane landed in Tinian 19 hours and 40 minutes after takeoff.
Chicquette's first missions were at high altitude (usually 28,000 to 30,000 feet) and during the day. However, he explained that it was hard to hit a target from such a high altitude. So, they started flying low altitude night missions (the lowest was usually about 5,000 to 6,000 feet).
"The lower you get the better target you are," Chicquette said.
It was common for the Allied planes to fly through flak. "Every target area that we would be in there would be flak guns, artillery, anti aircraft artillery, and they were very good and they got a lot of us. So we always had flak to fly through."
Seventy-four years later, Chicquette still has flak in an arm and a leg.
Five times the "Flak Alley Sally" landed on Iwo Jima with engine troubles or to refuel.
"If we hadn't had Iwo, we would have, of course, been ditching and lose the airplane and some of the crew or all of it," Chicquette said.
In July 1945, Col. Paul Tibbets arrived in Tinian with the 509th Group. Tibbits and his group practiced taking off and landing on the Tinian runway. Then, on Aug. 5, Tibbets and his crew took off from Tinian with the atomic bomb and dropped it on Hiroshima.
Chicquette recalls that many people on the island suspected that something was happening or about to happen."They knew that they had a secret weapon."
Chicquette explained that even if Tibbits disclosed that there was an atomic bomb aboard the plane, people would not have known what he was talking about; it was such new, secret science.
"There are people who felt we should never used the atomic bomb but we who were in jeopardy, you might say, were so glad they did, because we would have invaded the empire of Japan probably in November of '45 and there would have been not thousands but millions of Allied people killed and millions of Japanese men, women and children beside the military."
On Sept. 2, 1945, Chicquette was flying as Japan's General Yoshijiro Umezu was aboard the USS Missouri signing the surrender. Chicquette explained that they were showing the Japanese that they were still strong.
After Sept. 2, Chicquette had collected enough points in the Air Corps point-system to return home. However, there was not enough transportation for everyone, so he didn't return to the U.S. until Nov. 11, 1945. On Nov. 22. Chicquette was discharged.
"The war was over and we were back to our homes and our families and loved ones."
Chicquette continues to live in Red Wing with his wife, Inez Chicquette.