Leonard Ham's time in WWII

Leonard Ham

Daddy in his WWII uniformWWII uniform Daddy & George HamiltonLeonardHam-GeorgeHamilton US Air Force 7th

I interviewed my friend Leonard Ham in Pat’s Coffee Shop in Mooresville in early August of 2005. World War II had been over for 60 years that very month. Mr. Ham was a complex individual. He was an artist and a musician and had been a member, along with my father, of the very first Mooresville High School Band.

LH: "I volunteered for the Army Air Corps. I didn't want to be going into the Navy," says Leonard M. Ham, of Mooresville. I was a pipe fitter by trade and if I'd gone into the Navy as a pipe fitter, you know where I'd have ended up? I'd have been down in the boiler room. Brother, I didn't want that. In fact, I started to enlist in the Navy but when I said 'pipe fitter,' the recruiter got this big smile on his face. I thought, 'Uh-Oh.' I'd never have seen daylight."

R&L: Why the Air Corps then?

LH: "My brother Robert and Lonnie Cox had a J-3 (small civilian airplane) here in Mooresville. I didn't have a pilot's license at that time, but I rode in planes a lot; used to sell tickets out there at Jim Blackwelder's field. I'd say, 'million -dollar thrill for a one dollar bill.' That's how I'd sell tickets.

"I just wanted to be in the Air Corps--thought I was better suited to that than to be in the infantry, and I was married then. I thought about being a pilot, but my wife says, 'Being a pilot? Absolutely not!' Of course, you've got to do what the wife says. We got married in September of 1941. Pearl Harbor was in December of '41 and I went into the service in '42.

"I went in at Bowman Field, Kentucky. Next I went to Fort Logan in Denver, Colorado. Next, they sent me to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. That was overseas training. I was stationed at Wheeler Field [Hawaii] first, then went to Hickam Field [Hawaii] after that.

R&L: Where else did you go?

LH: "I was on Okinawa, in the Pacific, when the war ended. I had been on flying status for a while, but they sent some of us down under to Tarawa. They assigned me to Bomber Command in the intelligence department and had me doing bomb-plot charts.

"We had several airplanes that could take stereo pictures. They would follow the bombing runs, take pictures and bring them back. Then we would examine the photos and hunt out gun emplacements, warehouses, anti-aircraft positions and such down in the islands. I started out on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, then we went to Kwajalein, which is in the Marshall Islands, then we went to Eniwetok, then to Saipan, which was in the Marianas.

"Next, we started bombing Iwo Jima and some of the neighboring islands around there. That's when we started bringing in the B-29 Superfortresses and we started bombing Japan proper, the main islands, but we were in Okinawa when the war ended. I flew quite a bit, but I never flew over Japan proper during the fighting.

"When I was a crew member, before they put me in intelligence, I was a waist gunner on twin 50-calibers on a B-24 Liberator bomber, but they took me off that when they found out I could draw. That's when they put me in Bomber Command in the intelligence department. That was around the first part of 1943.

R&L: What was it like to be a waist gunner on a B-24?

LH: "It wasn't good; it was no good at all. Take-offs and landings on small islands are not good...short runways. You back up as far as you can, get the four engines going as fast as they can go, you take off and you're over water instantly and that was no good for a land-based airplane. Same thing goes for landings.

"At that time we were losing a lot of planes on 12-hour bomber missions--six hours out and six hours back. We got up about four in the morning, had breakfast, briefings, and the Red Cross would be sitting out there with coffee and donuts, flew at about 180 knots an hour to places like Truk.

R&L: Do you remember when you heard about Hiroshima?

LH: When we dropped the atomic bomb [on Hiroshima] we got the news right after it happened. I mean we were close there in Okinawa, and we could see the B-29s. We knew right then that it was the end of the war.

"I've got pictures taken right after we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. A while later some of the Japanese came down there, and they called for an escort for one of their "Bettys" [a Japanese medium bomber] to come in and land so they could talk peace terms, and I've got pictures of that, of the Betty coming in to land. These high Japanese officers that came in there, they wanted to talk peace.

"And then we dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. They surrendered then, the formal surrender. I was discharged in late October and got home in November of 1945. I forget the exact date, but it was just before Thanksgiving. I had my 125 points--you had to have a certain number of points to get out--and I had mine. Then I was processed and took all these tests and all these interviews. They asked me to re-up [re-enlist], but I had a wife at home.

R&L: Have you had further thoughts about the war?

LH: Eight years ago I took a course in the Japanese language and culture. I'm studying the Japanese language right now. I've got all kinds of books, tapes and all sorts of things like that. I have Japanese friends--some up at

NGK [Ceramics in Mooresville]. I have no qualms with that. When a war is over, your enemy becomes a friend. Does that sound logical?

"The times I've talked to Japanese friends--I get cards and letters from Japan now--I don't mention World War II; I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. From after the war on up to now, I have felt--to me--they're some of the smartest people in the world.

"Every once in a while I remember when we were strafed [shot at] on Saipan. We were strafed several times in daylight raids, and that comes back to me. I wake up at night. That'll never leave me. When you're out there and you see a fighter coming at you, spitting fire, and you see bullets hitting right down at your feet and you're trying to dig a hole like a rat, you don't forget.

"When I first got on the ship to go overseas, I looked at our flag on the back of the ship while it was still in port and I said to myself, 'I hope some day I'll be back.'
"I love that flag as much as I do my own life."