Q: What is your name?
Mr. Basbas : Monty G. Basbas.
Q: What was your age in 1941?
Mr. Basbas : I was 21.
Q: What was your place of birth and where were you raised?
Mr. Basbas : Manchester, New Hampshire.
Q: What was your job before you entered the war?
Mr. Basbas : I was in college.
Mr. Basbas : It's a small college, but as Daniel Webster said, there are those of us who love Dartmouth College. Ever hear of it?
Q: (Nods yes) To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany during the 1930's?
Mr. Basbas : Very slightly. I was concerned about Hitler, of course, because everyone knew about him, and I was concerned about Mussolini and what he was doing over there. But we (my classmates and I) didn't have much interest. Like most history students, we were not concerned enough. But we knew what was going on, and we were concerned about the actions of Hitler and Mussolini.
Q: Explain how you first became aware of the dangers in Europe: Hitler in Germany, Emperor Hirohito, and War Minister Tojo in Japan.
Mr. Basbas : We had a Professor, Mr. Sterns of Dartmouth, who taught Greek. He held a function at the Hanover Inn for the war relief group. At that time he explained an awful lot about what was happening: about the atrocities going on, about the Holocaust, and about the viciousness of the attacks on all people, not just Jews, but a lot of the people in Czeckloslovakia, in Greece, and everywhere else. But he spoke primarily about the Holocaust. We were very concerned about what was going on over there. Then three P-40's flew over the campus and I couldn't wait to sign up.
Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe, such as the Invasion of Poland, the Battle of Britain, and the "Blitz"?
Mr. Basbas : I thought it was uncalled for and unbelievable that it could happen. I thought it was unbelievable that Hitler and his group could be so successful as we sat aside and let him go into Poland and those other countries, and let him completely take over. We didn't say a word, not a word. And finally, when they got to Britain, we decided to help by sending them supplies and materials and by giving them our old, junk airplanes. We gave them, what we called castrated P-38's. They didn't have turbo-super chargers. They didn't have counter-rotating props. And the English hated them - why shouldn't they? We loved them, but we had the real ones. But that bothered me quite a bit, knowing that was happening.
Q: What are your remembrances of the attack on Pearl Harbor and where were you at the time?
Mr. Basbas : I was at Dartmouth. It was all over the news. I had already received my pilots license and I was all ready to get into war. I couldn't wait for any draft. But my Old Man wouldn't let me join. He said that he was already paying a lot for my tuition at Dartmouth. It was expensive. After all, it cost $450.00 dollars a year. How much does it cost today, $35 thousand? Anyway, he wouldn't let me join, so we went to Montreal to join the RAF. And they told us to go back to our country and join our own. But we were all upset when we learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Especially because I had a friend who I used to play football with who was on the USS Arizona. That was very disturbing for me.
Q: Was there a lot of enthusiasm to enlist?
Mr. Basbas : Absolutely. In college we had the only Army Air Corps collegiate squadron in the country. The Navy had them. But at that time, we were the only Army Air Core collegiate squadron in the country. We were able to organize because the excitement was there. Everyone was worked up about it. My roommate was Jewish and he couldn't wait to fight because of what was happening with Hitler.
Q: What were your feelings about the American declaration of war?
Mr. Basbas : I thought we had no choice. It had to happen. After all, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. We had no choice but to get involved. Without declaring war, our actions would have been limited. The declaration allowed us to go full force into the war and use all our energy and resources.
Q: Did your feelings change at any time during the war? Did you ever regret enlisting?
Mr. Basbas : No. I was very glad that I joined. I was flying against the Japanese. I don't know if you know, but if you were going to bail from your plane you were told not to pull the chute until you were close to the ground, because the Japanese pilots would shoot you down. That was not so in Germany. I've heard that if you were shot down in Germany the pilots would come by, salute you, and be off. The Japanese would shoot you down in your parachute. I would take my own life before I would let the Japanese take me as a prisoner. Yet, I can understand the Japanese's hatred towards pilots. The infantry did not enter Japan. The only thing the Japanese knew of were the planes coming in and bombing them.
Q: What are your experiences or knowledge of the prisoner of war camps that the Japanese were running?
Mr. Basbas : I saw the prisoners come out of Sanatomasha University, which was just north of Manila. It was unbelievable. They were skin and bones. They could hardly move. They were hardly alive. Whether you liked it or not, that stuff affects you. I'm a hardened guy, but that stuff gets to you. Especially after hearing about the Baton death march, you were concerned. The POW's were starved, they had all kinds of diseases, and they were not given any medical attention. Hardly any survived.
Q: I know that you were part of the Army Air Corps. What types of training or boot camp did you participate in?
Mr. Basbas : These are the books you had to study to become a cadet (he points to a stack of text books and manuals). I never stopped studying. We had to learn Morse Code. Skeet shooting education is with you your entire life: as a judge; as a teacher. I don't care what you do, you'll be studying the rest of your life.
Q: Was it difficult leaving you family and friends when you went off to war?
Mr. Basbas : I was so anxious to go, I'm sorry to say, that I was not that concerned. I wasn't called until a year after I enlisted. They couldn't take pilots; they had no room for us. I had to wait around for a year before I could go.
Q: How did your faith impact your war experience?
Mr. Basbas : My mother gave me a little thing to carry; she said it was part of the cross, to pin onto my flight suit. When I came back I said, "Mom, every time I wore that thing I had trouble. One time I had the left engine shot out. It was burning like hell. I was lucky to get home. The next time, I was trying to land without a drop of gas left. They had to pull me off the runway." And she said, "Don't you understand? If you didn't have that, you wouldn't have made it at all." And I said (laughs), "Mom, is the glass half empty or half full?"
Q: I understand that you did Photo Reconnaissance. Can you tell us about some of your missions?
Mr. Basbas : We flew the P-38's. We took out all the guns and put cameras in. We took pictures of the shorelines before an attack. We also did bomb assessments. We would go in the morning and take a picture of the proposed target, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the bombers went in, we would go in and take bomb assessment pictures. Here I have an assessment of Hiroshima (he points to a picture). We would also go in and take pictures of airstrips. We would show what planes they had, where they were, and whether or not they were camouflaged.
Q: What were some of your experiences in combat?
Mr. Basbas : We wanted to fly fighters, but as our commander told us, "Fighters are expendable. Your job isn't over until you come back." Our mission wasn't over until we did so. But at time, the Ack-Ack was terrible. By the time we arrived to take the bomb assessments, the fighters had already come to take out the bombers. So, we would meet the fighters, then we would have to run like hell. But we would outrun them. The Japanese planes had a lot of armor plating which we did not have. This made the planes lighter and more maneuverable. We could outrun them. They told us to never dog fight with a Japanese Zero. They could run circles around you. A P-38 took 7 miles to make a turn. The zero could turn inside of you so you would run away. We got jumped one day by a bunch of Jacks. The Jack was like our P-47. It was a radical engine - very fast. It was one of the latest models they had. The maximum speed on my plane was 414 miles per hour; I had mine going 550 miles per hour down diving away from them. The guy I was flying with said, "Bas, let's get to the clouds 'cuz those Jacks are on top of us." So, what you do is put the throttle forward, and you're going far above emergency speeds: 516 miles an hour. I mean, that plane is not supposed to go that fast, but we did.
Q: I was wondering what your experiences with kamikaze bombers were? Could you tell me about these?
Mr. Basbas : Well, we wouldn't have any experience with them. Kamikazes would head for the ships - not the Army Air Corps. We'd see them every night, and they would come out at about 6:00 or 7:30. They always seemed to come out at that time. They'd come into the harbor and we could see them, and the navy would put up a barrage that I don't know how anyone could get through. But don't forget that the kamikaze would come in and they'd come almost straight down. So, it was very hard to hit them that way. The Ack-Ack was not very accurate that way. We got a lot of Ack-Ack in photo recon. I got shot up and I got a DFC for one mission. The others went once and couldn't get the target, but we did. We broke though the clouds and the Ack-Ack was right on target. It blew out my left engine and blew out my wing man's right wing. We got a lot of that, a lot of the Ack-Ack.
Q: Did you ever have to pull your parachute?
Mr. Basbas : No way! I got home! I am coming in to Lingin Gulf and my engine was feathered because it had gotten shot out, and the guy in the tower says, "Unfeather that engine." And I said, "You're crazy. I won't unfeather it. It will cause too much drag." I unfeathered it, and sure enough I didn't make the strip. So thank God, in Lingin Gulf I was able to. Wheels were down, flaps were down. I was able to scoot over the ocean. And as I was coming in for the landing I asked, "Is that guy still in the tower that told me to unfeather that engine?" And they said, "No he just left." And I said, "Well, he's damn lucky 'cuz I would have belted him one." (Laughs) Anyway, that was one scary problem. Then I got a call from a guy in Minnesota. He says, "I saw this article in the Fifth Air Force Magazine. I was the crew chief who met you when you came out with that left engine burning." That was nice to hear from him.
Q: Did you form a lot of friendships during your time serving?
Mr. Basbas : Yes, because you're flying and you're very close with your friends. Then you see them go down like Davenport. The mission I got the DFC for, and the fleet got the DFC for, I had two guys above me: Bunce, the guy who took the Hiroshima picture, and Davenport. Well, Davenport got one engine shot out and another engine died on him, and he got shot down and killed. When you see that happening to your friends and people that are your tent-mates, it bothers you. And another guy came in with a P-38. He had two 500 pounders on, and right in my own area he flipped over and here is the plane, burning like hell. We took a four by four and tried to lift the plane up to get him out, but he was in the cockpit screaming. To watch his head become a coconut is not good. Honest to God, I mean really, those are your friends. We had another guy and whenever you came back from a mission you would buzz your area so they'd come out with a jeep to pick you up. On Beak we watched this guy coming in to buzz us, and he was watching over here and he wasn't looking, and he hit a palm tree. He saw it, he pulled up, and he hit the palm tree with both props just winding away. He got killed that way. When you watch that kind of stuff and you know that these are your friends, the guys that you fly with, it bothers you. That was a half a century ago for crying out loud, what the hell am I talking about?
Q: What was your most memorable experience in the war?
Mr. Basbas : I think watching that guy burn in the P-38. He came in and we tried to lift that plane up, but we knew we couldn't. The P-38 is a heavy plane. We had to use a 4x4 with a half a dozen of us trying to lift it. We could never get him out, but he's in their screaming. And to watch him burn,I think that was the worst. It stayed in my mind as a bad thing.
Q: Did any pilots that you knew lose it and not be able to mentally deal with the war anymore?
Mr. Basbas : To be a pilot you have to be young, stupid, careless, carefree. You know? They didn't care. Perhaps it was the training, but every fighter pilot had a stupid approach to life. It was a carefree approach. Nothing strays from you, nothing's going to kill you.
Mr. Basbas : Invincible, thats exactly the word. Honest to God, I felt it couldn't happen to me, like they could never get me. So you start out with that attitude, and that's what they wanted.
Q: Were you aware of the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans?
Mr. Basbas : Yes, I was. I thought that was uncalled for, because after all they were Americans. They were Japanese-Americans. Some of them served this country very, very well. That bothered me somewhat, because it bordered on what the Germans were doing in their concentration camps. What they should have done was the FBI and CIA and such should have been looking for the Japanese-Americans who were questionable, you know? One of my roommates at Dartmouth was Bob Strum who was German. He was very upset about the German Bundes . Even though he was German, he couldn't accept what was happening over there at all.
Q: How did you view President Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership during the war?
Mr. Basbas : Very Good. Now , I never agreed much with Truman except for two things he did. First, I liked the treaty that created Israel, and secondly I liked the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. Those two things he was very good with.
Q: And you felt those bombs were the only course of action?
Mr. Basbas : Absolutely.
Q: What was your involvement with Hiroshima?
Mr. Basbas : Well, what happened was when Hiroshima was being bombed, I was going up to Colby and Curry when all of the sudden my little p-38 was bouncing around like hell. I look and there was a bunch of B-29's. I hit their prop wash. So anyways, I went up there and I had no clue what was going on, but on the way back I saw this mushroom. It was beautiful-the God damn thing-forgive me, but it was beautiful. And as I said, I never saw anything like that. I backed the plane up and I took a bunch of pictures of it. When I got back I was a lab officer. Every pilot had to have another job, so I was a lab officer. Well, I took those negatives and I put them in a box and I sent them home. They never arrived home. In that box I also had a kimono that I had bought in Japan, 'cuz I had to go to Japan to get my orders to go home. So, I went to Japan and bought a Kublican doll for my sister, got one of those counting boards they use, ivory chopsticks, and I had the negatives. I put all of them in a box and sent them home. Nothing ever arrived. Then, this guy bought a big book about the planes of WWII for me and my wife. I was looking through it and I said, "Marty, did you see this? It says, 'Charles Larebel, the 25th photo recon squadron, miraculously took these pictures.'" And they were my pictures! So what happened was, that when every officer wrote a letter they had to go through to make sure if anything had to be cut out or something. Apparently they must have looked at the box, saw them (the negatives), and took them. If it weren't a half a century ago I would have written to Charlie, who still lives in San Francisco, and said to him, "Charlie, I lost my pictures. Could I have a copy of yours?" See, if he has any pangs of conscience...you know what I mean? But that was 50 years ago. It just bothered me. The pictures were gorgeous because they were in color. We were doing color photography at the time since we were getting ready for the invasion, and we could see the shoreline a lot better in color.
Q: Did you realize what the pictures were of at the time?
Mr. Basbas : No, not at all. Then we were down and the Stars and Stripes guys were waiting for us in the operating room. That guy you know, Bunce, took the preparation pictures for Hiroshima. We were all sitting there, and then we found out what it was. None of knew what it was. None of us knew it was happening. Now Bunce who took the pictures didn't even know it was going to happen. All he knew was that he was due at a certain time to take bomb assessment pictures.
Q: What was your reaction to FDR's death?
Mr. Basbas : Sad, because here we were in the middle of a war, and to lose the leadership at that time it was a sad situation and a frightening situation, because we didn't know what Truman would do or how he would react. We didn't know anything about the Atomic Bomb at the time.
Q: What was your opinion of Truman's wartime leadership?
Mr. Basbas : Well, I didn't agree much with Truman very much to start with. I talked to some of the pilots who came back from the Korean War. What bothered the pilots was this. They said these guys come after us from above the 38th parallel and yet they couldn't follow us beyond the 38th parallel. We knew from experience that the way to stop their supply was to hit their supply lines, but we can't hit their supply lines on our side of the line. You have to hit their supply lines on their side of the line. Yet, Truman precluded us from following the enemy beyond the 38th parallel. That was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of. Every pilot that ever flew in that war felt the same way. That bothered me about Truman.
Q: At the end of the war, did you anticipate future wars, or did it seem to you that countries would find other means of settling conflicts?
Mr. Basbas : I knew we would have another war. We all met at my fathers house: my father and my two brothers who also served in the war. We sat at the dinner table and I said, "We'll be fighting Russia before too long." They both said, "You're crazy." And I said, "We won't walk away from this. This is not the end of it." I thought we'd surely be fighting Russia. Not a cold war- a natural war.
Q: What do you think of today's generation of younger Americans?
Mr. Basbas : Wonderful. Very initiative, very aggressive, but aggressive in a nice way; a peaceful way. I think they are knowledgeable. Plus, the challenge that you people face is unbelievable. Everything has changed so drastically that I don't know how in hell you're able to keep up with it all.
Q: How was it like coming home after the war?
Mr. Basbas : Very frightening. I remember I went to North Station. I wanted to go to Hartford to visit my brother. I went to North Station and I couldn't go to the South Station, I was scared. I got back on the train and went back to Manchester New Hampshire. I thought, "What the hell is the matter with me? This is crazy." I couldn't believe that I was scared. I wasn't scared overseas. Yet, I was too scared to go from the North Station to the South Station to visit my brother.
Q: Why was that?
Mr. Basbas : You just didn't want to leave home. You wanted to stay in one place. It was too frightening to go anywhere. Also, speaking of throwbacks, two years back I woke up at about four in the morning in a cold sweat and I said, "I can't sit in this cockpit for so many hours." I'm wondering what the hell is wrong with me. That was years ago. Look, this is a picture of me in my plane (Mr. Basbas shows us a picture of him inside his plane. He is clearly a few inches too tall).
Q: Do you still resent the Japanese for their brutality during the war?
Mr. Basbas : You're not going to like this, but yes, I do. I do because I knew how vicious they were. And as I said earlier, I would have taken my own life rather than be taken as a prisoner, because I knew what was being done to American pilots.
Q: Did you participate in a homecoming parade?
Mr. Basbas : Oh yes. My mother met me (he chuckles). No. You didn't do stuff like that. All you did was sneak home quietly and stay put. Even coming down here to Boston for law school - I didnt want to do it. I feel like a kid sometimes. You have the courage to do the fighting, but when it's all over, you seem intimidated.
Q: After the war, did you feel lost? Did you know what you wanted to do?
Mr. Basbas : I would have continued to fly. I had my pilots license before the war. I wanted to stay as a pilot, but I promised my Old Man that I would be a lawyer. So, I had to come back and go to law school. He came from the Old Country, and for him, he wanted professionalism.
Q: What is your opinion of the growing conflict in the Middle East and with our current problems with terrorism?
Mr. Basbas : Well, we have to do something about the terrorism. It amazes me how some of these backward countries can tolerate the gross abuse of human life, how people treat one another, and how there is no honor amongst these people. That bothers me. The only thing we can do is try to educate these people and teach them what the right way of life is. We have to fight terrorism. We have to fight the people that believe that philosophy. There are some wonderful people in these countries that are suffering. Whether you are talking about Afghanistan, Iran, or Iraq, there are people who are suffering at the hands of these tyrants. We ought to give the people the supplies, ammunitions, and leadership to take over their own country. We can't go in and run other countries. It's none of our business. Let the people run their own country. I think it's a shame that we tell other countries how to organize and how to run their country.
Q: In your time with the Army Air Corps, did you witness anyone go mentally insane, and if so, what was your reaction?
Mr. Basbas : Our reaction was sadness for him. We had one guy who left and became an equipment officer. He was a pilot and on Nimpor Island. While coming in for landing, he went down into the water before he was able to release the canopy and get out. He had three such accidents. That was his last. He took off his wings and said, "I'm through flying." We felt sad for him because we felt he was making the wrong decision. But we understood. He had had three bad accidents in a row. He was surprised he had survived the third. Three strikes and you're out. We always said that there were two types of pilots: those who had had their accidents with death, and those who were going to have it.
Q: Did you ever think this is it?
Mr. Basbas : Oh, God yes. The worst Ack-Ack I saw was at the Northern tip of Kyushu. The Ack-Ack there was unbelievable. They were building a tunnel and the weather was horrible. But they told us that we had to get the target. When we broke through the clouds at 3,500 feet, they had us right on target. They came at us from both sides. This is where I got my left engine blown out and they got my friend's right wing.
Q: Did you feel like things had changed when you got home?
Mr. Basbas : I was too concerned with where I was going and what I was going to do to worry about it.
Q: Is there any parting advice you would like to give to today's youth?
Mr. Basbas : You guys have a hell of a future, but a hell of a challenge. The world is in turmoil and will continue to be so. It's not going to settle down. We hope it does, but you'll always find idiots like Hitler. You'll always find people that want to take over. There is always going to be egomaniacs, and you're going to have to deal with them. You'll have to use common sense, compassion, and stability. I hope we'll never see another war. Honest to God, it's the worst thing in the world. The problem is, we're forced into it sometimes, and that's unfortunate.
Q: Would you do what you did again?
Mr. Basbas : If it had happened the same way, if there was another Pearl Harbor, yes, I would.
Q: What did you think about the significant drop in enlistment after September 11th in contrast to the rise after Pearl Harbor?
Mr. Basbas : I don't know. I think I can understand that. Nobody wants to get into it again; nobody wants to see another war. And the kids, in terms of being drafted, they all think about that. They can't help to think about that, and you see the results. I mean, do you want to be involved? Of course you don't. I don't want to see my kids involved in it. I would hope that they wouldn't be. So when you talk about the draft, I'm not happy about the draft. We have enough volunteers going in and they know what they're getting into, and good luck to them. For some people the draft would kill them, it would ruin their lives. Why ask them to do it if they can't do it? Emotionally and psychologically and what not. I would do it again because there are always enough idiots in this world, including in our own country. Good luck to you guys. I feel sorry for you guys because of the challenges you'll have to face. But also look at the progress. The world is changing and you won't even recognize this place in a few years, not even Wayland High School!
Bellying up to the bar
Turbo the 25th's Mascot
Mr. Basbas in his Spitfire
Mexican Spitfire Painting
Mr. Kaye and Mr. Basbas
Mr. Babsas and his Spitfire
Japanese Surrender at Okinawa
The 25th's Exchange