HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. (Jan. 23, 2012) -- In November 1941,
1,209 men with the 27th Bombardment Group left what is now Hunter
Army Airfield to beef up Gen. Douglas MacArthur's defense of the
Tom Freeman, a Navy World War II veteran,
Hunter Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Stanley Hood, retired Master Sgt.
Tom Davis and Larry Stephenson walk toward the memorial for the 27th
Bombardment Group in front of the Hunter Chapel to lay a wreath in
honor of the hundreds of men from the unit who died in World War II.
Stephenson authored a book about the unit, "Operation PLUM: The
ill-fated 27th Bombardment Group and the fight for the Western
Pacific." Photo by Steve Hart, Hunter Army Airfield Public Affairs
A year later, only 20 returned to the U.S. Of the remaining, the
rest were killed or became prisoners of war. Only 30 percent of the
unit ever returned home.
Larry Stephenson, the nephew of one
of the pilots who did not return to his family, dedicated eight
years of his life to researching and writing about the doomed unit.
His book, "Operation PLUM: The ill-fated 27th Bombardment Group and
the fight for the Western Pacific," was published in 2008.
Stephenson said that "Operation: PLUM" was the code name for the
U.S. Army in the Philippines in the buildup to World War II.
"That sudden buildup when they started to pour troops into the
Philippines, that was called Operation: PLUM," he explained. "When
my uncle and the rest of the unit left Savannah, the tags on their
luggage, etc., said 'Operation: PLUM.'"
The author traveled
to Hunter Army Airfield,
Jan. 12, to see the last place his uncle, Capt. Glenwood Stevenson,
was stationed. During his visit, he toured the installation and
spoke to about 30 military and community leaders.
"This place has a special meaning to me," he said of
Hunter. "It has a special significance, because this is
where he left for the war from."
the story of the 27th Bombardment Group, who arrived in the
Philippines on Thanksgiving Day and was told their aircraft,
which they took apart for the trek, was just days behind
them. In fact, their aircraft had not yet left the U.S., and
was diverted to Australia after the Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
Twenty-seven airmen from the
27th were flown from the Philippines to Australia to help
expedite the process of getting the planes put back together
and flown back to their unit.
An aviation unit with
no aircraft, the remaining Soldiers of the 27th Bombardment
Group were completely unprepared when surprise attacked by
the Japanese in the Philippines just two weeks after
Thanksgiving and suffered a crushing blow. Many were killed
and others were taken as prisoners of war.
Air Force Master Sgt. Tom Davis was one of the men of the
27th captured by the Japanese in the Philippines and was
part of the infamous Bataan Death March.
1942, the Japanese forced about 76,000 American and Filipino
prisoners of war to march 60 miles to a POW camp. The march
is infamous for wide-ranging physical abuse and murder.
Davis is one of the few Americans who returned.
you've lost your freedom, you've lost everything -- and we
lost our freedom," Davis said.
But Davis said not
returning home to his wife, Ruth, in Savannah was never an
option. At age 17, the two married just a week before he
left Savannah and she waited four years for his return.
"My wife's grandfather worked for the news service in
Savannah and he kept telling her I wouldn't come back, but
she said, 'I know he will. I know he will,'" Davis recalled.
"(Not coming home) never crossed my mind. It never crossed
Davis, along with Tom Freeman, a World War
II Navy veteran, Stephenson, and Hunter Garrison Command
Sergeant Major Stanley Hood laid a wreath of remembrance in
front of the memorial to the 27th Bombardment Group in front
of the Hunter Chapel.
"I was thinking about all my
friends who died," Davis said of laying the wreath.
Stephenson said meeting Davis, an airman not only from the
27th Bombardment Group but from the 16th Squadron, which his
uncle commanded, made the visit complete.
very emotional," Stephenson said. "I spent all this time
working on this [book], and here is a guy from my uncle's
very unit, in the place where my uncle last served in the
U.S., seventy years later."
By Steve Hart
Hunter Army Airfield Public Affairs
Army News Service
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