Pictures From Iwo Jima

Back when I was a kid, I inherited my grandma’s coin collection. I hadn’t looked through it in a while, but recently I decided I was going to tackle one of it’s unsolved mysteries. Namely, the story behind this Cuban peso:

It’s difficult to see from the picture, but there’s a list of signatures underneath the heading “S.S. Wills 2-3-45.” As a kid I thought maybe these were friends of my grandparents (it was part of my grandma’s coin collection, after all), but that couldn’t be true since they hadn’t even known each other by that date. I figured out that they were most likely war buddies of my Pop Pop and after a lot of squinting and image manipulation I managed to figure out most of the names. Lookups on Ancestry led me to more information on these men, which eventually, through the wonder of Google and a lot of luck, led me to the discovery of this photograph:

Crew 714 of the 457th Bomb Squadron. My Pop Pop, Lieutenant Charles Wills, is standing on the right. Almost all of the men pictured here can be found on my grandma's Cuban peso.

The website I found it on is one dedicated to the 330th Bomb Group. There’s a ton of information, a bunch of which I hadn’t been aware of. Here’s what I learned:

My Pop Pop was the radar observer for crew 714, which flew the B-29 K-15, or the “City of Gary, IN.” The plane’s nickname was “?” which, according to Sergeant John Stevens, was because after 8 missions they hadn’t named the plane yet, so the ground crew painted a giant “?” on the nose. It was because they didn’t know if the crew would come back after each mission. Kind of morbid and scary, but also amusing that they were basically flying the only plane in the AF without a proper nickname.

K-15 in Guam, heading out for a mission. The bombay doors are wide open to help keep the crew cool.

On their 20th mission (August 8, 1945), K-15 lost 2 of it’s engines before crash landing back on Iwo Jima. There’s a really great play-by-play of the entire mission/crash landing by Lieutenant John Reis which I won’t bore you with right now, but if you’re interested you can read here.

A picture of the crash. Luckily no one was hurt, but that was the end for K-15.

The crew flew an additional 3 missions in K-3 and received multiple Air Medals. Pop Pop flew home with Captain Thomas Abbring and Lieutenant Reis in either K-12 or K-16 (the information is conflicting) for the Sunset Project, a project initiated by the Air Force to get planes back stateside. If they flew on K-16, they would have been in another crash (no casualties), this time on Johnston Island. K-12 seems to have made it back no problem.

Cranes removing K-15 after it's crash landing.

It’s amazing the kind of information you can find if you only have the patience to look!

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