Sandy Kuhna, the daughter-in-law of 352nd pilot Doug Kuhna (Makikuhna during WWII), got back in touch after she saw a photo of Doug I posted on the Facebook page last year. Sandy advises that her father-in-law is alive and well at 91 years young and tells her lots of war stories whenever she sees him. Luckily, Sandy has written some of these stories down and kindly shared them with me for the blog along with some great photos. The below is a summary of Doug’s career in training and combat that included thirty nine missions with the 352nd. It is posted with thanks to Doug and Sandy for sharing their memories and research (and with apologies from me for the time it has taken to get it posted).
Doug wasn’t drafted into the military. He went along to a recruitment office with a friend who wanted to sign up for the Air Force. As it happened the friend couldn’t pass the eye test, but the recruiters saw Doug wasn’t wearing glasses and asked him if he wanted to take the test. Assuming he wouldn’t pass he agreed and actually came through all the tests with flying colours. The recruiter suggested he would be drafted soon anyway and so talked him into joining the Air Force. As Doug was not yet 18 he needed his parent’s signatures of agreement and had to drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to get his mother’s (Olga) signature. It seems that his parents were none too impressed with their son’s decision – his mother told him straight-out that the next time she would see him he would be in a box. His father, who had fought for Finland and Russia as an NCO sharpshooter during World War I and knew the hardships of war, advised him to hide in the woods behind the farm. Both gave their signatures.
Doug spent the first three months of his military life in Miami Beach, Florida and the College Training Detachment at the University of Toledo, Ohio (in addition to providing basic military training both of these were often a way of hoarding eligible recruits from the clutches of the other two services until they were required for flight training). Doug then moved to Maxwell Field, Alabama for pre-flight assessment and training at the Air Force Pilot School. This included all kinds of courses on the mechanics and physics of flight, codes, meteorology along with plenty of physical training. Next Doug went to Ocala, Florida for primary flight training (probably at the AAF Contract School at Taylor Field). He flew the first time in a Piper Cub, but the majority of his primary flight training was in the PT-17 Kaydet (an open-cockpit bi-plane) which he flew dual for up to 15 hours before being allowed to fly solo. Doug’s first solo was on his twenty-first birthday, September 24, 1943.
After about 60 hours of training Doug moved on to basic flight training in Bainbridge, Georgia. There he flew a Vultee BT-13 Valiant (a mono-wing basic trainer). He was there for 60 more hours of flight training over a period of some three months. He then moved to advanced single-engine training at Mariana, Florida. There he flew the AT-6 Texan for another 60 hours of flight training. Doug passed the course and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Force. On his graduation day his future wife, Ethel Johnson, came down to Mariana to pin his pilot’s wings on him. It was a proud day for all concerned.
Doug then headed for Punta Gorda, Florida for advanced fighter transition training flying on P-40 Warhawks. The Air Force then assigned him to the 8th Air Force in England. On reaching England Doug would probably went to the 496th Fighter Training Group at Goxhill for some additional training on P-51 Mustangs before joining the 352nd Fighter Squadron at Raydon on November 19, 1944. At his new home he would have undergone further training in the Operational Training Unit (OTU) before flying his first mission just under a month later on December 18, 1944. Doug would fly Mustangs throughout his tour – he did get to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt a few times but only for training or fun. Regardless of the aircraft Doug always loved flying – particularly among the big fluffy clouds where there were tunnels that you could fly through and the thin wispy clouds that you could cause to disintegrate with the aircraft.
By coincidence the 352nd CO Major Wilbert H. Juntilla was also, like Doug, of Finnish descent. They did not know one another prior to serving at Raydon, but quickly found out they lived about ten miles apart in Michigan (Juntilla was from Calumet and Doug from Atlantic Mine). They became firm friends and Doug jokes he may have been treated better than the other pilots because he was a fellow Finn. When he took over Capt. William Davis’s old aircraft, Juntilla let him change the name of his plane to “Miss Ethel” faster than the other replacement pilots.
Doug has many memories of his tour and was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters during his service. The longest missions he flew were to Berlin – a flight of seven hours round trip in a very cramped cockpit. He particularly remembers a “Maximum Effort” to Berlin in early 1945 that involved nearly 2000 aircraft. The fighter pilot’s job was to keep the German planes away from the bombers, but by this stage of the war most of them were afraid of the American fighters so they would turn back or abort an attack when they spotted them. Doug did almost get his first kill with an ME 109, but the bombers got it first. The white cliffs of Dover were a welcome sight on many missions and let him know he had made it back safely. His friends sometimes did not make it back and it was always a very sad time. Doug recalls going to bed at night and looking at the bunk next to him that had been stripped and was empty.
If the Germans didn’t come up to harass the bombers then Doug and his fellow pilots went down to look for targets of opportunity such as trains and trucks. He was told never to bring back unused bullets. Strafing was dangerous work and the pilots learnt to avoid some trains in particular because they had flak guns that would shoot straight up at attacking aircraft. Nevertheless Doug was able to destroy two locomotives and several ground vehicles on the mission of February 26, 1945. Doug also remembers that with this kind of work he would see farmers out in their fields and would not shoot at them because his father was a farmer back in Michigan and so Doug understood that by this stage in the war they were just trying to keep their families fed.
Flying fighters was, of course, a dangerous activity and Doug remembers quite a few close shaves. During one practice bombing run at Raydon he accidently dropped one of his bombs (inert) on the base PX and caught a lot of grief. Another time he was taking off when one of his external gas tanks fell off and he had to return to base or he would never have made it to Germany and back (this probably would not have counted as dispatched as the aircraft failed on take-off. Doug’s only recorded abort from a mission was due to a rough engine on December 23, 1944).
One day it was so foggy at Raydon the pilots couldn’t see to land and someone had to stand at the end of the runway with flares and shot them up so the pilots could see them. They also shot flares in an arch so the planes could land under the arch and know it was the runway. Another time Doug was landing (aircraft always landed two at a time side by side) and the guy next to him veered into his lane so Doug pulled up and took off to make another pass. This is very difficult to do since the plane will start dipping a wing if you try to go to fast all at once. Doug managed it without smashing into the ground at high speed and when he landed his CO made him get into another plane straight away and take off and land again so he could shake off his nerves. Doug modestly describes the incident as like getting back on the horse straight away when you fall off.
Doug’s last mission of the war was in his faithful SX-A on April 25, 1945 (also the Group’s last mission escorting bombers to Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden). He was on leave in Dublin when word came that US forces had used an atomic bombs on Japan and the war ended a few days later. He returned to Raydon and learnt that getting sent home depended on a points system. You got more points for your age, whether you had a wife, kids or fulfilled many other detailed criteria. With few points Doug was sent to Frankfurt, Germany as part of the occupation. This was about six weeks before they were sent home and Doug remembers piles of Nazi weapons and regalia laying around and brought some of it back as souvenirs. He then travelled by train to Le Havre, France and came home on the SS Argentina via Camp Kilmer. The base did not give any passes but, as his sister Hilkka and her husband Arvo lived in New York, he found a hole in the fence behind the barracks and visited them whenever he could. The first time he made his elicit escape he and his friends thought the hole in the fence was a big secret until they saw the big line of taxi cabs just the other side of the fence. He got his discharge a few weeks later.
After the war some pilots went to work for the airlines, but Doug heard they did not want “hot shot” pilots from the war as they might be too reckless. Instead he decided to go back to his studies and went to Michigan Technological University in Houghton on the GI Bill and got a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Subsequently he worked for the John Fauver Company who sold pumps and valves until he retired in the late 1980s.
A Brief History of SX-A
The following is as complete history of the use of SX-A coding on aircraft by the 352nd Squadron as we currently have. There was, as far as we know from Squadron records, no use of SX-A Bar as an aircraft code. Posted with thanks to Ash Gant for our usual brain-storming and, of course, I welcome evidenced corrections or clarifications.
A/C 42-8420 P-47D-5-RE. We have no details of the assigned pilot, but the aircraft was lost September 15, 1943 when Capt. Robert C. Durlin was forced to bail out.
A/C 42-74728 P-47D-6-RE. This aircraft shows up in Squadron records for the first time October 10, 1943. It appears to have been assigned to Capt. Charles J. Hoey. The aircraft left the Squadron (probably around the time D-15s came in February 1944) and went to the 495th FTG. Lt. Paul Fulton lost his life when he crashed in the aircraft August 24, 1944.
A/C 42-75707 P-47D-15-RE. This aircraft shows up on Squadron records for the first time on February 10, 1944 as part of the upgrade to D-15s. Capt. Charles J. Hoey flew SX-A on 28 missions between January and March 1944, but was assigned to Group in February 1944 and it is possible the aircraft then became the personal aircraft of Lt. Richard V. Keywan. He flew the aircraft on 50 missions between April and June 1944. Given his flight record and the famous photo it would seem very likely he was responsible for the name “Little Hotsy” rather than Hoey but we cannot state this to be known fact. Keywan lost his life when he was shot down in this aircraft June 12, 1944.
A/C 42-26643 P-47D-25-RE. This aircraft joined the Squadron mid to late June 1944 and was the personal aircraft of Lt. William M. Newton Jr. who flew it on 46 missions between July and October 1944. Lt. Newton’s name for the aircraft “Aw Nuts” was, perhaps, appropriate for it was involved in an embarrassing taxiing accident at the hands of 2nd Lt. Edward C. Andrews on July 9, 1944. A picture of the aircraft artwork and damage is on p.518 of Jonah’s Feet Are Dry. A close look at that photograph indicates this was one of the camouflaged aircraft in the Squadron. The aircraft was still flying with the Squadron in September 1944 and was sent to the 509th FS, 405th FG when the 352nd converted to P-51s. It flew as G9-D “The Virgin” with the 509th and was damaged in a landing accident at R-68 Straubing June 4, 1945 while being flown by Lt. John H. Carroll.
A/C 44-14642P-51D-10-NA. This history of this aircraft is unclear in places. It was assigned to the 352nd in October 1944 and remained with the Squadron until after the end of the war. It was the only “A” coded P-51 in the Squadron flying 94 missions between October 1944 and April 1945 with 25 different pilots. The first assigned pilot was Capt. William C. Davis who flew the aircraft on 25 missions between October and December 1944. Davis completed his first tour in January 1945. We believe he named this aircraft “Aurora Houn Dog” and that his first aircraft was SX-A and not SX-V as is sometimes stated. The confusion arises because on his return to the Squadron Davis flew SX-V (a/c 44-72392) “Aurora Hound Dawg” – his old SX-A had by this time become the personal aircraft of Lt. Douglas A. MakiKuhna who named it “Miss Ethel” for his future wife Ethel Johnson. Makikuhna flew the aircraft on 29 missions between December 1944 and April 1945.
As a final word – the crew for SX-A throughout the war were S/Sgt Cecil C. Clark (Crew Chief), Sgt Horton (Assistant Crew Chief) and Sgt Murray H. Scheshko (Armourer). Horton does not show up on the original stateside roster for the Group so may have joined them later as a replacement. Clark and Scheshko were originally from “B” flight and transferred to “D” flight when it was formed in the spring of 1944 to cope with the increased number of Squadron aircraft. It really is a shame that so many of the official photos do not name the ground crews and this makes identification difficult. Let me know if you can confirm who is who…