When Elbert Lindley checked out of the Army Air Corp in 1945, the flyboy was told his records and his Purple Heart would catch up to him.
Sixty-two years later — it finally did.
Lindley filed paperwork in March of 2006 after family “kind of started bugging” him about it and received word this May that his Purple Heart had been approved. And, it’s a good thing the 89-year-old pursued the award — it increased his disability payments by 50 percent. Lindley is almost totally deaf from prolonged exposure to aircraft engines and gunfire.
Lindley was wounded on a bombing mission from Guam to Marcus Island in the Central Pacific with orders to “take out” a Japanese Air Field. He usually served as top turret gunner on the “Cowbird,” but it had been grounded for repairs. For this particular mission, he was aboard the “Black Sheep,” a B-24J bomber.
A Japanese aircraft began flying parallel to the Black Sheep but stayed just out of gunfire reach, and reported to the enemy ground crew the coordinates needed to take the Black Sheep down, Lindley said.
The Black Sheep was hit several times by anti-aircraft artillery from the ground and four members of the 10-man crew were hit.
Lindley said one hit blasted into the outer left wing leaving a hole “the size of a man” and another ripped the left top rudder off the tail of the bomber.
“It was blown completely off,” Lindley said.
Still another hit exploded in the bomb bay with bombs still in it, Lindley said. Another cut through the main bulkhead of the airplane between the bomb bay and the flight deck.
The shell that ripped through the main bulkhead is the one that got Lindley. Lindley said his seat was plated with armor and was just as wide as his body, but the shrapnel came through at an angle that cut through his left upper arm and grazed his rib cage. The blast shattered the heavy-duty plastic bubble that enclosed Lindley from the elements along with the control panel. The next thing he knew he was sitting in the strong cold wind with nothing left of his gunner equipment except for two control handles he now held in bloody hands. The fragments had peppered his face.
“I knew my hands were bleeding and I could feel blood running under my arm,” Lindley said. “I was just kind of in a daze and the wind was cold.”
Lindley said he was sort of frozen in place and just couldn’t think to hit the lever that would lower his seat down into the plane to get him out of the wind. One of the other crewmembers rescued him.
The artillery kept coming but not before the flyboys hit their target on the island.
One engine was destroyed and another damaged, leaving two good engines.
“It’s lucky they were hit on opposite sides, “ Lindley said. “If two had been hit on the same side we wouldn’t have made it.”
Lindley said the men began tossing everything they didn’t need out of the plane to try to limp back to Guam.
“We just had to hope and pray that we made it,” Lindley said. “There wasn’t nothing down there but water (flying over ocean).”
On top of everything else the weather was bad. Five hours and 40 minutes later the Black Sheep landed safely after fearing for the whole flight the craft would break apart from the direct hit on the bulkhead.
When asked if this particular mission was his most memorable he said, “ I remember all 40 of them.”
But two missions stand out more in his mind maybe he said because they were his last two.
On Aug. 5, 1945, the day before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and later on Aug. 9 in Nagasaki, Lindley dropped leaflets in those two cities.
“There were 40,000 leaflets in bundles and we just broke apart the bundles and tossed them out,” Lindley said.
He said they had no idea they were dropping warnings to the citizens to leave town because the biggest bomb of all time would be dropped the next day.
Those missions “became more memorable,” Lindley said, because the war ended after that.
Lindley received several awards during his service time but he said the one he’s most proud of is the Distinguished Flying Cross he received on Dec. 25, 1944.
Two Air Force Officers from Dyess Air Force base in Abilene will present the Purple Heart to Lindley at 2 p.m. on July 13 at the Graham Street Church of Christ Family Center. Lindley said he will have his flight jacket on display along with other things he collected from his time in the service.
Friends and family are invited to attend.