From Wausau High to fighter pilot wailing a Banshee over Burma

The chums "over there" and the trip home, a funny conclusion to their war

December 15, 2005

The Wergin family has provided a group of photos we want to show you.

SquadronPilots

A group of squadron pilots, hanging around. We believe this was taken at Jorhat, India.

TheThree

"The Big Three," left to right: Lt. Gerry "Junior" Wergin, Lt. Ken "Pistol Packing Mama" Mosely, and Lt. Mike "Nicaraguan Air Marshal" Navarro. We believe this was taken at Jorhat, India. Apparently Mosely was quite a character, though Gerry has said he was a "moderating influence" on him and Mike. Later in the war, Capt. Mosely and another pilot, Tom Bowie, decided to go chicken hunting in the jungle. They got a chicken and several monkeys. They were taught in survival school to eat whatever the monkey eats, or eat the monkey. So Mosely, seeing himself as quite the chef, brewed up a chicken dinner with lots of monkey meat in it. They invited over a bunch of guests, including Dr. Zwerner, their squadron flight surgeon. As the story goes, Doc enjoyed the meal, monkey meat and all, remarking how good the "chicken" was. Oh yes, Mosely frequently seemed to "acquire" spirits, which they fed the good doctor before giving him dinner, which might help explain why he enjoyed the "chicken." That would be Mosely, the moderating influence!

UC78

The Nicaraguan Air Marshal, Mike Navarro, was also a character. Wergin recalled that one day Navarro and Wergin were tasked to take their colonel's plane, a UC-78, pictured above thanks to the museumofaviation.org, and get over to 10th AAF headquarters to pick up the mission tasking for the next several days. The two of them hopped in, Mike taking the pilot's seat, when Wergin wondered if Mike knew how to fly it. Gerry asked him when he had checked out in the aircraft, to which Mike responded:

"You poosh 'em all forward and fly."

Fortunately, the colonel's crew chief always flew with the aircraft, no matter where it went. So off they went. On the first landing run, Mike almost put her nose into the runway before being able to coax her back up and go around for another attempt. Gerry said Navarro "greased" it on his second try. They went over to Intelligence, picked up the briefcase with the mission tasking, and left.

NavarroAlone
Well, Navarro was feeling fairly confident with his new found toy, so on return to base he buzzed the 90th Squadron, which was one thing, and then went on to buzz the 80th Group headquarters, which was quite another. Mike pushed the rpms above the red line and blew out a window. Wergin sat co-pilot, and handled the radios. He called the tower and asked for landing instructions and a command car to pick up the crew and the "Nicaraguan Air Marshal." The tower called Group Headquarters and the entire base was alerted to get into their Class A uniforms. Upon landing, they were met by two lieutenant colonels in a staff car and both stood at attention when the two second lieutenants and the enlisted crew chief deplaned.

As morning dawned, they were called to Group Headquarters to see Colonel Grubbs, their commander, and were promptly grounded for two weeks. They were flabbergasted with the punishment, wondering how the war could go on without them, wondering what they would do with their spare time. Of course, this all caused Ken Mosely to try to figure out how to get grounded and sent home!

Jeep

Mike Navarro at the wheel, Ken Mosely riding "scout." Our vision is that a bunch of pilots would fling themselves on this jeep by the boatload when the klaxon sounded for them to get their buns to their planes and in the air.

Tank

Wergin on the left, Navarro on the right, aboard a tank, whose tank, we do not know. To us, the tank looks out of commission, though the guns look like they're in good shape, making one wonder whether these were used as anti-aircraft guns.

P47FlightCap

Here's Lt. Wergin again with his P-47D Thunderbolt II. We're pretty sure this photo was taken in Burma. It's a neat photo for a few reasons. First, once again, the lad is 5 ft 6 in, "Junior" is, and he can just reach the cowling of this "Jug." Look at the size of those props, and recall they clear the ground by about six inches. Also note the soil; looks like lots of stone and rock. The tires and his boots are full of dust and dirt. Off left center on the starboard wing, you can see three guns for sure, maybe four. Right behind the engine, on the belly is an external fuel tank, which looks like it has less than six inches clearance! Wergin's notes indicate that they nearly always carried extra fuel tanks on the wings, which they dropped when empty, and then flew the rest of the mission on internal tanks. These extra tanks, he commented, made their missions "long." But best of all, Gerry has his flight cap on, cocked like a fighter pilot should have it. Also, you can see a most serious look on his face. This editor would love to see him climb aboard and get in the saddle --- bet that took a few ladders!

P47CrewChief

Lt. Wergin in his P-47D Thunderbolt II with, perhaps his crew chief. This photo was taken in Burma. We think they are both simply posing for the sake of a photo as Wergin is not wearing a flight suit.

TomFry

Lt. Wergin's note on the flip side of this photo was, "Tom 'Jungle' Fry, Burma." Tom looks very much like the man with Wergin in the previous photo, which makes us want to think Fry was Wergin's crew chief, but that is not Fry's name as crew chief on the side of Wergin's P-47.

WerginStandP47

We've shown this photo before. This is Lt. Wergin standing with his P-47D Thunderbolt II. Note he is wearing a flight suit. This is the AN-6550 Summer Flying Suit that came into the force in 1943. The suit had a lot of large pockets that closed tightly, including pockets for pens and pencils, and full length sleeves. We are not sure what, if any, fire retardant protection it offered. We are sure AAF regulations required the pilots to roll down those sleeves to the wrists in case of fire, to offer some protection to their arms, but we have seen Wergin in the cockpit with sleeves rolled up as in this photo. Even in Vietnam pilots grudgingly rolled down their sleeves because of the heat. The other point to note is the steel matting over the ground.

KachinVillageA

In this photo, Lt. Wergin is visiting a Kachin village in Burma, most likely when he was based at Tingkawk Sakan in the Hukaung Valley in Burma. We cannot be sure, but it looks very much like he and the group of Burmese are standing in front of a small ginseng farming facility, with the low cover over the growing plants. If our analysis of this photo is correct, Wergin is in 7th Heaven because his hometown, Wausau, became very active in ginseng farming when the Fromm Brothers came to town in 1904. The CBI area also was an important ginseng production area, stretching from China to the Himalayas (The Hump) and Burma. As an aside, Wausau today is the country's capital for ginseng farming.

KachinVillageB

This is another photo Gerry took of a Kachin Village. Kachin State is in the extreme northern Burma, and its capital was and is Myitkyina. Kachin guerrillas were allied with the Americans, British and Chinese against the Japanese and were fierce warriors.

OClubBurma

This has all the markings of an Officer's Club, in the CBI. The ceiling is made of old parachute silk. The bar might well be sitting on old fuel drums. If you look carefully at the end of the bar to the left, you can see a phone, which was probably used to roust the boys out. There is a small bookshelf off to the left as well. The photo on the left behind the bar has a P-40 Warhawk in the foreground. We're not sure where this club is located. At first, we would have guessed Jorhat, India, but the photo on the left appears to have a P-47 Thunderbolt in the background flying along with the P-40, so perhaps the club is in Burma.

Concluding the story of Captain Wergin is itself a story of its own, one that demands telling. You will recall from the previous section that Wergin was not at his base when the news came through that he, Mosely, Navarro and a bunch of others were being sent back to the US. Their war was over, effective July 22, 1945. Once Wergin got back to his base, and found out, he had to catch up with his other two chums. They were given the opportunity to fly home, or take a ship. Perhaps they had had their fill with flying, because they chose to take a ship, perhaps thinking it might be glamoruous.

A total of 37 officers chose the seaborne mode. They were assigned to the US Merchant Marine Ship SS Cape Sandy.

The Cape Sandy was a C1-B class merchant marine ship, the smallest of the three original types designed by the US Maritime Commission. They were intended to be used on routes that did not call for fast ships! Wergin would note, "Slow boat to China." Had he known, he probably would have been impressed that these ships had 4,000 horsepower, but then he would have chuckled that they could only hit a speed of 14 knots. These C1-B ships were built either with steam geared turbine or diesel motors.

C1BTypeShip

Photo of SS Reuben Tipton, launched in December 1940 at the Federal Ship Building and Drydock in Kearny, New Jersey. She was torpedoed on October 23, 1942. This is an example of a C1-B type ship. Presented by the US Merchant Marine.org

We found a little history on the SS Cape Sandy. Perhaps the most significant is that she participated in the Allied Leyte landings in the Philippines from November 4-29, 1944, along with 107 other merchant ships. They all earned battle stars.

LeyteMap

The Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 22 - 24, 1944. This is a map denoting the decisive phase of the battle. The green arrow marks Leyte Island. Presented by D.L. James

The map above talks mainly to the naval battle that actually occurred after the Leyte Landings, the latter of which took place on October 17-20, 1944. We cannot go into detail here, but the ship bringing Captains Wergin, Mosely, and Navarro and over 30 other officers home from the CBI War was one of hundreds of transport ships to provide the supplies needed for the landings, the naval battles that ensued, and the retaking of the Philippines from the Japanese. Most of the transports went to designated anchorage areas in the area and waited for their orders to proceed or receive other ships to transfer their cargos.

MacArthurLanding

General Douglas MacArthur wading ashore at Leyte, Philippines, October 20, 1944. Presented by US Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Liberation of the Philippines.

What many Americans will always remember about this battle is that this is the one where General of the Army Douglas MacArthur left his command center aboard the USS Nashville, boarded a barge, and walked off the barge through the water to set his feet once again on Philippine soil, broadcasting to the people of the Philippines:

"People of the Philippines. I have returned."

WerginCapeSandyA

WerginCapeSandyB

Captain Gerry Wergin aboard the SS Cape Sandy, August - September 1945. Photo courtesy of the Wergin family.

Well, there's no reason why we can't have Captain Wergin's photos close to that of General MacArthur. These next two photos would be of Captain Wergin making his return!

So, here you have some old warriors, Captain Wergin, the fellow sitting next to him, the other officers aboard, and the SS
Cape Sandy, a veteran of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Sandy taking our boys home. Gerry noted he was traveling light. He had with him two shirts, one pants, four drawers, two undershirts, two bath towels, one face towel, four pair of socks, seven hankies, and one barracks bag.

Much to their dismay, it took 37 days to get them to New York. Gerry noted that they were sailing the Indian Ocean when "Victory over Japan" or "VJ" Day was announced. Navarro was upset, scolding Gerry for picking this slow ship to China, lamenting that they could all be back in the states celebrating.

The ship's captain invited a small gathering to his quarters that evening to celebrate VJ Day. The skipper regretted that he did not have some liquor to share with his guests to celebrate the occasion. Wergin, with his steel-trap memory, recalled that Ken Mosely, the guy who was supposed to have been a good and moderating influence on him and Navarro, had snuck about four quarts of liquor aboard in his foot locker, located in the hold of the ship. Wergin told the skipper.

The skipper's reaction was one of shock, advising the young Army captain that it was inappropriate for liquor to be on an official boat of the United States. The skipper immediately ordered the First Mate and Captain Wergin to retrieve the contraband and deliver same to the skipper's quarters. Being a loyal officer, Wergin went with the First Mate to fetch the "smuggled" goods and dutifully they delivered them to the captain's quarters. After drinking several quarts in the captain's quarters, the captain and his guests wondered who had furnished the liquor, at which point Gerry realized Ken Mosely was not there. The skipper hastily invited Ken to the party and everyone had a wonderful VJ Day.

That's a great ending to a wonderful story about one of the millions of American "heroes next door." We leave you with this final photo of Captain Wergin.

WerginCapeSandyC

This is a magnificent photo. War is worse than hell. It's a very scary enterprise and can be most haunting. Captain Wergin flew many missions so low that he could see the faces of the people he was killing, and, on occasion, his windshield would be battered with the rermains of what he had blown up below. That affected him for the rest of his life.

Very few men, and now women, know how they will react when in the pitch of battle. That might be among the most frightening aspects of going to war --- how will I react? Will I do my job? Will I have the courage? Will I be honorable? Will my colleagues in combat be able to rely on me? These and many more questions stream through one's mind all the time while at war, especially in the beginning.

What is on Captain Wergin's face here while out at sea on the way home? We see the look of his war is over, the look of a man who says to himself, "Holy mackerel, I did it," an inexplicable feeling of self-satisfaction and pride mixed with wonderment that he made it through. At the end, he knew he answered the call of duty and did it.

They departed Calcutta, India on August 12, 1945 at noon, made their way to Colombo, Ceylon, up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal to Port Said, then on through the Mediterranean out the Strait of Gibraltar across the "Big Pond" to New York, then flights that brought him home to Wausau.

In the military vernacular, he could mark his travel forms, "MC," for "Mission Complete."