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Charles Douglas Caffey
Rank: Private First Class
Charles Douglas Caffey



58th Wing, 509th Composite Bomb Group

Kwajalein Atoll, Pacific

1944 - 1945

Survived the war?
Wounded but survived
United States Army Air Corps

United States Army Air Corps

Bones in the sand

I was a PFC. Though I spent a year and a half in college, while in uniform, with the prospect of becoming a fighter pilot, (ASTP- Army Specialized Training Program) my entire unit was "washed out" at the convenience of the government since they saw the war in Europe coming to an end. Instead of being officers with silver wings in 90 days, we were PFC's instead. I did qualify as a fighter pilot, and did go on to become a private pilot on my own. Went to Photographic School, Lowry Field, Denver becoming a Photo Lab Tech, Camera Tech, and Aerial Photographer. and as such, became a part of the 509th Composite Bomb Group, 58th Wing, Air Photo Unit, 20th Air Force.

After the war I went back to college, subsequently receiving four college degrees, viz., BE.A., ME.A., BE.DO., and Th.DO. Spent the last four months of wartime service in four military hospitals, two in the Pacific and two in the States. Came out of WWII with 50% disability. I was in the Pacific in the 509th Composite Bomb Group, 58th Wing, Air Photo Unit, 20th AF. It was the 509th which dropped the atomic bombs on Japan and also did the atom bomb testing at Bikini Atoll.

My life, physically, began on November 10th,1926 in Grenada County, State of Mississippi. Spiritually, it began when, at age 13, I had an encounter with the God of the universe. In a cow pasture, I walked out one day, looked up into the heavens and said to God. "God, I think I'm missing something in my life which is of great importance. Would you show me what it is?" God did show me in a very personal manner that I needed to be saved. After the preaching of an old minister's sermon from Isaiah, I surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ and was gloriously born again. Before my baptism I still remember saying; "Lord enable me to live in such a manner that when you call, I'll be able to hear."

World War II began for the USA and, of course, all of the boys after graduation wanted to fight for our country, including myself. My heart and mind were set on becoming a pilot in the Army Air Corps, a fighter pilot, particularly in the P-51 Mustang. But how could I do that when I had no money for the two years of college, which was required? I was just a poor country boy who had surrendered to Jesus for salvation. I knew only one person in our vicinity who had a college education.

When our training was over at Davidson and North Georgia Colleges, Uncle Sam saw the War coming to an end in Germany and thereby "washed-out" our entire 216 men, before we received Lieutenant's gold bars and Silver Wings of Greenhorn pilots. I was the first in my squadron to solo and get my shirt-tale cut off and tacked to the bulletin board!. I learned to fly under the capable hands of a man, a civilian, who trained many Army Air Corps Cadets. He was Kurt Wetzel, who had been Test Pilot for Piper Aircraft Company. He is the only man I knew who could fly a J-3 Piper at hanger height up side down over the runway without losing a foot of altitude! What a pilot he was. He was demanding in his teaching men to fly, but he was the best. Now, that our pilot training was over, due to our being terminated ("washed out") instead of Cadets, we were all PFC's with one stripe on our sleeves. Instead of being saluted by PFC's we were the PFC's saluting green-horn second Lieutenants.

Each of us were sent to specialized military schools for technical training still in the Army Air Corps of WWII. In my case I ended at Lowry Field, Denver, to learn all about photography, in cluding being a Camera Tech, Lab Tech, and an Aerial Photographer. That's how I ended up in the 509th Composite Bomb Group, 58th Wing, Air Photo Unit, 20th Airforce in the Pacific. I didn't see God's hand in all this change until much later in life. God doesn't begin something in your life, then just turns you loose. No, He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. I know that to be true. Remember this writing is about God, and His doing, not that of a humble country boy known as C. Douglas Caffey.

I was sent to Photographic School, Lowry Field, Denver, where I received three MOS's (Military Occupational Specialties) 940, 941, and 945 - Aerial Photographer, Lab Technician, and Camera Technician. Became a part of the famous 509th Composite Bomb Group of the 58th Wing, 20th Air Force. I served in the Army Air Corps, 1944-1946, in the 509th Composite Bomb Group, 58th Wing, Air Photo Unit, 20th Air Force. The 509th dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, as well as two atomic test bombs at Bikini, Marshall Islands in the Pacific. I came out of WWII 50% disabled and am still suffering from a thing known as PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). They say that I brought the war home with me PTSD is a part of my life.

In the Air Photo Unit I installed aerial cameras and kept them in good repair. Before I was assigned to a crew I received a back injury when deplaning from a B-29 with a K-17B camera, and was hospitalized in the Naval Hospital on Kwajalein, then flown to Tripler Hospital in Hawaii, then later a hospital ship to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco, then an Air Force plane to the Air Force Regional Hospital, Maxwell Field, Montgomery, AL. Spent about six months in four military hospitals, consecutively. When I was hospitalized, two hospitals overseas and two here in the States, I lost all of my personal possessions, which never caught up to me. Among those possessions were hundreds of photos which I took during the war. This was my greatest loss, other than my health. I have had back problems since WWII along with PTSD As an Aviation Cadet I studied, under the auspices of the Army Air Corps, both at Davidson College, NC and North Georgia Military College, Dahlonega, GA. Following WWII, I went on to get four college degrees and was a professor, college dean, Christian high school principal, and a pastor, yet never "walked away" from WWII


Today is as bright
As the darkness of night;
When the moon fails to shine
And heaviness is mine!

No hope can be seen
And companions are mean;
The Wilderness is calling
And bivouacking is appalling!

Today's "camel-ride" is hard,
With no music from a bard;
No sweet birds are singing;
No fragrance the breeze is bringing!

Like a picture-puzzle unfinished,
The burdensome load undiminished;
Whose bones are these in the sand?
They are the bones of a Japanese man!

This is an island
Of strange sounding name;
The stench of death
Is ever the same!

Bones lie in the sand.
That were once part of man;
Yesterday he walked upright,
But gave up the ghost last night!

Guns and bullets robbed him of life.
I wonder, had he a wife?
Will she learn how he died?
He'll never know how she cried!

War is HELL: blood and guts!
Come on soldiers; move your butts!
Stand up and meet the foe,
For one of you has to go!

The sands will catch us
When we fall
And the sands sucks
Up one and all!

Does the sand absorb the soul
As well as life's blood,
When a barrage of shrapnel
Comes in like a flood?

The word is out that
Japan lost 4,000 today;
Their bones lie about
In hap-hazard array!

The decade of the forties,
When airmen flew sorties
Over the Isle of Kwajalein;
I close my eyes but bones are still seen!

It's not the sight
So much as the stench,
For it hangs heavy
Over many a trench!

A Japanese anchor
Marks the spot
Where 4,000 are buried
After being shot!

I remember the Jap
Anti-aircraft gun,
With wheels and all,
On the beach in the sun!

How many planes
Did this gun bring low,
The warm waters alone
Know where they go?

No sand to receive them
Where they fall;
Not a soul to hear them
When they call!

No trees left at all,
On Kwajalein where they fall;
No one to mourn the loss,
At so great a cost!

How many of us are left
With over a thousand a day
Of World War Two vets,
Just wasting away?

Yet we remember the sands
Of far away lands
Where bones mark the place
Of the Japanese Race!

After all these years
The memory brings tears
To the eyes of all
Who remember their fall!

War has come to an end
And the foe is a friend!
The thought comes to me,
Have the bones vanished in the sea?

If only bones could talk,
And stand up and walk,
What would they say
On Kwajalein's Isle today?

Will the memory turn loose
Of the day and the night,
When foe met foe,
And many met fright?

Are the hearts still empty
When loved ones in homes,
Received no dog tags,
Not even their bones?

Has the island grown trees,
And grasses covered the sod,
Where brave men died,
Known only to God?

My daughter e-mailed me
Just a few days ago,
Asking about what beauty
The Pacific Isles did show!

I don't know what to say,
In answering her today!
When men's bones decorate the sands
Of strange-sounding island lands!

Will you tell me what to say?
Shall I speak of stench and death?
And all the soldiers
Who lost their breath?

And those bones still lie
In the sands
Of strange-sounding
Island lands!

Names like Kwajalein, Enewetok,
Bikini and Tinian,
Where these islands hold
Men's bones in their sands!

The question comes to me,
When will memory set ME free?
When will I see bones no more
Upon that sandy shore?

And how long will
The stench remain with me,
When half a world away
I smell it again today?

When I close my eyes tonight
I will remember the sight
And the stench of days gone by,
Where 4,000 men lay down to die?

When I lie down to die
And find my home up in the sky,
My memory too will lie in the sands
Like the bones in strange-sounding island lands.

Then, and then alone
Shall the memory of the past,
Quench the workings of the mind,
Leaving all the bones and stench behind!

C. Douglas Caffey

Veteran's personal medals
Pacific campaign
Pacific campaign
Purple heart
Purple heart
Victory medal
Victory medal
Veteran's personal file
509th Composite Bomb Group
509th Composite Bomb Group

Personal photographs

Click on a picture for enlargement

  • 11 October 2013 (aged 86)
  • National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
  • Plot 55, Site 4125

Remember each and every sacrifice, made for your freedom!

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