Survivors

Written by By Bruce Hawkins.

The service of Joe Hudson

Sitting in the rear cockpit of a Curtis S82C4e Helldiver as a radioman gunner and watching the action of war from the air is something many people can’t say they’ve experienced. World War II Veteran Joe Hudson, 91 of Carthage, is one man who can share this part of history as a United States Aviation Radioman Third Class.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Hudson went to church as usual in his hometown of Roanoke, LA. He says it was an ordinary day for him until he learned that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.

He was still in high school, so he knew he’d have to wait to enlist. He always had an interest in airplanes, so he knew however he served it would have to be flying. He built model airplanes, he studied about each airplane, and he dreamed of someday flying an airplane.

Hudson’s father insisted that he go to college after graduating high school in 1942, so he enrolled in Southwestern Louisiana Institute at Lafayette. “I went three semesters, then I heard about the war and decided to go enlist in the U.S. Navy,” he said.

When he received his orders, he learned he had been denied his dream of becoming a fighter pilot. It seemed that being in the cockpit of fighter planes was every man’s dream, and the training school was filled. “So, I went into the real Navy,” he said with a laugh about his orders for boot camp.

An aptitude test and an interest survey did put Hudson in a plane, but as an aviation radioman. He went to aviation radio school, learned Morse Code, and studied airplane recognition. Thanks to his interest in planes as a child, Hudson was able to identify airplanes from any view possible. He could identify a German, Japanese, or American plane in 1/25 of a second, he said.

Hudson got aerial gunnery school and Operational Training School accomplished, and he earned his Combat Air Crewman Wings before being placed on the U.S.S. Randolph aircraft carrier.

It was January 20, 1945 when Hudson left California aboard the U.S.S. Randolph. “I remember the strange feeling when we crossed under the Golden Gate and the many questions that were racing through my mind. Serious questions like will I ever see this thing again? It’s just a lot to swallow for a nineteen year old that not too long ago was traipsing through the rice fields of South Louisiana hunting blue guineas,” Hudson stated in personal accounts of his service in the Navy.

The carrier finally reached Ulithi Atoll, a series of small islands that provided the Navy anchorage about 1,500 miles from Japan, 900 miles from Iwo Jima, and 1,200 miles from Okinawa.

The first mission was Tokyo, Japan, and Hudson’s plane was scheduled to be in the first wave of bombers. “I figured being on the first wave that the Japs would be surprised and unprepared which would be safer for us,” he wrote.

The time came for his plane to take off from the carrier. “We lifted off nicely and banked to take the slipstream away from the deck. In a climbing turn we joined up with the other planes tucking the wings in nice and close. My cockpit was open and I unlatched my guns and collapsed the aft part of the canopy to give me an unobstructed field of fire. I charged the guns to make sure there was a round in the chamber ready to fire when I pressed the trigger,” he wrote.

Hudson said the pilot told him they were approaching their target, aircraft assembly plants. “Anti-aircraft was exploding all around us,” Hudson wrote. “We leveled off at about 900 feet after dropping our ordinance. I had gotten rid of my oxygen mask and spotted some soldiers pouring out of a barracks. I trained my guns on them and pressed the triggers. My training kicked in and my lag calculations were perfect as dust and debris began to explode among the running men. I kept firing as long as we maintained position.”

This successful mission and others earned Hudson a citation “for distinguishing himself by meritorious acts while participating in aerial flights in operations against the enemy in the vicinity of the Japanese Empire and adjacent Island chains.”

Hudson’s hometown newspaper wrote about his part in the mission to destroy the aircraft assembly plants, and a later article announced him being awarded the Navy Air Medal and a Gold Star for his achievements while in the war.

Two days after the Tokyo raid, Hudson participated in a similar strike at Chi Chi Jima, he stated. “If we thought Tokyo was tough, we learned a new meaning of the word at Chi Chi Jima.” e H He explained Chi Chi Jima was between two rocky peaks, one 1,100 feet high and the other 1,000 feet high. “I think I told the Lord, “I’m coming home now.” The Navy lost six airmen during that mission, but Hudson made it back to the U.S.S. Randolph safely despite several holes in his plane.

Hudson and his pilot also flew several missions that provided air support to Marines on the ground. “I think that was when I felt the best about being where I was,” he stated. “Seeing what was going on in that volcanic ash down below certainly made me thankful for whatever part I could furnish to help those guys.”

While it might be assumed that he was safe while aboard the carrier, Hudson recalled one night when the U.S.S. Randolph was hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane. He and a friend had just left the area where a movie was being shown when the plane hit the Randolph. Hudson explained that if he hadn’t left early from the movie, he would have been seriously injured or killed. “Had we stayed just to the exact end of the movie we would be laying there either dead or badly wounded,” he wrote. “There were people laying everywhere. The water from the fire hoses was running red with the blood of the dead and dying on the hanger deck.”

The carrier was repaired at sea, and flight missions resumed. Hudson fought in many more missions and provided air support for Marines several more times before he was given his final combat flight.

He was sent to strike airfields and fuel installations on the Japanese islands of Amami-O-Shima, located between Japan and Okinawa. “We hit the targets leaving smoke and fires raging on the ground,” he wrote.

The carrier was anchored at the Philippines to get supplies and ammunition when it was announced for his air group to prepare to disembark. All the men knew that meant they were going back to the states.

“When we pulled up to the pier in San Diego, the Navy band was playing ‘California Here I Come’.” I think we all had tears of joy in our eyes as we hugged each other. After what we had been through together we felt closer than brothers. We were survivors.”