Elden Lyle Ice, now 93 years old, got exactly what he wanted after graduating from Wallace High School in West Virginia in June 1944. For that matter, so did the rest of his 18 senior classmates — to join the Air Force Reserve as part of the Army-Air Force.
Elden and his friends had been tracking the war for almost three years and knew that many serviceman were already rotating back to the states. The war in both the European and Pacific theaters was starting to wind down, but nevertheless, all wanted to contribute and “ be in on the action.”
Elden was born May 25, 1926, in the small town of Wallace, more specifically at a bend-in-the-road called Goose Run, both a short drive from Clarksburg. His father, Herbert, who served in The Great War, and mother, Charlotte, a homemaker and church pianist, along with two other brothers and three sisters lived on a 93-acre farm “ just over-the-hill” from town.
The farm produced most of the food for the kitchen table; however, the Ice family further benefitted from Herbert having a steady job at the local power company, thus partially escaping from the seemingly never-ending poverty of the Great Depression.
Elden enlisted June 4, 1944, and was sent to Camp Atterbury, IN, for basic training. Further training followed in the B-17 bomber that was modified to simulate the B-29 Superfortress — the plane he would fly in as a tail gunner in the Pacific Theater. That tail gun position would perfectly fit his small stature of 5 feet 5 inches and 130 pounds.
Training was completed in late November 1944 and he was assigned to fly in the 5th Squadron of the 9th Bombardment Group stationed on the island of Tinian in the Mariana’s.
The B-29, first flown in September 1942, was rushed into production to serve as a high-altitude strategic bomber, perfectly suited to bomb Japanese cities in an effort to force Emperor Tojo to surrender. Very early in the war, the allied high-command knew the importance of the Mariana Islands of Tinian, Guam and Saipan as a launch point for the B-29 in that it could fly un-refueled to Japan and back. Over two years of brutal fighting in the South Pacific would pass before these islands could be secured.
As a means of reference, the Pacific Campaign was started in August 1942, with the allies taking Bougainville and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. With a heavy commitment of men and materials to the European Theater, followed by a necessary build-up of naval carriers and submarines throughout 1943, the allied march across the pacific did not resume in full force until late 1943. Tarawa was captured in November 1943, followed by Kwajalein and Eniwetok in February 1944 and finally the critical islands of the Mariana’s in June and July.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea, (The Mariana Turkey Shoot), also in June, annihilated Japanese carrier aviation and gave allied pilots essentially complete control of the air. (It should be noted, however, that after the war, Japanese naval officers stated the terrible losses they suffered in the Battle of Midway, just six months after Pearl Harbor, in June 1942, with four carriers sunk, 300 aircraft lost and 2,500 men killed, including several hundred of their best pilots, would be a devastating blow from which the Imperial Navy had little chance of recovering).
This was the scenario under which Elden Ice entered the war when he arrived at Tinian in February 1945.
All three islands had make-shift airfields when conquered in mid-1944, but by December, Navy Construction Battalions, Seabees and Army Engineers had transformed them into fully operational airbases. By early 1945, they were prepared to initiate the air bombardment on Japan.
The first B-29’s arrived in late January and, by June 1945, 1,000 B-29’s were stationed on the three islands. Tinian, at that time, was the largest base in the world with more than 500 aircraft.
Elden stated that one more island critical to the success of the B-29 missions was Iwo Jima that laid about 700 miles between the Marania’s and Japan.
At the very least, the airfield at Iwo had to be neutralized of enemy fighters and the runways lengthened to allow emergency landings for crippled B-29’s returning from Japan. Much of this was done while bitter ground fighting still raged on the main part of the island.
By the end of the war in mid August, over 2200 B-29’s made emergency landings at Iwo thus saving the lives of thousands of aircrew.
Starting in early March until Japan’s capitulation on August 15, an estimated 20,000 bomber sorties dropped 180,000 tons of bombs on Japan.It was not uncommon to have over 500 bombers flying on a single mission. One hundred thirty six B-29’s were lost during this campaign, many from Kamikaze attacks.
Iwo also served as a base for the new P-51 Mustang fighters that not only controlled the air from the Mariana’s to Japan but also provided air cover for the bombers for the entire mission.
Elden said “It was a beautiful sight when those fighters joined us over Iwo on our way to Japan”.
Arriving at Tinian late in the war, Elden flew on only five missions. These were all night missions leaving Tinian in late afternoon for over target at midnight. Total flight time was 14 hours.
The heavier 20 mm cannons on the B-29’s were replaced with the much lighter .50 cal guns to allow for increased bomb loads. Bomb loads were a mix of high explosive and incendiary bombs, depending on the target. Eldon said he never saw an enemy fighter or fired the tail gun. His plane was hit once with flak.
He returned from the Pacific in September and, exactly four years to the day of his enlistment, he was discharged from active duty. Returning to Wallace, Elden followed his father’s lead and attended an electronics tech school in Louisville, KY. Upon graduating, he took a job at a radio station in Pittsburg, PA.
It was there he met his future wife, Betty Tresler, from Union Town,PA, and got married in December 1965.
He went on to work for the Federal Aviation Administration for 29 years in London, OH. Upon retirement, he and Betty moved to Fairfield Glade where he took up trap shooting and bass and trout fishing. He was also an active member of the Shriners. Betty passed away in May 2006.
Just two years ago, he was recognized with an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. in a tribute to his contributions as one of our Greatest Generation. He now lives in an assisted living home in Bridgeport, W.V., just east of Clarksburg.