LISTEN to John Adams on Hometown Heroes
93-year-old John Adams of Kingsburg, CA appears on episode #381 of Hometown Heroes, debuting August 22, 2015. Adams, a native of Lindsay, CA, spent four years as a Navy pilot during World War II.
Listen to the program for some of John’s childhood memories, including why he believes living through the Great Depression was one of the most important things he experienced. You’ll be moved by his story of a specific memory that underscores his parents’ willingness to sacrifice for the sake of their five children. The same hands that operated a push mower all over Lindsay to help support the family would eventually control a clarinet at Lindsay High School, where John followed the example of James Harvey Sanderson. “My best friend,” Adams remembers. “Harvey got first place two years in a row” in a competition amongst the top high school musicians in California.
Sanderson trained at the Navy School of Music and was assigned with 20 others to the band of the battleship U.S.S. Arizona (BB-39). The Battle of Music was an ongoing competition between various bands stationed at Pearl Harbor. The Arizona band was in contention for the ultimate prize, with the finals scheduled for December 20, 1941. Those finals were cancelled after the events of December 7, and the surviving bands voted to award the trophy posthumously to the band of the Arizona. Follow THIS LINK to learn more about the legend of the U.S.S. Arizona band, including a misleading myth that persisted for decades. The sister of one of the fallen band members has written a book to set the record straight, and you can order it through her website. John Adams’ friend Harvey and the other 20 members of the band had reported to their duty stations below deck, and were passing ammunition up for the Arizona’s guns when a Japanese strike made the ship’s magazine explode. All 21 men were killed.
Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out how John Adams learned of the attack, how he remembered Harvey at the site of the sunken ship during World War II and after, and how Harvey’s death contributed to John choosing naval aviation over the Army Air Corps. You’ll also find out why the grief Sanderson’s mother felt in the wake of her son’s death was intensified by a cruel twist of fate. John’s interest in aviation had been sparked by another friend, Paul W. Bunch. They had met at YMCA Camp Sequoia Lake, where Bunch, who earned degrees at San Jose State and Cal before becoming an Army Air Corps pilot, became a mentor to Adams. Just like Sanderson, Bunch’s bright future was cut short. In March, 1941, Lieutenant Bunch was killed when his plane crashed near Shafter, CA. John Adams remembers both of Sanderson and Bunch with great respect and admiration, and his thankful his four years in the Navy had a happier ending. In fact, you’ll hear him say he had very few “unhappy days” during his naval service, which included flying time in PBY Catalinas, PBM Mariners, R5D Loadmasters, and R4D(C-47s).
You’ll hear him discuss some of the challenges he encountered in trying to master the PBY whole training in Corpus Christi, TX, as well as why his time with PBMs in Norfolk, VA did not go as planned. John says he was “greatly disappointed” to be assigned as an instructor training other pilots at Bunker Hill Naval Air Station in Indiana, where he’d stay for a year and a half. When that assignment was over, Adams flew R5D Loadmasters with the Naval Air Transport Service. His precious cargo included blood plasma to be used in the treatment of wounded soldiers. Later, a method for transporting whole blood was developed, and Adams would carry large quantities from Oakland, CA to Honolulu and then on to Pacific islands where the wounded were being treated and rehabilitated.
“The government had ordered a lot more caskets than they ever used, and that was the reason,” Adams says of the surplus. “Because of the blood.”
You’ll hear how Adams feels about that part of his experience, and also his memories from his eventual flight home from the Pacific, when as a passenger he sat next to an American ex-prisoner of war who had been freed by “The Great Raid” on the Cabanatuan Prison Camp in the Philippines. Adams says he’s grateful he was old enough to serve during World War II, and that he treasures the friendships he had with two men who did not survive the war, Paul Bunch and Harvey Sanderson. He says he’ll never forget the things those men taught him. “We’re all teachers,” Adams says. “And we’re all students, in varying degrees.” Mr. Adams’ six children and nine grandchildren have learned a lot from him, and any of us who listen to his recollections can now say the same.