Friday, May 19, 1944, The Enid Morning News
Sgt. M. Donoho Made 32-hour swim to safety
Battled South Pacific Current, Faced Sharks, but lived by Melvin Donoho
As related to a member of the public relations office staff at Carlsbad Army Air Field
“Three Zekes caught our jam-packed B-24 just as we took off, and it smacked into the sea, cracking into halves. We were dumped out as if from a steam shovel. It was a long way to shore—a 32-hour swim—and I was the only one who made it.”
Recalling that incident in the Indian ocean back in 1942, husky T.-Sgt Melvin O. Donoho from Covington began to sweat a little. Although war-hardened by more than three years of service in the south Pacific and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the sergeant obviously did not want to dwell on the subject very long. Even his fellow workers on the flight line at Carlsbad Army Air field in New Mexico, where he has been an armament malfunctions man since returning from the south Pacific, had not heard all about his long swim back to Broome, Australia. He always left out the details.
The sergeant, son of Clarence O. Donoho of Covington and one of the key armament men in the AAF training command because of his invaluable knowledge of installing armament in planes for combat, made a safe but harrowing evacuation from the Jap besieged Dutch island of Java. He did not run into trouble until after he arrived in Australia where he thought he was comparatively out of danger. He had put guns and bullets in planes of the 17th pursuit squadron on Java and even converted fighters to bombers while the japs were virtually swarming on the northern shores of the island. He was lucky to get out alive. Even the escape flight from Java to Broome was without mishap. His long swim came off the red-sand beach at Broome.
“The bomber cleared the runway about 10 a.m.” the sergeant recalled. “We were over the ocean and headed for Perth, about a thousand feet up, when the Zeroes strafed us with incendiaries.
“I was in the bomb bay. The plane had been converted into a transport for the emergency evacuation, and there were about 25 or 30 of us in it—army officers, medical personnel and some sick men.
“I saw the incendiaries tearing into the plane. Three burst hit the gas tank and set the ships afire. Flames were seeping the bomb bay and I got as low as I could. The plane was so full there wasn’t anywhere to move to.
“I thought it was all over when suddenly the plane struck the water and cracked open, dumping us into the water. Most of the men cleared the wreckage and I could see some of them bobbing up and down and swimming about. High waves and a thick coat of oil on the surface kept me from seeing where they went to. There was a lot of yelling, and some of the men must have been wounded but I didn’t see them.”
“I spotted another sergeant in the water and swam to him. We grabbed three life jackets that were floating near the tail of the ship taking one extra in case we found another survivor. We couldn’t see the shore but guessed at the direction and started swimming. We looked back a few minutes later and the plane had gone down.
“We knew which direction the plane had been flying, and used the sun and stars to guide us. About 10 hours later we saw the outline of the shore. The tide coming out kept us from gaining much headway that night but we kept swimming. The other fellow complained about being hungry and thirsty. I wasn’t bothered by that because I had eaten good American food at Broome—for the first time in weeks—and had gulped 10 cups of coffee before we left.
“The sergeant and I became separated the next morning and I never saw him after that. As I got closer to land I could see the larger rocks on the beach, but I got into a current which carried me back out to sea about two miles before I could get out of it. Right then I was ready to agree with the Australian chamber of commerce about the beautiful beaches and big sharks. That beach looked very beautiful but when I was swept away from it after almost making it, I began to lose hope especially when a shark and I started looking at each other across the waves. He came toward me, then turned away when was about 30 feet from me. He probably wasn’t hungry.
About 6 o’clock in the evening, I got to the beach. I rested awhile, then walked along the shore and found an abandoned farmhouse and a well. I drank a lot of water, and was willing to take a chance on typhoid. I followed a trail into the village of Broome, a little place with a couple of houses, a general store and a gas station. I wasn’t too hungry so I kept walking, and got to the air strip, about a quarter of a mile on the other side of town about 11 o’clock that night. I was given something to eat and put to bed in the hospital. I was asked if I was ready to move down to Perth. I told them that I was.”
Sergeant Donoho made the move that night. In a short time the was in New Guinea where he put armament in planes for 15 hellish months, ducking into ditches when Japs bombed and running for his life when they strafed.
“He’s a helluva good armament man,” remarked one of the fellow soldiers at CAAF.
“In spite of the Japs,” said another.
“No! Because of the Japs.”
John Morgan Rex’s involvement in World War II:Pearl Harbor, Hawaii bombed December 7, 1941
“Well it looks as though we are in the war at last.”Monuments to John Morgan Rex
USS President Polk AP-103 Transport—Voyage to New Zealand. John Morgan Rex December 31, 1941 Letter.
Note: Newspaper article from Flora Rex Lamborn.