Benjamin 'Ben' Carlton Boo


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BOO, Benjamin 'Ben' Carlton

Benjamin Carlton Boo Jr. was born on January 21st 1925 to Benjamin Carlton Sr. & Henrietta A. [Mergens] Boo in Pine City, Minnesota. He graduated from high school there before attending the University of Minnesota.

Mr. Boo served in the United States Army Air Corps, the USAF and the Minnesota National Guard. He served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (LTC).

LTC Boo did his some of his basic training at the Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri to determine his candidacy for pilot training. He got his 'wings' and his commission in December, 1944. He was designated to B-29's as a navigator.  

LTC Boo was assigned to the 1st Squadron of the 9th Bomber Group, part of the Twentieth Air Force. They weres assigned to fly bombing runs on mainland Japan from the island of Tinian; the island that the Enola Gay would launch from in August 1945 carrying the first atomic bomb. 

Mr. Boo served in the Minnesota National Guard in Duluth during both the Korean War and the Vietnam War. As of October 14, 1958, he had served in active duty as Administration Officer at the Duluth Armory for approximately five years. 

After his military career he went into public service including mayor of Duluth for 2 terms and House District representative. On November 1, 1958, he became the Purchasing Agent for St. Louis County.

Source(s): Duluth News Tribune, October 14, 1958.

Ben Boo, of Hunter’s Park, died on Wednesday December 1, 2021. He is buried at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Saginaw, Minnesota near Duluth.

Albert J. Amatuzio Research Center | Veterans Memorial Hall (

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Benjamin “Ben” Boo (1925-2021) - Find a Grave Memorial

Interview with Ben Boo

Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program

October 24, 2017

Veterans Memorial Hall is a program of the St. Louis County Historical Society.

© October 24, 2017 by the St. Louis County Historical Society
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the St. Louis County Historical Society.


Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program
Interview with Ben Boo 
Location unknown 

October 24, 2017

Barbara Sommer, Interviewer 

BB: Ben Boo
BS: Barbara Sommer

Track 1

BS:    Would you say your name?

BB:     My name is Ben Boo. 

BS:     Thank you. (The recording became hard to hear.) Today is October 24, 2017, and I am interviewing Ben Boo, a former mayor of the city of Duluth and former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, for the St. Louis County Historical Society Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program. Mayor Boo, Representative Boo, enlisted in the United States Army Air Force in 1941. He attended officer training school and was trained as a navigator and served as a navigator on a B-29 out of Tinian Island in 1945. The interviewer is Barbara Sommer. 

    As we start to ask the questions, you’ve had… We’re going to talk about four years, basically, when you were a teenager and young man. You’ve had a life of public service as was indicated in the introduction. So, we’re putting this into context a bit, your World War II veteran’s experience. I know you were also in the National Guard. So, when we’re focusing on this, we do know that there’s the work in the National Guard and your life of public service that’s also a great part of your story. 

    Would you start by telling us a little bit about what you remember about the months leading up to December, 1941? Where were you and what do you remember?

BB:    In 1941, when the war began, I was a senior in high school in Pine City, Minnesota. I just remember that the war started and I kept on going through school. 

BS:    Had you started college at all?

BB:    No. A couple years later, I had graduated from high school and went to the University of Minnesota, enlisted in the pre-law program. (I) was there a year, maybe a year and 


Track 1

(continued) a half and then the pressure to either be drafted or enlist. And I enlisted in the Air Force, Air Corp at that time. 

BS:    Why that? Why the Air Corp?

BB:    Oh, not a lot of logic. I was debating whether I wanted to go into the Air Corp or to the Navy and I ended up in the Air Corp. Not much more logic to it than that. 

BS:    And pressure. There was a lot of pressure at the time by…just in general, or….? Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

BB:    Well, there was no pressure. All of us who were students at the university at that time knew that the time was coming for us to be in the service and the judgement was to where we were going to go and what we wanted to do. I don’t know if it was pressure or just, we knew the war was coming and becoming bigger and bigger and more important. 

BS:    What do you remember about December 7th, Pearl Harbor? Anything?

BB:    I remember that well because, as I indicated a little earlier, I was a senior in high school at that time. I remember it very well. That’s as much as I can say there. 

BS:    Were you surprised? 

BB:    I don’t know whether I was surprised or just emotional, like the whole United States became at that time. It took some time to shake all that out and see what was going to happen. So I can’t say that I jumped up and down or became alarmed at that time. I just accepted it as something happening. 

BS:    And the President spoke on the radio at that time and…

BB:    Right. That was significant, his comments, of course. That’s what everybody was looking for. And he became a good leader at that time. That seemed to relax everybody. 

BS:    He’d been around, in office, for quite a while at that point – President Roosevelt. 

BB:    Oh yes. You bet. That was his fourth term he was already in. 

BS:    Yeah, he’d been in for a long time. Tell us a little bit about enlisting. What was the whole process and how did that work for you?


Track 1

BB:    There were recruiting centers throughout the university for all the branches of service. I approached the Army Air Corp one and signed up and then went through a series of physicals and physicals and more physicals. And then waited for some months to be called. Then I went to basic training sometime after that enlistment. 

BS:    Was there a gap between enlisting and basic training?

BB:    Right, but I forgot what it was. 

BS:    They didn’t take you the next day. 

BB:    No, no. I was just sitting waiting for the right time. That’s the most unpleasant part of all my military experience was that entering basic training, which was shocking to say the least. Quite an abrupt change to the way we were living. Very unpleasant and very rigorous as you’d expect a basic training to be. Unpleasant, and gradually that evolved from basic training to moving to some University of Missouri for more sophisticated education which was more pleasant. I continued to pick up some more credits there and enjoy that session. 

BS:    The basic training, was it Army? Because this was still…was it the Air Corp part of the Army?

BB:    Right. The Air Corp was Army. So it was Army basic training. It could have been for infantry or artillery or anything. It was just basic training. 

BS:    What did they cover in basic training?

BB:    Nothing but physical training. Very little mental training; it was all physical: marching, athletics, physical conditioning. Mentally training, mental disciplining they were always talking about. Discipline…what did they say? Something about discipline. I forgot that statement. “Discipline is a form of mental training” or something like that. 

BS:    And you were looking for something a little bit more challenging maybe? Or you were interested in…

BB:    Well, I’d already selected that the Air Corp was where I wanted to go. So, from then on you were pointed in that direction. Then after more schooling, which I enjoyed at the University of Missouri… Incidentally, it was Missouri State at Springfield, a pleasant college right in the Ozarks. Remember that Beth? 


Track 1

BB:    From there, we took more tests and more tests to determine whether we would become a pilot, a navigator, bombardier, radar operator, or a crewman. More and more tests. We evolved through that and they finally told you what you would be. 

BS:    What kinds of tests were there? Out of curiosity… I don’t know anything about this. 

BB:    Well, there were a lot of mechanical tests, a lot of written tests, a lot of dexterity tests. I remember, I must have been recognized for my mathematics skills, which I didn’t know I had, so I was pointed in that direction. So, I ended up going to navigation school. 

BS:    Which takes mathematics – takes calculations. 

BB:    Right. And in those days, of course, navigation was all hand mathematics. It wasn’t like a computer today; it was… So, I ended up at navigation school. 

BS:    Is that something you were interested in?

BB:    Yes, yes I was. 

BS:    Had you thought about being a pilot?

BB:    Yes, I thought I’d like to be a pilot. Everybody wanted to be a pilot for the romance of it. But I enjoyed this. Schooling was rigorous but I got through it and got commissioned. 

BS:    I didn’t realize how much time it would take between an enlistment and, according to your hometown paper, you received that commission in 1941 or something fairly early. Or, no, you enlisted right away, but didn’t receive your final commission and your assignment until 1944, maybe. There are a couple years in there where you were being pretty carefully trained. Yeah, it says you received your wings and your commission in December, 1944, and were on Tinian Island in 1945. But, given the fact that the war had started in 1941, there’s a nice period of training. It must have been pretty intensive training and it took time. 

BB:    Yes, it was, um…

BS:    And I guess my question is, just how did that work? I know they needed people to be fighting this war, and yet here you are, having a couple years of training. How did all that work, time-wise and everything? Is that a question that makes sense? 

BB:    It doesn’t make any sense now, in retrospect, but it was just continuous training, every type of training you could imagine, you had to go from school to school to 


Track 1
(continued) school. It kept evolving into more sophistication. It didn’t seem like it took that long, but, now, in retrospect, it did take some time. 

BS:    Were you being given specific training, like high altitude training or anything…?

BB:    Oh sure. The last year, lots of navigation all over the United States, training flights (at) different altitude, different types of equipment, different types of amateur radars we had at that time. So we became acquainted with those. When I finally got assigned to a crew and got to Tinian on my first bomb mission, I remember how little I forgot to learn. That first mission is when you suddenly realize how many mistakes you could have made in retrospect. In fact, I never divulged to the crew how much trouble I had that first flight. 

BS:    What was it?

BB:    I forgot to make compass declination corrections, which should have been routine. I missed Japan by a hundred miles, which was not significant in 1500 miles, but I caught that and never said a word. But, from that day on, I became an expert. I mean, there wasn’t a thing I couldn’t master in a hurry. I knew everything all of a sudden. I remember that well. 

BS:    How did that work, the communication between you and the pilots, as a navigator?

BB:    We were almost seated together, so we were communicating all the time. We had to develop confidence in each other, which seemed to grow quite rapidly. The bombardier we had assigned to us had just come back from Europe and completed 30 missions, so here was an experienced person. The only experienced person we had was this bombardier who was helpful, but he didn’t know a thing about navigation. Anyhow, it congregated to be a good, solid crew. Worked out well. 

BS:    But the first sort of hands-on experience…

BB:    That’s because, all of a sudden… The only method of navigation in those days was celestial. So, everything was done by sextants or octants, shooting the stars. I got to know the name of just about every star in the sky, and I still know every star in the sky – every constellation. As we took those readings from the stars, then I’d have to drop down to a flat little desk and compute all that azimuth mechanically on a piece of paper and a pencil. It wasn’t any computer doing that for you, so it took time. By the time you took the readings, you had traveled 10 or 15 minutes in the plane, which was several hundred miles, so you were always behind. But anyhow…that was the romance of it, if anything, it was that celestial. At the end of the war, good radar was developed and it became pretty mechanical. 

Track 1

BS:    But at this point it was still you working a pencil and paper. 

BB:    Celestial, right. 

BS:    So when you took off from Tinian, how long were the bombing runs in terms of miles or hours? 

BB:    Well, 1,500 miles was a typical trip. So the shortest distance to the closest part of Japan could be done in five hours and some missions were as long as, I think, 18 hours long. Those are long, long trips. Fortunately, when Iwo Jima became completely captured, that became a very important part of the system for the B-29 bombers. An awful lot of Marines (were) lost to capture that, but it became the only place that damaged bombers coming from Japan could run out of gas, battle damaged, engine problems, you could go into Iwo Jima instead of trying to get all the way back to Tinian. It was kind of like a pit stop, like when you drive from Minneapolis to Duluth, you stop at Hinckley. That’s about what it was. 

    When we first went into Iwo Jima, there was some damage, I forgot what, there was still construction going on. The Navy CBs (construction battalions), they were still building runways and (there were) a lot of messed up planes all over. Mount Suribachi and the island was a sight in the morning sun. Fun to look at. 

    So we used Iwo Jima a lot and were indebted and will be forever for what the Marines did to get that island. 

BS:    Yeah, we hear about the battle if Iwo Jima a lot, but understanding its significance and its use for the remainder of the war is important. 

BB:    I heard a figure that something like 6 or 7,000 airmen were saved because of the chance to use Iwo Jima. It was a very critical part. 

BS:    When you were talking about 1500 miles, that’s a round-trip figure?

BB:    No, that’s to get there.

BS:    That’s one way. 

BB:    Right. 

BS:    You had enough gas? Except, as you said, when you needed to stop in Iwo Jima. 

BB:    Right. 


Track 1

BS:    The B-29 could do that.

BB:    Yes. When we took the long, long bombing raids or missions to the far end of Japan, we had to carry extra fuel and of course that took less of a bomb load, so the tradeoff was never very good there, but that’s how we got that long distance run. Initially, our high altitude bombing was not effective and we were constantly being admonished by the people above that, “You’re not hitting your targets.” We weren’t; we were 20,000 feet and (there was) a huge wind over Japan. It was not well done, so we kept dropping the altitude. 

    One of the last missions we flew, (we were) at 6,000 feet, which was frightfully close. Those were the fire missions over Tokyo. They were unpleasant, but our job was to burn down Tokyo, which was done with those fire missions. 

BS:    So you built up to…you started with other missions before you went to Tokyo. 

BB:    Oh yes. We were after their steel plants in particular. In the city of Yawata, we were bombing at 20,000 feet, and then other cities – I’ve forgotten which ones – what targets we had at that time. 

BS:    Osaka, was that one of them?

BB:    Osaka, we were there quite a bit, right. We both bombed it and I think fire bombed that, too. 

BS:    Kyoto?  

BB:    Those all come to my mind now, but I’d have to look up pilot’s logger, navigational log to see where we were, but that’s kind of a blur now. 

BS:    You were looking at steel mills. Were you looking at air fields or anything?

BB:    Mostly industrial sites of any kind. But they weren’t proving to be too effective. At the same time, we knew that the Navy was doing that below us with their smaller planes. So, Japan was getting a lot of attack. (Coughing) Wanna give me a break here so I can…

BS:    (starting again) So it was steel mills and industrial… You knew your targets. 

BB:    Oh yes. We trained for hours ahead of time to know exactly what they looked like and how to come in towards them and what anti-aircraft defenses we would expect. So we knew what we were doing. It was not pleasant when we lost a plane, and we lost nearly one plane every time we were up there. 


Track 1

BB:    (continuing) It was not fun to see the plane next door to you just go down – get shot down. So those are the most traumatic part of the whole system. And then you’d come back and announce from Guam, our headquarters, “Successful mission today; we only lost one airplane.” Well, it’s easy to say that, but to me, that was a traumatic, 13 people gone and it wasn’t as easy as they always made it remark. 

BS:    It was people you knew, among other things. 

BB:    Oh yes, oh sure. The crew next to you, the plane next to you. 

BS:     Yeah, and you see it happen. 

BB:     (coughing)

BS:    You want to take a break? 

BB:    Yeah. 

End of recording

Track 1

Transcribed by Mary Beth Frost

Track 2

BS:     This is an oral history interview with Ben Boo for the Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History project, track 2. 

    As we start again, tell us about…give me your unit so I know. 

BB:    I was in the First Squadron of the Ninth Bomb Group, assigned to the island of Tinian, part of the Twentieth Air Force, which was commanded by General LeMay. You mentioned the various missions we were on. The Navy had persuaded General LeMay in Guam that the Navy had to have some assistance in laying mines, particularly in the inland sea, between the major islands. The Navy couldn’t get in there with their… to lay the mines. We were never trained to lay mines. So we suddenly found ourselves laying mines for the United States Navy, which was another experience. 


Track 2

BB:    (continued) You’d fly low over the inland sea in a big pattern and drop these mines right out of the bomb bay. There was no target, it was just the middle of the inland sea. They apparently proved to be very effective in deterring shipments from the Japanese back and forth across the islands. So that was some unusual missions. Once again we lost a couple of planes in that odd operation. It was unusual for the Air Force to be using…or doing Navy work. It was interesting, though. 

BS:    Yeah, I’ll bet that was interesting, doing Navy work. What was the resistance like when you were doing that? Was there resistance from the Japanese on shore? 

BB:    The inland sea was surrounded by high ground – mountains all around. And they had all kinds of guns up in these mountains, so they were just firing flat out across the water, right into… We were at low altitudes, dropping these mines. They were dropped by parachute into some patterns. 

BS:     Dropped by parachute?

BB:    The mines were, yes.

BS:    And then what happened to the parachute? 

BB:    Never did find out. 

BS:    Probably sat there with the mines.

BB:    Right. Then we began the fire raids. The ones at Tokyo were just pretty frightful because the thermals from the burnings of the cities rose to, must have been 20(000)–30,000 feet. It was just broiling smoke. Of course thermals reignite themselves and keep generating themselves. One airplane got near it and the B-29 just flipped right over and lost – it was that strong – to tip an airplane over. So we all learned to stay away from that. Those were not particularly dangerous missions but not very pleasant ones. 

BS:    What were you bombing? What were your targets?

BB:    Our target was the main part of Tokyo and we were dropping fire bombs. The idea was to demoralize Japanese to convince them that we didn’t have to invade Japan. That was the big thinking above. I never did know whether it was effective, but it was certainly harmful to the city of Tokyo. But, it seemed to have accomplished what we were trying to do, so I guess you’d call it…

BS:    Was this during the time that the Marines and Army were fighting on Okinawa as well?


Track 2

BB:    Right. That was a big concern. We were trying to… We recognized that with the difficulty the Army had acquiring Okinawa, we could see what was going to happen when we were trying to get into Japan. So all kinds of different methods were approached to see if we could deter the Japanese. But, no, they were pretty strong, and then suddenly there the atomic bomb was dropped. That took some time to deter the Japanese. So they were pretty staunch. 

BS:    How was it? Just describe a flight over Tokyo. Give us a description. You took off and you flew for hours, at night I take it. 

BB:    Right. Those were night raids. We all came in to… all approached at a certain point, called the initial point some 100-200 miles away. So we were all flying in the same direction and not crisscross of each other. I don’t know if there was a point out on one of the islands we used as an initial point and all got lined up. But those were low raids – 4(000)-5000 feet high, which is unusually low for a B-29. And flew, not in formations, just in a row. No particular target. All I remember is, “Stay away from some part of Tokyo where the emperor’s palace were.” We were always told to never go near that area. So somebody was thinking way ahead; we don’t want to get him too stirred up. So that was part of it. 

    Yes, we did the mining. We tried high altitude and weren’t too effective. Bombing raids were very effective. 

BS:    What were the defenses like in Tokyo? Was that a heavily defended city at that point from bombing raids like yours? 

BB:    Not as much there as it was in the steel making areas or the industrial sites. There the anti-aircraft was much more heavy. We of course had Navy escorts for our daylight missions and we had P-51s out of Iwo Jima that accompanied us there. 

BS:    Describe those. 

BB:    Well the P-51s were the best fighter the United States Air Force had at that time – still was. They were based in Iwo Jima, which is another reason for Iwo Jima. They’d accompany us over the bomb site and then they’d drop back to Iwo Jima. 

BS:    And they were your protection?

BB:    Escorts, right. 

BS:    Fighter escorts?

BB:    Right, fighter escorts. 


Track 2

BS:     Was the Japanese Air Force present? Was there a lot of evidence of the Japanese Air Force?

BB:    Oh yes, all over. But they did stay away from the P-51s. Those proved to be quite effective. But gradually the Japanese Air Force became nonexistent in the last part of the war. Obviously they were saving a bunch of them for their kamikaze attacks. So they did show up with a bunch of airplanes at the very end. 

BS:    You would expect to meet Japanese Air Force, though, pilots. 

BB:    Oh, yes, all the time. Yes. 

BS:    As well as…

BB:    Anti-aircraft fire. 

BS:    Anti-aircraft fire from the ground. 

BB:    That was the worst, yes. It was unpleasant flying through those puffs of smoke. And then… After…. Let’s see, I’m gonna think about it… When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, we were still flying bombing missions. I recall flying over Hiroshima the day after the atomic bomb was dropped, so that’s how close we were to all the activities that occurred at that time. 

BS:     You knew about the Enola Gay. 

BB:    Right.

BS:    I understand your plane might have been parked right next to it or something?

BB:    Well that island was small enough so everybody knew everything. There were no secrets on an island. We saw the atomic bombs and we knew that a couple B-29s that had come in had been modified extensively, so we could tell something was coming. 

BS:     Did you know what they were – atomic bombs?

BB:     No, we didn’t. We just knew “atomic bomb.” And we knew there were two different kinds, one for each of the sites, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That’s all we really knew until we learned afterwards. 

BS:    Had you bombed Hiroshima or Nagasaki with your bombing runs?

Track 2

BB:    Well, Hiroshima was obviously set aside. We never ever bombed anything at Hiroshima. I just presume somebody must have been thinking months and months ahead, stay away from Hiroshima. But Nagasaki we had hit consistently so there was a different situation there. But Hiroshima had never been attacked by the Air Force. 

BS:    Yeah, it was still pretty intact, wasn’t it?

BB:    Right. It was planned. After the war…

BS:    Talk a little bit about flying over Hiroshima before you…

BB:    I can’t say there’s much to say. We were another mission at that time and we flew over Hiroshima and all we could see was what you could see in the photographs that followed. It was just a big mess. So, I can’t claim I had any particular intelligence on the situation at all. 

BS:    And you weren’t sent in to help map…

BB:    No. Those were reconnaissance planes that flew all the time. They checked everything. Every time we did something, a reconnaissance plane followed and gave its report the next day. 

BS:    So why did you fly over Hiroshima? 

BB:    That was a direction of our next mission. But we did kind of skirt over that way a little bit to see what we could see. I remember doing that. No, we had no direct part of that. 

BS:    A large area of (destruction); it must have been huge. 

BB:    Oh, just massive. You couldn’t tell it until you got back and saw a map of it, or the aerial photographs. Yeah, so I can’t be helpful in that direction. 

BS:    What was your bombing…what was your mission that day?

BB:    I don’t recall. I could look it up with the date. See, no one was sure what reaction Japan was going to have with the (atomic) bombs. So we just kept right on regular bombing missions going at the same time, consistently. So we didn’t stop, even though the (atomic) bombs had been dropped. 

BS:    I suppose you couldn’t. You didn’t know; nobody did know. 

BB:    Nobody knew anything, that’s right. 


Track 2

BS:    Will you, before we go any further, describe a B-29? Give us a little verbal description of it. It’s a large plane. 

BB:    I can’t be helpful. 

BS:    What was it like inside? Pilots in the front…

BB:     Well, it was… You’re asking me to describe a “bucket of bolts.” It was nothing sophisticated like an airline today; it was all metal, inside and out. The one thing about it was that it was the first pressurized plane. So, we flew pressurized and didn’t have to wear oxygen masks, except if we had a hole in the plane. That was a comforting thing. Aside from that, it was just cold metal. I don’t know how to describe it to you. Noisy – awfully noisy. I can’t be helpful there. 

BS:    In addition to your navigation, did it have the Norden bombsight or anything like that? 

BB:    The bombardier, who I discussed earlier, had the Norden bombsight on the front of the plane, and the bombardier sat there at that big window. The idea was, I would get the plane to within 50 miles of the target, which wasn’t too difficult to do, sometimes. Then the bombardier would pick up navigation of the plane with his bombsight. He’d control the plane into…over the target. So then, after the bombs are dropped and he relinquished his controls, then I’d take over the navigation. The planes were so big that actually the planes were run by the aircraft engineer. He did all the work. The pilots flew and directed him, but all the running of the engines was done by an engineer who sat beside me. He had four engines to run and to keep all the propellers synchronized and watching air pressure and manifold pressure, whatever he was talking about. He ran it and the pilots… I used to accuse the pilots of just sleeping because everybody else was running the airplane. [laughing] 

BS:    They did a little steering every once in a while, based on what you said. 

BB:    Oh, yes.

BS:    A little turn now and then.

BB:    Right. Barb, I don’t know how far you want to go, but the Japanese gave up and we flew back from our last mission, which was… When MacArthur was signing the surrender on the battleship Missouri with the Japanese and the American – oh,  Wainwright and those other big generals – MacArthur wanted a show of force for the show that day. So he’d ordered everything in the world to be there in Tokyo Bay, as MacArthur probably could do it. We had about 50 B-29s, could be 35, one of our 


Track 2
(continued) crews, and we were flying cover at about 15,000 feet in a big circle over the battleship Missouri while it was being signed. 

    We flew from Tokyo to Mount Fuji and back to Yokohama and then back over the battleship again in a big circle. Beneath us was an equal number of Navy planes from the Navy carriers. They were flying beneath us in a great big circle. Just a huge show of airplanes. I recall looking out in the sea from the battleship Missouri; MacArthur had ordered in the entire U.S. fleet. As far as I could see and on the horizon were battleships and carriers, destroyers, cruisers, frigates, submarines, as far as I could see, the entire U.S. Navy. Just impressive! It was quite a show. I don’t know how impressive it was. I don’t know who MacArthur wanted to impress, but… It was just outstanding, the power that had been assembled in one place. That’s something to remember. 

    We flew back and said, “Now the war is over, pack up, we’re going home.” The next day, the horn or the speakers in the headquarters operations room said, “Operations room, 0800, you’re going again.” 

    I said, “Good gosh!” So there we were in the operations room at 8:00 the next morning and (they) said, …. [coughing] I think I’m going to take another break. 

End of recording

Track 2

Transcribed by Mary Beth Frost


Track 3

BS:    This is an oral history project with Ben Boo for the Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Project, Track 3. 

    As you said, we’ve kind of gone through a real broad covering of your bombing raids and of the work… What about nine months or eight months that you spent on Tinian. Were you out every day?

BB:    On average, every third day. That’s when…put the airplanes back together again and we’d rest up and get trained for the next place to go. Day off. I would say every third day. 

BS:    That was a busy schedule. So two or three bombing runs a week – missions. 


Track 3

BB:    Oh yes. Yeah. But I have to tell you about the last mission. The war was declared over. We were called back to the operation room. (The) operation room was just a huge Quonset with a map of Japan maybe 20 feet…almost 20 feet and every single city of Japan on the map. On the pass it had anti-aircraft sites and bomb sites and information. 

    This time, when we got to the operations room, all the anti-aircraft sites had been erased and on the map was a list of all the POW camps in the country of Japan, all flagged. At this site were 79 estimated Dutch captives and in this site there were 1,300 American and in this area there was 1,000 French. They were all plotted out – just remarkable about the intelligence. They knew every POW site and they knew who was in it, not by name, but a number of various nationalities that were there. 

    They said, “Today you’re going to be one plane to every POW site. You’re going to drop food and rations on that POW site, today.” They hadn’t had any food – some for three years. So we loaded up our B-29 with piano-size crates of food, with parachutes again. I never knew exactly what they said, but they said they (had) select hams and bacons and butter and bread and toilet paper and chewing gum and cigarettes – who knows what was in them? But they were packed as the government would. 

    We were assigned a POW camp in Niigata. It was on the northwest corner of Japan, as far away as we could get from Tinian, just across from North Korea. We were way up on the world there with a long, long flight. We loaded up and I found Niigata, eventually. We flew a circle over the site – POW camp – a long row of wooden buildings, surrounded by a fence. We flew as low as we safely could, kept figuring out how we were going to drop those things. I remember the discussion in the aircraft there, the pilot and I and the bombardier. We were chatting and chatting. We can’t drop those things on those barracks buildings – they’ll drop right straight through. 

    In the meantime, the POWs had already figured out the war was over because all the fences were down and they were just running – running all over. One more thing we didn’t want to hit with those terrible crates. So I remember we fooled around up there and flew low, then finally picked a dirt road, just outside the camp and we figured we’d fly as low as we could right along that dirt road and bomb it with the food. 

    So we came in, the bombardier had the bomb bay open to slow us down. Some of the wing flaps the pilot had put on to slow us down, and we let it go. Those crates came out – some with parachutes and some had lost the parachute and these crates came scattering down on the road in front of the POW camp and all these POWs were just climbing over this stuff as we took off. It was a just a fun, fun thing to see something work. But it was…these 1,000 POWs that were there. 

Track 3

BB:     (continuing) But it was still remarkable. It was still remarkable to see that we knew every one of those POW sites and every one got one load a day that day. We all had one to fly to. I don’t know if subsequent missions were made, but… That was the end of it, right there. 

BS:    Interesting way to end the war. 

BB:    Yeah. Fun.

BS:    And to know where the camps were. You knew there were POWs in Japan. 

BB:    Oh yeah. But…

BS:    But to be able to pinpoint them like that. 

BB:    They had them exactly where they were. Just amazing. And who was in them! What nationalities were there. 

BS:    They were vulnerable people. 

BB:    Oh yes, you bet. But the intelligence we had was pretty impressive. Even after a raid, the next day we’d be shown photographs because they’d follow us up with reconnaissance plane. They’d show, “You did a bad job here…you did a good job here…you completely missed here.” Just like going to school the next day and tell the teacher, “You didn’t do too well.” I was impressed with that. 

BS:    And then they’d send you out again (and say) “Do better next time,” huh?

BB:    [laughing] Yeah. It was funny how morale stays there when you’re losing friends and losing planes. The morale stays up and the next day we’re…

BS:    You’re out running again. Your crew – a good crew to work with?

BB:    Oh I thought so. I thought so. Yeah. 

BS:    We’ll add a picture of them to the transcript. 

BB:    Yeah. That navigator who came from England, his flights, he was a calming person, having been through 30 of those. I don’t know how he survived, but…

BS:    How many missions did you fly?

BB:    Twenty-eight. Yeah. I think so.


Track 3

BB:    (continuing) Some were bombing and some were mines and some were POW rations and some were… I forgot. 

BS:    Yeah, the precision bombing sounds… That would have been not easy to do, the high level precision. 

BB:    No. I don’t think anybody recognized the strength of the wind over Japan. You keep hearing about it. There’s a word for that big wind… I’ve always heard that big wind that just blows constantly at high altitude. And it isn’t a gusty wind, see. You can’t feel it gusting on the plane, it just pushes. I’d be flying in one direction and I’d check my figures about half an hour later and we’d be 100-150 miles off course, going the wrong direction, sideways. I just never grasped it. I just couldn’t fathom what was happening. 

BS:    When you flew missions, I take it you were in groups…there were a lot of planes around you as well. Is that right? I don’t know how to ask that, but you could see the others around you?

BB:    No. No. It took a lot of gas when you flew in formations because you were constantly adjusting speeds. So we flew singularly to the Empire, and then we had initial points to form. The chief of that particular bomb site would have a yellow flag (thrown? 10:18) out of the tail so you could pick their (plane) as the leader. You’d form just outside of the Japanese Empire and go in, in formation. You didn’t fly up there in formation. Just hoped you’d get together again like a bunch of chickens up there. [laughing]

BS:    And get started, huh, and then move in. How long were you on Tinian Island after the end of the war?

BB:    Not too long. They moved them out quite quickly. Some got moved by their length of service; they had a priority established or the number of air medals you had or distinguished flying crosses you had or... Those are point systems, so they’d move out as quickly as they could. No, they weren’t there long. 

    I flew one rest stop. The cost of running things sometimes. (An) aircraft commander, a major, asked me to navigate him to Hawaii one time, right in the middle of the war. He said, “I’m going to pick up a piano for our club,” which was another Quonset. 

    I said, “I don’t particularly want to… What for?” I could have shrugged my shoulders, but (I said), “OK.” He’s like a major and I was just a lieutenant, so… I navigated him back from Tinian, over Guam, down to Kwajalein Atoll, and into Eniwetok , then over to some other place and got him into Hawaii.


Track 3

BB:    (continued) In the middle of the war! He invited me to go out to dinner with him and I think he had a girlfriend there. Nothing wrong with that, so we went off to dinner and picked up the piano and back we went. So that’s the kind of stuff you do in a war with extravagance. I never figured out why he asked me to go. He may have thought I was good. I don’t (know). He never said that. 

    But anyhow, back to Kwajalein and Eniwetok and back to Guam and back and brought that piano in a big crate. Crazy things in the middle of the war you get into. So at least I had a day in Hawaii, right in the middle of the war. [laughing]

BS:    Dinner in Hawaii, huh? Was it in the officer’s club or something? The piano, where did it end up? 

BB:    It ended up in another Quonset. We always called it the officers’ club. The enlisted men had a club, but they’re just Quonsets, sitting there. 

BS:    Is there anything you remember about life on Tinian Island that you want to mention? What it was like for all of you?

BB:    We roamed around. I can remember taking a jeep out in the jungle and standing on the hood of a jeep, picking bananas. [laughing] Little tiny wild bananas. I remember walking up the few mountains they had there and nothing but skulls. Skulls and skulls and skulls! Presumably Japanese – nobody ever cleaned up the mess. That was impressive. Went down on the port and hobnobbed with some of the young Navy people. They were always swapping. They wanted a flight on a B-29 and they always wanted to do that – I don’t know why. We exchanged dinners on board their ship. They had good food – the Navy always had good food. 

BS:    Better than the Air Force?

BB:    Oh, yeah. Navy had just tops. Most of our food was brought in as you would think, from New Zealand and Australia. So it was a lot of mutton. [laughing] 
    You got it all from me today?

BS:    I think so. I know you stayed in the National Guard. 

BB:    Right.

BS:    How long did you stay in the National Guard?

BB:    In total, I had 25 years. 

BS:    What was your rank?

Track 3

BB:    Lieutenant Colonel. 

BS:    Oh! Congratulations. I know you were a first lieutenant when you were in the service…

BB:    Yeah. I went to a lot more schooling. (During the) Korean War and the Vietnam War I got called back to school but didn’t get called on active duty, fortunately. They kept this training going all the time. 

BS:    For both wars – Korean and Vietnam?

BB:    Yeah, I went back to school. 

BS:    So even (during) Vietnam, you were mayor of the city of Duluth – during some of that period, 1960s? 

BB:    That was before I became mayor. Yeah. I was a Guard then. In fact, when I got to be mayor, I just got out of the Guard completely; I had my hands full. 

BS:    But you stayed in until that point and did that. 

BB:    Mmmhmm. 

BS:    When you were called to do the training in Korea (during the Korean War), was that in Minnesota or was that someplace else?

BB:    No, it was Fort Bliss, Texas. And then I went to Japan, and Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth (Kansas). (I) graduated from that college one of the times. It’s hard to frame all that now, so much happened. 

BS:    So you were keeping up your training as a navigator? 

BB:    Then?

BS:    Yeah, when you were doing your continuing training, what were you…?

BB:    Oh, no, I was back in the Army then. That’s right, the Air Force and the Army split. 

BS:    And so you stayed in the Army? The Army National Guard?

BB:    Yeah. Right. 

Track 3

BS:    So I know you had a… You’ve done a lot of public service in your life and a lot of…as a mayor and as a representative for the State House of Representatives. Did that… You wanna… What I’m going to get to, I’m going to have to jump over some of that unless you’d rather talk about that in the context of your involvement with bringing the USS Duluth and bringing the silver service. So that’s maybe a very specific part of a very broad career in public service and continuing service. 

BB:    I didn’t have a great deal to do with that USS Duluth, not a great deal. I pushed along because of the history, but I can’t claim too much credit for that commission. 

BS:    Why were you involved with it? Why did you think about it?

BB:    Well, the ship was commissioned before I became mayor and I recall Hubert Humphrey’s daughter making the presentation when the ship was commissioned. I picked that up (from) the news articles. And then when I became mayor, apparently then the ship just became commissioned, which takes a lot of time… No, from commissioning to ‘hit them with a bottle’ to get it ready to go is quite a stage of more construction, whatever that time period is. Apparently they build a frame up and they call somebody up to hit them with a bottle, then they push them out in the water. It costs years to rebuild them, or build them, then. Or months, I don’t know. 

    Then I got a letter back. I just got elected and I got a letter back from the crew of the USS Duluth, somewhere in Japan, thanking me for sending them the silver set. They sent me a crest of the ship, about this big, that they’d made out of plaster of Paris and painted the appropriate colors. And so I stayed in communications with the ship, just routinely as I was mayor, they’d send a letter and where they were. Somebody wrote it and I sent it back. 

    So then when the discussion about they decommissioned the USS Duluth, and we’re going to bring back parts of it here, then it rang a bell that, “Hey – I remember that. I was working that in 1970.” So that’s how I got attached again. 

    (I) started communicating with the USS Duluth crew and tried to put together all the things that happened way back then. It was pretty sketchy. For example, I could not find out who paid for the service that the City gave to the ship, the sterling silver – it wasn’t sterling, it was silver. No record any place. We’re still going to find it. Somebody provided it – don’t know who – so it’s kind of a fun mystery. Some story was that there was so much money left over from the Hubert Humphrey money that they might have done that. We haven’t tracked that yet. So that’s my attachment. So then when they came here to Duluth, the crew members, they brought me in, because I was the only one alive around who was involved in that. So we had the big show and it was fun. So I don’t claim much credit for that. 

Track 3

BS:    Except that you helped. 

BB:    Yeah, I helped when I was writing letters when the ship first got commissioned from the crewmen and I still have their mementos. So that’s that kind of story. 

BS:    Good story. Beautiful stuff. 

BB:    Yeah. 

BS:    Is there anything else you’d like to say? I’ve kept you here for an hour and a half, so…

BB:    No.

BS:    It’s probably about a good amount of time, and I appreciate your time. Anything you want to say about your time in the service at all – looking back? 

BB:    No. I’m glad I did it. Wouldn’t do it again. 


End of recording

Transcribed by Mary Beth Frost

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