The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, resulted in the United State’s entry into World War II. Over the next few years, the Wichita Division of the Boeing Airplane Company would produce 1,644 B-29 Superfortress strategic bombers. With an operational range of 3,250 nautical miles, the B-29s would eventually lead the bombing of Japan.
By 1943, crews from all over the United States were arriving at the Great Bend Army Air Field to be trained as 11-man combat teams that would fly the huge B-29 bombers. Among them was a Texan named John Murray, who would meet his future bride, Ruth Sheil, at a USO dance at the Great Bend City Auditorium.
John Murray was a waist gunner with the crew known as “Deacon’s Disciples.” After the war, John and Ruth Murray stayed in Great Bend and started Murray Casing Crews Inc. oilfield service. Their son Steve Murray provided some photos and a bit of history.
The B-29 bombers being built in Wichita and flown out of Great Bend were a secret in those days. John Murray’s plane was one of the first B-29s to go overseas. Charles “Deacon” Miller led Deacon’s Disciples, part of the 58th Bomb Wing.
The 58th Bomb Wing planes were the first B-29s sent to China and India and the first to bomb Japan and South-Eastern Asia targets and then on to the Marianas, Murray said. Later, another B-29, the Enola Gay, would drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.
“The Enola Gay and the other atomic bomb wing and the 58th were stationed at the same end of the runways at Tinian while the newer B-29 crews were stationed at the other end of the runways,” Murray said. “While my dad did fly many bombing missions off of Tinian, he had completed his 35 bombing runs and was sent back to the USA before the atomic missions took place.”
The cover photo of “Yank, The Army Weekly,” on Aug. 24, 1945, shows a B-29 with the name “Deacon’s Disciples,” but Murray said that is not the same B-29 as the one his father flew in. Multiple planes carried the name for a period of time.
“The Deacon’s Disciples plane that was the front cover of ‘Yank magazine’ was flown by a completely different crew and I have talked to the pilot of this plane. The date of that magazine is actually dated after the A-bomb drops. The photo I have of my dad and his B-29 plane and crews is named ‘Deacon’s Disciples II.’
“Deacon Miller was later chosen to fly the news video of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Harbor back from Tokyo to Washington, D.C., because that was the only way to get the newsreel back to the USA back at that time. He didn’t fly his plane the Deacon’s Disciples, but another plane.”
Today, the Barton County Historical Society has copies of many of John Murray’s photos.
The B-29 Memorial Plaza is located near the Great Bend Municipal Airport. A plaque at this outdoor memorial shows a B-29 with the information: 58th BW 444th BG 678th BS - Charles “Deacon” Miller, Raymond Geiger, Ted Morrill, Ernest Keller, Carson Eckmann, Edward Hassig, Robert Foor, John Murray, A.L. Tilley, Archie Moore, Delmar Pfeiffer and Elmer (Mascot).