Rowland Ball, 91, is a World War II veteran who served as an officer in the US Army Air Corps. He flew 27 missions out of Northfield base in Guam, now known as Andersen Air Force Base.
Roland Ball was stationed in Guam for about six months and left as the war ended. During his time, he flew both daytime and nighttime missions.
Ball remembers much about Guam, being able to recall vivid details despite the 70+ years that have passed. “We lost so many good men,” he recounted, with tears in his eyes. “I don’t have many fond memories.”
During one mission over the city of Gifu, his plane was shot up so badly that the crew almost had to bail out into the sea.
That was his most frightening mission. Others were nearly as bad. With incorrect information, mechanical problems with the B-29 Superfortress he was a navigator on, and constant enemy fire, the crew was constantly tempting death.
One time they bombed Gifu; at the end of the run, the plane was in such terrible condition that the crew decided to bail out over the ocean. Ball was first in line to jump, but after looking at the ocean, he asked the crew to reconsider. The final decision was to fly to Guam or die trying.
A mechanical issue had kept the plane from dropping its bombs on time. An explosion in the bomb bay nearly destroyed the plane. Enemy fire came inches from ruining critical equipment. In spite of the difficulties, they landed the plane back in Guam.
Soon after, the war ended, and Ball only flew a handful of non-combat missions before heading home. As he left Guam in 1945, he never imagined getting the opportunity to come back. His wife surprised him with a family trip to the island. They reached out the base leadership and received a warm welcome and a tour of the base.
In 1945, planes were taking off every minute. Today, the base is just as active as Ball remembered it.
Ball was given the opportunity to view the three generations of bombers that followed his B-29; the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1B Lancer, and the B-2 Spirit. Ball said he never thought he’d get to see any of those planes, let alone all three at once.
“It’s mind-boggling the type of equipment we have now,” he said. “The technical advantages have come a long way since my time. I remember having to look up at the stars to navigate, but now there is this amazing equipment that makes navigating much easier and more efficient. It’s a different world altogether.”
After the tour, Ball was given the opportunity to share his stories with the current generation at Andersen.
After sharing his experiences, Ball received a standing ovation. He was then presented with multiple squadron patches to show appreciation for what he stood for and for what he accomplished. Ball was speechless as his visit ended. He is not often lost for words, but this time, emotional and grateful, the only word he could muster was “Thanks.”