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"Air power in that war was predominant." (Video Interview, 20:25)

   William Donald Sinclair
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William Sinclair [2004]
War: World War, 1939-1945; Korean War, 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Air Force
Unit: 8th Fighter-Bomber Squadron; 35th Fighter Group
Service Location: Korea; Japan
Rank: First Lieutenant
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After serving as a navigator in the Army Air Force in World War II, William Sinclair was contacted in 1947 about competing for a commission in the newly formed Air Force. He graduated in July 1949 from pilot training and 18 months later, he was off to serve in the Korean War, assigned to the 8th Fighter Bomber Squadron. The Korean War introduced new aircraft and technology, which also meant inexperienced pilots making errors, some of them fatal. Sinclair flew over 100 missions, dropping napalm on enemy troops and attacking supply trains. When his replacement arrived early, Sinclair left two days before his tour was complete; two days later, his old base was overrun and his replacement was killed. (Sinclair describes his experiences during World War II in a separate interview. )

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (12 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (54 min.)
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»Korean War
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (12 items)
Contacted in 1947 to compete for a commission in the new Air Force; discouraged at first by the high-ranking personnel at the base; encouraged by his uncle to continue; path to pilot training blocked by officer who thought he was hobnobbing with the general at the base; general intercedes and Sinclair is granted his wish, while the major holding him back gets assigned to Guam. (07:45) Personally thinks we were not prepared for the Korean War; he was made to fly propeller planes, saw that as a step backwards; January 1951, off to Korea to fly F-51s; stopover in Japan, staying in private home taken over by U.S. occupation forces; insisted on flying jet fighters to a sergeant, who took care of it on the spot; to Taegu in Korea, a "shock to the system;" primitive conditions; assigned by 8th Fighter Bomber Squadron, where people knew of his versatility, so he got a chance to expand his repertoire. (04:33) Flying F-80s, the first jets the Air Force had; learning to rotate plane on takeoff; big wingtip tanks weighed them down in the summer heat; large number of officer corps casualties in the ground war reflecting how unprepared the U.S. was to fight a war after five years as an occupation force; saw a pilot taking off with him over-rotate and crash, his napalm setting up a fireball which Sinclair had to fly through; the book The Right Stuff accurately describes the culture and danger around early military jet aviation. (03:03)
Flew 100 missions, which was a tour; signed up for a second tour; after 8 missions, sent to Japan to train new pilots much in need of help; loved Japan but not Korea; culture of latter was alien to him, North Koreans were vicious enemies, but predominant air power took care of them; recalls dropping napalm on large force of North Korean and Chinese soldiers. (03:16) Air was as important in that war as ground forces; praises MacArthur's tactics; complains about the food, which was monotonous; their code word for rockets was "graham crackers" and when they ordered new rockets, they were sent instead the food. (01:56) His replacement in Korea arriving early; Sinclair leaves two days early and two days later the base is overrun by Chinese, his replacement killed. (00:36)
Getting shot up on a mission; no brakes when he landed, crashed the plane into a stack of planking set up to buffer crashes on the runway; lack of experience got people killed; one pilot couldn't drop his napalm; the impact of his landing released the tanks and he rolled right into the fire; he actually survived for a time. (03:30) R and R in Japan, a place he liked very much; people were hospitable; teasing the waitresses in an upscale restaurant. (01:56) Mission in the middle of the night; flying in formation was difficult at night; flew to North Korea to target a supply train; he caught a train in the open, and there was a chain reaction when his bombs hit, as some of the cars had munitions; a Bob Hope visit; Sinclair was his go-fer; Hope taking a latrine break and getting caught with his pants down during a shelling; joking about the incident during the show. (04:07)
Chinese using false homing signals to throw off planes returning from mission to guide the planes into a trap; Sinclair victimized on one mission, running low on fuel; he found the real base by sight; one of the other pilots crashed and was injured, taken to MASH unit--"not what you saw on the TV, very gory." (04:43) Another Chinese trick: park an empty tank rail car at foot of a hill; green pilots would see it and try to hit it and fly into side of the hill; he almost fell for it but rotated the plane in time. (01:23) Wonders where we get men who go off to defend their country, who ask very and receive very little. (01:35)

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  October 26, 2011
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