Bombing Bali — 60 years ago today in the Dutch East Indies

~~ A Japanese plane approaches what is today Jakarta in this game illustration  ~~

In late January of 1942 step-grandpa , Robert F. Graf, was just getting the hang of dog fights. Quoting Tennyson he later wrote (all caps as usual : ) STORMED AT WITH SHOT AND SHELL, BOLDLY THEY FLEW AND WELL.

Sixty years later I find myself getting more interested in Java from/in the air. (Getting high on Java?) But not only Java, Bali too. And looking at Java from Madura and Bali.

And so the awesome illustrations by farang65 is an artist’s depiction of what the Java Bomber was looking at as he was shooting and being shot at. For the most part, I imagine, he was just trying to figure out how to stay in the game (so many of the guys he came over from Salt Lake City with failed to do that). However, the earth’s own skin may have given him pause. I think Jez  O’Hare’s body of ultralight photography proves this is a singularly good-looking part of the world.

Meanwhile, “Big Bob” the Java-n-Bali Bomber was a good looking guy. At least according to his memoirs.

Anyway, with just over a week in what was soon to become Indonesia , Big Bob (as they called him) had already shot down a handful of Zeros, including one just off Wantilan in S. Bali. He’d also helped out with a forced landing when his own B-17 bomber got shot up. He was just a tail gunner, so his role that time, had been to dig into a compartment deep under the tail gun area and  extract a bunch of burning gear and jettison it because it was filling the cabin with smoke.

That time and several others he cheated death before evacuating to Australia in what turned out to be one of the briefest and least successful episodes of the early Pacific theater campaign. On 10 March 1942 — Wikipedia wouldn’t be wrong– Lieutenant-General Hitoshi Imamura became the new governor of Java and Madura. The allied commanders surrendered a few days later at the Japanese headquarters in Bandung.

So that’s the Java-Bali-Sharehouse connection, such that it is. They say expats and immigrants are all links in a chain and even when people go live on a whole other side of the world,  they generally pick a side where they have a friend or family member. I’m not sure that really applies to Grandpa Bob and me. But I do remember some light moments tossing around names of places we’d both been  — Malang, Jogyakarta, Denpasar.

I remember being puzzled to hear him go on knowingly about these places as if somehow  they were still existed. After all, Indonesia since still didn’t exist. And after the Japanese left, the Dutch even came back. For him it was another airport, another base of operations, another airport. That was what I used to think.

But how can you second-guess the impact that a place like Java might have on a guy. I’ve never been a climber nor had an itch for a pilot’s license.  But I think I understand why reverence for mountains (the tall ones around here are all volcanoes) is one of the oldest known religions patterns in Java and Bali.

I used to visit Grandpa often as I could when I was studying in Berkeley and he was bedridden in Walnut Creek. He was an extremely generous man and spent his last years giving away every knife, gun and coin he’d ever collected. In addition to dog-fighting in the Dutch East Indies, he had owned his own radio and television business and worked as a technical specialist in microwave communication systems with extended overseas assignments in Japan, Nepal, and Germany.

Sure he reminded me of the Unabomber just a little, pounding away on his rusty typewriter year after year on his “manuscripts.” And with his impassioned speeches  (strident harangues?) on odd topics that no one else really cared about — global warming (before it was a fun polar bear-type thing) and the evils of paper money. Even in the 80’s he’d lecture me on the importance of computers. He died without owning one — said he hated them actually — although we frequently offered to buy him one.


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