38th Reconnaissance Squadron
This article is reprinted with permission
of the Hickam AFB Public Affairs Office, first published in
December, 1997. It is an excellent account of what happened
to the Army Air Squadron en route to Pearl Harbor on December
Hickam Clinic to be Dedicated
Editor's note: Excerpts from an article
by Capt. Donald McSherry, U.S. Air Force Reserve, were used
in this article, as well as memoirs of Capt. Richard Lane,
commander of the Hickam hospital in December 1941.
The Hickam Clinic will be dedicated in the
name of 1st Lt. William R. Schick, the first Army Air Corps
doctor killed in World War II, Sunday. He was the flight
surgeon assigned to the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron on its
way to Clark Field in the Philippines.
The journey that put Schick on a collision
course with history began in Chicago. The oldest of
three children, he was born in 1910 in "Back of the Yards,"
then a tough tenement neighborhood surrounding Chicago's sprawling
Likable and good-natured, Schick was a bright
youth who devoured books with a passion. But he drifted
during high school, dropping out after his sophomore year
to take a job in a factory. However, he returned to
school three years later and graduated third in his class.
It was 1931, and he was nearly 21 years old.
"He'd set a goal for himself," says his brother,
Al, a retired painter who lives in the Chicago suburb of Oak
Lawn. "He wanted to be a doctor, and he was determined
to make it." Not even the Great Depression could deter
Schick. He completed a rigorous pre-med program at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1935, then headed
back to Chicago where he earned a M.D. degree from the University
of Illinois College of Medicine in 1940. By April 1941,
he was a highly regarded resident surgeon at a Battle Creek,
Mich., hospital when he joined the Army.
"We were heading toward war, and Bill felt
that most young doctors were going to be needed in the service,"
says Al. "So he volunteered for the Army Medical Corps."
In June, just two weeks after his wedding to Lois Richmann,
a nurse from rural Cedar County, Iowa, Schick was sworn in
as an Army medical officer with the rank of first lieutenant
and immediately assigned to the Air Corps. With Lois
accompanying him, he reported to the 19th Bombardment Group,
a B-17 Flying Fortress unit based at Albuquerque, N.M.
The newlyweds fell in love with the Southwest's
beauty and its people, spending most of their free time doing
volunteer medical work among the Jemez Indians, a Pueblo tribe
whose reservation was just north of Albuquerque. But
as Bill and Lois enjoyed the best months of their lives, the
specter of war was drawing closer. They knew it was
only a matter of time before would be separated.
It happened in November. The couple
were living in San Antonio, Texas where Schick was in flight
surgeon training. Suddenly Washington ordered his class's
graduation moved-up from Dec. 20 to late November. Negotiations
between American and Japan were at a stalemate, and hostilities
appeared imminent, Select U.S.S air crews, including flight
surgeons, were being mobilized.
Rushing back to Albuquerque on Nov. 30, the
Schicks were barely out of their car when he was handed his
new orders. He was now the flight surgeon for the 38th
Reconnaissance Squadron, and he was to leave with the unit
for Clark Field, the Philippines, on Thursday, Dec 4.
Late on the afternoon of the fourth, Bill and Lois said their
final good-bye on the Albuquerque flightline.
By order of Amy headquarters in Washington,
Schick's B-17 squadron was racing across the Pacific on a
secret mission to the Philippines. With tension between
the United States and Japan near the breaking point,
the massive four-engine planes were bound for Clark Field,
near Manila to reinforce Gen Douglas MacArthur's Far East
At 8 o'clock the next morning—Sunday, Dec.
7—the huge B-17s would come roaring in over the rooftops of
Honolulu on their approach to Hickam Field, the big Army air
base nestled between Pearl and Honolulu's John Rodgers Airport.
As they landed, Schick and his friends would have a breathtaking,
panoramic view of the mighty U.S. Pacific Fleet.
But as Schick and the B-17s hurtled toward
Hawaii from the east, another force was secretly approaching
America's island paradise from the west. Shrouded in
radio silence and gray ocean mists, a Japanese task force
of 31 ships and 30,000 men were closing in on Pearl Harbor.
Poised on the decks an in the hangars of six aircraft carriers
were 353 warplanes. At 8:00 a.m. on Dec. 7, the
Imperial Japanese Navy would unleash the fury of those planes
on a slumbering U.S. fleet.
Schick and his crewmates were excited.
The first rest and refueling stop on their long flight would
be on Oahu In a strange twist of fate, the fearsome B-17s,
normally bristling with heavy machine guns, could not fire
back. Schick's unit had picked up new Fortresses at Hamilton
Field near San Francisco but, because of a bureaucratic blunder,
the planes were unarmed. For nearly two days, Maj Truman
Landon, commander of the 38th, had battled the bureaucrats,
finally wrenching the weapons free just before takeoff.
But it was too late to clean and mount them; Landon and his
men would have to do it in Hawaii. Now, as Japanese
planes battered them with devastating ferocity, the Forts
were helpless, their guns still packed in manufacturer's Cosmoline.
Dangerously low on fuel, and with several
crewmen wounded, the defenseless B-17s scattered over Oahu
with the deadly Zeros in hot pursuit. Some of the Forts
hobbled into Hickam while others crash-landed at tiny airstrips
around the island. One came careening down on the fairway
of a golf course.
Yet all of the B-17s landed intact, except
for Schick's. His Fortress was the second to arrive
over Pearl, and it virtually collided with the first wave
of the Japanese onslaught.
As Capt. Swenson circled above the fire
and chaos, trying to get landing instructions, a Japanese
bullet pierced his radio compartment, igniting a bundle of
magnesium flares and wounding Lt Schick in the leg.
Seconds later, the B-17 was a blazing torch from mid-fuselage
to tail section. To escape the flames, the crew moved
to the front of the plane. in danger of a mid-air explosion,
Swenson radioed the Hickam tower that he was coming in for
a crash landing. Miraculously, a runway was still free
of bomb craters and burning wreckage.
Descending through a storm of Japanese tracer
bullets and American anti-aircraft fire, Swenson and his co-pilot,
Lt. Ernest Reid, kept the crippled Fortress under control,
making a near-perfect landing. But the plane's fuselage,
weakened by the fire's intense heat, cracked upon impact and
broke away just behind the cockpit. The forward half
of the plane, carrying Schick and the crew, skidded to a stop.
As the crew jumped from the wrecked plane,
they found themselves in the middle of the airfield, hundreds
of yards from shelter, a fierce battle raging. The men
split up. One group ran for the hangar line where planes
and buildings were exploding and burning. The other
group, which included Schick, sprinted for the grass on the
Honolulu side of the field where Lt. Bruce Allen and his men,
the first B-17 crew to land, were hugging the ground as Japanese
bullets thudded around them.
But as Schick's group dashed across the runway,
they were spotted by a Zero pilot who was strafing the airfield.
Sweeping down from the sky, the pilot aimed his guns at the
men and fired, missing all of them except the surgeon.
Lt. Schick was hit in the face by a ricocheting bullet.
At the Hickam Hospital Capt. Lane the Hospital
commander, came across Dr. Schick in the middle of the death
and confusion of the attack. "He was a young medical
officer who had arrived with the B-17 bombers from the States
during the raid. When I first noticed him he was sitting
on the stairs to the second story of the hospital. I
suppose the reason that my attention was called to him was
that he was dressed in a winter uniform which we never wore
in the Islands, and had the insignia of a medical officer
on his lapels. He had a wound in the face and when I
went to take care of him he said he was all right and pointed
to the casualties on litters on the floor and said., "take
care of them". I told him I would get him on the next
ambulance going to Tripler General Hospital, which I did.
The next day I heard that he had died after arriving at Tripler."
The greatest tribute to Schick occurred on
Aug. 17, 1942, on what would have been his 32nd birthday.
On that day, Lois gave birth to Bill's son, William Richmann