The Squadron’s first Christmas was in the uncertain days after the Imperial Japanese attack on Hawaii. Only moved up on from Portland, Oregon to Gray Army Airfield at Fort Lewis Washington in September, 1941, in less than three months of active duty service the 123rd Observation Squadron was at war.

Portly O-47 observation aircraft began coastal patrols, looking out for Japanese submarines or other activity. Although perhaps a bit dull, these coastal patrols were important missions.

123d Obs Sqn O47

A North American O-47 observation aircraft flown by the 123rd Observation Squadron is seen in tranquil skies over the Pacific Northwest, circa 1942.  (Courtesy 142FW History Archives)

The day before Christmas, one of the squadron’s patrols spotted an enemy submarine lurking off the mouth of the Columbia River between the states of Washington and Oregon, as recapped in this 142FW historical article at:

When Christmas Day, 1941, came, the men assembled to share a meal. Mess Sergeant Cliff Shaffer and his cooks put together quite a spread, according to the menu for the meal shown below. For many members of the squadron, it would be the first and last Christmas with the squadron, as many men were to be reassigned to other air units in the ever-growing US Army Air Forces of the Second World War.

123rd Christmas menu 1941

The menu for the Christmas Dinner, 1941, of the 123rd Observation Squadron, then stationed at Gray Army Air Field at Fort Lewis, Washington State.  (Courtesy, 142FW History Archives, Les Donis Collection)

Fast forward three years, beyond the Squadron’s 1943 redesignation as the 35th Photo Recon Squadron and time found that the Army Air Forces sent the Squadron overseas, where it spent Christmas of 1944 in China. On Christmas Eve, Imperial Japanese forces gave a “Christmas greeting” of sorts to elements of the 35th at bases around China in the form of air raids. It was very thoughtful of them.

A pilot of George Flight, Capt. Dent, was on his way back from India to the forward deployed flights base at Beiting Field, adjacent to Yunnanyi Airfield, was on the ground at Kunming with his speedy F-5 Photo Lightning when the Japanese made their air raid.

35th PRS F-5 Yunanni China_02

A 35PRS F-5E Photo Lightning rests at Yunnanyi Airfield in China, circa late 1944 – early 1945 (Courtesy John Brasko, Jr.)

Also at Kunming were the members of the 35th Photogrammetry Section, which was kept in Kunming when the squadron first arrived in China in 1944, and after the 35th moved up to Chanyi. The section was later made a part of the 4th Photo Technical Unit at Kunming.

Americans in the armed forces ashore, afloat around the world celebrated Christmas as they could, and Kunming was no exception. Sgt. H. Allen Larsen of the Photogrammetry Section had a ticket to a Redhawk Christmas party, and remembered that despite Japanese bombing, “the party went on!”

35PRS Christmas Party 1944 Ticket

Sgt. H. Allen Larsen of the 35th Photogrammetry Section had a ticket to the squadron Christmas party of 1944 and despite a Japanese air raid was able to use it.  (Courtesy Mr. H. Allen Larsen)

Back at “G” Flight’s Beiting base, on the night of 23 December, according to Lt. Arthur W. Clark’s journal, fires which formed an arrow were observed in the distance, apparently intended to aid Japanese raiders find the airfield from the night sky, apparently set by fifth columnists.

Fortunately the Japanese didn’t have enough aircraft to take advantage of these “Christmas lights,” couldn’t find the field, or for some other reason did not bomb Yunnanyi. “No jing bao here,” as Lt. Clark recorded in his journal.

On Christmas Day, Capt. Dent returned to “G” Flight at Yunnanyi in a role akin to Santa, “…with presents for the flight and vivid tales of his Christmas Eve under bombardment in Kunming.” For the 46 men and 11 officers of “G” Flight with their two remaining aircraft after recent losses, it was a happy day.


A Lightning-themed Christmas stocking (Courtesy

One wonders what a Chinese Christmas in 1944 was like, for example, whether the Chinese at U.S. bases knew, or the G.I.’s taught them, any Christmas carols.  For an example of a Chinese Christmas song, try Emma’s (the Emma of “Learn Chinese with Emma”) version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” at:

And so the men of the Redhawk Squadron celebrated Christmas during World War II from vantage points Stateside and Overseas, with about a dozen of them having been present for the first and still with the squadron at the last. Through their service and sacrifice at home and abroad, most if not all gained a new appreciation for Christmas, this most special of American holidays.

From the Redhawks to the readers of this web log, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

123rd Observation Squadron and 35th Photo Recon Squadron official histories, 1941-1944

Clark, Arthur W., Eyes of the Tiger: China 1944 – 1945, Self-published, Chapel Hill, NC 2015

Lightning Christmas stocking, at: