Bill Royster - who earned the title of the "Banana King of Saipan"
for his crop restoration efforts in that country in World War
II - is better known today by some other titles. To his fellow
workers, he's the quiet spoken clerk in the Salem MoPac Railroad
station, to his family he's "Dad" and "Grandpa" and to his friends
and other acquaintances he's a good neighbor and the friendly
Superintendent of the Emmanuel Baptist Sunday School.
railroader for the past 29 years, Royster's present life seems
very distant from the days he served as a tail gunner and second
engineer with the United States Air Force in Saipan during the
war. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and
a Purple Heart for his service.
The 35th anniversary of the end of that war was observed in September
and Royster marked the 35th anniversary of his discharge from
the service in October.
"There's no glory in war," Royster commented when thinking over
some memorabilia from his wartime experiences and in talking with
the Times-Commoner. "Too many lives are lost to be able to glory
in the victory of any war."
Royster spoke with pride, however, when he talked of the men with
whom he served in the newly organized 20th Air Force which he
attributes as having the greatest part in ending the war. He was
one of the volunteers selected to serve in the 20th which was
the forerunner of the Strategic Bomber Command.
Royster and seven other men formed one of the first squadrons
of the 20th and were a part of the 73rd Bomb Wing which was to
see much action. His unit was among the men assigned to study
the mechanics of the B-29 bombers even before the planes moved
off the Boeing assembly lines.
The 20th Air Force, though not formed until April 1944 and not
announced until the first strike against the Japanese home islands
in June of 1944, had its beginnings as an early idea as 1939.
General Hap Arnold foresaw that the B-17's and B-24's would be
too small for American defensive action. He could envision aircraft
that could reach out 1000 miles from American based shores, carry
loads of bombs and be equipped with devices and trained men to
direct those bombs to the annihilation of any threatening fore.
Thus came the birth of the B-29's and the 20th Air Force with
which it was manned.
World War II had been underway about three years when the bombers
were placed in action in 1944.
The crew of a B-29 over Hiroshima watched the atomic bomb they
released blast an end to the war in 1945. Bases had been established
at great sacrifice to human lives on Guam, Tinian and Saipan.
Five wings, including the 73rd, were in full operation on those
bases at the close of the war.
During wartime maneuvers, Royster spent over 32.5 crewmember days
in the air at his gunner post - a total of 779 combat hours. The
longest trip he made in an Air Force mission took over 18 hours.
In addition to those flight times, he spent many additional hours
on non-combat flying tours.
Royster says he, like most servicemen, wishes he could forget
some of the painful experiences of the war but says that he also
remembers some good times and lasting friendships which were formed.
A modest man, he doesn't like to talk about his own accomplishments
but doesn't hesitate to express a pride in his country and in
those with whom he served and recalls a day when "everyone was
His title of "Banana King" came about after a job he undertook
in the devastated fields of Saipan. Entire banana farms had been
destroyed in the war. In his spare time he would visit the farms
and dig up the roots of the demolished banana trees and would
then replant and nourish the trees until they began to grow and
yield. He shared the harvested bananas with citizens of the island
as well as his fellow servicemen and left the new crop in their
keeping after his departure.
|Some of his satisfying experiences in the war were the missions flown
by the Air Force to drop supplies to American POW's being held in
Japan. He flew several missions but was most rewarded when he and
his crew sighted a sign on the POW grounds. The sign was a greeting
from the captives and simply said "Thanks - 300 men." The sign had
been formed of large white rocks in the prison grounds and was easily
seen from the air.
This photo taken by Bill after end of WWII is a reminder of the
more memorable flights of his service career. Taken during a supply
drop over a POW camp.
was wounded in battle, he says a worse fear than that of death was
the possibility of becoming grounded in Russia. He and his crew
had been told that if their plane ever went down in Russia they
would be held captive until the end of the war or perhaps longer.
On the two forced landings the crew did have to make, Royster said
they risked death rather than land in Russian territory. They by-passed
it knowing they might run out of fuel and tried for other land.
One of the landings was on Okinawa and the other in Iwo Jima where
the runways proved to be too short to accommodate the giant planes.
On one occasion, the fuel supply had been depleted and on the other
flight the plane developed engine trouble. The fuel supply ran out
because the Bombay doors would not close and the plane could not
fly as many miles per hour as calculated.
|Royster was wounded in
one of the flights in June of 1945. He was struck in the side by
a 50-calibre bullet which lodged near his spine. He spent the following
three months hospitalized. He
was the only one of his
crew to sustain a wound.
He recalled one time after
a grim battle that the crew counted 51 bullet holes sustained by
their plane during flight. It was during
his hospitalization that the A-bomb was dropped.
Japanese officials allowed the POW camps to be clearly marked
so that Americans could drop supplies. On the upper left you
can see parachutes with packages attached.
While he was recuperating awaiting his return home, he volunteered
to serve in his post as gunner during the POW supply drops. The
missions were each 3,000 miles round trip and non-stop and all over
water. Saipan is 1,500 miles from Japan. Many planes were lost during
this route due to engine trouble and there was no place to land.
The planes equipped with the A-bomb were operated from Tinian island
three miles away from where he was stationed.
Although he never had the privilege of meeting and of the POW's
who benefited from the supply drops he personally talked to many
other POW's. They did not receive much care from the Japanese because
there was no food or supplies for their native countrymen to share.
Fleet of B-29's on Saipan. Bill was among the crewmembers of one
of these babies.
Bill in 1943
Included in Royster's wartime mementoes is a scrapbook kept by
his mother of all the news carried about her son. Another valued
document Royster kept was a letter of thanks given to each of the
men by Brigadier General Emmett "Rosie" O'Donald.
In the scrapbook were details of the war which Royster did not mention
- the 38 missions he flew (29 of which were over the Japanese mainland);
the 550 combat hours over enemy territory; three major battles;
- the Marianas, Okinawa and the air offensive over Japan; his Asiatic-Pacific
theater badge; his air medal;
and four additional Oak Leaf Clusters; a Good Conduct medal;
and the Victory Medal he helped earn.
The Distinguished Flying Cross may be presented only by direction
of the President of the United States. He received that award
on August 3, 1945.
Those reminders of bitter and pleasant experiences are kept in
a velvet-lined frame made by Royster's son, Bill W., who placed
within in it the bullet which could have claimed his father's
life and all the ribbons he earned.
Royster said for many years he kept in contact with the men in
his crew but that gradually, one by one, he quit hearing from
them until his last contact was lost two years ago when the remaining
member failed to return a greeting. He said he feels that most
of the men are now deceased. He was next to the youngest member
of the crew.
In addition to his job with MoPac, gatherings with his family,
and his church activities, Royster spends his leisure hours in
a woodworking shop in his home where he pursues the hobby of "tinkerer".
He and his wife, Wanda Lou, are parents of three children and
five grandchildren. A son-in-law, Robert Huffine, who is married
to Phyllis Royster, is serving with the United States Navy in
29 Palms, California. Other children include Mrs. Gail (Darla)
Hall of Vandalia and Bill W. who is married to the former Joy
You can email Bill at email@example.com