HEROES of
CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY

CHARLES F. HEIL



CAPTAIN CHARLES F. HEIL was born in Camden, New Jersey on October 30, 1921 to Lloyd and Marie Heil. he was named after his grandfather. The Heil family was living in North Camden as early as 1910. By 1914 the family had moved to 830 North 2nd Street, where they would remain into the 1940s before moving to Mount Ephraim, New Jersey. Charles F. Heil was the youngest of four children, coming after sisters Elizabeth, Esther, and Sadly, his mother died shortly after the 1924 Camden City Directory was compiled. Lloyd Heil had then been living at 72 Vine Street. By 1929 he and his children had moved back to the family home at 830 North 2nd Street. 

Charles F. Heil graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in January of 1939. He was employed as an Aircraft Sheetmetal Worker Apprentice at the U.S. Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1941 he received his Private Pilot's Certificate through the federally-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program.

On March 18, 1942 he enlisted as an Army Aviation cadet and he received his wings at Dothan, Ala. in March 1943, After checking out in P-40's at Pinellas Army Air Base, Fla. he joined the 88th Fighter Squadron, 80th Fighter Group, in the China-Burma-India theater of operations.

Operating from dirt strips in Assam and jungle strips in Burma he flew 146 missions in P-40's against the Japanese. These involved fighter patrols over the Hump [the Himalayan Mountains - PMC], interdiction strikes against ground targets and close support missions in support of General Stilwell's forces, Merrill's Marauders, and Chinese infantry. The highpoint of these missions involved the capture of Myitkyina airstrip and town in Japanese-occupied territory.

Close support targets were often 25-50 yards from friendly troops and P-40's operating from the strip were subject to ground fire from Jap positions a few hundred yards to 1500 yards from the strip.

U.S. forces during this campaign (17 May to 3 Aug. 1944) were supplied solely by air. After his squadron received P-47's in August of 1944, he flew 92 missions primarily of a ground support and interdiction nature but including strikes against airfields.

On March 17, 1945 he married 2nd Lt. Helen D. Rogano f Venice, Illinois, an Army nurse with the 73rd Evacuation Hospital, at an airstrip in North Burma. He returned to the states in April 1945 after having flown 238 combat missions, a record in the 10th Air Force. He served as an IP in P-47's at Seymour Johnson Army Air Base until separated from the service in October of 1945.

After attending the University of Chicago as a pre-med student, he returned to the United States Army Air Force as an IP in T-6 aircraft at San Angelo, Texas. He attended the United States Air Force Intelligence Officer's and Photo-Radar Interpretation Officer's Course at Denver, Colorado in 1949 and 1950 and served as Squadron Operations Officer in an RF-80 Photojet unit at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. In November of 1951, Carles Heil, now a Major, commanded the 497th Reconnaissance Tech Squadron.  

On November 28, 1951, the squadron was alerted for overseas deployment to Wiesbaden. Major Charles F. Heil, Commander of the squadron, dispatched an advanced party to procure billeting and supplies and to expedite renovation plans for the Schierstein Kaserne, the future home of the 497th RTS. The advanced party arrived in Wiesbaden on January 24, 1952. The remainder of the squadron (19 officers, 174 enlisted) departed Shaw AFB February 11, 1952 and made the trip to Germany aboard the USS General Sturgis. The Unit arrived at Bremerhaven on March 3, 1952, and was greeted by Col R. E. Herndon, Assistant Chief, Air Intelligence Division, USAFE, who accompanied it on the overnight troop train to Wiesbaden.

Major Heil served 4 years in Germany, 2 of which were at HQ USAFE as Chief, Target Intelligence Branch. Following tours at Rome, New York (Department Chief, Intelligence Data Processing Branch), HQ USEUCOM Paris (Chief Air Intelligence Analyst), and HQ TAC (Chief, Combat Intelligence Branch) he retired on disability with the rank of Colonel.

Charles F. Heil then served 7 years at the National Security Agency (NSA) as a civilian Intelligence Research Analyst. Colonel Heil and his wife Helen last lived in Crofton, Maryland. They had two sons; one, Michael, graduated from and is taught at the United States Air Force Academy; the other, Joseph, graduated from the United States Naval Academy. 

Colonel Heil passed away in September of 1985.


CBI ROUNDUP

December 21, 1944

Lt. Bert Parks, of the India-Burma and China radio team, interviews Lt. Charles F. Heil, veteran of 500 combat hours in the P-47's. Heil is a flight leader with the "Burma Banshees."


CBI ROUNDUP - December 28, 1944

Record Topped by Two Pilots

10TH AIR FORCE HQS., BURMA - Two veteran P-47 fighter pilots of the 10th Air Force "Burma Banshees" Group now boast a theater record for the most combat missions. 

The two new title-holders are Lt. Charles F. Heil, with 207 missions, and Capt. James F. May, with 205 combat trips. After smashing the previous record of 201 missions, held by Maj. Owen R. Allred, the two flight commanders are now battling away for individual honors. 

Heil, a dive-bomb specialist, hold the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Medal with three Clusters. May wears the Silver Star, Purple Heart, DFC with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with three Clusters. 


Pilots Form
200 Air Club
Over Burma

HQ., 10TH AIR FORCE IN BURMA - A brand new "200 Club" composed of veteran 10th Air Force fighter pilots operating over the Jap-held sectors of Burma, is as hard to join as the famed "400" of New York society and decidedly more robust. Membership requirements are tough: to belong, a pilot must have flown 200 or more combat missions. Up to now, only 12 men have complied with the requirements, and of these nine are still flying against the Japs in Burma. Led by Capt Charles F. Heil, Mt. Ephraim, N.J., flight commander for a squadron of the 80th Fighter Group, and Major Morgan S. Tyler, Santa Monica, Calif., both with more than 235 missions, the current membership includes Lt. Col. Stanton T. Smith of San Antonio, Tex.; Major Robert W. Rowntree, Kansasville, Wis.; Major Richard M. Powell, Minneapolis, Minn.; Capt. Felix H. Jones, Birmingham, Ala.; Lt. Tony N. Jewell, Dayton, Tenn.; Lt. Merlie A. Johnson, Atlanta, Ga. and Lt. John Maker of New York City. All the members, with the exception of Tyler, who is commanding officer of the "Fighting Crow" squadron of the "Terry and the Pirates" group, are members of the 80th Fighter Group. The nine members of the club who are still flying against the Jap in Burma have flown a total of 1,942 combat missions, 4,770 combat hours, and have dropped more than 600 tons of bombs. "Backing the attack" for the pilots are crew chiefs, ordnance, armament, engineering, and radio ground crews, who have averaged almost 13 hours work a day in the past 17 months to keep the planes ready and loaded, and to keep pace with the demands for targets to be destroyed. 


Baltimore Sun -August 30, 2005 

Soldiers and aviators who served in the `forgotten theater' of China-Burma-India gather this week for the 60th anniversary of V-J Day.
WWII veterans' group celebrates `last hurrah'

By Joe Nawrozki 

Across those 60 years, Helen Rogan Heil has never forgotten the tall, blond kid from Minnesota. She, a nurse at a remote field hospital in World War II Burma, and he, a soldier with a life-threatening stomach wound, fought a looming darkness together for two weeks.

"We prayed, talked when he could ... then one day he was evacuated out," said Heil, of Crofton. "I never found out what happened to him. His image has never left me."

Starting today in Washington, Heil, 83, and her fellow World War II veterans from the China-Burma-India theater will observe the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, commemorating the victory over Japan. These veterans of what has been called the "forgotten theater" will have a weeklong reunion, their last.

"Everyone is old or gone," said Heil. "Lots of others are sick or physically unable to make trips. This is like a family breaking up. The reunion is our last hurrah."

Of the 250,000 soldiers and aviators who served in what survivors call "CBI," about 600 veterans and their spouses, many from Maryland, are expected, organizers said.

Rudy Gaum, an aircraft mechanic who served in India for two years, said CBI veterans' reunions have "kept a strong bond alive. We have guys telling war stories and such, but the gatherings have been about friendship all these decades."

The Gaithersburg resident and retired engineer said V-J Day has personal meanings for each World War II veteran. "Nobody really wins a war, but the atomic bombs brought the war to a conclusion. The additional loss of life would have been horrible had we invaded Japan. I'm talking about both sides."

Americans learned of Japan's surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, although the documents ending the war weren't signed until Sept. 2, 1945.

The demise of the national CBI veterans group reflects the war's ever-diminishing voices from, many historians argue, the most significant chapter of the 20th century. Each day, about 1,000 World War II veterans die.

Military historians call China-Burma-India the forgotten theater. The campaigns in Europe and the South Pacific were better known in the United States because of higher troop concentrations, increased news coverage and, partly, military politics, experts say.

"You had [Gen. Dwight D.] Eisenhower in Europe and [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur in the Pacific; the other theaters of operation were relegated to obscurity," said Daun van Ee, a historian at the Library of Congress and former editor of the papers of President Eisenhower at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Having said that," van Ee explained, "the CBI theater was where a lot of irregular warfare was born, from long-range penetration units to supplying guerrillas by air. It's amazing what they went through, that any of them are alive today."

CBI was known through films such as Flying Tigers, Merrill's Marauders and The Bridge on the River Kwai, as well as the comic strip Terry and the Pirates. 

But to those who served there, the region was one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. Veterans, news accounts of the time and historic accounts describe monsoons that lasted up to five months and dumped 15 inches of rain on some areas in a day. The result: ground turned into a sea of mud.

Aviators who flew much-needed supplies to Chinese fighters over the Himalayas, or "The Hump," encountered some of the most dangerous flying of the war because of hazardous altitudes, enemy aircraft and unpredictable weather.

Thick jungles were home to tigers, panthers, elephants, poisonous snakes, leeches and a wide variety of insects. Many units were hit hard by malnutrition, combat fatigue and diseases, such as malaria, dysentery and typhus.

Joseph Konopacki, a resident of Bethany Beach, Del., was a member of Merrill's Marauders, a group of behind-the-lines operatives storied in film and military lore. Being with that group, however, proved costly, Konopacki said.

He was wounded in the battle for Myitkyina and contracted malaria and typhus. Konopacki said that the Marauders marched 425 miles to sneak behind the Japanese lines and that the fight for the strategic airfield and town lasted 51 days.

"I was down to 120 pounds," he said. "They air-dropped us K-rations, which didn't have enough calories to keep up our weight and energy. The monsoons turned everything wet and when the rain stopped, out came the flies. Thank God we had mules and horses to carry the big loads through the jungle and over the hot plains."

 In spite of the hardships, Konopacki said he is "proud of what we did, that concept of the Army Rangers was sharpened in CBI. It's sad that the group of CBI veterans is disbanding. ... I guess we're just fading away, like old soldiers are supposed to do."

Historians point to another precursor to special operations, "Detachment 101" of the Office of Strategic Services, which had outposts throughout CBI and ran guerrilla teams that conducted sabotage, ambushes and intelligence gathering. The OSS also rescued about 400 downed pilots.

Other indigenous fighters from Burma (now Myanmar) and China, including a small tribe of headhunters, were trained and supplied by British and U.S. forces, scholars say.

 Supplies were delivered to guerrilla forces by parachute, low-level "kick-outs" and landings at makeshift airstrips. Ammunition, medical supplies, rations and other provisions were delivered by the Army's 1st and 2nd Air Commando groups.

One of those deliverymen was crew chief Gerald Solomon, 82, of Baltimore.

"We flew supply runs into jungle strips on C-47s," said Solomon, who was hospitalized for malaria during his two years in CBI.

CBI, he said, was an unorthodox war. Because of conditions, military formality - such as wearing the proper uniform - was relaxed. He said he and his buddies sometimes hunted tigers for meat in their diets.

"I usually wore shorts and a pith helmet because of the heat," he said. "It was a crazy place, probably just like the Americans serving in Iraq would say today. We did a job that our country asked us to do. We were kids, really, and no one had a realization why we were there. We used to joke that CBI stood for `Confusion Beyond Imagination.'"

Solomon said he is comfortable with his service in the war. "There is a pride there, that it was such a difficult place to be and to have survived it. We were very close to each other."

The Army Air Forces supplied or bombed throughout CBI and Laos, Cambodia and what was then Indochina. The allies also employed gliders and helicopters in their operations.

One of the pilots was Capt. Charles Heil of the 88th Fighter Squadron, based near the 73rd Evacuation Hospital in Shingbwiyang. One night at a dance, he met a charming Army nurse from Ohio, Lt. Helen Rogan.

Months later, they were married in Burma before he rotated back home, after completing more than 230 combat missions and earning a Distinguished Flying Cross.

"They said it wouldn't last," said Helen Heil, laughing, as she sat in the living room of her Crofton home. "But it did, 40 years, until he passed away in 1985.

"Our marriage is one of the few good things to come out of Burma for me," she said. "In one way, being there was the highlight of my life because I attended to, gave solace to, all of my patients," who included, she said, 12- and 13-year-old Chinese soldiers who were wounded.

"But who knows, who cares, about CBI today?" she said. "It bothers me. It's very sad, that so many sacrifices were made and here we are, disbanding the group. Like back then, ours will always be the forgotten war, we the forgotten ones."


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