Ralph Carrington served with the Army Air Corps during WW II. But he almost didn’t get in. When he volunteered for service in 1942, it was discovered that he was colorblind. But a year later, as the war escalated, Ralph was drafted into the Army and trained as an ordinance man.
Dissatisfied with waiting stateside, Ralph volunteered for overseas duty with a P-61 outfit–the 549th Night Fighter Squadron. In the Army Air Corps at last, he and his squadron shipped westward to the Pacific islands to support the air war over Japan. With Japanese holdouts still on the loose, the 549th was stationed on Iwo Jima.
It was a barren, sulphurous place, recalls Ralph, without a blade of green to cover the black volcanic sands. It was dangerous, too, despite a Marine Corps General’s assurance that the island had been secured. The 22,000 Japanese defending the island had been neutralized. So they thought . . .
On a bitterly cold day in early February 2013, we were finishing up a long day of recording veterans’ stories at Providence Point retirement community in Pittsburgh’s South Hills suburb. It was a special day for us, joining efforts for the first time with the Army’s 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment to interview over a dozen WW II and Korean War era vets. To accommodate so many interviews in one day, we tightly scheduled our appointments back to back, leaving little time to rest in between sessions. However, at a rare lull in activity, I noticed an elderly gentleman standing alone at the doorway of the ballroom that we used as a makeshift recording studio. He looked on inquisitively at our cameras, lights, and sound equipment. I nodded in his direction as his attention turned my way. He nodded back with a gentle smile.
“Are you a veteran, sir?” I asked with the intention of then explaining what the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative was doing there that day. “I am,” he said. “I was on Iwo Jima, with a P-61 squadron.” He then paused, anticipating my reaction. Images of WW II aircraft raced through my mind . . . P-51 Mustangs, P-38 Lightnings . . . . I hadn’t heard of a P-61. “Black Widows,” Ralph Carrington said, “night fighters, equipped with radar.” I was genuinely intrigued and curious. “No kidding? Would you like to sit down and do an interview with us and explain what a P-61 is? We’d love to hear your stories about Iwo Jima,” I added. But Ralph looked down at his shoes, which were slowly starting to shuffle past me. “No. I don’t think I’d like to do that. I don’t talk about those days much. But thank you anyway,” he said softly and with obvious sincerity. And with that, Mr. Carrington walked through the ball room and was out of sight.
Later that afternoon as we were ready to pack up our gear, the 354th’s First Sergeant eagerly approached me and asked if we had time to do one last interview that day. He explained that earlier he had been talking with an elderly WW II veteran and his wife in the hallway, and he finally convinced the gentleman–with loving coercion by his wife–to do an oral history interview with us. Sure we could. “Great!” said the First Sergeant, excited to close the deal. “I’ll tell Mr. Carrington to come on in.”
In My Own Words
On February 9, 2013, Ralph Carrington shared his WWII experiences with Kevin Farkas of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative.
In this audio short, 89 year old Ralph Carrington talks about enlisting in the Army Air Corps, arriving on the recently secured island of Iwo Jima, and surviving a deadly banzai attack by 400 Japanese soldiers. The photograph shows the horrific aftermath of the Japanese raid on Ralph Carrington’s compound. By 10 a.m. the next morning, US soldiers were tasked with disposing of the corpses strewn throughout the area.
Iwo Jima Album
In 2012, Cyndy Carrington Miller published a book of her father’s WW II experiences. Click here to read Iwo Jima Album: Photographs and Memories of Staff Sgt. Ralph J. Carrington, US Army Air Force, 1943-1945.
On our June 2016 episode of Veteran Voices: The Oral History Podcast, we have a conversation with Cyndy Carrington Miller about her father’s experiences and her book. Recorded June 18, 2016. Host: Kevin Farkas. Audiography: Kevin Farkas.
About the P-61 Black Widow