Cameron Park Life

Celebrating a local veteran: Harold Kiser’s story

By From page A1 | November 07, 2017

Harold Kiser

By Don Uelmen

With the announcement of Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, Harold Kiser thought he had safely made it through World War II. There would be no more pulling gliders or supply drops in the jungles of Burma for this C-47 pilot. Assigned to the 10th Air Force’s 2nd Commando 317 Troop Carrier Command since May 1944, Harold and his crew had flown numerous missions supporting Allied troops, and supplying Chinese forces. The conflict with Japan would not officially end until the surrender was signed on Sept. 2, 1945.

Fifty miles from Saigon their plane was met by two Japanese Zeros. This was the moment when Harold and his crew would find out whether or not the Red Cross was successful in arranging the mission. A few days later, several crews in their squadron were transferred from their base in Ledo, Assam to Rangoon. When Harold’s crew arrived in Rangoon, they were selected to fly into Saigon with medical personnel and supplies to prepare Allied prisoners for evacuation. The catch was that since the official Japanese surrender had not taken place, Saigon was in Japanese-held territory. The base commander told him there was no way to know how they would be received by the Japanese, so his plane would go alone before they committed any other unarmed transports. The mission also required that they land in Japanese-occupied Bangkok and top off their fuel tanks with their former enemy’s aviation gas (the octane rating wasn’t known).

Harold Vern Kiser Jr. was born on April 30, 1924 in Everett, Wash. His father moved the family to a farm in Rio Linda when Harold was very young and he grew up in the area graduating from Grant Union High School, Sacramento, in 1942.

Enlisting at Mather Field on April 15, 1944, Harold had the three letters of recommendation required to become an officer. After Basic Training in Chico, he completed Officer-Candidate School at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa and flight training in Visalia. Multi-engine training at Fort Sumner, NM, resulted in being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and selected as a lead pilot for C-47 training at Lawrenceville, Ill. Completion of training saw Harold transported from Miami, Fla., to Calcutta, India.

After additional training in India including piloting a glider, Harold and his crew began flying supply missions from bases in Burma and India. Delivering supplies included landing and off loading at advance dirt airstrips or free-falling crates from less than 100 feet over drop zones. Gliders were snatched from the ground by tethers raised 20 feet into the air by poles and the C-47 flying low grabbing the tether with a tail-hook and applying full power.

The medical aid mission to Saigon was the first time they encountered Japanese fighter planes. The Zeros circled them and took up a position along each wingtip. The C-47 was thus escorted to the airfield in Saigon. After landing, the Japanese soldiers took their .45 cal. pistols and then unloaded the C-47. The crew members were placed under guard and taken to a hotel where they spent the night. The next morning they were escorted back to their plane, given back their side arms and took off with the most critically ill prisoners to Rangoon.

The most critical prisoner had a large tumor on his head from a guard hitting him with a rifle butt some months before the flight. The medics asked Harold to keep the flight as low as possible as the tumor could burst at high altitude. They kept the plane at treetop level over land and just above the waves across the Bay of Bengal.

The next day, the solo test mission was repeated to Bangkok and after that to a remote prison camp in the jungles of Siam. By the end of the third flight the surrender was signed and the other squadrons’ C-47s were involved in the evacuation of Allied prisoners.

Harold and his crew returned to Ledo, Assam, and transported supplies and equipment into China. In late November 1945, the crew flew their final mission into Kunming, China. On Nov. 26 they boarded a plane to return to Calcutta. It took them a month to get home on the troop ship USS General Bliss which finally docked in New Jersey.

On Jan. 10, 1946 Harold took his final leave until his separation from active duty on Feb. 11, 1946. Harold continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve in a non-flying position until 1953 and attained the rank of captain.

For his service, Harold was awarded the American Campaign Medal, Asian Pacific Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster.

While attending Cal-Poly Harold met his life partner Joyce and they were married June 12, 1949. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, he eventually went to work for Aerojet in Rancho Cordova. Joyce and Harold raised four daughters Kathy, Joline, Cindy and Janice in Cameron Park.

In 1983, Joyce and he took a trip to Thailand and while there they took a walk on the Bridge over the River Kwai.

More recently, Harold visited the Castle Air Museum and sat in the pilot’s seat of the C-47 on display.

For many years, Harold has been an El Dorado County Historical Museum commissioner and volunteer. He drew up the current plans for El Dorado County Western Railroad Park under construction in El Dorado.

Special to Village Life

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