Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: May 26, 2005

LT COL Charles F. Shallenberger USAF (R)

Speaker Photo

P-38 Fighter Pilot, Southwest Pacific, WWII
* Joined USAAF 1 September 1942 After 2 Years College (Engineering)
* Received Pilot Wings 7 January 1944, Class 44-A, Williams Field, AZ, P-38s
* Assigned to 44th FS ("Vampires"), 18th FG, 13th AF, Southwest Pacific
* Flew 314 Combat Hours On 98 Combat Missions: Solomons, New Guinea, Philippines, ...
* Helped Pioneer Extended Range Flights of P-38s to Over 2,000 Miles
* Awarded DFC, 4 AMs, Air Force Commendation Medal
* Born In Rocky Ford, CO
* Eagle Scout, Earned During High School, Golden, CO
* Joined USAAF 1 September 1942 After 2 Years College (Engineering)
* Received Pilot Wings 7 January 1944, Class 44-A, Williams Field, AZ, P-38s
* Married Phyliss Hunter 4 Days Later, Now 61 Years & 5 Children
* Assigned to 44th FS ("Vampires"), 18th FG, 13th AF, Southwest Pacific
* Flew 314 Combat Hours On 98 Combat Missions: Solomons, New Guinea, Philippines, ...
* Helped Pioneer Extended Range Flights of P-38s to Over 2,000 Miles
* Many Memorable Missions, Including Negros Islands Over Alicante (DFC)
* Flew With Many Other Outstanding P-38 Pilots; e.g., ACE Bill Harris (16)
* Awarded DFC, 4 AMs, Air Force Commendation Medal
* USAF Reserves Officer; Called Back to KOREAN War & Cuban Crisis
* 33 Years of Civilian Government Service
* Active In Elks, Methodist Church, Naval Lodge, Boy Scouts of America

Charles F. Shallenberger-- Outstanding Representative of "Greatest Generation"!  These Vampires Attacked by Day

Most combat veterans don't talk much about what they did... unless they're asked to speak publicly about it. At the May dinner meeting of the Golden Gate Wing, Charles "Chuck" Shallenberger shared his experiences during World War Two, as a P-38 pilot, flying with the 44th FS "Vampires", of the 18th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force.

Born In Rocky Ford, Colorado, about 50 miles southeast of Pueblo, Chuck Shallenberger grew up learning how to live in the outdoors.  And the lessons he learned on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, undoubtedly served him well when it came to keeping himself alive and healthy in the Southwest Pacific.

After two years of studying engineering in college, Chuck joined the USAAF on September 1, 1942.  He reported to preflight training in Santa Ana, California.

"One of the reasons why I flew P-38s is because when I was down there, P-38s from a nearby base used to buzz that big Santa Ana area every day. When I'd see those four P-38s come by several times, I'd say, "My god, if I ever got a chance to fly one of those."


On one of only two weekend passes he ever had, Chuck was engaged to be married to Phyllis Hunter. It is a marriage that has thrived for 61 years.

"Phyllis came down and stayed with a girlfriend of a friend of mine, and I gave her a ring. And that was really wonderful."

Primary training for Shallenberger came in PT-17s at Thunderbird Field in Scottsdale, Arizona. Next, at Marana, Arizona, near Tucson, he flew the Vultee BT-13 'Vibrator" for 72 hours.  Chuck' remembers his instructor was a Lt. Stewart.

"He and I had a little trouble. He was from Texas, a little guy. I'm not very big and I couldn't fly instruments worth a damn and he told me so. I really got sort of dejected  because I thought, 'I may not make it out of this thing because he doesn't like the way I fly this airplane, especially on instruments.'

"One day we were flying, and I was on instruments under the hood, in the heat of the Arizona desert. I'm doing my turns and everything like he told me to do.  Suddenly he grabbed the stick and beat my knees with it and said, 'I've got the airplane.'

"I thought, 'Oh boy,  this is it.' So I popped the hood back over and he started flying it. A little bit later, I was really down in the dumps. I looked over and here was a AT-11 twin engine, coming in off our right wing, dead level with us, with a hood over that pilot.

"I thought, 'Well, he's flying it.' And pretty soon I realized he didn't see the other plane. So, at the last minute I grabbed the stick from him, pulled it back, hit right rudder turned it over on its back and the airplane went right beneath us. Then I leveled it out.

"Pretty soon he said, 'I've got it.' And then he never said a word until we landed and got out of the plane, He asked me," Cadet, is that the first time you saw that airplane... when you grabbed the stick?"

"I said,'Yes sir'.

"'Well, you probably saved both of our lives.'"

Shallenberger said from that time on, having gained the respect of his instructor, "I couldn't do anything wrong."

AT-6 and gunnery school in Arizona brought Chuck to the point of getting twin engine experience in AT-9s. Then came flight time in the British version of Lockheed's P-38, without superchargers, the P-322.

"It was a helluva airplane. The first time I took off in that, my knees were so shaky... I turned up the engines at the end of the runway, and I couldn't hold the brakes any more. I could only stop or take off, so I took off."

Eight hours of training in that type brought graduation and a commission, on January 7th, 1944. Shallenberger got his gold bars and silver wings, his leather jacket, and thought, "Now, I'm a hot P-38 fighter pilot."

The next step in Shallenberger's promotions, though, was his marriage to Phyllis Hunter, four days later in Vallejo.  After leave, it was off to Van Nuys airport, where there were too few planes to fly. This had him packing off to Oregon via Salinas, to fly war-weary P-39s that had been returned to the States from North Africa.

Chuck remembers well the car door access ("like an Essex") to the Airacobra, and, during his 36 hours of P-39 cockpit time, how that type handled at low altitude.

"If you wanted to fly it  five feet off the ground you could do it, and raise up to go over the fences up in Oregon. In fact, we got in a lot of trouble because we did fly pretty low, doing low level navigation.

"We kept  getting wheat chaff in our intakes, and so they told us, 'Please come back up a little bit higher.'

"One day one of our guys met a girl whose family had a big ranch in east Oregon. He said, 'How about us coming out and pumping water in your windmill for you?' She said okay, and all of us the next day flew by the windmill in the yard in our P-39s.

"By the time the fourth one went through, that windmill was humming. Then we got a message back. Her dad said, 'Thanks for pumping the water... but you scared the hell out of the livestock. Don't ever come back again.' "

Shallenberger says he was glad he didn't have to fly the P-39 in combat, because it lacked what he felt was needed to shoot down Zeros and to survive long range missions.

Santa Maria was the next stop, a two month stay Chuck remembers as being very happy. Phyllis found a place for them to live, and Chuck got to fly Lightnings for a total of 85 hours, practicing aerial and ground gunnery, formation flying and tactics.

Shallenberger was finally heading to the Pacific, and he flew 14 hours on a C-87 from Travis AFB to Hawaii. Then it was to Guadalcanal via the Easter Islands.


The 13th Air Force, at the time, was operating under the command of Admiral Halsey, its bombers flying long-range operations to hit Japanese targets in Balikpapan, Borneo, and islands in the Southwest Pacific.

13th Air Force staff put in place a major campaign to extend the range of the P-38 Lightning, then the hottest, most dependable fighter its inventory.

"We were operating our airplanes at too high an rpm, too rich a fuel mixture and too low a manifold pressure. When we corrected all of this, we were flying 2000 miles on eight to eleven hour missions. If we could have done that in P-38s in Europe we could have done without P-51s."

"We could escort B-24s to targets 1000 miles away, and probably helped shorten the war. But it gave us awful tired butts sitting in that little cockpit for so damn long.  Some of those missions, when we got back, we had to have a crew chief and some help on both arms, to lift us out of the cockpit and lay us on the wing, help us to the ground and let us stand up a little bit before we started moving around."

The first two weeks at Kukum Field (Fighter Two) at Guadalcanal was spent in combat training. Then came Shallenberger's first combat - - dive-bombing enemy gun positions.

On July 12, 1944 Chuck adopted his first airplane, christening it "Phillie Baby". A later P-38 would carry not only the name of his wife, but also an image of her on the nose of the Lightning.

"I gave the sergeant a picture of Phyllis in shorts and a halter top in the back yard and said, 'Can you put this on the airplane?'  And he said, 'Oh, sure.'

Chuck says the sergeant's finished nose art, with Phyllis reclining nude, was a bit of a shock. "My mother didn't ever want to see it again and her mother almost had a heart attack."


The 18th Fighter Group had, by this time, destroyed 155 enemy aircraft in the air. In the late summer and fall of 1944, the unit was off  to a new home at Sansapor in western New Guinea, to escort B-24s bombing huge oil installations in Borneo.

"When the pilots arrived the tents had been set up for us. We were given army cots, mosquito nets and insect repellant and told to set it up and have fun. There were four pilots to a tent and it was really primitive. The first night was uneventful, except for the killing of one 13-1/2  foot snake, which apparently had become lost looking for the officer's club."

Shallenberger recalls Japanese soldiers came through their camps at night seeking food, which prompted Chuck to go to sleep at night with his .45 pistol on his chest.

"Many times I was scared. I didn't know what the hell was going to happen next."

Over time, though, the young men piloting P-38s toughened. Of necessity, they also developed self-reliance when it came to navigation. The Army Air Force gave them silk maps of the Celebes and East Indies, maps of vast regions which had not been accurately charted, much less surveyed for detail.

"They're not very good, but that's all we had. We'd sort of look at those and say,'I wonder where in the hell we really are.' But that's the way it was. The Air Force had no better maps than those put together by the British and the Dutch."

Reading tropical weather and getting through it was another essential skill for survival on missions. Shallenberger says weather conditions in the Pacific were always changing, forcing pilots in their big twin-engined Lightnings to alter their routes, without the assistance of fancy navigational aids.

"All we had was our compass, our airspeed and a helluva lot of water. Cumulus clouds would form up in the afternoons from 200 feet all the way up to 30,000 feet or more, with heavy rains. We were probably low on fuel, and battling heavy winds, usually crosswinds. So you really didn't know how much you were off course, while you returned from maybe 400 miles away from base."

"Many times we sweated and prayed, and everything else, to get home."


Chuck says the 18th FG flew a variety of missions - - escorting bombers, dive-bombing and strafing - - and he recalled hitting a 'target of opportunity' after dive-bombing a Japanese airdrome in Ceram.

"My buddy John and I found a ship at dock in a nice little harbor. It was a 100 foot ship with a gun on the front deck. So we roared in and said, 'We'll take out that turkey!' "

Shallenberger says they shot up the freighter without any opposition.

"About the time we finished that we peeled off and pulled back, and the whole back of the mountain behind the bay just exploded with antiaircraft fire.

So we immediately hit the deck and headed out to the end of the bay. We were right on the water, churning up waves. Antiaircraft fire was depressing right on top of us. Fortunately they weren't hitting us, except when my buddy said, 'Hey, I've been hit!'

"I said, 'What happened?!'"

"'They shot off my mirror!'"

P-38s carried a rearview mirror on top of the canopy, just inches above the pilot's head. Chuck' wingmate had come that close to perishing from a longshot.


In early November, the 18th Fighter Group moved north to Morotai Island, to reach Japanese targets throughout the Philippines. As Shallenberger remembers the orders, the plan for the 44th FS was to fly ten P-38s to Morotai.

There, each P-38 would pick up a 310 gallon fuel tank, a 1000 pound bomb, and escort a dozen B-25s to Alicante airdrome on Negros Island in the central Philippines, then to continue on to Mindinao to dive-bomb Japanese troops.

A week earlier, Lt. Col. Robert Westbrook had been in the Alicante area seeking Japanese airplanes to shoot down. At that time, Westbrook was chasing Dick Bong for the title of top scoring fighter ace. Westbrook had returned from the sortie disappointed, finding not a single enemy airplane. He then went on rest leave.

"As we started coming into our target area, we looked down and there were airplanes taking off on the ground. You could see dust coming off the dirt strips. They were taking off four at a time on that field.

"Pretty soon they started coming up and our flight leader took his flight of four to go back and investigate, while we stayed with the B-25s. One of our pilots had aborted on takeoff, leaving three in our flight.

Shallenberger said the P-38 pilots slowed down to 175 mph to drop their big belly tanks, then followed the B-25s to the airstrip to drop the 1000 pound bombs, before turning around to see what the Japanese were doing.

"We ran into fifteen of them, the three of us. I only saw my element leader once, and he was heading off west towards another island and was out of the action.

"First thing I noticed - - I had an Oscar in front of me, and I'm boring in on him and made an overhead pass at it. I had major hits on his right wing and... my guns jammed.  So I pulled off of him, and was hitting all the circuit breakers, pushing buttons and kicking the side of the ship, wondering why the hell the guns wouldn't fire.

"Then, right away I'm on the tail of an Oscar. I flew right up his tail. I could see his red insignia very plainly. But I still couldn't get my guns to fire. Instead of overrunning him I had to leave, so as I turned and pulled around, I noticed my flight leader was getting boxed in by two Oscars.

"I picked the one that was on his tail and I shoved in between them and made a head-on pass on the other one, hoping he'd just run away. Well he didn't run, but just kept shooting at me. It kind of just puckers you up a little bit to see those guns blinking at you, and you can't fire back. If I could fire back, I would have blown him out of the sky.

"He hit me about six times and I thought,'That's enough.' So I pulled off and headed for another one. About that time I saw four Oscars on my tail and couldn't find any P-38s."

Shallenberger says he already had the P-38s Allison engines on War Emergency power settings. By the time he got to the deck he was flying about 450 miles an hour.

Chuck then returned to the B-25 flight, and pulled behind an Oscar making a pass on the medium bombers. The Oscar abandoned its run.

As the sky clear of enemy aircraft, Shallenberger rejoined with his flight leader to escort the B-25s out of the area before heading back to base.

There he discovered his flight leader had shot down two airplanes and the other 44th Squadron flight had knocked down two more. One P-38 had been hit in its engines and was forced to make an emergency landing at Leyte.

Another P-38, flown by element leader Lt. Gene "Pinkie" Anderson, was lost on the mission. Shallenberger had flown with Anderson, and knew him well.

"We found out later from Filipino intelligence that a red-headed pilot, the day after our mission, had been tortured and beheaded."

Shallenberger notes that the Japanese designated American fliers as special war criminals. Few survived capture, especially by Japanese Army units. Postwar, Japan never had to answer to atrocities by its troops in the Pacific, much less by troops in China and Korea.


By the next March, the 18th was based at Mindoro in the northern Philippines. From there, and from Lingayen, Luzon, P-38s helped clean out thousands of Japanese ground troops in the Philippines, attacked enemy facilities on Formosa, and shipping in the China Sea.

The Lightning proved to be devastating as a ground attack weapon. It carried a 20 mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns, all boresighted to converge at 1000 yards on a six foot diameter target.

Yet as punishing as the twin-engined fighter was, pilots had to remain aware of the plane's low altitude flight characteristics. On one mission, Shallenberger found out first hand the danger of losing that awareness by fixating on a target.

"We were all aware of the hazards of our large airplane, because it would mush

and you would have to pull out to make sure you didn't hit anything.

"I was strafing a truck in Formosa, at low altitude, because it was overcast. I strafed the truck and the troops that were on it, and the next thing I know the truck is right here in front of me. I got over it and  went through some brush by the rice paddy, out into the rice paddy and I was still going down. But I felt a thump, and actually dragged my tail booms in the rice paddy before I got it going up.

"I thought I was a pretty good fighter pilot. But it was a bad situation with the low overcast."

While returning from another mission on Luzon, Chuck was flying along a canal, looking for barges. He says he looked up and saw tall trees in front of him.

"I went through the trees - -  had green all through the right side of my airplane.

It knocked out my engine. I went onto a single engine, and finally got going to fly back home."


Ground support of US Army troops in January of 1945 brought the Vampires and the rest of the 18th FG an opportunity to earn the Group its third Presidential Citation.

The 1st Cavalry Division had requested support as they battled about 6,000 enemy  troops headed to Cabanatuan, where Allied POWs were being held and were soon to be liberated.  It was believed the Japanese might go into the camp to kill the POWs.

Loaded with 1000 pound bombs, the Vampires swept down on the enemy, bombing and strafing until they had obliterated 4900 Japanese, six trucks, two tanks, three staff cars, 400 drums of fuel and two ammunition dumps. This action allowed American troops to safely move into the camp and release the POWs.


In March, 1945, the 13th Air Force was suddenly reassigned to maintain the security of the Southern Philippines, Borneo, Celebes and the Dutch East Indies. The Fifth Air Force was given as its responsibility the Northern Philippines and the Pacific Ocean north to Japan. Political maneuvering among the Allied commanders in the Pacific War was behind the switch.

The Vampires were unceremoniously dumped back into the primitive jungle conditions of the airstrip at Mindoro, and they lost the huts with floors and thatched roofs they had built. Shallenberger says they also lost their support crews, until the Group was shipped to Zamboanga.

Fortunately for Shallenberger, he had a choice at that time - -  get promoted or go home.

"After 102 missions I decided the right choice was to go home. We took a troop ship to Manila and came back to Long Beach, and I to my wife."

 Chuck Shallenberger returned home after flying combat missions totaling 314 hours. He had been awarded the DFC, 4 Air Medals, and an Air Force Commendation Medal.

 By the end of World War Two, the 18th Fighter Group had built a record of shooting down 282 Japanese aircraft.  The Group did not track the number of Jap planes it destroyed on the ground. The 18th produced 12 pilots who achieved the title of 'ace'. 

Shallenberger joined the Air Force Reserves, returned to active duty in Korea and during the Cuban missile crisis. He retired after 33 years of civilian government service.