Pete MadisonOn a fighter sweep from Biak, Maj. Thomas McGuire led Hades Squadron over the harbor at Manokwari, Vogelkop. Spotting a small freighter, he ordered the Lightning’s down in a strafing run. When queried about releasing belly tanks, the Major replied in the negative. The freighter would take nothing to finish and the patrol could continue. His men complied.

A P- 38 encumbered with 165 gallon drop tanks was a fearsomely heavy thing that in combat had two disadvantages. A single tracer bullet hit in those gas-laden containers can turn an airplane into a fireball. Young lieutenant H. N. “Pete” Madison graphically discovered the second liability.

Rolling in on the freighter, Madison focused on its bridge, now covered in tiny winking flashes his API rounds. This ship grew larger in the lieutenant’s bullet proof windshield when he decided to pull out of his dive. As the pilot pulled back on the steering yoke, the Lightning shuttered and groaned as the tanks’ full weight fought the pullout. Furthermore, Madison was still on cruise control settings, engines nowhere near requisite power. Instead of its characteristic zooming climb the ship sank lower and lower, the Japanese freighter now blotting out his forward vision. As the P- 38 barely cleared the bridge, a mast surged into view and Madison braced for a crash.

Lt. Hal Grey Near His PlaneThe noise and impact stunned the lieutenant as the right engine grazed the mast, the propeller breaking free and smashing the cockpit, Plexiglas shards badly cutting his head. Slamming into the mass flipped the Lightning over as it cleared the ship. Despite the pain, Madison chopped power on his good engine, righted the craft, and set out for home.

Squadron mate Lieutenant Harold W. “Hal” Grey escorted Madison out of the target zone and at 300 feet above the ocean they flew towards Hollandia. Running low on gas, the wounded Lightning made a belly landing on recently captured Wadke Island. Seeing no one tumble out of the smoking craft Lt. James A. “Jim” Moreing landed and ran to the stunned Madison whom he found callable he filling out a form five, “Report on Aircraft Condition.” He had been lucky.

Pete Madison's Narrow Escape with DeathTaken from the book “Lightning Strikes”