As America pauses this weekend to celebrate its independence, it pays tribute to those who served to fight for those freedoms.
It was later in World War II that Alton Frost was shot down on Luzon in the South Pacific. It’s one of those incidents that easily comes to mind.
“That particular day, the Japanese Air Force didn’t have anymore fighters,” Frost recalled. “They Navy had sunk their carriers. I was going in on a bombing position and for one reason or another it didn’t release.”
Stuck with a 1,000-pound bomb on his plane’s belly, Frost knew he had to get rid of it, and he was alone in his one-engine plane.
“I told my two wingmen, ‘I’m going to circle over the target and get rid of the bomb,’” but instead of going back up to 10,000 feet, where he usually started for a bomb dive, Frost only went up to 5,000. As he came over the target, he waggled the plane like a dog shaking water, and the bomb dropped off, but then he saw the two puffs of black smoke and knew his plane was doomed.
“The bomb was gone, but I had no power. I headed for the water and made a wheels-up landing before I got to the water,” Frost said. “It was between two coconut trees.”
The rough landing clipped one of the trees and knocked loose the fuel line, spilling gas across the jungle floor.
Soon after he’d extricated himself, Frost crawled out and was greeted by a soldier who pulled up in a Jeep to check on him.
“I said ‘where are we in relation to the front lines?’ and he said ‘We’re on the front line.’”
Frost borrowed a match from the soldier and pitched it into the gas, burning up his plane and hitched a ride to the nearest landing strip, where one of his wingmen swung down and picked him up.
His captain was none to happy about the loss of the dive bomber, and sent Frost to speak to the colonel.
“The colonel was taking a sunbath in his shorts with a magazine over his face when I got there,” Frost recalled, chuckling. “I told him what happened and he said ‘Tell the S.O.B. to get you another plane and mark it up to losses to the enemy.’”
Frost, who grew up on PIsgah Ridge, joined the Navy in 1942. He wanted to be a pilot, and was trained in two-engine planes initially. When he asked to be switched over to single-engine fighters, he was moved into the Marine Corps.
As a pilot of a Marine Scout Bomber, he flew 96 missions, was awarded the distinguished flying cross three times, four air medals and one bronze star. It was his job to go in before the bombers and drop smoke bombs to help identify targets to his fellow dive bombers.
The citation that accompanied Frost’s bronze star praises “his aggressiveness in seeking front line positions from which to direct air strikes and for his utter disregard of the hazard of enemy fire,” according to Maj. Gen. James T. Moore.
Frost trained in Grand Prairie, Texas, and Cherry Point, North Carolina, and then was sent overseas to New Guinea. From there, the squadron was sent to Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Luzon and Mindanao.
An appendicitis attack requiring emergency surgery took him out of action in the summer of 1945.
“By the time I rejoined the squadron they’d dropped the atomic bombs and the Japs had surrendered,” Frost said.
Frost tried to stay in the service after the war, but there just wasn’t enough need for pilots and he eventually came back to Navarro County.
After trying to get into Southern Methodist University, he became one of the first students at Navarro College — one of the “Barracks Bunch.”
He continued in the reserves, but never got called up again for active duty. He left the reserves in the 1950s. That also ended his flying career.
“I liked flying better than anything I’ve ever done,” Frost said.
Frost became a corrosion engineer, and worked for Gulf Oil for 30 years. He was injured in 1957 when a butane leak in a pipeline caused a fire that burned his face and arms.
He and his wife Marie live in Wortham. They reared two sons, one now deceased, and have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Most of the family lives in the Houston area, but they’re back and forth, said son Johnny Frost.
“He’s got great-great grandchildren now,” Johnny said. “It’s a blessing.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at email@example.com.