Voices of Veterans

Robert Billian, Rutgers College '49, U.S. Air Force, Korean War

-On the development of napalm bombing during the Korean War, when he served aboard a B-29:
… You heard about the napalm in Vietnam, twern’t nothing to what we did in Korea, and I don't think they even heard about it. ... We perfected the technique. We used these transports, which normally, when we had a re-supply drop, you'd have these things on plywood pallets on conveyer rollers. And, when you hit your drop zone, you'd pull the nose up, and you released the cable, and all the stuff would roll down the rollers and out the back end of the airplane. And then, the parachutes would open up and the stuff would descend to where you were trying to drop it. We perfected the deal where they put four fifty-gallon drums on each plywood palette and we had thirty-six planes in our troop carrier wing and we would go out and, on test flights, we'd drop four fifty-gallon napalm barrels, and, we ... obliterated one of the small Japanese islands.

We perfected a thing that we could drop the napalm, because the fighters at that time, the F-80s, ... the range was so limited that they couldn't carry much napalm, to speak of. So, ... they put ... fifty gallons of napalm on our planes. Then what they did is, they flew in large formations, each plane carrying fifty gallons, fifty ... gallon drums and we used B-29 call signs, the bomber call signs, so that the enemy would think that it was bomber group coming in. They went after personnel centers, where they congregated the troops in North Korea. When they came over ... they would let go with thirty-six times fifty, fifty gallon drums. And, they figured they killed thousands of North Koreans. Not burning them, they suffocated them, because it burned all the oxygen up in the immediate area. So, there was ... a lot of napalm dropped. It was supposed to be top secret. ... I think people were getting letters back from home saying, “We saw on television where you guys are experimenting with Operation Snowball.” And, we'd shake our head, we thought it was top secret and here it was being shown on the TV back here.