NORMAN — Jim Mahaffey was born in Devol in 1921, the only boy in a family with five sisters. After he graduated from high school in 1939, he started at the University of Oklahoma, studying aeronautical engineering in January 1940.
In the summer of 1940, his mother moved to Norman and rented an apartment over the Campus Grocery, which was across Boyd Street from the campus. During his time at OU, Jim had a paper route. One of his customers was incarcerated in the county jail, which at the time was on the top floor of the courthouse. The inmate would lower a rope out the window and Jim would tie his Daily Oklahoman to the rope for the inmate to pull back up.
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jim and a couple of buddies went to Oklahoma City to enlist. Jim was the only one who passed the physical. When he arrived at Lackland Army Air Corps base, the camp was not ready yet and the recruits had to live in tent bivouacs.
He received navigator and bombardier training before receiving his commission in 1942. He then joined the newly formed 345th Bombardment Group at Columbia, S.C. His group was eventually sent to Australia in June, where they became a part of the 5th Air Force. The camps weren’t ready there, either. They had to wait until the construction troops could build the barracks.
The 345th was sent to Port Moresby, New Guinea, and, eventually, to Dobodura, New Guinea, where they spent their combat time bombing and strafing Japanese troops and small shipping. Extra guns were added to the B-25s his unit flew to enable them to strafe enemy positions as well as bomb them.
The rule was that, after an airman flew 50 missions, he was rotated back to the states. On Jim’s 40th mission, they were on a low-level strafing mission over the Admiralty Islands and got shot down. A PBY (flying boat) rescued the entire crew. When they arrived back at the PBY base, the crew was treated with a big steak dinner. On Jim’s last mission, they had another close call when they encountered Japanese Zeros.