World War II veteran reminisces over being shot down off Japanese coast

ST. LOUIS – When it comes to old war stories, 93-year-old St. Louis native Jack Cannon has quite the terrifying ordeal to share.

“We just had dropped bombs when we were hit by anti-aircraft fire,” the Army Air Force veteran said. “(The enemy) set the engine number three on fire and blew holes in the side of plane.”

On April 28, 1945, Cannon’s 11-man crew and an observer were flying the B-29 Salvo Sally over southern Japan with the intention of destroying an air defense field. The crew accomplished its mission, but their plane went down.

“The pilot said, ‘bail out!’ … as soon as I cleared the smoke, I saw the water and pulled my chute immediately,” Cannon said.

Cannon jumped from just 500 feet above ground. He survived the jump, but the rest of his crew did not. For the next two days, he was adrift in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for help.

“All that night, the sea was calm; and in morning I could see a rock sitting up and land on horizon,” Cannon said.

The land was Japan. But another B-29 spotted him, dropped a larger raft to him, and protected him for most the day. Eventually, a submarine surfaced – it was American. Cannon was brought aboard and rescued. He said he’ll never forget his friends and fellow crewmen.

“Still feel for their families,” he said. “Crew was together for over a year.”

One of those lost was plane engineer Fred McDonald. That engineer’s son, Fred McDonald Jr., and Donald Langford, an Army veteran himself, read about Cannon's story in a pair of books and tracked him down to Kirkwood.

“There were five Jack Cannons. I left four messages and got a call back saying, ‘I’m your Jack,’” Langford said.

Langford and McDonald Jr. flew in from California to share memories with the war hero. The 93-year-old is just grateful to have served and be alive after his ordeal.

“It was an impression. Probably the most important one in my life,” Cannon said.