Thursday, November 3, 2011


Dad left for the next mission on August 13, 2010. He lived a heck of a life in his 89 years. He always thought of himself as one of the luckiest people who ever lived. It's hard to argue with that.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Added Thanks

Thanks to those of you who have come online to read this memoir.
Notably, to our friend John Berry, who has more knowledge and interest than most of our generation of the activities in the Pacific during the war. Thanks, John, for helping pass this stuff down.
Special thanks to Merlin Dorfman, for his corrections and addenda. Merlin, quite the WWII scholar, sent along some material I hope to be adding to comments from the appropriate posts soon.
Also thanks to our dear friend Tess Cowie for her kind words. Tess's husband Bill was a retired Marine Major who served his own brave time in the war. Bill and Dad had an longtime,ongoing, good-natured ideological debate, Dad the Sailor, Bill the Marine; Dad the Democrat, Bill the Republican. It's a debate that Dad has always truly relished, in which he's found many counterparts, probably none as well-suited as Bill.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


The following series of posts comprise a memoir my father, Jim Nicholson, wrote about the first twenty-eight years of his life.
If you read it, you'll see the majority of it concerns his time in the Navy; much of it about service in the Pacific during World War II. Most of Dad's memories here were reinforced by log books he kept as a radioman/ tail gunner on a torpedo plane (TBF), flying off aircraft carriers.
I've had this memoir since he wrote it in the mid-90's. I'd read it a couple of times, but was recently asked to show it to a journalist writing a story about those who served during that war. In re-reading it this time, I found the stories much more compelling than before. Perhaps because telling these stories seems to come easier to Dad now than it did earlier in my life, so this account provides detail, texture, timeline and context to some of what I've heard in more recent years. Perhaps because it's easy to realize that the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of life in America during the first half of the twentieth century are becoming rarer every day. Perhaps it's because I'm now a father myself, and only now can truly appreciate the hard work and sacrifices of my father, my mother, and many, many more of their generation, who have made their children's lives much easier than their own.
I post this as a tribute to my folks and an archive of their stories. If you or someone you know or love find something of relevance here, I welcome your comments, corrections, additions, and personal stories.

Medals and Commendations

We've received a good suggestion that we post a list of the medals and commendations that were awarded to Dad and the units he was in for their service.

Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal Gold Stars in Lieu of Second and Third Air Medals
Presidential Unit Citation with Gold Star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Six Battle Stars
Good Conduct Medal
WWII Victory Medal


The purpose for this writing is to clarify and to put into proper sequence some of the events which I have experienced in my lifetime, for the benefit of my children and grandchildren.

Although my sons have probably already heard most of the things that I shall put to writing, I have never had the time to go into them in any detail, nor have they been-told in any proper chronological sequence, I have always been known as the world's poorest writer, so nothing I say will surprise anyone.

Early Memories--Growing Up in Harrison 1921-1933

I was born December 25th, 1921 in Harrison, Arkansas at the corner of South Maple Street and West Newman Avenue; the fourth child of William Newton and Mabel Womack Nicholson. Dr. Frank Kirby was the attending doctor; and, of course, at that time there were no clinics or hospitals in Boone County.

The first memory of my childhood was waking up to the crowing of the neighborhood roosters when I was about two years of age. Harrison was a hamlet of about fifteen hundred people at that time, and my father ran a partnership general mercantile business with my Uncle Roy and Granddad Amzi Nicholson. The business was located on the south side of the square and 'that was before there was any paving, sidewalks (concrete) and curbing around the square.

Another early memory is of the neighborhood children and my older brother and sisters playing doctors and nurses, and using me as their patient in performing a tonsillectomy. They didn't hurt me, but I remember that they scared me to death for the fact that I thought the baling wire instrument was going to be stuck down my throat. I am sure that I screamed and mother came running to the rescue.

Another memory of that early period was that one night my brother, Eugene had the whole neighborhood looking for him. Gene was about eight years old, and when the folks discovered that he was missing from his bed, they searched the entire neighborhood, with the help of most of them., to no avail. The next morning at daylight, he came walking out of one of our neighbor's woodsheds. He had been delirious with fever the night before, and had walked in his sleep to a newfound bedroom. He was all right and had no ill effects from his venture, but it surely did scare Mom and Dad.

When I was about three years old, Dad sold his interest in the store business to Uncle Roy and Grandpa Amzi, and we moved to my Grandma Womack's farm south of town. Dad started a small dairy operation and was milking 15 to 20 Jersey cows by hand twice a day. He would bottle the milk, load it onto a buggy, and deliver it to people around town. Although Gene was only nine or ten years old, he would help milk, but Dad really had his hands full. The dairy business lasted Dad about three years and he decided to sell out the herd and move-back to town.

In 1928, after we moved to town, Dad bought the American Cafe, which was about half a block off the square on East Stephenson Avenue. By this time, we children, all five of us, were enrolled in school, and we were living on North Maple Street. Uncle Roy was still operating the store, and he and Uncle Riley Womack (the painter) made me a shoe box and stocked it with polish and brushes and I would spend the summer shining shoes in the courtyard for 5 cents per pair. This was when I was from seven to nine years old and I could save enough nickels to help Dad pay my school tuition and buy school supplies. In addition to shining shoes, boys could earn spending money by gathering up burlap sacks and selling to the feed stores for reuse, gathering used medicine bottles and selling to the drug stores for reuse and gathering aluminum and copper wire and selling to the salvage yards. By either of these enterprises or by running errands and doing lawn work and odd jobs, we could make our spending money for the Saturday afternoon "shoot'em up" and the continued serial which we could not afford to miss.

In 1930-31, Dad had sold the cafe and was working for the city as night watchman on the police force. About this time, my Uncle Hubert Brown started Lone Oak Dairy in partnership with his brother, Carl, who worked also for the railroad. He gave me the job of bouncing on the milk truck. I would ride the fender, except when we had falling weather, and place the milk on the porches and pick up the empty bottles, while he drove the truck on the milk route. I did this until I was about fourteen years old. I had to quit because I developed a limp from jumping off the truck and Dr. Henry Kirby said I would become a permanent cripple if I continued. Hubert sold the milk for 10 cents per quart then and he paid me 10 cents at night and 15 cents in the morning for helping him deliver. During the depression, in the thirties, pennies looked as big as dollars now. In about 1932, Dad was no longer working for the city as a policeman and he was glad to do any kind of work he could find for ten or fifteen cents an hour. He always raised a huge garden and he would work it before and after any other work that he could find. I do not ever remember a day that he did not work from literally daylight until dark. He could never earn enough to supply his children with any luxuries but with us children helping to buy our clothing, he supplied the food and shelter and for a family of seven in that day and time, that was a lot. In 1933, he got a job as a day laborer on the WPA making twenty five cents an hour helping to build the old levee along South Spring Street and down Central Avenue between the creek and the square. In the fall of 1933, my sister, Evangelyn, who was eighteen months younger than I, became ill with rheumatic fever. There were no clinics or hospitals in Harrison then, so mother had to nurse her at home. I spent the winter with my Uncle Riley and Grandmother Womack because mother and my two older sisters had their hands full taking care of my baby sister. There was very little that could be done for her medically, and she developed a leakage of the heart and died the following spring.

Uncle Roy had gone broke in the store business in 1931 and had started operating a company owned service station on the corner of Cherry and Stephenson arid Aunt Mittie had a little lunchroom adjoining called The Goblin's Den. This was just across the street from the high school and Central grade school, so in addition to Aunt Mittie selling hamburgers, chili, candy and school supplies in the Goblin's Den, Roy also had the concession to sell candy, popcorn, gum and soft drinks at all of the athletic events both in the gymnasium and the football field. So, he gave me the job of helping him sell from the concession stands at the ballgames. Dad was also helping Uncle Roy with the service station work, and I would also help at that part of the time, I remember that we sold hand pumped gasoline for as low-as eleven. cents per gallon, kerosene for seven cents a gallon, motor oil in bulk for ten cents a quart, flats repaired and grease jobs for a quarter and batteries charged for twenty nine cents. Business got so good for the Southland Cut Rate Station that Roy was operating, that in 1935, they decided to build another one; so they built the station that is on the right of the highway on the curve at the south end of the Krooked Kreek bridge and hired Dad to operate it for them. By this time I was in junior high school and was helping Dad in the station what time I was not in school. Dad operated the station for Southland until in 1938, when he went to work for the Arkansas Highway Department, helping to service and maintain their vehicles and road equipment. I worked about a year part time for Paul Lee, who was operating the Barnsdall service station on the corner of Stephenson and Pine Streets, when I was a sophomore in high school.
I guess you would think that I had no time for playing while I was growing up? Not so!!! We lived along the banks of Krooked Kreek, and we spent a lot of time swimming and fishing and even skating on its ice in extremely cold weather. Yoyos, tops, marbles, horseshoes, shinney, rubber guns, beanflips, hoops and tire rolling, football, baseball, and basketball and track events were all inexpensive ways of having fun and we never had any trouble of finding plenty of playmates to participate in any and all activities. Oh yes, there was also horseback riding, bicycling and tennis. I had a pony until I was eight or nine years old.

High School

During my junior and senior year in high school, I worked part time at the Coca Cola bottling plant. Ben Garrison was operating the franchise and I would work six days a week in the summer months and when school was in session, I would skip school on Friday afternoons, and we would bottle on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. I made $2 per day working at the plant and thought I had struck it rich, just to be able to work there part time.

Older brother, Eugene graduated from High School in 1934 and he had lettered every year, both in junior high and high school in football, basketball and track. He was also a good baseball player and while there was no high school baseball team, he did play on the "town team" after he graduated.' He was quite an athlete. I played a couple of years of high school basketball but never spent enough time at it to be too good.

My older sister, Edna graduated in 1936 and while it was not financially feasible for her to attend college, she served an apprenticeship and became a beautician. She later met and married Harrison Perry from Savannah, Tennessee where they later became successful in the furniture business.

My sister, Nina Maude, who is two years older than T, graduated from high school in 1938, She worked for Moore and Henley law firm as a legal secretary for about a year and also as a secretary for the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad. In 1940, she took a Civil Service examination and went to work for the War Department in Washington, D.C., where she later became personal secretary to the Under Secretary of War. Later on she also worked as a personal secretary for Senator Maybank of North Carolina, when he was Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

In 1940, 1 graduated from high school and went to work as a fountain clerk (we called ourselves soda jerkers) for Sims' Drug Store. Since it was not possible for me to attend college, I took some commercial courses in post graduate work the following school term.

Moving to DC--Working for the War Department--1941

In the spring of 1941, I took a Civil Service clerk-typist examination and as a result, received an appointment and went to work for the War Department in Washington, D.C.

It surely was nice to have my sister there to meet me and help me to find a place to live. She was living in a boarding house on New Hampshire Avenue and found me a boarding house close by her. Nina had met Ed Tull, who was from Jonesboro and a friend of Jim Langley, my high school basketball coach.. Ed, who worked for the Agriculture Department, was attending American University at night, studying for the ministry. He and Nina were engaged and were married in August of 1941. Ed was chosen to be pastor of the Brookmont, Md., Baptist Church and they moved into an apartment there. About a month later, I had the opportunity to board with Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson, who were members of Ed's church. They had a large home in Brookmont and their children had already married and left home, so Mrs. Donaldson made her occupation of running the boarding house in her home. Mr. Donaldson was a machinist at the Washington Naval Yards, and a couple of boys that worked with him were already boarding with them. I had a friend, Floyd Vaughn from Morgan City, Louisiana who had gone to work at the same time with me that moved into Donaldsons' as my roommate. We did not have an automobile but the streetcars from Washington came through Georgetown on the Cabin John Line, and we could travel anywhere in the District by streetcar. Vaughn and I both worked in the office of the Chief of Finance of the War Department. He was in the Supply branch and I was in Publications branch and both of our superiors were black men who had been with the Bureau for many years. Vaughn had attended LSU and was a reserve pilot in the ROTC reserve program. In the publications branch, it was my job to cut stencils and make mimeograph copies of Army and Finance Regulations and to mail them out to all Finance Officers in the field. We maintained a mailing list of all Finance Officers on addresso-graph plates, which we cut on grapho-type machines and would mail any new Regulation, Executive Orders or General Accounting office orders to the Finance-Officers throughout the world. I worked about six months in Publications and received a promotion to the Advisory and Regulations Division of the Bureau. In this job, I corresponded directly with the Finance Officers in the field regarding pay allowances and gratuities if the officer had questions regarding entitlement or interpretations of the regulations.

The U.S. goes to War

On December 7, 1941, Vaughn and I attended a Sunday Matinee and when we came out of the theatre, the "extra" news editions were on the street giving the account of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Statesmen had been in meetings with Cordell Hull then Secretary of State during the previous week. The employees at the Japanese Embassy had carried out all papers and documents and had burned them on the Embassy lawn.
Since Floyd was in the reserve he knew that he would be called to active duty within weeks. The next day President Roosevelt met in joint session with Congress and declared War. "December 7, 1941, a day that will go down in infamy".
Sure enough, Floyd received his orders to report to Maxwell Field within just a few weeks. I corresponded with him for several months. He was attached to a B-26 training squadron and the B-26 was a relatively new twin engine bomber, shaped like a cigar, with a short wing span for its body size. In correspondence, I could tell that Floyd was concerned because he told me that it was the hottest plane he had ever climbed into and that several planes and crews had been lost in operational training. He later told me in correspondence that he had been the first pilot to land one of them on one engine, to be able to tell about it.

Enlisted--July, 1942

I enlisted in the Navy in July, 1942 and lost contact with Vaughn. I guess we were both just too busy after that to keep in touch. I always thought that I would check around Morgan City, Louisiana to see what might have happened to him but so far I have never been around there. I went to boot camp in Norfolk, Virginia, during July and August, 1942. While there, the U.S.S. Ranger was in port and a couple of Harrison boys with whom I had played basketball in high school were aboard her. The first liberty that I received, I went aboard to see the Watkins brothers, as well as the ship. I thought the Ranger was surely the largest ship afloat, since I had never been on anything bigger than an excursion boat. I think that was the only liberty that I made while in boot camp. I missed some hard rowboat work because they put me to work in the office typing ID cards and liberty passes.

When we finished boot camp, we received 72 hour passes and I headed for Brookmont, Md., where mother was visiting with Ed and Nina. When I reported back to Norfolk, I did not draw Yoeman's School as I thought I probably would, but instead, I was to report to RCA Radio School in New York, New York. It seems that I had an aptitude to be a radio operator, which also required the ability to type.

Radio School--NYC--Oct.-Dec. 1942

En route to New York, we traveled on a small craft up the Chesapeake Bay to Wilmington, Delaware. From there, we traveled by truck to Pier 92 on the Hudson River. There were two old cruisers tied up at Pier 92, the Camden and the New Jersey One was used for a receiving ship and the other a prison ship. Of course, the receiving ship was too small to handle and house all the sailors that were in transit at that time and Pier 92 had been taken over in its entirety, for living quarters. So Pier 92 became my home for the next four months. The Pier was grossly overcrowded, as we were sleeping in four-decker bunks and with the eating and toilet facilities being inadequate to properly take care of that many men, it left a lot to be desired for sanitary conditions. None the less, it was not hard to realize that we were lucky to be able to live, even under those conditions, because, at that time, the North African Campaign was in full blast and many soldiers didn't have it so good. Besides, there were many good things about being in New York. There were only about 40,000 sailors around the city. We got liberty every other night. We were within walking distance of Times Square and there were plenty of places to go and things to see. The people of New York were most friendly and generous to servicemen. There were numerous USO clubs and invitations to attend private parties in private homes for-holidays and special events. We were given free passes to professional baseball and football games and some college football games.

On Halloween, some girls from the Bronx that worked at Kresge's had a private party and invited some soldiers and sailors through the USO to attend. They had hired a small dance band and everyone had an enjoyable evening. on Thanksgiving, there was an invitation extended on the bulletin board for two sailors to have dinner with a family on Park Avenue. My buddy, Smitty, from Atlanta, Georgia and I decided to accept. Of course, we did not know what to expect, but when we arrived, there were a couple of soldiers from Fort Dix, who had also accepted an invitation, already there. It was apparent that the people were well off, as they were living in a nice high rise condo. They were a nice middle-aged couple and they had a couple of daughters home from college for the holidays. The man played the guitar very capably and we spent the afternoon singing to his playing. He claimed that he had learned to play in his younger days when he was hoboing around the country, riding the rails. When it came time for dinner, they took us to the first floor of the building, where the dining room facilities were operated exclusively for the tenants of the condo. I'm not sure how they could afford it but after dinner, all of us went to Radio City Music Hall, where they had reserve choice seats for the Premier of "Random Harvest". I had not expected so much hospitality and it was a great experience for a country boy who had come to town. I was discovering that those Damn Yankees could match our southern hospitality. In the line of conversation, when the man learned that Smitty was from Atlanta, he asked him if he knew of a certain textile mill there and Smitty replied that he passed it on his way to work. The man told him that he owned the mill. Later, Smitty told me that it was one of the biggest industries in Atlanta.

I was fortunate to have two friends while in New York who were natives. Both of them were named Bill Murphy. Both were Irish and Catholic and both were from Brooklyn. Bill Murphy #1, 1 had become acquainted with in D. C. He had worked for the Army Map Service and had also boarded at Mrs. Donaldsons. He was still single and had returned to Brooklyn to accept a better job and live at home. Not only did he invite me into his home for some of his mother's home cooking but lots of times, when I would have liberty, he would go with me to eat dinner and would show me some of the more interesting places to see and would tell me of things and events of interest to see, when he could not go with me. Bill Murphy #2, was in radio school with me. His mother worked for NYC telephone company and on one of my liberties, Bill and I went through the exchange where she worked and the complexity of it was mind boggling for a country boy, at that time. Bill's mother also prepared home cooked food for us and I can still remember how good her pineapple upside down cakes tasted. I remember that on Christmas Eve , 1942, 1 attended Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with Bill. I was reared in the Presbyterian Church and though I attended the Baptist Church at Brookmont, this was the first Catholic service that I had ever attended. I was impressed even though there were many things about the service that I did not understand. The things that were similar did convince me that most of the differences of the different denominations of Christian Churches are insignificant. In two short years, I had moved from a rural, predominantly white Anglo-Saxon protestant society into one which was urban, with many different creeds and nationalities. The significant common denominator was the fact that they were all proud to be Americans and the majority wanted to do their fair share to contribute to the war effort. I have never seen people united behind a single cause as much as they were in World War II.

I have many memories of Pier 92 and NYC not connected with radio school. For the entire four months I was there, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth would alternate coming into Pier 91, where they would stay in port about a week each, taking on war material, troops and supplies that were being shipped to England. It is difficult to imagine the amount of cargo that these ships were carrying on each trip. They would come into port drawing about twenty five feet of water and when they would leave they would be drawing forty to forty five feet. The day before they were to leave port, soldiers would march single file up the gangplanks all day and night. Although the German U-boats were having a field day sinking our cargo ships in the North Atlantic at that time, thank God neither of the Queens were ever hit. I also remember spending a liberty at the USO club at Yonkers, when the Swedish ship "Gripsholm" was in port. I met several of the Swedish sailors and though I didn't understand them very well, we could at least play a good game of ping pong with each other. The Gripsholm was being used to exchange diplomatic prisoners that were taken when the war was declared.

RCA Radio School had been taken over by the Navy to train shipboard radio operators. While we were primarily concerned with learning the Morse Code to the extent that we could receive messages and type them out, we were also taught a smattering of electronics and radio theory. Most of us were able to receive and type code at the rate of thirty to thirty five words per minute, upon finishing the course. We were promoted to Radioman 3C, upon graduation, and we stated our preferrences, in numerical order, for the types of duty we would like the most. I remember that my list looked something like this:
1. Submarines
2. -Aircraft
3. Aircraft Carriers
4. Battleships
5. Cruisers
6. Destroyers
7. P T Boats

Well, I guess Uncle Sam needed Aviation Radiomen more than anything else, because I received orders to report to Aviation Radio School, at Naval Air Technical Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee.

It had been most difficult for me to understand the difference in social status between officers and enlisted men. I knew it was generally a difference in education, as the college graduates were generally always officers, and if you had no college, you had to work up through the ranks.

The officers who were not liked by enlisted men were referred to in the ranks as "ninety day wonders", or, "Officers and Gentlemen by an Act of Congress". We also had the saying that "there is only one Navy, the Queens Navy", which expressed the resentment of enlisted men for the U S Navy being so closely patterned after the British Navy.

Aviation School, Gunnery School--March/April, 1943

When I got to Aviation school at Memphis, I decided that "There were only two Navies, the Queen's Navy and Crump's Navy". Mr. Crump was the political boss at Memphis, and he had made his influence felt so strongly on the base at Millington, that one wondered if Millington was still part of the U S Navy. The commanding officer of the base was Captain. Norman R. Hitchcock, and probably he was the only officer on the base at that time who had been to sea. We did have some excellent enlisted instructors who had seen combat duty and they taught us a lot. The main thing we learned at Memphis was principals and operations of Radar. Up until this time, I hadn't even heard of Radar, much less to have seen a set. Radar was a highly classified subject at that time, as it was one of the Navy's secret weapons. In addition to radar, we learned ship and aircraft recognition; voice radio procedure; visual blinker reading; semaphore and more radio theory. Several of the fellows that were in school in NYC were with me at Aviation school at Memphis. We finished this school in March, 1943 and about all of us were sent on to Aerial Gunnery School in Hollywood, Florida.

The Gunnery School at Hollywood was at the edge of the city, which was also the edge of the everglades at that time. The Navy had taken over a boy's military academy and had cut the gunnery range out of the everglades. A small circular railroad track was laid for the purpose of pulling a target sleeve. We had thirty and fifty caliber machine gun mounts, stationed around the track in positions so that all of the firings were into the everglades located in the background. Each man would dip the tips of the projectiles on his belt of ammunition into a different color paint and when the target was hit, the paint color would show up on the target sleeve, thereby making it possible to score your marksmanship. We also fired many rounds with shotguns and shotguns on machine gun mounts, at clay pigeons dispensed by both skeet and trap methods. We fired many, many rounds day after day to perfect our marksmanship, motion tracking ability and to learn how to break down and clean and maintain our guns. After a months intensive training, we were all pretty fair shooters. One of the highlights of being at Hollywood was that I got to visit with brother Gene, who lived at Cape Canaveral and was a Border Patrolman patrolling the coast between Canaveral and Key West. At that time, the German U-boats were sinking many of our tankers and cargo ships along the Atlantic coast, many of them just short distances offshore. I had not seen Gene for about two years previously and we were able to get together two or three times when he would be working close to Hollywood.

Upon graduation from Aerial Gunnery School, it was normal procedure for the gunners to be sent up to Fort Lauderdale, where the Navy had an airfield that was used for operational training for new pilots and air crewmen. That was the place to go to learn squadron tactics and gain all kinds of flying experience. It just so happened that Uncle Sam was in dire need of air crewmen with the fleet, because of the heavy losses we had sustained from the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea. So, the men who were in the top ten percent of our graduating class from Hollywood were sent directly to San Diego, California to join the fleet. This included ten other men besides me, of which all of us had been together since we met at radio school in NY C. The list was as follows:

1. James M. Morris, age 21, from Derby, Virginia, who had worked as a machinist helper before enlisting.
2. James B. Gaffney, age 21, from Easton, Pa., who had been a musician and clerk in civilian life.
3. C. A. Fagan, age 18, from Dallas, Texas who was formerly a payroll clerk.
4 ' . Glen Froetschner, age 22 from Larned Kansas, a farmer and former clerk.
5. Richard F. Gentzkow, age 23, from Salem, Oregon, who had previously worked for Boeing Aircraft.
6. Ted M. Grudzien, age 21, a former college student, from Cleveland, Ohio.
7. James B. Katke, age 22, from Wanwatosa, Wisc., formerly a storekeeper for St. Paul and Pacific railroad.
8. Charles R. Paul from Piedmont, Missouri, who had worked for Montgomery Ward before enlistment.
9. James B. Steckf age 21, from Sibley, Iowa, a former student and football player for Morningside College.
10. Edward O'Conner, Jr., age 20, from El Cajon, California, formerly employed by Cudahy Packing Company.

Well, we spent six days on a troop train, four of them in Texas, between Hollywood, Florida and San Diego, California; A very tiring experience.

Training with Air Group Six--Spring, 1943

When we arrived in San Diego, we were all assigned to Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6). VT-6 was a part of Air Group Six that was just reforming. Airgroup Six had served on the old Hornet when she was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz and the new airgroup contained a contingency of the old airgroup, including our Airgroup Commander "Butch" O'Hare. Comdr. O'Hare had become an Ace and had received the Congressional Medal of Honor, while serving as a fighter pilot with Old VF-6 and flying the old F4F. When President Roosevelt personally awarded him the Congressional Medal, he asked him to give the specifications for a new fighter plane for the Navy and the F6F was built by Grumman according to those specifications and they were already being supplied to the fleet.

An Airgroup consisted of a full complement of men and planes that would operate off a carrier at a given time. It consisted of a Fighter Squadron (VF) containing seventy five fighter planes (F6F-s) and about one hundred fighter pilots, a Torpedo Squadron (VT) containing eighteen Torpedo Planes (TBF's or TBM's) and twenty four flight crews. A flight crew for the three place Torpedo Plane included the pilot, the turret gunner, who was usually an ordnanceman (AOM) and a radioman (ARM) that doubled as a tail gunner. And, a Bomber Squadron (VB) containing thirty six bomber planes (SB2C's) and about forty flight crews. A Bomber Plane crew was just two men, the pilot and turret gunner who was usually a radioman (ARM).

[note: this information from Merlin Dorfman--- A typical carrier air group contained 2 VF, 1 VS, 1 VB, 1 VT (18 each,total 90). The VS and VB aircraft were identical and both performed both missions (scouting and bombing) as required.

So, Air Group Six was reformed, and our Squadron (VT-6) Commander was Lt. Cmdr. Phillips, I was assigned to fly with our Radio Officer, Lt. Larue G. Buchanan who was from Syracuse, N.Y., and our turret gunner was Richard Miller, AOM 3C, from Springfield, Missouri. I will never forget the first flight that we made. I had never even been in an airplane before and the squadron made a glide bombing training flight which was a simulated attack on a sled that was towed by a PC boat off Point Loma. The pilots would drop hundred pound water bombs at the sled, after diving at a sixty degree angle from about 15,000 feet. The water bombs were dropped from around 3000 feet and when the pilots would pull out of their dives, the G's would nearly make you black out. I guess that I was too scared to get air sick on that first flight. I remember that I got cold on that flight. We only had been issued ear phones, and I didn't have on enough clothing, as the temperatures dropped drastically above six or seven thousand feet altitudes. The next day, they issued us all of our flight gear, so when we boarded the plane for takeoff, I had donned it all. Miller did not make that flight for some reason, so I climbed up into the turret to where I had a better view. Well, I guess that was a mistake, because the pilots decided to follow the leader in a tail chase. I thought that they did everything except an outside loop, and did I ever get airsick!! I just happened to have my white hat in my hip pocket and it made a very good sack in which to upchuck and throw overboard. That was the only time I ever got airsick and in retrospect that flight was mild, in comparison to some that I was to fly later. Nevertheless, I was happy to set foot on "terra-firma" after both my first flights. on one of our training missions at San Diego, a wing pulled off one of the torpedo planes and we lost a crew. I don't remember the names of the crew, as we did not keep logs or diaries at that time. I do remember that the radioman was from Helena, Arkansas and it was my first reminder that "except for the Grace of God, there go I". While we were in San Diego, I may have gone on liberty a couple of times. It was very similar to Norfolk, Virginia, in that you might as well stay on the base because if you went to town, all you could see was more sailors and more Navy.

Air Group Six went aboard the USS Prince Williams, a converted carrier in late May of 1943 to be transported to Pearl Harbor.

When we arrived at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, they sent us to the Navy Auxiliary Air Station at Puunene , Maui, where we were to fly training missions and to await the overhaul of the USS Enterprise, which was at Bremerton, Washington. We were there for four months but the training that we went through in that interval proved to be invaluable to us later on. One of the most spectacular air shows that I have ever seen took place over Puunene Air Field. Our Air Group Commander "Butch" O'Hare, combat tested the Navy's new F6F fighter plane against the F4U Cosair which was flown by [Marine] Pappy Boyington. The dogfight was scored with gun cameras and surely exposed the strengths and weaknesses of both aircrafts and pilots. I am sure that those films are still filed away in Naval Aviation records somewhere. It was two of the best pilots and the Navy's two best fighter planes of that day in time and they both were pushing to the peak of their abilities. It was something, to see!

[note from Merlin Dorfman: The story I heard about FDR and the new fighter was that FDR asked O'Hare what was needed in the Pacific and O'Hare said "something that will get upstairs faster." The F6F was already flying by that time, but not in production or in service. If you get to O'Hare Airport in Chicago, there is an F4F on display there with pictures and stories about Butch O'Hare.]

Ed's Note--Dates

You'll see that the recollections for the remainder of the war are detailed with more specific dates. As Dad notes, he was able to keep his own logbook from this point in his service, so he has more specific details regarding the missions and their dates.
I've been scanning Dad's logbook, and will try to link them to specific dates--but this might take a bit of time. Come back again if this is of interest to you.

The Enterprise--Nov-Dec. 1943--The Gilbert Islands

The Enterprise arrived on the scene in November and we went aboard her to join Task Force 58. Thanksgiving Day of 1943 was observed on the Enterprise as we were en route to the Gilbert Islands. Task Force 58 and Task Force 38 were exactly the same ships. When Admirals Mitcher and McCain were in, command it was task force 58, and when Admirals Halsey and Spruance were in command it was task force 38, Since they were alternating commands monthly, I'm sure the Japanese thought that we had two separate Task Forces.
[note from Merlin Dorfman: TF 58, TF 38 etc.: As he says, they were the same ships and crews. They were part of the Fifth Fleet and the Third Fleet respectively. When Spruance was Fleet commander, it was the Fifth Fleet; Halsey, the Third Fleet. Spruance had it from its formation, 4/26/44 (previously Central Pacific Force) through the invasions of the Gilberts, Marshalls, and Marianas, until about 10/1/44 before the invasion of the Philippines when Halsey took over. Spruance got it back before Iwo Jima (January 1945) and Halsey again about 5/15/44 during the battle for Okinawa and for the restof the war. The Fast Carrier force was Task Force 58 or 38 depending on the fleet number; the invasion fleet was TF 51. (Halsey never actually commanded an invasion during this period; for the Philippines, MacArthur had the invasion force and Halsey had only the combat force, so there was never a TF 31.) Mitscher was the commander of TF 58 and of TF 38 during Halsey's first command of the Third Fleet; during the second, McCain (grandfather of the Senator) commanded TF 38. (Subdivisions of Task Forces were called Task Groups, e.g., TG 58.1 would usually be four carriers and their escorts.) The Seventh Fleet was MacArthur's navy; the USS Pennsylvania during the period of the Gilberts and Marshalls invasions was the flagship of TF 51 (commanded by Kelly Turner), part of the Fifth Fleet.]

We started bombing and strafing the Gilberts in the last week of November, at least a week before the invasion. Air Group Six flew most of its missions on Makin Island and the air group records showed that I flew four bombing missions on that island. our bombing attacks would start at 16 or 18 thousand feet and our bombs were released at about 3000 feet. I should explain that the TBF was used as both a torpedo plane and as a bomber. When we were hitting shore installations, we used bombs and when we hit shipping, we carried torpedoes. The bomb bay had 12 bomb shackles and we could carry either a two thousand pound torpedo or a two thousand pound bomb or four 500 pound bombs or 2 one thousand pound bombs or 12 one hundred pound bombs. Of course, our loads varied with the targets that we were striking. After we would pound the islands by air for four or five days, the battleships and cruisers and destroyers would move in close enough to shell the shore with the big shipboard guns. I flew two missions with our skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Phillips. They were not considered combat missions because we flew over our own 7th fleet. The 7th fleet was composed of the older men of war of the US Navy and the transports and landing craft carrying the invasion forces. Since we had pounded the Gilberts for a week or longer before the invasion, all of the aerial photos that were taken by the Fifth Fleet ( Task Force 58) to assess the results of our bombing and shelling were bundled up for delivery to the 7th fleet, in order to assist the ground forces in the invasion of the islands. I guess the skipper asked me to assist him in the delivery of these photos, because I had had a lot of experience in pulling target sleeves for gunnery training while we were in training and the principal of delivery was essentially the same. We placed the photos in a section of fire hose five to ten feet long and used 200 feet of half inch rope and tied the fire hose in the center of the line. By tying a small sand bag to the leading end of the rope, we could dispense the rope out of the tail cone of the plane through a flare tube so that release could be made, in order to drop the pictures on another ship. of course, the pictures in the fire hose were sealed in by corking the ends of the fire hose. When we flew over the bow of the USS Pennsylvania, the flagship of the 7th fleet, we released the rope and the sailors aboard the Pensy retrieved the photos as we had made a perfect drop.

The skipper's turret gunner was Richard Boone (AOM 2c), who later became the actor of "Paladin" [Have Gun Will Travel] fame.

From the way we had pounded the islands, you would have thought that our landing forces could have walked ashore without any resistance. Not so, because the First Marine Division and one of our Carrier Aircraft Service Units that was making the landing, both sustained extremely heavy losses on D Day. The only mishap that our squadron suffered was the fact that one of our most seasoned pilots made the error of dropping his bombs on the wrong target one day while supporting the landing forces. He dropped into a tank trap that had already been occupied by our own forces and killed several of our own soldiers. I can't remember the pilot's name but the radioman was Gentzkow and the gunner's name was J. A. Green. The entire squadron felt bad about the loss of our own men and that pilot hurt more than anyone else. Oh yes, we did have one other mishap. James B Steck ARM 2 from Sibley, Iowa flew with Lt. McEnernie, an old SBD pilot who had previously flown with Lt. Buchanan. The tatk force would keep one torpedo plane in the air at all times during the daylight hours, flying anti-submarine patrol. These planes would be loaded with depth charges to be dropped on any enemy submarine that might be spotted. Lt. McEnernie and Steck and the gunner ( I can't recall his name) took off at daylight one morning and had flown the four hour anti-sub patrol and when they started to land back aboard, the LSO (landing signal officer) gave them a wave off and when the pilot hit the throttle, the engine died and they were forced to make a water landing. They all three cleared the plane and had inflated their lifejackets and were awaiting a destroyer to pick them up when the depth charges on the sinking torpedo plane exploded. The explosion did not hurt Lt. McEnernie or the gunner but it perforated Steck's lower intestinal tract. The destroyer picked up all of them and McEnernie and the gunner came back aboard the Enterprise but Steck was sent back to Pearl Harbor to the Navy Hospital. The Enterprise and Air Group Six returned to Pearl Harbor after the Gilberts had been secured in early December. I visited Steck at the Naval Hospital and the doctor's had already operated on him twice and he had lost half his body weight. For a two hundred pound football player that was a lot.

Dec. 1943-Feb. 1944---The Intrepid--The Marshall Islands, Truk

The first week we were back to Pearl, the entire squadron moved into the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a weeks R and R ( rest and recreation). The Navy had reserved the entire hotel for the duration and it was being used for R and R for Navy personnel returning from the combat zones. It was a nice week of easy living ( most of the time on the beach and in the beer garden) but after our week was up, we moved out to NAS, Barber's Point where we spent Christmas day of 1943. We learned that the USS Intrepid had just arrived at Ford Island with Air Group Eight aboard and that we were to exchange ships with them. New Years day caught us on the Intrepid en route to the Marshall Islands with the Enterprise and Air Group Eight, plus the Saratoga and the Essex and the rest of Task Force 38.
When we arrived at the Marshalls, it was pretty much a repeat of the invasion of the Gilberts. We bombed the islands for three consecutive days. Lt. Buchanan, Miller and I flew three missions on the islands of Roi and Namur and again the escort ships moved in close and shelled the shores. And, again, the skipper asked me to fly with him to drop the aerial photos on the Pennsylvania, the Flagship of the Seventh Fleet for the landing forces that were coming in for the invasion.
After the invasion landing was made, Task Force 38 pulled away and headed for Truk in the Caroline Islands, hoping to find and engage the Japanese Fleet. We knew that Truk was the Japanese equivalent of our Pearl Harbor, as it was their most heavily fortified fleet anchorage away from the mainland. When we arrived within striking range of Truk, it was February 16, 1944 and our crew was scheduled for the initial dawn attack on the island. Of the twelve torpedo planes from our air group, six planes would carry two thousand pound armor piercing bombs and six would carry incendiary bombs and fragment bombs. Our crew was loaded with incendiary and frag bombs and our target was gasoline storage tanks located at a sea plane base in Truk Lagoon. The incendiary bombs were about 30 inches long and 2 inches square. They were aluminum housed and contained phosphorous and other inflammable materials and they were in clusters of nine, with one cluster to the bomb shackle. The fragment bombs were about four inches in diameter and 18 inches long and were in clusters of 4 to the bomb shackle. They were impact bombs with fuses (impact fuses) in their nose. So we had 6 clusters of incendiary and 6 clusters of frag bombs on our 12 bomb shackles.

The idea was that the frag bombs would rupture gasoline storage tanks and the incendiary bombs would start a fire. Well, we took off at dawn and when we started our coordinated attack from about 18,000 feet, the air was full of anti-aircraft fire ( ack-ack flak) the likes of which I had never seen. Lt. Buchanan was kicking that TBF all over the sky in every evasive tactic that he had ever learned in order to avoid the flak. I thought Miller was going to melt the barrel off his .50 caliber turret gun and I was firing the .30 tailgun at every target that I could see, when I could keep my feet off the ceiling of the plane, When we finally finished our bombing run and were out of range from the shore guns, I think that it was one of the most disappointing things that I ever witnessed to see that our bomb bay doors were still partially open and that our bombs had not released. A cluster of the incendiary bombs had shaken loose from the shackle and had gotten crosswise preventing the bomb bay doors from opening more than about 12 inches. There was also one cluster of frag bombs that had shaken loose and they were rolling back and forth from one side of the bomb bay to the other. Since they were impact bombs, I'll never know what kept them from exploding. I guess, that even with all the bouncing around that we did there just wasn't enough room within the bomb bay to let them have enough impact to detonate them. When I informed Lt. Buchanan of our situation, he was able to work the switch for opening the bomb bay doors and was eventually able to right the position of the incendiary bomb so that we could jettison our load before we reached the ship to land back aboard. What a relief!! And, how lucky can you get? There were too many chances to get shot down by the enemy for us to be killing ourselves off by making avoidable mistakes. In fact, we lost a plane and crew on that same mission. Richard Gentzknow ARM 2, his gunner, J. A. Green and their pilot who had dropped his bombs in the wrong tank trap in the Gilberts were carrying 2000 pound armor piercing bomb and had made a, direct hit on their target, an ammunition depot and the concussion from their hit knocked them out of the sky, with no hopes for survival.

When we landed back aboard the Intrepid, reconnaissance had spotted two Japanese cruisers, some enemy destroyers and some cargo ships that were en route to Truk. We immediately reloaded with fish (2000 pound torpedoes) and took off to intercept this armada. It was the first real live torpedo run for our crew. Lt. Buchanan had flown bomber planes and had made only bombing missions up until this flight, but we had made many, many practice runs while we were at Maui. We did not get credit for a direct torpedo hit on this run. However, all of the Japanese ships were sunk and all planes and crews made it back to the ship. When we arrived back aboard, the Task Force was in general quarters, as the Japs had some planes airborne
in that vicinity. It was getting dark and Commander O'Hare decided that he, one torpedo plane (equipped with radar, to fly radio and navigation), and one F4U Marine Night Fighter plane whi6b we had taken aboard, would take off on the first night fighter mission ever flown off a carrier. The plan was for the 2 fighters to fly wing on the torpedo plane, using the radar in both the TBF and the F4U to help find and engage the enemy planes that were in flight. They did engage the enemy and shot down all but one of them. We don’t know how it happened, but Commander O'Hare was lost in the process, and did not return to land aboard with the TBF and the F4U.

Loading a 2K lb. bomb on an Avenger TBF--Jan. 27, 1944 on the Intrepid

With only one enemy plane in flight, the Intrepid set condition one and let all of the pilots and crewmen that were scheduled to fly the dawn hop the next morning, go ahead and retire for the night. When we were in General Quarters, all pilots and aircrewmen had to stay at their battle stations, which was the ready room, located just under the flight deck.

But the aircrewmen sleeping quarters were located on the first deck, just under the hangar deck and under condition one, the hatches were closed, but you could enter the compartments below by crawling through a porthole in the hatch. The Chief's (CPO) quarters were located just below the aircrewmen quarters on the second deck. We had 3-decker bunks and I slept in a middle bunk, I remember that night. We had just retired and I was sleeping on my stomach, with my right hand holding the bunk's suspension chain, just almost asleep. All of a sudden, my butt hit the bunk above me, and I think I hit the floor on my feet as I came down. Water was splashing into our compartment through the open ports going down to the chief's quarters. About 25 of us had to single file up the ladder and climb through the port to the hangar deck to escape. The first deck was just at the water line, so it did not immediately fill and we all had ample time to escape before it became half full of water. It all happened very fast but no one had to be told that we had been torpedoed. The torpedo had torn out 3 full compartments and had killed 6 chief petty officers, who were sleeping in the compartment just below us. There was a .40 millimeter machine gun mount located on the catwalk on the starboard side, which was manned by six men and the concussion of the torpedo had clipped it off, in its entirety. So there were six gunners that were also missing. In addition to the three compartments that were knocked out, the ships rudder had been knocked off and the only way the ship could be steered was by varying the speed of the screws on either side. [note: this account is supported at the Intrepid web site] We flew some search missions looking for the ship's company gunners the next day, but no trace of any of them was ever sighted. About noon the next day, we headed back to Pearl Harbor, flying only anti-sub patrols as we were traveling alone. The date was February 17, 1944 and when we arrived at Pearl, the Intrepid went into dry dock for repair and Air Group Six was loaded on a Jeep Carrier and shipped back to Alameda, California.

A Well-Deserved Leave--March, 1944

We all received a 30 days leave of absence when we arrived at Alameda and it surely was good to be headed back to Arkansas. I rode the train to Kansas City, Missouri and the bus from there on into Harrison.

I remember how extremely cold it was in March, 1944 in Kansas City. I didn't have a winter pea coat and the flight jacket that I did have was considered out of uniform by the Shore Patrol. So, I had to shiver while waiting on the bus to be loaded. There was standing room only on the bus until we got to Neosho, Missouri and I got to where I could nearly go to sleep hanging on to a strap that was fixed for standing passengers. Anyway, it surely was nice to get home and to sop up some of Mom's home cooking.

Frank Jones was about the only one of my contemporaries that was in Harrison at that time. He was 4F because of an arm deformity and he was teaching in Harrison High School as the Band Director. We had been in the Prince Albert Club together in high school and he was now the sponsor, so he invited me to go with the Club on a hay ride and picnic to Diamond Cave. I dated Virginia Holmes who was a senior and whose father had been my teacher in junior high. We had a good time on the hay ride and there was a roller rink at Diamond Cave then and we enjoyed skating and going through the cave. There was nothing else to do but go to the movies but the serenity of these hills made a welcome interlude.

Regrouping in the States--1944--Air Group Seventeen

I had to return to Alameda, after my 30 day leave and when I arrived, they assigned me to VT-17, as Air Group Seventeen was just reforming. James Berryhill ARM2C and I were the only airmen from Air Group Six to be assigned to new squadrons, VT-6 but eventually we drifted apart, because after they regrouped, they were sent up to Santa Rosa for training, and after we regrouped, we went down to Monterey for training. Berryhill and I were both ARM2Cs and we immediately began studying for our ARM1C examinations. We passed them and were promoted before we left Alameda for Monterey for training. Berryhill was from Sheffield, Alabama and was probably the smallest aircrewman in the entire fleet. His motto was "It isn't the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." And what he lacked in stature, he made up for in fortitude. He wasn't afraid of anything. Well, my new pilot was Lt. George Hill and he was from West Concord, Massachusetts and our turret gunner was Norman Jensen from Oak Park, Illinois. Berryhill's new pilot was Lt. Charles Livengood and their turret gunner was Ted Keffer. Before Lt. Hill arrived on the scene, I flew a training flight or two with Lt. Steven Sullivan. The Air Group Seventeen Commander was Lt. Cmdr Conrad and VT-17 Squadron Commander was Lt. Cmdr. William M. Romberger.

Cmdr. Romberger allowed all flight personnel to maintain their own log books, so I have records of all my flights with VT-17. The only way I could ever determine my flight time in VT-6 would be to find Lt. Larue G. Buchanan's flight log and see what missions he flew from May 15, 1943 to March 3, 1944. I'm sure that it would show that we flew over 500 hours for both training and combat missions and that we probably made over 50 carrier launches and landings. The training missions for both squadrons would pretty well parallel each other.

Air Group Seventeen spent the month of May becoming organized at Alameda, and my flight log shows that I flew twenty two and one half hours training flights that month. One of the flights was in an SNJ trainer and Lt. Hill let me take the controls in the back seat, the first and only time that I had the controls of a plane while I was in the Navy. You see, the TBF did not have any dual controls and there was no way that either the radioman or the gunner could get to the pilot's cockpit from the turret or the radio compartment, while the plane was in flight. Should anything have happened to the pilot, the only chance for survival for the radioman or gunner would have been to parachute to safety, if possible. It was always understood that if something should happen to the plane and if it were at all possible, the pilot would make the best water landing he could because everyone's chance for survival was better that way than trying to bail out because you had a chance of retrieving the life raft before the plane would sink.

During the month of June, I logged 56.8 hours of training flights, and one of them I will never forget. One morning when it was too foggy for the squadron to fly simulated attack tactics, Lt. Hill, Jensen and I decided to make a radar navigation flight and we took off and headed down the coast, flying just over the overcast at about 3000 feet. I had my head buried in the radar, giving Lt. Hill distances to shore off our port wing (90 degrees port) and we were staying about a couple of miles offshore. When we were nearly to San Louis Obispo, Lt. Hill asked if there was any smoke in the radio compartment and when I pulled my head out of the radio visor (a rubber visor fitted over the radar screen to keep the light out) the plane was full of smoke. Lt. Hill turned around and headed for home and told Jensen to get into the radio compartment with me (one crawled into the turret from the radio compartment) and for us to put our parachutes on and be ready to bail out if he gave the order. He started gaining all the altitude that he could and said that he was slowly losing oil pressure. The first call I made to the control tower at the base, I could not get a response but I continued calling and finally the tower traffic controller answered me. Lt. Hill told him our situation and that we would be coming over Carmel Mountain and that we would make a down wind landing if we could make it. By the time we reached the Monterey Airfield, they had out the ambulance, the fire truck and the rescue squad all waiting for us. The visibility was still poor but better than it was when we took off and someone that lived on Carmel Mountain told Lt. Hill later that we barely cleared it. But we did make the down wind landing all right and the mechanics found that we had returned with a cracked piston. They said that it was a wonder that the engine did not freeze up and that we were lucky to have made it back in with it. That was one time that I do not believe "that skill and science was prevailing over ignorance and superstition". Somebody upstairs was helping us!!

There were other non-flying events that I remember from Monterey. Lt. Hill had a girl friend that lived in Carmel and he spent a good part of his liberties there and the officers had their club on the base. The enlisted men had liberty every other night and it was customary for all the aircrewmen to congregate at one local bar, since we had no club quarters on the base. In Monterey, we all started meeting at a place called "My Attic" and even if you had something else to do on liberty, you would usually check by the "Attic" before you headed back to the base. The base was about a mile inland from downtown Monterey and we usually walked to and from the base, if we couldn't hitch a ride. Fort Ord was on the coast close by and there was always lots of soldiers on liberty in town, The Coast Guard operated a couple of PC boats around in the bay and they would pull the sleds with the PC boats that we used for targets in our simulated torpedo runs and bombing attacks. We would carry hundred pound water filled bombs for both those training tactics and the planes were equipped with gun cameras to show the effectiveness of the training attacks. One afternoon, Berryhil.1 and I had liberty and we ended up being the only two aircrewmen in the "Attic" along with several soldiers from Fort Ord and four or five Coast Guardsmen off the PC boats, I tried to strike up a conversation with the Coast Guard boys and was talking about our training tactics on the sleds that they were pulling in the bay for us. Berryhill said something to one of them, and I really think that he meant it in jest, about their service in “Houligan’s Navy.” The Coast Guardsman, took his remark to heart and I had to do a lot of fast talking to convince them that I was a lover and not a fighter. And we were finally able to get out of there without having a gang fight. Berryhill was so small that most soldiers And marines would just ignore him, but he seemed to carry a chip on his shoulder and often did not use discretion as the better part of valor when shooting off his mouth.

Oh yes! Our quarters at NAAS Monterey were temporary army barracks and we had double-decker bunks on either side, with a big aisle down the middle. One night about midnight, the entire barracks was awakened to the loud cry of "Hi Ho, Silver - Away!" and to our amazement, here are two sailors riding down the aisle on a snow white mule, The sailors were in their dress blues, and to top things off, the, mule decided to make a deposit on the wooden floor in the center of the barracks, when Keffer and Colombini dismounted, it looked as if all of the hair off the mule's back was deposited on their blue uniforms. The mule was shedding, to say the least. The boys were walking home from the "Attic" and there was a ten acre tract just between the base and Monterey that housed a veterinarian's clinic, so the boys had led the mule out of this pasture and proceeded to ride him to the base. When the security guard stopped them at the gate and told them that they could not bring the donkey on the base, they asked him "Why not? You let the officers drive their vehicles on and off the base and this happens to be our mode of transportation". They persuaded him to let them ride through and that was so good, they proceeded to ride right on into the barracks. I thought the Skipper would call them to "Captain's Mast" the next day but he apparently got a charge out of it, for all the boys had to do was return the mule.

By the middle of July, 1944, we had finished our gunnery, glide bombing and torpedo run tactics at Monterey and we were moved on up to NAAS Vernalis, an auxiliary Air Station near Modesto for our training in night flying, Between the 15th of July and August 31st, I flew 37 hours of night time flying, All with Lt. Hill and Jensen. We went into Modesto for liberty a few times, but since we were flying at night and it was so hot in the daytime, we didn't spend much time on liberty, We had to get our sleep in the mornings, as the barracks were cooled by fans and humidifiers only. There Are a few-things that I remember from. Vernalis, We lost a fighter plane and pilot one night when we were making night field carrier landing practices, The pilot came in too low and hit a power line at the end of the landing strip. Another night when we were aloft, there was a terrific explosion on the horizon toward San Francisco. We were several miles inland from San Francisco, but we learned on the news that there had been an accident at an ammunition depot at Port Chicago, near San Francisco.

We spent the month of September, 1944 at NAS Alameda, mostly for the purpose of having rocket launchers mounted under the wings of our planes and flying rocket training missions. of the 27 hours that I flew in September about 6 hours was for rocket training. We spent most of October at NAAS Arcata, California, up near the Oregon border, for the purpose of rocket training but the weather was so bad most of the time that we didn't get in too much flying time. It was extremely foggy and we spent a lot of time in the local pubs drinking beer with the loggers. The timber and lumber industries are the big thing in that part of the state.

On the 27th of the month, we had returned to Alameda and were making landing and launches off the USS Ranger, which had just come from the Atlantic to California. The Watkins brothers were no longer aboard her, and my concept of her size had changed dramatically, since I had landed on much larger carriers. She looked mighty small when you were coming in for a. landing aboard her. It was amazing what a difference the approach made, in just two short years. After three days aboard the Ranger, all our squadron had made enough launches and landings to make the squadron fully qualified. for carrier duty,

Back to Sea--Guam--To Pearl on the Hollandia--Nov. Dec,1944

We spent the first twelve days of November en route to Pearl Harbor on the Hollandia. The Hollandia was a jeep carrier (a flight deck on a cargo hull) that was used to transport air groups. When we arrived at Honolulu, they sent the air group to NAS Hilo, where we spent a month in operational training. On December 10th, the entire air group was flying off the Saratoga in training flights around Hawaii. We left Hilo and went aboard the USS Nassau at Ford Island to be transported to Guam. We -spent Christmas aboard the Nassau and were entertained, among others, by one of our pilots, Ens. Hooton, who had played with Harry James band before entering the service, Our MC for the Christmas, program was Charlie Farrell, an old movie actor who was a personnel officer in the air group. It seemed that we always had plenty of talent willing to perform, who would put on a good show for any occasion. I think I forgot to mention that when I was in VT-6, we had an aircrewman by the name of Richard Boone AOM2C, who was Commander Phillips turret gunner that I flew a couple of missions with, to deliver the aerial photographs to the Pensy, the flagship of the 7th Fleet. He later became the renowned actor of screen and television, playing the role of "Paladin" [Have Gun Will Travel]. At any rate, we always had some characters that could put on a show and would entertain in their spare time.

We dropped anchor off Guam on December 28th and were taken to the Air Field at Agana. Guam had been invaded months earlier, but there were still. many Japs that had not surrendered, camping out in the woods on the north and south end of the island. Some of our Airdales would go in bunches into the woods and scare the Japs out of their camps in order to raid the camps for souvenirs. I may have lacked "guts" but the only souvenir wanted to take home was - me.

One day, when I was eating in the chow hall, I looked across the table, and there sat Eugene "Pinhead" Arnold from Harrison, Arkansas. He was in the Army Signal Corps and was temporarily stationed on Guam. It was a rare occasion to run into anyone from home and we got to visit each other for about a month. I forgot to mention that another time when I was with VT-6 and we were at Ford Island, I had heard that Travis Reddoch was with the Red Cross at Hickham Field, so I went over and visited with her once. She was meeting the planes that were bringing back the wounded soldiers and marines from Guadalcanal, at the time, The Red Cross nurses would take the wounded men off the planes and transport them to the hospitals. Another person from home that I saw later was Tommy Gray, who was a member of the band aboard the Battleship USS Indiana. When we:-Were in Ulithi, I went aboard his ship and visited with him. The only other people that I ever saw from home, were in places within the states.

During the time that we were on Guam, we would have occasional air raids. I say, air raids, although we never did actually have any enemy planes to come within sight. Two or three times there would be an enemy plane (probably a patrol plane) that would appear on radar, and the air raid alarm would sound. When this happened, everyone at Agana Air Field would go to a strip about 15 feet wide, located on the edge of a bluff overlooking the ocean, a sheer drop of over a hundred feet. This strip of land was at the edge of the air field and a huge windrow of trees and rocks that had been cleared away with bulldozers by the CB's, when the air strip was made, left protection if a bomb were to hit the air strip.

Also, if a bomb fell short of the air strip, it would have fallen in the ocean, or exploded somewhere down the bluff, so a bomb would have had to make a direct hit on the narrow strip of land, between the air strip and the bluff, to have done any damage to personnel. I know it would have been the safest place on the island, if it were ever under actual attack.

Jan.-March, 1945--The Hornet--Attacking the Japanese Mainland

My flight log shows that our crew flew 6 flights between the 13th and 26th of January, while we were on Guam. Two of these flights were landings and launches on the Kasaan Bay and on the 26th we went aboard the Kasaan Bay to be transported to the fleet anchorage at Ulithi, where we were to go aboard the USS Hornet. We boarded the Hornet February lst, 1945 and spent ten days around Ulithi in practice operations [note: this was the 8th USS Hornet, CV-12, orginally to be the Kearsarge before the previous Hornet was sunk in 1942 ].

On February 10th, 1945, Task Force 58.1 with Air Group Seventeen aboard the Hornet, set sail for the Japanese Homeland. We reached striking distance of Tokyo on February 16, 1945, a year to the day from my last combat mission at Truk, where the Intrepid had been torpedoed.

This was the first full carrier aircraft attack on the Japanese Mainland, although General Doolittle had led an attack of Army B-25 planes that were launched from carriers prior to this. Those planes could not land back aboard and had to land somewhere in the China-Burma-India territory. During the year’s time that I had been away from, combat, there had been a lot of hard fighting in the Pacific. I was glad that I had missed the invasions of Siapan and Tinian, Guam, Formosa and the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. I had tasted enough of combat during the invasions of the Gilberts and the Marshalls to know that we still had plenty of hard fighting ahead of us in the months ahead.

Our first target over the Japanese homeland was to be Youkasuka Naval Base in Tokyo Harbor and some of the Air Group were to hit Hammamatsu Air Field on Hachijo Shima. When we approached Yokasuka, there was a heavy overcast and since our targets were obscured, we were diverted in flight to Toyohashi Air Field. The anti-aircraft fire over Toyohashi was relatively light and all our planes returned to the ship from the target. The only mishap of the day was that LT. McCubbins spun in on the take-off and although we lost the torpedo plane, all the crew were picked up safely by one of our destroyers. From February 18th to the 22nd, we were flying air support for the invasion of Iwo Jima in the Bonins. My log book shows that I flew nearly five hours and that we made three strikes on February 20th Lt. Traxler and his crewmen, Colp and Klunder were shot down over Iwo but were able to make a water landing and were picked up by one of our destroyers. During the month of February, I logged 24 hours flight time, with nearly ten hours on two combat missions.

On March l, 1945, our Task Group encountered some enemy shipping at Miyako Shima in the Nansie Shotos, and we flew our first torpedo mission for VT-17. There were only three cargo ships and one destroyer and our squadron was credited with two of the cargo ships and the destroyer. Lt. Durkin, Lt. Sullivan and Lt. Nielson were all credited with torpedo hits. My pilot, Lt. Hill, didn't get a hit on this one, but not every torpedo that is dropped hits a target, though every plane in the attack diverts its portion of anti-aircraft fire.

I don't know what we were doing between March lst and 15th, unless we were refueling and taking on supplies. I logged a bombing flight on the 15th, but it isn't marked a combat mission so apparently it was a practice mission. The next combat mission that I logged was March, 18, and we hit Kanoya Air Field on the southern tip of Kyushu. The Task Force was in General Quarters all day and as we were getting ready to launch for Kanoya, with all planes fully loaded with bombs and fuel, two Kamikazes dropped out of a cloud and were shot down by our twenty and forty millimeter guns. Even though they burst into flames, they kept coming at us and barely missed our carrier. One of them hit so close that the fantail of the ship swept through the flames the enemy plane left on the water. We heard later that day that all of our ships were not so lucky. The USS Franklin, in another Task Group of the Task Force, was hit under similar circumstances. The loss of planes, personnel and the damage to the ship was extremely great. They estimated that about 40% of the Air Group and ships company personnel were wiped out by that one Kamakazi hit., The Kamakazes liked to die for their country and we liked to make them happy, but those one-way missions that they flew, could be quite devastating. The Franklin was able to make it back to Pearl Harbor but it's a wonder she didn't sink.

On March l9th, our Squadron and Air Group made a strike on Kure Naval Base, and some shipping in the East China Sea. My crew did not fly on this mission, but it was undoubtedly one of the hottest missions that was flown by the Task Force. We lost Lt (J.G.) Westmoreland, his gunner Harold West and his Radioman, Fred Cropp. Lt. Tew's plane was badly hit by a five inch shell that demolished his windshield and canopy. His face was badly lacerated, but he was able to return to the ship and land aboard. The attack on Kure inflicted severe damage on three battleships, four light cruisers and a destroyer. Also, several cargo ships and freighters were heavily damaged.

My log book showed that we flew a four hour search mission, looking for Lt. Westmoreland but we found no trace of them.

On March 23rd, we flew a three hour mission, a bombing strike, on Tokashiki Shima and the next day a five and one half hour torpedo run on a Japanese convoy in the East China Sea. The convoy consisted of nine ships and we sunk all of them. Lt. Hill was credited with a torpedo hit on the largest cargo ship and Lt. Livengood was credited with sinking the destroyer. We weren't without loss, however, as Ens. Hooten, his gunner, Frank Keener, and his radioman, Robert Warren failed to return. Another one of our pilots, Russell Miller had to make a water landing, due to engine failure on the way to the target. They made their life raft, but our search for them the next day failed to find them. They spent 11 days on the raft and were finally located and picked up by one of the Navy's Patrol Planes (PBY) and flown to the hospital at Guam. Nielson and Young returned to the Hornet to fly again but Miller had died on the raft.

On March 25th, we were making strikes on Okinawa. The first strike was a daylight attack on Naha, the Capital of Okinawa, It was the one and only high level bombing mission that we ever flew. The Skipper's plane was equipped with a Norden Boinbsight and we all flew a tight wing on him, with orders to drop at the same time that he made his drop. We flew at about 20,000 feet and were carrying 2000 pound bombs. The antiaircraft fire was the heaviest that I had seen since Truk when I was with VT-6. Unlike our glide bombing attacks, where our pilots could fly evasive tactics, we had to fly the same altitude and direction and at constant speed. This permitted the ground gunners to effectively track us. We were lucky that we did not lose any planes on this strike. We did lose a plane on the way to the target, however. Lt. Livengood and James Berryhill, his radioman and Ted Keffer his gunner had to make a water landing due to engine failure. They were able to make their raft and were picked up by one of our destroyers with no injury to any of the crew.

On March 28th we were still flying bombing strikes on Okinawa. I flew one 4 hour mission that morning and when we landed back aboard, the Hornet had received word from reconnaissance that the Japanese Fleet had been sighted in the East China Sea. So, we loaded with torpedoes, and our Air Group started searching in the East China Sea, around Kyushu and Amani O Shima. All we could find were some Sampans and one Jap destroyer escort, all of which were sunk. We went loaded for bear but only found a sparrow. A 600 mile search and five hours of flying time. Oh well! You can't win them all. Nine hours of flying time and two combat missions in one day made for the longest day of flying that I had ever experienced.

April, 1945--Okinawa--Sinking the Yamato--Kikai Shima

The Yamato exploding

Although the squadron continued glide bombing attacks on Okinawa prior to the invasion and support attacks after the invasion of April 1, 1945, 1 did not fly another mission until April 2nd. On that date, we flew three and one half hours on a strike against Japanese shipping that was anchored in Kakeroma Shima and Amami O Shima in the Nansie Shotos. All ships in the harbors were hit. The anti-aircraft fire was relatively light, and all planes returned to the ship safely.

On April 3rd, we were making bombing attacks against Miyako Shima, Nansie Shotos. The Task Force was under attack from Kamakazes most of the afternoon and evening. Most of these suicide planes were being launched from Kanoya Air Field on the southern tip of Kyushu and we seemed to make more attacks there than anywhere else, in order to keep the air strip torn up to prevent their launchings. We were refueling and taking on mail and supplies on April 4th, so there was no flying activity.

My log book shows that we flew a three hour bombing mi6sion against shore installations on Kikai Shima on April 5th, 1945. The anti-aircraft fire was moderate to heavy. Two fighter planes were shot down but the pilots made water landings and were picked up by our destroyers. It was always our destroyer's missions to pick up any survivors from downed planes, as they were faster and could get to the scene so much more quickly. Water landings were much more preferable to bailing out in a parachute, because your chances of survival were so much greater if you could retrieve the life raft which was stored in a compartment just above the wing of the plane.

On April 6th, there were only interception flights by the fighter planes to pick up the hacki-sacki drivers who were flying their one way missions to Okinawa. The Task Force sat between Okinawa and the Japanese Mainland for the sole purpose of intercepting any forces that the Japanese might send down. Of course, they were sending down everything that they could muster. Our fighter planes alone (VF-17) were knocking out from 25 to 50 enemy planes a day but invariably some of them would filter through the fighter screen and would have to be shot down by the shipboard gunners. On this date, the shipboard gunners were credited with 5 Kamakazes and as usual, our squadron bagged their share.

The Hornet Under Attack--April 1945

April 7th, 1945 was the date we finished off most of what was left of the Japanese Fleet, At 9:50 A.M., we received word from recon that their fleet was spotted at 123.10 Long., and 30-40 Lat., in the East China Sea headed for Okinawa. So, we loaded our fish (torpedoes) and took off on a five hour mission to engage the enemy. Commander Conrad's Air Group Seventeen, off the USS Hornet, was the first to arrive on the scene. There was one battleship (later confirmed to be the Yamato), one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, and seven destroyers. We peeled off into our attack from 20,000 feet, and, in no other attack had I seen the likes of the antiaircraft fire that we encountered on this mission. Our coordinated attacks had the torpedo planes converging from all angles at 100 feet altitudes, the bombers (SB2C's) diving in from 60 to 80 degrees from all angles and the fighters (F6F's) coming in strafing from all directions and all degrees of descent. The torpedo planes would release the fish at about 2000 yards from the target and the bombers would release their two thousand pound Armor Piercing Bombs from 2000 feet altitude and, of course, the fighters would strafe at any distance they deemed effective. Of course, every aircrewman was firing his guns all of the time they were in range of the target. Our Air Group was credited with 3 torpedo hits and three bomb hits on the Yamato alone and there was one Terutsuki class destroyer that was credited to one of VT-17 pilots, So, out of 8 torpedo hits and eleven bomb hits on the Yamato, Air Group Seventeen had scored a good percentage of what it took to sink her. After we were out of shipboard gun range and were rendezvousing, to fly back to the Hornet, we noticed that the Yamato was firing her 18.1 inch guns into the water, trying to knock out the oncoming torpedo planes that were attacking her, by putting up a wall of water from the explosions of the projectiles.

The Yamato was the largest battleship afloat up until that time but that attack marked her last day afloat. When we landed back aboard the Hornet, 8 of our 13 torpedo planes had been hit by enemy gunfire. We had a hole in the starboard wing of our plane just outside the tire well, that was large enough to stuff a football through. It was probably caused by a 20 MM projectile. I've forgotten whose plane it was, but one of the 8 planes that was hit nearly lost its horizontal tail plane. The hole in it was so large that someone took a picture of all three crewmen standing inside the hole. It was a wonder they could have even landed it back aboard. Shortly after we landed back aboard, our shipboard gunners knocked down two twin engine enemy bombers that dropped down on us from out of the clouds. They came so close to us that Admiral Jocko Clark, the Hornet's Skipper, cited the shipboard gunners on the spot for their marksmanship and bravery. As usual, we had to pay the price for success on our sinking of the Yamato. Ens. Leo O'Brien, his radioman, Opheim and his gunner, Ricketson failed to return from the mission.

My notes show that on April 12th, our Fighter Squadron alone shot down 32 enemy planes and that the task force had shot down 3 that filtered through the fighter screen. We were in General Quarters for four days aboard ship and the Japs were sending out everything they could get airborne and our fighter planes were knocking them down like flies. We had to have the hottest fighter squadron in the fleet because they had bagged 271 enemy planes in the two and one half months. When you consider that there were at least eight other air groups operating in the-task force, there would have to have been over 1000 enemy planes shot down by the entire group.

My flight log shows that we continued to fly air support missions for the invasion forces on Okinawa. I flew a two and one half hour mission on the 19th as our ground forces were-making a big push on the southern end of Okinawa and a new landing was in progress. We were dropping 2000 pound Armor Piercing (Daisy Cutters) and I had made a notation that the anti-aircraft fire had diminished to the extent that it felt like we were flying "milk runs" as compared to hitting the Jap Fleet.

On April 20th, we flew a three hour combat mission against shore installations on Kikai Shima. All planes returned safely but the Task Force was in General Quarters all day, although the Japanese never came on in for an attack. We did not fly any bombing attacks on the 21st but our fighter planes (F6F's) were flying patrols and the ta8k force was sitting only eight miles off shore at Minavri Diato and our destroyers were shelling the beach with their five inch turrets.

On April 22nd, we were refueling and taking on mail and on the 23rd, we started flying air support missions again to the forces on Okinawa. These were low level runs and we were releasing our bombs around 600 feet. My log book shows that I flew 2 of these low level missions, one on the 23rd and one on the 27th.

On April 28th, we set sail for Ulithi to the fleet anchorage. While en route, our crew and our wingman, Lt. Cooke flew a tow sleeve mission for the shipboard gunners target practice. We pulled the sleeves attached to the end of a 500 foot cable, which was reeled out through the flair tube, from the tail section of the radio compartment. This target practicing was limited to the 20 and 40 Millimeter guns, but you still had to have lots of faith in the shipboard gunners, even though the target was 500 feet aft. This was the second time we had pulled target for the task force, but what made this flight different was the fact that after the firing was over and we had reeled in our target, we started to rendezvous with Lt. Cooke in order to land back aboard. What we did not know was that Lt. Cooke's target had been shot away and that the radioman, Robert Frieze had not yet finished reeling in his tow cable. Lt. Hill caught the cable with his starboard wing, and had Frieze not have seen what was happening, and had not severed the cable with a pair of cutters, the cable would have cut the wing of the plane off entirely. When we landed back aboard, examination showed that the cable had cut within six inches of the main spar of the wing. Had the main spar been severed, we would have been another casualty. This happened to be one of the many incidents that proved to me that you did not have to be on a combat mission to get killed out there, as many of our casualties were not combat related and we lost some of the most experienced and best trained Airmen in the outfit for reasons that could not be explained.

May, 1945--Okinawa, Kyushu, Shikoku, Tokuno Shima,

On May 10th, we flew a four hour practice gunnery mission, (our aerial gunners shooting at tow sleeves). And on May 12th, I logged a three and one half hour support mission to the ground forces on Okinawa.

May 13th, we flew a four hour bombing mission on Kanoya Air Field at Kyushu and part of our Air Group hit Izumi and Saeki sea plane bases at the same time we were hitting Kanoya. On this mission, we lost our Executive Officer, Lt. Durkin and his Radioman, T. J. Tindall and his turret gunner, Cecil Stewart. They were forced to land at Kanoya, because their engine had been hit. I did learn after the war was over and when I was in college at the University that this crew was in a prison camp with Bill Dean Holt, a boy from home, who had been an Army Air Corps pilot and was also shot down and taken prisoner by the Japanese.

The Task Force was always in General Quarters and we could not tear up the Japanese Air Strips fast enough to keep them from launching their suicide planes. We kept most of them from filtering through to the landing fleet but I am sure a few of them filtered through to them as they did to us. Those boys (Kamikazes) that don't have any regard for their own lives, make about as formidable opponents as you could ever run up against.

On May 14th, we flew two four hour bombing missions. Our first target was Kumamota, an industrial center on Kyushu; and the, second target was Matsuyamo Air field on, Shikoku. I had made a notation, that we had flown over the Inland Sea and that it had given me the impression of what I had always pictured the Fjords of Norway to look like. Eight hours of flying in one day would have been enough had we not made two bombing attacks. When we returned, the Task Force had shot down 3 enemy planes and our fighter squadron had bagged a few over Kanoya. It seemed that we were never without losses. Lt. Comdr. Nicholson (no relation) from Indiana, who was the Skipper of the Fighter Squadron (VF-17) was shot down on the last hop over Kanoya Air Field.

On the 15th and. 16th, we were refueling, and the Task Force was conducting gunnery practices. We resumed Air Support Missions to Okinawa and I flew a three and one half hour mission over Okinawa on the 17th. On the 18th and 19th, we were refuelling again and the Task Force was having gunnery practice.

I know it seems like we spent a lot of time refuelling but you have to understand, the Task Force was split into 4 different Task Groups. Each group consisted of 2 Air Craft Carriers, 2 Battleships, 2 heavy cruisers and 4 Fletcher Class Destroyers. Our group, for instance, (Task Group 58.0) included our ship the Hornet, another Essex Class Carrier the USS Bennington, the USS Indiana, two battleships and the Cruisers, Pittsburg and Birmingham and I don't know the specific names of the Fletcher Class Destroyers. But in addition to these ships, each Carrier had to take on enough aviation fuel for supplying over 100 airplanes. So the tankers had to be along side once and maybe twice a week. We didn't mind taking on fuel because if we ever received any mail, it came with the tankers.

On May 20th, we flew another tow target mission for the Task Group and on the 20th, we logged a four hour bombing mission on Tokuno Shima. The weather was so bad that we had to release our bombs on Tokuno Shima by radar. I doubt if the damage from the bombing was very successful, but it was better than either jettisoning them at sea or carrying them back aboard ship. At least they fell on enemy soil.

On the 22nd, our crew did not fly the mission but our Squadron encountered and sunk three light cargo ships in the same area (Tokuno Shima).

From May 23rd until the 1st of June, we flew Air Support missions for the invasion forces on Okinawa. Our Fighter and Bomber planes were actually doing more flying during this time than we were; because more strafing sweeps and intercepting flights were needed, most of the time. But on June 2nd and 3rd, the heavy rains had bogged down our ground forces that were fighting around Suri and Yonabaru and our forces were running out of food, ammunition and water. So we flew to Kadena Air Field near Naha, which had already been secured by our forces and loaded our bomb-bays with food, water and ammunition which were rigged to parachutes. The parachutes were color coded with red for ammunition, yellow for food and blue for water. We would fly low level over the front lines (about 500 feet) and drop these supplies to them. So when the trucks couldn't get the supplies to them by land, we were able to fly them in. We were flying so low that one of our planes was shot down by mortar fire. However, they were able to land behind our lines and were returned to the squadron later. It took about an hour to make a round trip to the front line from Madena and we (our crew) made six trips. On each load, we would carry from 1200 to 2000 pounds of supplies.