The following is a letter from my Dad to a fellow named “Billy” who served with my Dad on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet in WWII. Billy was putting together a “magazine” for an upcoming Hornet reunion in 2001 and had asked my Dad and others to recount their most memorable experience while serving aboard the Hornet. The following is my Dad’s response.
Clarifying info that may help you while reading…
Panay is an island in the Phillipines. Ilailo is in the far south of Panay and Bacolad Airfield on Negros Island is SouthEast of Ilailo. If interested you can use Google Maps to see exactly where these places are in the Phillipines.
A later duty assignment for my father was to Melbourne, FL (as mentioned in the letter). That assignment was as an instructor teaching new Aviators fighter combat tactics (classroom and in the air). He mentions the assignment but not what the assignment was for.
Also, I have a copy of all of his flight logs. At the end of this post is a photo of the page in his flight log for the incident detailed in the letter. See the line entry for Sept. 13, 1944.
*************** Letter Starts Just Below ************************
May 5, 2001
I received your letter on or about April 17 but could not answer it before now because of various events involving several eye operations and stroke recovery. I can now see much better due to two new eye lenses because of cataracts. Without boring you with too much detail, in brief I had a bad year beginning the first of July 2000 when I had two strokes which affected my speech and strength on my right side (arms, legs). This event was followed by two gallbladder operations, three deaths of my best friends, and these eye operations. I’ve spent the last full year of just trying to get well. I’m one of the lucky ones because I have recovered quite a lot, but I still have a way to go. I’m weak in the arms and legs and am swimming a lot and doing gym workouts for therapy. That should be enough of my medical past. I’m expecting to recover a lot more.
Through the years since the Hornet duty I finished college with a Masters degree in education, stayed in Naval Aviation in the reserves, was recalled to active duty, flew jets during Korea off the U.S.S.Princeton, left the Navy and went to work for Rockwell International in Downey, CA for thirty years, retired for 16 years, and am now writing to you.
I went to several Hornet reunions during the past twenty years. There are other Navy reunions I have gone to, such as VF-84 (a jet squadron), and training squadron, NROS 11-7. Family and other matters involving travel has
taken much of my time. I presume you have likewise been busy during the span of years since our Hornet duty.
You mention seeing some of our old squadron mates in the years past – Buell, Ricks, Yaussi, Micheel. Of course I saw a lot of our old mates at the reunions I attended, particularly Buell and Yaussi. I don’t recall seeing Micheel or Ricks.
You asked that you would like to hear about the one experience I remember most vividly occurring during my months aboard the U.S.S. Hornet. I will comply and relate my most memorable day on Wednesday, September 13, 1944. Here goes.
On September 13, 1944, I led a four-plane,fighter-bomber division on strike 1 A accompanied by Lieutenant Smith’s wing of VB. We were unable to hit Ilailo Airfield on Panay, our primary target, because of weather, and were diverted by the Air Group Commander to hit Bacolad Airfield on Negros Island. All the way to the target (244 miles) Japanese planes hovered about waiting for opportune moments to strike. We kept good tight formations so didn’t give them a chance to strike. I sure was busy weaving from one side of the strike formation to the other, watching Japanese planes so that they wouldn’t make a frontal attack from below. I commenced my dive at 13000 feet on Bacolad Airfield with my division. As our attack on the airfield was proceeding all hell broke loose in my cockpit. The right side and top of my hood shattered from a shell hitting it, filling my head with shrapnel and fragments of the hood. Then very hot hydraulic oil sprayed all over my face, instrument panel, and windshield. I couldn’t see out to tell whether I was upside down, on my side, or what way, and even if I could have seen anything, the oil in my eyes had blinded me anyway. I don’t know the altitude of the plane when this occurred, but am guessing that it was about 8,000 feet. I thought it was all over for me then and there and wasn’t very scared at that moment – I was too busy. The oil was intensely hot and I almost decided to bail out.
The oil heat quickly dissipated. Still in my dive I managed to get the hood open and wiped the oil out of my eyes and off my face with the rag I was sitting on to pad my behind. I had to do this first in order to orient myself and to pull out of my dive. I got my plane very low over the airfield and everything looked blurry. My altitude was right over the trees, perhaps from 50 to 100 feet. It was sheer luck and destiny that I did not dive into the ground. I was extremely frightened, but could still act. It took quite a while before I could see well again. I looked down and on my right side and noticed all my hydraulic lines had been shot away and that my radio boxes were destroyed, thus keeping me from letting anyone know of my, plight. From my waist down I was soaked in hydraulic oil. In all the excitement in the dive I didn’t dive any target and still had my 500 pound GP bomb on the rack. I climbed to about 500 feet and jettisoned the bomb over some trees. It didn’t go off because there was not enough altitude for it to get armed.
My first thoughts were to get some altitude and to rendezvous with the Air Group for return to the ship. Some of my thoughts at that time were: will the engine quit, how much fuel do I have (the instrument panel was shattered and covered with oil), will I go down in Japanese waters or on land? About that time Ensign (Robby) Robertson joined up on me and I immediately gave him the lead and flew on his wing to return to the ship. It was over 100 miles from Bacolad Airfield across five or more Japanese islands and four inland Phillipine seas to reach the
Pacific Ocean. What would happen to me if I had to land in this area? Will I make it? It was a hectic hop back to the ship (at least two hours) and I was constantly afraid that I would have engine trouble and would have to go down amongst or on one of the Japanese islands. I was especially leery when flying over land. I gave a great sigh of relief when we got out in the open Pacific again. Robby and I rejoined the Air Group safely for the trip back to the carrier.
While on our way back a few Japanese fighters tried to jump our formation but our fighters shot them down. It was a comforting sight seeing a Japanese fighter spinning to earth in flames since they too were trying to shoot us down. On the way back to the ship I had to hold right rudder the entire way since my rudder trim cables were shot away. Therefore, my injured right foot hurt terribly. I thought my engine would quit at any time. I was cold and shivering, probably from being soaked with oil and its further effect on the wind chill due the open canopy in combination with being continually frightened. Robby and I could only communicate with morse code using our right hand and fist – open hand for dit, closed fist for dah. He would tell me our fuel state when I used the regular hand signal of thumb in mouth with little finger extended. I told him in morse code my instruments were shattered, oil over everything, canopy shattered, no radio, where I hurt, etc. Every minute back seemed like an eternity.
We finally saw the Task Force. Then I started really worrying that something bad would happen before we got there. Well, we got back to the ship and I stayed at 1500 feet trying to get my wheels down while everyone else landed. Robby let the ship know about my situation by radio and he stuck with me all the while. I couldn’t get my wheels or flaps down. The ship asked me through Robby, do you want to ditch in the water? My answer was no! Do you want to parachute? My answer, no! Do you want to land aboard! My answer was, yes! The ship, after a short pause, finally gave me permission to land on board with no wheels, flaps, poor visibility, and no power instruments. I had my hook down okay. Robby landed ahead of me. I made my approach with too much power and got fast signals for almost the full landing pattern, and a short distance from the ramp got a roger, then the cut. I made my landing okay but it sure did jar me because there was hardly any rollout. That was the end of a 4.8 hour flight The signal officer later complimented me for the good job of bringing the plane aboard. Not too many have landed aboard a carrier that way and it’s quite a thrill.
I was helped out of the cockpit because I was weak and couldn’t walk because my legs were very wobbly. Several deck hands helped to rush me to sick bay where I had my wounds treated. I had my head all peppered with shrapnel and plexiglass splinters and my left cheek had several large shrapnel wounds. My left and right forearms were also peppered and I had a sore third finger, right hand, which was punctured and swollen. The back of my right leg had one big puncture wound the size of a dime and lots of little shrapnel holes. There was also a sore wound on top of my right foot where a piece of shrapnel went through it after penetrating through my shoe.
Robby talked to me later and said he strafed in his dive and that it was he that hit me. He said we almost had a mid-air collision. If he hadn’t told me I’d never known what happened. He sure felt bad about it too, but I have no hard feelings. I looked at the plane later and noticed a hole made by a 20 millimeter shell, so Robby wasn’t the only one that hit me. The Air Group Commander later said that it was highly likely that the 20MM shell hole was from a Japanese plane because of its angle of entry.
The armor plating sure did save me. I happened to be flying that day an F9F-5 that had double armor plating that the F9F-4’s didn’t have. We only had two F9F-5’s. It was the luck of the draw that day. Ensign Richey shot down a Japanese fighter and gave it quite a chase before getting him. Our fighters got 6 Japanese planes and with Ensign Richey’s makes a total of seven for the day.
A sequel to this story is that on my way to report to my next duty station, Melbourne, Florida NAS my right foot swelled up in my shoe to the point I could not remove the shoe, and had to enter a naval hospital to have the shrapnel removed. The doctor also removed the shrapnel that penetrated through the third finger of my right hand.
The above is my story, probably a bit long. My traveling is somewhat limited due to my medical problems. I am hoping you the best of life and that I will possibly see you in my travels should I have anymore.
My best regards,
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