A Reluctant Hero
This is getting serious. I started looking for a small Okinawa island, one of the many that dotted the horizon in the chain—to possibly set down. Never thought the “Hog” would let me down as I lined the nose of my Corsair to hit between a line .458 socom ammo of trees on a small atoll 3,000 ft. below. I was losing power fast, with oil pouring out of the engine and a partial loss of flight controls.
And —I was mad—no, red hot, that I had been caught. With every jink and turn, there was no way to fight back— with guns— as the Jap kept pouring it on.
Six Months Earlier – The Mediterranean 1943
After the propeller was pulled through a few rotations to clear the cylinders, I energized the cartridge starter and brought the mixture to full rich as the engine turned over. The bang of my starting cartridge bounced off the other aircraft on the USS Tulagi flight deck and I was waved forward for launch and unfolded the wings in preparation. With wing hinges in position, I pulled the D ring to lock them and waited for a repositioning signal for my launch.
After six months of constant training we felt we were ready for anything the Germans would throw at us in the “Med.” With a full moon hanging over our task force, our night launch proceeded past the Straits of Gibraltar. On the north passage of the strait we took advantage of the tides. The prevailing winds out of the east did not require a large carrier turn into the wind. We coordinated with the fleet big gun ships (USS Nevada, Arkansas, Texas, Quincy, Omaha and Tuscaloosa) to provide spotting support. The scuttlebutt was—prepare for something big.
Our squadron’s primary task was not fun. Patrolling low and relatively slow over a set of coordinates while we looked for activity to target was what we did well, but disliked intensely. The frequent loitering to more precisely redirect fire, unnerved many in our squadron. It was tedious and dangerous– from shell fire in close proximity to our aircraft. We also often picked up rows of holes in the wing and fuselage from small arms fire at low altitudes. The call to “get high,” so as not to get hit, often preceded a salvo of 16″ shells from our ships. At first it was amazing then quickly turned to frightening to actually see fired shells flying into our designated targets. One of my squadron buddies was instantly vaporized by a direct hit from one of these 16 inch guns.
The Med proved to be fairly navigable but frequent unpredictable storms concentrated in the western Mediterranean and northern shores. The azure waters from 5,000 ft did not tell the whole story. The mountains held suffocating heat and unpredictable sea winds and sand—not good for plane or pilot.
On July 14, CAG led 5 sections of F6F Hellcats on a strike into the Italian mountains, north of Cape Negre. Ollie (Ens Edward Olszewski) and I were on a rail head strike as bombers. After our first few attacks on the railroad junction we were vectored to another target in the south of France. With the throttle pulled back to a max range setting, in combat spread, I pulled the canopy back, unclipped my oxygen mask, grabbed my Lucky Strikes and lit up. Ollie, off my starboard wing saw my actions but choose to remain focused and vigilant while I decompressed.
I was finally beginning to understand why I joined the Navy and placed myself in harm’s way. The fun and stupid games of skiing off huge moguls and trying to stick the landing in trees, strapped into an old parachute flying behind a car in a parking lot, skydiving into corn fields gave me clues as to my need for a little more out of life—to fly airplanes off carriers—YES!