My wonderful Dad died recently. I'm missing him extra today. Our family always called him on Veterans Day and asked him to share stories with us from when he was an eighteen-year-old pilot serving in the Navy in World War II. Instead of calling him today we pulled out his life history and read some of his experiences. I'd like to share one with you.
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On April 14, 1945 about 20 planes were sent from our carrier to neutralize the airfield on Ishigaki Island. I was the lead fighter plane in the attack. We strafed and fired our rockets at gun installations. The bombers followed and bombed the airfield. Lt. Bitner’s bomber lost a wing on the second run. He had time to bail out. His two crewmen went in with the plane; they did not have a chance. Bitner’s chute opened and he landed near the north end of the runway.
I make a quick strafing run over the area to keep ground forces down and then rallied the fighters and we made repeated strafing runs on every gun we could see--especially in the area where Bitner landed. We made passes from west to east indicating the direction Bitner should travel to get off the island for a rescue pick up at sea. We strafed until we ran out of ammunition. I went down one last time for a close look at the parachute to be certain he got free from the harness. He did. No one was near the chute.
Recovering from this last run and at low altitude but at high speed my plane was hit twice. One large shell grazed the main spar of the plane and exploded blowing a large hole in the left side of the fuselage behind the armor plating protecting the pilot. The explosion knocked out my radio but did not damage the flight controls. The second shell passed through my right wing, just barely missing the wing tank. I took strong evasive action, regained altitude, rendezvoused the fighters and passed the lead over to Frank Soares. We returned to the carrier. My division spent ten hours in the air that day with most of it under combat conditions.
It was this type of action that cost my friend, Jack Link, his life the day before.
For this, and other action, our Squadron Commander recommended me for an award.
(Dad only included a small part of the Citation in his history. The full Citation is below.)
And then again on 14 April 1945, when a bomber of his squadron was shot down during an attack on an airfield in the southern Ryukyu area, he gambled bravely on saving any possible survivor even at the possible sacrifice of himself.
In the face of intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire which damaged his aircraft, he launched a low-level, solo strafing attack on the area adjoining the crash, hoping to check enemy ground forces until any survivor should escape.
Later, rallying his division, he led them in repeated strafing runs over the area. He broke off the attack only when close observation made it apparent that any survivor had escaped.
The bright courage of this officer was an inspiration to his entire squadron and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service!
I love my Dad very much, and am deeply grateful for his service and for his love of our country!