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SOLOMONS, 1941-1944



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Time of the Aces:
Marine Pilots in the Solomons
by Commander Peter B. Mersky, U. S. Naval Reserve
he morale of the men air as they flew against combat-ex- in the Guadalcanal operation, was
of the ist Marine Divi- perienced Japanese aircrews. But by assigned the mission of supporting
sion on Guadalcanal the time of the landings on Guadal- the ground operations of the ist
soared dramatically in canal and when the war was nearly Marine Division as well the air de-
the late afternoon of 20 a year old, only a relatively small fense of the island once the landing
August 1942. That was when 19 number of Marine pilots had seen had been made. MAG-23 included
Grumann F4F Wildcats of Captain combat. A few had shot down sev- VMF-223 and -224, and VMSB-231
John L. Smith's Marine Fighter eral Japanese aircraft, although and -232. The fighter squadrons
Squadron (VMF) 223 and 12 Dou- none had scored a fifth kill which flew the F4F-4, the Grumann Wild-
glas Dauntless SBDs of Major would entitle him to be designated cat with folding wings and six
Richard C. Mangrum's Marine an ace. The leading Marine scorer at wing-mounted .50-caliber machine
Scout-Bomber Squadron (VMSB) Midway was Captain Marion Carl, guns. The two VMSBs flew the
232 landed on vet-uncompleted who had downed two Mitsubishi Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive-
Henderson Field. Ever since the as- Type "O" Carrier Fighters. The
bomber. Another fighter squadron,
sault landing on Guadalcanal on 7 Americans would later call them
August, and subject to unchal- "Zeros" or "Zekes" and would VMF-212, under Major Harold W.
Bauer, was on the island of Efate in
lenged Japanese air raids from that shoot them down regularly despite
time, the ground troops wondered, the New Hebrides, while MAG-23
the early reputation they received
headquarters had yet to sail from
"Where are our planes?" Like so for being a highly maneuverable Hawaii by the time Marines hit the
many other soldiers in so many and deadly adversary in the air. Be-
other campaigns, they had little beaches on 7 August 1942. The first
fore he left the Pacific, Captain Carl contingent of MAG-23VMF-223
knowledge of the progress of the would add considerably to his and VMSB-232left Hawaii on
war elsewhere in the Pacific. score, as would some of the other
From the very beginning of fighter pilots who landed on board the escort carrier USS Long Is-
World War II, with the Japanese at- land (CVE 1). On 20 August, 200
Guadalcanal with him on the 20th.
tack on Wake Island, Marine air- miles from Guadalcanal, the two
craft, pilots, and crews became im- Guadalcanal: The Beginn ing squadrons launched toward their
mediately and personally involved new home. VMF-224 (Captain
of the Long Road Back Robert E. Galer) and VMSB-231
in the fighting. On Wake, Marine
Wildcat pilots of VMF-211 gave a Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) (Major Leo R. Smith) followed in
good account of themselves, even 23, the initial air unit participating the aircraft transports USS Kitty
after the number of the squadron's
flyable planes was reduced to four, The Douglas SB D Da i n tless divehomber fought in nearly every thea ter, fliing wit/i the
and when those planes were dam- U.S. Navij and Marine Corps, as well as the U.S. Army (as the A-24 Banshee). The SBD
made its reputation in the Pacific, especially at Midway and Guadalcanal.
aged beyond repair, all aviation Author's collection
personnel became riflemen. And in
the Battle of Midway, Marine pilots
for the first time at first hand appre-
hended the nature of the war in the
On the cover: Using hit-and-run tactics,
Capt Joe Foss flames a Japanese Zero over
Henderson Field in October 1942. Paint-
ing by Ted Wilbur, courtesy of the artist.
At left:"Fogerty's Fate-22 Oct 1942." TSgt
John Fogerty, an enlisted Marine pilot,
was killed this date. Watercolor L'y Col Al-
bert M. Leahy.. USMCR (Ret), in the Ma-
rine Corps Art Collection.

Hawk (APV 1) and USS Ham monds- the Aircraft Carrier Training Group,
port (APV 2), and flew on to the is- which, as part of its training syl-
land on 30 August. While en route labus, gave tyro pilots indoctrination
toward the launch point for into fighter tactics.
Guadalcanal, Captain Smith wisely Beyond Sayo, six Zeros came
decided to trade eight of his less ex- straight at them from the north, with
perienced junior pilots for eight pi- an altitude advantage of 500 feet.
lots of VMF-212 who had more Smith recognized the Zeros immedi-
flight time and training in the F4F ately, although neither he nor any of
than had Smith's fledglings. the other three pilots had ever seen
The newly arrived squadrons one before. He turned his flight to-
barely had time to get settled before ward them and the Zeros headed to-
they were in heavy action. Earls' on ward the F4Fs.
the 21st, the Japanese sent a 900-man It was hard to say just what hap-
force to attack Henderson Field, pened next except that the Zero
named after Major Lof ton R. Hen- Smith was shooting at pulled up
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 26044
derson, a dive-bomber pilot killed at and he shot fairly weil into the belly
Capt Henri T. Elrod, a Wildcat pilot with Midway. Around mid-day, Captain of the enemy plane as it went by,
VMF-211, earned what is chronologically Smith was leading a four-plane pa- only to find that now he had two
the first Marine Corpsbut not the first trol north of Sayo Island heading to- Zeros on his tail. Captain Smith
actualli awardedMedal of Honor for ward the Russell Islands with Sec- dove toward Henderson Field and
World War II. His exploits during the de- ond Lieutenants Noyes McLennan the Japs broke away.
fense of Wake Island were not known until and Charles H. Kendrick, and Tech- Minutes later, the Zero Captain
after the war. After his squadron 's aircraft nical Sergeant John Lnidley. The twoSmith shot became VMF-223's first
were all destroyed, Capt Elrod fought on lieutenants had 16 days of opera- kill when it crashed into the water
the ground and was finatlij killed bij a tional flight training in F4Fs, and just off Sayo Island. Smith's plane
lapa nese rifleman. Lindley had been through ACTG, had some bullet holes but was flying
airight. Two F4Fs joined on him.
Members of VMF-224 pose by one of their fighters on Guadalcanal in mid-September They looked back and it appeared
1942. Rear row, left to right: 2dLt George L. Hollowell, SSgt Clifford D. Garrabrant,
2dLt Robert A Jefferies, Je, 2dLt Allan M. Johnson, 2dLt Matthew H. Kennedy, 2dLt
that the Zeros were in a dogfight
Charles H. Kunz, 2dLt Dean 5. Hartley, Jr., MG William R. Fuller. Front row: 2dLt near Sayo. The Marines thought
Robert M. DA rey, Capt Stanley S. Nicolay, Maj John F Dobbin, Maj Robert E. they were ganging up on Sergeant
Galer, Maj Kirk Armistead, Capt Dale D. irwin, 2dLt Howard L. Walter, 2dLt Gor- Lindley so they went back to help
don E. Thompson. All in this picture are pilots except MG Fuller, who was the him, but found that there was no
Engineering Officer. Lt Thompson was reported missing in action on 31 August 1942. F4F, just five Zeros acting like they
Photo courtesy of BGen Robert E. Galer were fighting.
The three Marines then got into
another dogfight and the Zeros shot
them up some more. Lindley and
Kendrick got back to Henderson and
made dead-stick landings. Lindley
was burned and blinded by hot oil
when his oil tank was shattered and
landed wheels up. Kendrick's oil
line was shot away and he crash-
landed. His airplane never flew
again. It took eight days before
Smith's plane was patched up
enough to fly once again. Repairs on
the fourth plane required 10 days.
Only 15 of the 19 F4Fs were flyable
after their first day of action from
Henderson Field.
'CUB One' at Guadalcanal
August 1942, U.S. Marines captured a nearly were quickly put into action over the skies of Guadalcanal

O8 completed enemy airstrip on Guadalcanal, which

would prove critical to the success of the island cam-
paign. It was essential that the airstrip become operational as
in combat operations against enemy aircraft.
The men of CUB One performed heroics in servicing the
newly arrived Marine fighters and bombers. Few tools ex-
isted or had yet arrived to perform many of the aircraft ser-
quickly as possible, not only to contest enemy aircraft in the
skies over Guadalcanal, but also to ensure that badly needed 'icing jobs to which CUB One was assigned. It was necessary
supplies could be flown in and wounded Marines flowr out. to fuel the Manne aircraft from 55-gallon drums of gasoline.
As it turned out, Henderson Field also proved to be a safe As there were no fuel pumps on the island, the drums had to
haven for Navy planes whose carriers had been sunk or be man-handled and tipped into the wing tanks of the SBDs
badly damaged. and the fuselage tanks of the F4F fighters. To do this, CUll
A Marine fighter squadron (VMF-223) and a Marine dive One personnel stood precariously on the slippery wings of
bomber squadron (VMSB-232) were expected to arrive on the aircraft and sloshed the gasoline from the heavy drums
Guadalcanal around 16 August. Unfortunately, Marine avia- into the aircraft's gas tanks. The men used a make-shift fun-
tion ground crews scheduled to accompany the two nel made from palm-log lumber.
squadrons to Guadalcanal were still in Hawaii, and would Bomb carts or hoists were also at a premium during the
not arrive on the island for nearly two weeks. Aircraft early days of the Guadalcanal campaign, so aircraft bombs
ground crews were urgently needed to service the two Ma- had to be raised by hand to the SBD drop brackets, as the ex-
rine squadrons upon their arrival. hausted, straining men wallowed in the mud beneath the
The nearest aircraft ground crews to Guadalcanal were airplanes.
not Marines, but 450 Navy personnel of a unit known as CUB No automatic belting machines were available at this time
One, an advanced base unit consisting of the personnel and as well, so that the .50-caliber ammunition for the four guns
material necessary for the establishment of a medium-sized on each fighter had to be hand-belted one round at a time by
advanced fuel and supply base. CUB One had only recently the men of CUB One. The gunners on the dive bombers
arrived at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. loaded their ammunition by the same laborious method.
On 13 August, Admiral John S. McCain ordered Marine The dedicated personnel of CUB One performed these
Major Charles H. "Fog" Hayes, executive officer of Marine Ob- feats for 12 days before Marine squadron ground crews ar-
servation Squadron 251, to proceed to Guadalcanal with 120 rived with the proper equipment to service the aircraft. The
men of CUB One to assist Marine engineers in completing the crucial support provided by CUB One was instrumental to
airfield (recently named Henderson Field in honor of a Marine the success of the "Cactus Air Force" on Guadalcanal.
pilot killed in the Battle of Midway), and to serve as gmund Like their Marine counterparts, the personnel of CUB One
crews for the Marine fighters and dive bombers scheduled to suffered from malaria, dengue fever, sleepless nights, and the
arrive within a few days. Navy Ensign George W. Polk was in ever-present shortage of food, clothing, and supplies. They
command of the 120-man unit, and was briefed by Major would remain on Guadalcanal, performing their duties in an
Hayes concerning the unit's critical mission. (After the war, exemplary manner, until relieved on 5 February 1943. CUB
Polk became a noted newsman for the Columbia Broadcasting One richly earned the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the
System, and was murdered by terrorists during the Greek unit for its gallant participation in the Guadalcanal campaign.
Civil War. A prestigious journalism award was established and Arvil L. Jones with Robert V. Aquilina
named in his honor).
Utilizing four destroyer transports of World War I vintage, Allied air operations in the Solomons were controlled from the
the 120-man contingent from CUB One departed Espiritu "Pagoda," built bi/ the Japanese and rehabilitated by the men of
Santo on the evening of 13 August. The total supply carried CUB One.
northward by the four transports included 400 drums of avi- Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 51812
ation gasoline, 32 drums of lubricant, 282 bombs (100 to 500
pounders), belted ammunition, a variety of tools, and criti-
cally needed spare parts.
The echelon arrived at Guadalcanal on the evening of 15
August, unloaded its passengers and supplies, and began as-
sisting Marine engineers the following morning on increas-
ing the length of Henderson Field. In spite of daily raids by
Japanese aircraft, the arduous work continued, and on 19 Au-
gust, the airstrip was completed. CUB One personnel also in-
stalled and manned an air-raid warning system in the fa-
mous "Pagoda," the Japanese-built control tower.
On 20 August, 19 planes of VMF-223 and 12 dive bombers
of VMSB-232 were launched from the escort carrier Long Is-
land and arrived safely at Henderson Field. The Marine pilots

Japanese aircraft shot down. How- Smith agreed and on 30 August, the
ever, by now, six of VMF-223's orig- Marine and Army fighterseight
inal complement of 19 Wildcats had F4Fs and seven P-400s--la unched
also been destroyed or put out of for a lengthy combat air patrol.
action. The combat had been fast The fighters rendezvoused north
and furious since Smith and his of Henderson, maintaining 15,000
squadron had arrived only nine feet because of the P-400s' lack of
days before. His young pilots were oxygen. Coastwatchers had identi-
learning, but at a price. fied a large formation of Japanese
One of the squadrons that shared bombers heading toward Hender-
Henderson Field with the Marines son but had lost sight of their
was the 67th Fighter Squadron, a quarry in the rapidly building wall
somewhat orphaned group of of thunderclouds approaching the
Army Air Corps pilots, who had ar- island. The defenders orbited for 40
Photo Courtn.v w Capt Stanley S. Nicolav rived on 22 August, led by Captain minutes, watching for the enemy
Three personalities of the cactus Air Force Dale Brannon, and their P-400 Aira- bombers and their escorts.
pose nfter receiving the Wavy Cross from cobras, an export version of the Bell Suddenly, Captain Smith saw the
Adm Nimitz on 30 September 1942. From P-39. Despite its racy looks, the seven Army fighters dive toward the
left: Maj John L. Smith, Maj Robert E.
Airacobra found it difficult to get water, in hot pursuit of Zeros that
Geler, and Capt Marion E. Carl.
above 15,000 feet, where much of had emerged from the clouds. The
Marion Carl, now assigned to the aerial combat was taking place highly maneuverable Zeros quickly
VMF-223, shot down three Japanese The 67th had had a miserable turned the tables on the P-400s,
aircraft on 24 August to become the time of it so far because of their however. As the Japanese fighters
Marine Corps' first ace. Carl added plane's poor performance, and concentrated on the hapless Bells,
two more kills on the 26th. The morale was low. The pilots were be- the Marine Wildcats lined up behind
young fighter pilot found himself in ginning to question their value to the Zeros and quickly shot down
competition with his squadron com- the overall effort, and their com- four of the dark green Mitsubishis.
mander, as John Smith also began mander, desperate for any measure The effect of the F4Fs' heavy ma-
accumulating kills with regularity. of success to share with his men, chine guns was devastating.
The 30th was a busy day for the asked Captain Smith if he and his Making a second run, Captain
Marine fighters on Guadalcanal. squadron could accompany the Smith found himself going head-to-
The previous day's action saw eight Marines on their next scramble. head with a Zero, its pilot just as de-

A profile of Bell P-39 Airacobra bt,' Larry Lapadura. "Short Stroke" mediocre performance, especially above 15,000 feet. However, the
operated from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal from late 1942 to aircraft was ive!! armed and used wit/i success as a ground strafer.
early 1943. The aircraft's deceptively streamlined shape belied a Authors Collection

Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 11984
Mnj John L. Smith poses in a Wildcat after
returning to the States. A tough, capable
combat lender, Smith received tite Medal of
Honor for his service at Guadalcanal.

termined as his Marine opponent. Photo courtesy of Capt Stanley S. Nicolay

Smith's guns finally blew the Zero lstLt Stanley S. Wicolny beside n Wildcat, probably just before deploying to the Pacific in
up just before a collision or before 1942. He eventually shot down three Betty bombers at Guadalcanal. Note the narrow track
one of the two fighter pilots would of the Wildcat's main landing gear.
have had to turn away. By the end
of the engagement, John Smith had Captain Galer's VMF-224 had no the formation," Dobbin wisely said.
shot down two more Zeros for a time to acclimate to its new base. "There's nothing we can do." Nico-
total of four kills. With nine kills, (The day after its arrival, it was in lay closed up on Dobbin and they
Smith was the leading Marine action.) The squadron landed on the continued on.
Corps ace at the time. Fourteen 30th in the midst of an alert, and The two young aviators had
Japanese fightersthe bombers was quickly directed to its parking problems with their primitive oxy-
they were escorting had turned areas on the field. gen systems and lacking sufficient
backhad been shot down by the The next two weeks saw several oxygen, they possibly had even
Marine and Army pilots, although of the Marine aviators bail out of passed out in the thin air. Nicolay
four of the P-400s were also de- their Wildcats after tangling with recalled,
stroyed. Two of the pilots returned the enemy Zeros. On 31 August, We never saw Bryans again.
to Guadalcanal; two did not. First Lieutenant Stanley S. Nicolay lt was so senseless. I remem-
The Marine fighter contingent at of VMF-224 was on a flight with ber thinking that after all their
Guadalcanal was now down to five Second Lieutenant Richard R. training and effort, neither one
operational aircraft; it needed rein- Amerine, Second Lieutenant of them ever fired a shot in
forcement immediately. Help was Charles E. Bryans, and Captain anger. They had no chance.
on the way, however, for VMF-224 John E Dobbin, the squadron execu- The oxygen system was just a
arrived ir the afternoon of the 30th, tive officer. It was VMF-224's first tiny, white triangular mask
after John Smith and his tired, but combat mission since its arrival the that fitted over the nose and
elated squadron returned from their day before. As the Marines strug- mouth. You turned on the bot-
frantic encounter with the Japanese gled past 18,000 feet on their way tle, and that was it. No pres-
fighter force. For their first few mis- up to 20,000, Lieutenant Nicolay sure system, nothing.
sions, VMF-224's pilots accompa- noticed two of the wingmen lag- Apparently, the two Marine pi-
nied the now-veteran Rainbow ging farther and farther back. lots had been jumped by roving
Squadron pilots of VMF223.* He called Amerine and Bryans Zeros. Bryans was thought to be
but got no response. He then called killed almost immediately, while
When it was first established on I May Dobbin and said he wanted to drop Amerine was able to bail out. He
1942, VMF-223 was called the "Rainbow"
Squadron. In May 1943, it changed its nick- back to check on the wayward parachuted to the relative safety of
name to the more Marine-like "Bulldogs." Wildcats. "It's too late to break up the jungle, and as he attempted to

return to Henderson Field, he en-
countered several Japanese patrols
on the way back, killing four enemy
soldiers before returning to the Ma-
rine lines.
Marion Carl, who had 11 kills,
had his own escape-and-evasion ex-
perience after he and his wingman,
Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield,
were shot down on 9 September.
Carl bailed out of his burning Wild-
cat and landed in the water where a
friendly native scooped him up and
hid him from the roving Japanese
patrols. (Canfield had been quickly
rescued by an American destroyer.)
The native took the ace to a na-
tive doctor who spoke English. The
doctor gave Carl a small boat with
an old motor which needed some
work before it functioned properly. National Archives photo 208-PU-14X-1 PNT

With the Japanese army all around, A rare photo of an exuberant LtCol Bauer as lie demonstrates his technique to two ground
crewmen. Intensely competitive, and known as "the Coach," Bauer was one of several Ma-
it was important that the American rifle Corps aviators who received the Medal of Honor, albeit posthumously, at Guadalcanal.
pilot get out as soon as he could.
Finally, he and the doctor arrivedand a fighter, after which he was bombers. He related that:
offshore of Marine positions on shot down by a Zero that tacked One of them fell to my guns,
Guadalcanal. Dennis Byrd recalled onto him from behind and riddled and pulling out of the dive, I
Carl's return on the afternoon of 14 his Wildcat. Recalling the action in took after a Zero. But I didn't
September: a wartime press release, Caler said: pull around fast enough, and his
A small motor launch oper- I knew I'd be forced to land, guns knocked out my engine,
ated by a very black native but that Zero getting me dead setting it on fire. We were at
with a huge head of frizzled to rights made me sore. I about 5,000 feet, but I feared the
hair pulled up to the Navy headed into a cloud, and in- swirling mass of Japs more than
jetty at Kukum. The tall white stead of coming out below it the fire . . so I laid over on my

man tending the boat's wheez- as he expected, I came out on back and dove headlong for
ing engine was VMF-223's top and let him have it.... some clouds below me. Coming
Captain Marion Carl. He had Then we both fell, but he through the clouds, I didn't see
been listed as missing in action was in flames and done for I any more Japs, and leveled off
since September 9th and was made a forced landing in a at 2,000 feet. I changed my an-
presumed dead... .Carl re- field, and before my wheels gle of flight and grade of descent
ported that on the day he dis- could stop rolling, Major so I'd land as near as possible to
appeared, he'd shot down two Rivers J. Morrell and Lieu- shore. I set down in the drink
more Jap bombers. Captain tenant Pond of VMF-223, both some 200 or 300 yards from
Carl's score was now 12 and forced their ships on the same shore and swam in, unhurt.*
Major Smith's, 14. deckall within three minutes 'Th was not the first time Caler had a wa-
Now-Major Caler scored his of each other! tery end to a flight. As a first lieutenant with
squadron's first kills when he shot VMF-2 in 1940, he had to ride his Grumman
Two days after his forced land- F3F biplane fighter in while approaching the
down two Zeros during a noontime carrier Saratoga (CV3). The Grumman sank
raid of 26 bombers and eight Zero ing, Major Caler had to ditch his and stayed on the bottom off San Diego for 40
escorts over Henderson on 5 Sep- aircraft once more after another years. It was discovered by a Navy explo-
round with the Japanese. His flight ration team and raised, somewhat the worse
tember. VMF-224 went up to inter- for wear. Retired Brigadier General Robert
cept them, and the squadron com- was returning from a mission when Galer was at the dock when his old mount
mander knocked down a bomber it ran into a group of enemy found dry land once more.

The Aircraft in the Conflict
p The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps were defi- fidence builder for its hard-pressed pilots. The Wildcat
nitely at a disadvantage when America en- was also a tough little fighter ("built like Grumman
tered World War Il in December 1941. Besides
other areas, their frontline aircraft were well behind
iron" was a popular catch-phrase of the period), and
had a devastating battery of four (for the F4F-3) or six
world standards. .50-caliber machine guns (for the F4F-4) and a fair de-
The Japanese did not suffer similarly, however, for gree of maneuverability.
they were busy building up their arsenal as they Both the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy also had
sought sources of raw materials they needed and were outstanding aircraft. The Army's primary fighter of the
prepared to go to war to acquire. Besides possess- early war was the Nakajima K.43 Hayahusa (Peregrine
ing what was the finest aerial torpedo in the world- Falcon), a light, little aircraft, with a slim, tapered fuse-
the Long Lancethey had the aircraft to deliver it. And lage and a bubble canopy
they had fighters to protect the bombers. Although the The Navy's fighter came to symbolize the Japanese
world initially refused to believe how good Japanese air effort, even for the Japanese, themselves. The Mit-
aircraft and their pilots were, it wasn't long after the at- subishi Type "O" Carrier Fighter (its official designa-
tack on Pearl Harbor that reality seeped in. tion) was as much a trend-setting design as was

u In many respects, the U.S. Army Air Forceit had

been the U.S. Army Air Corps until 20 June 1941and
the Navy and Marine Corps had the same problems in
the first two years of the war. The Army's top fighters
Britain's Spitfire or the American Corsair.
However, as author Norman Franks wrote, the Al-
lied crews found that "the Japanese airmen were.. .far
superior to the crude stereotypes so disparaged by the
were the Bell P-39 Airacobra and the Curtiss P-40B/E popular press and cartoonists. And in a Zero they were
Tomahawk/Kittyhawk. The Navy and Marine Corps' highly dangerous."
two frontline fighters were the Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo The hallmark of Japanese fighters had always been
and the Grumman F4F-3/4 Wildcat during 1942. superb maneuverability. Early biplaneswhich had
Of these single-seaters, only the Army's P-40 and the been developed from British and French designsset
Navy's F4F achieved any measure of success against the pace. By the mid-1930s, the Army and Navy had
the Japanese in 1942. The P-40's main attributes were two world-class fighters, the Nakajima Ki.27 and the
its diving speed, which let it disengage from a fight, Mitsubishi A5M series, respectively, both low-wing,
and its ability to absorb punishment and still fl\ç a con- fixed-gear aircraft. The Ki.27 did have a modern en-
closed cockpit, while the A5M's cockpit was open (ex-
cept for one variant that experimented with a canopy
The first production model of Grumman's stubby, little Wildcat
was the F4F-3, which carried four .50-caliber machine guns in the
wings. Its wings did not fold, unlike the -4 which added two more Tue Wildcat was a rein tiveh small aircraft, as were most of the pre-
machine guns and folding wings. These F4F-3s of VMF-121 carrt/ war fighters throughout the world. The aircraft's narrow gear track
prewar exercise markings. is shown to advantage in this ground view of n VMF-121 F4F-3.
Authors Collection
A u LI u i (:Ik' un Author's Colìectiøn
Titis A6M3 is taking off freni Rabaul in 1943. Brewster's fat little F2A Buffalo is credited with a dismal perfor-
which was soon discarded in service.) A major and mace in American and British service, although the Finns racked
fatal disadvantage of most Japanese fighters was up a fine score against the Russians. This view of a Marine
their light armamentusually a pair of .30-caliber Brewster shows the aptness of its popular name, which actually
came from the British. Its characteristic greenhouse canopy and
machine gunsand lack of armor, as well as their main wheels tucked snugly into its belly are also well shown.
great flammability.
When the Type "0" first flew in 1939, most Japanese
pilots were enthusiastic about the new fighter. It was reference to the Japanese calendar. Thus, since 1940 cor-
fast, had retractable landing gear and an enclosed cock- responded to the year 2600 in Japan, the fighter was the
pit, and carried two 20mm cannon besides the two ma- Type "00" fighter, which was shortened to "0." The
chine guns. Initial operational evaluation in China in western press picked up the designation and the name
1940 confirmed the aircraft's potential. "Zero" was born.
By the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, The fighter received another name in 1943 which
the A6M2 was the Imperial Navy's standard carrier was almost as popular, especially among the Ameri-
fighter, and rapidly replaced the older A5Ms still in can flight crews. A system of first names referred to
service. As the A6M2 proved successful in combat, it various enemy aircraft, in much the same way that the
acquired its wartime nickname, "Zero," although the postwar NATO system referred to Soviet and Chinese
Japanese rarely referred to it as such. The evocative aircraft. The Zero was tagged "Zeke," and the names
name came from the custom of designating aircraft in were used interchangeably by everyone, from flight
crews to intelligence officers. (Other examples of the
system included "Claude" [A5MJ, "Betty" [Mitsubishi
The Zero's incredible maneuverability came at some expense from G4M bomber], and "Oscar" [Ki.43].)
its top speed. In an effort to increase the speed, the designers
As discussed in the main text, the Navy and Marine
clipped the folding wingtips from the carrier-based A6M2 and
evolved the land-based A6M3, Model 32. The pilots were not
Corps Wildcats were sometimes initially hard-pressed to
impressed with the speed increase and the production run -was defend their ships and fields against the large forces of
short, the AÓM3 reverting back to its span as the Model 22. The Betty bombers and their Zero escorts, which had ranges
type was originally called "Hap," after Gen Henry "Hap' Arnold, of 800 miles or more through the use of drop tanks.
Chief of the Army Air Force. Arnold was so angry at the dubi- The Brewster Buffalo had little to show for its few
ous honor that the name was quickly changed to Hatnp. This encounters with the Japanese, which is difficult to un-
Hamp is shown in the Solomons during the Guadalcanal derstand given the type's early success during the
campaign. Author's Collection Russo-Finnish War. The F2A-1, a lighter, earlier model
of the -3 which served with the Marines, was the stan-
dard Finnish fighter plane. In its short combat career in
American service, the Brewster failed miserably
Thus, the only fighter capable of meeting the Japan-
ese on anything approaching equal terms was the F4F,
which was fortunate because the Wildcat was really all
that was available in those dark days following Pearl
Harbor. Retired Brigadier General Robert E. Galer de-
scribed the Wildcat as "very rugged and very mis-
treated (at Guadalcanal)." He added:

of the war, the A6M2-N, which was allocated the Al-
lied codename "Rufe."
Manufactured by Mitsubishi's competitor, Nakajima,
float-Zeros served in such disparate climates as the
Aleutians and the Solomons. Although the floats bled
off at least 40 mph from the land-based version's top
speed, they seemed to have had only a minor effect on
its original maneuverability; the Rufe aquired the same
respect as its sire.
While the F4F and P-40 (along with the luckless P-
39) held the line in the Pacific, other, newer designs
Photo courtesy of Robert Mikesh were leaving production lines, and none too soon. The
The A6M2-N float plane version of the Zero did fairly well, suffer- two best newcomers were the Army's Lockheed P-38
ing only a small loss in its legendary maneuverability. Top speed Lightning and the Navy's Vought F4U Corsair. The P-
was somewhat affected, however, and the aircraft's relatively light 38 quickly captured the headlines and public interest
armament was a detritnen t. with its unique twin-boomed, twin-engine layout. It
soon developed into a long-range escort, and served in
Full throttle, very few replacement parts, the Pacific as well as Europe.
muddy landing strips, battle damage, roughly re- The Corsair was originally intended to fly from air-
paired. We loved them. We did not worry about craft carriers, but its high landing speed, long nose that
flight characteristics except when senior officers obliterated the pilot's view forward during the landing
wanted to make them bombers as well as fighters. approach, and its tendency to bounce, banished the big
The Japanese also operated a unique form of fighter from American flight decks for a while. The
fighter. Other combatants had tried to make seaplanes British, however, modified the aircraft, mainly by clip-
of existing designs. The U.S. Navy had even hung ping its wings, and flew it from their small decks.
floats on the Wildcat, which quickly became the Deprived of its new carrier fighterhaving settled
"Wildcatfish." The British had done it with the Spit- on the new Grumman F6F Hellcat as its main carrier
fire. But the resulting combination left much to be de- fighterthe Navy offered the F4U to the Marines. They
sired and sapped the original design of much of its took the first squadrons to the Solomons, and after a
speed and maneuverability. few disappointing first missions, they made the gull-
The Japanese, however, seeing the need for a winged fighter their own, eventually even flying it
water-based fighter in the expanses of the Pacific, from the small decks of Navy escort carriers in the later
modified the A6M2 Zero, and came up with what stages of the war.
was arguably the most successful water-based fighter
The Marine pilot of this F4 LI-1, Lt Donald Balch, contemplates his
A good view of an early F4U-1 under construction in 1942. The good fortune bi1' the damaged tail of his fightei The Corsair was a
massive amount of wiring and piping for the aircraft's huge Pratt relatively tough aircraft, hut like ante plane, damage to vital por-
& Whitney engine shows up here, as do the Corsair's gull wings. tions of its controls or powerplant could prove fatal.
Author's Collection Authors Col1ectin

National Archives 80G-54284
This "bird-cage" Corsair is landing at Espiritu Santo in September
1943. The aircraft's paint is well-weathered and its main gear tires
are "dusty" from tite coral runwai/s of the area.
National Archives 8OG-4279
Besides the two main fighters, the Army's Oscar istLt Rolland N. Rinabarger of VMF-214 in his early F4 U-1 Cor-
and the Navy's Zeke and its floatplane derivative, the sair at Epiritu Santo in September 1943. Badly shot up by Zeros
Rufe, the Japanese flew a wide assortment of aircraft, during an early mission to Kahili only two weeks after this photo
including land-based bombers, such as the Mitsubishi was taken, Lt Rinubarger returned to the States for lengthy treat-
G4M (codenamed Betty) and Ki.21 (Sally). Carrier- ment. He was still in California when the war ended. The na-
based bombers included the Aichi D3A divebomber tional insignia on his Corsair is outlined in red, a short-lived
(the Val) which saw considerable service during the attempt to regain that color from the prewar marking after the
red circle was deleted following Pearl Harbor to avoid con fu-
first three years of the war, and its stablernate, the sion with the Japanese meatball. Even this small amount of
torpedo bomber from Nakajima, the B5N (Kate), one red was deceptive, however, and by mid-1944, it was gone from
of the most capable torpedo-carriers of the first half the insignia again. Note the large mud spray on the aft under
of the war. The Marine Corps squadrons in the fuselage.
Solomons regularly encountered these aircraft. First
Lieutenant James Swett's two engagements on 7 April philosophies. Eventually, the Japanese were over-
1943 netted the young Wildcat pilot seven Vals, and whelmed by American technology and numerical su-
the Medal of Honor. periority. However, for the important first 18 months
of the Pacific war, they had the best. But, as was also
Although early wartime propaganda ridiculed the case in the European theaters, a series of misfor-
Japanese aircraft and their pilots, returning Allied tunes, coincidences, a lack of understanding by lead-
aviators told different stories, although the details of ers, as well as the drain of prolonged combat, finally
their experiences were kept classified. Each side's allowed the Americans and their Allies to overcome
culture provided the basis for their aircraft design the enemy's initial edge.
Mitsubishi G4M Betty bombers, perhaps during the Solomons but could burst into flames under attack, much to the chagrin of
campaign. Probably the best Japanese laud-based bomber in its crews. The type flew as a suicide aircraft, and finally, painted
the war's first two years, the G4M series enjoyed a long range. white with green crosses, carried surrender teams to various sites.
Photo courtesy Robert Mikesh

Galer would also be shot down watchers, Navy and Marine fighters ness and fatigue hit them after they
three more times during his flying rose to intercept the 70-plane force. had survived Japanese bullets.
careertwice more during World Now a lieutenant colonel, Harold However, new squadrons and
War II and once during a tour in "Indian Joe" Bauer was making one crews were arriving, among them
Korea. of his periodic visits from Efate, and VMF-121, led by Major Leonard K.
The last half of September 1942 scored a kill, a Zero, before landing. "Duke" Davis. His executive officer,
was a time of extreme trial for the A native of North Platte, Ne- Captain Joseph J. Foss, would soon
Cactus Air Force (Cactus was the braska, Bauer was part-Indian (as make a name for himself.
codename for Guadalcanal). Some was Major Gregory "Pappy" Boy- Foss came from Sioux Falls,
relief for the Marine squadrons ington). A veteran of 10 years as a South Dakota, and as a boy had de-
came in the form of bad weather Marine aviator, he watched the veloped a shooting eye which
and the arrival of disjointed contin- progress of the campaign at would stand him in good stead
gents of Navy aircraft and crews Guadalcanal from his rear-area base over Guadalcanal. He enlisted in
who were displaced from carriers on Efate. He would come north, the Marine Corps in February 1940
which were either sunk, or dam- using as an excuse the need to and received his wings of gold 13
aged. Saratoga (CV3) and Enterprise check on those members of his months later. Originally considered
(CV6) had been torpedoed or squadron who had been sent to too old to fly fighters (he was 27),
bombed and sent back to rear area Henderson and would occasionally he was ordered to a photo recon-
repair stations. The remaining carri- fly with the Cactus fighters. naissance squadron in San Diego.
ers, Hornet (CV8) and Wasp (CV7), His victory on the 28th was his However, he kept submitting re-
patrolled off Guadalcanal, their cap- first, and soon, Bauer was a familiar quests for transfer to fighters and
tains and admirals decidedly un- face to the Henderson crews. Bauer was finally sent to VMF-121.
easy about exposing the last Ameri- was visiting VMF-224 on 3 October A few days after arriving at Hen-
can flattops in the Pacific as meaty when a coastwatcher reported a derson, Foss scored his first victory
targets to the numerically superior large group of Japanese bombers in- on 13 October. As an attacking Zero
Japanese ships and aircraft. bound for Henderson. VMF-223 fired and missed, Foss fired his
Wasp took a lurking Japanese and -224 took off to intercept the guns sending the enemy fighter
submarine's torpedoes on 15 Sep- raiders. The Marine Wildcats ac- down. Three more Zeros then at-
tember while covering a convoy. counted for 11 enemy aircraft; Lieu- tacked Foss, putting holes in his
Now only Hornet remained. Navy tenant Colonel Bauer claimed four, Wildcat's oil system. The newly
planes and crews from Enterprise, making him an ace. blooded pilot had to make a dead-
Saratoga, and now Wasp flew into On 30 September, Admiral stick landing back at Cactus Base.
Henderson Field to supplement the Chester Nimitz, Commander-in- Other veterans of the campaign
hard-pressed Marine fighter and Chief, Pacific, braved a heavy rain- had not stayed idle. Major Smith of
bomber squadrons there. lt was still storm to fly in to Henderson for an VMF-223 had taken his squadron
a meager force of 63 barely opera- awards ceremony. John Smith, Mar- up on 2 October against a raid by
tional aircraft, a collection of Navy ion Carl, and Bob Caler, as well as Japanese bombers and fighters. The
and Marine F4Fs and SBDs, Navy some ist Marine Division person- Zero escorts dove on the climbing
Grumann TBF Avenger torpedo nel, received the Navy Cross. Other Navy and Marine Wildcats, quickly
bombers, and a few forlorn Army members of the Cactus Air Force, shooting down two fighters from
P-400s. A few new Marine pilots Navy and Marine, were decorated VMF-223. Smith exited a cloud to
from VMF-121 filtered in on 25 Sep- with Distinguished Flying Crosses. confront three Zeros. He blasted a
tember. However, two days later, Nimitz departed in a blinding rain fighter into a ball of flame. How-
the crews from Enterprise's contin- after presenting a total of 27 medals ever, the two remaining Zeros got
gent took their planes out to meet to the men of the Cactus Air Force. on his tail and peppered the strug-
their carrier steaming in to arrive gling little blue-gray F4F with can-
on station off Guadalcanal. As the Combat in October non and machine gun fire. Listen-
weather broke on the 27th, the En- ing to a repaired radio from a
terprise crews took their leave of October was a pivotal month for damaged SBD back at Guadalcanal,
Guadalcanal. the air campaign on Guadalcanal. It the crews of Dennis Byrd's VMSB-
The next day, the Japanese was a time when the men who had 232 heard Captain Carl call to his
mounted their first raid in nearly arrived in August were clearly at skipper. "John, you've got a Zero on
two weeks. Warned by the coast- the end of their endurance, for sick- your tail!" "1 knoç I know," Smith

replied, "shoot the SOB if you can!" too many and we were both offer, Major Caler rode in a native
Then all was silence. shot down. Hartley got to a canoe to a Marine camp on a beach
Smith's aircraft was mortally field, but I couldn't make it. five miles away. He made his way
wounded, and he tried to regain the The lap that got me really had back to Henderson from there.
field. He finally had to make a dead- me boresighted. He raked my Marine Aircraft Croup 23 and the
stick landing six miles from the strip ship from wingtip to wingtip. rest of its squadrons also left the fol-
and walk back, watching all the He blasted the rudder bar lowing day, having earned a rest
time for roving Japanese patrols. right from under my foot. My from the intense combat of the last
Second Lieutenant Charles H. cockpit was so perforated it's a two-and-a-half months. Between 20
Kendrick was not as fortunate as miracle that I escaped. The August and 16 October, the
his skipper. The Zeros had gotten blast drove the rivets from the squadrons of MAC-23 and attached
him on their first pass, and he tried pedal into my leg. I pancaked Army and Navy squadrons had
to guide his stricken fighter to a into the water near Florida Is- shot down 244 Japanese aircraft, in-
crash landing. He apparently land. lt took me an hour-and- cluding 111.5 by VMF-223 and 60.5
landed close to Henderson, but his a-hall to swim ashore....I wor- by VMF-224. The score had not
fighter flipped over on its back, ried not only about the laps corne free, though. Twenty-two pi-
killing the young pilot. but about the tide turning lots of the group, as well as 33 avia-
Major Smith led a party to the against me, and sharks. tors from other Navy, Marine, and
Major Caler struggled ashore Army squadrons assigned to the
crash site. They found Kendrick still
in his cockpit. They released and where he encountered four men Cactus Air Force, had been lost.
buried him beside his plane. Stan armed with machetes and spears. John Smith had seen his last en-
Nicolay recalled, "I don't know Fortunately, the natives were gagement. He received the Medal of
how many we lost that day We re- friendly and took the bedraggled Honor for his leadership during the
ally took a beating." Actually, six pilot to their village. After enjoying Guadalcanal campaign and finished
Wildcats had been shot down or re- what hospitality his hosts could the war as the sixth highest on the
turned with strike damage. Several
others required major repair. Maj John L. Smith, LtCol Richard C. Mangrurn, and Capt Marion E. Carl pose for photos
VMF-224's skipper was also shot after returning to the States. LtCol Mangrum commanded an SBD squadron at the height
down. Bob Caler bailed out over of the Cactus campaign and was universallij admired. He eventually attained the rank of
lieutenant genera!, while Marion Carl retired as a major general after fighting in three
the waterhis third shootdown in warsWorld War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
less than three weeksand was res- Department of Defense photo (USMC) A707812
cued. He had accounted for two
Zeros, however. He recalled:
I was up with six fighters,
cruising about at 20,000 or
25,000 feet. Suddenl 18 Zeros
came at us out of the sun, and
we took 'em on. The day was
cloudy and after a few min-
utes, the only other Marine I
could find was Second Lieu-
tenant Dean Hartley. In the
melee of first contact, I heard
several Jap bullets splatter
againstand throughmy
ship, but none stopped me. At
about the same moment, Hart-
ley and I started to climb into
a group of seven Zeros hover-
ing above us. In about four
minutes, I shot down two
Zeros and Hartley got a possi-
ble. The other four were just

A New Crew at Cactus
Although VMF-223 had left,
Guadalcanal still had several top
scoring aces left, among them Cap-
tain Joe Foss of VMF-121 and Lieu-
tenant Colonel Harold Bauer of
VMF-212. Throughout October 1942,
Foss and Bauer were kept busy by
constant Japanese raids, desperately
trying to dislodge the determined
Marines from the island.
Lieutenant Colonel Bauer had
led his VMF-212 up from Espiritu
Santo on the afternoon of 16 Octo-
ber, when he finally had his own
squadron at Henderson. With
empty gas tanks, the 18 Wildcats
were running on fumes as they en-
tered the landing pattern in time to
see a U.S. transport under attack
from Japanese dive-bombers. With-
Painhng by William S. Phillips, courtesy of The Greenwich Workshop out hesitating, Bauer broke from the
Marion Carl, now a major and commanding his old squadron, VMF-223, made his 17th pattern and charged into the Vals,
kill in December 1943, when he shot down a Japanese Tony over Rabaul. Carl was escort- shooting down four of them. It was
ing Marine PBJ (B-25) bombers in his F4 U-1 Corsair when the enemy fighter jumped the an incredible way to advertise the
raiders. The victory was Carl's next-to-last score.
arrival of his squadron.
Joe Foss took off on the afternoon
list of Marine Corps aces, closely The night of 13-14 October saw of 23 October to intercept an incom-
followed by his friend and rival, the Japanese pound beleaguered ing force of Betty bombers, escorted
Marion Carl. Much to his initial Henderson Field with every gun by Zeros. Five of the escorting fight-
chagrin, Smith found himself on the they could fire from their assem- ers dove toward Foss and his flight,
War Bond circuit, and then training bled flotilla offshore, as well as the followed by 20 more Zeros. Diving
new pilots. It was not until two entrenched artillery positions hid- to gain speed, the VMF-121 execu-
years later, in 1944, that Lieutenant den in the dense jungle surround- tive officer saw a Wildcat pursued
Colonel Smith got a combat assign- ing the field. The night-long bar- by a Zero. He fired at the Japanese
ment again. As commanding officer rage might very well have been the fighter, shredding it with his six .50-
of MAC-32 in Hawaii, he took the end for the Cactus Marines. caliber machine guns.
group to Bougainville and the The new day revealed that of 39 Without losing speed, Foss racked
Philippines. Dauntlesses, only seven could be his aircraft into a loop behind an-
Marion Carl assumed command considered operational, only a few other Zero. He destroyed this second
of his old squadron, VMF-223, in Army fighters could stagger into the Mitsubishi while both fighters hung
the United States in January 1943 air, and all the TBF Avenger torpedo inverted over Guadalcanal. As he
and took the newly renamed Bull- bombers were destroyed or down. carne out of the loop, Foss hit a third
dogs to the South Pacific late in the The only saving factor was that the Zero. A fourth kill finished off a
fall. He gained two more killsa fighter strip was relatively un- highly productive mission.
Ki.61 Tony (a Japanese Army touched. By the afternoon, a few On 25 October, Foss took off
fighter) and a Zero, on 23 Decem- Wildcats were sent up to mount a pa- again against a Japanese raid, and
ber and 27 December 1943, respec- trol over Henderson while it pulled this time, he shot down two enemy
tivelythis time in a Vought F4U itself together. For the next few days, aircraft. Later the same day, Foss
Corsair. His final score at the end the Cactus Air ForceMarine, Navy gunned down three more Zeros for
of the war was 18.5 Japanese air- and Armyflew as though its coilec- a total of five in one day, and an
craft destroyed. five life was on the line, which it was. overall score of 16 kills.

Marine Corps Aviators
Who Received
the Medal of Honor
in World War II
f the 81 Medals of Honor Marine during the war, his perfor- other seven were for periods of con-
awarded to Marines for ser- mance did not become known until tinued service or more than one
vice during World War II, li survivors of Wake had been repatri- mission. Seven of these awards were
Marine Corps aviators received ated after the war. for service in the Solomons-Guadal-
America's highest military award. Captain Fleming was a dive- canal Campaign. The awards for
Except for two posthumous awards, bomber pilot at Midway in 1942. specific actions went to First Lieu-
the medals all went to aces who VMSB-241 flew both the obsolete tenant Jefferson DeBlanc (31 January
served in the Solomons and Vought SB2U Vindicator and the 1943) and First Lieutenant James
Bougainville campaigns. The Medal SBD Dauntless during this pivotal E. Swett (7 April 1943).
of Honor was awarded to Captain battle. On 5 June 1942, Captain Five of these awards were origi-
Henry T. Elrod of VMF-211 and Cap- Fleming was last seen diving on a nally posthumous. However, Major
tain Richard E. Fleming of VMSB- Japanese ship amidst a wall of flak. Gregory Boyington made a sur-
241. Captain Elrod was killed on HIs Vindicator struck the cruiser's prise return from captivity as a
Wake in December 1941. Although aft turret. prisoner of war to receive
his award is chronologically the first Two of the remaining nine his award in person from President
Medal of Honor to be awarded to a awards were for specific actions; the Harry S. Truman.

The Pilots and Their Aircraft

*Lieutenant Colonel Harold W. Bauer, VMF-212. For Major Robert E. Galer, VMF-224. For service in the
service from May to November 1942. Grumman F4F-4 Guadalcanal Campaign, August-September 1942.
Wildcat. Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat.

Major Gregory Boyington, VMF-214. For service from *First Lieutenant Robert M. Hanson, VMF-215. For ac-
September 1943 to January 1944 in the Central tion in the Central Solomons, November 1943 and Jan-
Solomons. Vought F4U-1 /F4U-IA Corsair. uary 1944. Vought F4U-1 Corsair.

First Lieutenant Jefferson J. DeBlanc, VMF-112. For ac- Major Robert L. Smith, VMF-223. For service in the
tion on 31 January 1943. Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat. Guadalcanal Campaign, August-September 1942.
Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat.
*Captain Henry T. Elrod, VMF-211. For action on Wake
Island 8-23 December 1941. Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. First Lieutenant James E. Swett, VMF-221. For action on
7 April 1943 over Guadalcanal. Grumman F4F-4
*Captain Richard E. Fleming, VMSB-241. For action at Wildcat.
the Battle of Midway, 4-5 June 1942. Vought SB2U-3
Vindicator. First Lieutenant Kenneth A. Walsh, VIvIF-124. For action
Captain Joseph J. Foss, VMF-121. For service in the on 15 and 30 August 1943. Vought F4U-1 Corsair.
Guadalcanal Campaign, October 1942-January 1943.
Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat. * indicates a posthumous award

Lieutenant Colonel Bauer was after Pearl Harbor, including their October. What became known as
adding to his score, too. A veteran disastrous and failed adventure at the Battle of Santa Cruz occurred
aviator, Colonel Bauer was a re- Midway, the Japanese had lost some 300 miles southeast of
spected flight leader. He frequently Guadalcanal. Indeed, most of the
many of their most experienced pi-
lots, and their replacements were Marine and Navy flight crews at-
gave pep talks to his younger pilots,
earning the affectionate nickname neither so good nor experienced. tempting to blunt remaining enemy
of "Coach." Bauer had taken over Many of the major aces of the Zero air raids still plaguing the positions
as commander of fighters on squadronsthe ones who had accu- of the embattled ground forces on
Guadalcanal on 23 October. mulated many combat hours over Guadalcanal had no idea that an-
Before the big mission on 23 Oc- Chinahad, indeed, been lost or other desperate fight was being
been rotated out of the combat zone. waged that would have a distinct
tober, the Coach had told his pilots,
"When you see Zeros, dogfight Whatever the situation, most of the impact on their situation back at
'em!" His instructions went against Marine pilots in this early part of Henderson.
the warnings that most of American the war in the South Pacific would Many American Navy flight
fighter pilots had been given about still admit that the Japanese re- crews received their baptism of fire
the lithe little Japanese fighter. Joe mained a force to he reckoned with. during Santa Cruz. Hornet was hit
Foss' success on this day seemed to The Japanese endeavored to re- by Japanese dive-bombers and
vindicate Bauer, however. Twenty assert their dominance on 25 Octo- eventually abandonedone of the
ber. In a last-ditch effort to remove
Zeros and two Bettys, including the few times that a still-floating Ameri-
four Zeros claimed by Foss, went American carriers from the South can ship had been left to the enemy,
down in front of Marine Wildcats. Pacific, a fleet including three air- even though she was burning from
Up to this time the Zero was con- craft carriers sortied to find the stem to stern. (The carrier was only
sidered the best fighter in the Pa- U.S. carriers Enterprise and Hornet, a year old.) Enterprise was hit by \Tal
cific. This belief stemmed from the all that remained at the moment of dive-bombers, and the aircraft of
fact that the Zero had spectacular the meager U.S. carrier strength in her Air Group 10 were ultimately
characteristics of performance in the Pacific. forced to land on Guadalcanal. The
both maneuverability, rate of climb, The Japanese fleet was discov- displaced Navy crews remained at
and radius of action, all first noted ered during an intensive search by Henderson until 10 November,
at the Battles of the Coral Sea and PBY flying boats, and the battle was while their ship underwent repairs
Midway. And it was because of its joined early in the morning of 26 at Noumea, New Caledonia.
performances in these actions that it
achieved the seeming invincibility While the Marines on Guadalcanal fought for their lives, their Navy compatriots far offshore
that it did. At the same time, the also challenged the Japanese. At the Battle of Santa Cruz, October1942, Japanese bombers
hit the American ships, damaging the vital camer Enterprise as well as attacking squadrons
Zero was highly flammable because
of inexperienced Navy aircrews. This A6M2 Model 21 Zero launches from the carrier
it lacked armor plate in any form in Sholalu during Santa Cruz while deck crewmen cheer on the pilot, Lt Hideki Shingo.
its design and also because it had Author's Collection
no self-sealing fuel tanks, such as
existed in U.S. aircraft. Initially in
the war, in the hands of a good
pilot, the Zero could usually take
care of itself against its heavier and
tougher American opponents, but
early in the air battles over Guadal-
canal, its days of supremacy be-
came numbered. By the end of the
war in the Pacific, the kill ratio of
U.S. planes over Japanese aircraft
went from approximately 2.5:1 to
better than 10:1.
What made the difference as far
as Lieutenant Colonel Bauer was
concerned was his feeling that, in
the 10 months of intense combat

While blame and recriminations Sixty-nine Japanese aircraft had their vital aircraft and their experi-
went the rounds of the Navy's Pa- been shot down by Navy F4Fs and enced flight crews and flight com-
cific commandsfor it seemed that antiaircraft fire. An additional 23
manders. Thus, as the frantic month
Santa Cruz was a debacle, a strate- were forced to ditch because of of October gave way to November,
gic and tactical defeat for the hard- crippling battle damage. and although they did not know it
pressed carrier forcethe effects of Like Midway, Santa Cruz de- at the time, the Cactus Air Force
the battle would become clear soon. prived the Japanese of many of crews had been given a respite, and

Brigaierene1 Roy Gr,iiSMC

Geiger, commander of the ist Marine Corps) for the Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu, and Old-
Aircraft Wing, arrived on Guadalcanal on 3 nawa operations.
Generai September 1942 to assume command of air When Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner,
operations emanating from Henderson Field. He was Jr., USA, commander of the Tenth Army on Okinawa
57 years old, and he had been a Marine for 35 of was killed, and based on General Buckner's stated
those years, commanded a squadron in France in decision before the operation, General Geiger took
World War I, served a number of tours fighting the over command and became the first Marine ever to
bandits in Central America, and had served in the accede to command of as large a unit as an army. He
Philippines and China. He was designated a naval was then 60, an age when many men in civilian life
aviator in June 1917, thus becoming the fifth flyer in looked forward to retirement.
the Marine Corps and the 49th in the naval service. In But it was at Guadalcanal, where his knowledge of
the course of his career, he had a number of assign- Marine planes and pilots was so important in defeat-
ments to staff and command billets as well as tours at ing the myth of Japanese invincibility in the air, that
senior military courses such as the ones at the Army he first made his mark in the Pacific War. A short,
Command and Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, the husky, tanned, and white-haired Marine, whose deep
Army War College at Carlisle, and the Navy War Col- blue eyes were piercing and whose reputation had
lege at Newport. He also was both a student and in- preceded him, compelled instant attention, recogni-
structor at various times at the Marine Corps Schools, tion, and dedication on the part of his junior pilots,
Quantico, Virginia. Among other reasons, it was be- many of whom had but a few hours of experience in
cause of his sound training in strategy and tactics at the planes they were flying. As told in this pamphlet,
these schools and his long experience as a Marine out of meager beginnings grew the reputation and
success in combat of the aces in the Solomons,
that he was so weil equipped to assume command of
I Marine Amphibious Corps (later III Amphibious Benis M. Frank

ultimately, the key to victory over
the island.
Meanwhile, under the command
of Admiral Isoroku Yamarnoto, the
Japanese decided to make one
more try to land troops and mater-
ial on Guadalcanal and to regain
the island and its airstrips. The
Americans were also bringing new
squadrons and men in to fortify
Cactus Base and Henderson Field.
MAC-11 arrived on 1 November,
bringing the SBDs of VMSB-132
and the F4Fs of VMF-112. Newly
promoted Brigadier General Louis
Woods arrived on 7 November to
relieve Brigadier General Roy S.
Geiger as commander of the Cactus Painting by ièd Wilbur, courtesy of the artist
Air Force. Both men were pioneer Using hit-and-run tactics, Capt Joe Foss plaines a Japanese Zero over Henderson Field
Marine aviators, and Geiger had in October 1942.
led his squadrons through some of
and carrier-based Zerocrossing
the most intense combat to be seen The gunner's aim was good and
during the war. But, almost in- from right to left, descending. Alert- Foss' Wildcat suffered heavy dam-
evitably, the strain was beginning ing his squadron mates, he dropped age before he finally dispatched the
to show on the tough, 57-year-old his light bombs and headed toward audacious little floatplane. Soon, the
Geiger. He had once taken off in an the unsuspecting enemy fighters. VMF-121 executive officer found a
SBD in full view of his troops and In one slashing pass, Foss' Wild- third victim, another floatplane, and
dropped a 1,000-pound bomb on a cats shot down five of the six Zeros, shot it down. Regrouping with a
Japanese position, showing his Foss' target literally disintegrating portion of his group, he flew back to
troops that a former squadron com- under the weight of his heavy ma- Henderson Field with another badly
mander in France in World War I chine gun fire. One of the other damaged Wildcat. However, the
could still do it. Wildcats shot down the surviving two cripples were spotted en route
As new planes and crews ar- Zero. All six enemy pilots bailed by enemy fighters. The two Ameri-
rived at Henderson and the frus- out of their fighters and seemed to can fighters tried to get to the pro-
trated Japanese planned their final be out of danger as they floated to- tection of clouds. Foss succeeded,
attacks, the Cactus Marines fought ward the water. As the incredulous but his wingman was apparently
on. On 7 November, a sighting of a Marine pilots watched, however, shot down by the enemy flight.
force of Japanese ships near the six Japanese aviators unlatched Foss was not out of danger, how-
Florida Island scrambled a strike their parachute harnesses and fell ever, as his engine finally quit, forc-
group of SBDs and their F4F es- to their deaths. ing him to glide toward the sea,
corts. Captain Joe Foss led eight Foss called for his fighters to 3,500 feet below. He dropped
VMF-121 Wildcats, each with 250- regroup in preparation for a straf- through heavy rain, trying to gauge
pound bombs beneath its wings. ing run on the enemy warships the best way to put his aircraft
The VMSB-1 32 Dau n ti esses carried below. He spotted a slow float bi- down in the water. He spotted a
500-pounders in their centerline- planeprobably a Mitsubishi small village on the coast of a
mounted bomb racks. type used for reconnaissance- nearby island and wondered if the
The heavily laden aircraft took and lined up for what he thought natives would turn him over to the
some 30 minutes to climb to 12,000 would be an easy kill. However, Japanese.
the two-seater was surprisingly
feet as their crews searched for the He hit the water with enough
enemy flotilla. As he looked ahead maneuverable, and its pilot force to slam his canopy shut, mo-
and below, Foss spotted six Japan- chopped the throttle, letting his mentarily trapping him in the cock-
ese floatplane Zerosa modifica- rear gunner get a good shot at the pit as the Wildcat began to sink. In a
tion of the A6M2 model of the land- surprised American fighter. few seconds which seemed like an

The Battle for threat, shooting down one of the
Guadalcanal Japanese attackers. The second
Zero dragged Foss and Furlow
On the night of 12-13 November, over a Japanese destroyer which
American and Japanese naval forces did its best to take out the Wildcats.
fought a classic naval battle which By the time they had shaken the
has been called the First Battle of Zero and returned to the point
Guadalcanal. It was a tactical defeat where they last saw the Coach,
for the Americans who lost two rear they found a large oil slick with
admirals killed in action on the Colonel Bauer in the middle, wear-
bridges of their respective flagships. ing his yellow Mae West, waving
The next day, 14 November, the furiously at his squadron mates.
Second Battle of Guadalcanal pitted Foss quickly flew back to Hen-
aircraft froni the carrier Enterprise derson and jumped into a Grurn-
man Duck, a large amphibian used
and Henderson Field against a large
as a hack transport and rescue vehi-
enemy force trying to run the Slot,
the body of water running down the cle. Precious time was lost as the
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 97555 Duck had to hold for a squadron of
Two aces walk with another famous aviator. Solomons chain between Guadal-
Army B-26 bombers landing after a
Charles Lindbergh, right, visited the Pacific canal and New Georgia. By mid- flight from New Caledonia; they
combat areas several times to help Armi, night, another naval engagement were nearly out of gas. Finally, Foss
Navy, and Marine Corps squadrons get the was underway. This battle turned
most from the respective mounts. Here, the and the Duck's pilot, Lieutenant
out differently for the Japanese, who
pioneer transatlantic flier visits with now- Joseph N. Renner, roared off in the
Maj Joe Foss, left, and now-Ma j Marion
lost several ships, including 10 last light of the day. By the time
Carl, center, in May 1944. transports carrying more than 4,000 they arrived over Bauer's last posi-
troops and their equipment. lion, it was dark and the Coach was
eternity, he struggled to free himself The Navy and Marines from En- nowhere to be seen.
from his seat and the straps of his ter prise and Henderson hammered The next morning a desperate
parachute, and force the canopy the enemy ships, while the Ameri- search found nothing of Lieu-
open again. His aircraft was well cans on the island, in turn, were ha- tenant Colonel Bauer. He was
below the surface and only after an rassed day and night by well-en- never found and was presumed to
adrenalin-charged push, was he able trenched enemy artillery positions have drowned or have been at-
to ram the canopy back and shoot still on Guadalcanal and the huge tacked by the sharks which were a
from his plane. He remembered to guns of the Japanese battleships constant threat to all aviators
inflate his Mae West life preserver, and cruisers offshore. forced to parachute into the waters
which helped him get to the surface During these furious engage- around Guadalcanal during the
where he lay gasping for air. ments, Lieutenant Colonel Bauer campaign.
After floating for a long time as had dutifully stayed on the ground, Bauer's official score of 11 Japan-
darkness fell, Foss was finally res- organizing Cactus air strikes and ese aircraft destroyed (revised lists
cued by natives and a missionary ordering other people into the air. credit him with 10) did not begin to
priest from the village he had seen Finally, on the afternoon of 14 No-tell the impact the loss the tough
as he dropped toward the water. vember, Colonel Bauer scheduled veteran had on the young Marine
The rescue came none too soon as himself to lead seven F4Fs from and Navy crews at Henderson. He
sharks, which frequented the wa- VMF-121 as escorts for a strike by was decorated with a Medal of
ters near the island, had begun to SBDs and TBFs against the Japanese Honor posthumously for his flight
appear around the Marine pilot. transport ships. on 16 October, when he shot down
A PBY flew up from Henderson Together with Captain Foss and four Japanese Val dive-bombers,
the next day to collect him and he Second Lieutenant Thomas W. but the high award could also be
was back in action the day after he "Coot" Furlow, Bauer strafed one considered as having been given in
returned. On 12 November, he of the transports before turning recognition of his leadership of his
scored three kills, making him the back for Henderson. Two Zeros own squadron, VMF-212, and later,
top American ace of the war, and sneaked up on the Marine fighters, as the commander of the fighters of
the first to reach 20 kills. hut Bauer turned to meet the the Cactus Air Force.

Painting by William S. Phillips, courtesy of The Creeneich Workshop
Capt Foss saves a fellow pilot by shooting dowi an attacking Zero during an engagement on 23 October 1942.

The loss of the Coach was a hard the coming months, they would Marines who was awarded the
blow. Another loss, albeit tempo- find out he knew was he was talk- Medal of Honor for his cumulative
rary, was that of Joe Foss who be- ing about. work during their intense cam-
came severely ill with malaria. Foss returned to Guadalcanal on paign. Summoned to the White
(Many of the Cactus Air Force avia- 31 December 1942, and remained House on 18 May 1943, he was dec-
tors, like the ground troops, battled on combat status until 17 February orated by President Franklin D.
one tropical malady or another dur- 1943, when he was ordered back to Roosevelt. After his action-packed
ing their combat tours.) Foss flew the U.S. By this time, besides endur- tour at Guadalcanal, Captain Foss
out to New Caledonia on 19 No- ing several return bouts with went on the requisite War Bond
vember with a temperature of 104 malaria, he had shot down another tour. Promoted to major, he took
degrees. He spent the next month six Japanese aircraft for a final total command of a new fighter
on sick leave, also losing 37 pounds. of 26 aircraft and no balloons, thus squadron, VMF-11 5, equipped with
While in Australia, he met some of becoming the first American pilot F4U-1 Corsairs.
the Australian pilots who had to equal the score of Captain Ed- Originally nicknamed "Joe's Jok-
flown against Nazi pilots in the ward Rickenhacker, the top U.S. ace ers," in deference to their famous
Desert War in North Africa. In one in World War I. In that war, tethered skipper, VMF-115 flew a short com-
of his conversations with them, he balloons shot down counted as air- bat tour from Bougainville during
told the Aussies, "We have a saying craft splashed. Of the 26 planes May when there was little or no
up at Guadalcanal, if you're alone Rickenbacker was given credit for, enemy air activity from and above
and you meet a Zero, run like hell four were balloons. Rabaul. Major Foss did not add to
because you're outnumbered." In Joe Foss was one of the Cactus his score.

Cactus Victory
By Christmas 1942, tile Japanese
position was clearly untenable.
Their troops who remained on
Guadalcanal were sick and short of
food, medicine, and ammunition.
There was still plenty of action on
the ground and in the air, but not
like the intense engagements of the
previous fall. On 31 January 1943,
First Lieutenant Jefferson J. DeBlanc
of VMF-112 led six Wildcats as es-
corts for a strike by Dauntlesses and
Avengers. He encountered a strong
force of Zeros near Kolombangara
Island and took his fighters down to
meet tile threat before the Japanese
could reach the Marine bombers.
In a wild melee, DeBlanc, who al-
ready had three Zeros to his credit,
shot down three more before hear-
ing a call for help from the bombers Author's Collection
now under attack by floatplane This front view of an F4F-4 shows an unusual aspect of Grumman's tubbi little fighter.
Zeros. DeBlanc and his flight
climbed back to the formation and Feliton, had to abandon their F4Fs
more Zeros closing from behind. He
dispersed the float Zeros. engaged and destroyed these two over Kolombangara. A coast-
Soon after tile SBDs and TBFs attackers with his badly damaged watcher cared for the two Marine
made their attacks on Japanese Wildcat. DeBlanc and a member of aviators until a plane could come
ships, DeBlanc discovered two his flight, Staff Sergeant James A. from Henderson to retrieve them.
A good closeup of a Wildcat's cockpit and the aircraft's captain on Guadalcanal. Al- On 31 January 1943, lstLt Jefferson De-
though this F4F displaiis 19 Japanese flags, it is doubtful that it flew with these since Blanc of VMF-112 earned the Medal of
such a large scoreboard would have attracted unwanted attention from the Japanese. Honor while escorting Marine dive bombers
Note the reflector gunsight inside the windscreen. and torpedo-bombers to Vella Gulf. His flight
National Archives Photo 80-G-37929 encountered a larger enemy force and during
the melee, DeBlanc shot down three float
planes and two Zeros before being forced to
abandon his own plane at a very low altitude
over Japanese-held Kolornbangara.
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 57750

the ground in the jungle was shat- not been seen in the Solomons for
tered, as was the myth surrounding several months. But it was also, at
the Zero and the pilots who flew it. best, a last desperate gamble by the
The lack of reliable records by both Japanese in the area.
sides leaves historians with only Henderson scrambled over 100
wide-ranging estimates of losses. fightersWildcats, Corsairs, P-38s,
Estimates placed 263 Japanese air- P-39s, and P-40s. Among this gag-
craft lost, while American losses gle were the F4Fs of VMF-221. First
were put at 118. Ninety-four Ameri- Lieutenant James E. Swett, leading
can pilots were also killed in action one of the squadron's divisions,
during the campaign. waded into a formation of Val dive
bombers. Swett had arrived on
Post-Guadalcanal Guadalcanal in February and had
Operations, participated in a few patrols, but
February-December 1943 had yet to fire his guns in combat.
As he led his four Wildcats to-
Even though tile main body of ward the Japanese formation, Swett
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 310555 their troops had been evacuated, ignored the flak from the American
lstLt laines E. Swett of VMF-221 was in a the Japanese continued to oppose ships below. He targeted two Vals
flight which rose from Guadalcanal to chal- Allied advances by attacking ships and brought them down. He got a
lenge a large group of enemy planes bent on and positions. The enemy mounted
destroying shipping off the island on 7 April
third dive-bomber as a flak shell put
1943. In a 15-minute period, Swett shot
these attacks through June 1943 a hole in his Wildcat's port wing.
down scven Japanese bombers, a performance from their huge bases in southern Disengaging, Swett tested his
which earned him the Medal of Honor. Bougainville and from Rabaul on wounded fighter, and satisfied that
New Britain. he could still fly and fight with it,
DeBlanc received tile Medal of On 7 April 1943, tile enemy sent he reentered tile fight. Spotting five
Honor for his day's work. a huge strike against Allied ship- Vals hightailing it home, he caught
The Japanese evacuated Guadal- ping around Guadalcanal. The up with the little formation and me-
canal on tile night of 7-8 February Japanese force consisted of more thodically disposed of four of the
1943. The campaign had been costly than 100 Zero escorts and perhaps fixed-gear Vals. The gunner of the
for both sides, but in the longer 70 bombers, dive bombers, and tor- fifth bomber, however, hit Swett's
term, the Japanese were tile big pedo bombers. It was an incredibly Wildcat with a well-aimed burst
losers. Their myth of invincibility on large raid, the likes of which had fr0111 his light machine gun, putting
.30-caliber ammunition into the Ma-
A Marine Wildcat dogfights a Zero over Henderson as other F4Fs finish off another
enemy fighter at low level.
rine fighter's engine and cockpit
Painting by Robert Taylor, courtesy of The Military Gallery canopy.
Wounded from the shattering
glass, and with his vision obscured
from spouting engine oil, Swett
pumped more fire into the Vai,
killing the gunner. The Japanese air-
craft disappeared into a cloud, lea-
ing a smoke trail behind. American
soldiers later found the Val, with its
dead crew. The troops presented
Swett with the radio code from the
Val's cockpit. However, the aircraft
was apparently never credited to
Swett's account, leaving his official
total for the day at seven.
Swett struggled toward Hender-
son but over Tulagi harbor, his air-
craft's engine quit, leaving hirn to

ditch. The Wildcat hit hard, throw- Wildcat squadrons at Henderson lied drive through the Pacific to
ing its pilot against the prominent soon transitioned to the next gener- Japan. The first step of the long
gunsight, stunning him and break- ation of Marine fighter aircraft, the journey began with the island with
ing his nose. Like Joe Foss six world-beating Vought F4U Corsair the strange name.
months before him, Swett was mo- which would also provide its own Once secured, however, by 7 Feb-
mentarily trapped as his aircraft generation of Leatherneck aces in ruary 1943, Guadalcanal quickly be-
sunk, dragging him below the sur- the coming months. came the major support base for the
face. He finally broke free and James Swett transitioned to the remainder of the Solomons cam-
struggled to the surface where he Corsair and served with VMF-221 paign. While Marine ground forces
was rescued by a small picket boat when the squadron embarked in slugged their way up the Solomons
from Gavutu Island. Only one of the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill chain in the middle of 1943, Allied
the four fighters of Swett's division (CVI7). By 11 May 1945, when he air power provided much-needed
had made it back to Henderson. shot down his last victim, a Japan- support, primarily from newly se-
After intelligence confirmed Swett's ese kamikaze, he had a total of 15.5 cured Guadalcanal. Marine and
incredible one-mission tally he be- kills in Wildcats and Corsairs. Navy squadrons were accompanied
came the sixth Marine Wildcat pilot by Army and New Zealand
to receive the Medal of Honor for The Marine Corsair Aces of squadrons as they made low-level
action over Guadalcanal. Bou gainville and the Central sweeps along the islands, or es-
Swett's engagement was part of corted bombers against the harbor
the last great aerial battle in the Pacific, 1943-44 and airfields around Rabaul. The
Solomons. The Japanese were The campaign and victory on U.S. Army Air Force sent strikes by
forced to turn their attention else-
Guadalcanal signaled the contain- B-24 Liberators against Kahili, es-
where as the American strategy of ment of the seemingly unstoppable corted by Corsairs, P-38s, P-39s,
island-hopping began to gather mo- Japanese, and the beginning of the and P-40s. For Marine aviators, it
mentum. All the Marine Corps long, but ultimately successful, Al- was the time of the Corsair aces.
Marine mechanics service an early F4U Corsair, perhaps of VMF-124, on Guadalcanal in
earhi 7943. "Bubbles" is already showing the effects of its harsh tropical environment as The First Corsair Ace
well as the constant scuffing of its keepers' boots. Note the Corsair's large gull wings and Because the Navy decided that
long nose, which prohibited a clear view forward, especially during taxi and landings.
the F6F Wildcat was a better carrier
National Archives 127-N-55431
fighter than the F4U Vought Cor-
sair, the Marines got a chance to
field the first operational squadron
to fly the plane. Thus, Major
William Gise led the 24 F4U-ls of
VMF-124 onto Henderson Field on
12 February 1943.
As the Allied offensive across the
Pacific gathered momentum, the
fighting above the Solomons and
the surrounding islands continued
as the Japanese constantly harassed
the advancing Allied troops. The
Corsair's first engagements were
tentative. The pilots of the first
squadron, VMF-124, had only an
average of 25 hours each in the
plane when they landed at Guadal-
canal. The very next day, they were
off to Bougainvile as escorts for
Army B-17s and Navy PB4Y Libera-
tors. It was a lot to ask, but they did
it, taking some losses of both

Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60940
Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1933,
lsfLt Kenneth A. Walsh eventually went
through flight training as a private, gaining
his wings in 1937. By 1943, Walsh was in
aerial combat over the Soloînons and be-
came the first Corsair-mounted ace.
N,,tional Archives photo 80-G-5429t
bombers and escorts. While it was a lstLt Ken Walsh of VMF-124 connects his radio lead to his flight helmet before a mission
rough start, the Marines soon set- in 1943, He was the first F4U pilot to be decorated with the Medal of Honor, for n mis-
tled down and began to exploit the sion on 30 August 1943, during which he shot down four Japanese Zeros before ditching
his borrowed Corsair.
great performance of this new ma-
chine, soon to become known to the
Japanese as "Whistling Death," and grabbing some lunch, the four Ma- As Walsh fought off several at-
to the Corsair pilots as the "Bent rine pilots took off again to ren- tacks by some 50 Zeros, thereby
Wing Widow Maker." dezvous with the bombers. As the disrupting to a degree their attack
After the first few missions, the escortsmore F4Us and Army P- on the bombers, he wondered
new experience with the Corsair's 38sjoined up with the bombers, where all the other American
capabilities began to really take Walsh's engine acted up, forcing fighters might be. Finally, several
hold. First Lieutenant Kenneth A. him to make an emergency landing other Corsairs appeared to relieve
Walsh, a former enlisted pilot (he at Munda. the hard-pressed ace. As other
received his wings of gold as a pri- A friend, Major James L. Neefus, aircraft took the burden from
vate), shot down three enemy air- was in charge of the Munda air- Walsh, he eased his damaged
craft on 1 April. Six weeks later, field, and he let Walsh choose an- fighter east to take stock of his sit-
after several patrols, Walsh other fighter from Corsairs that uation. He was able to shoot
dropped three more Zeros on 13 were parked on Munda's airstrip. down two Zeros, but the enemy
May 1943, becoming the first Cor- Walsh took off in his borrowed interceptors were nearly over-
sair ace. By 15 August, Walsh had fighter and headed toward Kahili whelming. The B-24s were strug-
10 victories to his credit. to try to find and rejoin with his di- gling to turn for home as more
On 30 August, he was scheduled vision. As he finally approached Zeros took off from Kahili.
to fly escort for Army B-24s on a the enemy base, he saw the B-24s Lieutenant Walsh managed to
strike against the Japanese airfield in their bomb runs, beset by down two more Zeros before he had
at Kahili, Bougainville. Walsh's swarms of angry Zeros. Alone, at to disengage his badly damaged
four-plane section launched before least for the moment, \'Valsh piled Corsair. Pursued by the Japanese,
noontime to make the flight to a into the enemy interceptors which who pumped cannon and machine
forward base on Banika in the Rus- had already begun to work on the gun fire into his plane, Walsh knew
sell Islands. After refueling and Army bombers. he would not return this Corsair to

sair pilot to receive the Medal of
Honor. The four Zeros he shot
down during this incredible mis-
sion ran his score to 20.
Ken Walsh shot down one more
aircraft, another Zero, off Okinawa
on 22 June 1945, the day the island
was secured. At the time, Walsh
was the operations officer for VMF-
222, shorebased on the newly se-
cured island.
A series of assaults during the
spring and summer of 1943 netted
the Allies several important islands
up the Solomons chain. An am-
phibious assault of Bougainville at
Empress Augusta Bay on 1 Novem-
ber 1943, caught the Japanese de-
Profile by Larry Lapadura, courtesy of the artist fenders off guard. In spite of Japan-
This VMF-124 F4U-1, No.13, was flown ln lstLt Ken Walsh during his first combat tour ese reaction and reinforcement, a
in which he became the first Corsair-mounted ace. secure perimeter was quickly estab-
lished, and within 40 days, the first
Major Neefus at Munda. Several by the Seabees who borrowed a of three airfields was in operation
Corsairs and a lone P-40 arrived to boat after watching the Marine with two more to follow by the
scatter the Zeros which were using Corsair splash into the sea. For his new year. Aircraft from these strips
Walsh for target practice. spirited single-handed defense of
flew fighter sweeps first, later to be
He ditched his battered fighter the B-24s over Bougainville, Lieu- followed by daily escorted SBD
off Vella Lavella and was picked up tenant Walsh became the first Cor-
and TBF strikes. With the establish-
ment of this air strength at Bougain-
Maj Gregory "Pappy" Boyington became the best known Marine ace, A member of the ville, the rest of the island was ef-
Flying Tigers in China before World War II, he later commanded VMF-122 before taking
fectively bypassed, and the fate of
over VMF-214. By early January 1944, he was the Corps' leading scorer. Here, the colorful
Boyington, center, relaxes with some of his pilots.
Rabaul sealed.
Authors Collection Marine aircraft began flying
from their base at Torokina Point at
Empress Augusta Bay, the site for
the initial landing on Bougain-
yule's midwestern coast. Navy
Seabees then quickly hacked out
two more airstrips from the jun-
glePiva North and Piva South.
Piva Village was a settlement on
the Piva River, east of the airfield
The official Marine Corps his-
tory noted that "whenever there
was no combat air patrol over the
beachhead, the Japanese were
quite apt to drop shells into the air-
field area. The Seabees and Marine
engineers moved to the end of the
field which was not being hit and
continued to work."

Comparative Table for Main Types of Fighters
Aircraft Length Span Engine Max Speed Range Armament Number
(hp) (mph)! normal/max Built
altitude (miles)

U.S. Navy

F4F-4 28'9" 38 0" Pratt & 320/19.400 910/1,250 4x (later 6) 1,168

Wildcat Whitney .50-cal.
R-1 830-86 machine guns
(1 200)
6x50-cal. 9,4441
4U-1 33,4" 410 Pratt & 417/
Corsair Whitney 19.900 1,01 5/1 562 machine guns

P-400 30 2 34 0 Allison 335/ 600/1,100 lx2Omm can. 1792

(P-39D) V-1710 5,000 4x30-cal.
Airacobra (1,150) 2x.50-cal.
machine guns

P-40E 312 37 4 Allison 335/ 650/ 6x50-cal. 2,320

Warhawk V-1 710 5,000 850 machine guns
(1 ,1 50)
Navy r
A6M2 29 8" 39 4 Nakaj ma 331 / 1,160/ 2x2Omm can. 1,100
Model 21 Sakai 12 15,000 1.930 2x7 .7mm
Zero-sen (925) machine guns

A6M 2- N

Ki.43-1 a


Sakai 12



745 max
2x2Omm can.
machine guns

2x7.7mm or
machine guns


Ki.61-la 288 39 4 Kawasaki 368/ 373/ 2x12 .7mm 1.380

H ien Ha-40 16,000 684 2x7.7mm
(Tony) (1,175) machine guns

Includes all variants of the F4U-1, i.e., the -1, -lA, -1G (armed with 4x2Omm cannon), and -1D, as well as those built by
Goodyear as the FG-1A/D, and by Brewster as the F3A-1D.
2 The amount reclaimed by the USAAF from the original RAF order of 675. Approximately 100 P-400 and 90 P-39Ds served
with the USAAF in the Pacific. Others served with the Soviet Air Force, and the USAAF in the Middle East and the Mediter-
ranean theater.
Production numbers for many Japanese aircraft are difficult to pin down. The best estimate places A6M2 production at
over 1, 100.
does not officially recognize the based at Espiritu Santo, initially fly-
kills made by the AVG. even ing squadron training, non-combat
though the Tigers were eventually missions. He deployed for a short
absorbed into the Fourteenth Air but inactive tour at Guadalcanal in
Force, led by Major General Claire March 1943, and after the squadron
Chennault. Thus, the best confir- was withdrawn, he relieved Major
mation that can be obtained on Elmer Brackett as commanding offi-
Boyington's record with the AVG is cer in April 1943. His first command
that he scored 3.5 kills. tour was disappointing. He eventu-
Whatever today's accounts show, ally landed in VMF-112, which he
Boyington returned to the U.S. commanded for three weeks in the
claiming to be one of America's first rear area. Prior to forward deploy-
aces. He was perhaps the first Ma- ment, he broke his leg while
rine aviator to have flown in com- wrestling and was hospitalized.
bat against the Japanese, though, Boyington got another chance
Author's Cojiection
and he felt he would easily regain and took command of a reconsti-
Major Gregory "Puppy" Boyington his commission in the Marine tuted VMF-214. The original unit
Corps. To his frustration, no one in had returned from a combat tour,
any service seemed to want him. during which it had lost its com-
The One and Only 'Pappij' His reputation was well known and manding officer, Major William
Every one of the Corps' aces had this made his reception not exactly Pace. When the squadron returned
special qualities that set him apart open armed. from a short rest and recreation tour
from his squadron mates. Flying Boyington finally telegrammed in Australia, the decision was made
and shooting skills, tenacity, ag- his qualifications to Secretary of the to reorganize the unit because the
gressiveness, and a generous share Navy Frank Knox, and as a result, squadron did not have a full corn-
of luckthe aces had these in found himself back in the Marine plement of combat-ready pilots.
abundance. One man probably had Corps on active duty as a Reserve Thus, the squadron number went to
more than his share of these quali- major. He deployed as executive of- a newly organized squadron under
ties, and that was the legendary ficer of VMF-122 from the West Major Boyington. In his illuminat-
"Pappy" Boyington. Coast to the Solomons. He was ing wartime memoir, Once They
A native of Idaho, Gregory Boy-
ington went through flight training
Black Sheep pilots scramble toward their F4 U-1 "birdcage" Corsairs. The early model
as a Marine Aviation Cadet, earning fighters had framed cockpit canopies. The next F4 U-lAs and subsequent models used
a reputation for irreverence and bubble canopies which enhanced the limited visibility from the fighter's cockpit.
high jinks that did not go down Author's Collection
well with his superiors. His thirst
for adventure, as well as his accu-
mulated financial debts, led him to
resign his commission as a first
lieutenant and join the American
Volunteer Group (AVG), better
known as the Flying Tigers. Like
other service pilots who joined the
AVG. he first resigned his commis-
sion and this letter was then put in
a safe to be redeemed and torn up
when he rejoined the Marine Corps.
Boyington claimed to have shot
down six Japanese aircraft while
with the Flying Tigers. However,
AVG records were poorly kept, and
were lost in air raids. To compound
the problem, the U.S. Air Force

Were Eagles: The Men of the Black
Sheep Squadron, the squadron intelli-
gence officer, First Lieutenant Frank
Walton, described how Boyington
got the new squadron command:
Major Boyington was the
right rank for a squadron
commander; he was an expe-
rienced combat pilot; he was
available; and the need was
great. These assets overcame
such reservations as the gen-
eral [Major General Ralph J.
Mitchell, Wing Commander ¡'
of the ist Marine Aircraft
Wing] may have had about
his personal problems. Gen-
eral [Mitchell] made the deci-
sion. "We need an aggressive
combat leader. We'll go with Authors Collection
Boyington." The squadron Pappz briefs ¡ifs pilots before a mission froiii Es pirita Santo. Fron! row, from left: Boying-
had its commander. ton, holding paper, Stanley R. Bailey, Virgil G. Ray, Robert A. Alexander; standing, fron;
left: William N. Case, Rol/ami N. Rinabarger, Don H. Fisher, Henry M. Bourgeois, John F.
Much has been written about Begert, Robert T. Ewing, Denmark G roover, Jr., Barney L. Tucker.
Bovington and his squadron. At 31,
Boyington was older than his 22- ber. On the 16th, the Black Sheep the loss of one -214 pilot, Captain
year-old lieutenants. His men flew their first mission, a bomber Robert T. Ewing.
called him "Gramps" or "Pappy." escort to Ballale, a Japanese airfield The following weeks were filled
In prewar days, he was called on a small island about five miles with continuous action. Boyington
"Rats," after the Russian-born southeast of Bougainville. The mis- and his squadron ranipaged through
actor, Gregory Ratoff. The sion turned into a free-for-all as the enemy formations, whether the
squadron wanted to call them- about 40 Zeros descended on the Marine Corsairs were escorting
selves the alliterative "Boyington's bombers. Boyington downed a Zero bombers, or making pure fighter
Bastards," but 1940s sensitivities for his squadron's first kill. He sweeps. The frustrated Japanese
would not allow such language. quickly added four more. Six other tried to lure Pappy into several
They decided on the more evoca- Black Sheep scored kills. It was an traps, but the pugnacious ace
tive "Black Sheep." auspicious debut, marred only by taunted them over the radio, chal-
The popular image of VMF-214
as a collection of malcontents and Maintenance crews service this P4 U-1 at a Pacific base. The Corsair's size is show;; to ad van-
ne' er-do-wells is not a t all accu - tage in this view, as is the bubble canopy of the late-production -Is and subsequent models.
rate. The television program of the Author's Collection
late 1970s did nothing to dispel
this inaccurate impression. In
truth, Pappy's squadron was much
like any other fighter squadron,
with a cross-section of people of
varying capabilities and experi-
ence. The two things that welded
the new squadron into such a fear-
some fighting unit was its new
mount, the F4U-1 Corsair, and its
indomitable leader.
Boyington took his squadron to
Munda on New Georgia in Septem-

lenging them to come and get him. no more than 48. As few air- Lieutenant Frank Walton, wrote of
By mid-December 1943, VMF- craft types and squadrons his tenseness and quick flareups
214, along with the other Allied should be employed as possi- when pressed about when and by
fighter squadrons, began mounting ble, for better coordination and how much he would surpass the
large fighter sweeps staged through mutual support. magic 26.
the new fighter strip at Torokina This strategy was fine, except A few days before his final mis-
Point on Bougainville. Author Bar- that Boyington was beginning to sion, Boyington reacted to a persis-
rett Tiliman described the state of feel the pressure that being a top tent public affairs officer. "Sure, I'd
affairs in the area at the end of De- ace seemed to bring. People kept like to break the record," said Boy-
cember 1943: wondering when Pappy would ington. "VVho wouldn't? I'd like to
.Boyington and other se- achieve, then break, the magic num- get 40 if I could. The more we can
nior airmen saw the disadvan- ber of 26, Captain Eddie Ricken- shoot down here, the fewer there'll
tage of [thesel large fighter backer's score in World War I. Joe be up the line to stop us."
sweeps. They intimidated the Foss had already equalled the early Later that night, Bovington told
opposition into remaining ace's total, but was now Out of ac- Walton, "Christ, I don't care if I
grounded, which was the op- tion. Boyington scored four kills on break the record or not, if they'd
posite reaction desired. A set of 23 December 1943, bringing his just leave me alone." Walton told
guidelines was drawn up for tally to 24. Boyington was certainly his skipper the squadron was be-
future operations. lt specified feeling the pressure to break Rick- hind him and that he was probably
that the maximum number of enbacker's 25-year-old record. Boy- in the best position he'd ever be in
fighters should be limited to ington' s intelligence officer, First to break the record.

The fighter s trip at Torokina was hacked out of the Bou gainville an SBD, which is completing its landing rollout past a grading ma-
jungle. This December 1943 view shows a lineup of Corsairs and chine still working to finish the new landing field.
Department of Defense Photo (IJSMC) 74672

already disposed of one Zero, and
together with his wingman, Cap-
tain George M. Ashmun, was hot
on the tails of other victims.
The initial happy anticipation
turned to apprehension as the day
wore on and neither Pappy nor
Ashmun returned. By the afternoon,
without word from other hases, the
squadron had to face the unthink-
able: Boyington was missing. The
Black Sheep mounted patrols to
look for their leader, but within a
few days, they had to admit that
Pappy was not coming back.
Department of Defense (USMC) 73114
In fact, Boyington and his wing- Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 72421
I sILt Robert M. Hanson of VMF-215 en- man had been shot down after Capt Donald N. Aldrich was a 20-kill ace
joyed a brief career in which he shot down Pappy had bagged three more with VMF-215, and had learned to fly
20 of his final total of 25 Japanese planes in Zeros, thus bringing his claimed with the Royal Canadian Air Force before
13 days. He was shot dowiz during a straf- total to 28, breaking the Ricken- the U.S. entered tile war. Although he sur-
ing run on 3 February, 1944, a day before hacker tally, and establishing Boy- vived the war, he was killed in a flying
his 24th birthday. mishap in 1947.
ington as the top-scoring Marine
"You'll never have another ace of the war, and, for that matter, have seen Pappy's victories was his
chance," Walton said. "It's now or of all time. However, these final wingman, Captain Ashmun, shot
victories were unknown until Boy- down along with his skipper. While
"Yes," Boyington agreed, "I ington's return from a Japanese there is no reason to doubt his
prison camp in 1945. Boyington's claims, the strict rules of verifying
guess you're right."
last two kills were thus uncon-
Like a melodrama, however, firmed. The only one who could kills were apparently relaxed for
Boyington's life now seemed to re- the returning hero when he was re-
volve around raising his score. One of Boyington's Black Sheep, lstLt covered from a prisoner of war
Even those devoted members of John F. Bolt, already an ace, shot down camp after the war.
his squadron could not help won- his sixth plane ooer Rabaul in earlt Janu- Pappy and his wingman had
deringif only to cheer their ary 1944. During the Korean war, when been overwhelmed by a swarm of
squadron commander onwhen he was flying as an exchange pilot with Zeros and had to bail out of their
the Air Force, he shot down six North Ko- faltering Corsairs near Cape St.
he would do it. rean planes to become the Marine Corps'
Pappy's agony was about to first jet ace.
George on New Ireland. Captain
corne to a crashing halt. He got a Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 72421 Ashnmn was never recovered, but
single kill on 27 December during a Boyington was retrieved by a
huge fight against 60 Zeros. But, Japanese submarine after being
after taking off on a mission against strafed by the vengeful Zeros that
Rabaul on 2 January 1944, at the had just shot him down. Boyington
head of 56 Navy and Marine fight- spent the next 20 months as a pris-
ers, Boyington had problems with oner of war, although no one in the
his Corsair's engine. He returned U.S. knew it until after V-J Day.
without adding to his score. He endured torture and beatings
The following day, he launched during interrogations, and was fi-
at the head of another sweep stag- nally rescued when someone
ing through Bougainville. By late painted "Boyington Here!" on the
morning, other VMF-214 pilots re- roof of his prison barracks. Aircraft
turned with the news that Boying- dropping supplies to the prisoners
ton had, indeed, been in action. shortly after the ceasefire in August
When they last saw him, Pappy had 1945 spotted the message and soon

Department of Defense (USMC) 73119
Three of tite Corps' fop aces pose at Department of Defense Photo (IJSMC) 58384
Torokina in earli 1944. From left: lstLt On 30 June 1943, lstLt Wilbur J. Thomas
Robert Hanson, Capt Donald N. Aldrich, Department of Defense Photo {(JSMC) 72424 of VMF-213 shot down four enemy planes
and Capt Harold Spears were members of Capt Harold L. Spears was Robert Hanson's while providing air cover for American op-
VMF-215 during the busy period following flight leader on the day Hanson was shot erations on New Georgia. Two weeks later,
flic loss of Pappy Boyington. The three avi- down and killed after Spears gave Hanson on 15 Julij, he shot down three more Japan-
at ors accounted for a combined total of 60 permission to make a strafing run against a ese bombers. Before he left the Pacific, his
Japanese aircraft. Japanese position in December 1944. total of kills was 18 .

everyone knew that Pappy was was forced to ditch his Corsair in flight commander, Captain Harold
coming back. Empress Augusta Bay L. Spears, and asked if he could
Although he had never received For his third tour, he joined VMF- strafe Japanese antiaircraft artillery
a single decoration while he was in 215 at Torokina. By mid-January, positions at Cape St. George on
combat, Boyington returned to the Hanson had begun such a hot streak New Ireland, the same general area
U.S. to find that he not only had of kills, that the young pilot had over which Pappy Boyington had
been awarded the Navy Cross, hut earned the name "Butcher Bob." been shot down a month before.
the Medal of Honor as well, albeit Hanson shot Japanese planes down Hanson made his run, firing his
"posthumously." in bunches. On 18 January 1944, he plane's six .50-caliber machine
With Pappy Boyington gone, disposed of five enemy aircraft. On guns. The Japanese returned fire as
several other young Marine avia- 24 January, he added four more the big, blue-gray Marine fighter
tors began to make themselves Zeros. Another four Japanese planes rocketed past, seemingly under
known, The most productive, and went down before Hanson's Corsair control. However, Hanson's plane
unfortunately, the one with the on 30 January. His score now stood dove into the water from a low alti-
shortest career, was First Lieutenant at 25, 20 of which had been gained tude, leaving oniy an oil slick.
Robert M. Hanson of VMF-215. Al- in 13 days in only six missions. Han- Hanson's meteoric career saw
though born in India of missionary son's successes were happening so him become the highest-scoring
parents, Hanson called Massachu- quickly that he was relatively un- Marine Corsair ace, and the second
setts home. A husky, competitive known outside his combat area. Marine high-scorer, one behind Joe
man, he quickly took to the life of a Very few combat correspondents Foss. Lieutenant Hanson received a
Marine combat aviator. knew of his record until later. posthumous Medal of Honor for his
During his first and second tours, Lieutenant Hanson took off for a third tour of combat. As Barrett Till-
flying from Vella Lavella with other mission on 3 February 1944. The man points out in his book on the
squadrons, including Boyington's next day would be his 24th birth- F4U, Hanson "became the third and
Black Sheep, Hanson shot down day, and the squadron's third tour last Corsair pilot to receive the
five Japanese planes, although dur- would end in a few days. He was Medal of Honor in World War TI.
ing one of these fights, he, himself, going back home. He called his And the youngest."

Japanese Pilots in the Solomons Air War
stereotypical picture of a small, emaciated
Japanese pilot, wearing glasses whose lenses
The were the thickness of the bottoms of Coke bottles,
grasping the stick of his bamboo-and-rice-paper air-
plane (the design was probably stolen from the U.S.,
11 too) did not persist for long after the war began. The
first American aircrews to return from combat knew that
they had faced some of the world's most experienced
combat pilots equipped with some pretty impressive air-

Author's collection
A rebuilt late-model Zero shows off the clean lines of the A6M se-
ries, which changed little during the production run of more than Authors colItion
10,000 fighters. Newly commissioned Ens Jun ichi Sasai in Maie 1941.

Japanese society was completely alien to death control of the recruits' existence. After surviving
most Americans. Adherence to ancestral codes of honor the physical training, the recruits began flight training
and a national historyone of constant internal, local- where the rigors of their preflight classes were main-
ized strife where personal weakness was not tolerated, tained. By the time Japanese troops evacuated
especially in the Samurai class of professional war- Guadalcanal in February 1943, however, their edge
riorsdid not permit the individual Japanese soldier to had begun wearing thin as they had lost many of their
surrender even in the face of overwhelming odds. most experienced pilots and flight commanders, along
This capability did not come by accident. Japanese with their aircraft.
training was tough. In some respects, it went far beyond The failed Japanese adventure at Midway in June
the legendary limits of even U.S. Marine Corps boot 1942, as well as the heavy losses in the almost daily
training. However, as the war turned against them, the combat over Guadalcanal and the Solomons deprived
Japanese relaxed their stringent prewar requirements them of irreplaceable talent. Even the most experi-
and mass-produced pilots to replace the veterans who enced pilots eventually came up against a losing roll
were lost at Midway and in the Solomons. For instance, of the dice.
before the war, pilots learned navigation and how to As noted in the main text, Japanese aces such as
pack a parachute. After 1942, these subjects were elimi- Sakai, Sasai, and Ota were invalided out of combat, or
nated from training to save time. eventually killed. Rotation of pilots out of the war zone
Young men who were accepted for flight training was a system employed neither by the Japanese nor the
were subjected to an excruciating preflight indoctrina- Germans, as a matter of fact. As several surviving Axis
tion into military life. Their instructorsmostly en- aces have noted in their memoirs, they flew until they
listedwere literally their rulers, with nearly life-or- couldn't. Indeed many Japanese and German aces flew

until 1945if they were lucky enough to surviveac-
cumulating incredible numbers of sorties and combat
hours, as well as high scores which doubled and
tripled the final tallies of their American counterparts.
Unfortunately, Japanese records are not as complete
as Allied histories, perhaps because of the tremendous
damage and confusion wrought by the U.S. strategic
bombing during the last year of the war. Thus, cer-
tainly Japanese scores are not as firm as they are for Al-
lied aviators.
In the popularly accepted sense, the Japanese did
not have "aces." Those pilots who achieved high scores
were referred to as Gekitsui-O (Shoot-Down Kings). A
pilot's report of his successes was taken at face value,
without a confirmation system such as required by the Author's Collection
Allies. Without medals or formal recognition, it was be- Enlisted pilots of the Tainan Kokutni pose at Rabaul in 1942. Sev-
lieved that there was little need for self-promotion. eral of these aviators would be among the top Japanese aces, includ-
Fighters did not have gun cameras, either. Japanese air ing Sahuro Sakai (middle row, second from left), and Hiroyoshi
strategy was to inflict as much damage as possible Nishizawa (standing, first on left).
without worrying about confirming a kill. (This out-
wardly cavalier attitude about claiming victories is turned to Japan with about 60 kills to his credit. Actu-
somewhat suspect since many Zeros carried large ally, because he was so badly wounded early in the
"scoreboards" on their tails and fuselages. These mark- Guadalcanal fighting, Sakai never got a chance to en-
ings might have been attributed to the aircraft rather gage Marine Corps pilots. They were still in transit to
than to a specific pilot.) the Solomons two weeks after Sakai had been in-
valided home. (His commonly accepted final score of
64 is only a best guess, even by his own logbook.)
After graduating from flight training, Sakai joined a
squadron in China flying Mitsubishi Type 96 fighters,
small, open-cockpit, fixed-landing-gear fighters. As a
third-class petty officer, Sakai shot down a Russian-
built SB-3 bomber in October 1939. He later joined the
Tainan Kokutai (Tainan air wing), which would be-
come one of the Navy's premier fighter units, and par-
ticipated in the Pacific war's opening actions in the
I Philippines.
Author's Collection A colorful personality, Sakai was also a dedicated
A lineup of A6M2 Zeros at Bum in 1943. By this time, the heavy flight leader. He never lost a wingman in combat, and
combat over Guadalcanal had been replaced by engagements with also tried to pass on his hard-won expertise to more ju-
Marine Corsa irs over the approaches to Bougainville. Japanese
nior pilots. After a particularly unsuccessful mission in
Navy aircraft occasionally flew from land bases, as these Zeros, al-
though they are actually assigned to the carrier Zuikaku. April1942, where his flight failed to bring down a sin-
gle American bomber from a flight of seven Martin B-
The Aces 26 Marauders, he sternly lectured his pilots about
maintaining flight discipline instead of hurling them-
Although the men in the Zeros were probably much selves against their foes. His words had great effect-
likeat least in temperamentMarine Wildcat and Sakai was respected by subordinates and superiors
Corsair pilots they opposed, the Imperial Japanese alikeand his men SOOfl formed a well-working unit,
Navy pilots had an advantage: many of them had been responsible for many kills in the early months of the
flying combat for perhaps a yearmaybe longerbe- Pacific war.
fore meeting the untried American aviators over Typically, Junichi Sasai, a lieutenant, junior grade,
Guadalcanal in August 1942. Saburo Sakai was se- and one of Sakai's young aces with 27 confirmed kills,
verely wounded during an engagement with U.S. was posthumously promoted two grades to lieutenant
Navy SBDs on the opening day of the invasion. He re- commander. This practice was common for those

Japanese aviators with proven records, or high scores,
who were killed during the war. Japan was unique
among all the combatants during the war in that it had
no regular or defined system of awards, except for oc-
casional inclusion in war newswhat the British might
call being "mentioned in dispatches."
This somewhat frustrating lack of recognition was
described by Masatake Okumiya, a Navy fighter com-
mander, in his classic book Zero! (with Jiro Horikoshi).
Describing a meeting with senior officers, he asked
them, "Why in the name of heaven does Headquarters
delay so long in according our combat men the honors
they deserve?.. Our Navy does absolutely nothing to
recognize its heroes......

Author's Collection
LCdr Tadashi Na/ca/iwo, who led the Toman Air Group, was typi-
cal of the more senior aviators. His responsibilities were largely ad-
ministrative but lie tried to fly missions whenever his schedule per-
mitted, usually wit/i unproductive results. He led several of the
curly missions over Guadalcanal and survived to lead a Shiden unit
in 1944. It is doubtful that Nakajima scored more than 2 or 3 kills.

to award a medal or to promote in rank." The captain's

deputy commander then said how the captain had asked
that Sasai be promoted to commanderan incredible
jump of three gradesauid that Sakai be commissioned
as an ensign.
Perhaps one of the most enigmatic, yet enduring, per-
sonalities of the Zero pilots was the man who is generally
acknowledged to be the top-scoring Japanese ace, Hi-
royoshi Nishizawa. Saburo Sakai described him as "tall
and lanky for a Japanese, nearly five feet, eight inches in
height," and possessing "almost supernatural vision."
These A6M3s are from the Tainan Air Group, and several sources
llave identified aircraft 106 as being flown by top ace Nishizawa.
Authors Collection Typically, these fighters carry a single centerline fuel tank. The
Lt (jg.) Junichi Sudai of the Thinan Air Group. This 1942 photo Zero's range was phenomenal, sometimes extending to nearly 1,600
shows the young combat leader, of such men as Sakai and miles, making for a very long flight for its exhausted pilots.
Nishizawa, shortly before his death over Guadalcanal. Photo courtesy of Robert Mikesh

Occasionally, senior officers would give gifts, such as

ceremonial swords, to those pilots who had performed
great services. And sometimes, superiors would try to
buck the unbending system without much success.
Saburo Sakai described one instance in June 1942 where
the captain in charge of his wing summoned him and
Lieutenant Sasai to his quarters.
Dejectedly, the captain told his two pilots how he had
asked Tokyo to recognize them for their great accom-
plishments. "...Tokyo is adamant about making any
changes at this time," he said. "They have refused even

Solomons. (He had flown at Midway but saw little of
the fighting.) Flying from Bum on the southern tip of
Bougainville, he first scored on I December 1942,
against a USAAF B-17. Sugita was one of tite six Zero
escort pilots that watched as P-38s shot down Admiral
Yamamoto's Betty on 18 ApriI 1943. There was little
they could do to alert the bombers carrying the admiral
and his staff since their Zeros' primitive radios had
been taken out to save weight.
Authors Collection
Petty Officer Hiroyoshi Nish- The problem of keeping accurate records probably
izawa at Lee, New Guinea, in carne from the directive issued in June 1943 by Tokyo
1942. Usually considered the forbidding the recording of individual records, the
top Japanese ace, Navy or better to foster teamwork in the seemingly once-in-
Army. A definitive total will
probably never be determined. vincible Zero squadrons. Prior to the directive, Japan-
Photo courtesy of Henry Sakaida
Nishizuwa died while flying as Petty Officer Sadamu Komachi ese Zero pilots were the epitome of the hunter-pilots
a passenger in a transport head- flew throughout the Pacific personified by the World War I German ace, Baron
ed for the Philippines in Oc- War, from Pearl Harbor to the Manfred von Richthofen. The Japanese Navy pilots
tober 1944. The transport was Solomons, from Bou gainville to
caught by American Navy Hell- the defense of the Home Is- roamed where they wished and attacked when they
cats, and Ltq.g.) Harold Newell lands. His final score was 18. wanted, assured in the superiority of their fighters.
shot it down. Occasionally, discipline would disappear as flight
leaders dove into Allied bomber formations, their
Nishizawa kept himself usually aloof, enjoying a de- wingmen hugging their tails as they attacked with
tached but respected status as he rolled up an impres- their maneuverable Zeros, seemingly simulating
sive victory tally through the Solomons campaign. He their Samurai role models whose expertise with
was eventually promoted to warrant officer in Nòvem- swords is legendary.
ber 1943. Like a few other high-scoring aces, Nishizawa Most of the Japanese aces, and most of the rank-
met death in an unexpected manner in the Philippines. and-file pilots, were enlisted petty officers. In fact, no
He was shot down while riding as a passenger in a other combatant nation had so many enlisted fighter
bomber used to transport him to another base to ferry a
pilots. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps had a rela-
Zero in late October 1944. In keeping with the estab-
tively few enlisted pilots who flew in combat in World
lished tradition, Nishizawa was posthumously pro-
moted two ranks to lieutenant junior grade. His score War Il and for a short time in Korea. Britain and Ger-
has been variously given as 102, 103, and as high as 150. many had a considerable number of enlisted aviators
However, the currently accepted total for him is 87. without whose services they could not have main-
Henry Sakaida, a well-known authority on Japanese tained the momentum of their respective campaigns.
pilots in World War II, wrote: However, the Japanese officer corps was relatively
No Japanese pilot ever scored more than 100 vic- small, and the number of those commissioned pilots
tories! In fact, Nishizawa entered combat in 1942 serving as combat flight commanders was even
and his period of active duty was around 18 smaller. Thus, the main task of fighting the growing
months. On the other hand, Lieutenant junior Allied air threat in the Pacific fell to dedicated en-
grade Tetsuo Iwamoto fought from 1938 until the listed pilots, many of them barely out of their teens.
end of the war. If there is a top Navy ace, it's him. During a recent interview, Sahuro Sakai shed light
Iwamoto claimed 202 victories, many of which on the role of Japanese officer-pilots. He said:
were against U.S. Marine Corps aircraft, including
They did fight. but generally, they were not
142 at Rabaul. I don't believe his claims are accu-
rate, but I don't believe Nishizawa's total of 87, very good because they were inexperienced. In
either. (I might believe 30.) Among Iwamoto's
my group, it would be the enlisted pilots that
claims were 48 Corsairs and 48 SBDs! His actual would first spot the enemy. The first one to see the
score might be around 80. enemy would lead and signal the others to follow.
Several of Sho-ichi Sugita's killswhich are infor- And the officer pilot would be back there, won-
mally reckoned to total 70were Marine aircraft. He dering where everyone went! In this sense, it was
was barely 19 when he first saw combat in the the enlisted pilots who led, not the officers.

Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 47912
Maj Edward Overend, shown here in a Wildcat in San Diego in war, albeit under another country's colors. Maj Overend scored 3.5
1945, flew with the Filling Tigers, shooting down five Japanese air- kills while leading VMF-321, for a combined total of 8.5 victories
craft, thus becoming one of the first American aces of tue Pacific in P-4OBs and F4 U-lAs.

Other Marine Aces Besides Boyington, the Black counted for 15 Japanese planes. The
Sheep alumnus who had one of the two aces were among the senior
Although the colorful time of the most interesting careers was John flight leaders of VMF-215.
Solomons Campaign, and the Bolt. Then-First Lieutenant Bolt Don Aldrich had been turned
equally colorful men like Boyington shot down six aircraft in the Pacific. down by recruiters before Pearl
and Hanson, were gone, other Ten years later, now-Major Bolt flew Harbor because he was married.
Leatherneck aviators achieved size- F-86s as an exchange pilot with the Like many other eager young men
able scores, and a measure of fame, U.S. Air Force in Korea. During a of his generation, he went across the
if only within their operating areas three-month period, May-July 1953, Canadian border and enlisted in the
and squadrons. he shot down six Russian-built Royal Canadian Air Force in Febru-
VMF-214's five-month tour of MiG-15s, becoming the Marine ary 1941. He got his wings that No-
combat created eight aces, including Corps' first and only jet ace, and vember. But the RCAF put the new
Pappy Boyington. The Black Sheep one of a very select number of pi- aviator to work as an instructor.
accounted for 97 Japanese aircraft lots who became aces in two wars. When the U.S. entered the war,
downed. VMF-215's tour lasted While Lieutenant Robert Hanson Aldrich had no trouble rejoining his
four-and-a-half months, and Bob was the star of VMF-215 for a few countrymen, and eventually got his
Hanson and his squadron ma tes- short weeks, there were two cap- wings of gold as a Marine aviator,
the squadron's roster included 10 tains who were just as busy. Donald following which, he headed for the
acesdestroyed 137 enemy aircraft, N. Aldrich eventually scored 20 Solomons. From August 1943 to
106 in the last six weeks. kills, while Harold L. Spears ac- February 1944, in three combat

tours, Captain Aldrich gained an tour, during which he shot down 15 scored most of his kills in a one-
impressive number of kills, 20. Al- Japanese planes, he was assigned to month period during the hotly con-
though he survived the war, he died EI Toro, and eventually to a new tested landings on Rendova and
in an operational accident in 1947. fighter squadron, VMF-462. Vangunu islands in mid-1944.
Harold Spears was commis- One of the most successful hut After staying in the rear area of
sioned a Marine second lieutenant least known Marine Corsair aces he New Hebrides, Thomas was fi-
and got his Marine commission and was First Lieutenant Wilbur j. nally transferred to the combat
his wings in August 1942. He joined Thomas, whom Barrett Tiilman zone. He flew his first missions in
VMF-215 as the squadron wandered called "one of the deadliest fighter June and July 1943. His mission on
around the various forward bases pilots the Corps ever produced." 30 June was a CAP mission over
near Bougainville. Spears wanted to He scored 18.5 kills while flying amphibious landings at Wickham
make the service his career, and with VMF-213. Thomas' combat ca- Anchorage on the southern tip of
shortly after finishing his combat reer is remarkable because he New Georgia.

Zero fighter-bombers prepare to launch for n raid from their weapon, the Zero toted light bombs as required, and ended the war
Bougainville base in late 1943. Originallii an air superiority as one of the prima ri aircraft used by the Kamikaze suicide pilots.
Authors Co!Iection

Fifteen Zeros pounced Thomas's Catalina flying boat (PBY) set down Marine aviators became aces, but
fighters. After he had become sep- beside him and brought him home. the end of the Solomons Cam-
arated from his group, seven Zeros By the time VMF-213 left for the paign also saw the end of the hey-
had attacked the lone F4U, but, un- States in December, Wilbur Thomas day of the aces.
deterred by the odds, Thomas had scored 16.5 kills in five dog- Fighter pilots and their missions
turned into the Japanese, eventu- fights. He returned for another com- sometimes fall into a nondescript
ally shooting down four of them. bat tour, this time on board the car- category. By themselves, they rarely
He was awarded the Distinguished rier Essex (CV 9) headed for the decide the outcome of major battles
Flying Cross for this mission. South China Sea and Japanese bases or campaigns, although exceptions
Three weeks later, on 17 July, in Southeast Asia. He added two might well be Guadalcanal and the
Thomas and his wingman attacked more kills to his previous score when Battle of Britain.
a group of Japanese bombers and he took out two Zeros near Tokyo The Cactus fighters defended
their Zero escort, and shot down during Essex's first strike against the their base daily against enemy
one of the bombers. Japanese Home Islands on the after- raids, and the Marine Corps aces
Thomas was on the receiving end noon of 16 February 1945. were colorful. They established a
of enemy fire on 23 September. Again, as did several of the young tradition of dedication, courage,
After shooting down three Zeros, aces who managed to survive the and skill for their successors in fu-
and splitting a fourth with his war, now-Captain Thomas died in a ture generations of military avia-
wingman, the young ace found he postwar flying mishap in 1947. tors. It is 50 years since John Smith,
had taken hits in the oil lines. His By mid-1944, the war had Bob Galer, Marion Carl, Joe Foss,
engine seized and he glided toward moved on, past the Solomons and and Greg Boyington led their
the water, eventually bailing out at Bougainville, closer to Japan and squadrons into the swirling dog-
3,000 feet. He scrambled into his into the final battles in the Philip- fights over the Solomons. But the
rubber raft and waited for rescue. pines and on to Iwo Jima and Oki- legacy these early Marine aces left
He paddled for five hours to keep nawa. There were still occasional to their modern successors lives on
from drifting to enemy positions. encounters in these now-rear areas in a new era of advanced weapons
After 10 hours, a Consolidated until the end of the war, and other and technology.
Maj Robert Galer with his ubiquitous baseball cap leans against his tnarri/ her.) The square panel directly beneath the aircraft's wing
Wildcat. "Barbara Jane" was a high school sweetheart. (He didn't was an observational windozt
Photo courtesy of BGen Robert Galer, USMC (Ret)

Researching the Aces' Scores
eticulous investigation by Olynyk discussed the problems as- shooting at the same targets. The

I\/ Dr. Frank Olynyk has re-

- fined and changed the es-
tablished list of aces. In most re-
sociated with compiling records of
aerial kills, especially for the Marine
Corps. Whether an enemy aircraft
enemy might sustain some battle
damage, such as n the engine, but
they could run:för another five
spects, he has reduced by one or which was last seen descending minutes. It was tough to be accu-
two kills an individual's score, but 'ith a trail of smoke should be con- rate."
in sorne instances, he has generated sidered dèstroyed cannot always be Then-Captain Stanley S. Nicolay,
enough doubt about the vital fifth decided. Thus, several "smokers" who shot down three Bettys during
were claimed as definite kills. his tour with VMF-224, also com-
kill that at least two aviators have
He also commented, "...most of mented on the problems of simpiy
lost their status as aces during the pilots whose scores are subject engaging the enemy.
World War II. One man, Technical
to some uncertainty are all from "There were a lot of people out
Sergeant John W. Andre of night- the 1942-early 1943 period when there who didn't get any (kills), but
fighter squadron VMF(N)-541, shot air combat was the heaviest. War they worked their tails off. Shoot-
down four Japanese planes in the diaries from this period are often ing down an airplane is 90 percent
Pacific, and scored a fifth kill in incomplete, or even non-exis- luck; you're lucky if you find one.
Korea. Thus, he is a bonafide ace, tent..." Most of the time, you can't. That
but not solely by his service in Retired Brigadier General Robert sky gets bigger and bigger the
World War II. Galer put the question of aces and higher you go.
In an article published in the their kills in perspective. In a recent "We had no radar. Even our ra-
Summer 1981 issue of Fortitudine, letter to the author he wrote, dios weren't very good. We de-
the bulletin of the Marine Corps "Aces' scores are not an exact num- pended on our sight. Look, look,
History and Museums Division, Dr. ber. There were too many people look, with our heads on a swivel."

USMC Aces During the Period August 1942-April 1944
* Awarded the Medal of Honor.
VMF-112: VMF-214 (all kills in F4Us):
Lieutenant Colonel Paul J. Fontana. 5 victories. Retired Major Gregory Boyington*. 28 official victories.
as a major general. Captain William N. Case. 8 victories.
Major Archie G. Donahue. 14 victories. Captain Arthur R. Coriant. 6 victories.
Major Robert B. Fraser. 6 victories. Captain Donald H. Fisher. 6 victories.
Captain Jefferson J. DeBlanc*. 9 victories (1 in F4Us). Captain John F. Bolt, Jr. 6 victories in World War II,
Captain James G. Percy. 6 victories (1 in F4Us). six victories in Korea.
First Lieutenant John B. Maas, Jr. 5.5 victories.
Captain Christopher L. Magee. 9 victories.
VMF-121: Captain Robert W. McClurg. 7 victories.
Captain Paul A. Mullen. .5 victories.
Lieutenant Colonel Donald K. Yost. 8 victories Captain Edwin L. Olander. 5 victories.
(2 in F4Us). First Lieutenant Alvin J. Jensen. 7 victories.
Lieutenant Colonel Leonard K. Davis. 5 victories.
Major Joseph H. Reinburg. 7 victories. VMF-215 (all kills in F4Us):
Major Francis E. Pierce, Jr. 6 victories.
Major Perry L. Shuman. 6 victories in F4Us. Captain Donald N. Aldrich. 20 victories.
Captain Joseph J. Foss. 26 victories. Captain HarOld L. Spears. 15 victories.
Retired asa brigadier general in Air National Guard First Lieutenant Robert M. Hanson*. 25 victories.
Captain Thomas H. Mann, Jr. 9 victories.
Also flew with VMF-224.
Captain Ernest A. Powell. 5 victories. VMF-221:
Captain Robert M. Baker. 5 victories. Lieutenant Colonel Nathan T. Post, Jr. 8 victories.
Captain Donald C. Owen. 5 victories. Captai Harold E. Segal. 12 victories.
Captain Kenneth M. Ford, 5 victories in F4Us.
First Lieutenant William P. Marontate. 13 victories. Captai.n William N. Snider. 11.5 victories.
First Lieutenant William B. Freeman. 6 victories. Captain James E. Swett*. 15.5 victories (7 in F4Fs)
First Lieutenant Roger A. Haberman. 6.5 victories. Captain Albert E. Hacking., Jr. 5 victories (in F4Fs).
Captain Gregory K. Loesch. 8.5 victories,
Second Lieutenant::CecilJ. Doyle. 5 viçtories. VMF-222 (all in F4Us):
Second Lieutenant Joseph LNarr. 7 victories.
Major Donald H. Sapp (later changed to Stapp).
VMF-124: 10 victories.

Captain Kenneth A. Walsh*. 21 victories in F4Us. MF-223:

VMF-212: Majçr John L. Smith*. 19 victories.
Major Hyde Phillips. 5 victories.
Lieutenant Colonel Harold W. Bauer*. 10 victories Captain Marión E. Carl. 18.5 victories (2 in F4Us).
Major Frank C. Drury. 6 victories (1 in F4Us).
Also flew with VMF-223.
Retired as a major general.
Major Robert F Stout b idon Flew with VMF-2 24. Captain Kenneth D. Frazier. 13.5 victories (1 in F4Us).
Captain Jack E. Conger. 10 victorie Captain Fred E. Gutt. 8 victories.
Captain Phillip C. DeLong. 11-1/6 victoriesin Captain Orvin H. RamIo. 5 victories.
World War II, two victories in Korea (all in F4Us) First Lieutenant Charles Kendrick. 5 victories.
Major Hugh M. Elwood. 5.1 victories. çsirst Lieutenant Eugene A. Trowbridge. 6 victories.
Retired as a lieutenant general. econd Lieutenant Zenneth A. Pond. 6 victories.
Captain Loren D. Everton. 10 victories.
Also flew with VMF-223. VM F-224
Warrant Officer Henry B. Hamilton. 7 victories.
Also flew with VMF-223. Lieutenant Colonel John F DgJ,brn 75 .ictones
Major Frederick R. Payne, Jr. 5.5 victories. Major Robert E. Galer*. 14 victories
Also flew with VMF-22.3. Retired as a brigadier general.
Major Charles M. Kunz. 8 victories.
VMF-213 (all kills in F4Us): Captain George L. Hollowell. 8 victories.
Lieutenant Colonel Gregory J. Weissenberger. First Lieutenant Jack Piltman, Jr. 5 victories.
.5 victories.
Major James N. Cupp. 12 victories VMF-321 (all in F4Us):
Captain Sheldon O. Hall. 6 victories.
Captain John L Morgan, Jr. 8.5 victories. Major Edmund F. Overend. 8.5 victories, including
Captain Edward O. Shaw. 14.5 victories. 5 with the Flying Tigers (3.5 in F4Us).
Captain Wilbur J. Thomas. 18.5 victories. Captain Robert B. See. 5 victories.

w i L fi U 1&.
Watercolor bu Sgt Hugh Laid,nan ii tIteAl:
Sources About the Author
Sources for this booklet fall into B. Mersky is a graduate of the Rhode Is-
two basic categories: general his- Peter
land School of Design with a baccalaureate
torical publications for the overall degree in illustration. He was commissioned
through the Navy's Aviation Officer Candidate
situation in the Pacific, and refer- School in May 1968. Following active duty, he
ences that describe specific sub- remained in the Naval Reserve and served two
jects, such as aircraft, personalities, tours as an air intelligence officer with Light
and campaigns. i found several Photographic Squadron 306, one of the Navy's
general official and commercial last F-8 Crusader squadrons.
publications invaluable, including He is the assistant editor of Approach, the
Navy's aviation safety magazine, published by
LtCol Frank R. Hough, Maj Verle J. the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Commander Mersky has written or
Ludwig, and Henry I. Shaw, Jr., coauthored several books on Navy and Marine Corps aviation, including The
Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal and Naval Air War in Vietnam (with Norman Polmar), U.S. Marine Corps Aviation,
Henry 1. Shaw, Jr. and Maj Douglas 1912-Present, Vought F-8 Crusader, and A Histori,' of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron
T. Kane, Reduction of Rabaul, vol- 321. He has written many magazine articles for American and British publications,
and he also writes a regular book review colunm for Naval Aviation News.
umes i and 2, History of U.S. Ma-
rine Corps Operations in World War
II, (Washington: Historical Branch,
G-3 Division, Headquarters,
USMC, 1958 and 1963, respec-
tively), and Robert Sherrod, History
of Marine Corps Aviation in World '9
War II (Novato, California: Presidio p;.. 4' REVIt
p945 %\

Press, 1980). Other general histo-

ries included, Peter B. Mersky, U.S. WORLD WAR II
Marine Corps Aviation, 1912-Present
(Baltimore: Nautical & Aviation THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in the
Publishing Company of America, World War II era, is published for the education and training of Marines by
1983, 1986), Masatake Okimuya the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,
Washington, D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense observance
and Jiro Horikoshi, Zero! (New of the 50th anniversary of victory in that war.
York: Ballantine Books, 1956), and Printing costs for this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by the Defense
John Lundstrom, The Firs f Team: Department World War II Commemoration Committee. Editorial costs of
Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl preparing this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by a bequest from the
Harbor to Midway (Annapolis: U.S. estate of Emilie H. Watts, in memory of her late husband, Thomas M. Watts,
Naval Institute, 1984). who served as a Marine and was the recipient of a Purple Heart.


Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret)
The author would like to thank Maj-
Gen John P. Condon, LISMC (Ret), a GENERAL EDITOR,
fighter pilot and Cactus operations of-
Benis M. Frank
ficer in earli 1943, for reviewing the
manuscript and making thoughtful George C. MacCillivray
and valuable insights. Gratitude is
Robert E. Struder, Senior Editor; W. Stephen Hill, Visual Information
M. Frank, and Regina Strother of the Specialist; Catherine A. Kerns, Composition Services Technician
Marine Corps Historical Center; Dale
Con nelly and R ut lia Dicks of the Na- Marine Corps Historical Center
Building 58, Washington Navy Yard
tional Archives Still Picture Branch; Washington, D.C. 20374-0580
and Robert Mikesh, James Lansda!e,
Henry Sakaida, James Fariner, and 1993
Linda Cuilen and Mary Beth Straight PCN 190 003122 00
of the U.S. Naval Institute.