My Experiences as an Aircrewman
By Jack Hensel
I was inducted into the Navy on June 22, 1943. I received my high school diploma on June 23, 1943. So you see they didn’t give me much time after my high school graduation. They wanted us bad.
My first duty was at Sampson NY Naval Station for boot camp. Here I went through marching, swimming, discipline, calisthenics, medical physicals, shots, aptitude test, and interviews. It was here I volunteered to fly as an aircrewman. I was given a flight physical and passed.
I remember going to the chapel one week before graduation from boot camp. Here they announced that all leaves were canceled. Usually we got a week’s leave after boot camp. I saw men coming out of the chapel crying, thinking there was a big sea draft coming. It sure was upsetting. We did get our leaves after an extra week’s training.
I was sent to aviation ordnance school at Memphis, Tenn. I graduated in January 1944 and went to airborne radar operators school at the same base. The school lasted about two weeks. I could have stayed on as an instructor but did not want to. Our instructor wanted to give it up at that time and had to look for someone to take his place.
I finished radar school and was sent to Hollywood, Florida, for aerial gunnery school, where we learned all about the 50-caliber machine gun, trap shooting for learning how to lead the targets and operating the gun with the ball turret firing at range targets and targets being towed by planes.
After about six weeks of aerial gunnery school I was sent to what they called operational training at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is where I started flying in TBF Avenger torpedo bombers and a lot of interesting things started happening. They took us to a TBF that had crashed into the Everglades. The plane didn’t burn but was sunk in the mud nose first up to the wings–scary.
At this point I was assigned to a crew–a pilot, Ensign Fuller from Boston, Mass., a radioman Robert Jensen from Salt Lake City, Ut., and myself a turret gunner. We would supposedly stay together through combat.
The first time in the plane (TBF) at my position in the turret I could observe the tail section very well. They started the engine and smoke poured down the side of the plane from the exhaust. The engine ran very rough on starting and I could see the tail section shake and vibrate because of the engine running uneven. I wondered what did I get myself into. Once the engine warmed up, it ran smooth. We took off and it was excitingly pleasant.
We had many interesting flights practicing torpedo runs, gunnery firing at slicks in the sea and at targets being towed by another plane, navigation flights and glide bombing. Glide bombing was quite exciting. We would rise to about 10,000 feet. The plane would nose over and, so help me, we would dive at a vertical angle, 90° to the sea for quite a length of time and pull out of the glide at about 1,000 feet. We practiced this quite often.
In one of the torpedo run flights I asked the pilot for permission to operate the turret. The ball turret. I was just able to get into it. It’s like sitting inside of a large ball. With the turret down and the 50-cal. machine gun pointing to the rear of the plane, I could easily get out of it by letting down an armor plate and dropping down into the radioman’s compartment. I turned on the turret and it malfunctioned and the gun pointed straight up into the air perpendicular to the body of the plane and it wouldn’t come down with the control. Here I was in the ball turret on my back, no way to get out. Only possibly through the side panel. I reported to the pilot Fuller and he asked if I wanted to go back to the base. I said no, go on with the flight. After about one and a half hours we landed back at Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station. The ground crew observed us landing with me in this position and came right out to the plane. They took off the side panel of the turret and were able to wiggle me out of the turret in that position. At my age then (19) it did not bother me. My radioman Robert Jensen said, “Jack, if this [illegible] and something happens to the plane don’t expect me to ride the plane down with you. I’m jumping.” Whew. I could never do this today. I couldn’t even fit into the turret. I don’t even know if I could fit into the side opening of the plane into the radioman’s compartment. I would get into the turret from the radioman’s compartment.
On returning to the airfield and entering the landing circle there is a point where the pilot puts down the retractable wheels and lowers the flaps to lower the speed and get additional lift. These are operated hydraulically.
We had an exciting experience returning from a night flight. On entering the landing circle my pilot, Ensign Fuller, tried to lower the landing gear and flaps. There was a hydraulic leak. The wheels appeared to come partially down and one of the flaps came partially down. The flap acted as an aileron causing the plane to lurch to the side. My pilot was able to adjust with the regular ailerons. He stated later that he never takes his hands off the flap-operating lever until they are completely down. Feeling the jolt of the plane he quickly returned the lever to the flaps up position and the plane resumed normal flight. If he hadn’t done this, the plane would have banked, lost speed, and dove in the ground. At this point I remember flying over the Fort Lauderdale water tower. You are that low when in the landing circle.
There was hydraulic fluid all over the plane. The pilot was instructed to gain altitude and dive the plane and try to snap down the landing gear. He also had a hand pump in the cockpit to force the wheels down. He did this and he made some low passes over the Fort Lauderdale control tower. They observed and instructed him to make a flaps-up landing, which meant landing at a higher speed. We held our breath, made the landing safe as we passed the rescue squad on the runway waiting for us. This was exciting, especially at night.
We graduated from operational training toward the end of May 1944. At graduation the crewmen proudly accepted their aircrewman wings. Our crew was assigned to Torpedo Squadron 5 (VT-5), a part of Air Group 5, and were given delayed orders for San Diego, Calif., which meant we had about 30 days at home. During this time the pilots were sent to the Great Lakes to practice carrier landings on a small carrier there. I arrived home for my leave on D-Day, the beginning of June, the day of the invasion of Europe.
After my leave I proceeded to San Diego, Calif., meeting several crewmen of our squadron on the train.
At San Diego I met several other crewmen, including my radioman Bob Jensen. We stayed at San Diego Naval Air Station for one or two nights, then received our orders to go to Alameda, Calif., Naval Air Station and joined our pilots and the rest of VT-5 Torpedo Squadron.
At the chow hall I had my tray and food. I proceeded to a table and upon sitting I looked across the table and here getting ready to sit opposite me was an old family friend and a good friend of my brother, Pete. We caught each other’s eye and hands came across the table. It was Alfred Cambellack and he said, “Jackie Hensel, what are you doing here?” I told him and he seemed sorry to hear that I was an aircrewman and would eventually be on an aircraft carrier. He had just come off the carrier U.S.S. Intrepid, which was torpedoed by the enemy in the South Pacific.
I went out that night with Al and a friend of mine, Drew Hontz. We had a few beers and talked about home and returned to base in fairly good condition.
The squadron VT5 stayed at Alameda for a short period of time and was sent to Monterey Naval Air Station to begin our training as a group. When there was no fog, we would do a lot of flying. We stayed here for several weeks and then transferred to Santa Rosa Naval Air Station, where we remained for our duration before boarding the carrier. We did go off to different bases– Eureka Calif. for rocket training and Modesto Calif. for night flying. We flew many navigator flights out to sea. At one time we though we saw the image of a submarine below the surface of the sea. I’m sure my pilot reported this and it was investigated by surface craft. Another time we were far out to sea on a navigation flight and we spotted a freighter headed toward San Francisco. My pilot posted over it and we didn’t have our IFF (which was a signal identifying you as a friend or foe). There were a couple of tracer shells fired in front of us as a warning. They probably had a chuckle or may have been jumpy just coming from a combat zone. The squadron did a lot of flying out of Santa Rosa practicing night flying, air group hops, navigation flights, etc.
Ensign Fuller, my assigned pilot, developed knee problems and was transferred out of the squadron for other duty.
While waiting for my new pilot, I mad a few flights with some new pilots that their crewmen had not yet arrived. In one of these flights we were the last to land softly with this particular plane. We landed in the morning and there was a flight scheduled with this plane in the afternoon with another crew. When they returned to the airfield and got into the landing circle the plane suddenly dove from this low altitude and crashed between two homes and burnt, killing the crew. The aircrew names were Klingman and Allman. The report says it was mechanical trouble. It occurred at the point you would put the wheels and flaps down. I felt it could as well be that there was a hydraulic leak, as one of the flaps didn’t function and acted as an aileron causing the plane to flop on its side and lose speed and dive into the ground.
I think of this frequently as a similar incident happened with me in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Lt. (jg) Gibson, my new pilot arrived and I began flying steady with him, also a new radioman, Louis Lyndenmeyer was assigned.
We had a lot of thrilling flights with him hedge hopping at treetop level, flying along the sea wall. I remember looking up at it and flying low over San Francisco Bay, seeing a man in a fishing boat standing up looking at us. We were that low. Some farmers called in complaining about the hedge hopping. We were disturbing their cows.
On one occasion we took off and gained just a few feet of altitude and the engine started skipping and we skimmed over the top of a chicken farm. I remember the chickens fluttering on the side of their coops. We were able to make an auxiliary airfield not far from the main field. It was found the gasoline tank was partially filled with water because of condensation. It was cleared and we flew back to the main base.
We went to Modesto, Calif., for night flying training, practicing group flights on imaginary targets. The pilots practiced night touch and go landings, less the aircrew. On one warm night we were standing as a group in front of the barracks and we heard a sound of a crash. We rushed to the runway and watched the plane burn, the pilot being killed. This left a terrifying impression on our minds. When we went to Modesto we did realize that night flying was quite dangerous.
Soon after we were ordered to Eureka, Calif., for firing 5-inch rockets from the plane. We were there about two weeks and returned to Santa Rosa.
We realized the time was approaching when we would be assigned to an aircraft carrier. In December 1944 we received a week’s leave just before Christmas. I did not have enough time to go home. My squadron yeoman friend invited me to come home with him. I had a fine time meeting his family and girl friend. His name was Gerald Nold, his home was in Arkansas City, Kansas. He was later killed at his station in the pilot’s ready room when we were hit by Japanese bombs March 19th 1945. To get to Arkansas City and return we rode the trains and hitchhiked getting rides with truckers.
I spent New Years Eve and New Years Day in San Francisco with another friend, Elmer Lowry from Covington, Kentucky. He was also killed on March 19th 1945. We spent New Years Eve having dinner visiting nightclubs on Market Street there. New Years Day we went to the East-West Shriner football game at Kesan Stadium in San Francisco. It was quite a sight with the crowd and the excitement of the game. I remember the street cars and people hanging onto the side and back of them to get to and from the game.
We spent most of January getting ready to go overseas, getting new planes, and other necessary gear. We went aboard an old carrier, the U.S.S. Bangor, out of San Francisco, traveled out to sea, getting used to carrier operations and life aboard a carrier.
We returned to Santa Rosa continuing air group flights and getting ready to board an aircraft carrier. We boarded the U.S.S Franklin the first week of February 1945 at Alameda, Calif. I remember the feeling pulling away from the dock and feeling the waving of the ship on the bay. We proceeded under the Golden Gate Bridge and a sailor’s girl friend tossing part of her clothing to land on the flight deck of the carrier. On leaving the Golden Gate bay there are swells in the ocean and causing sea sickness to many sailors until you get used to it. I remember myself having to lay on my bunk for a time on the bow end of the ship. Lying down seemed to help the sickish feeling.
We got to Hawaii and docked at Ford Island and could see the hull of the sunken U.S.S. Arizona, sunk because of the Japanese Dec 7th 1941 attack.
We went to Kaneohe Naval Air Station for continued training while the U.S.S. Franklin was being fitted for combat.
We had several flights over the islands and the pilots practiced touch and go landings. This was also a Seabee base and we had tremendous meals, spent time playing volleyball and softball and entertaining ourselves.
We boarded the U.S.S. Franklin around the first of March with a full complement of Air Group 5. The fighter squadron, F4U Corsair fighter planes, and some Marine squadrons–one was reminiscent of Poppy Boynton’s Black Sheep group. The bomber squadron VB5 was made up of Sb2C Helldivers and my squadron VT5, the torpedo bomber squadron TB5 Avengers.
We performed many air group training missions and navigation flights on the way to Ulithi, an anchorage where task groups assembled.
We arrived at Ulithi early in March, the morning after a suicide plane struck a carrier, either the U.S.S. Randolph or the U.S.S. Hancock.
We stayed at Ulithi one night, and as far as you could see there were ships of all categories: troop ships, supply ships, tankers, battleships, carriers, destroyers, etc.
We left Ulithi with carrier group 58.2 on our way to Japan to raid the main islands. We were the first ship to carry the new rocket called the “Tiny Tim.” They were equivalent to the shell of a 16″ gun fired from a battleship.
One of the first times I took off from the Franklin was by being catapulted. Our crew was not given any prewarning. We were ordered from the ready room to report for a flight with our pilot and to be catapulted. There was no time to think about it. We boarded the plane and proceeded to the catapult position. Here were crewmen from the old VT5 squadron. These were men who had already been in combat duty. They were there to give us instructions on how to hold our heads at the moment of takeoff. It was such a sudden jolt your head would jar if you didn’t hold it in a special position. The pilot had to hold his head back against the head rest as he was looking forward. The radioman, also looking forward, had to put his head down between his legs. I, the turret gunner, who was riding backwards, had to hold his head and bend forward under the gunsight.
The pilot would rev up the engine to flying speed and all of a sudden you would go from 0 mph to 85 mph in about a hundred feet. You would gain altitude quickly, and I would be looking down at the end of the flight deck.
Landing on the carrier was quite an experience. We had a dive bomber (SB2C) miss the arresting gear and go off the side into the sea and the radioman gunner was killed. The pilot survived. We had a torpedo bomber (TBM) go into the sea attempting to land. The pilot survived; there were no crewmen aboard.
I had some exciting landings. One time we landed and were off at an angle but the landing hook caught the arresting cable and stopped us just before going into the sea. I looked to my right out of the turret and could see some members of my squadron on the catwalk holding their heads and could look down and see the water.
Another time we landed straight but very hard. The hook caught the arresting gear cable, the plane bounced high and came down hard, blowing a landing gear tire. My head jarred and my nose hit the gunsight, cutting it slightly.
On landing I could look over my right shoulder and see the direction of our flight toward the carrier. We would be flying directly over the churned wake of the Franklin about 100 feet above the ocean. As we approached the rear of the flight deck, you could see the landing signal officer giving my pilot instructions by the way he waved his flags. Signaling whether you were going too low, too fast, too high, bear left or right and the timing with the up and down movement of the flight deck. If all indications were not right, you would get a wave off. The landing signal officer had a net off the side of his position on the flight deck. He could jump into the net if a plane got misdirected, coming too close to him.
On one attempt at landing we took six wave offs for various reasons. I remember going alongside of the carrier after one of the wave offs, looking up at the signal officer with his hands on his hips seeing if we would go into the ocean. So you see, there were all kinds of risks even before combat.
The planes are spotted very close together on the flight deck before a mission takes place. On one occasion I was late in getting to the plane, one of the surprise flights. I was in the middle of the flight deck on my way to our plane, and they announced for the pilots to start their engines. Here I was just a few feet from spinning propellers. One of the plane captains spotted me and expertly guided me to our plane.
While on our way to Japan we still were training with air group and navigation flights. On one occasion our crew was out on an antisubmarine flight and had an escort of one of the F4U fighter planes. We flew very close formation. I felt I could almost reach out and touch the fighter plane wing tip. I showed signs of amazement of the fighter being so close, the fighter pilot laughing. We waved and showed gestures to one another.
In the nighttime as we neared Japan, there was a lot of suspense with General Quarters signals and orders coming over the loudspeakers and lights going on and off as hatches were opened and closed. The enemy were dropping flares to silhouette against the sky so they could find us and attack. The night fighters must have taken care of them, as we were not attacked at this point.
Our first bombing raid was on March 17th 1945. Our crew was not assigned to this mission. I remember the pilots singing Happy Birthday to Lt. Carr, our executive officer. He was the leader of this first flight.
The next morning, March 18, 1945, my 20th birthday, our crew was assigned to this day’s mission. Many of the other crewmen sang Happy Birthday to me. We took off and had to fly through heavy thick clouds. When we finally got above the clouds, the 3-plane group we were with were miles behind the main air group. We caught up to them just about the time Japan came into sight. We were at 2500 ft and on oxygen. We were raiding an airfield at Kagoshima, Izumi, the southernmost island of the mainland of Japan. We flew across the middle of the island at 2500 ft. on oxygen. I could see cities to the north and south of us. We started our glide bombing run. I could feel the ice on the inside of my oxygen mask. I could feel the change in temperature as we dove. My radioman was dropping reflective confetti as well as the plane in front of us to detun [illegible] their radar ganbatled [illegible] antiaircraft guns as we dove.. I would see clumps of this confetti from other planes. Soon I observed tracer and explosive shells off our port wingtip. I reported this to my pilot. As we drew closer to the ground, he fired his wing machine guns. Looking over my right shoulder I could see where we were headed. He dropped the bombs and they appeared to hit an airfield hangar. I saw much derlves [illegible] like clipboards and parts of the building exploding into the air along with the flames and the smoke.
We pulled out of our dive and we were only about 150 ft above the Japanese airfield. We came out over the China Sea and there was one of our submarines a few hundred yards offshore surfaced, moving and ready to pick up any survivors from planes that were hit and had to ditch into the ocean.
We regrouped and started back just south of Kyushu island. I observed many Japanese freighters sinking and on fire. Fighter planes were strafing the many ships at this point. The splashes from the guns of the diving fighters completely hid some of the smaller ships.
We got back to our carrier and my pilot made a perfect smooth landing– no wave offs.
We got out of our planes after they were spotted and headed for our ready room. We were instructed over the loudspeaker to hurry off the flight deck as there were enemy planes in the area. We got back to our ready room. Then you realized the stress of the flight, the anxiety and nervousness and the relief of getting back safe. I remember describing our mission and getting a shot of whiskey.
I was scheduled to fly a combat mission the next morning, March 19th 1945. I was awakened at 3:00 AM for an early breakfast. Reported to our ready room to get briefed and ready for the 6:00-7:00 AM flight. I was all ready to fly. I had on 2 or 3 pairs of pants, 2 or 3 layers of shirts, my flight jacket of leather, heavy shoes, and my “Mae West” life jacket. Just before boarding the plane our crew was cancelled because they needed a radioman with electronic radar interference experience. Here I was all dressed to fly and had had breakfast. I decided to go out to the flight deck catwalk and watch the planes take off. The torpedo planes were behind the bombers and were the last to take off. It was cold, the carrier going into the wind at top speed for takeoff operations. I was thinking of going into a coffee station we had in our ready room, warm up, and come back out in time to see the torpedo bombers take off. I waited and watched a couple of bombers take off. I just started leaving the catwalk to head under the flight deck to our ready room and there was a terrific blast. I put my hands to my face as this sudden blast and flames came and then the dense smoke. I could not see my hands in front of me. I backed off. I felt myself passing out from the heat of the flames, the concussion from the explosions, and unable to breathe because of the dense smoke. Then there was a split second when the air cleared and I caught my breath. Then there was another explosion again. I was enveloped in flames and the dense smoke and the awful concussion. I went to the top cable guard of the catwalk. Then there was a series of explosions with no letup of the smoke. I had my stomach up against the top cable and as another explosion came I rolled over the cable and dropped into the ocean 90 feet below. I must have been knocked out, and as I came to, I must have been deep in the ocean as I could see nothing but darkness. I looked up and could see the glitter on the surface of the ocean. I thought afterwards the carrier going at top speed, and with me dropping close to the hull of the carrier, the ship’s propellers could have drowned me so deep into the sea.
This all happened without any warning. We were not yet General Quarters. I did hear some gunfire a second before the initial explosion. I did not get an explanation until I was on the destroyer, of the Jap plane, a Judy bomber, coming in low out of the low-hanging clouds, too low for radar to pick up. It dropped two 500 lb bombs on us. This acted as a fuse to ignite the gasoline lines that were lying on the decks, the remaining planes that were loaded with gasoline, bombs, and rockets. The Judy was shot down by our air group commander, Commander Parker, who was aloft and flying an F4U fighter plane.
After coming to in the ocean, I kicked and swam to the surface, and here I was with all of this clothing on–heavy shoes and my steel helmet strapped under my chin. My first thought was that I was alive and survived. I immediately thought of my nephew, Peter John Hensel, who was born January 28, 1945, whom I had never seen. This seemed to put some survival fight into me. I struggled and stayed afloat. I remember seeing the burning carrier going away from me. I remember several sailors popping to the surface with me. They had a strange stare with no expression, and in my struggle they just seemed to disappear. I thought afterwards they must have been killed. For a few moments I felt all alone in the wide ocean and scared.
The ocean was very rough that morning. I remember seeing the bows of ships coming completely out of the water. I reached the peak of a wave and there about a hundred feet from me was a raft. It must have been blown off from the explosions. As I got near the raft I recognized a sailor from the bomber squadron (VB5) whose name was Monte. Then a ways off the raft was my pilot Lt. j.g. Gibson. He was on his back and appeared to be semiconscious with some blood from his mouth. I observed as [illegible] Monte dive off the raft and pull Gibson to the raft. I got to the raft about the same time as they did and helped Monte get Gibson onto the raft. About this time the bow of a battleship appeared #55 (North Carolina). It was so close someone from the bow dropped more life preservers for us.
Monte had hollered to me to pull the cord to inflate my “Mae West” and to throw off my steel helmet as it was coming down over my eyes. This ended my struggle to stay afloat. He hollered before I had gotten to the raft.
The wake the battleship made made it difficult to hang onto the raft. It finally settled down. Then I noticed the burns on my hands. The shock of the event must have dulled the pain of the burns. I saw a small amount of blood coming from the back of my hands. I then thought of sharks. This gave me the strength to push up onto the raft.
I visited the battleship BB55 that is on display at Wilmington, North Carolina, and in their trophy compartment there was a picture and a note of how there were in the same group on 3/19/45 as the Franklin. Thank God someone observed us, enabling him to give this order.
After I had gotten in to the raft, Gibson, semiconscious, was on the edge of the donut-shaped raft. He slipped into the center and disappeared under the water. We were able to grab him and bring him back on the raft donut. In the center of this donut-shaped raft was a rope net that hung below it. I wonder what would have happened if Gibson got tangled up in it, but this might have kept him from going under.
In the meantime another survivor got on the raft, making four of us. I did not know him.
Soon I saw the bow of a destroyer, U.S.S. Hickox (DD673) heading toward us. The bow was coming completely out of the water. I remember saying if I see the bottom of that bow, I’m jumping, feeling the bottom of the bow would come over the raft and take it under the ocean. As the destroyer approached us the captain must have ordered the ship into reverse as this held the bow down as it hit the raft. The 4th man on the raft fell off and was picked up. A line was thrown and I caught it. The ship must have been proceeding forward as I hung onto the line and pulled the raft along with the ship. The sailor on the other end of the line kept letting line out and we ended up aways from the ship as it stopped. We were pulled up to the port side of the destroyer where there was a cargo net and sailors aided in pulling us off the raft onto the destroyer. (See the Hickox’s log of the day.)
They took us to a central compartment on the main deck and there was a doctor on board: Lt. R. K. Williams. A sailor from the destroyer dove into the ocean and pulled in a survivor that was severely burnt. The doctor was working on him and directing corpsmen that were working on Monte and myself. Gibson must have been taken to another compartment.
They took off our wet clothes and put us in clothes from some of the ship’s company or what they called small stores.
They cut off my high school ring. We started to shake either from coming out of the shock or from the cold. I remember holding my hands down and the fluid that kept coming out of them. I could not stop from shaking.
They sprinkled sulphur powder on my hands and face. They bandaged my hands with vasoline gauze and had several patches on my face.
I don’t remember any pain until after I stopped shaking and being bandaged. It must have been because of the trauma and shock of the incident. It was noticed my eyelashes and eyebrow hairs were all burnt off. There were other blisters and crusty areas to my face besides the deep burns.
After a while they sent Monte and myself to an officer’s compartment to recover from the shock.
The man the doctor was working on died the next day and was buried at sea.
The Hickox pulled up to the fantail of the Franklin. there were many sailors trapped on the fantail from the fire and explosions. The sea was still rough and as the bow of the destroyer rose up near the fantail, the men trapped there were jumping off onto the bow of the Hickox. One missed the bow and fell into the sea and was rescued. While this was taking place, there were still explosions and rockets taking off from the Franklin.
The cruiser Santa Fe pulled along the starboard side of the Franklin, and I understood they took on the remainder of Air Group 5 and personnel that were wounded.
I observed the cruiser Pittsburgh take the Franklin in tow. The Hickox was firing at Japanese planes that were trying to finish off the Franklin. I was disappointed when I woke up the morning of 3/20/45 and found that we had not proceeded very far, as the Franklin was almost dead in the water. The Hickox just circled the Franklin all night.
After many hours of continuous duty the officers wanted their compartments for sleep, so we were assigned bunks in a compartment in the bow of the ship. I could stretch my arms and touch both bulkheads. The sea was still rough and the greatest movement is at the bow end of the ship, and–so help me–with the vast up and down movement I would lift up off the bunk as the bow dropped. I had to balance myself with my elbows as my hands were bandaged.
If I had not gone to early breakfast I might have been in the chow line where all were killed.
If I had gotten back into our ready room for coffee I would have been there when the first bomb dropped. There was only one that escaped alive from there. I am glad I did not go when I first thought of doing it.
The Franklin along with the destroyer group arrived at Ulithi anchorage on 3/24/45. I was put over the side of the Hickox in a basket to a motor launch and transferred to the U.S.S. Belief, a hospital ship. It was either Palm Sunday or Easter, as I remember going to a church service. I spent one night on the U.S.S. Belief and was transferred to the U.S.S. Bountiful, another hospital ship. The U.S.S. Belief was ordered to proceed to Iwo Jima to care for the wounded there as the island was just secured.
It was a great feeling to get aboard the hospital ship. On the Bountiful I met 2 friends from my squadron: Drew Hontz from Scranton Pa., and Knudson from Philadelphia Pa. Knudson had eardrums injured from the concussions of the explosions. Drew Hontz had an odd bone broken under his collar bone and was transferred after 2 days stay. I remember Drew Hontz going over the side of the hospital ship in a basket. I can still see his smile and the wave he gave me. The great feeling of survival.
Knudson said he would give me a shower but would not clean my crotch, as if I would let him. I held my bandaged hands over my head, and he soaped about 90% of my body and rinsed myself. It sure felt good to get the shower. Knudson also wrote a letter dictated to him for my parents explaining my wounds and that I was safe. The tip of some fingers extended through the bandages and I was able to put a mark on the letter.
The U.S.S. Bountiful was anchored close to the Franklin. I could see the blackened area and massive hole on the port side about where I was standing.
Our air group flight surgeon examined me, leaving me aboard the hospital ship as the rest of the air group went on. He informed us of the many that were killed from our squadron. I lost two [apparently missing text] at Ford Island for a while. He let me go but warned me to get back in a short time as his watch would be ending and the next officer of the deck would not recognize me.
We left Pearl Harbor and proceeded to San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge. What a welcome sight it was! We docked at Treasure Island in the bay. I was immediately transferred to the Alameda Naval Air Station.
I originally wanted to get back to my squadron but my orders came through for a 30-day survivors leave, then to NATTC Norman Oklahoma for a refresher course. I received completely new clothing and my back pay. I was happy and looking forward to my trip back home.
While at Alameda I met a former member of our squadron who was transferred months before to go to Rhode Island to train for night fighter duty with radar. He was on his way overseas. He spotted me and I gave him the details of my experience, giving him the names of the men that I knew at that time who were killed. His name was Smith, a radioman. He was quite heavy.
After my leave I arrived at Norman Okla. in June 1945. I asked and received a weekend leave and was able to visit the family and friends of my friend Gerald Mold in Arkansas City, Kansas. This wasn’t too far from Norman.
I was accepted for pilot training but the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended. I elected to leave flight school as we had just begun the refresher course. I was transferred to several bases ending up at Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn and was discharged from [illegible] Beach Long Island in April 1946.
Here is a list of the men killed from my squadron VT5 whose faces I’ll always remember:
Ens. Glenn Drulinger
LCDR Allan Edmands
Ens. Patrick Lacey
Lt. George Watkins
Ens. Charles McAllister
Ens. Julius Watson
LtJG David Evans
Ens. Wilmon Wheeler
ARM1c Lloyd Fairbrother
ARM2c Ardell Leitzke
AOM3c Elmer Lowry
ARM3c Roy Hute
ARM3c Robert Wakefield
ARM1c Theodore Dorak
PR1c Gene Smith
ACMM Gordon Lyons
Y1c Donald Kenfield
AOM1c John Natysyn
Y3c Gerald Nold
ACRT Raymond Pagel
ACRM Charles Jenkins
ARM3c Robert Baucum
AOM1c James Hobbs
AOM1c Howard Stone (Little Beaver, I think his name was)
AOM3c David Macleod
Being wounded and getting split up from the remaining squadron I regret now that I put this experience in the back of my mind and didn’t express this experience throughout the years. And not keeping in contact with these men. I also regret not maintaining contact with Gerald Nold’s family and friends. After being discharged and returning home, this experience was set into the back of my mind, socializing with my family and friends, but never forgotten.
Here are some afterthoughts. Ardell Leitzke broke his leg and was in a cast. He broke it playing softball sliding into second base. I was the one who threw the ball to try to get him out. He begged the doctor to let him stay with the squadron. The doctor did, against his better judgment. He went into the ocean and was unable to stay afloat and drowned. The doctor stated when he examined me that this was something he would regret doing the rest of his life.
I regret that I was only able to be overseas for just a short period. But when I look back, this incident of 3/19/45 was so traumatic that it gave me the feeling of contributing to the war effort.