Last Post – A Seaplane Pilot at Midway – Ralph “Kaiser” Wilhelm’s Story

This is the last post about John Leonard Greaves’ paintings about Midway.

It was easy to find the story because Commander Ralph V. “Kaiser’ Wilhelm, USN (Ret.) had shared “his” story with this Website…


Remembering Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson and SBD-3 S-10

Most intriguing isn’t?


© John Greaves Art (with the permission of Janet Greaves)

How come this SBD-3 had its landing gear lowered and its dive brakes fully opened?

There was a SBD-3 S-10, but I don’t think it was the one John Greaves painted…


Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” BuNo 4690, flown by Lt(jg) Stanley W. Vejtasa and Radioman Frank B. Wood USS Yorktown (CV 5), 8 May 1942 Scale 1/32 HA0205

Designed as a light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, various versions of the Dauntless served during the war with the US Marine Corps, Army and Navy. The Douglas was the only plane to fight in every major Pacific engagement. The SBD-3, sarcastically nicknamed “Speedy Three”, entered service in March 1941 with production ending in July 1944, by which time a total of 5,936 had been built in all versions. On May 8, 1942 in retaliation for a U.S. task force attack on the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, aircraft from these two carriers attacked the USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. As part of the U.S. defense eight SBD-3 scouting crews from VS-5 on board USS Yorktown were assigned to low-level anti-torpedo patrol. During the encounter 4 of the SBD-3’s were shot down by Zeros with the loss of these crews. However, SBD-3 BuNo.4690 “Black S-10” piloted by Lt(jg) S. Vejtasa and Radioman/Gunner 3rd Class F. B. Wood was flown so aggressively that the Zeros never had a straight clean shot at them. In turn “Black S-10” was credited with 3 destroyed and Vejtasa was awarded the Navy Cross and would earn a second one at Santa Cruz in October 1942.

This is probably Clarence Earle Dickinson’s plane painted by John Greaves.


Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson was flying S-10 with VS-6.

I was able to retrieve some background story, but what I had remembered in 2017 was that the hydraulics were not working and Dickinson flew with the landing gear down. However I was not able to validate this anywhere.

What I found though is that Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson is featured in the movie Midway along with Dick Best.

These two images of Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson were found on the Internet.

I should watch that movie…

Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson was on the Enterprise on December 7th, 1941 and this is what I found published in 1942 and copied here.

November 24, 2016
Pearl Harbor Remembered: I Fly for Vengeance

A pilot who accidentally got caught in the air war above Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, shares his thrilling first-person account.

Excerpted from a serialized article originally published October 10–24, 1942

You would damn well remember Pearl Harbor if you had seen the great naval base ablaze as we of Scouting Squadron 6 saw it from the air, skimming in ahead of our homeward-bound carrier. The shock was especially heavy for us because this was our first knowledge that the Japs had attacked on that morning of December 7. We came upon it stone cold, each of us looking forward to a long leave that was due him.

It wasn’t that we pilots didn’t sense the tension that gripped the Pacific. You could feel it everywhere, all the time. Certainly the mission from which we were returning had the flavor of impending action. We had been delivering a batch of 12 Grumman Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron 211 to Wake Island, where they were badly needed. On this cruise, we had sailed from Pearl Harbor on November 28 under absolute war orders. Vice Admiral William F. Halsey Jr., the commander of the Aircraft Battle Force, had given instructions that the secrecy of our mission was to be protected at all costs. We were to shoot down anything we saw in the sky and bomb anything we saw on the sea. In that way, there could be no leak to the Japs.

There was no trouble at all, and we headed back from the Wake errand with a feeling of anticlimax — all of us, that is, except one young ensign. The Wildcats had taken off for Wake at a point about 200 miles at sea, escorted by six scout dive bombers, and this ensign was in the escort. The mist was heavy, and once, looking down through it, he saw three ghostlike shapes that resembled ships. Immediately the scouting line closed in for a search, but found nothing. However, the ensign, rightly or wrongly, was convinced to the end of his life — not many days away — that what he had seen was Japanese warships. If he did, and if mist hadn’t hampered the search, the course of history might have been changed. As we steamed back toward Pearl Harbor, the rest of us gradually came to look upon the incident as just another scare.

Bad weather delayed us and we were getting home on Sunday instead of on Saturday, as planned. While the engines were being warmed up on the flight deck early on Sunday morning, my rear-seat gunner and radioman, W.C. Miller, a lad of 21 or 22, had a word for me as he stood on the wing and helped adjust my radio cord. He said that his four-year tour of duty was to end in a few days and that there was “something funny” about it.

Mr. Dickinson,” he went on, “out of 21 of us fellows that went through radio school together, I’m the only one that hasn’t crashed in the water. Hope you won’t get me wet today, sir.”

“Miller,” I replied, “next Saturday we all go home for five months, so probably this will be our last flight together. Just stick with me, and the first thing you know we’ll be on the Ford Island runway. That’s all we’ve got to get by — this morning’s flight.”

Miller and I were both North Carolinians and had been flying together since I joined the squadron in April 1941. He was dependable and cool, the kind of man I like to have at my back when I’m in the air.

He climbed into the rear cockpit, faced the tail in his regular position, and the squadron was off; 18 planes flying in nine 2-plane sections; 72 eyes to scrutinize a 100-mile-wide corridor of ocean through which our carrier and its accompanying destroyers could follow safely. It was 6:30 a.m. When the squadron reached 1,000 feet, the prows of the vessels seemed to be making chalk-white V’s on slate. As we took off, the task force was 210 miles off Barber’s Point, which is at the southwest tip of the island of Oahu. Barber’s Point is about 10 miles west of Pearl Harbor.

Flying Straight into HistoryAmerican Hero:
From the air, flight officer Dickinson saw Pearl Harbor ablaze and attempted to engage the enemy.
Several times on the way in I had Miller take a bearing with his direction finder on a Honolulu radio station, to be sure we were on the prescribed course. The last time he did it, it was about five minutes past eight and we were 25 miles or so off Barber’s Point. It seems amazing now, but they were still broadcasting Hawaiian music from Honolulu.

I noticed a big smoke cloud near my goal, then saw that it was two distinct columns of smoke swelling into enormous cloud shapes. But I paid little attention. Smoke clouds are familiar parts of the Hawaiian landscape around that season, when they burn over vast fields after harvest.

Four ships lay at the entrance to Pearl Harbor, one cruiser and three destroyers. I could tell they were ours by their silhouettes. Ahead, well off to my right, I saw something unusual — a rain of big shell splashes in the water, recklessly close to shore. It couldn’t be target practice. This was Sunday, and anyway the design they made was a ragged one. I guessed some coast-artillery batteries had gone stark mad and were shooting wildly.

I remarked to Miller, through my microphone, “Just wait! Tomorrow the Army will certainly catch hell for that.”

When we were scarcely three minutes from land I noticed something that gave a significant and terrible pattern to everything I had been seeing. The base of the biggest smoke cloud was in Pearl Harbor itself. I looked up higher and saw black balls of smoke, thousands and thousands of them, changing into ragged fleecy shapes. This was the explanation of the splashing in the water. Those smoke balls were antiaircraft bursts. Now there could be no mistake. Pearl Harbor was under air attack.

I told Miller and gave him the order, “Stand by.” Ensign McCarthy’s plane was 300 or 400 yards to my right. As Mac closed in, I was charging my fixed guns. I gestured, and he charged his. Mac signified, by pointing above and below, that he understood the situation.

When we were probably three miles from land, we saw a four-engined patrol bomber that we knew was not an American type. It was a good 10 or 12 miles away. Mac and I started for him as fast as we could go, climbing. We were at 1,500 feet, he was at about 6,000 feet. He ducked into the smoke cloud which loomed like a greasy battlement.

We darted in after him and found ourselves in such blackness we couldn’t see a thing. Not even then were we aware that the source of the smoke in which we hunted was the battleship Arizona.

Mac and I came out and headed back for Barber’s Point for another look. In a few minutes we were over it at 4,000 feet, flying wing to wing. A glance to the right at McCarthy’s plane was almost like seeing Miller and myself in a mirror — there they were, in yellow rubber life jackets and parachute harnesses, and almost faceless behind black goggles and radio gear fixed on white helmets. Mac’s gunner, like mine, was on his seat in his cockpit, alert to swing his twin machine guns on the ring of steel track that encircled him.

Things began happening in split-second sequences. Two fighters popped out of the smoke cloud in a dive and made a run on us. Mac dipped his plane under me to get on my left side, so as to give his gunner an easier shot. But the bullets they were shooting at me were passing beneath my plane. Unlucky Mac ran right into them. I put my plane into a left-hand turn to give my gunner a better shot, and saw Mac’s plane below, smoking and losing altitude. Then it burst into yellow flame. The fighter who had got Mac zipped past me to the left, and I rolled to get a shot at him with my fixed guns. As he pulled up in front of me and to the left, I saw painted on his fuselage a telltale insigne, a disk suggesting, with its white background, a big fried egg with a red yolk. For the first time I confirmed what my common sense had told me; these were Jap fighters, Zeros.

I missed him, I’m afraid.

A Casualty of the Zeros
Those Zeros had so much more speed than I did that they could afford to go rapidly out of range before turning to swoop back after McCarthy. Four or five more Zeros dived out of the smoke cloud and sat on my tail. Miller was firing away and was giving me a running report on what was happening behind me.

It was possibly half a minute after I had seen the Jap insigne for the first time that Miller, in a calm voice, said, “Mr. Dickinson, I have been hit once, but I think I have got one of them.”

He had, all right. I looked back and saw with immense satisfaction that one of the Zeros was falling in flames. In that interval, watching the Jap go down, I saw McCarthy’s flaming plane again, making a slow turn to the right. Then I saw a parachute open just above the ground. I found out later it was Mac’s. As he jumped he was thrown against the tail surface of his plane and his leg was broken. But he landed safely.

Jap fighters were behind us again. There were five, I should say, the nearest less than 100 feet away. They were putting bullets into the tail of my plane, but I was causing them to miss a lot by making hard turns. They were having a field day — no formation whatever, all of them in a scramble to get me, each one wildly eager for the credit.

One or more of them got on the target with cannon. They were using explosive and incendiary bullets that clattered on my metal wing like hail on a tin roof. I was fascinated by a line of big holes creeping across my wing, closer and closer. A tongue of yellow flame spurted from the gasoline tank in my left wing and began spreading.

“Are you all right, Miller?” I yelled.

“Mr. Dickinson, I’ve expended all six cans of ammunition,” he replied.

Then he screamed. It was as if he opened his lungs wide and just let go. I have never heard any comparable human sound. It was a shriek of agony. When I called again, there was no reply. I’m sure poor Miller was already dead. I was alone and in a sweet fix. I had to go from a left-hand into a right-hand turn because the fast Japanese fighters had pulled up ahead of me on the left. I was still surprised at the amazing maneuverability of those Zeros. I kicked my right rudder and tried to put my right wing down, but the plane did not respond. The controls had been shot away. With the left wing down and the right rudder on and only eight or nine hundred feet altitude, I went into a spin.

I yelled again for Miller on the long chance that he was still alive. Still no reply. Then I started to get out. It was my first jump, but I found myself behaving as if I were using a check-off list. I was automatically responding to training. I remember that I started to unbutton my radio cord with my right hand and unbuckle my belt with my left. But I couldn’t unfasten my radio cord with one hand. So, using both hands, I broke it. Then I unbuckled my belt, pulled my feet underneath me, put my hands on the sides of the cockpit, leaned out on the right-hand side, and shoved clear. The rush of wind was peeling my goggles off.

I had shoved out on the right side, because that was the inside of the spin. Then I was tumbling over in the air, grabbing and feeling for the rip cord’s handle. Pulling it, I flung my arm wide.

There was a savage jerk. From where I dangled, my eyes followed the shroud lines up to what I felt was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen — the stiff-bellied shape of my white silk parachute. I heard a tremendous thud. My plane had struck the ground nose first, exploding. Then I struck the ground; feet first, seat next, head last. My feet were in the air and the wind had been jarred out of me. Fortunately, I had jumped so low that neither the Japs overhead nor the Marines defending Ewa Field had time to get a shot at me.

I had come to earth on the freshly graded dirt of a new road, a narrow aisle through the brush to the west of Ewa Field, and had had the luck to hit the only road bisecting that brush area for five miles. Except for a thorn in my scalp, my only injury was a slight nick on the anklebone, where machine-gun bullets had made horizontal cuts in my sock.

My main worry was to get out of the parachute tangle and on to Pearl Harbor to stand by for orders. Afterward, I walked and ran for about a quarter of a mile to the main road, bordered by cane fields. I knew this was the way to Pearl Harbor. There were curious tremors underfoot. Those were the bombs. It seemed, too, as if many carpets were being beaten. That was machine-gun fire. Heavier overtones came from ­antiaircraft batteries not far off. I could orient myself by the smoke obscuring much of the sky. The nearer and smaller column tapered to earth nearby. So I knew that there on my right hand, possibly two miles away, was Ewa Field, the Marine air base. But five miles ahead, everything was blackly curtained by smoke.

The first automobile that came along, a blue sedan about two years old, was headed my way. I stepped out and signaled by waving my white helmet. The car rolled to a stop where I stood. A nice-looking gray-haired man was driving. The woman beside him, wearing a blue-and-white polka-dot dress, was stout, cheerful, and comfortable looking. They smiled cordially.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said, “but I must have a lift to Pearl Harbor. I’ve just been shot down.”

The man accepted the urgency in my voice without, I think, really grasping the significance of what I had said. He reached behind him and opened a door. I got into a backseat crowded with picnic things — a wicker basket brim-full of wax-paper packages; a vacuum bottle, and a brown paper bag of bananas. On the floor was a bottle wrapped in a clean dish towel. The woman half turned her head and said that it was too bad they wouldn’t have time to take me to my destination, because they were going on a picnic.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said, “but you have got to take me to Pearl Harbor.”
“But our friends are waiting for us. We are bringing the potato salad and they have the chicken.”

Japanese planes droned overhead. Taking a hand myself, I told her to look.

“Japanese planes? Those?”
“Yes, ma’am.”

Suddenly she became tender and solicitous. Had I really been shot down? Was I hurt? Would I like something to eat? I told her I was thirsty. That was true enough. My mouth was so dry it was an effort for me to speak. But all they had was a bottle of whisky — it was what was wrapped in that dish towel. I didn’t take any because I figured I would have to fly again that day. By this time we were approaching a few houses and a general store in the cane fields. As far as I was concerned, the war was going to have to wait until I had a Coke.

As we started off again, Jap planes were strafing the road with machine guns and cannon. Through the rear window I could see a low-flying Jap, his guns winking like malefic jewels. He missed us, but hit a sedan 50 feet in front of us, in which another couple were riding. Riddled with tiny holes and jagged cannon slashes, the sedan careened, turned over, and landed in a ditch in a cloud of yellow dust. As we sped on, we saw other bullet-torn automobiles that had either rolled or been pushed into ditches and fields along the way.

We got to Pearl Harbor just in time to see the big dive-bombing attack that was going on about 9:00 in the morning.

It was just 55 minutes since Miller had taken that final bearing by tuning in on the Honolulu radio station. The leaning column of smoke I had seen then was now close enough for us really to see its source.

There was so much smoke the sun was obscured and lemon-yellow gun flashes pierced the somber backdrop. Except for the fiercely burning Arizona, all the ships were letting go with everything they had — battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and little boats. The whole system of shore defenses was in action. From Fort Weaver, clear on the other side — where this couple with me had planned to spend a lazy day — the Army had angry guns shooting at the darkened sky. But where were all our planes, Navy and Army?

When we reached the southeast segment of the harbor, at the entrance of Hickam Field, I left the blue sedan and that admirable couple. I hope I thanked them adequately in my hurry. All over Hickam Field there were fires — answers to the questions in my mind about our planes. Rows of planes were blazing on the field. So were hangars, barracks, and other buildings. Guns were rattling and pounding around the field. Men were fighting fires.

Hitchhiking to War
I got another hop in a station wagon from a Filipino clad in sailor whites. Apparently he was a steward for some captain and had been sent ashore the day before to do some marketing. The floor of the station wagon was loaded with vegetables, and piled on top of them were about as many men as could squeeze in. All of us jumped out at Hospital Landing, except the driver, and joined a throng of a hundred or so soldiers, sailors, Marines, and civilian employees on the channel edge. What we saw then was so overwhelming that I felt as if something had me by the throat.

Thirty yards out in the channel, and seeming to tower over us, moved the vast gray bulk of an old-type battleship. She was traveling slowly, and on her deck, stretcher bearers were rushing to carry away the wounded, while steel was roaring skyward from her 5-inch antiaircraft weapons, her lesser cannon, and machine guns. Beyond her, at the far end of Battleship Row, lay the Arizona, the blackest sort of smoke belching from her broken, twisted wreckage amidships and forming fantastic, ominous shapes in the sky. One fighting top and tripod mast canted out of this incredible shambles. On all the ships in that double two-mile lane, guns were blasting at the planes. Yet all the terrific power of the biggest guns on those battleships was ineffective now. They were made to fight monsters like themselves, not a swarm of gadflies.

The ship near us was trying to get out to sea, and the Japs were trying to sink her in the channel, where her 29,000 tons of steel hull, machinery, and guns would choke Pearl Harbor and bottle up the fleet. There was a tremendous ear-splitting explosion. A bomb had struck on her deck close to one of her antiaircraft guns. Thirteen hundred men, I guess, were aboard the ship. Some were killed, more were hurt, but only one antiaircraft gun stopped firing. Everywhere I could see, the crew was well under control. For the first time in my life I was seeing a naval vessel in action, and I was just watching in that helplessness in which you find yourself caught sometimes in dreams. But this was real enough, and what was striking at the battleship was a newer weapon, my kind of weapon. Dive bombers.

All the time I was watching the attack I was trying to evaluate the ability of the Japanese as dive bombers. They had concentrated at least the equivalent of one of our own dive bomber squadrons in an effort to knock out the ship. Eighteen, possibly 20, planes took part, going at it one by one. They were so eager that bombs fell first on one side of the old battle wagon and then on the other. We on the landing had to throw ourselves flat before each explosion because the concussion was terrific. If caught standing, you would be knocked flat. Lying down on the concrete or on rocky earth, I had a frantic impulse to claw myself into the ground.

Dodging Death
The battleship got clear of the channel all right, and grounded on a point of land opposite the hospital. Just at that time I had turned about to watch the bombing attack on the destroyer Shaw, which was going on behind us. As I watched, a bomb tipped her bow, and after the explosion, fire broke out.

Just then a motor launch picked us all up and shuttled us across to Ford Island. A lot of damage had been done there. Three or four squadrons of PBYs, which are big patrol planes sometimes called Catalinas, had been massed on the point of the island. Only charred remains were left. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. Hangars were afire, and their glass-wall fronts were black with holes. In front of the nearest hangar was the appalling wreckage of those Catalinas. There was nothing shipshape anywhere in sight. As we watched from the concrete ramp, there was a great flare across the channel, and a tremendous blast. The destroyer Shaw had blown up. Fire had reached her magazine. I saw a big ball of red fire erupt from her. It shot up like a rocket to about 400 or 500 feet. Spellbound, I saw it burst open from the middle. It was like a rotten orange exploding. The concussion knocked me on my face.

Someone yelled, “Here comes a Jap plane!” We swarmed into the undamaged hangar. Not one but a number of planes roared across Ford Island with their guns going. I was behind a steel column in that hangar.

In a few minutes I was on my way again, to the other side of the air field, where the carrier planes are based. The island is a little more than a mile long, and in places about three quarters of a mile wide. Right down its middle is a runway. Sprinting on that stretch of concrete, I saw that it was strewn with pieces of shrapnel, misshapen bullets from Jap machine guns, and empty cartridges that had fallen from their planes. I could guess, from the quantity of this stuff, that they had done a lot of systematic strafing here to keep our fliers on the ground. They love to strafe. It seems to be characteristic of them, a thing that has been noticed in many of the battle areas.

Marines at Ewa Field told me they saw a Jap gunner quit firing long enough to thumb his nose at them. Another Jap, while strafing the Marines, was moved to let go the handles of his gun, clasp his hands high above his head and shake them in that greeting with which American prize fighters salute their fans. Then he grabbed his guns and shot some more. This will help to explain why the United States Marines could hardly wait.

The Ties of Conflict
When I reached the other side of the air field, I could find only 3 of the 18 pilots with whom I had left the carrier about three hours before. Communications were pouring into the command center. I went to find out if the Japanese carriers had been located. My commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. H.L. Hopping, was there. He had been able to get in with just a couple of bullet holes in his plane. Others of our squadron trickled in until we had about half our planes and pilots on the ground.

We were all so glad to see one another alive that it was a deeply touching scene. With a whoop of delight, I saw Earl Gallaher walk into the command center to report for instructions. Lieutenant Gallaher was the executive officer of Scouting Squadron 6. As flight officer, I was third in the squadron — that is, next to Gallaher, who was second in command. We shook hands in an effusive greeting and then just stood there for a few seconds, grinning at each other. There wasn’t time to say much. We were expecting to be sent after those Jap carriers as soon as they were located. So we went back to see what planes we could find, and managed to get together nine planes that we could man. We had bombs put on them and the rear guns manned.

Those of Scouting Squadron 6 who were present and accounted for finally decided to get a little sleep. We had our orders — to be up and standing by at 4:00 the next morning. We went to sleep on cots. The next thing I knew, it was 4 a.m., and I was dressing in the dark.

We got orders to take off immediately and fly out to the carrier. We didn’t think much of that idea. We thought considerably less of it as somewhere a gunner began shooting red-hot pin points into the overcast sky. He was directing his tracer bullets at the only point of light he could see overhead. Then it seemed as if every gun within a 10-mile radius was being fired. That lasted about 10 minutes, until, one by one, they discovered they were shooting at a star.

Commander Hopping was impatient to take off. Happily for us, it was daybreak by the time we started down the runway, and men on the destroyers down that way could see who was aloft. After flying in absolute radio silence some 80 miles to a rendezvous at sea, we found our carrier. She was out there with the task force, of course, and she was flying the biggest American flag that I had ever seen on a ship. It was her battle flag, flown only in battle. Seeing her out of sight of land, in fighting trim, we were more than ever grateful for the bad weather that had delayed our return from Wake.

Under normal conditions she would have been at her dock by 6:00 on Saturday night — and so would another carrier, the Lexington. On the maps of the harbor carried by the Japs, the data were so nearly up to the minute that the two carriers were shown where we ourselves had expected them to be — until that bad weather delayed us.

I have been attached to one ship or another for about a fourth of my life. Almost invariably, you develop a warm feeling for your ship, but for a carrier the feeling is deeper. When you fly as one of the air group of a carrier, no matter how confident you are of your ability as navigator, each time you actually find your carrier on an otherwise empty sea, your heart sings a little.

Everyone on the carrier was wild with curiosity, and the experiences of each of us were heard over and over, with flattering attention. We got a few scraps of information on what had happened to other ­members of our squadron. One had jumped a Jap fighter about the same time I was shot down and in the same area, near Barber’s Point. The Marines at Ewa Field had witnessed the action. Apparently, our man was doing a fine job and was getting the best of the Jap — a real test of his skill, because our scout bombers weren’t designed to outmaneuver fighters. He was so intent on keeping his fixed guns pouring bullets into the rear of his adversary that when the Jap pulled up the nose of his plane — possibly there was a dead pilot at the stick — and it lost forward speed, our man’s plane collided with it. Pilot and rear-seat man both jumped. But there wasn’t sufficient altitude, and their parachutes failed to open in time.

As we listened to stories like this one, a pattern of understanding soon formed, and we realized that revenge was going to be our job. We would have to get those Jap carriers somehow, somewhere, someday, and not waste time and hurt our personal efficiency by brooding over the deaths of our friends.

By Tuesday morning, after the task force had dropped into Pearl Harbor for oil and provisions, the hunt started again. The task force was in charge of Vice Admiral Halsey, who believes in action, and we knew we would do some real punching. We didn’t catch the carriers on this jaunt, but the area was infested with long-range Jap submarines and we potted plenty of them.

The Wednesday-morning scouting flight turned up several subs, and we were sent out to get them. I took off after one of them around noon, when our carrier was 200 miles north of Pearl Harbor. As my rear-seat man, I took along a lad named Merritt, who was about 21 years old. He turned out to be an extremely reliable radioman and gunner.

The sub had been 75 miles to the south when seen at 6 a.m., and naturally had had time to move elsewhere in the interim. I flew a big rectangle over the probable area. After about an hour I spotted her, lying on the surface, about 15 to 18 miles distant.

I headed for her, meanwhile radioing the carrier: “This is Sail Four. Have sighted submarine. Am attacking.”

I was about 800 feet off the water, and to make a good dive-bombing attack I would have to start from 5,000 to 6,000 feet, at least. So I began climbing, too, desperately hoping the sub wouldn’t submerge before I could unload. She didn’t, and as soon as I was within range, her deck guns began throwing shells at me.

“Is the bomb armed, Mr. Dickinson?” Merritt kept asking me. He was referring to the removal of the arming wires, which prepare the bomb to explode on contact. It is the pilot’s job to do this and the gunner’s job to remind him, lest the bomb fall a dud. This kid Merritt was getting his first chance for revenge and he was determined not to have a failure on his hands.

“Look here,” I finally said. “The bomb is armed. For God’s sake, relax. Maybe we can get this sub. Take my word for it, the bomb is armed.” At the same time, the carrier was calling me for a progress report. I replied that I would call in after dropping my bomb.

The Jap’s two deck guns fired at least 25 antiaircraft shells at me. I had had him in sight for almost eight minutes. Yet he had made no attempt to submerge. All he was doing was turning to the right a few degrees. Obviously, there was something wrong with him. Probably he was unable to submerge.

Now the Japs were firing a couple of machine guns too. The explosions from the antiaircraft guns occasionally washed a slight tremor into the plane.

I was getting nicely set when my gunner spoke again, “Is the bomb armed, Mr. Dickinson?” I dived.

All the way down I could see those heathens still shooting. When I was about 30 stories higher than the Empire State Building, I yanked the bomb-release handle. By the time I was able to pull out of the dive and turn so as to get my plane’s tail out of my line of vision, it was probably 15 seconds after the bomb struck. It dropped right beside the submarine, amidships. In about three quarters of a minute after my bomb struck, the sub had gone under.

Right after she disappeared, from her amidships, as near as I could tell, there was an eruption of oil and foamy water, like the bursting of a big bubble. Seconds later there was a second disturbance. Another bubblelike eruption of foam and oil churned to the whitecapped surface of the sea.

This time I saw some debris. I reported to the carrier what I had done and what I had seen. But I was careful to say that “possibly” the submarine had been sunk. You simply can’t be sure on such evidence.

“Looks like we got him, Mr. Dickinson,” chirped Merritt.

“Yes, I think we did.”
“That’s certainly pretty nice, huh?”
I said it sure was.

Attack on Kwajalein Atoll

We had one fairly uneventful cruise of 10 days, and then our carrier went out from Pearl Harbor again as part of a convoy escort. The convoy was carrying reinforcements to our garrison on a South Sea island base, which protected our supply line to Australia and had to be strong enough to withstand whatever the Japs might send from their islands. Except for those reinforcements, the Pacific route to Australia might have been cut, and men and supplies for any offensive would have to be brought clear around Africa.

We stood guard in the open sea while the reinforcements were being discharged, then departed. We got orders to be ready for action. Our task force had a real job to do.

On a day around the end of January, we altered our course and turned west toward the Marshall Islands, primed for an all-day attack. The Japs had called at Pearl Harbor on a Sunday eight weeks before. This was our first chance to return the call.

We got up early — about 3:00 in the morning. The anticipation of battle was a noticeable thing in the wardroom, something you could detect almost as plainly as you could smell the fragrance of the coffee, toast, and bacon. This middle-of-the-night breakfast was the climax of four or five days of tension, of worrying. Each man was challenging his own soul to tell him how he would measure up in battle. No man ever lived who got the answer in advance.

I was feeling a trifle smug because twice before I had been under fire. All of us who had been up at Pearl Harbor were exchanging glances; we were regarding one another with a certain comfort. We were, we felt, veterans.

I had put the first piece of fried egg in my mouth when I made a peculiar discovery: I couldn’t swallow. That piece of egg seemed to swell and turn into something the size of a tennis ball. I crammed my mouth with dry toast and washed it down with water. After puttering a bit with my knife and fork, I decided to call that piece of toast my breakfast and went to the ready room of Scouting Squadron 6.

We pilots took our places in 21 chairs arranged in seven rows of three. Time spent in the ready room is as much of a strain as flying. But after every scrap of data was down and digested, the seconds began to drag and minutes were like hours. Actually, of course, we hadn’t been there long. It still was night when finally we heard the telephone, and the talker relayed the order we’d been waiting for: “Pilots, man your planes!”

Scouting 6 had something like 175 miles to go to reach its objective, Roi Island, which is a part of Kwajalein Atoll. The scouts were going to attack; the bombers were coming along in reserve and to see how we made out. Then they were to seek an objective. Whoever came back from this raid, we knew, would be able to draw a better map of Kwajalein Atoll than the one we carried with us. Well, we would bomb whatever we could see.

After 30 or 40 miles, below we could see many islands. These were low-­lying, circular reefs, and down there, 10,000 feet below, were many Japs, and we hoped the Japs were sleeping.

We had been told to make a glide bombing attack. In a dive attack you swoop down at the target at an angle of 65 to 75 degrees, but in a glide attack, you approach at an angle of no more than 55 degrees. Our skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Hopping, had labored mightily to get us ready for this morning’s work. Hopping was a brilliant tactician. He taught us a lot, and our squadron went into the war much better off for having been his. A graduate of the Naval Academy, class of ’24, he was a tall man — 6 foot 1 — and strong, and strong in his opinions too. But he was extremely hard to “fly on.” Men don’t fly with equal skill any more than they play tennis with equal skill. We were always a little leery when flying on Hopping, but we were devoted to him, and therefore afraid that he would get himself into a situation out of which he couldn’t fly.

We had climbed to 15,000 or 16,000 by the time we reached Roi Island. After about 15 minutes, far off to my right I saw my skipper starting to coast, taking the first division in. I saw their bombs exploding on the ground, saw fires erupt down there, and knew the skipper’s division was strafing hangars and field. But what I did not learn until later was that a Jap fighter was taking off from the airfield as our skipper was coming down at the head of his division.

Earl Gallaher, leading the second division, saw it happen. Seemingly, Hopping had pushed over too early. You really ought to have that angle of about 55 degrees as you come down on the target to give you the speed you need. And you do need it. A shallow angle won’t give you that extra push. We know that well now. As the skipper reached a low altitude he was still some distance from the island.

Instead of going in at 300 knots, or, better still, 350, he was doing no more than he could get with his engine, which was scarcely half what he needed. Passing over the island he was a low, clear target, and they concentrated on him. A Jap fighter, just getting airborne, came up on his tail. The skipper’s plane struck the water and went right under. Gallaher, diving, saw the whole thing plainly.

I took the third division in on the left of Gallaher’s. We made practically a simultaneous attack. I think our 12 planes arrived at the end of our glide with considerably more speed than those first six planes had had. Going in, I saw the angry flashing of the antiaircraft guns throwing stuff at us. But it is surprising how quickly you come to a state of mind which almost disregards AA fire. It doesn’t bother a pilot much more than lightning. It isn’t especially effective — yet — but more important to your self-control, as your enemy trains his big guns on you, is your utter absorption in the job you are doing. A man who has precious bombs to drop hasn’t time to be scared.

I had three, but I was saving my 500-pounder for dessert. What I released as I flew toward a bunch of buildings on the airfield were my two 100-pounders. After pulling out, I kicked my tail around, the better to see what damage I had wrought. My two bombs hit a building or a house.

My wing man, Lt. Norman West, who was flying just back of me, had startling luck. His load struck right next to the building I hit, but he got the jackpot. It must have been a storehouse for ammunition, probably TNT. It went up with a tremendous bang and a gigantic flare. An enormous smoke cloud came swelling after us. When that smoke thinned, there were no buildings left there. They had been leveled. That was quite gratifying.

Crossing the island, we scattered. I found myself well off the island, about 1,500 feet above the sea, completely entranced with one of the most glorious fireworks shows I had ever seen. The moon was gone and the first glowing hint of morning was in the east. All over the island there was an extravagant flowering of flame. Great white-and-pinkish-streaked fire shapes bloomed profusely, each for just an instant, as plane after plane went in and unloaded. The explosions were fiercely jagged, intensely bright. The Japs down below were getting more than a taste of Pearl Harbor.

I must have been a mile off the island, above the sea, just drunk with the fantastic beauty of this extraordinary dawn before I suddenly realized that for any antiaircraft gunner on the ground or any Jap fighter in the air I was just a cold turkey. Several thousand feet up I saw a couple of our planes. I pulled up the nose of my plane, shoved the throttle all the way forward, and went away from there, sensible again. As I breezed up alongside my friends and they fell in on either side of me, we all felt better.

We three had come together for mutual protection just in time. On my left-hand side, two Jap fighters — the first I had seen — were coming in to make an attack on us. They took turns making runs, but always both from the left. Had they known a little more about their business we would have been finished, because for some reason our rear-seat men were having a bit of trouble with their guns just then.

I had time to wonder what species of shark would get me for his breakfast when our rear guns got going and started shooting dark red lines at the Japs. They turned tail and ran. Apparently these two had never affiliated themselves with any suicide squadron.

Watching them climb up and away, I gave a sigh of relief that practically blew the cockpit open. Then they really did astonish us. Out of range, the two of them started doing stunts. They looped together and followed with an elegant slow roll. This went on and on. They just sat up there, well out of battle, and did what we call “flat-hatting,” a term for all kinds of stupid, show-off flying. They had been sent to fight us, but they just kept on waltzing in the sky. I can’t guess what was in their minds, unless they had agreed they weren’t going to risk their necks excessively for dear old Nippon.

I had just rendezvoused with two others of my squadron when a report came over the radio giving information we had been yearning to hear.

Targets suitable for heavy bombs. Targets suitable for heavy bombs at Kwajalein anchorage.”

I recognized the voice and was satisfied that this was no wild goose chase. The voice had come from somewhere in the sky above. It was that of Commander Young, our group leader. We three immediately headed south.

Kwajalein anchorage was 40 miles or so from where we were, and everybody wanted to get there first. Targets for heavy bombs were what we all had been hoping for, and when mention of a carrier was added to the good news, that was like offering fresh meat to dogs.

Because we had to climb, we could do scarcely more than 130 miles an hour. I was leading my three-plane section. The pilot on my right, a big fellow, kept shoving his shoulders and arms forward in a pantomimed plea to me for hurry. That was Dobby — Ensign Dobson.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Kleiss was the other pilot. He has had a nickname ever since a day when he landed at the Hawaiian Marine base, Ewa Field, before it was fully paved. Kleiss had turned his tail up into the wind and his propeller was blowing up a lot of dust, which hid the plane from the man in the control tower. So, when Kleiss called, requesting permission to take off, by radio the reply came back: “Unknown dust cloud. From Ewa Field tower. Permission granted.” So he had become Dusty.

In no more than seven or eight minutes, we could see a vast ruffle of beach sand embroidered with lacy surf and touched here and there with green. Inside this ruffle was the lagoon, Kwajalein anchorage. Moored there in five or six symmetrical rows, as if on a chart, were more than a score of ships.

I saw one new cruiser, a row or two of big auxiliaries, an old light cruiser, tankers, a seaplane tender, three or four submarines and other ships. As we flew over the reef toward all these fine targets, I saw on the beach below us two great four-engined flying boats. They were temptingly exposed to strafing, but we had no time for that. All the ships were shooting at us as the wide atoll beach passed astern of our three planes.

It was broad daylight then, nearly 20 minutes to eight. Far below on the wide lagoon, the big new cruiser was winking at us with many glittering eyes. Time and time again as her 8 or 10 bigger antiaircraft guns let go, she seemed to be an angry mass of living flame. All told, that one warship probably had 30 or 35 guns shooting at us.

We had gone far apart to make the attack. I was on the left, Dobby in the middle, and Dusty on the right as we put our noses down and went into steep dives.

I was sighting at the deck of a tanker, of 12,000 tons I’d say, when I saw that all the while she’d been masking a richer prize. It was a thundering big Jap liner. She was about 17,000 tons. Poised aft, high up on her stern, was a seaplane. I wanted this liner. I pulled my nose up to hedge-hop the tanker and aimed right for the plane on the liner’s deck; aimed well, too, because my 500-pound bomb struck the stern, and the blast of it wrapped her in flame.

As I pulled out of my dive at 600 feet, the Jap liner was well on fire. I saw Dusty’s bomb land right on the big new cruiser, and a lot of Japs aboard her stopped shooting. Dobby’s bomb struck a submarine tied alongside a bigger ship, the tender. The sub blew up and sank so fast that the tender listed from the pull of lines and gangways.

Because of my passionate interest in what was going on, any concern for myself was simply crowded out of consciousness. It was as if somebody else were flying and I were watching. My best subject at the academy had been naval battles; I had such an interest in old sea fights that I would sometimes argue in the classroom with instructors and get my ears knocked down for stubbornly coming back lugging 11 books to support a point. Right there at Kwajalein anchorage, below, above, and all around me was a sea fight, and it wasn’t in any book.

War from a Box Seat

I’ll admit that if I find myself alone in a dark, creaky old house, I can scare myself near to death. But neither at Pearl Harbor nor afterward in action was I really scared. There is worry underneath, of course, and the nervous strain of it finally tells in subtle ways.

But battle is grand excitement. It is excitement beside which any other kind I’ve ever known seems diluted and lacking in the real flavor. This was the essence.

I hung around watching the show until the antiaircraft shells burst too close, then got out of Kwajalein. I was about 40 miles out over the water when Dobby and Dusty caught up with me. The three of us headed back to the carrier.

I was standing on the deck as our carrier was warped in to Pearl Harbor. I heard her cheered as she came around the island. The commander in chief of the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz, had passed the word around about our raid on the Marshalls. Work would stop on any warship the carrier passed, and men would crowd to the rail, even on the half-submerged wreckage of the Arizona. In impudent Tokyo broadcasts, the Japs had been asking the world, “Where’s the American Navy?” Well, now they knew where a part of it had been.

That was why there was something special in the cheers our admiral got, and hearing them was something special for any Navy man. We could see the admiral’s head and shoulders as he walked back and forth on his bridge high in the superstructure. Several times he raised his hand to salute friends greeting him from the dock. Afterward, we heard the admiral had tears in his eyes. I shouldn’t wonder if he had.

Footnote: Lt. Dickinson engaged in numerous additional air battles, sank another Japanese ship, ditched a plane in the ocean after running out of fuel, and must be regarded, by any account, as one of the great heroes of the war.

More information

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Dickinson and Miller were flying as part of 18 planes from Squadron 6 off the USS Enterprise.

William Cicero Miller was born on July 19, 1919, the second of five children of Melvin and Ora Jane Miller. The Millers were a farming family that lived on Route 2 in Thomasville, North Carolina. Thomasville was an idyllic town that was part of the Piedmont triumvirate that comprised “The Furniture Capital of the World.” But it didn’t hold William at home. At the age of just 18, he made the trek to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he enlisted into the United States Navy on October 20, 1937. For the next four years, he belonged to the Naval Service.

USN Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, Jr., a 1934 Naval Academy graduate, was piloting a Douglas SBD-3 off the Hawaiian Islands with William C. Miller on the morning of December 7, 1941. He would later write confirming Miller’s death in the back seat of the aircraft before he, himself, was forced to bail out — but not before the duo had scored at least one victory against Japanese aircraft.

Miller’s military career began at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia. There, he advanced to the rank of Seaman Second Class (S2c) on February 21, 1938. S2c Miller joined Scouting Squadron 6 (VS-6), attached to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), on September 30, 1938. Little did the Naval Service know that this North Carolina farm boy would soon be involved in one of the most pivotal events in our Nation’s history, a time and event that leaves none unscathed.

Miller spent his time on VS-6 honing and crafting his skills. It wasn’t long before he rose to the rank of Radioman First Class (RM1c).

In April 1941, two Tar Heel boys were paired as a Pilot- Radioman/Gunner team when Miller became Lieutenant Clarence E Dickinson, Jr.’s Radioman/Gunner or “back-seater,” as the position was called.

Engraving on the back of William Cicero Miller’s posthumous Purple Heart.

Born in Florida, Clarence E Dickinson, Jr. was from Raleigh, having been raised at Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington. Lieutenant Dickinson was a 1934 Naval Academy graduate, described as a tall, thin man who was prone to excitability. This earned him the sometimes behind-his-back nickname, “Dickie Bird.” At the time, Dickinson was one of the most seasoned pilots of VS-6.

One may wonder what catalyst thrust together these two home state natives. Did Lieutenant Clarence E Dickinson, Jr. see documents that listed Miller’s birth state while choosing a radioman? Maybe, Dickinson heard and easily recognized Miller’s North Carolina dialect. Whatever the situation that put them together as a Pilot/Radioman team, they would soon fly off into history.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Squadron 6 was preparing to launch 18 planes, that would fly in two-plane sections. They were going to scrutinize a 100-mile corridor of ocean to allow the Enterprise and her accompanying destroyers a safe entry into Pearl Harbor. At that time, the task force was located 210 miles off Barbers Point. This is at the southwest tip of Oahu Island and ten miles west of Pearl Harbor.

During pre-flight checks of the Douglas SBD-3, Miller was standing on Dickinson’s wing adjusting his radio cord while he had a word with the Lieutenant. He told the Lieutenant that this four-year hitch was up in a few days, and he was going home to marry his sweetheart. “But,” he told Dickinson, “there is something funny about it.” Miller went on, “Mr. Dickinson, out of the twenty-one of us fellows who went through radio school together, I’m the only who hasn’t crashed in the water. I hope you won’t get me wet today, sir!”

William Cicero Miller enlisted into the United States Navy on October 20, 1937. Four years later, he gave his life trying to thwart the Japanese act on Pearl Harbor. His name was destined to live on when an Evarts-Class destroyer was christened the USS William C Miller (DE-259) in his honor in 1943.

Dickinson replied, “Miller, next Saturday, we all go home for five months, so this will probably be our last flight together. Just stick with me, and the first thing you know, we’ll be on the Ford Island runway. That’s all we have to do is get by this morning’s flight.”

For William Cicero Miller, many of these statements would become true. Unfortunately the original intent became a statement of his fate.

More information

Clarence Earle Dickinson
DATE OF BIRTH: December 1, 1912
PLACE OF BIRTH:Jacksonville, Florida
HOME OF RECORD:Raleigh, North Carolina

Clarence Dickinson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Class of 1934. When Lieutenant Dickinson’s Second Gold Star was presented in 1942, he became the first person in history to receive THREE Navy Crosses, a distinction he gained simultaneously with fellow pilot Lieutenant Noel A. M. Gayler. Clarence Dickinson retired as a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.

Navy Cross

Service: Navy
Battalion: Scouting Squadron 6 (VS-6)
Division: U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6)

Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 301 (April 1942)

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Clarence Earle Dickinson, Jr., United States Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety, while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Scouting Plane of Scouting Squadron SIX (VS-6), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Returning to Oahu in a Scouting Plane, Lieutenant Dickinson and his gunner were engaged by a superior number of Japanese aircraft. Although the latter was killed, Lieutenant Dickinson continued to engage the enemy until his plane was forced down in flames. He escaped by parachute, landed near Ewa Airfield, and proceeded to the naval air station, Ford Island, Pearl Harbor. Here he was immediately assigned to a 175 mile aerial search operations at sea, his recent ordeal not having been reported to his superiors. Lieutenant Dickinson’s outstanding courage, daring airmanship and determined skill were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Finally this is the information that I found on a forum that led me to…
6-S-10 Lt. C.E. DICKINSON Jr./DE LUCA, J.F., ARM1c

June 20, 1942.
From: Commander, Scouting Squadron SIX.
To: Commanding Officer, U.S.S. ENTERPRISE.
Via: Commander, ENTERPRISE Air Group.
Subject: Report of Action, June 4-6, 1942.
Reference: (a) U.S. Navy Regulations, Art. 874, par. 6.

Enclosure: (A) Scouting Squadron SIX Tactical Organization of June 2, 1942.

1. Scouting Squadron Six participated in four separate attacks against Japanese naval forces during the period June 4 through June 6, 1942, and in one photographic flight over Japanese naval forces on June 6, 1942. On June 4, 1942 there were nineteen pilots attached to the squadron, seven of whom had been in the squadron for more than seven months, two for more than three months, seven for two months and three for one month. There were eighteen SBD-3 planes assigned and all were in commission. Action was expected.

The following is a chronological account of the part Scouting Squadron Six played in the actions:

A. Thursday June 4, 1942, forenoon and afternoon.
1. On Thursday, June 4, 1942, Scouting Squadron Six participated in an attack on a Japanese force consisting of four aircraft carriers, several battleships or heavy cruisers, and many destroyers, about 150 miles Northwest of Midway Island. The attack group was led by the Enterprise Air Group Commander and consisted of thirty-two SBD’s, fifteen from VB-6, loaded with one 1,000 lb. bomb each, sixteen from VS-6, loaded with one 500. lb bomb and two 100. lb bombs each, and the EAGC plane loaded with one 500 lb. bomb and two 100 lb. bombs. The squadron tactical organization was as follows:

First Division

6-S-2 Ens. R.W. STONE/BERGIN, W.H., RM1c
6-S-7 Lt.(jg) N.J. KLEISS/SNOWDEN, J.W., RM3c
6-S-18 Ens. C.E. DEXTER/HOFF, D.L., RM3c

Second Division
6-S-10 Lt. C.E. DICKINSON Jr./DE LUCA, J.F., ARM1c
6-S-15 Ens. J.R. McCARTHY/HOWELL, E.E., RM2c6-S-12 Ens. C.D. PEIFFER JECK, F.C., RM3c
6-S-17 Ens. V.L. MICHEEL/DANCE, J.D., RM3c
6-S-14 Ens. J.C. LOUGH/HANSEN, L.D., RM2c

Third Division

6-S-6 Ens. J.A. SHELTON/CRAIG, D.W., RM3c
6-S-11 Ens. R.A. JACCARD/PIXLEY, P.W., RM3c

2. The attack group departed at 0930 and climbed to 20,000 ft. enroute to the objective. Before reaching the objective, 6-S-9 was forced to return to the ship when the pilot was unable to shift to high blower. This airplane is not shown on the above tactical organization.

3. a. At about 1205, the Japanese fleet was sighted and was seen to consist of 4 CV, 4 BB or CA and 8 to 10 DD. The weather was clear and visibility excellent. There were scattered cumulus clouds from 1,500 ft. to 2,500 ft. and the ceiling was unlimited. The surface wind was 5 to 8 knots from the southeast. The Enterprise Air Group Commander designated by voice radio one CV target for himself and VS-6 and another CV target for VB-6. Commander Scouting Six followed the three plane section led by CEAG on a CV of the Kaga or Akagi class and observed two of this sections bombs to be near misses – the impact of the third bomb was not observed. The CV at this time was undamaged. A clear view of the entire flight deck was obtained during the dive and any damage by previous bomb hits would have been noted. The bomb dropped by the Commanding Officer of Scouting Six was a direct hit in the center of the flight deck about 200 ft. from the stern. At least two more direct hits were scored by the first division and the CV was afire and smoking heavily. 6-S-2 joined up with 6-S-1 almost immediately after pull-out from the dive and a high speed low altitude retirement was made through an opening in the screening vessels. During retirement several more hits were observed on the CV attacked by Scouting Squadron Six and about five minutes after completion of the attack a terrific explosion was observed which completely enveloped the CV in flames. Although several Japanese fighters were observed overhead in position to attack, no attacks were pressed home against 6-S-1 and 6-S-2. A Messerschmitt type fighter was seen to attack 6-S-8 and the fighter was seen to crash into the water in flames. Retirement was continued in the direction of Midway for a short time and then an interception course was set for our own task force. During retirement it was observed that three CV were on fire and smoking heavily.

b. The second division leader followed immediately after the last plane of the first division on the designated target scoring a direct hit with his 500 lb. bomb. At least two other hits were scored by this division. The third division was seen to follow the second division on the designated target. None of the pilots of this division returned but the second division leader stated that the third division made at least one direct hit.

4. a. Four of the five planes of the first division returned. 6-S-3 was seen to enter his dive but has not been heard from since.

b. Two planes of the second division returned. 6-S-10 was forced to land in the water just as he reached our task force. The personnel were picked up by the U.S.S. Phelps and were later transferred to the U.S.S. Enterprise. The personnel of 6-S-15 were rescued but are not available for the compilation of this report.

c. None of the three planes of the third division returned and no information is available as to whether they were shot down or whether they had forced landings due to shortage of fuel.

d. The two planes which accompanied CEAG returned.

e. Summarizing, eight planes out of fifteen returned; the personnel of two other planes were rescued; the personnel of six planes are unaccounted for. One of the eight planes which returned, 6-S-8, was damaged by machine gun fire and could not be flown on subsequent attacks.

5. The twin mount free-gun in 6-S-8 came out of its mount in the dive. ADKINS, Floyd Delbert, 382-13-76, A.M.M.2c, U.S.N., held the gun in his lap during the dive and so effectively manhandled it after the dive that he shot down a Messerschmitt type fighter which attacked his plane immediately after the pull-out.

6. No fighter opposition was encountered prior to pull-outs from the dives and very little A-A fire was encountered as it seemed to be concentrated on the torpedo planes which were attacking at the same time. Some planes encountered both A-A fire and attacks by fighters on retirement.

7. The conduct of all pilots and gunners was magnificent. Although only seven of the sixteen pilots had previously dropped live bombs, all pilots pressed home their attacks and released at low altitude. A high percentage of hits was the result.

B. Thursday, afternoon and evening.

1. On Thursday afternoon and evening, June 4, 1942, Scouting Squadron Six participated in a second attack against Japanese surface ships. Only seven of the nine planes remaining after the first attack could be launched. One of these, 6-S-16, returned almost immediately due to engine trouble. The attack group was led by Commander Scouting Squadron Six, and consisted of six planes of VS-6, four planes of VB-6, and fourteen planes of VB-3. The VS-6 tactical organization for this flight was as follows:

6-S-2 Ens. R.W. STONE/BERGIN, W.H., RM1c
6-S-11 Ens. R.A. JACCARD/PIXLEY, P.W., RM3c
6-S-7 Lt(jg) N.J. KLEISS/SNOWDEN, J.W., RM3c
6-S-17 Ens. V.L. MICHEEL/DANCE, J.D., RM3c
6-S-18 Ens. C.E. DEXTER/HOFF, D.L., RM3c

2. The objective was given as 1 CV, 2 BB, 3CA, and 4 DD at Lat. 31-40N, Long. 172-10W.

3. The attack group departed at 1745 and climbed to 13,000 ft. while enroute to the objective. The objective was sighted at about 1845 to the Northwest and was seen to consist of 1 CV, 1 BB, 1 CA or Cl and 3 to 4 DD. The heavy ships were widely separated and each was accompanied by a destroyer. The weather was the same as described for the morning attack. The attack group climbed to 19,000 ft. while circling to a position up-sun from the enemy. The attack was started at about 1905 with a high-speed run-in. Four or five “Zero” fighters attacked before the push-over point was reached but no VS-6 planes were shot down. VS-6 dove first and the first two planes missed astern when the CV made a sharp 180° turn away from the direction of the dive. The third plane to dive scored a direct hit and at least one hit was scored by the second section. Three planes of VB-6 and most of the VB-3 planes attacked the CV and several more hits were made and the CV was afire from stem to stern. Some VB-3 planes attacked a BB and at least one direct hit was made. Retirement was made at high speed and at low altitude.

4. Fairly heavy AA fire was encountered during the dive and after pull-out. “Zero” fighters also attacked after pull-out.

5. All VS-6 planes returned safely from this attack.

6. All pilots and gunners conducted themselves in the same exemplary manner as was done in the first attack. All the crews had flown on the first attack.



About Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson, Jr.

Clarence Dickinson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Class of 1934. When Lieutenant Dickinson’s Second Gold Star was presented in 1942, he became the first person in history to receive THREE Navy Crosses, a distinction he gained simultaneously with fellow pilot Lieutenant Noel A. M. Gayler. Clarence Dickinson retired as a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.

Four award citations:

One more footnote

Final footnote

An interview done in 1992.

Interview with Clarence Dickinson

ww2dbaseInterviewer: Jim Bresnahan

Interviewee: Clarence Dickinson, US Navy Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) pilot from USS Enterprise who had participated in the Battle of Midway

Edited Transcript of the Interview

At that time you know you never think too much about getting killed, but I think most of us at that time felt that this was probably going to be it. When you figured that we brought back out of our air group only 16 pilots plus 3 that were later picked up, we were pretty near right.

I think everybody with a few rare exceptions made determined attacks, it was just that unfortunately the torpedo planes were slow, which was their biggest failing. They never could really get in position; when they tried to get into position to make coordinated attacks from each of the bows, that is left and right, they simply were shot down one by one. But the fact that they kept going on in, I would expected it of them, I think everybody would have done that. I think the thoughts were that whatever happens they would go in until the last man was gone. They were that kind of people.

I was one of the few individuals that had access to those magic dispatches on the carrier because I was in essence the group operations officer and therefore the predictor for the dive bombers and scouts, so I was well aware personally of the numbers and I think that in general the information was available to all of the air group as to what was there. Halsey told us a certain amount what ships we were up against, so I don’t think there were any illusions.

As we went out and couldn’t find the Japanese carrier fleet, our group commander turned north, and the air group who was from the Hornet turned south towards Midway, Stan Ring did, commander ring, and they never found anything. But as we turned north, within a few minutes, the group commander picked up a single destroyer who had been left behind by the Japanese to keep an American submarine down that had been spotted. Figuring that the destroyer was headed back to the rest of the Japanese fleet, McClusky turned to that course and followed the destroyer, went on past it. We were up at about 24,000 feet and suddenly we broke out into the clear and there were four Japanese carriers and everything, and we knew we had them… I won’t use the colloquialism… but you know what we had them by.

So we started our approach, that means we pushed over and went down about 19,000 to 20,000 feet, picking up speed, and we got in position over them on attack. At that time the group commander gave orders to Dick Best and Bombing 6 to take one of the carriers and told Earl Gallaher, who is the other squadron commander that is the squadron of which I was exec, to take the other one. We made our attack on them. At the same time, to the northeast, one of the other squadrons from the Yorktown came in and spotted one of the carriers, and as a great coincidence dived within 15 to 20 seconds of the same time our two squadrons dived. And so as I pulled out there were three carriers burning and the fourth carrier was off to the northwest, hightailing it back under the clouds.

Well I’d say I did [score a hit]. I reckon there were probably more hits claimed than actually were hit, but yes, I think I got a hit alright.

As I described it in my book the scene was one of, I think everybody was jubilant. We all could see the carriers burning, we knew that this was the whole heart of the …

Well it was to get those four Japanese carriers, and here were three that were burning, so I’m sure that everybody felt quite jubilant. Then the problem was to get home because down low the air was full of Japanese fighters and destroyers, of course. We were down to around 300 or 400 feet and all of the destroyers were shooting at us. You just had to bore out and get out of the ring of ships and get back on home.

When I made it back to the Enterprise the interest thing was… I got one of the Japanese planes as he flew underneath me and pulled ahead of me and he didn’t see me, so I, after deliberation, because I knew if I miss him he was gonna be mad and would come up after me, I just put the nose of the plane down and shot him up the rear, then he went into the water. Then we came on home, and that is headed for the American fleet, and some made it and some didn’t. A lot went into the water and were never picked up, but that’s another story. As we came on back, of course we were running out of gas as I said, and I was about 5 miles from the Enterprise when I ran out of gas, so I put the plane down. The sea was quite calm, 3 or 4 good waves, and landed the plane ahead of this destroyer, and it turned out that this was the destroyer the Phelps DD-360 that I had been on for a couple of years back in the late 30s.


How come the landing gear was lowered and the dive brakes opened?

During pull-out Lieutenant Dickinson had been unable (probably due to ice formation in the dive) to retract his dive brakes and, therefore, instead of maintaining the customary high rate of speed, had found himself slowing up to about 95 knots. While this probably helped him avoid the AA gunfire directed at him, he was quickly left behind by the rest of the SBDs, and had to retire alone. He did so successfully, though fuel starvation ultimately forced him to ditch some ten miles short of Enterprise. He and his gunner, Joseph Ferdinand DeLuca, Aviation Radioman First class, were picked up the next day.

You can find it here…


Remembering Lieutenant Charles Rollins Ware

I felt it was important to find the story behind each of John Leonard Greaves’ paintings. I was able to find the story behind this painting.


The source is here…

This Website had John’s painting with the background story.


Ware’s Division – VS-6 at Midway – June 4, 1942 Lieutenant Charles R. Ware leads his division of six SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bombers back to USS Enterprise after a successful attack on Japan’s largest aircraft carrier Kaga at the Battle of Midway. The SBDs are now preparing to repel an attack by Japanese Zero fighters from the surviving Japanese carrier Hiryu. The SBD with nose down in the background has run out of fuel and will ditch in the ocean. Its aircrew were plucked from the sea by the Japanese destroyer Makigumo. After interrogation by the enraged Japanese, they were brutally executed. Only one aircraft from Ware’s division reached the US Fleet. Without sufficient fuel to reach their carrier, Ware and the rest of his men perished in the vastness of the Pacific.* *

This superb painting of gallant American pilots and their SBD dive-bombers of Enterprise’s VS-6 at Midway was reproduced with the kind permission of the artist John Greaves.


Now the whole story about Lieutenant Charles R. Ware in the link below…


A group photo of the pilots of United States Navy dive bomber squadron Scouting Squadron Six (VB-6), photographed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) on 12 May 1942, approximately one month before the Battle of Midway.
Seated (L-R): Lt(jg) J. Norman West, Lt Frank A. Patriarca, Lt Charles R. Ware, Lt Wilmer E. Gallaher (CO), Lt Clarence E. Dickinson, Jr., Lt(jg) Norman J. “Dusty” Kleiss, ENS John R. McCarthy, AV(N).

Second row (standing) (L-R): ENSs [all A-V(N)] John Q. Roberts, Carl D. Peiffer, James A. Shelton, William R. Pittman, John c. Lough, Vernon L. Micheel, Eldor E. Rodenburg, Thomas F. Durkin, Jr., Richard A. Jaccard, Frank W. O’Flaherty, Clarence E. Vammen, Jr., James C. Dexter, Reid W. Stone, William P. West.

Date 12 May 1942
The photo was taken by US Navy photographer William T. Barr while acting in official duties. The image’s National Archives number is 80-G-71989. 

Next time all about S-10…


It was not that easy.

About my interest about Midway…?
My brother and I played this board game in the 1960s. He would play the Japanese side and I would play the American side.

Guess who won most of the time…

Source of the image:


Intermission – David’s Desert War

About RAF 203 Squadron and a contribution from a new reader

RAF 203 Squadron

David-George-John in 1946

AC2 David Greenlees

David (25) on the left, with his two brothers George (21), and on the right John (19), my father. Photograph taken in 1946.

David Greenlees was my uncle. Born in Glasgow in 1921, he volunteered for the RAF in 1940 and was posted to 203 Squadron at Borg El Arab airfield in Egypt. Borg El Arab was a desert airfield west of Alexandria and approximately eight miles from the coast. He served as part of the support staff for the squadron.

238 maintenance section

Conditions at the base were rudimentary. There were no buildings or hangars, only tents. Aircraft were serviced where they stood, while the runway was a strip of concrete covered in sand. David was issued with a .303 rifle, an entrenching tool, two blankets and 15 empty four gallon petrol cans. These were to be filled with sand and covered with a great coat to serve as…

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Remembering Lieutenant Junior Grade Robert E Laub

This one was easy with the filename tbdlaub.

This is what I found about Lieutenant Junior Grade Robert E Laub. He was flying T-4 on John Greaves’ painting.


The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Robert Edward Laub, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane of Torpedo Squadron SIX (VT-6), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), during the “Air Battle of Midway,” against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942.

Participating in a vigorous and intensive assault against the Japanese invasion fleet, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Laub pressed home his attack with relentless determination in the face of a terrific barrage of anti-aircraft fire. The unprecedented conditions under which his squadron launched its offensive were so exceptional that it is highly improbably the occasion may ever recur where other pilots of the service will be called upon to demonstrate an equal degree of gallantry and fortitude. His extreme disregard of personal safety contributed materially to the success of our forces and his loyal conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Later on…

Mogami took two bomb hits in this first attack, Mikuma several more. As Hornet recovered her strike at 035, Enterprise prepared to launch her own: 31 Dauntless dive bombers, accompanied by the last three Torpedo Six Devastators, and an escort of 12 VF-6 Wildcats.

Spruance, while convinced the torpedo planes could inflict critical damage on the enemy ships, could not accept further losses. Accordingly he instructed LT(jg) Robert Laub, who was to command VT-6, “if there is one single gun firing out there, under no circumstances are you to attack.” Enterprise’s attack got underway at 1045. Led by LT Wallace Short of Yorktown’s Scouting Five, the group passed over what appeared to be two cruisers and two destroyers at noon.

After flying on another 30 miles in search of the non-existent battleships, Short turned back and commenced attack on the cruisers – Mogami and Mikuma – at 1215. Again Mogami absorbed two hits, but Mikuma took at least five, leaving her dead in the water, her topside utterly wrecked. Fighting Six got in the action as well, making repeated strafing runs on the destroyers, expending 4000 rounds of ammunition and “knocking off huge pieces of metal”.

Laub’s three torpedo planes hung back and never attacked. All three returned safely to the Big E.

The Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators of VMSB-241 During the Battle of Midway

About Midway

Inch High Guy

VMSB-241 was a US Marine dive bombing unit operating from Midway island, commanded by Major Lofton R. Henderson. Due to the urgency in building up Midway’s defenses men and aircraft were rapidly transferred in with little time form cohesive combat teams.  VMSB-241s inventory consisted of sixteen newly assigned SBD-2 Dauntless and twelve older Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator dive bombers, but only three of the Marine pilots had any time logged in the Dauntless.  Ten of the other pilots had only joined the squadron a week prior to the battle and a shortage of aviation fuel on Midway severely limited opportunities for training.

The Marines made due with what they had and flew a total of three missions during the battle. The first strike launched early in the morning of 4 June was a maximum effort against the Japanese carriers consisting of sixteen Dauntlesses and eleven Vindicators.  The Dauntlesses attacked the carriers…

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SB2U-3 Vindicator

Updated 14 October 2022

BU2124 was a SBD2 not a Vindicator after a comment made 

I was not able to find the story behind this painting by John Leonard Greaves.

© John Greaves Art (with the permission of Janet Greaves)

The filename was sb2u7new.

This is what I found about the SB2U Vindicator here.

SB2U Vindicator

SB2U Vindicator


Ultimately, the Vindicator would have but one opportunity to fly combat against the enemy when Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 241 operated against the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Midway. By that time, like the TBD Devastator that had also entered service in the mid-1930s and equipped Navy torpedo squadrons, the SB2U was outdated and ill equipped for war. In a play on the airplane’s nickname, VMSB-241 pilots called their aircraft “Wind Indicators,” with squadron mechanics forced to wrap bands of tape around the fuselages of some of the aircraft to hold the fabric surfaces in place.

The condition of the airplanes, combined with the experience level of those flying them, prompted the employment of glide bombing rather than true dive bombing on training flights in the weeks leading up to the battle. For one gunner, training was rudimentary given what awaited him. “As far as training was concerned, one time, when we were on a [anti]submarine patrol, my pilot asked me if I would like to fire at a few white caps on the ocean,” Duane Rhodes remembered of a flight in the back seat of an SB2U-3. “I believe he just wanted to know whether or not the gun would fire…The first moving target I ever fired at in the air was a Zero [that] was also shooting at me.”

When the squadron attacked enemy carriers on the morning of June 4, 1942, the glide-bombing attacks from an altitude of 2,000 ft. meant prolonged exposure to enemy attack as described by Second Lieutenant Daniel Cummings, who noted that an attacking Japanese Zero killed his gunner. After dropping a bomb on what he believed was a Japanese destroyer, Cummings once again confronted enemy fighters. “For the next fifteen minutes I had nothing to do except try and get away from five fighters that were concentrating on me. In the hit and run dog fighting, which was my initiation to real war, my old obsolete SB2U-3 was almost shot out from under me. I finally made my escape in the clouds.” Despite locked up elevator controls and instruments shot away, Cummings managed to get to within five miles of Midway before running out of fuel and ditching his aircraft. A PT-boat rescued him.

The following day, the serviceable SB2U-3s and SBD-2s launched once again to attack two Japanese cruisers that had collided during the night. Enemy fire hit Captain Richard Fleming’s Vindicator, but he was credited with dropping his bomb before crashing into the cruiser Mikuma. Fleming, who died along with his gunner Private First Class George Toms, received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Note: There is no definite proof Captain Fleming crashed into the cruiser Mikuma.

There was also an interview done with a Vindicator pilot who was at Midway.

Interview with World War II SB2U-3 Pilot Sumner H. Whitten


Sumner H. Whitten was among the lucky members of his squadron to fly in the obsolete Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators during the Battle of Midway and survive to tell the tale.

Searching again because I had to find out what was the story behind the painting, I found that two SB2U-3s at Midway had the same number 7 as a call sign. One SB2U-3 was flown by 2nd Lt. Jack Cosley. The second plane was a SBD2 Dauntless SB2U-3 by 2nd Lt. Robert Judy Bear.

This is what I found on a forum…

7 – BuNo 2094 2nd Lt. Jack Cosley, USMCR PFC Charles E. Cayer Out of Commission 4 June 42

About Jack Cosley

Approved by the Secretary of the Navy on November 10, 1942


The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Second Lieutenant Jack Cosley (MCSN: 0-9304), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 and 5 June 1942. During the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Second Lieutenant Cosley, in a hail of blasting fire from Japanese fighter guns and anti-aircraft batteries, dived his plane to the perilously low altitude of four hundred feet before releasing his bomb. His courageous determination and extreme disregard of personal safety were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

7 – BuNo 2124 2nd Lt. Robert Judy Bear, USMCR PFC Truell L. Sidebottom. Crew Survived

Navy Cross Citation


Commander in Chief, Pacific: Serial 21 (July 16, 1942)


The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant [then Second Lieutenant] Robert Judy Bear (MCSN: 0-7072), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 and 5 June 1942. During the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, First Lieutenant Bear, in the face of withering fire from Japanese fighter guns and anti-aircraft batteries, dived his plane to the perilously low altitude of four hundred feet before releasing his bomb. Participating in a search and attack mission against a Japanese aircraft carrier on the night of 4 June, he brought his plane back to its base under extremely adverse weather conditions. The following day, after less than four hours’ sleep, he took part in an assault which resulted in the severe damaging of an enemy battleship. His cool courage and conscientious devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.




Fighting members of Marine Air Squadrons after being presented medal awards for heroic deeds in the Battle of Midway. This group took part in damaging attacks on enemy carriers and battleship.

Front row (L-R); Capt. Richard L. Blain, USMCR, Capt. Leon M. Williamson, USMCR, 2nd Lt. Daniel L. Cummings,USMCR,  2nd Lt. Allen H. Ringblom,USMCR,  2nd Lt. Harold C. Schlendering, USMCR, 2nd Lt. Sumner H. Whitten, USMCR, Sgt Frank E. Zolnis, PFC Gordon R. McFeely.

2nd row: (L-R); Capt. William C. Humberd, USMCR, 2nd Lt. Jack Cosley, USMCR, 2nd Lt. George E. Koutelas, USMCR, 2nd Lt. George T. Lumpkin, Tech Sgt Clyde  Heath Stamps,  USMCR, Cpl John H. Moore, PFC Charles E. Cayer, USMC.

Dept of Navy description and photo identification. (NARA photo)


Remembering ARM3 William Franklin Sawhill

My Forgotten Hobby is all about no forgetting the past. John Leonard Greaves and Gerry Lawton were doing this by remembering William Franklin Sawhill.

© John Greaves Art (with the permission of Janet Greaves)



Earl Lockwood Sawhill and Maude Elsie Botdorf were married on New Year’s Day, 1916 in Richland county, OH. They were the parents of least three children: William Franklin, Donald Moore, and Mary Margaret Sawhill.

Later that year, he was transferred to Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8).

For the next four months, VT-8 and Hornet conducted extensive training in the Atlantic and Caribbean. In early March 1942 Hornet was transferred to the Pacific via the Panama Canal where she participated in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April 1942.

Shortly after returning from the Dolittle raid, Hornet, along with the USS Enterprise (CV-6), was ordered to support the USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the battle of the Coral Sea in early May 1942. However, the battle was over before they reached the area.

Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor in late May and was ordered to prepare to support impending combat operations near Midway.

Early on the morning of 4 Jun 1942, Ensign Ulvert M Moore and his radioman/gunner, ARM3 William F. Sawhill, and the rest of the aircraft of VT-8 in company with the Hornet Air Group, launched to engage an enemy Japanese Striking Force approaching the Midway atoll.

After a long flight westward, the Hornet Air Group had not made contact with the enemy force. VT-8’s commanding officer, Lcdr John Waldron, decided he knew where the enemy force was. Against orders, Waldron and VT-8 left the Hornet Air Group and headed southwest. A short while later VT-8 found the enemy ships and courageously attacked without friendly fighter support.

Overwhelmed by superior numbers of Japanese fighters, yet undaunted, VT-8 pressed home their attack until all 15 planes were shot down. Only one person survived, Ensign George Gay. Ens. Moore and Petty Officer Sawhill were killed in action.

Officially, they were listed as “Missing in Action” because their remains were unrecoverable. They were officially listed as killed in action on 5 Jun 1943.

Remembering Torpedo Squadron No. 8

“Papagei” Staffel

Watching what other modelers have done is one reason I have slowed down a bit with building another model kit. Some nice tips here especially about mixing your own paint and using Windex as a thinner.


JV44 formed in late February 1945 with Me262s when Galland finally persuaded Hitler that the jet fighter would be an effective weapon against the USAAF 8th AF daylight bombing raids. After initial training, the unit moved to its base in Munchen-Reim in late March 1945 and began operations. Soon though, the vulnerability of the jets when taking off and landing due to their slow throttle response at slow speed required that they be protected or else be sitting ducks for marauding USAAF fighters.

In mid-April the Papageia Staffel was formed and tasked with clearing the skies of allied fighters above their airfield prior to the jets’ departure. They were then to land and await the jets’ return. Interestingly though, there was no specific operational requirement for them to protect the jets upon their return.

In turn, the five (possibly six) Papageia Fw190D’s wore their colourful red and white markings (and…

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Remembering Wilhelm George “Bill” Esders


On My Forgotten Hobby III, one story always leads to another, and then to another.

© John Greaves Art (with the permission of Janet Greaves)

All the images of John Leonard Greaves’ paintings were uploaded from his Website where the background stories were written. His Website does not exist anymore. The only clue I have for his background stories are the image filenames.


This is a link to Wilhelm George “Bill” Esders’ story:

And this is the full biography courtesy of Gerry Lawton. More about Gerry Lawton later.

William was the son of John Henry and Mary Christine Schaber Esders who married in St Joseph, Buchanan, MO on 29 Oct 1912. Wilhelm’s sibling, Helen Anna Christine Esders, never married. His father, John Henry, was one of the first motorcycle police officers in St Joseph, MO (1911). After he resigned from the police force John owned a very large truck farm where he raised tomatoes. He earned a law degree and was a Republican candidate for a judgeship, Sheriff, and other public offices many times over the years. There is no evidence that he was ever elected, but he was persistent. He was a candidate for office yet again when he died in 1950 at the age of 67. John and Mary Esders rest in Oakland Cemetery, Saint Joseph, Buchanan, MO.

Wilhelm or William, as he was also known, was an R.O.T.C. captain, past president of the Young People’s League of the Zion Evangelical Church and a member of Veteran Scout Troop No. 20 while attending high school. He graduated with 300 other Central high school seniors at a combined commencement with Benton and Lafayette high schools held on the evening of 02 Jun 1932 at Central in St Joseph, MO. After high school Wilhelm and his parents discussed the topic of his enlisting in the US Navy. He was interested in radio and thought the Navy was a good opportunity to get more training in radio that might lead to a career field, as well as, provide added income for the family while the Great Depression roared on. Eventually he won them over.

Wilhelm George Esders began the navy enlistment application process at the St Joseph, MO navy recruiting station in the late summer of 1934. Compiling over the course of a month a plethora of documents and a medical exam; school transcripts, character references, a birth certificate, providing finger prints, police background check, and, most importantly, obtaining his father’s written permission to enlist, Wilhelm was accepted for enlistment. He traveled the 50 or so miles to Kansas City, MO where he enlisted in the US Navy (NSN: 341-90-83) as a Apprentice Seaman on Wednesday, 17 Oct 1934. Also enlisting with him was another Central high school student, 17 year old Norman Spencer Coyle.

Wilhelm and Norman left later that day on the train for 9 weeks of basic training at the Naval Training Station (NTS) San Diego, CA. After he completed recruit training, Esders attended the 20 week Radioman Class “A” Service School at NTS, San Diego. During the schooling he was advanced in rate to Seaman Second Class (S2c). His first sea duty tour as a radioman striker was on board the four-stack destroyer, USS Breckenridge (DD-148). That was followed by a tour of duty on board the battleship USS Wyoming (BB-32). It was on board the Wyoming in 1936 that he was encouraged to enter naval aviation. Esders applied for Navy flight school and, while he was enroute on the Wyoming to Europe, he was ordered to report to New York for a flight physical. He was one of two men, out of 42 examined, who was accepted for aviation training.

In 1937, RM3 Esders transferred to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, FL as a student pilot under instruction. On 21 Jan 1938, he was designated a naval aviation pilot (NAP) and received his wings from Bull Halsey, later to become Admiral. Halsey was also a member of Esders’ class, taking the course so he would qualify for later promotion to carrier skipper. During Esders’ training at Pensacola he met Miss Lillie Louise Cary of Pensacola. After flight school, Esders transferred to Torpedo Squadron Three (VT-3) attached to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in San Diego. It was in San Diego that Wilhelm and Lillie married on 9 July 1938 at the Navy Chapel. During the next three years at North Island, Esders was advanced in rate to Radioman Second Class (RM2) and then Radioman First Class (RM1).

In the spring of 1941, Esders was bombing instructor at NAS, North Island, San Diego where Warner Bros., was producing the movie “Dive Bomber.” The Navy Department had granted permission for the movie company to use the naval base as “location” for the picture and provided many props including more than a score of bombers. The navy was acting as technical advisor for the film. RM1 Esders was assigned as pilot of one of the bombers during the filming. He told his mother in a letter that he had been working with actors in the movie who included Fred MacMurray (sic), Errol Flynn, Ralph Bellamy, Robert Armstrong, Regis Toomey and Allen Jenkins. He said the actors were just like anyone else and were a congenial bunch to work with. The aircraft he was flying in the movie was 3-T-14, a Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber. Later that year he was promoted to Chief Radio Electrician and was designated Chief Aviation Pilot (CAP). In March 1942, he was commissioned a Radio Electrician Warrant Officer. Several months later he received a commission as an Ensign on 15 Aug 1942

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, USS Saratoga (CV-3) was the flagship of the unsuccessful American effort to relieve Wake Island. A few weeks later Saratoga was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. She returned to the West Coast shipyard at Bremerton for more extensive repairs. During the yard period Saratoga’s embarked squadrons were transferred elsewhere. VT-3 was assigned to NAS Kaneohe Bay on Hawaii.

On 28 May 1942, the squadron was temporarily reassigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown (CV-5). Aviation squadrons from Air Group Three and Five flew on board Yorktown shortly after she got underway from Pearl Harbor in company with the USS Hornet (CV-8) and USS Enterprise (CV-6). They steamed to a point on the navigation chart nicknamed “Point Luck” to await the arrival of the Japanese Striking Force which was steaming from Japan to attack Midway Island.

About a week later on 4 June 1942 Chief Aviation Pilot Esders and his gunner ARM2 Robert Boyd Brazier launched from the flight deck of USS Yorktown (CV-5) with other elements of the Yorktown air group to attack the Japanese Striking Forces approaching Midway. Although they had some friendly fighter protection enroute to their targets VT-3 had to thread their way through a gauntlet of swarming enemy fighters and a hail of anti-aircraft fire. His was only one of two VT-3 aircraft to survive the torpedo attack on the Japanese carrier Striking Force on 4 Jun 1942. The other torpedo plane was piloted by MACH Harry Lee Corl and his gunner, ARM3 Lloyd F. Childers. Ten planes did not return. Esder’s gunner/radioman, Robert Byrd Brazier was seriously wounded during their attack on the Japanese fleet. The two planes found their way back to the Yorktown only to find that she was under attack. Corl and Esders were directed to the Enterprise. On their way to Enterprise both planes ran out of fuel and were forced to land in the sea. It was after Ensign Esders got the wounded Petty Officer Brazier into their life raft that he realized the severity of Brazier’s wounds. He died not long after getting into the life-raft. Brazier was buried at sea. Meanwhile a Japanese dive bomber was preparing to attack the raft containing Ens. Esders and Petty Officer Brazier. Fortunately, an American fighter intervened and shot down the enemy plane. That pilot was Ltjg Arthur James Brassfield.

Esders was rescued by the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412) and the next day was transferred to the heavy cruiser USS Portland (CA-33). Esders life was probably saved again when he was quickly transferred to the Portland. Two days later on 6 June, the Hammann was alongside the wounded Yorktown providing damage control parties. Crews were trying to rescue Yorktown after she had been hit by bombs on 4 June. A Japanese sub penetrated the surface screen around Yorktown and fired four torpedoes at her. One hit the Hammann. She sank within four minutes taking most of her crew down with her.

On 07 July 1942, VT-8 transferred to the Saratoga where some of VT-3’s remaining pilots, including Ens. Esders, were transferred to VT-8 to reconstitute her deplete cadre of pilots. The following day Saratoga and her escorts departed Pearl Harbor enroute to the invasion of Guadalcanal. Twelve July saw Saratoga and her vast number of pollywogs cross the equator and enter in the Realm of King Neptune. On 24 July, Saratoga rendezvoused with aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) near Tongataup, one thousand miles southeast of Guadalcanal. Several days later the two carriers joined the USS Enterprise and her escorts. The Guadalcanal invasion force was 80 plus ships strong.

VT-8 participated in offensive operations during the opening week of the invasion. However, on 31 Aug Saratoga was torpedoed and had to depart the battle area for repairs. VT-8 was transferred ashore to Henderson Field and became part of the Cactus Air Force from Aug – Dec 1942. Living conditions at Henderson Field were primitive at best. Consequently, only the required minimum essential squadron personnel lived at Henderson Field. The remainder of the squadron personnel constructed a base of operations at Espiritu Santo. It is believed that Ensign Esders was there on duty until he arrived at Henderson Field on 03 Oct 1942. Ensign Esders and two other pilots, Ens. John Taurman, and CAP B.J. “Red” Doggett, flew in replacement Avengers. VT-8 had more pilots than planes to fly them however. Later that day three Avengers found a Japanese heavy cruiser and two destroyers about 150 miles away northwest of Russell Island. They attacked and left the cruiser smoking and listing in the water. The following day, Esders, Bruce Harwood, Taurman and Doggett went in search of the “wounded” heavy cruiser. Although the weather was poor, they found the cruiser had not gone far. At least three of the four torpedoes fired at the cruiser were hits. Esders was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in this action. It was presented in Oct 1943 by Capt. Arthur Gavin, Commandant of NAS, Jacksonville.

Records indicate that Esders flew a mission on 06 Oct with the same two pilots who brought the replacement planes to Henderson Field several days earlier. The three Avengers left Henderson Field for the 20 mile flight to Cape Esperance after dark at the behest of Marine Corps Gen. Geiger. Enemy forces had been using the landing beach area around the Cape to bring in heavy artillery, troops and supplies. After the attack, which may have destroyed an ammunition dump, the three planes became separated on the way back to Henderson Field. Doggett became disoriented and slammed into the ocean killing all on board. Taurman likewise became lost although he maintained radio contact for sometime. Later, a member of his crew was found who had swum to a nearby island after his plane went into the water. Taurman stayed with an injured crew-man who couldn’t swim. They were never found. Esders made it back safely to Henderson Field. Contrary to published newspaper reports, Esders did not end up in the water.

Henderson Field came under constant attack from Japanese bombers and fighters during the day and from naval bombardment at night for many months. However, in preparation for a major thrust to recapture Guadalcanal by the Japanese, they unleashed a horrific night bombardment the centerpieces of which were the two Japanese battleships, Kongo and Haruna on 13 Oct. They hurled 973 14” shells into the Henderson Field area in a span of an hour and a half. That was followed by bombing attacks then heavy artillery attacks. Although the airfield remained in American hands much of the Cactus Air Force inventory of planes were either destroyed or severely damaged. Esders remained with VT-8 through the horrific bombardment that night, but because of the shortage of planes, he returned to Espiritu Santo on 16 Oct 1942 with four other VT-8 pilots leaving only five torpedo pilots at Henderson Field. VT-8 would not be relieved until December 1942. The squadron would have one plane remaining in its inventory – that plane was not fit to fly. However, the record left by Torpedo 8 would earn it the second Presidential Unit Citation for valor within six months (4 Jun 1942 being the first.). Esders would receive this award in 1943

Ensign Esders detached from VT-8 later that fall and by early December was home with his wife and daughter visiting with his parents in St. Joseph, MO. He had received orders to proceed to the Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, FL for duty as a flight instructor. On 01 May 1943, Ensign Esders was promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade (Ltjg). After about a year tour at NAS Jax, Ltjg Esders detached and transferred to NAS Miami to provided specialized training for pilots who were to fly planes from aircraft carriers. On 01 July 1944, Esders was promoted to Lieutenant.

In early Oct 1944, Lt Esders detached from NAS Miami. He visited with his parents in Missouri for two weeks while enroute to his next assignment with Composite Spotting Squadron Two (VOC-2) attached to the escort carrier, USS Franshaw Bay (CVE-70). Lt Esders embarked on the transport USS Gen. R.E. Callan (AP-139) in Nov 1944 and arrived in Hawaii on 26 Nov 1944. He was reporting to COMAIRPAC as an interim assignment.

VOC-2 staged at NAS Alameda CA on 10 Jan 1945 in preparation for overseas deployment and combat duty. The squadron personnel were passengers on board the USS Randolph steaming from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor 20-26 January 1945. Between 26 Jan – 28 Feb 1945 the squadron was based for training at NAS Puunene, Maui, Hawaii. Lt Esders reported for duty on 5 Feb 1945. His primary responsibility was as a torpedo plane pilot, but he was also the squadron’s operations officer.

On 28 Feb 1945, the squadron’s planes and personnel embarked on board the Fanshaw Bay at Ford Island, Oahu. On 28 Feb 1945, the squadron’s planes and personnel embarked on board the Fanshaw Bay at Ford Island, Oahu. She got underway on 2 March and arrived off Okinawa on 25 Mar and began combat operations in support of the impending invasion of Okinawa. Her planes supported the initial landings on 1 April, providing extensive close air support, and neutralizing Japanese positions. On 7 April, Rear Admiral Ernest Wheeler Litch took over command of Carrier Division 26. Fanshaw Bay remained on station off of Okinawa for sixty-nine consecutive days, and her air contingent flew 2,089 sorties in the battle, claiming five Japanese planes. The air contingent’s primary missions were spotting for naval and ground force gun fire targeting, anti-submarine operations and fighter suppression. Target spotting was very dangerous as the spotter became a primary target for enemy gunfire. Throughout the operation, she witnessed near constant kamikaze attacks, with some 1,465 Japanese kamikazes involved. Lt Esders flew 29 combat missions against Japanese targets during the 3 months the ship was in the waters near Okinawa.

Lt Esders detached from VOC-2 in August 1945 and was home with his family by early Sept 1945. By 12 Sep Lt Esders and his family were visiting his parents at their home in St. Joseph, MO. His next assignment was as executive officer of the basic instructors school at NAS Pensacola. In Apr 1946, Lt Esders received an Air Medal and three gold stars in lieu of second, third, and fourth Air Medals from Commodore I.T. Hundt, commander of the naval air training bases, Pensacola. The citations were given for a series of meritorious acts by the lieutenant while participating in aerial flights against the enemy in combat areas of the Pacific, while attached to carrier division 26, from March until June, 1945.

In early 1947, Lt Esders was assigned as the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) officer for the Naval Air Training Bases at Pensacola. In 1948, Lt Esders was detached from Pensacola in Sep 1948 and transferred to Utility Squadron 10 based at naval air station, Guantanamo Bay (GITMO), Cuba. He also served as the NAS administrative officer. In Oct 1948, Mrs Lillie Esders and their daughter, Mary Lou, flew to Cuba to join her husband. While at GITMO, Esders was promoted to Lieutenant Commander (Lcdr) on 10 May 1949. Lcdr Esters received orders in Sept 1950 to return to NAS Pensacola and assume his MWR duties there. Lcdr Estes detached from NAS Pensacola in the fall of 1952 and reported for duty as the executive officer, NAS Pearl Harbor in Nov 1952. Mrs Esders and daughter, Mary Lou, accompanied him. Their residence was Quarters “C” on Ford Island. Lcdr Estes detached from NAS Pearl Harbor in Oct 1954 with orders to proceed to NAS Pensacola for duty there.

Esders was promoted on 01 Jan 1955 to the rank of Commander (Cdr). Later that month, CDR Esders reported for duty at NAS, Pensacola. In June 1955, The Esders family and Mrs. Esders’ brother Ray Cary, took a three week vacation. They stopped in St. Joseph, MO to visit Cdr Esders’ mother and then continued on to Montana where they were the guests of Mr. and Mrs Palmer Anderson, Mrs. Esders’ brother-in-law and sister (Virginia) in Hogeland, Montana. They also spent time at Banff, and Lake Louise in Canada, and enroute home visited Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. During his current tour at NAS Pensacola served as the assistant operations officer at Sherman Field. Cdr Esders detached from NAS Pensacola in Feb and the first weekend in March 1958 flew to San Francisco where he caught another flight to his next duty station in Honolulu. Lillie and daughter, Mary Lou, remained in Pensacola until after Mary Lou graduated from Pensacola High School in June. After her graduation, they joined him in Hawaii. Cdr Esters was the Commanding Officer of a flight squadron. He detached from NAS Pearl Harbor in Jan 1960 and returned to Pensacola for retirement on 01 May 1960.

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Radio Electrician Wilhelm George Esders, United States Navy, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight in the Solomon Islands on 4 – 5 October 1942. While serving in a Torpedo Bomber in an attack on a heavy cruiser, he assisted in making two hits and a probable third, despite poor visibility and very heavy gunfire from the cruiser and three accompanying destroyers. The next day he took part in the bombing of an ammunition dump at Cape Esperance, resulting in a terrific explosion.
General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 319 (October 1943) & 321 (December 1943)

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Wilhelm George Esders, Chief Aviation Pilot, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane of Torpedo Squadron THREE, attached to the U.S.S. YORKTOWN, during the “Air Battle of Midway,” against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942. During participation in a Torpedo Plane assault on Japanese naval units, Ensign Esders, observing his Squadron Commander crash in flames, gallantly took the lead of the squadron and pressed home the attack to a point where it became relatively certain that the successful accomplishment of his mission would entail a great loss of life. Nevertheless, by his courageous initiative and aggressive leadership, he enabled his squadron to reach its objective and score several hits on enemy aircraft carriers. His loyal devotion to duty and utter disregard of personal safety contributed materially to the success of our forces and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 313 (April 1943)

Panama City News-Herald (Panama City, Florida) – 12 Oct 1943, Tue – Page 8
Floridians Win FDR Citation For Work On Japs
Two Pensacola Men Members of Torpedo Squadron Eight

Washington, Oct. 12 – (AP) –
Torpedo Squadron Eight, virtually wiped out in the battle of Midway, then reorganized to claim vengeance against the Japanese in the Solomon’s, again is back in service aboard an aircraft carrier.

The Navy revealed this today in announcing the squadron has become the first command in the Navy to receive two Presidential unit citations for valor.

The first citation came for the Midway battling. Then, under command of the late Lt.Comdr. John Waldron, Pensacola, Fla., the squadron went out from its carrier with orders to “intercept and attack.”

Those orders were carried out, although all pilots and plane crews realized their fuel supplies would be exhausted before they could return to the carrier. The enemy was stopped. But only three of the officers and men of Torpedo Eight survived – Lt. (jg) George Gay, Houston, Texas; Lt. (jg) Albert K.E. Arnest (sic), Richmond, Va., and Earnest’s gunner, Harry H. Ferrier, West Springfield, Mass.

Reorganized under Lt. Comdr. Harold H. “Swede” Larsen, Collingswood, N.J., the squadron went into the Solomons with the battle cry “Attack.” And Torpedo Eight did. It’s record shows 40 attack missions carried out there, with one battleship, five heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, one destroyer, one cargo ship and two aircraft carriers hit by the squadron’s torpedoes.

It’s Presidential citation for those actions came in a joint recognition for the entire First Marine Division which wrested positions in the Solomons from the Japanese. Other units of the division have not been identified.

The officers and men of Torpedo Squadron Eight, who served through the Solomons campaign, include: Lieut. (jg) Wilhelm G. Esders, Pensacola, Fla.; Lieut. (jg) Corwin F. Morgan, Gainesville, Fla.,; James Clyde Hammond, Aviation chief machinist’s mate, Pensacola, Fla.; Conrad Hugh Lawrence, aviation metalsmith, first class, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Edgar Lloyd Hawkins, aviation metalsmith, second class, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Edgar Fred Helzel, aviation metalsmith, second class, Orlando, Fla.

Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) – 03 Apr 1944, Mon – Page 7
Flier, Rescuer Finally Meet
By E.V.W. Jones
Miami, Fla., Apr. 2 – (AP) –

In June, 1942, Lt. (JG) Wilhelm G. Esders, of St. Joseph, Mo., was a member of a torpedo squadron on the aircraft carrier Yorktown: Lt. Arthur J. Brassfield, of Browning, Mo., was a fighter pilot on the same ship. The two Missourians never met.

June 4, 1942, Esders and his squadron took off from the Yorktown for a point 150 miles away where a Japanese aircraft carrier was launching her dive-bombers for attacks on the Americans.
Esders scored a hit on the Nipponese ship, but intense anti-air craft fire mortally wounded his gunner [PO Robert B. Brazier] and punched countless holes in his plane. Gasoline streamed from his fuel tanks. Before he was halfway home, his gauges registered empty, and he radioed that he was alighting on the ocean.

His plane nosed down, the tail above the waves. Esders released his tiny lifeboat, got the dying gunner on it, and was ready to climb aboard himself when he heard the motor of a circling plane.

Above him was a Japanese dive bomber. It circled several times, then nosed down into a dive, aimed straight for him. He was fascinated. At that moment, an American fighter streaked out of nowhere, machine guns chattering. The Japanese jerked out of the dive and sought safety in flight. Esders watched the unknown fighter over-take the enemy and send him spinning to death.
Brassfield was busy, too, that June morning. A part of the fighter cover over the Yorktown, he sent his fighter among a swarm of enemy dive-bombers and shot down two. The Japanese formation broke and the angry growls and whines of dogfights spread over the sky.

Brassfield chased one enemy craft for miles and ripped it apart, then caught sight of another, circling. Brassfield had to look hard to see what interested the Japanese: the tail of a plane and the spot of orange of a life raft on the sea.

In an instant, the fighter pilot decided his course of action. He aimed his plane at the midway point of the enemy’s dive and slapped his throttle wide open as the enemy nosed down. Brassfield opened fire at 1,500 yards, much too great a distance for effective shooting. But the Japanese jerked out of the dive and tried to escape. Brassfield sped after him, sent him spinning to death.

Esders was picked up by a destroyer and eventually returned to duty. More than a year later, he was ordered to the Miami naval air station to serve as an instructor. There Lt. Stuart Ludlum interviewed him.

Brassfield, too, reported to the Miami naval station. He, too, was interviewed by Lieutenant Ludlum, who went back and read over his reports, compared them. Then Ludlum called both veterans of the battle of Midway together. “You don’t realize it, but you two know each other,” he told them.

The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida) – 03 Nov 1994, Thu – Page 20
Wilhelm G. Esders
Esders, the last surviving pilot of a doomed torpedo attack by three Navy squadrons at the famed World War II Battle of Midway, died Tuesday at his Pensacola home. He was 80. At Midway in June 1942, 39 of 41 pilots and all but one crewman of the U.S. torpedo planes perished. Their exploits became famous because of a 1942 Life magazine article. Esders participated in the Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) – 04 Nov 1994, Fri – Page 36

Cmdr. Wilhelm G. Esders, 80, last surviving pilot of a doomed torpedo attack by three Navy squadrons at the World War II Battle of Midway, died of a heart attack Tuesday in Pensacola, Fla. At Midway, 39 of 41 pilots and all but one crewman in the assault perished. Only Lloyd Childers, a radioman-gunner who later became a Marine Corps pilot, is still alive.

During his long and distinguished naval career, CDR Esders was presented with numerous awards. These are just a few of the more significant ones: Navy Cross, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, Purple Heart, Four Air Medals, and two Presidential Unit Citations, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal w/Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Medal.

Compiler’s note: According to his obituary of 3 Nov 1994 in the Pensacola News Journal, p.24, Cdr Esders was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses.

[bio compiled by G47]
Military Hall of Honor ID#318930

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