U.S. Marine Corps
I was attending U.C. Berkeley when World War II broke out, and immediately became interested in flying. In 1943 I joined the U.S. Navy for flight training, as a Navel Cadet. After a year of training, and being in the top ten percent of my class, I was given the opportunity to join the Marines to finish my training. However, the war ended before I was able to qualify for carrier take-offs and landings. But, I kept on training and flying until war broke out in Korea.
The following excerpts are from letters that I wrote to my wife while I was flying F-4U Corsairs off the deck of the USS Badoeng Strait.
We are staying at the Itami Air Base outside Osaka, Japan and it is very hot.
I had 2 FCLP hops today. We start flying at dawn and quit when it is too dark to see the LSO. All the men, plus 8 pilots are aboard the carrier, which sailed today. We are to fly our 24 planes out to meet the carrier in the Sea of Japan.
Flew one FCLP and got 8 roger OK passes so am all ready to meet the carrier off Pusan in the morning.
On the way to the ship my plane had hydraulic, radio, and fuel transfer failure so I had to land here and get the plane fixed.
My plane is ready so I called Itami and they notified the ship, which will send a plane in to show me where the ship is. I see in the papers that the boys are in action today.
Pop Candle finally flew an extra plane down from Itami so we landed aboard at 4:30. Chet Hall came aboard with no hook and flipped over on his back when he hit the barriers. He will be out 2 or 3 months. Capt. Johnson’s hook skipped the wires and he jumped all three barriers and landed on to of Capt. Ferguson’s plane at the tail and chewed the plane right up to the armor plate behind Fergy and stopped. Fergy was still in the cockpit and one blade hit him but he is OK.
Had my first combat hop today.
Lt. Doyle Cole had engine failure over the target and had to ditch his plane in the water off the coast. A helicopter picked him up, so far we have lost 3 planes but no pilots.
Captain Moses shot down and picked up by helicopter.
Captain Moses shot down and killed at Kosong.
We are now in port to re-supply so I had to check on cleaning all of the guns, testing the rocket launchers and bomb racks. We had memorial services on flight deck for Capt. Moses.
I flew 2 strikes this afternoon, landing with my lights on at 2035 so I was very tired after 6 hours of flying. We lost another plane when Capt. Penn spun in off the catapult. He got out ok and the destroyer picked him out of the water. Also, one in the catwalk butwe’ll get that one fixed. They sure better get us some more planes out here for replacements.
Today we heard that Monk Taylor was shot down but he got OK and is being brought back to his ship. The Sicily (214) and Badoeng Strait are working together so we fly the afternoon strikes and they fly the morning strikes and visa versa, alternating each day. It is really gratifying to see how well our Close Air Support works with the 1st Marines.
Only one hop today so will tell about the country we are flying over. Of course I’ve only flown over the southern part of the country. It is very mountainous with lots of rivers and streams and little villages. No large cities to speak of but thousands of little villages all connected by a very good network of roads with plenty of modern looking bridges crossing most of the rivers. Every piece of land that isn’t a sheer mountain is a rice paddy with a terrific system of irrigation, which makes the whole country look very green. There are always clouds over the mountains and a lot of rain in the high country. Most of our targets have been dug-in emplacements in the side of hills, tanks, trucks, ammo dumps, etc..Actually we see very little of the Commies as they hide out most of the day and move at night. Today we burned a little village about 15 miles behind the enemy lines and one of the bombs hit an ammo dump and really set it blazing.
It is raining now which doesn’t seem to make a difference in flying. 4 of my 13 landings have been made in rainstorms. Boy, I’ve really got to hand it those Marine crunches, they really know how to fight. They just pushed the Commies back across the Naktong River like it was child’s play. Of course our own squadron and 214 helped out.
Sometimes we’re strafing only 40 or 50 yards ahead of our own troops and tanks coming up. We’re putting bombs and rockets inside 10 or 20 foot circles now. Can knock out a jeep or truck in one run. But we must remember the North Koreans. They, with Uncle Joe’s (Stalin’s) help pulled off one of the nicest, smoothest attacks ever staged. They’re well trained, their tactics without an air force are superb and they don’t make the mistake of attacking in inferior numbers like Hitler did when attacking the Russians. They outnumber our troops 10 to 1 and pick up another 1000 men in every village they over run and have the equipment to supply these men. That’s the kind of people we’re fighting, besides the fact that to them life is cheap.
No flying again today. For the last 2 days we’ve steamed back and forth way up north in the Yellow Sea but no one seems to know why.
We flew CAS for the Army near Pohang and had some pretty nice targets. On one rocket run I flew through an AA void (where an anti-aircraft shell explodes and leaves the air bumpy, all the fragments already having gone) and I bounced my head off the top of my canopy so hard I still have a headache. It started 2 oil leaks in the top of my engine and coated my windshield with oil and made it darn near impossible to see the LSO when I came aboard.
The hotel is really something, similar to the Royal Hawaiian. I was going to room with Scotty but he was killed flying into Itami when they hit bad weather, so I’ll be rooming with Lt. Doyle Cole.
We’re running interdiction missions between Pyongyang and Taejon hitting everything we see.
Got me another bridge today. Oster put his bomb on one abutment to the left and I got it on the right side so we knocked out the first span between us.
Had morning strike today and made a napalm strike on a little island off Inchon.
We are restocking and loading ammo like mad so watch the papers for something big and we will be right in the middle of it.
D minus 1. Today is the first time we’ve used U.S. Controllers to handle the fire of British ships. There were 4 of us each one to control a cruiser sitting 4 miles off Inchon. Oster and Jack Kelley to control the 2 U.S. Cruisers and Sid Fisher and I to control the 2 British cruisers. Took off at 1145 with 2 belly tanks full of gas. First targets I started firing on were 2 AA guns next to a baseball park right in the city. One of my adjustment rounds knocked out home plate but once those British got on, they leveled those 2 guns—also got a tank that was hid under some big trees. Then I spotted 6 more AA emplacements on top of a hill. Took only 2 adjustments and they were right on with a broadside of 9 – 6 inch shells. I spotted some machine gun emplacements and really gave them a pasting.
I took off at 0945 and reported in to the target controller who assigned us a road patrol between Inchon and Suwon. Just then I spotted an enemy jeep doing about 50mph. I peeled off with my wingman and caught it dead center with a burst of 20mm. It swerved off the road and stopped, then my wingman, Van Campen, caught him solid. Then we returned to our assigned target in Seoul and really had a field day. We put 6 – 500# bombs, one napalm and 55 rockets into a yard full of truck trailers and fuel supplies. It was leveled, along with a locomotive and 2 tank cars, we attacked next.
Caught a whole bunch of troops out in the open getting ready to cross the Han River into Seoul. It was awful! They had no place to go—couldn’t hide; and we just made run after run on them. Napalm, bombs, rockets and 20mm. When we finished, there were so many dead lying on the beach we couldn’t count them.
Usually we never see troops, or if we do, just a few because they are always camouflaged, but that white sand made them really stand out. 2 of our planes were hit but not seriously. 214 had a plane shot down but they got the pilot back after a little trouble. He had a broken leg and the pilot of the helicopter (God bless’em) got out and was helping his mech get the pilot out of his plane; leaving his copter running and just as they got back to it, it took off with no one in it and crashed. They had to send another copter out to get all 3 of them.
CAS for the Marines pushing up the 38th parallel. When we left station they were about 5 miles from it and still going. When they reach it I don’t know what happens then, whether we go over or not.
We are less than 200 miles from Vladivostok. Last night it turned cold. We’re just below the 40th parallel.
The news from the radio sounds pretty good and it looks like there will be a battle for Pyongyang and then this thing should be about wound up.
Flew the morning CAP. As you have probably gathered from some of my letters, I don’t have much of a stomach for all this killing when I can actually see that I’m doing it. The precision flying—yes—but to actually see my guns and bombs blow people to bits is very unpleasant to me.
Took off at 1430 and landed at 1440. The engine started cutting out as soon as I got my wheels up and almost dumped me in the water before I got it smoothed out. It still wasn’t right so I came back to the ship and made an emergency landing. My 150th carrier landing.
“We’re here to stay. Home in May.” This is our latest sad song. Flew from 1400 to 1715 on a TARCAP over the landing going on up at Iwon about 80 miles NW of Wonson. We spent most of the time looking for floating mines (didn’t find any) and covering roads looking for enemy troops.
At 1030 we received a dispatch requesting more air support so we sent off 3 special strikes and I was on the second one. We worked 20 miles west of Wonson where a bunch of guerrillas are causing trouble. On my last run of the afternoon, a rocket and strafing attack, a burst of 20 or 40mm AA fire tore a 10 – 12 inch hole in my right elevator and the fabric kept peeling off all the way back to the ship.
No flying after the first two hops had to return and we are sailing through snow and hail now.
After the big snow yesterday we sailed into the clear late last night and ran into the big freeze. When we got up this morning we had 3 inches of solid ice covering everything topside.
We are to steam into Sasebo tomorrow which will end our 31 days at sea.
We go underway this morning and so will spent Thanksgiving at sea. We were issued winter flying gear which consists of long underwear, heavy knee length socks, one piece rubber exposure suit, special gloves and special boots. We are going to relieve Task Force 77 which consists of 3 Essex Class Carriers with 4 squadrons apiece.
Finally flew today after 4 snow days of no flying. We were assigned to support the ROK Capital Division in their drive up the east coast to the Soviet border. Flew the early morning CAP and was up for 3.6 hours and then flew a strike this afternoon for 3.4 hours and practically had to fight our way to the beach, it was snowing so hard. Our strike was 15 miles north of Chougjin. I was leading the hop and they wanted us to drop our bombs and rockets 500 yards ahead of them which we did and strafe 200 yards ahead of them as they moved up to take the ridge line. A Korean interpreter thanked us very profusely.
We worked with the Marines south of the Chosin Reservoir and they are bottled up with the Chinese Commies moving in in force.
Our afternoon hop was in support of the Marines in the Chosin Reservoir. We supported a couple of battalions which are cut off and trying to fight their way back. The controller was so frantic, he couldn’t talk fast enough or clear enough but it made little difference because we could drop our bombs, napalm or strafe in any direction and hit enemy troops. He wanted us to make strafing runs closer than 50 feet in front of our men because the Commies were pulling the pins from grenades and rolling them down the hill into our lines. When we expended all our ammo, the next flight was not on station so the controller requested that we make dummy runs anyway.
Worked over the Chosin Reservoir again and I am happy to report that some of the men we were helping yesterday broke out of the trap and made it across the ice to comparative safety. The Commies have infiltrated so far south that they have the entire 1st Marine Division cut off and isolated, except by air.
Supported some reinforcements which are trying to battle their way through to the 1st Division in the reservoir. The weather over the target was very poor as it has been all week. I have been flying in weather which normally I wouldn’t even walk in.
Watched Leo Ihli bring his plane in on one wheel. I took off on a CAP and sprung an oil leak so it was difficult to see the LSO as I was coming aboard. In the 2nd plane, the heater didn’t work and I about froze my hands and face.
Hugh “Whiskey” Newell, one of AP’s was killed. A good pilot and well liked.
Worked about 10 miles south of the reservoir where the 1st Marine Division is still trying to fight their way out of the trap. Passed 200 combat hours.
The weather was good today so we took on lots of supplies. In the refueling area were the battleship Missouri, the Philippine Sea and the Navy’s latest anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau.
Took on ammunition today consisting of 2100 rockets, 90,000 rounds of 20mm ammo, 100 500# bombs and much more.
The war has turned into a big strategic withdrawal.
Flew afternoon strike 5 miles NE of Hamhung. The way ships are pulling out and moving in, that place looks like Grand Central.
This has been one of the weirdest Christmases I have ever spent because we worked all day. We left the operating area yesterday when the last evacuation ship pulled out of Hungnam and we spent the rest of the day replenishing. Right now we’re steaming for the Yellow Sea. Today 28 of us turned out 52,000 rounds in 9 ½ hours. The Navy with 30 men in 12 hours turns out 15,000 rounds. We broke ordnance expenditure record 81,800 in a week.
Today we worked up near Kunchow and I really got a beautiful hit right in the mouth of a tunnel with a 500# bomb and blew it all to bits.
It was so rough today that we were taking water over the flight deck, so of course no flying.
This finishes 1950 flying with 75 missions, 240 hours since I left home. 184 total carrier landings and 1855 total flight hours.
All three ships came into port together, the Badoeng Strait with VMF-323, the Sicily with 214, and the Bataan with 212, which of course warranted a party.
If we are to leave the “Bing Ding” tomorrow as reported, it will be our last day aboard this carrier and I guess we have to admit that it has been a good cruise and one we can look back on with pride. We broke all kinds of records, had a wonderful place to stay, made lots of friends (and lost 3) and altogether learned a lot, played a lot, and I hope, brought a little more credit to the Marine Corps.
At 0900 we had a big awards ceremony at which I received 2 air medals. The captain gave us a farewell message. We got all 24 planes off at 1300, buzzed the ship and landed here at 1430.
We move to Bofu, 60 miles SW of Hiroshima on the 26th and start flying missions on the 27th. As soon as they finish the second field at Pusan, we’ll move there.
It is very cold here and we have to sleep in our sleeping bags.
We took off at 0730 and had to battle our way through snow storms all the way across the channel. We worked for the 1st Marine Division north of Pohang where they are cleaning out some guerrillas.
We flew from 0850 to 1320 – 4.4 hours – 15 miles straight north of Wonju where we worked with an Army controller. We had good targets and encountered some of the heaviest AA we’ve seen in a long time.
Camp Besero, Pusan, Korea,
We took off on a 0940 strike today and worked on the east coast just south of Wonson. Landed here afterwards. We are living in a 16 x 32 (6 or 7 to a tent).
HOME!! Our squadron gets 12 pilots and 45 enlisted men as replacements so we had a drawing and I was #5. We’ll fly to Itami to get our final orders and mode of transportation.
I flew this morning—armed recon to Chang-chow-ni—and very possibly this was my last hop—my 87th.
All the Corsairs in VMF-323 were equipped with four 20mm cannon’s and not the six .50 caliber machine guns that were mounted on them during World War II.
There is a huge difference between cannon and machine gun fire: a cannon round explodes; a round from a machine gun makes a bullet size hole. When strafing the soldiers on the beach, those in close proximity exploded; turning into red mist. This was the scene that upset me the most.
Most of the carrier-based Corsairs during my tenure carried a centerline extra fuel tank; 1 – 1000 lb. bomb and rockets on each wing; and 20mm cannon ammo carried internally. However, this configuration varied widely depending on the mission we were flying. The rockets came in two different weights, and often the centerline fuel tank was replaced with a third 1000 lb. bomb or a 1000 lb. napalm tank. To add to this equation we also had 250 lb. and 500 lb. bombs.
My typical ordnance load would be 2 – 1000 lb. bombs, 4 – HVAR rockets, a belly tank of fuel, and 2000 rounds of cannon ammo. With all this weight, the wings would bend during take-off. The Corsair comes with (an instruction) book telling ordnance men how much they could load, which was a big joke! If anything was cut for safety’s sake, it was fuel—never ordnance.