After reaching the end of the island we continued on a course
to the southeast which would take us close to the carriers where
we would pick up the homing signals on the radio and they would
pick us up on radar. As we progressed the weather deteriorated
and the ceiling reduced to less than four hundred feet. We were
under the overcast and had been on the same course for more than
enough time to have received these signals and even to have reached
the ships. Nothing happened, no signals and the visibility was
so bad we would literally have to hit the ships to see them.
The skipper kept us on the same course for so long that I knew
we had passed the ships. Dunagan knew this too, but we weren't
second guessing the skipper, which at that time was a mistake.
Anyhow, after a considerable time we came to a hole in the cloud
cover and the skipper did a spiraling climb to gain altitude.
When we reached an altitude of about 5000 feet we began to faintly
receive the homing signal and the ships picked us up on radar.
We were 80 miles southeast of the ships, just exactly twice as
far as we should have gone.
We again descended through the over cast and about half
way back Al Godfrey reported that the red light was on the reserve
gas tank of his plane. This meant that he had about 20 gallon
of fuel left. He had no sooner reported than the red light in
my plane came on, followed by Dunagan's. It was to be a nip and
tuck experience from there to the ship. If we were to run out
of fuel we would have been in real
trouble since the hour was late and daylight was fading. A water
landing would be disastrous and the odds of being found were
pretty slim or more likely non-existent.
We reached the ship and were given a straight in approach with
Godfrey first since his light came on first. We all made a cut
on the first approach. After securing the planes the gas tanks
were checked. Godfrey had less than a gallon and I had slightly
more than a gallon. It is very unlikely that neither Godfrey
nor I could have taken a wave-off and still made a second pass
to a landing. Had we not found that hole in the overcast the
war would have ended for us that night. I don't know if the skipper
said anything to the other two guys but he never mentioned our
colossal error to me.
More stormy weather
In the fore mentioned incident on April 12, one of the
divisions of the other wing of our squadron was on TCAP several
miles northwest of Okinawa. Enemy air active was considerable
that morning and this division was vectored to an incoming flight
of Kamikazes. The division leader and his wingman took off after
an enemy plane leaving the second section circling above. It
wasn't long before they too spotted an enemy plane and
engaged it. These two guy's were Charlie Janson and Paul Bumgartner.
Charlie slid in on the tail of the Japanese plane and Paul rather
than getting involved held off to the side. While Charlie was
firing away at the enemy an American F4U came screaming down
from above and smashed into Charlie's plane. Both planes went
into the ocean. Only one of the two pilots had bailed out. Bumgartner
didn't know which man it was but followed the parachute to the
water and continued circling while calling for a "Dumbo"
(a PBY flying boat for rescuing downed pilots). Later we received
word that it was the Marine who was rescued and Charlie was lost.
While Bumgartner was circling and being intent on keeping
an eye on the downed pilot he suddenly began to find his plane
disintegrating. His gun sight dropped into his lap, the instrument
panel shattered, sheets of metal were being ripped from the wings
of the plane. These things he could see and he knew he was being
shot up. A glance in the review mirror revealed a Japanese plane
sitting on his tail having a "Hey-day". Paul pulled
Refueling destroyer from escort carrier
erratic maneuver in an effort to shake the Japanese plane. It
succeeded because the enemy did not follow him. Now Bumgartner
found himself with a damaged plane with the oil pressure dropping.
It was necessary for him to return to Okinawa and land at Yontan
airfield which had been in American hands since the first day
of the invasion. On his way back he came upon a "picket"
destroyer. Observing the lack of oil pressure and increasing
cylinder-head temperature, he decided to set the plane down in
the water and ride back on the destroyer. He made his approach
for the landing a short distance from the destroyer and when
he was a few feet above the water the crew of the destroyer opened
up on him and shot him the rest of the way into the water. The
condition was "Flash Red" which gave them the right
to shoot but it was hard to believe for me that the men on the
destroyer were so poor at aircraft recognition that they couldn't
identify a Navy plane. Especially one at a short distance with
the Navy insignia on it. Anyhow, he got out of the plane and
in a few minutes a motor launch came up to him with a thirty
caliber machine gun sticking in his face. They still didn't know
that he was an American. At least they didn't shoot him in the
Bumgartner was returned to Yontan where he was to wait until
our ship sent one of our TBMs for him. Later that day Wells,
in his TBM with me in my fighter flying escort, flew into Yontan,
picked up Bumgartner and flew back to the Petrof Bay. Janson
was listed as missing in action. You might remember, Janson was
the guy who, with Wilda, double dated with Margie and me.