Designated a naval aviator in 1929, Vice Admiral Robert B. Pirie served in the USS Lexington (CV-2), USS Langley (CV-1), and USS Raleigh (CL-7). In 1942 he was Assistant Air Operations Officer for Commander Air Force PacFlt. In 1945 he was Commander Carrier Division Four, participating in assault and capture of the Marianas, Palau, the initial raid on the Philippines; Okinawa and Formosa; the Battle of Leyte Gulf; and South China Sea Raid. During final months of the war, he was Air Ops Officer on staff of Fleet Admiral King. He served as Commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy in 1952. Subsequent duties included: CO of the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43); Chief of Staff to CinC, U.S. Naval Forces Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean; Chief of Staff and Aide to CinC U.S. Atlantic Fleet; Commander Carrier Division Six, Commander Second Fleet; and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air) until retirement in 1962.
Based on eight interviews conducted by John T. Mason, Jr., from May 1972 through May 1974, this volume contains 352 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1974 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the restrictions originally placed on the transcript by the interviewee have since been removed.
In this clip from his second interview with Dr. John T. Mason Jr. on Monday Afternoon, 7 August 1972 at the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, MD, VADM Pirie disusses visiting Guadalcanal in November 1942 on assignment with Engineering Duty Officer Captain Pennoyer to get first-hand information on the situation as it existed and to try to get the forces in the field to salvage as many aircraft as possible to tide them over until production aircraft could reach them. While there, VADM Pirie notes a memorable encounter with the famed Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller.
Admiral Pirie: Pennoyer and I then flew up to Espiritu Santo and our first attempt to get up to Guadalcanal was in an Air Force airplane and it ended in our getting lost and my having to bring them back in to Espiritu after about nine hours with practically no gasoline left. It was fortunate that we knew a little bit about the code words and hieroglyphics or we'd have never gotten back. We were going right out into the great big blue Pacific, 150 miles north of Espiritu, and I got this guy turned around and headed south, and we got some direction-finding signals. They wouldn't send out direction-finding signals so we could get home. We got back finally and we went out the next day – next night – in a Marine airplane. General Woods was the Marine aviator commander on the island and he was the one that we dealt with principally, although Vandergrift was in command of the whole operation. But we dealt with Woods and talked to his engineers and people and to the squadron commanders and told them how important it was to salvage as many of these airplanes as we could because there just weren't going to be any more airplanes, no matter what you said there was nothing anybody could do about it, even the Almighty, at that time. So they just had to salvage as many as they could. They went to work right away and did a better job of salvaging the airplanes and we got a lot of use out of those that looked like they were wrecked.
Doctor Mason: The Seabees were already at Espiritu, weren't they, building runways and the like?
Admiral Pirie: Oh, yes, they built those. There were three strips built at Espiritu, and, of course, this one field at Guadalcanal, Henderson, was all we had at the time and it was hotter than a firecracker.
Doctor Mason: Tulagi wasn't built yet?
Admiral Pirie: Yes, Tulagi was built. One of these big night actions took place just the night before we got in there and they had sunken ships and damaged ships and a hell of a mess in there. I think it was Savo where a couple of cruisers had been sunk and a couple more of them were damaged and taken over to Tulagi, and several destroyers had been messed up in this thing. I went up to the front lines with then-Colonel Cooley and Colonel Snedeker, a classmate of mine. We went up and visited Louis Puller while we were up there, and he'd just had that big night action where he killed several thousand Japs in that valley the night before. It was quite an exciting time for us, you know, getting to see this close to the action. Puller was out in the sun. He only had a sergeant with him in this dugout in the side of the hill and he had on a pair of fatigue pants and was barefooted. That's all he had on and he had four or five bullet holes that I could count in his torso and he had some more in his legs. He wouldn't even go back to a dressing station. They were these little things that the Japs were firing. They were about the size of a beebee or a .22 – I've forgotten what caliber it was. He didn't pay a damned bit of attention to them at all.
Doctor Mason: You'd think he'd be bleeding.
Admiral Pirie: No, he just put some iodine on them, I think. I don't know, but he was a character, a great man.
Doctor Mason: Chesty Puller!
Admiral Pirie: This was a great experience for us to go down there and see the war at first hand. We saw quite a bit of the action. We were there two or three days and then returned to talk to Admiral Fitch at Espiritu Santo about these logistic problems, then back by Noumea, and we flew back on a NATS aircraft which were then Martin twin-engine seaplanes. We got back on the 6th or 7th of December.