Swooping back into the chaos, he soon downed another enemy aircraft. Then another. And another. And yet another. And. . .Eventually, both McCampbell and Rushing were out of ammunition, and McCampbell's fuel was now dangerously low, so the two at last turned back toward the Essex .
As they approached the U.S. formation, one of the American ships in the task group mistook the two Hellcats for Japanese aircraft and opened fire. Five-inch rounds began detonating nearby, and McCampbell and Rushing descended to just above the wave-tops, jinking violently back and forth in fuel-consuming maneuvers to avoid being hit by the "friendly" fire. Then several American fighters joined in, diving down on the two lone Hellcats, who by now had nowhere to go but into the sea. At the last possible moment, the American fighters realized their mistake and broke off the attack.
With his fuel gauge hard left, McCampbell finally reached the Essex , but found her flight deck fouled by launching aircraft. Fortunately, the two men were able to land on the USS Langley (CVL-27). And it was none too soon, as McCampbell's engine coughed and died before he had a chance to shut it down.
But it had been a fruitful mission in which history had been made. McCampbell had confirmed kills on an incredible nine aircraft (with two probable, but unconfirmed, additional kills), and Rushing had splashed another six—a record that has never been equaled.
Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the author of several books, including A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy .