During World War II, enlisted naval aircrewmen flew in every type of aircraft except fighters, ranging from flying boats to carrier planes to blimps. One of those crewmen was Vergil E. Bloomquist of Colorado. His father had been a Doughboy gassed in 1918. With the United States in another world war, he advised his son against joining the Army. So “Verg” went Navy.
Bloomquist enlisted in November 1942 at age 17. When he learned that his boot class was eligible to become aircrewmen, he applied and was accepted. Following aviation radio school and gunnery instruction at Memphis, he attended a radar course, completed operational training, and proceeded to Alameda to join Torpedo Squadron (VT) 11.
As the squadron prepared for its second combat deployment in 1944, Bloomquist, as radioman-radar operator, crewed with pilot Lieutenant (junior grade) Joe Sobien and turret gunner Mike Collins. They bonded into a smooth-functioning team.
Contrary to regulations, Bloomquist began a diary when Air Group 11 left Alameda on 28 March in the new USS Wasp (CV-18), bound for Hawaii. He maintained the journal until returning to Ulithi Atoll in late January 1945. With 6,000 men crammed on board the Wasp, passengers stood in the chow line for three hours, two and three times a day. Some lacked bunks and slept on the flight deck.
On arrival on 3 April, Verg found that Pearl Harbor had “the best chow I ever saw in my life. It can’t be beat.” Food remained a constant factor, as Hilo proved to be “just like it was at Pearl.”
The squadron moved frequently during training and was based at Barbers Point and Kaneohe. July brought excitement with a false alarm of an inbound Japanese raid, however improbable. Late that month President Franklin Roosevelt arrived, with VT-11’s TBM Avengers among “about 500 planes saluting FDR and Admiral [Ernest] King.” Verg journaled, “I got to see him [Roosevelt] but it was from a distance.”
In August, Verg witnessed the death of Commander G. T. McCutchan, Commander, Air Group (CAG) 11, during landing qualifications on board the Ranger (CV-4). Nonetheless, VT-11’s enlisted men left Hawaii on 7 September in the Breton (CVE-23) bound for a destination unknown. Some sailors slept on the hangar deck because of overcrowding, and many spent two hours waiting for a shower.
Nine days out, the Breton observed the crossing-the-line ceremony, a two-day evolution that left Verg with half his head shaved, “so I walk lopsided.” He noted that several Marines strenuously objected to the initiation rite.
The little carrier anchored off Ponam Island in the Admiralties on 18 September, where VT-11’s aircrewmen were reunited with their pilots. By month’s end, the entire air group had boarded its new home, the veteran Essex-class carrier Hornet (CV-12). “We finished moving boxes so we are squared away now. The guys sure are swell on this ship.”
Air Group 11 broke into the WestPac league on 10 October with the first strikes against Okinawa. The Avengers flew four missions, seeming to level the city of Naha. “That place was really burning when we left.” Two days later, the Hornet contributed to the first missions against Formosa, concentrating on Takeo, whose population Verg’s briefing notes put at 118,000. “Our task force was attacked just after nightfall by Jap planes. One of our tin cans was hit.”
Strikes continued the next day, with the loss of CAG-11 Commander F. R. Schrader. “Japs kept us on GQ all night. The cruiser Canberra caught a fish [a torpedo] but did not sink. Many Jap planes were shot down, one was 300 feet from our carrier making a torpedo run.” Verg and two friends watched the action from a catwalk. “Like fools we just stood there. The Hornet’s guns finally hit the Betty and it blew up right before our eyes. What a sight for a 19 year old.”
From 18 October, the fast carriers supported Army landings in the Philippines with almost nonstop operations. The air group wrote off an Avenger and four F6F Hellcat fighters. The next day VT-11 lost a crew near Manila. “Blew up in the air—Lieutenant [William H.] Winner, [Paul J.] Chleborad (gunner) and [Fred J.] Baker (radioman).”
Exiting the area, Verg’s plane was joined by a Bombing Squadron 11 SB2C Helldiver. The gunner, Duane F. Brash, began sending Morse code signals, and just as Verg began to reply: “The SB2C started folding up. It dropped real fast in a flat spin. We went down and circled where it hit the water. All we saw were a few small pieces.”
Flying direct ground support on the 20th, VT-11 bombed while battleships and cruisers pounded the Leyte landing area. But another Avenger crew succumbed, prompting Verg’s entry, “The rats will pay for it many times.”
On 21 October, two days before the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf commenced, the Hornet’s task group steamed eastward for replenishment at Ulithi. However, the group reversed helm late on the 24th. The next morning, as a Japanese battleship force pursued U.S. escort carriers off Samar, the group’s carriers launched from extreme range. “Made 600 mile (round trip) hop to attack Jap force. Several ships were damaged—none sunk. Japs are using phosphorous shells for AA. Lost six SB2Cs during return from the strike, they made water landings. All TBMs got back.”
On 26 October, the Hornet launched three more antishipping strikes. “Our divisions dropped six fish on large DDs. One hit, sad case.”
The air group was back in action over the Philippines on 5 November, and a week later, combat veteran Bloomquist observed his 20th birthday. He celebrated the occasion the next day when VT-11 participated in four missions to Manila. The squadron lost its popular skipper, Lieutenant Commander Radcliffe Denniston Jr., and another plane and crew.
And so it went: repeated missions, successes, losses. But on 1 February 1945 Air Group 11 completed its cruise and bade farewell to the good ship Hornet. Radioman First Class Bloomquist remained with the squadron, celebrating VJ Day at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.
Shortly thereafter, Verg had a triple wedding with two buddies; he and his wife, Mert, would have two sons. Verg worked in Los Angeles a few years before moving to Independence, Missouri, in 1951. He was employed at the DuPont ordnance plant for 27 years before retiring to enjoy family and travel.
Today Verg Bloomquist reflects on his service: “I never forget the most important part, losing friends in combat. I learned what life meant.”