Countless sagas have come back from the war zones in the Pacific which delineate the great efforts the Navy will expend in order to “Bring ’em Back Alive.” Regardless of the time, the expense, or danger, the lives of our naval men come first. Every man in the Navy, from the seamen on up the line, fight and live with a vigor that is lacking in our enemies because they know that no matter what happens everything possible will be done to rescue them from their sinking ship, isolated and surrounded foxhole, crashed plane, or when they are marooned on a Japanese-held island.
During that Red Letter Day on June 19, when 402 Japanese planes were smashed out of the sky, many, many fliers flew as far and as fast as they could to spread their share of death and destruction in the heavens above the Philippine Sea. Many of them ran low on gasoline and orders were given out that it was “Okay” for the pilots to land on the first carrier they picked up on the return trip. Just by chance, a certain flat-top happened to be the first a great many “picked up coming back that night.” So many landed—so fast—that the elevators could not carry the planes away speedily enough to give a safe landing length. The landing space on the flight deck became shorter and shorter, and still they came in. There was just one thing to do. Orders boomed through the bull horn. Sweatered figures sped to the bow of the carrier. Grimey hands grabbed at sleek wings, shoulders heaved, and over the sides went the front row of empty planes. The deck crew just grabbed them, declared Ensign Bradford Hagie, and rolled them over the edge. More pilots glided in, confident that a place would be found for them. It was. Over the sides went Hellcats priced at $88,500 each; Helldivers, costing $108,000, were dragged to the edge of the deck and toppled over; and on top of the pile crashed Avengers costing $132,000. It was undoubtedly expensive at the time, but when one makes a comparison with the compensation gained in later destruction to the enemy by Rear Admiral Marc A. Mitscher’s boys who came to roost that day, the price is still considered to have given a good balance on the credit side of the ledger.
At another time, the morale of the Navy pilots increased several thousand per cent when, upon returning to their carrier at night, they found her lit up like a Christmas tree. The carrier decks were illuminated and searching fingers of light moved slowly through the heavens ready to point out foolhardy Japanese pilots who felt like taking a chance on attacking the force. While the high morale effect on the fliers is paramount, the dollars and cents values cannot be discounted. It has been reported that in slightly more than one month of operation by a single group of Catalina flying boats, a $594,000 investment in officer pilot training alone was saved. With a pilot’s training, even before he has seen combat, assessed at $27,000 per man and with the training of enlisted men costing only slightly less, there is plenty to be said for the efforts of all naval commanders in aiding fliers to return to their stations. Due to these efforts there is now trained material back in action which is worth millions of dollars to the present war effort, of inestimable value to the reconstruction which must follow this war.
The value that our Navy places on the lives of its personnel is something that has always mystified our enemies because they have seen that the ferocity with which naval men fight to kill an enemy is equalled only by the efforts they use to rescue shipmates, and ranking high among the mysteries is the reason for our Navy’s risking scores of costly planes, two PT boats, and expending thousands of rounds of ammunition and tons of bombs in a 9-hour battle to save the life of one lone Yank pilot. Ensign Harold A. Thompson, who took off from his carrier for a sweep over heavily defended Halmahera, was caught in a burst of flak. He bailed out and another aviator dropped a raft for him. Upon surveying his predicament, Ensign Thompson found himself in the front yard of the Japanese; on one side was a deadly fence of artillery in all sizes, and behind him stretched an endless expanse of salt water well inhabited with hungry sharks. To make matters worse he was drifting inshore.
Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey asked a PT commander to help; under the tactical command of Lieutenant Murray Preston, two PT boats raced for the downed flier. Hellcats weaved an umbrella above the area, in constant danger from the Japanese anti-aircraft fire which laced the sky with streamers of steel. The Japanese sent out barges to literally “pull a snatch,” but these were destroyed by gunfire and bombs from the air. The PT’s arrived at the scene and began moving in a circle, gaining speed with every lap. Then with a headlong rush, disregarding sudden death from shore batteries and the possibility of mines, one of the boats spurted over to Ensign Thompson. It swerved so quickly that two of the crew sailed through the air smack into the sea—both were rescued later. As Ensign Thompson was pulled aboard, the Hellcat pilots were beginning to flash frantic requests for the PT to “get the hell out of there because the gas is getting lower and lower in these crates.” It was with a sigh of relief that the naval fliers received, “We have him. Says his name’s Thompson, and he’s in good condition.”
Another rescue which was fully as hazardous and dramatic took place in another part of the ocean when, under the smoking guns of Japanese coastal batteries, a British submarine made one of the most hair-raising rescues of the war by picking up an American pilot, Lieutenant Dale C. “Klondike” Klahn, who had been shot down during a Task Force blow against Sabang and Lhonga. A dozen Hellcats spread a protective umbrella over his little yellow raft and the rescuing submarine, through which the Nipponese tried unsuccessfully to penetrate. The Japanese, who reckon the life of a man to be worth less than a handful of rice, must have been amazed at the show which lasted a full hour and a half while a submarine of Great Britain risked its entire personnel to, save the life of an ally.
The British submarine was sitting on the surface 12 miles offshore watching the flames pouring into the sky from the burning airport when it received the SOS from Air Group Commander Joseph “Jumpin’ Joe” Clifton, “Klondike is down two miles northeast of Sabang airport.” The grapevine spread the message throughout the undersea vessel; the men moved quietly, and without a word to their posts, according to one story. The officers watched the men and then looked at each other and began smiling—these boys sure knew their skipper. In a few minutes the submarine slid in the direction of the downed Yank. A Japanese destroyer sighted the surfaced British vessel and swung out of the smoke-filled harbor to intercept it. A covey of naval fliers dove on the warship, and within 15 minutes she sat helpless in the water, blazing from end to end. As the submarine came within point- blank range, the Japanese coastal guns opened up and, unfortunately for them, this drew the attention of the aviators. Before the guns had been silenced the salvos began splashing too close for comfort to the submariners; the first was 100 yards over while the second came just 50 yards short—that third salvo wasn’t fired—at that time anyway, for the artillerymen were too busy ducking fire from the planes. It was disclosed later that the Japanese had nothing more than “habit” as an incentive, for most of the planes that roared over carried empty guns.
When the enemy shore batteries fell silent, Klondike jumped from his raft and swam for the submarine; two British sailors also dived overboard carrying a line which was lashed to the pilot, and all three were hastily dragged to the undersea raider. As the officer climbed into the submarine the Japanese • got their second breath. The vessel had no more than buttoned up and blown its tanks for a crash dive, when the enemy shells again probed for a bull’s-eye. A last salvo hit 15 feet from the vessel as she slipped under the waves. Apparently no damage was suffered for the submarine later relayed a message that all hands were well, and added that twelve hours after the attack “the fires in Sabang are still burning.”
As a rule, the Navy Department has kept strictly silent on affairs pertaining to the movements of submarines, but recently they must have lifted some of the restrictions for many extraordinary yarns have been allowed to come out. One story involves the U.S.S. Tang, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Richard H. O’Kane, which teamed up with a Kingfisher, piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) John A. Burns and carrying Radioman 2/c Aubrey J. Gill. When the Tang slid up to her dock in a Pacific harbor some weeks ago she ended one of the most dramatic and productive cruises of her career. There were no mops or brooms lashed to the mast but crowded into her, with the normal crew, were 22 survivors of downed planes.
It happened during the two-day strike against Truk, April 29-30. On the first day, according to Commander O’Kane, he had surfaced and had seen a flight of our planes going in for the attack, and some time later he was summoned by radio. An Avenger had landed inside Truk Bay and the Tang was asked to attempt a rescue outside the reef, which the downed crew had already reached in their rubber boat. The submarine pulled alongside the raft southeast of Ollan Island and three men crawled aboard without a scratch; they were Lieutenant (j.g.) Scott Crammell; Harry B. Gemmell, Aviation Radioman 2/c; and Joseph S. Gendron, Machinist’s Mate 2/c. This was the first act of the drama staged in the enemy’s own front yard by “American seamen, cool-headed fliers in rafts, in fighter planes, dive bombers, and torpedo carriers.”
“Later,” Commander O’Kane recounted, “we got word of another plane in the same vicinity and fighter planes guided us in, right up to the reef, and seemed damned aggravated when we couldn’t follow them right across the reef. We searched with raised periscope but did not see the raft, and I guess we stayed too long, for the first we knew, the planes shoved off leaving us feeling downright naked.”
Almost immediately another call came. This was near Kuop Island, 30 miles away; the submarine swung off in the new direction. To save time, Commander O’Kane decided to stay on the surface for a full power run. He had to pass very close to Ollan Island, which he figured would open fire on him—so he opened fire first to keep the Japanese occupied. There was no answering flurry of shell, at first, and by the time the Japanese artillerymen did wake up, the submarine was 1,000 yards out of range. The search was fruitless. The next day, the submarine was called into retriever service again, and as the Tang moved along, the men on the bridge spotted a Japanese submarine just starting out to sea. The Tang dived and made an approach, then came up for a quick periscope search. At that instant a Yank bomber dived—the submarine of the enemy dived—and so did the Tang, which cleared away from the area as fast as the screws could push her.
Upon surfacing again, Commander O’Kane found American fighter planes overhead which circled and then sped off to the left. Like the master answering the insistent signals of his Scotty pup, the submarine followed and was led to the raft they had tried to reach the day before. Instead of finding a lone fighter pilot, they found Lieutenant Burns, in his Kingfisher, ready to turn over three survivors, Lieutenant (j.g.) Bert F. Kanze and Aviation Radioman 2/c Robert E. Hill of Fighter Squadron 10, and Lieutenant John J. Dowdle, Jr., pilot of another Kingfisher who had been dumped into the sea when his plane tipped over during the process of making a rescue. As the trio were getting aboard, a torpedo bomber flashed by, smoke pouring from it, and smashed into the water outside the reef. Lieutenant Burns took off for a rescue. In order to follow, Commander O’Kane saw he would have to pass Ollan Island, and this time he called for air cover. The planes arrived and took up the attention of the enemy gunners while the Tang sped for the downed torpedo pilot, who turned out to be Commander R. A. Matter, Commander of Air Group 50, with his crew, James J. Lenahan and H. A. Thompson. With these men safely in his hands, the submarine skipper headed for three rafts that Lieutenant Burns had spotted from the air.
As the Kingfisher came in for a landing near the men, Lieutenant Burns undoubtedly saw that he could never rise with the whole group; nevertheless, he set the plane on the water and gathered everyone aboard. While still 15 miles from Lieutenant Burns and his pick-ups, the submariners heard of another downed flier between Truk and Kuop; and since it was nearer, the Tang started out to the man. The flier was Lieutenant H. E. Hill, of Fighter Squadron 5. Once more under way, the Tang stopped a second time when a bomber was seen swooping low to drop a raft to a man in the water; upon being rescued he gave his name as Lieutenant (j.g.) James J. Cole.
When Lieutenant Burns and Commander O’Kane finally met once more, the flier carried three men on each wing and one perched on the edge of the cockpit. The new survivors were Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert T. Barbor, Fighting 32; Lieutenant R. S. Nelson, Torpedo 10; Ensign CarolL. Farrell, also of Torpedo 10; and the members of their crews, Radioman J. L. Livingston, Machinist R. W. Grubel, 0. F. Tabrum, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2/c, and Joseph Hranek, Aviation Radioman 2/c. The gallant Kingfisher had been battered by the sea until it was useless for further flying so the guns of the submarine were used to sink it. Dusk was falling by this time but there was still work to do; Lieutenant Burns had reported a Dauntless to be down inside the lagoon, and the crew were drifting inshore. Commander O’Kane asked the Task Force Commander for night fighters; they arrived soon afterwards. The survivors were Lieutenant Donald Kirkpatrick, Jr., and Aviation Ordnanceman Richard L. Bentley, of Bomber 16, who had set their sail and settled down for a long voyage to New Guinea. According to Commander O’Kane, Lieutenant Kirkpatrick was the coolest of the lot that had been picked up, since he had been shot down on other occasions and was quite philosophical about the situation. In fact, reports one source, every one of the flier’s missions had ended in riding his plane into the ocean.
The Tang headed for the sea and her patrol assignment. Commander O’Kane put the flight officers to work standing watches so there would be enough bunks to go around; at that, there were occasions when the men had to sleep doubled up two to a bunk. The rescued men fell quickly into submarine life and tried to keep out of the way of the regular crew for the next sixteen days. Her war patrol accomplished, the Tang sailed for her home port and a Presidential Unit Citation.
There is one submarine crew, who, while admitting they cannot compete in the number of persons rescued, vow that they deserve a place because of the manner they made the pick-up. They then go on to relate a fantastic story of an undersea raider prowling around a Japanese-held island while planes were making a raid. A plane, piloted by Ensign Donald C. Brandt, was hit and he bailed out at 12,000 feet. The submarine went to the rescue, but as it drew near, the Japanese shore batteries began shelling the area around the man. When the splashes started moving closer to the vessel, the skipper took her down. Before submerging completely, he took a good look at Ensign Brandt struggling in the water; knowing the man’s chances for survival were practically nil, the submarine commander determined to try something new in rescues. Keeping the vessel just far enough under the water so the top of the periscope protruded, he made a slow approach.
“I wanted him to catch on to the scope so we could drag him out of range of the Jap guns,” explained the skipper.
As for Ensign Brandt, he watched that round pipe coming at him and warily kept away from it. One could never tell just what new trick the Japs might try, but killing a man in the water by ramming him with a submarine periscope topped all new types of killing. The periscope swept slowly around the man three times, ogling him all the while; finally he decided to take a chance and “hitch-hike it.” At least, he could let go if the submarine belonged to the wrong Navy. With Ensign Brandt wrapped around the ’scope, the vessel moved out to sea. The skipper later said the vessel had to remain submerged because of the shelling and danger from scouting enemy planes and “it was tough going for the pilot. There he was out of the water half the time and under it half the time. We towed him this way for 2 miles until we got out of range.”
The craft then surfaced and took the soaked and bedraggled flier inside; a member of the crew related that the aviator “was a little beaten up but he admitted it was still better than falling into the Jap’s hands.” For the most part it is expected that a single ship will change its course when occasion demands to pick up a survivor of a ship or plane, but when an entire convoy changes its course to make a rescue, that, indeed, is news. Nevertheless, a lieutenant is said to have convinced an unnamed rear admiral that a single man’s life was worth changing the course of a naval force en route to attack the Bonin Islands and thus saved the life of Lieutenant Commander Robert H. Price who had been adrift for eleven days with only 8 ounces of water and a sea gull for food. Commander of a carrier air group, Commander Price was forced to land his Hellcat in the middle of a Japanese convoy he and his men were attacking. When rescued, he had lost nearly 20 pounds, had drifted about 100 miles from the spot in which he was last seen, and was so weak he had to be lifted onto the deck of the destroyer which reached him. The name of the lieutenant, a personal friend of the rescued officer, will always be remembered by the men in the convoy, Lieutenant D. A. McCrary, who they avow “is the convincingest talker ever to be met.”
Sometimes, according to the reports, the story about the men who are downed is more interesting than the narration of the rescue. There was Ensign John D. K. Drake whose bomber was forced down off Iwo Jima and before being picked up had two Navies trying to rescue him. As he floated on the water enemy planes circled him, and when one swooped in close the officer made all kinds of friendly signs. Later an enemy plane dropped a life raft for the man. The Ensign’s friendly overtures proved to be overdone for soon a craft put out from the island to pick him up. When the boat was half way, a flight of Yank planes swept in; the Japanese boatmen turned and ran for shore. A sea plane landed near by and rescued the officer. They also tell the story of Commander William I. Martin who refused to consider himself either a survivor or a castaway. When his plane was shot down off Saipan in a carrier strike, he calmly stood in full view and within easy rifle range of the Japanese in order to take soundings of a reef. Officers directing the amphibious landings at Saipan said the data obtained by the Academy graduate was of considerable value in the ultimate landings on the island.
No article of this type is complete without mention of those men who can walk into any mess hall and elicit a shout from the crowd, “Steaks for Dumbo! Best damned steaks in the house for a Catalina Kid!” Only the shortness of space causes the elimination of a story about them. Too, the fact is already well known that they have chipped themselves a niche in history alongside the Sea- bees, the Amphibious Forces, the Triphibious Forces, Marines, and what have you. In its place has been substituted a little known story of two buddies aboard a famous small carrier, the U.S.S. Card. This ship, it will be remembered, was in the same group as the U.S.S. Borie which literally trampled a submarine to death in the Atlantic, and received a Presidential Unit Citation for the antisubmarine work she did.
Lieutenant (j.g.) Roger C. Kuhn and Lieutenant (j.g.) Harry E. Fryatt were the last pilots to come in one October evening. Lieutenant Kuhn put his TBF on the Card’s flight deck despite the pitching of the ship but Lieutenant Fryatt was up against the elements plus the fact that his plane had one wheel up, one wheel down, and both jammed tight because of a hit by a 40-mm. shell. He circled the ship awaiting the “come in” signal; meanwhile the night grew darker and darker. Lieutenant Kuhn’s plane was parked beyond the barriers and near the bow to act as sort of extra bumper for Lieutenant Fry- att’s plane when it came in. Lieutenant Kuhn rushed below, grabbed a flashlight from his buddy’s desk, and dashed topside again. He stood behind his parked plane, tensed to dive overboard after Lieutenant Fryatt in case the striken plane did not stop on the deck.
Lieutenant Fryatt’s plane wabbled in, a wing tip smashed into the island, then all of Lieutenant Kuhn’s plans went into reverse. The landing TBF struck Kuhn’s ship and stopped. It was a perfect billiard shot. The Fryatt plane struck the Kuhn plane and stopped short, the Kuhn plane rammed into the waiting flier, knocked him overboard, and then followed through. The Kuhn plane sank and Lieutenant Kuhn, himself, grabbed for a couple of life belts that hit near by and then pawed for his flashlight. A tiny beam of light jabbed through the night; a destroyer hove to close by. Lines flew through the air; Lieutenant Kuhn wound one around his body. Just as he started to relax, the destroyer dashed full speed astern with Kuhn floundering through the water or skidding along the top of the water like a surf board, and for several yards he sped along under the water. The explanation given was that a submarine had been detected, and when Lieutenant Kuhn finally reached the deck he was more dead than alive from the effects of the freezing water and “being played at the end of a line like a hooked swordfish.”
Several weeks in the hospital was the result, and while confined, it was noticed that he occasionally seemed to be mulling something over in his mind. About a week after emerging from the hospital he explained the actions.
“You know, it’s a funny thing,” he said. “I’ve heard other people say that when you get in a jam like that your whole life passes before your eyes and you vow that if you get back, you’ll stop playing around and settle down. That really happened to me. When I was in the water my past life flashed through my mind and I told myself, if I got out of this, I’d marry my girl and not wait around any more.”
Well... he did. And that’s one time the orders “Bring ’em Back Alive” took a double twist. Lieutenant Kuhn was dragged from the Atlantic Ocean and heaved into the sea of matrimony—from which he undoubtedly refused to be rescued.