During a World War II strike on targets near Kure, Japan, an F6F Hellcat pilot watches as his skipper goes down.
Several ominous puffs of dark debris had appeared around the tail section of the skipper's plane. I glanced away for an instant and then back to him. A stupefying scene unfolded.
The skipper's canopy opened and he stood up; his parachute streamed out and jerked him clear of the plane. The Hellcat hit the water and the skipper hit a few feet to the right of it. His parachute didn't blossom to check his fall; he plunged feet first and disappeared into the murky, shallow water. The canopy of his parachute floated on the surface; its lines extended downward, fading from sight into his dark, watery grave next to the partly submerged, drowning Hellcat.
The previous evening the chatter in our squadron ready room on the aircraft carrier abated abruptly when the skipper stood to begin briefing the next day's strikes against Japan. His aloof bearing told me—a junior officer—Keep your distance; I'm in charge here. I did not know him on a personal level, but I respected him as a talented man and officer. It was late July 1945.