On the morning of 24 October 1944, in a pair of Hellcat fighters, Commander David McCampbell and his wingman, Ensign Roy Rushing, scrambled from the flight deck of the USS Essex (CV-9) to repel a formation of 40 inbound Japanese aircraft. Rushing had a full load of fuel, but McCampbell had been forced to take off before his tanks were full. Undetected by the enemy, the two lone Hellcat pilots were able to position themselves above and behind the Japanese. As one of the enemy fighters began lagging behind the formation, McCampbell pounced like the lion who focuses its attack on the straggler from the herd. Diving down, he waited until he could see the bright red "meatball" insignia contrasting sharply with the olive-drab fuselage of the Japanese fighter. Then, easing the stick back to reduce the angle of his dive and centering his target in the gunsight, McCampbell squeezed the trigger. The Hellcat shuddered noticeably as it coughed out a spray of deadly .50-caliber incendiary rounds. Tracers painted a path to the target, and the plane exploded, then plummeted from the sky.
Commander David McCampbell
By Lieutenant Commander Tom Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)