34. Torpedo Four Heads Stateside

"Don't even mention the word kamikaze."

After recovering from the surprise kamikaze attack at Ulithi, the USS Long Island completed loading damaged planes and raised anchor for the trip to the States. The ship's log shows that we departed Ulithi on March 12 and reached Pearl Harbor March 23. (1) We were then transferred to the USS Altamaha, which departed Pearl on March 24 and docked in San Diego on April 1, 1945.

This trip on two Baby Flat-Tops was more like a pleasure cruise for Torpedo Four than a wartime assignment. It provided the last opportunity for the losers at poker or craps to try to recover. It was a time for sharing the limited beer and hard liquor supplies. It was also a time for reflection on our combat losses and successes.

We were still bitter about the last strike on Naha, Okinawa. The loss of Scott Vogt and Doug Cahoon seemed so unnecessary. Then, too, there were some guilt feelings. One of the fighter pilots took on a crying jag related to his combat role. He was being accused of purposely "downing" his aircraft, returning to the Carrier with "engine trouble," taxiing into parked planes on deck, and otherwise avoiding strikes over enemy territory. This pilot talked to me, but I did not know the circumstances, so I was not much help. I do not intend to check the actual flight records to clarify this situation because I have some understanding of the pressures he was under. Also, partial responsibility may rest with the leaders in the Squadron, who could have removed him from combat flight status if they had doubts about his stability.

As the Long Island slowly pushed through the Pacific waves taking us out of the war zone, we talked about the role of those left fighting the Japanese. There was increasing evidence that the Japanese would not capitulate without an invasion of the mainland. The fanaticism of the Japanese troops, the willingness of young men to join the kamikazes, and other evidence of suicidal stands meant that the Japanese Mainland would not fall without extremely heavy losses of Allied forces. The firm orders that we were given, "Don't even mention the word 'kamikaze,'" when we arrived stateside was further evidence that the war was far from over.

Regardless of the status of the war, it was unlikely that those of us in Torpedo Squadron Four would be assigned another combat tour. We had served in both the European and the Pacific theaters. The Squadron, and our associates in Fighting Four, Bombing Four and Marine squadrons VMF 124 and 213 had made a fair contribution to the total war effort. Two of our fighters, D. S. "Diz" Laird and H. T. "Hubie" Houston attained the status of "ACE." There were no identifiable heroes in Torpedo Four, but, we could carry with pride the decorations attained as individuals and the recognition that went with our three aircraft carriers. (2)

Note: Most Torpedo Four personnel are eligible for the citations shown in bold print.

USS Ranger (CV-4)

"On January 28, 1947, the Ranger was sold to the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Chester, Pennsylvania… scrapping was completed in October, 1947." (2) The builder's plate and ship's bell were presented to the Navy and are now on exhibit at the Naval Air Museum, Pensacola, Florida.

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)

"On November 1, 1966, 23 years to the day that she launched her first combat strikes, the Bunker Hill was stricken from the list of Naval vessels and declared unfit for further service." (2)

USS Essex (CV-9)

The Essex was labeled the "fightin'est Ship in the Fleet." In March, 1969, the Essex headed for Boston for a deactivation process "and on July 30, 1969, the grand old lady of the fleet was decommissioned." (2)

Until I researched the archives, I, like most of the members of Torpedo Four, had very little knowledge about ribbons or citations appropriate to our service in WW II. Nor did we realize that we had flown some joint missions with a torpedo pilot who later gained national and international renown.

George Bush, who was elected President of the United States in 1988, was one of the pilots of VT-51, operating from the aircraft carrier, USS San Jacinto. VT-4 and VT-51 had some parallel activities, including several strikes on Japanese shipping and shore facilities. Bush's Avenger was shot down over Chichi Jima on September 2, 1944. A part of the combat report from the Navy Operational Archives follows: (3)

"Lt (jg) Bush, was piloting the third plane over the target. Bush's plane was hit in the engine shortly after final push over at 8000 ft. In spite of this hit which caused his engine to smoke and catch on fire, Lt (jg) Bush continued in his dive, releasing his bombs on the radio station at 85.6 - 50.6 to score damaging hits."
"After releasing his bombs, Lt (jg) Bush turned sharply to the east to clear the island of Chichi Jima, smoke and flames enveloping his engine and spreading aft as he did so, and his plane losing altitude. He advised the C.O. by radio that it was necessary to bail out. At a point approximately 9 miles bearing 045° T from Minami Jima, Bush and one other person were seen to bail out from about 3000 ft. Bush's chute opened and he landed safely in water, inflated his raft and paddled farther away from Chichi Jima. The chute of the other person (either Lt (jg) [W. G.] White or J. L. Delaney, ARM 2/c) who bailed out did not open."
"The rescue sub, USS Finback promptly effected rescue of Lt (jg) Bush, who was unhurt, planes of VF-20 remaining over Bush's raft to protect him. While Lt (jg) White and J. L. Delaney are reported missing in action, it is believed that both were killed as a result of action above described."

This report on Lt (jg) Bush serves as a reminder that, while VT-4 was en route to the States, other Navy airmen were still in the combat zone flying into AA fire while ships crews were defending their home base against kamikazes.

The Altamaha pulled into San Diego Harbor on April 1, 1945--D-Day for Okinawa. Air Group Four had arrived stateside after more than 8 months in the Pacific.

Photo: Pilot's View of Carrier.

(1) USS Long Island Ship's Log. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) Pawlowski, Gareth L. 1971. Flat Tops and Fledgings: A History of American Aircraft Carriers. Castle Books, New York.
(3) Combat Reports, VT-51. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.

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Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II
Copyright © 1990-2000 by Gerald W. Thomas