Tribute to VC 38
Composite Squadron 38 was commissioned June 12, 1943 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Brunton. VC 38 trained with the Grumman TBF Avenger, a torpedo bomber plane, while at NAAS Otay Mesa Airfield (currently Brown Field airport) and NAS El Centro, California.
The squadron’s flight training in the TBF-1 planes included torpedo bombing, gunnery, night torpedo tactics, catapult take-offs from carrier decks, carrier landings, anti-sub bombing, and night oxygen flying. The squadron spent over a month training at NAS El Centro practicing night illumination, mine laying, carrier rendezvous, and glide bombing maneuvers, all while flying at night.
VC 38 squadron shipped out from San Diego, California, on August 1, 1943, aboard the escort carrier, USS Long Island (CVE-1), for Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides (present day Vanuatu). VC 40 squadron was also aboard ship. The ship crossed the equator on August 14, 1943 and arrived at Espiritu Santo on August 25, 1943. VC 38’s torpedo bombing missions initially operated from Bomber #1 airfield, Espiritu Santo (code named Buttons). VC 38’s first mission against the Japanese was on September 15, 1943, and was a bombing mission over Ballale airfield located a few miles southeast from the Island of Bouganville in the Solomon Islands.
Lt. William R. (Lucky) Larson and his fellow VC 38 Squadron were part of the Solomon Air Offensive that began after the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal of November 13, 1942. The VC 38 Squadron flew missions with other Naval squadrons and U.S. Marine Fighting Squadrons and Scout-Bombing Squadrons throughout September, October, November, and December 1943, mercilessly pounding the Japanese airfields of Kahili, Kara, Buka, and Ballale, including Japanese supply areas of Tarlena and Kieta, Bougainville. VC 38 flew missions with VC-24, VC-40, VMTB-143, VMTB-232, VMTB-233, VMSB-243, and VMF-213.
Initially these bombing missions were large scale assaults including up to 126 aircrafts, consisting of TBFs, SBDs, and Hellcat fighter planes in a single attack. The VC 38 Squadron worked off both land-based air fields (Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, and Munda) and carrier-based operations (USS Breton and USS Saratoga). However, the majority of Lucky’s time was spent in bombing operations based out of Munda airfield.
The invasion of Bougainville (Bougainville Campaign) began on November 1, 1943 when the U.S. Marines (3d Marine Division and two attached Marine Raider battalions) landed on Cape Torokina, in central Bougainville’s Empress Augusta Bay. Lucky and VC 38 actually bombed the Japanese troops fighting the marines on November 14th and 20th, 1943 by dropping 100 pound bombs near the Japanese positions. Success at Bougainville setup the U.S. forces to finally reach the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul on the Island of New Britain.
Rabaul was the Japanese fortress of military power, which included a harbor and five airfields. The march up the Solomons chain, starting at Guadalcanal to now Bougainville airfield (Piva airfield), allowed Allied fighter aircraft to finally reach Rabaul within their operational range. VC 38 Squadron’s heroic actions during the Bougainville and the New Britain campaign’s from October 1943 to March of 1944 culminated in a Scorecard of 112 aerial missions, 3 night missions, and 37 aerial victories, with over 30 enemy ships sunk or damaged. VC 38’s military war power consisted of 12 Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, 9 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers, and 9 Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bombers.
By all accounts, the TBF attack on Keravia Bay - Rabaul, on February 17, 1944 was astonishing. Several of the TBF pilots of VC 38, under a curtain of anti-aircraft maching gun fire, flew low on the water to “skip bomb” several key targets. These heroic tactics resulted in several Japanese ships being damaged or sunk; including a battleship, transport ship, and patrol vessel. The COMAIRSOLS STRIKE COMMAND TBF INTELLIGENCE REPORT for February 17, 1943 vividly details this event (included below and in Appendix D). I have been able to account for nine awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross to members of the VC 38 TBF squadron during this dive bombing attack, though there maybe more. The list includes the following aviation officers:
· Cmdr. Charles E. Brunton – D.F.C
· Lt. Jack P. Scholfield – D.F.C
· Lt. Graham Tahler – D.F. C.
· Lt. Robert B. Giblin – D.F.C
· Lt. John A Leary – D.F.C.
· Lt. Robert F Regan – D.F.C.
· Lt. Arthur McDonald – D.F.C.
· Lt. Robert H. Behn – D.F.C.
· Lt. Bruce C. Bishop – D.F.C.
Following the return of VC 38 to the west coast, several members continued in the naval service and had distinguished careers. These include the following:
· Cdr. Charles E. Brunton – Rear Admiral
· Lt. Graham Tahler – Rear Admiral
· Lt. Robert B. Giblin – Commander of USS Lexington
· Captain Robert F. Regan – Command of NAS Corpus Christie (3 time D.F.C. recipient)
· Lt. Thomas Milton Gammage – D.F.C. as Section Leader of VT-47 (July 1945) at Honshu Island, Japan.
Several members of VC 38 also had distinguished legal careers, including the following:
· Lt. John A Leary – Judge of New York State
· Lt. Jack P Scholfield – Judge of Washington State
This list is likely incomplete, as my research was limited. Based on ARM 1/C Richard (Wag) Wagner’s War Diary, VC 38 left the Pacific Theater of War on March 20, 1944 aboard the USS Long Island and was disbanded in May of 1944 and commissioned VT-38. VC 38 was one unit and one tour that contributed to the end of World War II within the Pacific Theater of War. By all accounts, they performed tremendously.
Aerial Photograph of Rabaul Area - source Daniel Leary
INTELLIGENCE REPORT – STRUCK 17 FEBRUARY, 1944
CONFIDENTIAL TBF INTELLIGENCE CONFIDENTIAL
Target: Shipping in Keravia Bay
Mission: Bomb and strafe.
Flight Leader: Commander C.E. Brunton
Squadrons: VC-38 (12), VMTB -134 (6), VMTB-143 (3), VMTB 233 (3)
Planes: Ordered for mission: 24 TBF’s
Actually dropped bombs: 22 TBF’s. (1 plane did not take off, and 1 plane returned with hung bomb).
Other A/Coordinating: 48 SBD’s and 76 VF
Damage to own A/C: Plane #101 – 20 MM in starboard wing, M/G bullets in port wing, 50 calibre in fuselage 2 feet aft of turret, numerous shrapnel and bullet holes in fuselage.
Plane #232: Hydraulic system knocked out by AA (probably shrapnel). 20 MM hole in cockpit next to pilot’s seat. Shrapnel holes in port and starboard wings and center section of flaps.
Plane #213: Bullet holes in starboard wing.
Plane #114: Hit in engine by M/G.
Personnel Casualties: Commander C.E. Brunton in plane #101 was hit by AA (probably 20MM) from 240’ DD just prior to releasing his bomb which scored a direct hit on it. He received a compound fracture of the right ulna with severance of the right ulna nerve and multiple lacerations, lateral aspect of right thigh.
Ammunition Expended: 50 calibre – 2375 rounds
30 calibre – 2200 rounds
Attack Tactics: High speed approach at 13000’ across Blancho Bay down to push over at 8,000’ for attack at masthead level. The formation turned S. and approached Keravia Bay through the depression W. of Vulcan Crater released at mast head level and retired over the water toward Raluana Point. Rally 5 miles E. of Cape Gazelle, route back direct to base. Ships and barges were strafed by both fixed and free guns.
Note – Photos taken after the strike showed one medium and three small AK missing, and it is presumed that they were sunk. The results of the forward firing rockets are the subject of a separate report.
Summary of Results: 5 confirmed direct hits on the 475’ N. Keravia Bay; photographic coverage showed that it has been damaged again and was seeping oil. Damage to shipping in NW Keravia Bay was reported as follows:
1. 2 confirmed direct hits and 1 u/o on a 300’ AK which photograph showed to be missing from harbor subsequently.
2. 1 confirmed direct on 175’ PC. Photograph showed damage and oil slick
3. 1 confirmed direct hit on another 300’ AK.
4. 2 near misses and 1 u/o on 265 AK.
5. 3 confirmed direct hits and 2 u/o on 400’ AO.
In W Keravia Bay, 1 confirmed direct hit on 240’ DD. The stern was observed to be lifted high out of the water by the explosion of the bomb, and a later photograph showed it lying with its stern underwater.
In SW Keravia Bay, 1 near miss on 175’ PC.
In SE Keravia Bay, 1 near miss and 1 u/o on 175’ AK.
Weather: Route up: Squalls and scattered clouds 2000’-9000’
O.T.: Clear, Ceiling 13000’
Route Back: 8/10 clouds with base 1500’ scattered squalls.
Observations: 1. Enemy Shipping:
A. 1 AK (300’) and 2 large SS N. of Vulcan Crater.
B. 20-30 large and small barges near shore S. Keravia Bay.
C. One barge underway in Blanco Channel, thoroughly strafed by several planes.
D. Keravia Bay (See Summary of Results supra).
2.Enemy ground activity: AA, shipping and barrage balloons from 3 vessels N of Vulcan Crater
3. Condition of targets before and after attack: Smoke from damaged AK’s and explosion at stern of DD after hits.
4. Results of coordinated attack: Not observed
5. Unusual circumstances: Many small parachutes observed over Keravia Bay, possibly shot up or released for AA purposes.
A. SW/Vulcan Crater, known heavy (2x4.7 navel guns), moderate, inaccurate.
B. S Matupi Island, known heavy and light, moderate, inaccurate.
C. W of Matupi Crater, known auto, moderate, inaccurate.
D. W of Vulcan Crater, know auto (20MM), intense, inaccurate.
E. W and S shore Keravia Bay, know light auto and M/G, moderate, inaccurate.
F. Cove S of Vulcan Crater, known light auto and M/G, moderate, inaccurate.
G. Lakunni: known light and heavy, intense, accurate.
H. From ships in Keravia Bay, (especially PC and DD), auto and M/G, intense, accurate
I. Shore SW of Lakunai Airfield, known auto, moderate, inaccurate.
J. S of Raluana Point, M/G, intense, accurate.
7. Miscellaneous: 1 F4U was observed to crash in Simpson Harbor W of Matupi Island.
James N. Truesdale, Lt. USNR.
DUTY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Plane No. Pilot Passenger Remarks
101 Brunton Wagner, Kemp Hit on DD
103 Scholfield Ulrich, Dills Hit on AK
104 Giblin Lee, Perkins Hit on AK
105 Draughon Doal, Paul u/o on AO
108 Regan Misner, Brandt Hit on AK
109 Leake Boyle, O’Daniel Effective miss on PC
110 Bishop Schramm, Barnes Hit on PC
102 McDonald Blank, Young Hit on AO
114 Tahler Buis, Brewer Hit on AO
107 Behn Dill, Farber Hit on AK
118 Leary Greslie, Dale Effective miss on AK
119 Gammage Durham, Morrissey Hit on AO
202 Glenn Sticksel, Whitcannank Effective miss on AK
206 Ranson Fisher, Mac Adam Did not strike
207 Philbin Blazie,Williams Hit on AK
209 Turner Lochridge, Farris Did not strike
213 Richardson Wilson, Lane Effective miss on AK
211 Wright Adams, Brunson Did not strike
230 Robertson Dumelle, Ballard Hit on AK
231 Boll Bruzuskowicz, Hickman u/o on AK
232 Lemmons Sutton, Boecher u/o on AK
235 May Hull, McKenna u/o of AK
236 Ball Berryman, Kane u/o of AK
5 Phillips F.G. Drolsbaugh, Hobbs Hit on AO
12 Berdel Enterline,Calvert u/o on AO
8 Takacs Hull, Isam Hit on AO
121 Tulis Crawford, Levino Did not attack
4 Bauder Kearns, DeRouch Did not attack
126 Morris R.D. McGee, Hundrichs Did not attack
Attack of Japanese warships at Simpson Harbor – Rabaul – November 5, 1943 (Source: Public Domain)
COMSOPAC Map of Rabaul Airfields (Source: Daniel Leary)
VC38 aboard the U.S.S. Long Island August 1943
Radioman Richard Wagner Turret Gunner Benjamin Wright
Lt. William R. Larson (Lucky) Lt. Grant Phillippi
Ens. Thomas M. Gammage Lt. Graham Tahler
Commander Charles E. Brunton Lt. Robert B. Giblin Ens. Arthur McDonald Lt. John Leary
Lt. Larry E. Englade Lt. Jack Scholfield Lt. James N. Truesdale
Lt. Robert Regan
VC 38’s Scorecard: 112 aerial missions, 3 night missions, 37 aerial victories with over 30 enemy ships sunk or damaged.
Air Group 38 – Bougainville-New Britain
(June 1943 until April 1944)
3 night missions
37 aerial victories
1 Japanese Destroyer sunk
4 transport/merchantmen ships sunk
17 landing barges sunk
2 damaged fuel oil tanker ships
5 other merchantmen vessels sunk
2 floating dry docks sunk
Lt. L.D. Cooke Lt.(jg) A. B. Thompson
Lt. N.A. Westgard Lt.(jg) C.K. Spaulding
Lt. H. T. Kirk Lt.(jg) L.M. Kelly
Lt. T. M. Purcell Lt.(jg) W.C. Presley+
Lt. W. H. Maness Lt.(jg) R.M. Telfair
Lt(jg) L. H. Englade+ Ens. J.H. Hughens
Lt(jg) A. J. Kostrzwsky Ens W.M. McMahon
Lt(jg) R. W. Moore
Lt(jg) L. B. Cornell
Lt(jg) C. W. Hagans
Lt (jg) W. T. McNeil
Lt(jg) C. A. Gartrell
Lt(jg) W. C. Kelly
Lt(jg) P. Beaumont
F6F Fighter Crew Photograph aboard the USS Long Island, August 1943
From Front, Rows 1 and 2: Ground Crew - unidentified
Row 3 left to right: Theodore S. Condo (died 2003), Larry Henry Englade (KIA Feb 29, 1944 over Attu Island, Alaska), Lt. Cdr. John Howard Anderson, Walter Thomas McNeil (KIA Jan 5, 1945), H.O. Brooks (IO), Oscar Ivan Chenoweth Jr.(Executive Officer).
Row 4 left to right: Robert M. Telfair (died 2001), Alex J. Kostrzewsky, David V. Senft (living), Allen B. Thompson (died 1994), Wilson Calvert Kelly, Wayne C Presley (KIA September 16, 1943).
Row 5 left to right: Clifford Arthur Gartrell (died 1968), Leland Baucom Cornell (living), Paul Beaumont (died 2002), Richard Wesley Moore (died 1978), Charles William Hagans (died 2001) , Walter G. Keil (IO – died 1980).
(Source: Names of VF38 pilots by Mark Sheppard of Oxfordshire, England. Photograph source: W. Wagner)
SBD pilots / gunners
Lt. B. Tappan / gunner D. W. Nunan
Lt. W. E. Woodman / gunner J. S. Landess
Lt(jg) D. Bagley / gunner W. J. Holden
Lt(jg) C. G. Knowles / gunner A. P. Burgett
Lt(jg) J. Nason+/ gunner T. E. Furlong+ (Nason was P.O.W. - survived)
Lt(jg) S. H. Reed / gunner J. Ligman
Lt(jg) T. P. Kelly / gunner D. W. Kent
Lt(jg) J. W. Marshall / gunner G. C. Earnest
Lt(jg) W. Zelenski / gunner C. R. Payne
Lt(jg) R. H. Singleton / gunner C. J. Leman
Lt(jg) S. Onley / gunner A. L. Block
Lt(jg) B. M. Robinson / gunner P. E. Thatcher
Lt(jg) W. C. Hancock / gunner T. W. Smith
Ens W. P. Cawley / gunner E. T. Martin
Ens J. G. Shirley / gunner W. G. Metzger
Ens R. H. Sewell / gunner R. E. Emerson
Ens E. H. Meyer / gunner C. G. Williams
H. M. Stone
J. E. Sorenson
E. B. Smith
J. F. McKenna
TBF pilot / radioman / gunner
Cdr. C. E. Brunton / radioman H. W. Sunday / gunner M. D. Kemper
Lt. W. R. Larson+ / radioman R. C. Wagner / gunner B. W. Wright
Lt(jg) R. A. Marshall / radioman L. L. Lane / gunner D. Tye
Lt(jg) B. C. Bishop / radioman R. E. Schramm / gunner E. C. Barnes
Lt(jg) R. B. Giblin / radioman J. J. Lee / gunner R. L. Perkins
Lt(jg) H. T. Leake+ / radioman V. E. Boyle / gunner R. R. O’Daniel
Lt(jg) R. F. Regan / radioman W. J. Misner / gunner C. E. Brandt
Lt(jg) J. A. Leary / radioman D. R. Greslie / gunner L. E. Dale
Lt(jg) G. A. Phillippi / radioman A E. Bond / gunner W. G. Tyler
Lt(jg) J. P. Scholfield / radioman J. V. Ulrich / gunner F. J. Dills
Lt(jg) G. Tahler / radioman R. P. Buis / gunner E. E. Brewer
Lt(jg) H. Wilson+ / radioman W. M. Haller / gunner L. F. Wilson
Ens R. H. Behn / radioman M. M. Farber / gunner C. F. Dill
Ens T. M. Gammage / radioman R. Durham / gunner H. A. Morrissey
Ens A. McDonald / radioman W. F. Blank / gunner A. Z. Young
Ens A. E. Droughon / radioman J. H. Deal / gunner R. A. Paul
TBF Spares Intelligence
J. D. Jeffreys Lt. H.O. Brooks
S. Barcala+ Lt.(jg) W.G. Keil
W. E. Dunton+ Lt. J.N. Truesdale
T. E. Fotusky Ens. LeRoy Perkins
T. W. Fairchild
W. L Rice
Lt. B. B. Rodger – Flight Surgeon
Ens A Robins
Lt M.C. J.T. Pitkins
R. W. Bird R.L. Christy
R. J. Sampson J.J. Curless
L. E. Jacobson F. A. Gilman
R. B. Martin C. R. Hart
G. W. Newman T. A. Helms
J. D. Spahr H. L. Holm
D. E. Sheiman W. Holt
W. W. Schwartz C. A. Huff
W. D. Gannon P. A. Pesano
J. V. McCarthy J. S. Porter
A. O. Alexander R. B. Scanlan
R. E. Tuck C. R. Stephens
A. Buganich W. V. Whitehouse
E. H. Dawe C. C. Wilcox
C. A. Lay F. N. Wojinski
J. W. Mitchell A. R. Booth
D. D. Nicholson
J. P. Haggerty
B. A. Schmid
J. W. Adams
J. S. Yeglic
R. E. Cipher
A. L. Gifford
(+) Indicates missing or killed
Source: http://forum.12oclockhigh.net/showthread.php?t=20083, corrections by author.
A total of nine men of Air Group 38 are listed on their Scorecard as missing or killed. Their stories include the following:
Lt. Wayne C. Presley (VF-38)
On September 16, 1943, Presley took off from Munda Airfield in his F6F-3 Hellcat fighter, as part of the escort for 24 TBFs and 31 SBDs attacking Ballale Island. The escort consisted of 13 Hellcats from VF-38 and 11 Hellcats from VF-40, in addition to other F6F, F4U, P-40, & P-38’s making up a total of 71 escorting fighters. Over the target, 40-50 intercepting Zeros and Tonys were met, and heavy anti-aircraft cover was encountered over the target. Presley and his Hellcat (Bureau Number 25940) was observed to crash in the sea and is listed as MIA. Lt. Presley was declared dead on January 9, 1946. Lt. Presley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Gold Star, and Purple Heart (posthumously).
Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Today I went on my first strike against the Japs. It was the Island of Ballale just a few miles from Bougainville. Ballale is a small island with a bomb strip covering almost the entire island. There was lots of heavy AA and zeros. One Zero started a move on us but a P39 shot him down before he got a good start. During the three day attack on Ballale we lost two TBFs and three F6Fs. Two of the fighter pilots were picked up but the others were not. We shot down 50 zeros. – September 15, 1943 entry
Lt. Joseph G. Nason & gunner Thomas E. Furlong (VC-38 SBD plane)
On October 23, 1943, pilot Joseph Nason and gunner Thomas Furlong, Jr., took off from Munda Airfield on a diving bomb mission to Bougainville. While dive bombing an anti-aircraft position near Keita Airfield, the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and caught fire. Nason bailed out virtually over Keita Airfield. His gunner Furlong was not seen to escape the stricken SBD aircraft and was presumed to have been killed when it crashed.
Lt Nason was captured by the Japanese and became a POW. Nason survived the war and was one of only a handful of POWs that were liberated by Australians when Japan surrendered in September 1945. Nason passed away on October 12, 2012. He wrote a book about his history as a POW, Horio You Next Die! by Joseph Nason. The story of Joe Nason is available for view at
Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Strike Kahili – one SBD shot down. Nason & Furlong – parachute both dead. – October 1943 note entry in Aviator’s Flight Log Book.
VC 38 John Leary’s Map of Kahili Airfield
(Source: Daniel Leary)
Lt. Harry W. Wilson (TBF pilot VC-38)
Lt. Harry Wilson (right) and Lt. John Leary (left) - assumed to be Munda or Guadalcanal Airfield (Source: Daniel Leary)
On October 28, 1943, Lt. Wilson crashed on take off at 0619 and was killed. Minor injuries were sustained by W.M. Haller (Radioman) and L.E. Wilson (Turret Man). The Bureau Number for Wilson’s TBF plane was 06118. 19 TBFs were on a bombing and strafing mission of Kara Airfield and anti-aircraft positions on that day. He was posthumously awarded the Air Medal.
Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Attack Kara on Bougainville. It was a bad day from the start. Lt. Wilson was killed on the takeoff. Jeffrey got hit in the back by a 20mm. Very little heavy AA but a lot of small stuff. – October 28, 1943 entry.
“Dear John [Lt. John A Leary], Your letter dated November 22, and post marked November 23, just received by us this morning and we are wondering where it has been all this time. I hasten to let you know how much the Wilson family appreciate hearing from you. I can tell that it is from the heart and that you are sharing in our sorrow.
We received the “wings” some time ago and thank you very much for sending them. Last week we received Son’s watch (we always called him Son and all of the school children and every one here called him that) it was sent via Washington and I am wearing it. I value it very highly and Mrs. Wilson is wearing the wings. …
Son’s death was an awful hard blow to us for he meant so much to us. We were so proud of him, because he had always been such a fine boy and liked by every one. It is hard for us to understand just why he had to go now, but if it was God’s will it was for the best for we had had him for 25 happy years and God saw fit to call him into a better and happier world.
Several of the boys have written us and the Commanding Officer has written us about three times which is much appreciated. The have told us that the two boys that were with him were saved, as you did. None have told us how they were saved. Did they jump and Son stayed with his plane? Would appreciate it very much if you could tell us just what happened to his gunner and radioman, how they were saved. … This is a rugged and bloody war and it is our hope and prayer that it will soon be over and that all of you boys will return safely. … Sincerely, Harry B. Wilson.” January 15 1944 – father Harry Wilson - Irvine, Kentucky (Source: Daniel Leary)
VC 38 John Leary’s Map of Kara Airfield (Source: Daniel Leary)
Lt. William R. Larson (VC-38)
On December 27, 1943, Lt. Larson was reported missing following the crash of a transport plane (R4D-5 airplane, Bureau #12432) coming from Tontouta, New Caledonia, enroute to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. The plane wreckage was spotted a few miles south of Ouvea Island in the Loyalty Group, northwest of New Caledonia (now Vanuatu). William was returning to the combat zone following rehabilitation leave at Sydney, Australia. William, along with six pilots and twelve gunners of another squandron (Bombing Squadron 98 – VB 98), died in this crash of the transport plane. No bodies were recovered.
Lt. Larson piloted 22 TBF combat missions with VC 38 over the Solomon Islands area, and recorded 1,860 total flight hours with the USNR. William was the senior operations officer in VC 38. Lt. Larson grew up on the family farm in Sioux Trail Township, Divide County, North Dakota, and was 28 years old. He was posthumously awarded the Air Medal.
Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Mr. Larson was killed returning from Sydney. The DC he was in crashed after leaving New Caledonia – December 27, 1943 entry.
Lt. Herbert T. Leake (VC-38), S. Barcala (VC-38), & W.E. Dunton (VC-38)
Lt. H.T. Leake (Source: Daniel Phillippi)
On February 20, 1944, Lt. Leake, S. Barcala, and W.E. Dunton are missing in action as result of crash of plane #103 during a bomb and strafe mission on bridges and AA installations at the Monottu Mission area. Plane #103 was loaded with 1x2000# 1/10 second delay bomb and was seen to make steep dive from 3000-feet and to pull out (after release) at approximately 500-feet. Just after the plane levelled off with approximate speed of 200k one half of the starboard wing came off, probably as a result of the bomb blast, and the plane flipped over on its back and crashed in the jungle in the Monottu Mission area. He was posthumously awarded the Air Medal.
Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Attack ground positions just a few miles south of our camp. Our target was a bridge so the Japs couldn’t move heavy art [artillery] up this way. We missed the bridge. Leake went in just as he was pulling out of his glide. Dunton was gunner, and Barcalla Radioman. – February 20, 1944 entry
Lt. Larry Henry Englade (VF-38 F6F Hellcat Pilot)
Lt. Englade, USNR Service Number 117107, was lost February 29, 1944. As a fighter plane pilot during the occupation of Attu Island, he repeately executed strafing and glide bombing missions at extremely low altitudes while being subjected to heavy antiaircraft fire. Lt. Englade was awarded the Air Medal.
Prior to missing in action, Lt. Englade survived ditching his Hellcat fighter in the ocean on November 3, 1943. Pour weather prevailed all day that day with the regularly scheduled patrols to Bougainville. Lt. L.H. Englade of VF38, got lost over Treasury Island was still missing at the end of the day, last having been heard from when he radioed that he was out of gasoline and was preparing to make a water landing at 1800. On November 6, 1943, Lt. Englade was picked up by natives on Ugi Island after making a forced water landing, and was subsequently rescued by Lt. Carten of VS68, and returned to USNB Segi (Segi Airfield, New Georgia Island).
Radio Range of Espiritu Santo - October 1943 (Source: Daniel Leary)
TBF over ocean (Source: W. Wagner)
VC 38 Cartoon by Gunner C.E. Brandt
Source: W. Wagner
VC 38 at Luganville Airfield, Espiritu Santo Island – January 19, 1944
(Source: W. Wagner)
Close-Up view of VC 38 at Luganville Airfield, Espiritu Santo Island – January 19, 1944
Front Row left to right: Robert M. Telfair, John P. Scholfield, Paul Beaumont, Larry H. Englade, Dr. John T. Pitkin, Arthur McDonald, Steven H. Reed, James N. Truesdale, Herbert T. Leake
Row 2 L to R: Graham Tahler, Bud Kelley, Homer O Brooks, Clifford K. Spaulding, A.E. Droughon, Leland B. Cornell, Charles W. Hagans, Raymond A. Marshall, John A. Leary, Ben B. Roger
Row 3 L to R: Thomas M. Gammage, David Bagley, Carl G. Knowles, Bruce C. Bishop, William E. Woodman, William P. Cawley
Row 4 Standing L to R: Alex J. Kostrzwsky, Walter G. Keil, Al Barbee, Lt. Cdr. Charles E. Brunton, Walter T. McNeil, Richard H. Sewell, Walter C. Hancock, Wilfred Zelenski, Elwood H. Meyer
Row 5 Standing L to R: Ben Tappan, John G. Shirley, L.D. Cooke, Richard W. Moore, Robert F. Regan, Joseph W. Marshall, Thomas P. Kelly, Grant A. Phillippi, Leroy Perkins, Robert B. Giblin, Sheldon Onley
(Source: Names of VC 38 pilots on back of photograph by Lt. John A. Leary. Photograph source: W. Wagner)
VC 38 Lt. John Leary’s List of Officers’ Home Addresses (Source: Daniel Leary)
The story of Lt. Joseph Nason and Thomas Furlong
SBD-3 Dauntless Bureau Number 06524
On October 23, 1943, Pilot Lt (jg) Joseph G. Nason and gunner Thomas E. Furlong, Jr. took off from Munda Airfield, on a dive bombing mission to Bougainville. Nason and Furlong were on their first combat mission. The pair trained together as a crew. While dive bombing an anti-aircraft position near Keita Airfield, the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and caught fire. Nason bailed out virtually over Keita Airfield. His gunner Furlong was not seen to escape the stricken aircraft and was presumed to have been killed when it crashed.
Nason landed unhurt and managed to evade capture for a week. Captured, he was transported about a boat along the eastern coast of Bougainville to Buka. He was then taken aboard a Japanese destroyer to Rabaul. Nason was detained by the Japanese Army Kempei-tai (military police) in Rabaul, and later at Tunnel Hill POW camp. During his captivity, Nason was subject to harsh treatment and neglect. He was even used by the Japanese in a malaria medical experiment. Although sick, suffering from malnutrition and beriberi, Nason survived the war. He was one of only a handful of POWs that were liberated by Australians when Japan surrendered in September 1945.
Furlong was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized on tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery
Nason passed away at UMass Memorial Healthcare University Hospital, Worcester on October 12, 2012. He wrote a book about is history as a POW,
The Story of Lt. John A Leary
Source: Daniel Leary
Judge John A. Leary was born on May 4th, 1919, the second of four children born to John and Adelia Leary. He graduated from St. Mary’s Grammar School in 1932 and Hudson Falls High School in 1936. A graduate of Syracuse University with a BS degree, he went on to receive his LLB and JD from the Syracuse University College of Law. He began practicing law with the firm of Hart, Senior and Nichols of Utica, New York and subsequently returned to Hudson Falls where he practiced law for many years in an office over the present Evergreen Bank on Main Street.
From 1941 through 1945, Judge Leary was a carrier pilot in the United States Naval Air Force. During his tenure in the service, he was a two-time recipient of the Navy Cross and has shared his World War II experiences on a number of occasions with the students of Hudson Falls High School. From 1947 through 1949 he was a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. John married his wife, Maud, on September 13th, 1942.
Wedding Picture of John and Maud Leary - Sept 13 1943 (Source: Daniel Leary)
Judge Leary has served the community as a Justice of the Peace and as a member of the Kingsbury Town Board and he has been the recipient of the Liberty Bell award. During his career, he has also served as county attorney, district attorney and the administrator of the Assigned Counsel Plan. He has served as a judge in Washington County Court, Surrogate Court, Family Court and State Supreme Court as assigned. Judge Leary retired in December of 1989.
Judge Leary expressed tremendous pride in his Hudson Falls roots. The community was fortunate indeed to have another of its native sons return to the community that fostered his ideals. His interest in flying, originating during World War II, remained a constant - occasionally he could be seen taking off from Warren County Airport. He had three sons, two of whom are members of the area medical community and one who is an accomplished artist.
Judge Leary passed away on October 8, 2003.
John Leary- Torpedo Bomber Pilot
Midway was the turning point of the war. We had been at the [Battle of the] Coral Sea where we lost the USS Lexington. The USS Yorktown was badly damaged [at Coral Sea], but in any event the Japanese did not continue to invade New Guinea or Australia. Days later, after Coral Sea, when we arrived at Pearl Harbor we thought we were going home because the Yorktown was so badly damaged. But Admiral Nimitz had other ideas and he outranked most of us. They put on civilian workers to repair the damage and when the Yorktown sailed 72 hours later it still had quite a few civilian workers still aboard, repairing. They never mentioned their losses [of civilian workers] in the war.
Yorktown was hit again at Midway and they did abandon ship. But she stayed afloat and looked like she could make it, so about 200 men went back on board and unfortunately they were still on it when it was taken down by a submarine. But the battle was won principally, I think from our intelligence, because we outmaneuvered and outsmarted the Japanese.
From the island, the Marines were flying dive-bombers, which were outdated-the cockpit was made out of canvas, so they were a bit out of date. They had no diving flaps and they would dive beautifully, but there was no guarantee they would come back up.
There were only six Dive Bomb Fighter (DBF) torpedo planes involved, they were based on the island, only one returned and on that one, both crewmen were dead. These were the only DBFs they had; they had only torpedo planes, DBDs . There top speed was ...one hundred mph if they were doing well. They were no match for the Japanese. They launched fifty and had three come back. The carriers all together, that is all they had at the end of the day. George Gay was the only one (to survive) he had a ringside seat to the whole battle. He was in a life raft, so he was hanging on to them. George was the only survivor. He was a pilot and everyone else had been killed, everybody.
The Marines also had Brewster fighters, "Brewster Buffalos," they called them, I think they had 27. They lost all of those. They were just no comparison with the Japanese Zero. But with the help of God, the battle was won by the American carrier pilots, and we on Yorktown went over landed on USS Enterprise, some on USS Hornet. So we were holding our own. Later on we ended up at Guadalcanal, not too long after the Marines landed. They got into some open field and with one very short leave we went from Guadalcanal, I'm sure these gentlemen would know (points at Marines in room). The 1st Marines were at Guadalcanal and the 4th were at the north end on Bougainville and we ended up on Bougainville so we covered the Solomon Islands, all of them. And that cut the Japanese off because it destroyed their largest base at Rabaul Harbor, on New Britain. Rabaul had five Japanese airfields, a great harbor and we could hit it from Bougainville, and we did.
The correspondent that wrote this article - he was correspondent with the Chicago Tribune - two things about him: number one, he “demoted” me from Lieutenant Commander to Lieutenant Junior Grade, and then he wrote the article in a spirit of a party - he just wanted to have a good time .
Ex-athletes team up to sink twelve ships
Lt. John Leary and a TBF plane - assumed to be Otay Mesa, CA - July 16, 1943 (Source: Daniel Leary)
Lieutenant Commander John Leary, Hudson Falls, was one of a group of former college athletes whose teamwork helped to knock out twelve Japanese ships in last Thursday's attack at Rabaul Harbor, the Navy disclosed today. The official account issued at a South Pacific airbase said that Leary, a coxswain of the 1941 Syracuse University crew, dropped a 2000 pound bomb with great accuracy on a Japanese cargo ship. He made the run over the ship at mast head height, braving heavy anti-aircraft fire from the vessel. In the same attack Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Robert F. Regan, 1941 catcher for the Harvard baseball team, demolished a Japanese vessel with a torpedo bomb and Lieutenant Junior Grade Bruce Bishop, star University of Tennessee quarterback, blew up an enemy patrol.
I took more fellas in with me than I brought home that day, unfortunately. It was 1944 because that’s when they went in, on November 1st... [I was] about 23 or 24. It was the principal Japanese airbase. They had five Japanese airfields defending it. They had about 200 to 250 Japanese fighters there, which could have been interesting.
Hudson Falls man is aboard plane bombing Japanese cargo ship.
A short time ago, Mr. John Leary flew through a curtain of anti-aircraft machine gun fire to drop a 2,000-pound bomb on a Japanese cargo ship at Rabaul Harbor. Lieutenant Commander Leary, 24, of Wright Street, this village, a U.S. Navy torpedo bomber pilot and section leader in a hard-hitting squadron, flew in at masthead level to skip bomb the enemy ship.
Those ships were reported by one of our submarines and they [the sub crew] couldn’t do anything about it, because they had just finished up a patrol and were out of torpedoes. They [sub crew] followed these people with their naval escort into Rabaul harbor. They [sub crew] passed the word back to Pearl and they [radio control at Pearl] in turn got in contact with what they call “Com-air South”, or “Command of the Air South.” We were then called because we were the oldest outfit there [Bougainville]. We were briefed, then set out somewhere around midnight, we hit them around dawn. .. I was probably about 55 or 70 feet above the ship. We lost quite a few people, but the friends that I particularly had were in the troop transports.
We went up towards the Coral Sea on the U.S.S. Saratoga and two small carriers. One of the admirals came aboard, and he always wore a red cap. Well our carrier had duty that day, anti-sub duty. The Big DBF’s that had four large depth charges and all the sonar buoys and all that. The sea on that day was as smooth as a tabletop, and they made only 17 knots on a good day. So the captain of our ship, the air officer and the air group commander, recommended “catapulting” off the ship. Just that, put on a catapult and shot off the ship. But the admiral said ‘suppose the catapults are damaged?’. Still, he would have liked to see how they would work; well, none of us really wanted to do it. The first three planes went off, and they went down into the water and blew up, they never made it. The charges weren’t set properly. A good friend of mine flew the last one off the ship, a man named Giblin. He was older than most of us and was a professor at the university of Minnesota. Well, Bob (Giblin) made it, he sunk below the bow, but eventually pulled up. He went on his patrol and when he got back, Giblin was called to the deck, the captain’s deck and the admiral was going to question him. Now this was a three star admiral talking to a young lieutenant! Giblin didn’t blink an eye, he (the admiral) asked him "what did you do that the others failed to do"? Giblin looked at the admiral and said, “I think that when they tried to climb, they pulled back on the stick.” (That’s the only way I ever heard of trying to climb was to pull back on the stick.) Giblin said, with a touch of sarcasm, “I just took the stick and held it off the water.” Normally he would have been shot right there, but the admiral didn’t say a damn word to him because he was in a bad bind. Giblin had the nerve to tell him he “held it off the water”. So our people were thrilled with him.
The Marines and Navy pilots all went to the same flight school, although some had selected the Corps and some the Navy. But they all went through the same training. Joe Foss (leading ace of WWII, Joe Foss, the Marine pilot) and I, and Marion Carl, were in the same flight class. We’ve been friends over the years and Marion Carl ... was in charge of all investigations for the Marines until he retired, and he was murdered about a year ago. Someone broke into his house trying to rob them and attacked his wife, and he (Joe) tried to defend his wife, and he was killed. [I knew Joe Foss very well]...Joe sent me a story he wrote, an autobiography. He sent me a copy and I could hardly make out his signature. I called him and as it turned out that he had been in a little accident before that and had broken an arm and he was still trying to write with a broken arm. So Joe had let me know he had broken his arm. Joe was part Sioux - he was first president of the AFL, then governor of South Dakota.
When I came back finally, I had a couple of special projects. I was chief gunnery pilot for the Banshee, one of the first jets. One morning I went up for a test fire and a 20 millimeter shell exploded in the nose. The engines were in the back and when I pulled the trigger one of the 20’s jumped the gun, it wasn’t set right and blew the nose up. It was hard to tell who was screaming loudest, myself, or the Banshee! But it got down and landed all right. And they were very kind to me, the next morning they had a ceremony, I still have the medal. It’s bigger than this, but it has more things on it I can’t repeat here, but one of them was “ENEMY PLANES DESTROYED: NONE, OURS: ONE”.
When I got out, I had a year in law school and I finished that up. Then being an Irish Catholic of my generation, you only had three options, to be a priest, a farmer, or a cop. So I went into the FBI.
Lt. John Leary - assumed to be Otay Mesa -July 16, 1943 (Source: Daniel Leary)
I was banged up a bit but always made it back. I had two young fellas that were with me and I lost them both. My gunner was 18 years old, no 17, because it was his birthday the day he died. So, obviously he lied about his age to get in, and had a couple of bad days. There was a young man from around here, Randy Holmes, he hounded his parents to let him enlist because he was only 17. He went through apprentice seamen training, then he was ordered to the USS Oklahoma and he was in 2 weeks before Pearl Harbor. He was in it a couple days when it was bombed by the Japanese and capsized. [Editor's note: Randy Jones was on the USS Oklahoma on December 7, 1941, and had only been in Pearl Harbor 2 weeks prior to that. Randy Holmes was from Hudson Falls N.Y.]
Interviewer (Matthew Rozell): He didn’t have much of a chance, did he?
John Leary: No, no- he didn’t.
Judge John Leary passed away on October 8, 2003.
Interview originally recorded on 5/11/01
The Story of Lt. Graham “Ham” Tahler
Lieutenant Graham Tahler, son of Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Tahler of Forest Hills, Long Island, was born on March 2nd, 1921. He attended the public schools of New York City, and studied at Queens College for 3 ½ years when he left to join the U.S. Navy. At Queens College he was captain of the baseball team, and a member of Alpha Lambda Kappa fraternity.
He received his wings in September of 1942 at Miami, Florida and reported to the West Coast. He was married on June 6, 1943 to Joan Margaret Wolf of Jamaica, New York, culminating a college romance. Best man at the wedding was Lt. John Leary of VC 38.
Lt. Tahler was a TBF pilot of Air Group 38. On his first tour of duty in the Pacific he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the Solomon Islands and Rabaul campaigns.
He participated in combat missions at Okinawa and over Japan, and he led a major air strike on Tokyo from the aircraft carrier Shangrila. He flew more than 140 aircraft carrier takeoffs.
After the war, he remained in the Navy and returned to college. He graduated from Columbia University. Other assignments included duty with the Navy's bureaus of personnel and operations, command of a Naval air training unit in Memphis and service on the staff of the chief of Naval air training, deputy to the president of the Naval War College and assistant chief for Naval reserve in the Bureau of Personnel.
He retired in 1974 after having served as commander of the 6th Naval district in Charleston, S.C. On his Navy retirement, Admiral Tahler moved to Pensacola, Florida. He returned to this area around 1980; at his death, he was living in Falls Church. He did volunteer deliveries for Meals on Wheels.
Graham Tahler, 77, died of leukemia October 31, 1998 at Bethesda Naval Medical Command.
His first wife, Joan Wolf Tahler, died in 1990.
Following is the citation with which the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to Lieutenant (junior grade) Graham Tahler, USNR:
“In the name of the President of the United States, the Commander South Pacific Area and South Pacfic Force takes pleasure in awarding the Distiguished Flying Cross:
“For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as pilot attached to a torpedo bombing squadron operating in the Solomon Islands area during the period from September 13, 1943 to March 5, 1944. In three tours of duy, Lieutenant TAHLER took part in forty-one strikes and special missions against heavily defended airfields and ground installations in this area. On most of these missions, he was subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighter plane opposition. On February 17, in a bombing attack against enemy shipping in Rabaul Harbor, he obtained a direct hit on an enemy transport. His outstanding skill and courageous devotion to duty contributed materially to the severe damage inflicted on the enemy and to the neutralization of Japanese airfields throughout the area. His conduct throughout was in keeping with the hightest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” – W.F. HALSEY, Admiral, U.S. Navy (Temporary Citation)
WWII Picture Collage of Lt. Tahler – assembled by wife Joan (Source: granddaughter Tamara Ashley)
The Story of Lt. Robert B. Giblin
Lt. Robert Giblin in a TBF - Luganville Airfield, Espiritu Santo January 19 1944 (Source: Daniel Leary)
Lieutenant Robert B. Giblin, son of Mr. and Mrs. P.H. Giblin of St. Paul, Minnesota was born November 13th, 1917. He attended St. Mark’s Parochial School, Maria Sanford Junior High and Central High School and graduated from the college of St. Thomas in June 1940, cum laude. All schools attended were in St. Paul. In high school and college, Lt. Giblin competed in tennis and played one year of hockey in college. He was Minnesota college doubles champion in tennis in 1938 and 1939. After graduation from college, he taught and coached in the public school at Falfurrias, Texas.
Robert enlisted in the Navy in August 1940 as apprentice seaman, V-7. On June 16, 1941 he was called to active duty to attend Naval Reserve Midshipman School at Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois from which school he graduated and commissioned Ensign September 12, 1941. He earned his wings at NAS Miami, Florida on July 8, 1942.
Lt. Giblin took advanced operational training with Advanced Carrier Training Group, NAS Norfolk, Virginia. He then joined VGS-21 on the west coast. This squadron successively was designated VC-21 and then VC-38. With VC-38 he made a tour of duty in the Solomon Islands off land bases at Guadalcanal, Munda, and Empress August Bay, Bougainville. He flew 25 attacks and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (D.F.C.) after returning to the USA. Robert also served in Korea and Vietnam.
On December 27, 1944, he married Lt. (jg) Viola Turck of the Waves, a St. Paul girl. Robert passed away on July 2nd, 1984.
Following is the citation with which the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to Lieutenant (junior grade) Robert B. Giblin, USNR:
“In the name of the President of the United States, the Commander South Pacific Area and South Pacfic Force takes pleasure in awarding the Distiguished Flying Cross:
“For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as pilot attached to a torpedo bombing squadron operating in the Solomon Islands area during the period from September 13, 1943 to March 5, 1944. In three tours of duy, Lieutenant GIBLIN took part in thirty-five strikes and special missions against heavily defended airfields and ground installations in this area. On most of these missions, he was subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighter plane opposition. On February 17, in a bombing attack against enemy shipping in Rabaul Harbor, he obtained a direct hit on an enemy transport. His outstanding skill and courageous devotion to duty contributed materially to the severe damage inflicted on the enemy and to the neutralization of Japanese airfields throughout the area. His conduct throughout was in keeping with the hightest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” – W.F. HALSEY, Admiral, U.S. Navy
Four Men Decorated at Air Station
Arlington Times – June 26, 1944
Three officers and an aircrewman received decorations for service in the combat zone at the Arlington Naval Auxilary Air Station on Monday, June 26th, when Rear Admiral Ralph Wood, USNR Commander Fleet Air, Seattle, presented the awards for Admiral W.F. Halsey.
The Distiguished Flying Cross was received by Robert H. Behn, of Floral Park, New York; Arthur McDonald, Jr., of Emmetsburg, Iowa, and Robert F. Regan, of Cambridge, Massachussetts, all naval aviators and Lieutenants, junior grade, USNR Richard C. Wagner, an Aviation Radioman first class, of Watertown, South Dakota, received the Purple Heart for wounds in combat. All four are members of the Fleet Air Detachment at the Station.
Following is the citation with which the Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded:
“In the name of the President of the United States, the Commander South Pacific Area and South Pacfic Force takes pleasure in awarding the Distiguished Flying Cross for services as set forth in the following citation:
“For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as pilot attached to a torpedo bombing squadron operating in the Solomon Islands area during the period from September 13, 1943, to March 5, 1944. In three tours of duty, Ensign Behn took part in twenty-one strikes and special missions against heavily defended airfields and ground installations in this area. On most of these missions, he was subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and enemy figher plane opposition. On February 17, in a bombing attack against enemy shipping in Rabaul Harbor, he secured a direct hit on an enemy transport. His outstanding skill and courageous devotion to duty contributed to the severe damage inflicted on the enemy and to the neutralization of Japanese airfields throughout the area. His conduct throughout was in the highest traditions of the United States Naval Reserve.” – W.F. HALSEY, Admiral, U.S. Navy.
All three citations were exactly the same, except for the number of strikes, or missions involved. Lieutenant Regan flew on 32, McDonald on 29, and Behn on 21. Admiral Wood congradulated the aviators, and wished them all another chance at the Japs. They are all in further training for return to the combat zone in the near future.
Story of Radioman Richard C. Wagner and his War Diary
Richard (Wag) Clayton Wagner was Lucky’s radioman and was born in Watertown, South Dakota on May 25, 1918. On June 26, 1944, he was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds in combat. Richard served until December 8, 1945. Wag settled in San Diego where he met his wife, graduated from college, and started a photography business. He is buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the various U.S. Navy bases in San Diego Bay. His son, Walt, lives in Carlsbad, CA, and has been a great source of information on his father and the VC 38 Squadron for this book. His father’s war photographs include two pictures of William Larson from Hanks, North Dakota. Wag passed away on September 24, 1982. (Photo Source: Walt Wagner)
War Diary of Richard Wagner
Service: US Navy
Enlisted: December 8, 1941
Discharged: December 8, 1945
1/6/42-1/18/42 Reported to Omaha for physical, stayed two weeks
1/19/42-3/2/42 Arrived at NTS Great Lakes for four weeks of boot training, shots every Friday (sick) 100% on Radio Test, ordered to Seattle for 16 weeks of radio school.
3/17/42-7/1/42 Radio School, NAS Seattle
7/2/42-9/15/42 Assigned to VGS-21 Squadron, Seattle 9/16/42-1/2/43 GS-21 to Alameda, CA to train (ARM 3c)
12/42 Log Book Entries Start with VGS-21, Three familiarizations flights
1/2/43-3/15/43 VT-38, Alameda
1/43 Three familiarization flights with three different pilots all later killed
2/43 First squadron to receive new TBF’s, Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP)
3/16/43-5/20/43 VT-38, NAAS Brown Field, San Diego
3-7/43 Moved to Otay Mesa, Carrier ops on USS Pareton (?), landing accident
5/20/43-6/28/43 VT-38, NAS El Centro
6/28/43-8/1/43 VT-38, NAAS Brown Field
7/2/43 Assigned to Pilot, Larson, from North Dakota, later killed returning from Sydney
8/1/43-8/27/43 VT-38, USS Long Island
8/1/43 Left San Diego for South Pacific with VC-38 and VC-40 at about 4 pm aboard the USS Long Island, stopped in Hawaii for two days (8/8-10), crossed the equator (8/14).
8/17/43 Arrived in Pago Pago –Samoa at noon and I was on the beach by two. Johnson and I walked all over and bought some beads.
8/25/43 Today we arrived at our destination. Last night we had a raid. I saw my first search lights playing in the sky looking for the enemy.
8/27/43-10/17/43 Bomber #1, Espirito Santo (Buttons)
9/13/43 Ferry planes to Guadalcanal (Cactus)
9/15/43 Today I went on my first strike against the Japs. It was the Island of Ballale a few miles from Bougainville. Ballale is a small island with a bomber strip covering almost the entire island. There were lots of heavy AA and zeros. One zero started a run on us but a P39 shot him down before he got a good start. During the three day attack on Ballale we lost two TBFs and three F6Fs. Two of the fighter pilots were picked up but the other was not. We shot down 50 zeros.
9/17/43 Return to Santos and for a month operated off the USS Breton.
10/17/43-1/23/43 VT-38, Munda Point, New Georgia
10/17/43 Left Santos for Munda on the Island of New Georgia. We were the first TBF squadron to be based at Munda (Shag)
10/26/43 Attack Kahili on the Island of Bougainville. We encountered a great deal of heavy A.A. and also light A.A. I saw two Japanese bombers on the ground. Everyone returned ok.
10/28/1943 Attack Kara on Bougainville. It was a bad day from the start. Lt. Wilson was killed on the takeoff. Jeffrey got hit in the back by a 20mm. Very little heavy AA but a lot of small stuff.
10/30/43 Attack Kara on Bougainville. About the same as the last attack. Not much heavy A.A. but a lot of 20 & 40 mm. Everyone returned ok.
10/31/43 Attack Kara on Bougainville. The heavy AA is about all gone and the small guns aren’t firing as much as before. The B24s went in just about 30 secs before we did and it was a very good job. We dropped our usual 2000 lb bomb. I haven’t seen a Zero since. Tomorrow there will be a landing on Bougainville by the Marine Raiders It is to take place in the Empress Augusta Bay area.
11/1/43 The Bougainville landing was quite successful. Just before the actual landing the ships shelled the beach quite heavily. The landing was met with some opposition but not too much. Our planes were covering the landing and spotting enemy guns for the ground unit.
11/2/43 Last night the Japs sent eight cans [destroyers] and four cruisers to get the landing party at Empress Augusta Bay. Our cruisers intercepted them and hit them quite hard. We were called out early loaded with torpedoes and tried to catch the ships before they reached Rabaul. We followed the oil slick left by the damaged Japanese ships all the way to Rabaul but we didn’t contact them before we were about out of gas and Rabaul was too hot at that time.
11/10/43 Attack Buka Airdrome on the Island of Buka. A great deal of heavy and light AA was encountered. The Marines lost two SBDs. Our attack was very successful due to the fact that it was quite a surprise to them. We dropped our 2000 lb on the runway and I saw two ammunition dumps blow up.
11/14/43 Attack Japanese ground troops in the Empress Augusta Bay Region. Our ground troops had too much to handle so we dropped one hundred lbs bombs on their direction. We killed about 300 Japs and those who were still alive were stunned so that our troops just stuck them with a knife.
11/20/43 Bombed Japanese troops on Bougainville. We flew very low and I got a good look at some of the encampments.
11/22/43 Attack Kahili Airdrome on Bougainville. A small amount of AA and light gunfire was encountered. The strip was full of holes and quite out of commission. Enemy air opposition here is all over.
11/24/43 Attack Tarlena. It looked like the Japs were going to build another strip near Buka so we nipped it in the bud. Quite a bit of heavy AA and small fire.
12/1/43 Attack Kara on Bougainville. Very little AA fire – Strip is out of commission.
12/11/43 Attack Jakohina it is a Japanese supply base near Kahili. We made a good hit on a house. Some small fire but no heavy A.A.
12/12/43 Attack Kieta Airdrome on the east side of Bougainville. No heavy AA but some small guns were firing.
12/13/43 Attach Chabai ground and coastal guns. We made a direct hit on a big coastal gun with a 2000 lb bomb.
12/15/43 Left Munda for our rehabilitation leave in Sydney Australia
12/27/43 Mr. Larson was killed returning from Sydney. The DC he was in crashed after leaving New Caledonia
1/7/44 I started flying with Comm. C.E. Burton our skipper.
1/23/44-3/20/44 VT-38, Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville
1/23/44 Left Santos for Piva Airdrome on the Island of Bougainville, Empress Augusta Bay.
1/27/44 Attack Tabera Airdrome on the Island of New Britain near Rabaul. We encountered a lot of AA and about 60 Zeros. I was hit by a 40 mm in the face and leg. Kemper, the gunner, came down out of the turret to give me first aid. I looked out and saw a zero making a run on us, so Kemper got back up and took a shot at him. I was plenty worried for a while because I was bleeding so much. Kemp came back down, and after I quit bleeding I laid down in the middle comp. The skipper made good time coming back from Rabaul. The meat wagon met us as soon as we landed, taking me to the hosp. The doctors took three pieces of shrapnel out of my eye. I still have a few pieces in me but feel ok. (27 zeros)
VC 38 John Leary’s Map of Tobera Airfield (Source: Daniel Leary)
2/5/44 Attack Lakauni Airdrome near Rabaul. AA was quite heavy, also small guns were firing at us. There were a few zeros in the vicinity, but none took a pass at us. This was my first raid since I was hit and I was sweating it out plenty. I saw a P40 and a F4U spin in, also saw a few zeros go in. One TBF didn’t come back.
2/10/44 Attack Lakuni (night). After returning from the toughest strike I have ever made, I can say it is great to be alive. Last night six TBF’s hit three strips at Rabaul. We were over the target about 15 minutes before dawn, and I believe we surprised them. However surprised they were in just about 30 secs after we started our glide they had their lights on us and we never once lost them. They fired every gun near the strip at us but failed to get any hits. We were under fire for about three minutes and it was heavy and light both concentrating on just two planes. There was at least one zero, but we didn’t get a shot at him, nor he at us, however, he did drop a phosphorus bomb on us.
2/11/44 Spare for Tobera strike. We were spare and turned back before we got to the target. Our planes met approximately 25 zeros. Lost one F4U.
2/14/44 Attack Tobera Airdrome. Heavy AA was more accurate today, although it wasn’t as heavy as before. Our plane had two very near misses, but no holes. We dropped 6-100’s and 6-250’s in the revetments making very good hits. We started three fires that were visible for almost a hundred miles. Last night the Marines lost six TBF’s and on the way back we were searching for some of the crews, but no luck. I saw a few zeros but none of them got through the fighter defense.
2/17/44 Shipping strike – Keravia Bay. Today was another bad day. The skipper was hit by machine gun fire breaking his arm and a flesh wound in the leg. He made a direct hit on a DD and was hit about the same time. There was plenty of AA both heavy and light, also saw a few zeros. I saw at least twenty float type airplanes in the bay near the ships. The skipper did a wonderful job flying the plane back in his condition. Both Kemper and I were afraid he was going to pass out from loss of blood and spin in all the way back.
2/20/44 Attack ground positions just a few miles south of our camp. Our target was a bridge so the Japs couldn’t move any more heavy art. Up this way. We missed the bridge. Leake went in just as he was pulling out of his glide. Dunton was gunner, and Barcalla Radioman.
3/4/44 DC-3 Bougainville to Cactus
3/5/44 DC-3 Cactus to Segi
3/10/44 DC-3 Segi to Cactus
3/20/44-4/22/44 VT-38, USS Long Island, Pacific Ocean
4/44 No Entries
5/20/44-6/21/44 VT-38, NAS Seattle
6/21/44 Seattle, Seattle to Arlington
1/44-8/21/44 T-38, NAAS, Arlington, WA
8/24/44-10/23/44 VT-38, NAAS Ream Field, San Diego
Met NB in 1944
10/23/44-11/2/44 VT-38, NAAS Holtville, CA
11/2/44-1/2/45 VT-38, NAS Livermore, CA
1/2/45-3/1/45 VT-38, NAS Klamath Falls, OR
3/3/45 – 6/9/45 VT-38, NAAS Brown Field, San Diego
6/9/45-10/18/45 VT-80, NAAS Ream Field, San Diego
6/45 Brown, Transferred to VT-80, Ream
8/45 Ream, 8/10 VJ Day
12/8/45 Discharged at San Diego
Source: Walt Wagner of Carlsbad, California – September 16, 2013
The Story of Commander Charles E. Brunton – VC 38
Charles was the Commander of VC 38. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (D.F.C) for action at Rabaul Harbor. On 17 February 1944, while leading a combined Navy and Marine mast-head bombing attack against enemy shipping in Rabaul Harbor, New Britain, he picked for his target an un-engaged enemy destroyer. In his approach to the target through heavy and intense anti-aircraft fire he was seriously wounded. Disregarding his own pain and personal safety he pressed home his attack with courage and determination securing a direct hit on the destroyer. This destroyer was later photographed close ashore with its stern awash. With the same courage and determination shown above, he flew his plane to its home base returning the other members of his crew to safety
Charles also served in Korea and became a Rear Admiral. Richard Wagner, Lucky’s radioman, immediately flew with Commander Brunton following William’s death and accompanied Cdr. Brunton during the Rabaul Harbor dive attack on February 17, 1944.
Distinguished Flying Cross
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander Charles E. Brunton (NSN: 0-62610), United States Navy, for heroism, distinguished service and outstanding leadership as Group Commander of Navy Composite Squadron THIRTY-EIGHT (VC-38), in the conduct of numerous missions against heavily defended enemy land positions and enemy shipping. On 17 February 1944, while leading a combined Navy and Marine mast-head bombing attack against enemy shipping in Rabaul Harbor, New Britain, he picked for his target an un-engaged enemy destroyer. In his approach to the target through heavy and intense anti-aircraft fire he was seriously wounded. Disregarding his own pain and personal safety he pressed home his attack with courage and determination securing a direct hit on the destroyer. This destroyer was later photographed close ashore with its stern awash. With the same courage and determination shown above, he flew his plane to its home base returning the other members of his crew to safety. The conduct of this officer has at all times been in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Action Date: February 17, 1944
Company: Composite Squadron 38 (VC-38)
Cdr. Brunton wounded after Rabaul Attack – Bougainville Airfield (Source: Gregory Pons Collection)
Charles E Brunton
Apr. 29, 1906
Jan. 7, 1993
WORLD WAR II
Golden Gate National Cemetery
San Mateo County
Plot: 2A, 1426-A
The Story of Lt. (jg) Steve H. Reed -SBD Pilot of VC38
May 11, 1920 — Jan. 26, 2012
Stephen Hartwell Reed died Jan. 26, 2012, at his home in Corvallis. He died in the same room in which he was born on May 11, 1920, to Edwin Thomas Reed and Katherine Hartwell Reed.
He graduated from Corvallis High School in 1938, and attended Oregon State College until enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1941 to begin flight training.
Ensign Reed earned his wings in August 1942, and was first assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Long Island for training in carrier operations. Before being assigned to combat in the South Pacific, Stephen married Mary J. Kollins on Valentine's Day, 1943.
Shortly after his wedding, Stephen joined the Air Group VC38 Dive Bomber Squadron, which was assigned to combat operations in the New Hebrides in the South Pacific. He flew numerous raids in his SBD-4 dive bomber. He also flew combat missions against Japanese forces from the island of Bougainville. He served nine months in the South Pacific.
Stephen left the Navy in the fall of 1945. He returned to Oregon State College in January 1946 to complete his business degree. In 1946, Stephen and Mary purchased the soda fountain in the Memorial Union building on the OSC campus, and named it the O'Club. During the 13 years they operated the fountain, Steve and Mary thoroughly enjoyed their interactions with students and faculty. They became avid Beaver fans, and over the years attended hundreds of football and basketball games.
In 1960, Stephen returned to Oregon State University as a student in elementary education. He received his teaching certificate, and taught in the Corvallis School District for 15 years. When he retired, Stephen enjoyed salmon fishing, OSU athletics and time at Triangle Lake. In 1991, Stephen's wife, Mary, died after 48 years of marriage.
In September 1992, Stephen married Lucille (Lucy) Rogers. They spent recent years enjoying time with family and friends both at their home on Southwest Brooklane Drive and at Triangle Lake, traveling in their motor home and on ocean cruises, and sharing happy hour with friends.
Gunner Benjamin Wright • Pilot William R. Larson “Lucky” • Radioman Richard (Wag) Wagner (bottom photos source: W. Wagner)
Lt. William Rudolf Larson of VC 38
Gunner W.L. Rice • Radioman A.E. Bond • Pilot Lt. Grant A Phillippi – assumed to be Munda Airfield (Source: Lt. Col. Daniel Phillippi)
Gunner L.E. Dale • Pilot Lt. John A. Leary • Radioman D.R. Greslie – assumed to be Munda Airfield (Source: Daniel Leary)
TBF crashed in landing - assumed to be Munda Airfield (Source: W.Wagner)
TBF over ocean (Source: W.Wagner)
Decalcomanias (Source: W. Wagner collection)
Shellback Initiation: Dunk tank (center of photo) and Beating Line (upper right). VC 38 aboard the USS Long Island, August 14, 1943, crossing of the Equator.
Shellback Initiation: King Neptune & his court - USS Long Island August 14, 1943 crossing of the Equator. (Source: W Wagner)
Tent in Munda -Signpost: Munda Biltmore (Source: W.Wagner)
TBF over the bow -assumed to be USS Breton (Source: W.Wagner)
Unknown, Wag Wagner, "Bitter" Payne, "Agitator" Kemper, and “Zoot Suite” Brewer - Radiomen & Gunners of VC-38 (Source: W. Wager)
Munda - Radiomen of VC 38: Buis, Misner, Unknown, Wagner, Greslie (far right) Source: W. Wagner
Lt. John Leary (right) & Lt. Henry Wilson (Source: Daniel Leary)
Lt. (jg) David Bagley –VC 38 SDB Pilot (left) and Lt. C.O. Pylant – VMTB -233 TBF Pilot (right) in front of pilot mess hall at Munda airfield – November 30 1943 (Source: Gregory Pons Collection)
Note: Maudie’s Mansion was named after Lt. John Leary’s wife, Maud Leary
Mark XIII Torpedo loading into bomb bay of an Avenger (Source: Public Domain)
2,000 pound aerial bomb loading into bomb bay of an Avenger (Source: Public Domain)
Lucky’s Aviator Flight Log Book 1943
Bomber 3 Airfield - Where Lucky Landed on December 15 1943 on Rehabilitation Leave (Source: Public Domain)
Munda Airfield (Shag) 1943 (Source: Gregory Pons Collection, photo by Lt. David Bagley – VC38 SDB pilot October thru November 1943)
COMSOPA Strip Map of Bougainville – Solomon Islands (Source: Dan Leary)
TBF Avenger Missions of Pilot Larson, Radioman Wagner, and Gunner Wright during September – December 1943
 Naval Abbreviations: DD = Destroyer AK = Cargo Ship/Barge AO = Oiler or Fuel Oil Tanker Ship PC = Patrol Vessel
 KIA = Killed In Action
 IO = Intelligence Officer
 AA stands for anti-aircraft fire
 Confidential Commander Aircraft Solomons Strike Command Intelligence Section Report, dated October 28, 1943 by Captain Myron Sulzberger, USMCR, VMTB-143, Intelligence Duty Officer.
 Confidential COMAIRSOLS Strike Command TBF Intelligence report, dated February 20, 1944 by Lt. James N. Truesdale, VC38 Intelligence Duty Officer
 Declassified United States Naval Base – Segi – War Diary, 1 November 1943 – 7 November 1943.
 On February 12, 1944, 26 TBF-1s (VMTB 134 & 233, VC38) loaded with MK 12-1 mines, took part in a night mining operation in Simpson Harbor, Rabaul. Mines were dropped by parachutes from TBFs. Japanese search lights picked up planes and intense accurate AA was encountered. Six planes and crew were missing, of these, 4 probably shot down, two in harbor and two on land side, three definitely flamers. Pilots missing include: Lt. Barthoff, Lt. Cornelius, Lt. Hathway, Lt. Fowler, Lt. Bonden, and Lt. Sherman – Strike Command Report by J.E. Butler, G-3, Strike Command
 On December 3 1943, Lt. C.O. Pylant, crashed in the target area at Monoitu Mission [Bougainville]. The port wing folded while the plane was in the dive. The plane exploded and burned when it crashed. Source: VMTB 233 War Diary