~ The Fighter Pilots ~

        Top Gun Top Gun                                                                                                          

The Navy's 'Top Ace' of World War II , Medal of Honor winner Cdr. David McCampbell flew from the deck of  Essex CV9, shooting down 34 enemy planes. He was in Command of the Essex AirGroup 15. Of the one hundred young men that went out with AirGroup 15, seven months later forty five came back uninjured after their tour in the Pacific.  AirGroup 15 became famous as "McCampbell's Heroes". "The Fabled Fifteen" were the most highly decorated group during World War II.

A Guided Missle Destroyer (DDG85) named for the Navy's all time ACE of ACE's was christened by Secretary of State Madeline Albright at it's launching at Bath Iron Works, on July 2. 2000. The 'USS McCampbell DDG 85' was commissioned on the west coast at San Francisco August 17, 2002. She will be Home ported in San Diego CA.

Commissioning Invitation invitation

Captain McCampbells original Medal of Honor Citation

Lt. Hamilton McWhorter III 

The First Hellcat Ace

On 19 November 1943, flying off the 'roof ' of USS ESSEX during the Tarawa invasion. Mac McWhorter shot down his 5th enemy plane and became the first 'pure' F6F ACE, by having scored all five victories in the new Hellcat. On 16 February 1944 at Truk, He scored his 10th victory and became the first Hellcat double Ace. Mac flew with Carrier AirGroup 9 "Fighting Nine'

McWhorter was on combat patrol near the task force and his division was vectored out to intercept a high bogey.  He turned headed out and began climbing. Mac relates "After about five miles or so, as we were passing through about 20,000 feet I spotted the bogie, a single engine plane called a 'Myrt', about three miles ahead at about 25,000 feet and going away from us. I closed to about 500 feet behind and slightly below. I fired a short burst and the Myrt flamed immediately. I was so close that oil got all over my canopy." This was Mac's highest victory as compared to his lowest one, the twin engine bomber that he shot down at Tarawa about 10 feet over the water.

Shooting the 'Betty' (Bomber) down also earned him the name of "one slug" from his Squadron. After returning to ESSEX it was found that he had expended a total of 86 rounds of 50 caliber ammunition, and that included a test firing of all six guns shortly after take off.   Cdr. Hamilton "Mac" McWhorter earned over 30 campaign medals, including five Distinguished Flying Cross Medals and Seven Air Medals. Mac was also inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame, at Warner Robbins Airforce Base in Georgia.

The First Hellcat Ace

The First Hellcat Ace

Hamilton McWhorter III with Jay A. Stout

Gene Valencia   Lt. Eugene A. Valencia - Okinawa Ace

A Top Navy ACE in WWII, with 23 kills . A NAVY CROSS winner 

Navy Cross

Eugene Valencia was assigned to the brand-new Essex in February 1943. With Essex, he scored his first aerial victories, shooting down 3 enemy planes over Rabaul and 1 over Tarawa in Nov. '43.  At Truk on Feb. 16, 1944, he became separated from his wingman, Bill Bonneau, and was attacked by several Zeroes. They chased him at length and fired repeatedly, but couldn't hit him. Figuring that their poor gunnery didn't threaten him too much, Valencia swung around to meet his attackers, and shot down three in short order. On his return to Essex, he exuded enthusiasm for the Hellcat, saying, "I love this airplane so much that if it could cook, I'd marry it."

At Truk, he spotted a weakness in the enemies fighter tactics, from which he developed his famed "Mowing Machine".

Valencias Flying Circus

Left;  LT(jg) Mitchell, Lt(jg) Smith,  LT(jg) French,  and Valencia.  "The Flying Circus"

These four pilots of VF9 flying off  Essex and Yorktown, shot down 50 enemy planes. They hold the record as being the highest - scoring fighter division in Navy history.

John 'Tubby' Franks, Jr  Ens. Franks

In February 1944 in the Gibraltor of the Pacific - Truk Atoll in the Carolines - VF9 scored 35 victories.Three of VF-9's 35 kills fell to Ens. Franks, who gunned down two Zekes and a 'Pete" over Truk Lagoon during the units first morning sweep of the atoll. He scored  his fifth victory five days later over Saipan airfield, and then added a further two kills in 1945 when flying with VF 12. This picture was taken soon after he had made 'Ace' on 22 February 1944.

Ens. Donald M. McPherson  Ens. McPherson

McPherson was just one of 12 pilots to score five or more victories with VF83 during it's 1945 deployment. His first aerial kills came on April 6, when he downed two 'Vals' near Kikia Jima, followed on 4 May by three 'Alf' biplanes that had been re-rolled from reconnasiance float planes into Kamikaze bombers. Over 100 aircraft were downed in one frantic hour on this date as the Japanese launched a huge assault on TF 38.

     Norm Stark Ens. Norm Stark , VF4 Squadron.

           Distinguished Flying Cross

Norm Remembers the Great Typhoon of 1944.

We received word of an impending Typhoon.. We retreated to the open sea to ride out the storm. 17 December marked the onset of the Great Typhoon of 1944. As the storm approached our group was flying CAP above the Carrier Task Group. The wind was picking up, the sea rising, and the clouds lowering. Finally we received the signal to land. By this time the waves were from 40 to 50 feet in height (from crest to trough) The ceiling had lowered to about 1,500 feet, and the wind was approaching gale force.


Our landings were something to remember. As I approached the carrier the deck was pitching 40 to 50 feet at the stern. I was extremely careful to make my best approach. Finally I was at the "cut" position about 20 feet above the deck. The LSO gave me the "cut" and I pulled off the throttle. Just at that time the stern of the carrier dropped down into the trough of a wave. Suddenly the deck was about 70 feet below me. In an attempt to correct and not stall out too high, I dropped the nose of the plane a little more than normal. At that instant I saw the deck rising as the stern came out of the trough. I pulled the stick all the way back and stalled out, hoping not to hit the deck with too much force.


Well I hit the deck, and it felt like I was going down and out the bottom of the plane. After being released from the arresting wires, I pulled forward and parked the plane. Checking the plane I found I had blown two tires and wrinkled the fuselage. After the four of us had landed, we found each plane had two blown tires, and two had wrinkled fuselages. However, compared to others we were lucky.


As I stood in the island, watching the rest of the planes land, I saw one of the planes fly by the LSO platform to get a "wheels down check." The LSO waved him off because his wheels were only partly extended. The pilot was advised by radio that if he couldn't get his wheels fully extended, he would either have to land in the water or bail out. A successful landing in those waves would have been virtually impossible. So the pilot elected to climb to the base of the clouds (1,000 feet) and bail out.


He made a turn and flew parallel to the carrier, opened his cockpit hatch, stood up and pulled his rip cord, The chute opened, but in dragging him out of the cockpit the chute induced his body to act like a pendulum. He hit the waves as his body was moving forward to the nadir of his arc. The force with which he hit the water must have rendered him unconscious, because he sank beneath the waves, never to be seen again. The pilot of that plane was Johnny Cozza, a Utah boy, whose parents ran a little market near the intersection of 5th East and 17th South in Salt Lake City.

Read "A WWII Pilot's Experiences in the Pacific" For more about Norm's experiences.

LCDR Norman P. Stark Won the Distinguished Flying Cross, 4 Air Medals, and numerous other awards for his service to his country.

Thank's for sharing this with us Norm.

Ensign Edward Pappert Ensign Edward Pappert, VBF 83

     Silver Star Ribbon

Edward Pappert flew both the F4U Corsair and the F6F Hellcat. He says,   "Both airplanes were tough. Both returned with holes big enough to throw a basket ball through. When landing on the carrier in a Hellcat, just cutting the throttle after receiving the cut resulted in a controlled crash. The Corsair had to be flown aboard".

"The Corsair cockpit was way back. Looking at the plane you would think there was no sense of balance. When flying this was not the case. The feeling was that the plane was part of you and it would respond to your every wish. The Corsair was fast, it climbed well and responded quickly. It was a great airplane."

"The Hellcat was the real workhorse of the carrier fleet. The Corsair was faster. However I would chose the Hellcat if we were in an old fashioned dog fight. It was more maneuverable and could take a lot of punishment."


March 17th 1945

Our division - Bobcat one - was leading the groups on airstrikes at Kobe Naval base. Since our leader, James Stephens was shot down yesterday and the skipper of the squadron, Cdr. Frank Partriarca, lost two of his men, the three of us, that is, Vern Coumbe, Glenn Wallace and I, flew with the skipper. I flew second section leader with Vern on my wing and Glen Wallace flew wing on the skipper.


The Kobe Naval base was a large base, with many ships at dock. It was a very hazardous mission, as the ships at the naval base were well armed and we encountered a lot of anti-aircraft fire. After our dive we headed back to the fleet. As we approached the fleet, we saw smoke. The smoke was quite thick and it looked like it was right in our path. When we got nearer, we found it was the Franklin, burning furiously and listing badly. We could see sailors jumping off the ship into the water. The Franklin was directly behind the Essex so we got a Birdseye view of the damage as we made our approach to land back aboard Essex.


March 22nd

Today our division (that is, Vern Coumbe, Glen Wallace and I along with a replacement Ensign), were flying a Combat Air Patrol over the ships during re-fueling. We heard on the radio, ships telling us of a bogie at 200 miles coming toward the fleet. We immediately took chase. Vern saw the enemy plane and motioned to me. We turned to make an attack. When we got near the fleet, however, we had another call from Essex. They said "What's your altitude?" We said we were at 10,500 feet. Again they called to us and said, "If that plane you're following goes into into the clouds in front of you, don't follow it in."


"Now the clouds weren't that big, they were more like big puffs, probably cumulas clouds, I would say they were about a half-mile across. We did not follow it in, and we looked up and we could see an explosion, and the Betty came tumbling out in pieces. A five-inch gun from Essex shot that plane in the cloud. The accuracy of that was just hard to believe. We finished our CAP and landed aboard without further incident."

Ed Pappert's Division

 Ed Papperts Division

LTJGs Glen Wallace, Ed Pappert, Vern Coumbe and Lynn Godson

LTjg. Pappert won the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Seven Air Medals and numerous other awards for service to his country.

I want to thank him for allowing me to use excerpts from his book in the above narrative.

Click on picture AirGroup 83 Corsair Landing for larger view

 "Landing Was the Easy Part"

Landing Was the Easy Part

Author, Edward Pappert

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