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My father was a Marine Torpedo Bomber (TBF) aircrew in VMTB-143 on Guadalcanal in the October 1942 time period. He has been watching ?The Pacific? with great enthusiasm and he related to me that, after watching what the line companies went through, he realized he had it pretty good after all. Of course he didn?t realize it at the time, but his war was so much different from the line companies. Some of the things he related:
1 ? The aircrew lived in tents with wooden floors (4 men to a tent)
2 ? They had access to hot chow most days ? he said they usually ate chow with the Seabees who took pretty good care of the flyboys
3 ? They had access to sanitary facilities (latrines and showers)
4 ? When they went on R&R to Australia, they few in a C-47 (or the Navy equivalent the R4D I think) and did not go via troopship
5 ? In Australia they were put up in hotels, not the ?Soccer Stadium?
6 ? When they showed up in their flight suits they were really treated like kings
7 ? When they flew they at least were able to cool off a bit ? he said it was really HOT when they got into their planes that had been sitting in the sun
Now that?s not to say they had an easy war. Almost one-fourth of his squadron didn?t make it. The Japanese shelled Henderson Field most every night and he spent most nights in a slit-trench or a shelter covered with coconut logs. They also shelled the airfield when the planes were taxing out for a mission ? he thinks they were mortars but he?s not sure ? they just went bang and made the ground shake. As far as he can remember they never hit a taxing plane. He remembers the flack and enemy fighters and he had some pretty hairy missions (54 of them to be exact). He was shot down twice (bailed out once and ditched once) but never received a scratch.
He?s in his late 80?s now and his memory of those days is still pretty clear. All of his friends are gone now and he is, as far as he knows, the last man alive in the attached picture (which he believes was taken in November 1942 – he is the third from the right ? second row seated). They flew out of Henderson Field and bombed Rabaul and the Japanese troop barges bringing reinforcements to Guadalcanal among other missions. At one time he had a ?vanity plate? on his car that said ?Cactus? ? which 99.9% of the people had no idea what that meant. It was a reference to the ?Cactus Air Force? which is what they called the air power stationed at Henderson Field.
Anyway it really amazes me that after 68 years and a failing memory on just about everything else (he has trouble remembering his ATM number) he remembers so many details about his time on Guadalcanal. He has never really talked about it much, but he has told me more about his time there since ?The Pacific? started then he has in the previous 62 years of my life. I am really grateful for that. I will be buying him the DVD set when it becomes available.