Torpedo Bomber Pilot
Midway was the turning
point of the war. We had been at the Coral Sea where we lost the USS Lexington. The
USS Yorktown was badly damaged, 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 in the war.
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 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
“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 L. Reagan, 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 a enemy patrol.”
took more fellas in with me than I brought home that day, unfortunately.
I .. [I was] a
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.
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 couldn’t do anything about it, because they had
just finished up a patrol and were out of torpedoes. They followed these people with
their naval escort into Rabaul harbor. They
passed the word back to Pearl and they 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.
We lost quite a few people, but the friends that I particularly had were
in the troop transports.
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 Gibble.
He was older than most of us and was a professor at the university of
Minnesota. Well, Bob (Gibble) made
it, he sunk below the bow, but eventually pulled up.
He went on his patrol and when he got back, Gibble 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!
Gibble didn’t blink an eye, he (the admiral) asked him "what did you do
that the others failed to do"? Gibble
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.)
Gibble 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 the was in
a bad bind. Gibble 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.
[I knew Joe Foss very well]...
)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”.
[During the war] I was banged up a bit
[always made it back].
Rozell): He didn’t have much of a chance, did he?
Judge John Leary passed away on October 8, 2003.
interview originally recorded on 5/11/01
transcribed by Matt and Kyle '03
back to THE INTERVIEWS
back to WW2LHP Home
Copyright © 2001,2007 by Matthew A Rozell and Hudson Falls CSD. All rights reserved.