On September 23, 1979, off the coast of Yorkshire, England, the BonHomme Richard and HMS Serapis fought a tenacious battle, with both ships literally locked in combat. It was during this bloody battle that John Paul Jones, asked if he had surrendered, issued his immortal reply, “I have not yet begun to fight.” In the end, it was the battered crew of the British warship that was defeated. Finally, the British captain tore down his colors and surrendered the Serapis.
It was an absorbing biography that found a permanent place in my bookcase at home.
During those early months of 1942, news from out of the Far East was grim. The Japanese juggernaut continued to roll—beyond the South China Seas and into the South Pacific.
Japanese assault troops invaded the Philippines. In Northern Luzon, their eventual triumph over the American and Filipino survivors of Corregidor ended with the infamous, seventy-five-mile “Bataan Death March.”
Japanese armies also poured down through Indochina, invaded Burma and Malaya and drove east toward the borders of India.
They advanced the length of the Malay Peninsula, cut through the Johor jungle and forced the British to surrender at Singapore.
Supported by the powerful Japanese fleet, they moved in on the oil-rich Dutch East Indies.
In the South Pacific, they captured New Britain, including the strategic port of Rabaul with its enormous natural harbor. There, the Japanese established the strongest, most important naval base in the South Pacific, ringed by five separate military air bases.
Beyond Rabaul, they took over the Solomon Islands. And they began bombing the Australian port of Darwin.
They further strengthened air and sea bases on Bougainville and Guadalcanal—closing in on Australia.
The position of Australia was perilous.
At that time, all prospective U.S. naval aviators attended pre-flight school—three-months of intensive mental and physical conditioning, designed, it was said, to toughen up every candidate for the challenges ahead. It also provided the Navy and Marine Corps, right at the start, with a fast, efficient way of weeding out those who couldn’t handle high pressure and physical stress.