South Pacific

He was down to 4,000 feet at the time and immediately tried to pull out. One shell shattered the corner post of the windscreen and blew away the radio antenna. It cut off all radio communication. Another hit the accessory section and ruptured the oil system. Oil came bursting into the cockpit around the firewall, covering the instrument panel and spraying into Lee’s face. Partially blinded, Lee still managed to keep his plane airborne. He flew south beyond Cape St. George. His radioman donated his flight pants, which Lee stuffed around the plotting board holders to help stop the spray. South of Rabaul, he sighted our TBFs and he joined up on the formation. No radio contact. We were on our way back to Torokina.

Finally, the rugged R2,600 Wright engine gave out. And Lee cautiously brought his TBF down into a flaps- down, tail-down, water landing without power. He and his two crewmen quickly unbuckled, crawled out on the wing and scrambled into the plane’s inflatable rubber life raft—within the two-minute Grumman safety margin. From the raft, they watched their plane sink slowly underwater, down to the ocean bottom.

Two of our planes dropped smoke bombs to mark the location and circled as long as their fuel allowed. A short time later, Lee and his crewmen were pulled from the water by a PBY “Bumbo” rescue flying boat that had homed in on emergency IFF signals from one of the circling TBF’s.

All three men were plied with whiskey, flown to Green Island, and returned to Torokina the following day.

***

The indomitable spirit of Jake Nevans prevailed when he made a dangerous landing in choppy ocean waters during our return from a raid on Rabaul’s Lakunai airfield and the causeway to Matupi Island. Jake slowly and carefully brought his disabled plane down alongside a U.S. destroyer escort that was slicing through the heavy sea on its way back to its base in the Treasury Islands.

The destroyer escort’s crew rescued Jake and his men and hauled them aboard. The three Marines settled in. They enjoyed a few days of good chow, hot showers and traditional Navy hospitality. Jake later reported that the skipper was a most engaging New Englander.
Eventually, the Navy returned Jake and his two crewmen to Bougainville.

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