South Pacific

That night, the five of us had a wet reunion at the club. I have to dig deep in my memory to recover any details of that night. But as I recall it, we swapped college memories, second-guessed war strategies, talked about women, and argued about the U.S. presidential election coming up later that year—all washed down with a few beers and too much Torpedo Juice.

***

Using a military absentee ballot, I cast my first vote ever that year in a national presidential election.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, nearing the end of his third term as president, was a popular war-time incumbent in the 1944 U.S. elections. Probably two-thirds of the pilots in our squadron supported FDR, our commander-in-chief.

 With Roosevelt’s health deteriorating, many in the Democratic Party saw Vice President Henry Wallace as too far to the left to be so close to the presidency.

In the end, Roosevelt agreed to replace Wallace on the ticket with a tough, out-spoken senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman.

Over on the Republican side, former prosecutor and New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey was making his first bid for the white House. He selected conservative Ohio Governor John W. Bricker as his running mate.

In the November election that followed, the Democrats won in a landslide, 53.4% to 45.9%—and Franklin D. Roosevelt became the only U.S. president ever to be elected to a fourth term.

***

At a briefing after our arrival on Santo, we were introduced by Maj. Bill Dean to the squadron’s newly- assigned Combat Operations Officer, Capt. Henry W. Hise. He took over. During the next two weeks, he put us through night-and-day survival drills and a concentrated review of our diving and bombing skills.

With more than 600 hours of flight time and six months in TBF operations at El Centro, I felt over­trained. I was eager to get into the action. Self-confident and maybe a little too cocky, I was 22 years old.

***

A lanky, sun-baked Texan—surprisingly soft-spoken— Hank Hise was well-liked and highly-respected in the Marine Aviation cadre. He had served in the first Marine squadron to land on Guadalcanal after the invasion, he had commanded what was left of Marine dive-bomber squadron VMSB-232 as the Canal was secured, and he had been awarded the DFC for his action during a series of TBF air attacks on New Guinea in 1943.

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