South Pacific

We were curious and surprised to see such a seasoned hand join our outfit. And I think our CO, Bill Dean, was jealous. The word up and down the line was that Dean resented Hise’s assignment to VMTB-242. We wondered if our skipper also sensed the fact that most of the pilots would have welcomed Capt. Hank Hise as commanding officer.

Hise was the kind of Marine officer who expressed his leadership thru calm, experienced direction and unflinching example. He commanded our respect immediately.

***

One of Maj. Bill Dean’s own exploits during his initial Solomons tour lived on as an acerbic South Pacific barroom tale. It happened during anti-sub patrol, a few miles east of Espiritu Santo.

On the third leg of a long triangular search, our skipper excitedly reported to his crew, “We have a Jap sub below at 10 o’clock.” He opened his bomb bay and made a diving pass over the target, slightly off position. Pulling up, he circled again, made a second pass and a perfect drop. The two depth charges straddled the “sub” and detonated with a powerful upheaval of the sea.

Dean excitedly instructed his radio gunner to radio the base, identify their plane, give their location, and report, “Sighted sub, sank same,”—a line stolen from a sub-killer episode in the Atlantic, earlier in the war.

The moment his radio gunner was about to transmit the message, however, Dean suddenly screamed, “Wait! Wait! Wait!” He then made another low pass over the target and saw the results of his marksmanship—chunks of a huge killer whale floating in a bloody sea of red.

The remains of that whale floated in the sea for days in full view of derisive pilots heading into the Espiritu Santo flight pattern from the East.

***

During those early days on Santo, we ate loads of fat mutton from Australia, seemingly night after night. We had a routine of mutton meat loaf, mutton stew or creamed mutton on toast. We called that the SOS dish— “Shit on a Shingle.” I gagged on the musty taste. To this day, I can’t face up to mutton on the menu, no matter how it’s prepared. A slab of Spam or even the C-Rations we later devoured on Bougainville was far more palatable.

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