South Pacific

A few nights before we were called up to Bougainville, I watched Foss win a pile of money in a high- stakes poker game at the Santo officer’s club. Was it a sign of good luck? Cradling stacks of chips and clutching a fist full of hundred dollar bills, Foss kept his cards close to his belly and chewed on a soggy cigar throughout the game.

***

On the horizon, we could see the volcanoes, North Daughter and South Daughter, on the windward side of Simpson Harbor. We were fast approaching Rabaul. Soon, we began to pick up anti-aircraft fire. It was high and behind us. Inaccurate. We spread our formation in a high-speed descent to 7,500 feet, coming straight in. Now the flak became heavy—ugly, black, puffs bursting around us. We peeled off into our dives. I homed in on the target, rolled into a split-S, hit the trim tabs, opened the bomb bay, and plunged through the deadly flak in a 65 degree dive. Everything was pumping inside me, my heart beating rapidly, my mouth dry.

Was I scared? You bet I was. Fear is an inevitable and natural response to shells and bullets coming at you. I think all of us on our first strike felt primal fear to one degree or another. But we learned to fly through our fears. Most of us did, anyway. Most of the time.

Frank Moses was coming down behind me on my right—a little too close. We were both hurtling down on ammunition dumps at the south end of the harbor … 6,000 feet … 4,000 feet … 2000 feet …. No room to miss. I hit the button, released the bombs, and sharply banked to the left in an evasive breakaway. I pulled out of the dive with both hands on the stick and a heavy push on the rudder pedal to cope with the strong load on the controls. I felt high Gs pull at my face. Closing the bomb bay, I shoved the throttle forward, full-power, picking up speed. I got the hell out of there—fast.

Behind me I felt a loud explosion. My turret gunner, Ernie Linsmaier, let out a triumphant yell on the intercom. I made a climbing turn and as I looked back, I saw a series of ammunition dumps go up. Spires of flame shot several hundred feet into the air, subsided, and then sprang higher.

Other TBFs were tearing up industrial sites along one edge of the harbor. Loaded warehouses were blowing apart. Fires were burning.

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