I had no idea that Ox had entered Naval flight training and had made it into the Marine Corps. He went through Pensacola, not Corpus Christi. Our paths had not crossed anywhere along the line—until that hot, suffocating afternoon when he came trudging into our dusty El Centro BOQ, lugging his newly-issued bedding.
That night over a couple of beers at the El Centro Officers’ Club, Ox reported that another Oregon buddy, Vic Collin, was in training somewhere in the surrounding desert with the 104thArmy Infantry Division, the “Timber Wolves.” He said that Vic was a second lieutenant getting ready to ship out to Europe.
After a few days of familiarization flights, solo, out over the Sonoran Desert and Orocopia Mountains, all pilots assembled one morning for aircrew assignments. Capt. Barney McShane conducted the draw. Barney was the squadron’s personable and very popular, Boston-Irish flight officer. He later became the squadron’s executive officer, number two in command under Bill Dean.
For me, it was a lucky day. I was assigned two bright, alert, well-trained teenagers who flew with me for almost two years—throughout my tour in the Pacific. Following the war, we became long-distance, life-long friends.
Pfc. Ernest L. Linsmaier, an eager, young Marine from Ohio, brimming with enthusiasm, became my sharp-eyed, turret gunner. He sat coiled in the power turret during flight, manning a .50-caliber machine gun.
Pfc. Leon Wilmot, a rugged, young Marine from upstate New York, quiet and determined, became my radioman and radar operator. He occupied a bench seat in the belly tunnel facing a bulkhead of radio and radar gear. He also controlled one .30-caliber “stinger” gun in the aft position.
Grumman originally designed the versatile TBF as a torpedo bomber. VMTB-242 was officially designated a Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron. But the Marine landing at Guadalcanal and the island hopping strategy that followed on the road to Tokyo shifted the emphasis for most Marine Avenger squadrons in the Pacific from torpedo attacks to low-level bombing, dive bombing, strafing and ground support missions.