Like him or not, Maj. Bill Dean had successfully put together one helluva TBF attack and patrol squadron during six grueling months in the desert. Most pilots recognized that. More than once that night, we held our glasses high and toasted our humorless skipper.
At one point, I recall also that we gave a standing ovation to Warrant Officer Fred Minden, the hard-muscled, pre-war regular Marine who commanded the squadron’s engineering unit. He and his men had kept our planesflying in the heat and sands of the desert. And he had the profound respect of every man at the table.
You could feel it. A powerful esprit de corpspermeated the room that night.
When the time came, we left for North Island, San Diego, in a truck convoy—the 450 officers and men of VMTB-242. We crossed the desert and climbed up through the coastal mountains, white from the late January snows. It was our last view of snow for a long time to come.
When the convoy reached North Island, the trucks headed directly to the loading docks where the flight deck of a CVE carrier, the Kitkun Bay, loomed ahead.
We boarded the Kitkun Baythat night. The next afternoon, January 28, l944, the carrier eased its way out of San Diego Bay and into the open sea, headed for an undisclosed destination in the South Pacific.
I was young. I loved my country. And I was determined, as a pilot in the Marine Corps, to help my country win the war against Japan.
After 18 months of Navy and Marine Corps flight training and 600 hours of logged flight time, I was ready.