With the help of a nearby Army Searchlight Battalion, we also practiced flying through the confusion of searchlight beams while on a nighttime “glide bombing” or skip bombing run.
On November 10, 1943, the Marine Corps observed its 168thanniversary—an appropriate time for ceremony in the middle of a relentless training schedule. By mid-morning, VMTB 242’s Avengers were lined up side by side along the taxiway. The ramp was swept clean. All pilots, aircrews and ground crews were brought to attention in front of the planes. At a certain point, Maj. Bill Dean strode forward, turned smartly to face the formation, and commanded Capt. Bill Ritchey, 1st Lt. Bud Main, and 1st Lt. George Nasif to step forward. Dean then read three individual citations for meritorious service on Guadalcanal and presented Ritchey, Main and Nasif with the U.S. Air Medal.
All I can remember about the revelry that night at the Officers’ Club is a bunch of drunken pilots heading back to the BOQ, belting out a lusty Marine Corps Hymn.
“From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, We fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea. First to fight for right and freedom, and to keep our honor clean; We are proud to claim the title of United States Marine.”
Throughout our six months in the desert, small groups of pilots and their crews left every few days for the North Island Naval Air Station on Coronado Island in San Diego Bay. There, each group received a week of intensive torpedo training.
Each pilot made several runs with live torpedoes that had been set with exercise heads. A Navy Yard vessel was used as the target. The “fish” were set to run deeper than the draft of the vessel, and a photographer in an SNJ hovering overhead recorded all drops at the time the “fish” passed under the target.
After all of the dry runs we had made over the months, this marked the first time most of us had ever dropped live torpedoes. We made the most of it. Our squadron received a special letter of commendation for our high percentage of hits.
We made the most of San Diego, too.