March 19, 1943 (Friday)

“Buttons,” Espiritu Santo

Patrolled 800 miles northwest to Pocklington Reef. Results negative. Weather good except at the south end of Espiritu. It’s been raining steadily here for four days now. These patrols average 11 hours flying time. A good lookout must be kept for Jap patrols (Mitsubishi 96s, 97s and 01s) and Jap submarines for which we carry four 500 lb. combination depth charge for contact bomb, (depending on the fuse setting). We also keep our eyes peeled for life rafts. If they are ours we send in their position, and a PBY from Cactus comes out and picks them up. If they are Japs, we machine-gun the bastards, just to make sure they never get back for a little more rape or torture.

The regulars around here sure pull some stinking stunts. Leave it to our Academy man. Most of them are lousy pilots. Some are even scared stiff of flying.

Here’s the story VP-12 tells: While up at Cactus it was decided that one of the PBYs should go out on a torpedo attack on some Jap ships. A night job. The plane was in command of a reserve lieut. named Pack. Going along as a passenger was a Lt.Cmdr. Heen, also an “aviator.” Failing to find any shipping, the PBY decided to attack to Jap destroyers previously sighted. Heen wanted to do the job, so Pack let him have the wheel. At 100 feet and 80 kn he flipped the plane into a flipper turn to get lined up with the Japs, who were by this time firing at them. The turn was so steep and at such a slow speed that the plane lost flying speed and started for the water in an uncontrolled slip. At this crucial instant Heen, in a funk, yelled at Pack, “You’ve got it.”

Pack managed to lift the “down wing” enough so that the plane hit the water with the fuselage. With full power on she hit — and bounced into the air again, where it took all of Pack’s skill to keep her. The Japs, seeing the plane hit the water, had ceased firing. Now they opened up again but by this time the PBY was out of range and staggering home with a large hole torn in her bottom from the impact with the water. The torpedoes were jettisoned.

As the plane came in for landing at Henderson Field (she was a PBY-5A amphibian) Heen asked to make the landing. Pack said O.K. and warned him to keep the nose up after landing as the nose wheel was out of commission from the water crash. Heen landed the plane and let go of the wheel. Down went the nose and the plane tore along, ripping up the runway and nose until she came to a halt.

Heen returned to the Curtiss at Button and told “his version” of the story. “He was prevented from launching the attack by Jap AA which tore a hole in the bottom of the plane. Taking command, he successfully managed to bring the plane’s crew back safely!” Downright lying!

For this valorous export he has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. VP-12 is madder than hell, and are going to protest the award. And I don’t blame them.

Another case has caused a lot of bitterness concerns a general army and his staff which were lost in a B-17 crash at sea. A patrolling PBY spotted their life raft a few days later and reported the position, so that a specially loaded PBY could take off to rescue them. Two senior Academy men on the Curtiss each jumped at the chance to take a PBY out for the rescue.

They smelled a medal in the offing. Neither had flown more than the barest necessary flight pay time in the many months they had been down here. They left all dirty work and patrols to their juniors, the reserve pilots. They picked up the general and got their medals, and are now back behind their desks in the Curtiss while the reserves continue with the dirty work and patrols.

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