Tag Archives: Guadalcanal

Two Old Keys to Memorial Day


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Old Man Jack entrusted me with his house keys “…in case he shot himself in the foot” as he put it. Now covered in dust is Old Man Jack’s favorite baby – the F4U Corsair albeit a toy. He would push that button in once in a while, listen to this toy’s engine sound and watch the prop spin… It would echo a bit in my hallway…

I looked at these two old keys in my hand.  They belonged to Old Man Jack and the thought of Memorial Day instantly crossed my mind.

Two old keys to Memorial Day.

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A year ago, I had written a blog about Memorial Day (“It” and Memorial Day).

At times, I feel the meaning of Memorial Day has either faded or has changed.

In essence, many people living in today’s “politically correct” society have taken the sacrifices of our fallen to mean a three day weekend.

Sad…but that’s how I feel.. and it angers me.

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When I looked at those two keys, my mind raced to some of the things Old Man Jack said.

But mostly, to the things he could not say.

In the twelve years I was honored to know him, he would abruptly blurt out something once in a while when we were talking in his garage… while sitting in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his wife.

There was no story associated with these mutterings.

“Boys got killed on those stinkin’ islands…” then raise his thick, white eyebrows.

Or, “Hell, I pissed in my pants.”

Or once in a while, he would make a muffled smack with his lips then slowly shake his head left and right… and not say anything more.

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One such utterance was mentioned in “Old Man Jack’s Love”.

Upon gazing upon his beloved Corsair in front of him after over 60 years, he began weeping.

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Ground crew working on a Corsair in heavy rain.

After recovering and meandering next to his plane, he simply let out, “Some of (the pilots) just didn’t come back.  I could never stop thinking, ‘Did a Jap get him… or was it me?’”

He said that because as Ground Crew Chief, he was responsible for the airworthiness of the plane a young Navy or Marine pilot would take out on a mission…to shoot at the enemy…or be shot at.  These planes had to be in the best fighting condition as lives depended on it.  But he frequently said “they had to make do” because they never had enough spare parts… so they HAD to improvise.

One time, he said a bushing had been shot out on a plane that had to go on a mission the next morning.  Old Man Jack did what he could.  What he must.  He soaked two pieces of coconut logs in engine oil overnight.  When it came time for the pilot to take off, he clamped the oil soaked wood around the cabling and used baling wire to clamp them together as tightly as he could.  The plane left on its mission – with the young pilot behind the stick…in a plane with oil soaked coconut log as a bushing.

Unbelievable.

Now perhaps you understand the depth of his utterance of, “…or was it me?”

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Old Glory shimmering off a P-51 Mustang at the Chino Planes of Fame Museum.

I will never have an answer because the question could never have been asked of him.

But I feel Old Man Jack carried tremendous guilt in his heart about something that happened on those stinkin’ islands.

Not just bad; real bad.

Deep down, my heart tugs at me that someone within Old Man Jack’s reach died that shouldn’t have… and that Old Man Jack feels personally responsible for his death… and he carried that anguish for all these years.

Torment.

Grief.

Guilt.

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As Old Man Jack said, some of the young pilots didn’t come back.

They were killed or are forever missing in action.

That is for whom Memorial Day is all about.

To remember and honor those that did not come back…and not a Memorial Day sale.

Two old keys to Memorial Day…

What Did FDR Know? – Part 4


 

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As we saw in Part 3, Japan and America are now at war.

While not directly related to the question of “What did FDR know?”, it is deemed critical for readers to understand the damages suffered by the US military – and specifically its naval and air assets – on December 7, 1941.  It is also important to realize the huge advantage the Japanese Imperial Navy had over the U.S. Navy.  Lastly, it is important for readers to note the unbridled successes of the Japanese military at that time… and what unbelievably followed.

For the vast majority, Americans are under the belief that the US was caught flat-footed with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Indeed, 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged.

Of those ships damaged, all but three of the ships at Pearl Harbor were refloated and repaired (Note: Pearl Harbor at its deepest is about 50′.):

  • The USS Arizona – too badly damaged to be salvaged,
  • The USS Oklahoma – raised but considered too obsolete to be worth repairing, and,
  • The USS Utah – also considered obsolete.

In addition, the US had 188 aircraft destroyed plus 159 were damaged; the majority were hit before they had a chance to take off.

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There were a total of 2,403 American casualties, including 68 civilians.  Most of the military killed were on the USS Arizona (1,177 killed).  Most of the civilians killed were from improperly fused anti-aircraft shells fired by US batteries hitting in Honolulu.  There were 1,178 wounded military personnel and civilians combined. (1)

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A downed Zero in a Hawaiian neighborhood.

Japanese naval forces sailing for the raid included four heavy aircraft carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, 35 submarines, and 11 destroyers.  Indeed, a powerful fleet projecting tremendous offensive firepower.  All survived unscathed; all but 29 Japanese aircraft returned to their carriers.

In the Pacific Theater, Japanese forces were rolling over Allied forces at will with victories in Thailand, Malaya, Wake Island, Guam Island, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma, Dutch Indonesia and the invasion New Guinea.  The Imperial Japanese Navy dominated in the Pacific, attacking Allied bases in Australia and Ceylon; they even bombed or shelled coast of North America at will albeit with minimal effect.

But, the great sea battle of the Coral Sea and more specifically at Midway essentially put a halt to the wave of Japanese victories… barely five months after Pearl Harbor.

How could that possibly be?  Wasn’t our Pacific fleet crippled?

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So… how DID the US Navy stop the Japanese advance at these critical battles at Coral Sea and Midway?  After all, at the time of Pearl Harbor, the US Navy only had three aircraft carriers in the Pacific: the USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, and USS Saratoga.  (The USS Hornet was still on shakedown cruise and the USS Yorktown and USS Wasp were deployed in the Atlantic.)

Of course, the heroics of our sailors and Marines played a most dominant role but you may wish to ask yourself:

  • Were American aircraft and ships better than their Japanese counterparts?  No, production of new classes of ships and aircraft would not arrive in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Did American forces have more men, aircraft and ships? Again no, the tide of the American industrial strength would not be felt in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Was it better leadership?  No.  Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was arguably equally matched by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the overall commander of Japanese forces during the battles of Coral Sea and Midway.
  • Did our navy stumble upon the enemy out in the Pacific by sheer luck or happenstance?

If it wasn’t the above, how was the US Navy able to engage the Imperial Japanese Navy at Coral Sea and Midway then stop them?

It was MAGIC.

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Battle of Coral Sea, May 4 – 8, 1942

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Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942.  Source: Pacific War Museum.

By March 13, 1942, OP-G-20 had completely broken JN-25.  Until then, about 10% to 15% of a JN-25 message that was intercepted could be read. (2)  However, enough could be deciphered to understand the Japanese were gearing up to attack Port Moresby in Papua, New Guinea on May 7, 1942.  By taking Port Moresby, Japan could extend its reach beyond northern Australia and further south.

Upon receiving the intelligence from the deciphered JN-25 messages, Admiral Chester Nimitz decided to move a fleet into position in between Port Moresby and Australia.  He issued such orders on April 17, 1942.  However, he had but two carriers available for action – the USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown.  This battle was definitely NOT a chance encounter; it was planned.

jn25 sampleIn fact, deciphered messages allowed the US Task Force 17 to be in position before the Japanese fleets arrived to attack.  But lacking sufficient capital ships and aircraft that were inferior to the Japanese Zero, the outcome was far from certain.  The sailors and Marines were largely untested as well.  (The USS Hornet and USS Enterprise were unavailable due to their critical roles in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo; it took place two days later on April 18, 1942.)

With but two carriers and support ships, the US fleet was outgunned especially considering our aircraft was obsolete.  The Japanese fleet sailed with a Shoho (a carrier), several cruisers and destroyers, and a dozen transports filled with troops.  A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which laid on New Guinea’s eastern flank, with the target being Tulagi. To protect these two invasion fleets, the Japanese carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku would spearhead yet a third fleet to provide air protection.

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The USS Lexington explodes and sinks. (US Navy archival photo)

While the ensuing two-day Battle of Coral Sea was considered a draw, U.S. forces inflicted enough damage on the Japanese navy to force it to withdraw.  In addition, as the Japanese were unable to secure the port, their military was forced to fight in land warfare, which proved disastrous for the Japanese.  Of most importance, the fruit of the battle saw the Japanese carrier Shoho sunk, with both the Zuikaku and Shokaku damaged and forced to retire.  Therefore, they were made unavailable for the critical Battle of Midway, just about four weeks later.

However, we lost the USS Lexington, a major loss. And while the USS Yorktown suffered heavy damage as well, the Japanese believed her to have been sunk; instead, the USS Yorktown was made seaworthy through the extreme efforts of repair crews at Pearl Harbor.  While two weeks had been estimated for repairs, the repair crews had her back on the seas in just 48 hours.

This strategic victory was made entirely possible because of secret MAGIC intercepts.  The Japanese still did not believe their complex JN-25 had been broken.

Battle of Midway, June 4 – 7, 1942

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Captain Joseph Rochefort, USN, head of OIC, Pearl Harbor (Photo NSA)

Arguably, the paramount triumph from the breaking of JN-25 on March 13, 1942 was the Battle of Midway.  This is one battle that my neighbor, Mr. Johnson, fought on board the USS Enterprise as a very young US Marine.  From decrypting the Japanese naval messages, the U.S. naval commanders knew the general battle plans of Admiral Yamamoto – even the timetable.  Yamamoto’s strategy was to have aircraft carrier task forces launch both a diversionary raid off the Aleutian Islands then lure the U.S. Navy to Midway Island.  His goal was to decimate once and for all what remained of the American fleet after Pearl Harbor.

Yes, the deciphered intercepts did not state in the clear Midway was the target; the messages simply designated “AF.”  While CINCPAC felt strongly it was Midway, it was Captain Joseph Rochefort of OP-20-G who wily suggested how to establish for certain what “AF” stood for.

Rochefort was Officer in Charge (OIC) of Station Hypo in Pearl Harbor, the nerve station in Hawaii for deciphering JN-25 intercepts.  An expert Japanese linguist and during the most critical month of May 1942, Rochefort reviewed, analyzed, and reported on as many as 140 decrypted messages per day. These reports were directly piped to the highest-ranking fleet commanders.  He brilliantly strategized for American forces on Midway to send out a radio message saying that they were running short of fresh water.  Rochefort and his group waited anxiously to see if Japan would take the bait. Finally, OP-G-20 intercepted a Japanese message: AF was running short of fresh water.

Establishing Midway as the target, the U.S. Navy assembled what it could.  America was still short on capital ships and better aircraft.  After a 48 hour turnaround, the USS Yorktown joined the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet.

While remembering that by virtue of deciphering coded Japanese messages, the Japanese Imperial Navy had three less carriers to deploy after their losses at Coral Sea – a very critical fact.  After a fierce three-day battle at Midway, U.S. naval aviators sank all four Japanese aircraft carriers in Yamamoto’s task force – the Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi and Kaga.  All four participated in the assault on Pearl Harbor, effectively turning the tide in the Pacific.  Yes, luck was involved during the actual battle but certainly, the courage of our young men at sea and in the air was incredible.  They had proven themselves but at great cost in lives and materiel… including the USS Yorktown.

Unbelievably, the Chicago Tribune published a darned story revealing that the U.S. had known about Japanese battle plans in advance.  They had, in effect, revealed that JN–25 had been broken. Inexplicably, key Japanese leaders never found out about the article.  Darned media – even back then.

Assassination of Admiral Yamamoto

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State funeral procession for Admiral Yamamoto, 1943.

As school history books had once shown, the battle planner of the Pearl Harbor attack was Admiral Yamamoto.  He did know of the might of the U.S. having attended Harvard University – yes, Harvard – from 1919 to 1921, studying English.  He did, in fact, oppose taking on the U.S.  But Yamamoto had one trait which would lead directly to his death: his intense desire to be punctual.  The US counted on this.

Codebreakers intercepted then learned after deciphering messages that the admiral was scheduled to inspect a naval base on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands on April 18, 1943.  The detail even included his minute by minute itinerary.  Some top US officials were hesitant to use this information for fear that doing so would tip off the Japanese that their codes had been broken. Nevertheless, the decision was made to assassinate Yamamoto. That morning, eighteen P–38 fighters left their base at Guadalcanal at the other end of the Solomon chain and arrived at Bougainville precisely ten minutes before Yamamoto’s plane was making its approach. The admiral was killed in the attack, depriving Japan of its most experienced and accomplished admiral and sapping Japanese morale.

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Flights paths: Yamamoto (red) and USAAF (black). Also notice “Green Island” north of Bouganville. This was “Old Man Jack’s” last battle station. USN Archives

To mislead the Japanese that the fighters had arrived purely by chance, the air force flew other risky patrols to the area, both before and after the attack.  It was not a “one shot in the dark” mission.  It was deeply thought over and planned out – because we were able to intercept and decipher coded Japanese messages.(3)  They also spread “rumors” that the information was from coast watchers.

The Japanese did not change JN–25, and for the remainder of the war, U.S. intelligence intercepted and read thousands of Japanese messages.  A portion of a secret OP-20-G report, circa 1943, is below listing the number of coded Japanese messages intercepted:

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Crane Library, National Archives, College Park
National Archives

Purple and D-Day

The importance of MAGIC and the breaking of the “Purple” Japanese consulate code cannot be understated.  For non-historian readers, the reach and military value extends far beyond the waters of the Pacific.  It extends to Europe…specifically D-Day and the shores of Normandy.

As revealed in “What Did FDR Know? – Part 2” of this blog series, the US broke the code for this cipher before the attack at Pearl Harbor.  The US did their best to keep the wraps over this great intelligence triumph.  However, Nazi Germany’s own intelligence had good evidence that SIS had broken Purple and informed the Japanese.  Unbelievably, Japan refused to believe it.  (I believe this is part of the Japanese culture – to not place importance on “water cooler” talk.)   Only when Congressional hearings and investigations into who knew of the Pearl Harbor attack reveal this did the Japanese accept it.  Unfortunately, is was much after war’s end.(4)

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Baron Hiroshi Oshima, 1939.

Per “What Did FDR Know? – Part 1”, Baron Hiroshi Oshima was the Japanese envoy to Berlin and used his Purple machine to communicate frequently with Tokyo.  Luckily for the US, Oshima was also an Imperial Army colonel at the time of appointment and loved war strategy and armaments.  He followed intimately the German conquests in Europe and their latest technologies. He sent very detailed reports to his superiors in Tokyo of what he had learned using the purple cipher machine, which the US was able to intercept and decipher immediately.

Oshima became a favorite and a confidant of Hitler.  Hitler – being so full of himself and pompous – shared with Oshima the most secret and sensitive of his war plans with him.  Hitler even gave Oshima a tour of the German defenses in Normandy!  As per his character and routine, Oshima transmitted very detailed reports of the Nazi defenses at Normandy.  This was obviously key in the preparations for D-Day, so much so the deciphered intel was immediately transmitted to General Eisenhower.  Not quite what we read in our textbooks…

And while the public is led to believe the U.S. did not know if the German commanders took the bait that the D-Day invasion would take place at Pas-de-Calais, Oshima secretly gave the US confidence that the Germans had taken the deception through his messages to Tokyo.  The Nazis were preparing for the landing at the wrong beaches.  (Note: this is not to lessen the somberness of those killed or missing in action at Normandy.  Further, this is not to lessen the importance of wartime security.)  Further, with their true belief that the invasion at Normandy was a diversion, the Panzer divisions were not immediately released to engage the Allied invading forces until too late.

In recognition of this value to Japan, he was promoted in a few short years from Colonel to Lt. General.  Oshima’s prolific reporting prompted US General George C. Marshall to say Oshima was, “…our main basis of information regarding Hitler’s intentions in Europe” in 1944. (5)

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Final Query for Part 4

Why did the U.S. decide to take intense preparatory military action for Coral Sea based only on partial deciphers of JN-25?  As stated, OP-20-G did not break JN-25 completely until March 1942.  However, OP-20-G was able to adequately decipher JN-25 messages – even one sent by Yamamoto himself – only until about one week before Pearl Harbor when a code key was changed.  What could the reasons be for the U.S. not taking similar defensive or offensive action at Pearl Harbor before the actual attack commenced?  Was it because of incomplete intel?  Were deciphered messages not of importance to FDR… or they not reach FDR at all?  Were diplomatic deciphers not important?  Did top brass feel their carriers would be sunk facing tremendous attacks and therefore, the Pacific War would be lost from the get-go?  Or…?

Of course, there can be as many reasons as there are people.

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NOTES:

(1) National Park Service

(2) “At the Interface” documentary based on interviews of Donald M. Showers, USN, ret.

(3) Public teaching in the past was true at the surface – that the US had intercepted a radio message “sent out in the open” by a brash young officer.  Now you know it was the work of cryptanalysts working under tremendous secrecy.

(4) National Cryptologic Museum

(5) “Hitler’s Japanese Confidant” by Carl Boyd

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Shadows


For “Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Shadows” of this week…

Loyal readers know of my love for WWII combat veteran “Old Man Jack”.

After suffering through seven decades of nightmares of war, he is now finally at peace.  Hopefully, he is resting comfortably beneath these shadows cast by my two youngest kids and I:

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And a shadow cast by Old Glory:

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For new visitors, please feel free to click and read one story of this great American who is now all but being forgotten in our new “Common Core” history textbooks.  He earned the honor to be remembered:

“Old Man Jack-ism #4”

Old Man Jack-ism #6 – The Zero


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I stopped by with a cigar to visit with Jack today.  I hoped there will be others visiting given the date and holiday season…

Today, I thought I’d visit with Old Man Jack for a while.  I didn’t drive my supercharged and unmufflered Grabber Orange Mustang to visit him although he loved it so much.  It looked like rain.  But I did take a cigar with me.

I know he didn’t mind the cigar.

He said it “doesn’t smell much better than the stinkin’ islands…but anything smelled better than those stinkin’ islands”.

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He would reminisce much more frequently about the war on those islands when it involved “fun memories” and I recalled one while chatting with him today at his grave. Believe me, whether it be a “fun” memory or not, a tear or two always tags along.

Old Man Jack always described the islands in the Southwest Pacific to be “those stinkin’ islands”.  He had said that while things always stunk, “everything smelled like shit”.  Pardon the French but those are the words expressed by the now old man who was back then a young boy of nineteen.  Hell, put it into perspective.  That spoiled young singer Justin Bieber is nineteen.  I’ll leave it at that.

“When I got there, I wondered why things smelled like shit,” he said with his trademark grin.  The one where the left corner of his mouth rises.  “Well, I was a dumb shit punk myself back then.”

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We had been touring the mock up of the CV-6 carrier deck (USS Enterprise) at the Chino Planes of Fame Museum back in 2003.  Our friendship had begun solidifying by then.  I had taken him there primarily to see his beloved F4U Corsair so this was a side trip at the museum.

On the “flight deck” was a Douglass SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber.

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Jack in 2003 with the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless behind him.  You can make out his boyish grin.

One thing he immediately spit out was after seeing the plane was, “That rear seat is just a metal plate.  You sat on your parachute for a cushion…”  He then continued, “…and those were twin .30’s back there.”

He told me once a Navy dive bomber pilot “grabbed him by the collar” early on and told him to get into the rear seat “quick-like”.  I remember asking him why because at that time, I didn’t know he was certified to fly.  In typical Old Man Jack fashion, he quipped, “‘Cuz I was the only one there.”  Accent on the “there”, please.

“Well, we were flying up there.  Man, that parachute made for a lousy cushion,” he said.  “Then a Zero got on our six…and then I saw these little flashes.  I figured out real quick he was shooting at us.”  Jack’s still got that grin on his face.

“The pilot yelled, Shoot, you son of a bitch!  Shoot!  Shoot!  So I did.”

“The pilot kept yelling, Shoot!  Shoot!“.  Then I yelled, “I did! I did!”

He wasn’t afraid to say it.  Jack said he got so scared he just laid on the triggers and didn’t let go.  There was only about 15 seconds worth of rounds.  He had fired off all his ammo.

“Man, I heard every god damn cuss word from that pilot,” he chuckled, still with that trademark grin.

But then he ended it by saying, “…And whoo-ee, I crapped in my pants…  And that’s how I figured out why everything smelled like shit.”

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A WWII period photo of rear gunner and the twin .30 caliber machine guns.

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I never asked him what happened to that Zero…or if they successfully dropped their bomb…or what happened to that Navy pilot.

But one thing is for sure.  I would have liked to have seen Justin Bieber in that back seat behind those twin .30s.

I’m sure his voice would get even higher…permanently…and would have needed a diaper change.

Real men don’t wear diapers.  Jack sure as hell didn’t.  He just shit in his pants and wasn’t ashamed to admit it.

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I enjoyed our chat today, Jack.

And I’ll be sure to drive the Mustang next time so you can hear it.

Miss you.

Thriving Love


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Marge and I at Riverside National Cemetery, Memorial Day Weekend 2013

A LETTER…

[Please also see “Mr. Johnson, USMC” if you wish to learn the background of this couple from the Greatest Generation by clicking on the link.]

Dear Marge,

Well, Marge, you made it indeed…  To see your beloved husband Johnnie for Memorial Day.

A heroic US Marine who fought on-board the USS Enterprise in World War II.

Decorated.

And he was but 17 years old when he set sail for the Battle of Midway.

Seventeen.  You said he was still in high school when he signed up for the Marines.  Unbelievable.

We were met by thousands of American flags being planted by hundreds of Boy Scouts and volunteers.  You were so happy to see the red, white and blue saturating the cemetery, bit by bit.

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While the Boy Scouts hadn’t made it yet to your husband’s resting place yet, we had our own little flag… and your beautiful bouquet we were able to pick up along the way.  You were so pleased with them but we made it a promise the next bouquet will be the colors of the USMC – scarlett and gold.  You knew he would like that.  Yes you did.

It was only the Saturday before Memorial Day but you were so elated to see how many people were there already…and we arrived at 10:00 AM!  You were worried we wouldn’t be able to find a place to park when someone upstairs opened one up for us.

You were so anxious to visit him that you made it out of my car in record time and walked as quickly as you could!

While you used your stroller to get to the general area of his grave site, we had to leave the stroller and walk the last twenty yards on very saturated ground.  You were holding onto my arm so tightly as the muddy earth gave way as we walked.  Remember?  My shoe sunk into the soil and inch or more.

And when we got there, we couldn’t find any water decanters…  They were all being used by the hundreds of other mourners…but by some lucky grace, we ran into Vicky…  She had bought 1,000 beautiful flags on her own and her niece was placing them neatly all along the columbine.  She went out of her way to find one for you!

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Vicki and her niece holding another bunch of the 1,000 flags she had bought to place along the columbine.
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Some of the 1,000 flags purchased by Vicki and placed by her niece for our fallen.

Your bouquet was so beautiful, Marge.  You said quietly Johnnie – your husband of 66-1/2 years – would like them so much.  You miss him dearly, don’t you Marge?  I miss him…

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And like the last time, on Easter Sunday, you talked with him…

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She is talking to Johnnie… True love and devotion…

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You shared with me again of how he left your life…and you were there for him til the very end… and how alone you felt because you are the last one alive from amongst your friends.  There is no one else.  You said you still look for Johnnie at your assisted senior care center to ask him a question but he doesn’t answer…

Thriving love…

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We promised to go back in two months, yes?

I will be calling you because he means so much to you… and it means so much to me.

I wish people would understand your love and devotion.

Marge and Mr. Johnson on their wedding day in June 1945.
Marge and Mr. Johnson on their wedding day in June 1945.

With love and admiration,

Koji

Old Man Jack’s Love


“She’s the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” said Old Man Jack in a trembling voice and with very wet eyes.

On March 3, 2003.  Truly.

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He was referring to the F4U Corsair.  I had taken him to the Chino Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, CA.  The WWII aircraft there – all of them – fly.

That’s right.  They get up in the air.

Planes that were engineered with a minimal lifespan as they were meant for combat were still spinning their props for the men who flew them – or worked on them.

Old Man Jack was one of them.

Do you know what these beautiful planes look like?  What they may have sounded like to Old Man Jack 70 years ago?  Ever see one fly?

In case you haven’t figured it out, his Corsair is “on the tail” of a famed Zero of the Imperial Japanese Navy in this mock dogfight.  I filmed it almost ten years ago at an air show there at Chino Planes of Fame.

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Old Man Jack was an “AMM 1/C” during WWII, or “Aviation Machinist Mate First Class”.  He could have re-upped after the war and been promoted to Chief Petty Officer but like Mrs. Johnson, Carol would have none of that.

I am not positively sure as Old Man Jack would only give tidbits here and there but he was responsible for the aircraft.  Before flight – and while remembering this was at the front lines on “those stinkin’ islands” – he would get into the cockpit and make sure all essential bells and whistles worked after his crew worked on it all night.  I also believe he was to pilot one on occasion to maintain his certs.  Very simplistically said on my part.

National Archives 127-N-55431
US Navy ground crew servicing a Corsair on what appears to be Guadalcanal – where Old Man Jack was.  National Archives 127-N-55431

The pilot was headed off into harm’s way.  The pilot’s life depended on Jack and his crew.  It’s airworthiness.

But one thing is for certain – Old Man Jack said many times “there just weren’t enough spare parts so we had to make do.”

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But back to the story…

Our friendship had begun to solidify by then…  I had mentioned to him that I was a member of the museum and that he wouldn’t have to worry about me paying for his entry.  But that wasn’t why he hesitated.  You will see why.  And I found out later myself why he was so hesitant.

Back then, the museum’s WWII hangars were divided into the two main theaters of operation: the European and the Pacific – where Old Man Jack was stationed during the thick of things.

We meandered through the European Theater hangar.  He recognized them right away.  The P-51.  The P-47.  Others.

He had brought along his “walking chair”; it was light and when folded up, it was a walking aid.  If you press down on it a certain way, it would spread out into a little chair.  Well, he was doing good…and I was happy.

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To get to the Pacific Theater hangar, you would leave the European Theater hangar and mosey across a tarmac.

Chino Planes of Fame and "X" marks the spot.
Chino Planes of Fame and “X” marks the spot.

It was a hot day.  Old Man Jack was in a t-shirt.  Blue, of course.

We were slowly making it across the tarmac.  I knew a Corsair was in there – pretty as the day she rolled off the assembly line.  As the hangar door was cracked open, you could see the wing spar.

Then Old Man Jack stopped.  At the white “X” marked in the map above.  Dead in his tracks.

He propped open his chair.

He sat down.

I was wondering if he was tired.  We were out in the sun.  Why’d he stop there?

I walked back to him.  His hands that still firmly shook your hands were on his knees.  His head was bowed down.

Then I saw it.

His shoulders were shuddering a bit at first, then began to bob up and down.

The man who had a barrel chest…the man who worked on these planes as a young man…was crying.

Deeply.  No sounds.  He was holding it in…

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I walked away.

I think he cried quietly for about a couple of minutes.  Out there on the tarmac.  In the sun.

Old Man Jack then straightened up.  He wiped his eyes.

“Young man, earn your pay.  Give me your hand and help me up.”

Old Man Jack was back.

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We walked over to her – Jack’s beloved Corsair.  His eyes were still wet.

I remember him saying very quietly while trying very hard to hold back his now visible anguish, “I knew a lot of young boys who flew them,” his voice cracking with 70 years of nightmares tormenting him.  “Some of them just didn’t come back.  I could never stop thinking, ‘Did a Jap get him… or was it me?'”

Nothing more need be said.

A very, VERY proud Jack Garrett, AMM 1/C showing off his barrel chest as best he could.
A very, VERY proud Jack Garrett, AMM 1/C showing off his barrel chest as best he could.

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That’s when he told me she was the most beautiful girl in the sky.  But like any woman, she was a pain to keep happy.

“We didn’t wear shirts because it was so _ucking hot; I’d burn my stomach and chest on that hot metal.”  He pointed at the wing spar (the bottom of the “gull wing”) and said, “We would always slip on those damn spars.  You never had good footing.”

He then recollected other things.  He told me “We’d stick a shotgun shell into a breech under the cowling and fire it off to turn over the engine.”  As I surely didn’t know much better back then, I asked why.  “Because the dumb son-of-a-bitch who designed the plane didn’t put in a starter.  That’s why.”  Oh, boy (with a smile).  “And if she didn’t turn over, you only had a couple more tries at it before you had to let it cool off.”

Old Man Jack then smiled a bit when he admitted he fell off the wing while taxiing once.  “Like a dumb smart ass kid, I stood up on the wing when the pilot was taxiing.  You were taught to lay on the wing to point which way to go but (the wing’s surface) was too damn hot so I stood up.  We hit a bump and off I came.”  (Note: the Corsair’s nose was long to accommodate the powerful engine.  It was so long that it obscured the pilot’s forward view during taxi and landing.)

One more thing he said.  “There was nothing better than seeing the flight come back after a patrol at wave top, do victory rolls then peel off.”  He was a bit choked up.

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When we got home, he said to me, “I didn’t know how I would react if I saw something and that’s why I put you off in going.  But I feel good about it now.  Thank you, young man.”

He gave me that solid Jack Garrett handshake…and a hug.

I think he enjoyed the visit…and no better way to end my first six months of blogging.

My “Top Ten” Reasons Why Japan Lost the Pacific War…so Quickly


USS Nevada

OK.  Relatively speaking.  “Quickly”.

But we’ve been “at war” against terrorism – both foreign and now domestic – since 2001.  More than 11 years.

But the war against Japan started officially for us on December 7, 1941.  We were caught flat-footed.

Yet it was over by August 15, 1945.

Incredible.  In 3 years, 8 months, 8 days.  How could that have happened so quickly (relatively speaking)?  Have you ever thought of this timeline?

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Well, I have removed my Kevlar flak vest for all you bloggers who love history – and who are immensely more versed and intelligent than I…or is it me?

Below herein is my “Top Ten” list of the reasons why Japan lost the Pacific War…so quickly.

I’d like to hear your opinions, corrections, or teachings.

Hunting season is open.  Rubber bullets are most suitable.

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Damage from overhead – Pearl Harbor aftermath

1. Long Range Failure of Pearl Harbor Attack

a. Attack plans skewed towards sinking of carriers (which were not there). Genda wanted to insure carriers were sent to bottom and therefore be unsalvageable. Because our carriers were not there, pilots overly concentrated on battleships or other less tactically important ships.

b. The ordnance used by the attacking Japanese was inappropriate for sinking battleships.

c. The first wave of Japanese torpedo bombers – although a complete tactical surprise – was a dismal failure with very few hits.

d. Failed to destroy dry docks and fuel dumps (Hawaii is an island country and had to import all fuel…like Japan).

e. Nearly all ships damaged by the attack were refloated.

f. Insufficient training by Japanese Navy in preparation for attack.

g. Lastly – and for some foolish reason – they attacked on a Sunday morning.

2. Breaking of the Japanese Naval Code and the failure of the Japanese to accept it was broken.

3. 24-hour Repair of USS Yorktown after Coral Sea in Preparation for Battle of Midway.

USS Yorktown afire
USS Yorktown afire

4. Innovation of US Navy to Use CO2 for Fire Suppression.

a. US Navy would flood fuel tanks on ships with carbon dioxide thereby displacing oxygen before battle.

b. Japanese ships had useless fire suppression systems with fuel right alongside ordnance.

5. Innovation of Rubber-lined Fuel Tanks and Armor Protection for Pilots on US Aircraft

An example of the advantage of self-sealing fuel tanks and armoring.
An example of  survivability with self-sealing fuel tanks and armoring.  F6F Hellcat.

a. “Self-sealing tanks” in wings.

b. Impressive armor shielding for the pilot (especially in the Grumman F6F Hellcat).

c. Japanese planes had neither, leading to insurmountable casualties and easy shoot-downs, i.e., Japanese aircraft would “flame” or disintegrate under withering fire from .50 caliber guns.

Japanese planes did not have self-sealing fuel tanks
Japanese planes did not have self-sealing fuel tanks

6. Battle of Midway

a. Huge tactical gamble by Nimitz in usage of Spruance as task force commander.

b. Tactical decision to launch torpedo planes early on by Spruance. While all but one pilot perished and no torpedoes hit, Mitsubishi Zeroes assigned to combat air patrol were at low altitudes since they shot down the torpedo planes.

c. Dauntless dive bombers (with US fighter cover) were able to dive relatively uncontested and caught Nagumo between launchings with ordnance scattered about.

d. Confusion by Japanese pilots that two US carriers were sunk. In actuality and while eventually sunk, the USS Yorktown had been hit in the first wave but the fires had been put out before the second wave attacked.

e. With the sinking of four Japanese carriers (see Fire Suppression above) and loss of valuable pilots, the Japanese Navy ceased to be an offensive force.

7. Production Might of the US

a. We had eight carriers at time of Pearl Harbor (in the Pacific and the Atlantic) but were down to two after the Battle of Midway.

b. We lost the Wasp, Hornet, Lexington and Yorktown by then.

c. The USS Enterprise was the last operational carrier. The “other” carrier, the USS Langley, was used only for training purposes and was out in the Atlantic.

d. By the time of the invasion of Okinawa in 1945, however, we had over 40 carriers as part of the assault fleet alone.

8. Semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle and the M-2 Flamethrower

a. Japanese military were burdened with reliable but bolt action Arisaka or failure-prone Nambu armaments.  (Bolt-action implies the shooter must lower his rifle to load the next round and then re-sight.)

b. The M-1 Garand took an eight-round clip.  The round had tremendous stopping power, was rugged and a rifle squad could lay down withering fire with the semi-automatic.  The shooter did not have to lower his rifle to load the next round and re-sight.

c. On Iwo Jima and other island battles, the Japanese were rarely seen. As such, the flamethrower was critical for success although accompanied by high mortality rates.

Marines carry the M1 Garand into battle at Tarawa Nov 1943
Marines carry the M1 Garand into battle at Tarawa Nov 1943
Marines Using Flame Thrower on Iwo Jima
US Marines using M-2 flamethrower against entrenched enemy on Iwo Jima

9. The Japanese-American (or “Nisei”) Soldiers in the Top Secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS)

Two of the Nisei secretly attached to Merrill's Marauders plan with General Stillwell.
Two of the Nisei secretly attached to Merrill’s Marauders plan with General Stillwell.

a. MIS secretly accompanied Marines and soldiers for every Pacific Theater amphibious assault or parachuted in with Airborne troops.

b. Nisei’s were the actual soldiers that listened in on Japanese Navy radio transmissions and NOT US Navy personnel. One transmission disclosed details on Admiral Yamamoto’s flight schedule which led to his shootdown.

c. Quickly translated captured major Japanese battle plans for Leyte Gulf (Z-Plan) and allowed for the lop-sided victory at the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

d. The invaluable intel provided by the MIS proved to the (generally unsupportive) top echelon that the Japanese military was near operational collapse in many combat areas.

10. The US Marine Corps

Marine catches up to comrades after covering fallen buddy with tarp and marking it with his M-1
Marine catches up to comrades after covering fallen buddy with tarp and marking it with his M-1

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OK.  So what about the B-29’s or the atomic bombs/fire bombings?  Aren’t they some of the reasons Japan lost the Pacific War?

No.  Not in my humble opinion.

Tinian
B-29 boneyard, Tinian

Historical facts will show that the B-29s were largely ineffective until the time LeMay unleashed the firebombing campaign on March 9, 1945.  The first B-29s were deployed out of India and China in the summer of 1944.  For the first missions, about 20% failed to reach their target due largely to mechanical trouble.  Of the approximately 80% that made it to target, only a couple of bombs actually hit target.  Therefore, ineffective results.

Their engines were also prone to overheating in flight.  Criminy.

As for the firebombings/atomic bombings, it is my opinion Japan had already lost the Pacific War due to the ten summarized reasons above.  Intelligence obtained by the US Army MIS Nisei’s like my dad’s predecessors support that conclusion.  When the Nisei interrogated Japanese prisoners at the front lines, it was clear they were nearly without food, water, medical supplies or ammunition.   Their morale was also devastated.  For instance, Japanese soldiers that surrendered would say, “We were terrified.  For every mortar round we would fire at the Marines, ten rounds would come back.”  The Japanese needed to make every round count; the Americans didn’t.

Japanese soldiers – dead, wounded or captured – would have uncensored letters from home on their person.  After the Nisei translated those letters on the battlefront, they disclosed that their families, too, were without much food or water…and that morale was extremely low.

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So some Greek dude said centuries ago that, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Pretty smart.  But that applies even today – and certainly during World War II.

We were raised with certain textbooks for our history classes.  We believed in them.  We had no reason not to.

But the truth is, there are many versions of history.  Factual versions.  Incorrect versions.  Factual versions “edited” by the victors.  Factual versions written by the losers.  And new versions.  And versions to further patriotism.

But there is one thing for sure…  Said by one of the most brilliant minds this world has known:

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN