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Authors: Frank Walton

Once They Were Eagles

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ONCE
THEY
WERE
EAGLES

The Men of the
Black Sheep
Squadron

FRANK E. WALTON

THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY

Copyright © 1986 by Frank E. Walton

The University Press of Kentucky
Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth,
serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre
College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University,
The Filson Club Historical Society, Georgetown College,
Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University,
Morehead State University, Murray State University,
Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University,
University of Kentucky, University of Louisville,
and Western Kentucky University.

Editorial and Sales Offices:
The University Press of Kentucky
663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508–4008

05 04 03 02 01     6 5 4 3 2

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Walton, Frank E., 1909-

Once they were eagles.

Includes index.

1. World War, 1939–1945—Aerial operations, American.

2. World War, 1939–1945—Campaigns—Pacific Ocean.

3. World War, 1939–1945—Regimental histories—United States. 4. United States. Marine Fighter Squadron 214—History. I. Title.

D790.W32        1986    940.54'4973        85-29447

ISBN 0-8131-1579-5

ISBN 0-8131-0875-6 (pbk.)

This book is printed on acid-free recycled paper meeting
the requirements of the American National Standard
for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

To the Black Sheep

those young eagles who forged a blazing path across the skies
of the South Pacific, and especially to those Black
Sheep who did not return to the fold:

Robert A. Alexander • George M. Ashmun • Harry R. Bartl
James E. Brubaker • Pierre Carnagey • J. Cameron Dustin
Robert T. Ewing • Bruce Ffoulkes • Walter R. Harris
Donald J. Moore • Virgil G. Ray

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning—
We will remember them.

Lawrence Binyon, “For the Fallen”

Contents

Map of Black Sheep Combat Area

Foreword by General Wallace M. Greene, Jr.

Part One: The Black Sheep Squadron in Combat

  1 Recollection

  2 The Corsair

  3 The Squadron Commander

  4 The Intelligence Officer

  5 The Pilots

  6 Going into Action

  7 “Zeros Spilled out of the Clouds”

  8 Munda

  9 I Got That Old Feelin'

10 Zeros Snapped at Their Heels

11 The Squadron Comes of Age

12 A Change in Tactics

13 “Your Steeplechase Is Over”

14 Sydney

15 New Black Sheep

16 Trouble at Home Base

17 Vella Lavella

18 A Change in Boundaries

19 Crescendo

20 Finale

Part Two: The Black Sheep Forty Years Later

Frank Walton

John Bolt

John Begert

Ed Harper

Henry Miller

Fred Losch

Fred Avey

Rufus Chatham

Ned Corman

Henry Allen McCartney

Marion March

Robert McClurg

William Heier

Jim Hill

Henry Bourgeois

Alfred Johnson

Tom Emrich

Chris Magee

Rollie Rinabarger

Gelon Doswell

Ed Olander

Harry Johnson

Bruce Matheson

Glenn Bowers

Herb Holden

Sandy Sims

Perry Lane

Burney Tucker

Al Marker

James M. Reames

Don Fisher

Denmark Groover

Bill Case

Gregory Boyington

Epilogue

Appendixes

A. Roster, Boyington's Black Sheep

B. Information for Duty Officer

C. Notice to Pilots

D. Strafing and Searches

E. Briefing for Rabaul Fighter Sweep

F. Request That Black Sheep Squadron Be Kept Intact

G. Accomplishment Record, Boyington's Black Sheep

Index

Illustrations

Foreword

This is the exciting story of eighty-four days in the life of a famous Marine Corps fighting squadron during the battle with the Japanese for control of the South Pacific. It is an account of a group of fifty-one men commanded by a very unusual but talented combat ace, who in a very short time destroyed twenty-eight enemy planes and in turn was finally shot down himself to become a prisoner of war for twenty months and to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When Frank Walton called me from Honolulu to tell me about this book, I recalled my first conversation with him in Saigon about writing the story of Pappy Boyington and his Black Sheep. Knowing Colonel Walton's colorful background as deputy commander of the Los Angeles police force, his career as a foreign service officer in Southeast Asia, and his wartime adventures as a marine with Colonel Boyington and VMF 214, I told him that with this background and his skill as a writer he should surely produce a book. This story is the result.

Greatly interested, I asked Colonel Walton to send me a copy. A few days later a package of manuscript arrived. I opened it expecting to find another well-written story of marines in combat—this time in the air. What I did find was an intensely interesting and superbly written narrative, which I could not let go until I had finished.

The book is unique in that it not only vividly describes the life-and-death battles fought by the young marine pilots of the Black Sheep Squadron in the skies over the South Pacific, but follows up this story in the second portion of the account with personal interviews, extending over a two-year-period, with squadron survivors giving their recollections of the Great War and telling what has happened to each of them since.

Walton was air combat intelligence officer for his squadron and bases his story on his personal war diaries of the time, which he illuminates with a vivid memory and a great writing talent. It is a moving account of war and tells of men's loyalties to one another in the great tradition of the U.S. Marine Corps.

W
ALLACE
M. G
REENE
, J
R.

General, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

23rd Commandant

Preface

In 1976, a television show appeared entitled
Baa, Baa Black Sheep,
allegedly based on the World War II exploits of the famed VMF 214—the Black Sheep Squadron of Marine fighter pilots. It was a hoked-up, phony, typical Hollywood-type production depicting the Black Sheep as a bunch of brawling bums who were fugitives from courts-martial. Even the squadron commander, ace flyer Gregory “Pappy” Boyington himself, who was billed as “technical adviser” for the series, claimed that he'd recruited the squadron pilots by giving them the choice of standing trial for various unspecified misdeeds or joining him in the Black Sheep Squadron.

Not only was nothing further from the facts (no Black Sheep pilot had ever been charged with a court-martial offense), but such false allegations had a detrimental effect on the professional careers of a number of the former Black Sheep. These lawyers, college professors, businessmen, government officials, artists, and engineers did not appreciate the label of bums and misfits. Nor, certainly, did the widows, mothers, fathers, and children of those Black Sheep who had given their lives in the service of their country.

As intelligence officer of the original Black Sheep Squadron, I knew how false the picture was. I had retired in Hawaii—after 27 years of service with the Marine Corps, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the State Department's foreign service—when I was approached by some former Black Sheep to try to arrange a reunion.

After all those years, locating men from 23 states was a formidable job, but the search was a labor of love. I started with the 33-year-old addresses listed in my War Diaries. Leads from these gave me more addresses.

I found that some had not lived to return to the States. Bill Crocker had been lost on a mission out of Green Island on 25 March 1944. Bill Hobbs had been lost over New Ireland on 30 March 1944.

Paul Mullen had returned to the States and then gone out to Japan, where he'd been lost in a midair collision in Kikuma on 12 February 1946. Stan Bailey had gone on to command the new VMF 214 on a carrier assignment; he'd then returned to Hawaii, where he'd been lost on a night flying mission on 5 April 1948.

Bob Bragdon and John Brown had died of natural causes after the war.

Including the 11 we'd lost during our two combat tours, a total of 17 had gone to the Valhalla for fighter pilots, leaving 34 survivors from the original 51 Black Sheep. It took two years, several hundred letters and long distance telephone calls, and the resources of Marine Corps headquarters, hometown newspapers, local police, and in some cases the FBI to locate them all. Would they be interested in coming to Hawaii for a reunion? Many of them were and 17 did, 15 with their wives.

It was an exhilarating experience for all of us. We held a luau; we dredged the words of old songs from our collective memories; we met with the young pilots from the squadron stationed at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station and marveled at the fact that even the
helmets
fighter pilots now wear cost $20,000! The Black Sheep pilots' helmets had cost something like a dollar and a half.

The reunion whetted our appetites to try for a repeat performance, and that opportunity came in the 1980 invitation to participate in the “induction” of a Corsair into the Smithsonian Institution. Greg Tucker, lawyer son of Black Sheep Burney Tucker, worked out the details with the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian. I supplied the addresses of all the surviving Black Sheep. Eighteen of us attended the ceremony.

That was when I decided to tell the story of these young eagles who flew and fought in the South Pacific some 40 years ago, and of what happened to them in the decades that followed.

ONE
BOOK: Once They Were Eagles
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