Remembering VF(N)-101

How can VF(N)-101 best be remembered?

I created this blog back in 2015 when Flight Lieutenant John Kelly’s son sent me this picture of his father on a group picture.

vfn-101

Collection John Kelly (courtesy Gunnar Kelly)

This is how I got started with writing a blog with the idea of remembering unsung heroes.

Faces but with just a name. 

Richard Emerson  Harmer was also smiling, as well as other night fighter naval aviators from VF(N)-101 aboard the Enterprise, but I did not know him… 

vfn-101-richard-emerson-harmer

Then Bob Brunson, another naval aviator on that picture, found my blog and I could add a name to another smiling face.

robert-brunson

Bob Brunson who knew Richard Harmer’s son gave me his email to contact him. What evolved from this contact was more than 3 gigabytes of files about his father Richard Harmer.

Photos like this one…

Documents…, and foremost his complete 1944 diary.

I just had to turn back time, and start writing on each of the 39 naval aviators seen on the deck of USS Saratoga 15 July 1942…

VF-5 July, 1942

Top row (left to right): Price, Reiplinger, Altemus, Gunsolus, Eichenberger, Innis, Gray, Kleinmann, Morgan, Roach, Dufilho, Smith

Center row: Currie, Robb, Wesolowski. Starkes, Davy, Holt, Daly, Presley, McDonald, Tabberer, Barbieri, Haynes, Bass, Blair, Bright

Bottom row: Kleinman, Stover, Crews, Brown, Southerland, Harmer, Simpler, Richardson, Green, Jensen, Clarke, Stepanek. (photo from the collection of Capt. H. W. Crews)

Before writing about VF(N)-101.


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Lucky’s Life

I just had to buy the book Lucky’s Life when I read what was written on the back cover.

Source Amazon…

Back cover

The story of my uncle, William Rudolf Larson- nicknamed “Lucky” by his fellow pilots, is the account and authentic voice of a WWII TBF pilot told in his own words from more than 60 family letters and postcards to his proud parents and his kid-brother – my father. Lucky served on the USS Nashville before WWII, participated on the Doolittle Raid as a SOC pilot, and then trained in the new Avenger plane before shipping out to the Solomon Islands and bombing Japanese positions during the Bougainville Campaign of 1943. Several of his aviation exploits were chronicled in the Chicago Daily News, the Oakland Tribune, the Divide County Journal, and the Williston Herald. Lucky’s letters to his home were saved in a pinewood Naval trunk for 70 years within the family. Upon researching his life, the War Diary of his radioman was discovered and filled in the rich WWII history of Lucky and his fellow VC 38 squadron. Recent declassified mission reports of VC 38’s heroic actions during the Bougainville Campaign also provide an insight into Lucky’s war experience and air battles. Sadly, Lucky never returned to the family farm in rural Divide County, North Dakota. Lucky was posthumously awarded the Air Medal. This book includes condolence letters from family members and VC 38 pilots, along with their individual stories and photographs. 43 TBF mission reports and over 150 unpublished WWII-era photographs and maps are included.

Some of the reviews on Amazon…

Don has created an incredible tribute to his uncle and the largely unsung heroes of US Navy Composite Squadron 38 (VC-38) who served so courageosly in the South Pacific in World War 2. This book will forever hold a special place in my life and helps complete the legacy of not only Don’s uncle, William, but also of my father, Richard “Wag” Wagner, Lucky’s radioman, whose life ended before I could ask so many of the questions Don has answered in this incredible book. Lucky made the ultimate sacrifice to protect this great country, as did many others whoso stories Don’s book also memorializes, thanks Don for bringing their stories to life and preserving them for all time. I’m proud to have been associated with this great story, even in a small way, and simply cannot express my gratitude to Don for creating this great work.
 
Wonderful real-life accounting of the life of a WWII fighter pilot. The book contains history of a young man growing up on the plains, going into the service, and letters and pictures sent home of the day-to-day happenings during WWI. It contains a love story, and many personal accounts from Lt. William R. Larson that paints of picture of his amazing life. Such a wonderful read!
 
This is a heart warming story written by a nephew about an uncle that he never knew. He found an old trunk in his Grandmother’s house containing all the letters he had written home and many other things. The author did a great deal of research and the book contains a lot of information on WWII but the story of his uncles life is wonderful and sad, like so many of the men who lose their life in wars. It would make a great movie!
 
William R. “Lucky” Larson’s nephew, Donald J. Larson, who never met his uncle, has written one of the most personal, engaging and heartwarming stories you will ever read regarding any part of WWII. Through an impressive collection of Lucky’s letters, notes and flight logs along with letters from shipmates, friends and family, a great and unique story has been written. William Larson was a US Navy pilot that flew off both crusiers and carriers, who fought from Alaska to the South Pacific and earned his “Lucky” nickname multiple times. A strong, humble, midwestern kid, he was a deep thinker, an educated and kind man and one who was loved by officers and enlisted men alike. Other than a strict autobiography (Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie comes to mind), there is no WWII story that can detail the life of a WWII serviceman to the extent this book does. That is partially due to the tremendous number of letters saved coupled with a museum worthy collection of documents and photos, both personal and official. By the end of this book you not only feel like that Lucky was your best friend, you feel like you grew up with the entire family.
This is an outstanding and engaging work, worthy of a permanent place on any reader’s bookshelf. Highly Recommended.
Steven Bustin, Author, “Humble Heroes, How The USS Nashville CL43 Fought WWII.
I loved this book!!!! It is a raw, intimate account of an intelligent, mature, handsome young man who unselfishly served his country in WWII. What makes this book unique is that it is portrayed in Lucky’s own words through his personal letters to various family members, friends, and fellow servicemen. Through his correspondence, it is easy to visualize “Lucky” and the optimistic, yet careful soldier he was. It is obvious he knew he was living in dangerous situations and in dangerous times, but his letters home minimized those fears by discussing girls he met on leave, places he visited, and people he had met. By the end of the book, the reader feels as though he knows Lucky, his parents, his brother, his friends, and the rugged area of North Dakota in which he called home. Although the reader knows from the beginning the fate of “Lucky”, one finds him/herself hoping that the ending is not really going to happen. The book will make you laugh, smile, and cry. The author, Lucky’s nephew, who never met his uncle does an excellent job of adding details and background information to enhance Lucky’s story. This book is a great read for anyone who wants to follow the goodness of humanity.
Remembering?
Isn’t that what this blog is all about?
eichenberger
Charles Eichenberger was my step brother and I would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone that knew him or knew about him.
You can contact me if you want to share information on any of the 39 pilots.
1942-vf-5-squadron-saratoga-mod3

Remembering Ensign Wayne C. Presley – Update

Comment made by Don Larson

Here’s some info on Wayne C Presley after he joined VC38/VF38 in June of 1943 and was shipped out to the Solomon Islands:

Lt.(jg)Wayne C. Presley (VF-38)
On September 16, 1943, Presley took off from Munda Airfield in his F6F-3 Hellcat fighter, as part of the escort for 24 TBFs and 31 SBDs attacking Ballale Island. The escort consisted of 13 Hellcats from VF-38 and 11 Hellcats from VF-40, in addition to other F6F, F4U, P-40, and P-38’s making up a total of 71 escorting fighters. Over the target, 40-50 intercepting Zeros and Tonys were met, and heavy anti-aircraft cover was encountered over the target. Presley and his Hellcat (Bureau Number 25940) was observed to crash into the sea and is listed as MIA. Lt.(jg) Presley was declared dead on January 9, 1946. Lt.(jg) Presley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Gold Star, and Purple Heart (posthumously).

Don Larson is not related to Lt.(jg)Wayne C. Presley (VF-38)

No, not related. My uncle was a TBF pilot in the same squadron – VC38. He was also MIA in Dec of 1943. I wrote a book about his life and also a Tribute to VC38. I do have a photograph of Wayne Presley. My uncle was Lt William R Larson of Hanks, North Dakota. The book is titled Lucky’s Life by Don J. Larson.

 

Lucky's Life

The story of my uncle, William Rudolf Larson – nicknamed “Lucky” by his fellow pilots, is the account and authentic voice of a WWII TBF pilot told in his own words from more than 60 family letters and postcards to his proud parents and his kid-brother – my father. Lucky served on the USS Nashville before WWII, participated on the Doolittle Raid as a SOC pilot, and then trained in the new Avenger plane before shipping out to the Solomon Islands and bombing Japanese positions during the Bougainville Campaign of 1943. Several of his aviation exploits were chronicled in the Chicago Daily News, the Oakland Tribune, the Divide County Journal, and the Williston Herald. Lucky’s letters to his home were saved in a pinewood Naval trunk for 70 years within the family. Upon researching his life, the War Diary of his radioman was discovered and filled in the rich WWII history of Lucky and his fellow VC 38 squadron. Recent declassified mission reports of VC 38’s heroic actions during the Bougainville Campaign also provide an insight into Lucky’s war experience and air battles. Sadly, Lucky never returned to the family farm in rural Divide County, North Dakota. Lucky was posthumously awarded the Air Medal. This book includes condolence letters from family members and VC 38 pilots, along with their individual stories and photographs. 43 TBF mission reports and over 150 unpublished WWII-era photographs and maps are included.

ORIGINAL POST


Excerpt from…

On 1 September the Saratoga sent three more VT-8 TBFs to Espiritu Santo. In VF-5 rumors ran rampant. One had them being committed piecemeal as replacements to CACTUS. The next morning came the parting of the ways, when Fletcher decided to send twenty-eight F4Fs to Efate, leaving nine to protect the ships. Some pilots were assigned, others volunteered, and some cut cards to see who would go. Eleven pilots remained on board as the VF-5 Detachment:

Ensign Presley was one of them.

Lieutenant Bill Robb’s party of 101 VF-5 enlisted men transferred to the Monssen (DD-436) and Grayson bound for Efate, where they would service VF-s’s fighters, while Lt. Alex Barbieri’s forty-five enlisted men and the squadron’s heavy gear would be dropped off at Tongatabu. The morning of the 2nd, twenty-eight F4Fs under Lieutenant Commander Simpler took off for Efate about 100 miles southwest. That afternoon Lieutenant Larsen brought fifteen TBFs and two SBDs back to load torpedoes and other gear, then returned to Espiritu Santo. One SBD ditched on takeoff. Thus a total of twenty-eight F4Fs, twentytwo SBDs, and fifteen TBFs deployed ashore.

The Saratoga Air Group appeared at a very crucial time for the defense of SoPac. It had become quite obvious, at least to the local commanders, that the aircraft committed to embattled Guadalcanal proved totally inadequate to ensure its security. Even before the landings, Maj. Gen. Millard F. Harmon, SoPac Commanding General (CG), strongly urged the War Department to send additional planes, including at least two squadrons of the Lockheed P-38F Lightning fighters that enjoyed the high-altitude performance so highly sought for CACTUS. His recommendations received vigorous agreement from Undersecretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal, on an inspection trip to SoPac.

Epilogue

There is very little information  on Ensign  Presley…

Wayne C. Presley

Date of death: MIA:

World War II

Burial location: Manila, Philippine Islands

Home of record: Corning California

Status: MIA

Awarded for actions during the World War II

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Ensign Wayne C. Presley, United States Navy, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as Pilot of a Fighting Squadron in the Battle of Midway, 4 to 6 June 1942. As one of an escort group assigned to cover the approach of our dive bombers, Ensign Presley maintained continuous flight for an hour over the Japanese invasion fleet, thereby insuring an unopposed approach for our attacking planes. Later, during this battle, while participating in combat patrol, he sighted an enemy torpedo plane approaching the U.S.S. YORKTOWN and assisted in daring pursuit and eventual destruction of the enemy plane, which was shot down in flames. His skill as an airman and his courageous perseverance and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 312 (March 1943)

Action Date: June 4 – 6, 1942

Service: Navy

Rank: Ensign

Battalion: Fighting Squadron


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Operation Watchtower: The Guadalcanal Campaign

Intermission – About Guadalcanal

The Unwritten Record

Co-Authored by Kelsey Noel and Corbin Apkin.

This August marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Watchtower, otherwise known as the Guadalcanal Campaign. Operation Watchtower was a series of engagements between the Allied forces (comprised heavily of U.S. Marines) and the Japanese military. The campaign began on August 7th, 1942 with the first amphibious landings by U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida islands. By August 8th, the Japanese airfield at Lunga Point was secured.

Other nearby islands including Gavutu and Tanambogo were taken by Allied forces in quick succession over the next several days, but the campaign was not soon over. The Allies and the Japanese continued to engage throughout the region through air strikes and amphibious operations for six months, making Guadalcanal one of the first extended campaigns in the Pacific. Finally, on February 9th, 1943, following a four night long Japanese…

View original post 388 more words

Richard “Chick” Harmer

This is how I first met Lieutenant Commander Richard Harmer.

Through a photo sent by Lieutenant John Kelly’s son.

At first this blog was created to pay homage to Lieutenant John Kelly and after to these other unsung heroes.

 

But then it evolved with a comment made by Bob Brunson.

He told me about Tom Harmer, Richard Harmer’s son. Tom and I made contact, and I have not stop writing since. First about this picture which had a wrong caption. Tom did not know who wrote it. Certainly not his father!

I just had to make the caption right to pay homage to these 39 aviators seen on a group picture taken on July 15, 1942 aboard USS Saratoga.

The caption said also that there were half of these men who had died in the battle. I had to make certain.

Ensign Robert L. Price was one of them.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Charles A. Tabberer was another one.

Ensign G.J. Morgan.

Lieutenant Marion William Dufilho.

Ensign Charles Emil Eichenberger.

Ensign Horace Ancel Bass.

Lieutenant (junior grade) William Mack Holt

 

Six aviators died in the battle of Guadalcanal, but four more died after: Ensign Donald A. Innis, Lieutenant (junior grade) Elisha Terrill “Smokey” Stover, Mark K. Bright, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Melvin C. Roach.

Richard Emerson Harmer survived the war, and his son is preserving his father’s past as well as his fellow aviators’ past by sharing all his father kept.

 

There will be a lot more to come on this blog that will now be dedicated to him and VF(N)-101.

I am sure you will be amazed just like I was when I saw everything Tom had shared, especially his father’s journal for 1944.

 

 

Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward G. Stepanek (1916 – 2012)

What happened to Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward G. Stepanek?

He is the last of the 39 pilots on the group picture.

He is listed here in the 1940 U.S. Census.

Edward G. Stepanek survived the war.


Name EDWARD G STEPANEK
Birth Date 23 Nov 1916
Marriage Date Not Available
Death Date 7 Aug 2012
Cemetery Name Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Record Type burial record
Record Source U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=102050925

 

Now We Know Who They Are – Update

It is about the pilot who is on the right kneeling…

Robert B. Brunson had identified who were the Corsair pilots on this picture shared by Lieutenant Kelly’s son.

wpid-image2.jpg

Of course we knew thanks to Gunnar Kelly who was John Kelly.

Robert Brunson was also on that picture, and he wrote two years ago.

Kneeling: Bob Holden, Jack Kelly, ??? Von Sprecken,

Standing: Bob Poirier, myself, Bob Brunson, “Chick” Harmer, Chris Orphanides and “Bunky” Rowlen.

 

corsair-pilots

Now that we know who they are, I am going to try to find their relatives.

Update

This comment was left a few days ago…

Were you able to identify the ??? von Sprecken in your picture? Could it be Frank von Sprecken? Is this from WWI for WWII? I think he was my great uncle. His plane disappeared during WWII.

The only clue that I have found is this.

VON SPRECKEN, Frank Jr, LTJG, O-120085, USNR, from Louisiana, location Pacific Ocean, missing, date of loss August 25, 1944 (pm) + VON SPRECKEN, Frank, Jr., Lieutenant (jg), USNR. Wife, Mrs. T. W. Von Sprecken, 2381 Government St., Baton Rouge, La (na) + VON SPRECKEN, Frank, Lieutenant Junior Grade, O-120085, USN, from Louisiana, Aug-44, Honolulu Memorial (bm)

 It’s just a start…

 

Lieutenant Walter E. Clarke

Lieutenant Walter E. Clarke was later promoted to Captain.

Here is the biography I found on the Internet.

That’s about the only thing I found, a school named after him.


BIOGRAPHY OF CAPTAIN WALTER E. CLARKE

Captain Walter E. Clarke was born in Chicago, Illinois, on November 26, 1914. Graduated from James Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois, he entered flight training as an Aviation Cadet. In November of 1939 he was designated a Naval Aviator and commissioned an Ensign. Captain Clarke’s first fleet assignment was to Fighter Squadron Five, attached to the USS YORKTOWN. While with this squadron he saw duty in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters aboard aircraft carriers ENTERPRISE, RANGER, WASP, and SARATOGA. When the SARATOGA was torpedoed off Guadalcanal, forcing it to return to the states, VF-5 remained to support Marine fighters operating from Henderson field. They remained shore-based until relieved on 26 October, 1942.

Captain Clarke was one of 13 pilot survivors out of an original 39 assigned at the start of the invasion.

Following assignment as an instructor of VF Aircraft at Sanford, Florida, and advancement to Superintendent of Flight Training at that base, Captain Clarke joined command Fighting Squadron Ten, “the Grim Reapers”. He returned to the Pacific in 1945, and participated in aerial battles at Iwo Jima, the first carrier strikes on the Japanese Homeland, the invasion of Okinawa, and air cover over China during the surrender negotiations with the Japanese. He is credited with nine victories in aerial combat.

Following the war, Captain Clarke served as Aide and Flag Lt. to Commander Carrier Division SIX in 1946, then served as instructor at General Line School in Newport, 1947, Mustin Field, NAMC Philadelphia, 1948, and Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, 1949. He was Navigator of U.S.S. PALAU CCVE-1225 in 1950-51. Two years with the Bureau of Naval Personnel preceded a cruise as Operations Officer for USS CORAL SEA in 1954-55. From 1956-57 he was Operations Officer for Commander Carrier Division SIX, then Air Operations Officer, Staff CINCELM for two years. From 1959-60, he served as Assistant Director of Technical Studies Group, CNO, in Washington. From 27 April 1961 until 2.3 April 1962 Captain Clarke was Commanding Officer of the USS VALCOUR, flagship for Commander Middle East Force. He spent a year as Commanding Officer of the USS F.D. ROOSEVELT, then reported to the Staff of Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet as Fleet Plans Officer. Captain Clarke reported to his present assignment as Chief of Staff, Commander Carrier Division SIX on 15 January 1965.”


As a footnote to all this…

http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/department_arch1942.html

http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/department_arch1943.html

http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/department_arch1944.html

http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/department_arch1945.html