Monday, February 05, 2007

Torpedo Squadron 8: Contact with the Enemy Part Five

Part five of eight parts.

After daybreak, when it was announced that the ship was secure and they were dismissed by the Skipper, Abbie, as usual, moaned, “I’m hungry,” and they went to the ward room for breakfast, where Rusty Kenyon ordered his usual plate of beans, for which he got his usual ribbing from the rest of the boys. By 8, the sun was up in a brilliant sky and most of them were back in their quarters. Scarcely had they got themselves settled for their after-breakfast rest, when the loudspeaker barked for their attention: “All pilots report to ready room.” When they got to the ready room they found a new message on the teletype screen: “Midway was attacked this morning by Japanese aircraft and bombers.” There was a scraping of wood on wood as each man jerked open the drawer built into the bottom of his chair, and a flurry of commotion as they hauled out helmets, goggles, gloves, and the pistols and hunting knives which the Skipper had made “must” equipment for them against a forced jungle landing. Then they began to copy off the latest flight data from the blackboard.

Presently the teletype began tapping again. The pencils stopped. And all eyes turned up to the screen to read the message, letter by letter, as it was projected: “E-N-E-M-Y N-A-V-A-L U-N-I-T-S S-I-G-H-T-E-D W-I-T-H-I-N S-T-R-I-K-I-N-G D-I S-T-A-N-C-E. E-X-P-E-C-T-E-D S-T-R-I-K-I-N-G T-I-M-E 0900.” Then, after a pause of almost breathless silence: “L-O-O-K-S L-I-K-E T-H-I-S I-S I-T.”

Pencils began to scratch again as the pilots put every last bit of information onto their flight charts. Ellie Ellison leaned over toward Tex Gay with a broad grin. “Good luck,” he whispered, as he extended his hand across the aisle to meet Gay’s. “Pilots many your planes,” ordered the loudspeaker. As the boys rose in silence, the Skipper addressed them: “I think they’ll change their course. If you check your navigation, don’t think I’m getting lost, just follow me. I’ll take you to ‘em.” As they hurried from the room and climbed up the ladder to the flight deck, not another word was spoken.

Their silence was the grim silence of a football team that has been given the next play by the quarterback and is moving up from the huddle to the line of scrimmage. Before stepping onto the ladder, Tex Gay sidestepped to the sick bay nearby and picked up a tourniquet, which he stuffed into his pocket. When they got on deck, their planes were already there in neat rows. The mechanics were busy and the whine of the inertia starters drowned out the clatter of their trotting feet on the deck. Tucked neatly under the belly of each Douglas Devastator was a white-nosed torpedo—a pickle, as the boys preferred to call them. When they saw the pickles, the boys forgot about the Japs for a split second, for never before had they wheeled their Devastators off the deck with a live pickle in tow. Thus, as they hit the seats of their planes, they were giving more thought to the load they were carrying than to the enemy they were going to carry it to. When the bull horn blared, “Twelve-minute delay in take-off,” Whitey Moore climbed out on the folded wing of his plane and called to Gay who was in front of him and due to be the first of the group to take off: “Tex, if you’ll test the wind, I’ll test the weight.” At 9:12, a stand-by order was shouted and if anything else was said it was lost in the roar of the spinning motors. One after the other the signalman waved off the scouts, the fighters and the dive bombers. Finally, Torpedo 8 was waved up and Tex Gay took his plane off with no difficulty.

Life August 31, 1942

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