5:31 | During the Battle of Midway, John Hancock saw the sky filled with a million tracers. The machine gunner could not tell if he'd hit any of the Japanese planes, but he kept firing from the deck of the carrier Yorktown. He was knocked down when bombs hit the ship and when the torpedoes hit, the order went out to abandon ship.
Keywords : John Hancock USS Yorktown (CV-5) Tongatapu Chester Nimitz USS Enterprise (CV-6) USS Hornet (CV-12) Point Hope Elliott Buckmaster Frank Jack Fletcher Midway shrapnel Japanese torpedo abandon ship raft USS Anderson (DD-411) USS Portland (CA-33)
Along with a friend, John Hancock enlisted in the Navy in 1941. He had been smitten with a recruiting billboard featuring a Navy aviator. The pair were in training when Dec. 7th church services were interrupted for a news bulletin.
John Hancock got used to life aboard the carrier Yorktown as she cruised from Norfolk to San Diego. He was a latecomer to the crew so he had a hammock instead of a bunk. Once the ship got to the Pacific, its planes joined in the first retaliatory strike against the Japanese in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.
The carrier Yorktown joined the Lexington near Australia in an effort to keep the supply lines to Gen MacArthur's forces open. When the Japanese sent a task force their way, the Battle of the Coral Sea ensued. John Hancock was manning a machine gun on the deck of the Yorktown and he fired so much he burned out the barrel.
John Hancock describes the experience of torpedoes hitting his ship at the Battle of Midway. Though it was close to sinking, the abandon ship process was orderly because of all the drilling. He didn't even know he had shrapnel wounds and a collapsed lung until after he was rescued from the water.
After surviving the sinking of the Yorktown during the Battle of Midway, John Hancock realized a lifelong dream and went to flight school. He had been a lowly seaman on the Yorktown but he returned to the war as a fighter pilot.
John Hancock outlines his trajectory through Navy flight school and the different aircraft he progressed through on his way to being a fighter pilot. When he got back to the war, he flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat from the deck of a brand new carrier.
There were Japanese radio antennas on Chichi-jima that needed to be destroyed. John Hancock recalls the downing of an American plane during that operation which was piloted by a future president. From there, his fighter squadron and carrier participated in the retaking of the Philippines.
It was fighter pilot John Hancock's job at Iwo Jima to keep the kamikazes off the ships. They came in huge waves, but they were slow and easy to hit. The pilots still caused a lot of damage because they were determined to die to achieve it.
The sinking of the Yamato off Okinawa was the coup de grace for the Japanese Navy. Fighter pilot John Hancock recalls the hair raising moments trying to bring down kamikazes. It took him years to forget about it after the war, but then he began speaking about it.
Near the end of the war, fighter pilot John Hancock would escort B-29's to Japan and then cut loose to create mayhem on the ground with his machine guns. He returned to Hawaii to begin training in F-4U Corsairs and one day, he heard so much noise he thought the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor again.
Fifty years after the Battle of Midway, John Hancock was at a commemoration event that was also attended by some Japanese veterans. He went up and introduced himself to one of them and was in for quite a surprise.
John Hancock explains why the Navy can lay claim to being on Guadalcanal months before the Marines landed. It had to do with two pilots who were low on fuel and who were reprimanded for the incident.
They had joined the Navy together and were serving on the Yorktown during the Battle of Midway. John Hancock saw the bomb falling that hit his friend Clarence Hill's gun mount. He looked down to the lower deck to see what happened and he wished he had not.
In college after the war, John Hancock was asked if he wanted to join the Navy Reserve. The veteran Navy pilot said he hated the reserve. Then he was told it paid money. Where do I sign? A long career followed alongside his successful working life.
The Japanese prisoners built their own prison camp, under the watchful eye of Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. and the other GI's there in the Philippines. He explains how, during the fighting, the Japanese were hampered by the poor quality of their weapons. The GI's, on the other hand, had the magnificent M1.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
Wes Ruth piloted one of the first aircraft to take off from Pearl Harbor following the Japanese attacks. He was a member of a photographic squadron, but his task became determining the location of the enemy fleet. For his actions this day, he was awarded the Navy Cross.
Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. was one of the GI's tasked with constructing a huge prison camp in the Philippines. He was skillful at adapting and repairing the electrical equipment they found there and this became a career path for him after the war.
His first mission was a milk run. B-26 co-pilot George Nelson did not have that luxury on the rest of his missions. He recalls a rare low altitude bombing run on German submarine pens and describes the make up of his crew, who varied in age between nineteen and forty.
Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. recalls how green soldiers mishandled the machine guns in the Philippines and how an ice machine was procured for adult beverages. He may have been preparing for the upcoming Japanese invasion, but he was also concentrating on conquering the dance floor and meeting Filipino ladies.
Navy pilot Wes Ruth served with a photographic squadron based out of Pearl Harbor until 1944 when he became a transport pilot between the West Coast and Pacific islands. After the war, he enjoyed a number of training and photographic assignments that sent him around the world.
There was almost always flak when B-26 co-pilot George Nelson flew missions over Europe. Milk runs were rare. Near the end of the war, the Germans sent up the very first jet fighter, which was extremely limited in range and could be countered by pincer maneuvers.
The draft came for Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. There was still some war left to fight and he was sent to infantry training to prepare for deployment to the Pacific. After a month of zig-zagging across the ocean, he landed in the Philippines.
It was a way to get into the airline industry. Wes Ruth figured that experience as a Navy pilot was the best way. After training, he was assigned to a photographic squadron in San Diego. The year was 1939 and, in 1940, he was transferred to Pearl Harbor.
George Nelson was a freshman at Notre Dame when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He had scrimped and saved to afford the tuition and when he found out what pilots made in the Air Corps, he thought that would do the trick. He passed the tests and went off to flight school.
While Lon Edgar Morris, Jr. was serving in the Philippines, his camp was hit by a tidal wave, something he never wants to experience again. A different kind of problem vexed him with the local population, sorting out the Japanese from the Filipinos.