June 6–7, 1945
Your efforts to help identify the little bird, including the admirable sketches of the trogons, now obviously not even distant relations, are most appreciated, though I’m a little embarrassed you sent my completely unscientific descriptions to the American Museum, since they will make me appear the rankest of amateurs. It may very probably take what is left of the specimen to identify the species if not the family. A new family, by the way, is of course always of more interest than just a new species, and knowing that there are many families strange to me on the various islands out here is tantalizing indeed. Hawaii added several, and though two were represented by introduced species, one other, that of the Hawaiian Honey Creepers, I was especially pleased to meet (through three species), it being one of the most remarkable and striking bird families in the World. Guam added one (possibly two) more, so you can see I haven’t done very well, even though about as well as could be expected. The New Guinea region, with its cassowaries; megapodes (curious birds that leave their eggs in mounds of sand, decaying leaves, etc., and, like reptiles, forget about them, the young being completely independent upon the hatching of the eggs); hornbills; birds of paradise; parrots and lories and many other less well known families, would probably be best for my purposes, though the Philippines wouldn’t be bad! Checking the records I find that Florida in two years plus produced seven new families for me (skimmers; cranes; ibises; storks—represented by the wood ibis, not a true ibis; anhingas; oyster-catchers and man-o-war birds), and California in six months three or four (wren-tits; barn owls; albatrosses and true petrels—the storm petrels, a representative of which I had previously seen sometimes being considered a sub-family of petrels, sometimes a separate family). And so go the ambitions and experiences of a still budding ornithologist!
Your past guesses about my activities have caused me considerable amusement. The commissioning anniversary party was of course nothing to do with the ship’s date of commission, being given by the ship to the air group, so you still have plenty of choices as to which flat-top is ours. Remember that there may even be some which you have never heard of, though with Jack around, this seems doubtful., Just what the papers at home are saying or not saying these days I just don’t know. I know they mention ship launchings, but I don’t think they mention commissionings, which of course occur many months later in the case of larger ships. It will be interesting to read newspapers again, especially for miscellaneous news. We get the main dispatches and much restricted and confidential matter too, and most of us read Time and even other magazines, though the latter are always months old.
It must have been fine to have Ham and Edie and their brats longer than originally expected. And Nance has been up even more recently! I hope she does get another week, for Squam, and when I’m there. People on leave, I understand, get a gallon of gas per day recently, and what with V-E in the bag I don’t see this being reduced. That should mean at least 30 gallons for me, which help along any Squam plans. Though it may be tough on my sea legs, I’m gunning for more than just Morgan or Percival once one of them has taken the kinks out. Time alotments [sic] and said legs will be all to keep me back.
Jack’s composition or, more exactly, the extracts from same both amazed and amused me. You might tell him that we don’t have to get dressed in the dark, though we may occasionally have to scramble up on deck and into our planes in predawn darkness. And for the sake of exactness, if he’s interested in same, the “voice” (actually that of the assistant air officer) prior to calling, “Start engines,” calls, “Stand clear of propellers,” rather than “Stand clear of engines, mechanics,” but I must say it’s a small point indeed.
While on this subject I’d like to give a lot of credit to the plane captains, the “mechs,” the radio men and the various members of the flight deck crew, all of whom work under very hazardous conditions when the planes’ engines are going and especially when the latter are being “revved” up. The danger of being blown by the blast of one “prop” into another is, of course, what I mean, and when working at top speed the “chock” men, taxi directors, etc., can afford to be only so cautious.
Last time while describing the routine of a typical flight I mentioned something about the more exciting moments without elaborating further. I might do so now. The first, naturally enough, is during your own take-off when you’re wondering if you’ll have enough air speed by the time you reach the end of the deck to give you flying speed. Actually you may often be airborne before reaching the very end of the deck, but it’s never with very much above stalling speed. Joining up in formation is pretty much routine unless the visibility is very bad, and the same holds true when you are already in formation, only in the latter case it takes pretty thick clouds to make the situation become really interesting, and clouds can usually be pretty well avoided.
The approach to and retirement from the target is always a time of tension because you have to concentrate on so many things in quick succession and often with people shooting at you. It may be a job in itself to stay in formation on the final approach since you are all the time picking up speed and may be on the outside of a turn. After making sure all the bombs are armed, the guns charged and the sight working, you might get a chance to glance out and at least get a glimpse of the target area if not of the target itself. Then comes the moment for one to drop back a little and open the bomb bays all the time looking out for a better view of the target. In no time you have pushed over and are opening the diving flaps (unless it is a glide bombing attack). Now comes the toughest and obviously most critical moment of all when aiming the plane and trimming it up so as to avoid slip or skid you try and get things set for a smooth release at the proper altitude before you have to pull out. Seconds are really split and precious along in here, but since they’re just as precious to the opposition, the thing to do is to get in and out as quickly as possible with a fair degree of bombing accuracy.
After pulling out, at the same time closing the dive flaps and then the bomb bays, you may get a bit of a breather. It may be advisable to offer anyone who might be shooting at you as meagre a target as possible by jinking, but such a danger zone is usually soon passed and you’re going straight again. The plane will go only so fast so there isn’t much else you can do before reaching the rendezvous point, though there may be strafing targets along the way. If so, this is where the fun begins, but it never lasts long. There would be further excitement all along the line if there were heavy fighter opposition, but it would have something to be more than our fighters could handle.
As I said before, there’s never any trouble finding the carrier upon returning, the only people having any worries being those with badly damaged planes. These are always accompanied even when separated from the formation, and if they have to make a landing in the water they are circled until they are picked up by a seaplane or a ship. Landing aboard is still something of an event because it is always a little tricky. Without a landing signal officer it would be downright foolhardy.
My own most exciting moments to date are those experienced over the Yamato. We got separated in a cloud, and soon after that I found myself half in the clouds half out of them right over the ship at low altitude and all alone (except of course for Ives). Since we were the first outfit to go in, my impression was that I was the first individual to attack (actually it turned out I probably wasn’t). The clouds were so thick it was difficult to maneuver into an attacking position, but after playing a hide-and-go-seek game with the AA gunners of the various ships below during my approach, I had reached a spot that seemed about right, and, catching a glimpse of the big boy through a hole, I pushed over into a steep glide. Unfortunately we ran through some more clouds on the way down and broke out a little astern of the Yamato going approximately at right angles to it. Looking back at it now it seems likely that in my excitement I forgot to allow for the rapid forward speed of the ship, which after all I didn’t have sight of most of the time. At any rate all I could do was yank the plane around and try to aim in the right direction before pulling out of what was now a shallow diving turn, practically at release altitude. The result was, not surprisingly, at least one great big miss, which showed only too plainly in the form of a splash! Photographs indicated the possibility of one of my two bombs hitting home, but it seems more than likely that the Yamato and I broke even! They were doing their darnedness too, by the way, and it’s positively astonishing that most of us came through completely or nearly unscathed, and that none of our squadron didn’t come through.
I’ve carried this along further than usual because it’s been dawning upon me that I’ve been getting behind in the news. To bring another subject up to date, I’ll mention the latest books read. After lending it to various people, as I’ve been doing with those few of my books of more general interest, I finally got around to the Sea Witch myself, Ma. It’s a splendid tale indeed and concerns an era of special interest to me. The Green Years, Cronin’s latest, is the only recent one borrowed from someone else. No more depressing than the average Cronin, it has a swell ending. The Warden I found pleasant enough if less interesting. Perhaps Barchester Towers amounts to a little more, but it is longish and will have to wait. Moby Dick is the current volume off the shelves (of metal, Ma!), and though Melville has his brilliant moments, he gets sidetracked to a degree exasperating to one who has just read a more modern sea story. H.G.Wells’ little history and several thrillers complete the list. I very much look forward to seeing what in the way of both books and magazines have collected at home in my absence. The record collection won’t have grown I suppose but it’s a good one already, and as long as I’m rich, there will be occasional additions.