The Ship - All Hands - Decorations - Remembrance
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Retired Commander Stuart Mason from Portland, Oregon joined the US Navy in 1939, attending basic training at NRTC San Diego before shipping out to USS Enterprise in late June 1939. Aboard Big E, Mason was assigned to the deck force for seven months. He then transferred to the radio gang and picked up his Radio Man 3/c rating. He transferred to Bombing Six on September 1st, 1941. Mason described life in Enterprise as pleasant.
"Perhaps it was due to the fact that we were Admiral Halsey's flagship, and you can figure he wanted his flagship to be the best. I think all Admirals are like that. It had its benefits for the rest of us in that we had never experienced water shortages. I've served aboard many other carriers in my career and I know Big E was the only one that maintained a constant supply of fresh water. I don't think living has changed much aboard ships, 'cept the fact that bunks on carriers now offer better extras than the cramped pipe and wire racks we had."
Mason was surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. "It was a complete surprise to everyone. Now myself and Mr. Anderson [LT(jg) Edward Anderson] was supposed to take off on the first recon flight after word of the attack reached us but Ensign Gonzalez asked him if he could take the spot since his wife was in Honolulu and Anderson was single at the time. They agreed and of course Gonzalez and his radioman were killed on that flight. Enterprise arrived there on the 8th at night and we could still see the Arizona burning: it was an incredible sight. We didn't stay too long and got under way the next morning. On the 9th while we were out at sea we did get word of a possible surface contact to the north, so we launched everything just before 5:00 PM but we never found anything."
I asked Mason about the feeling of the crew after Pearl Harbor, about any fear that America had been damaged so badly that the war could have been lost. "No ... there was some fear but generally the attitude was more of time than losing. We all knew the Japanese couldn't win. I don't think anyone felt they were so good or better than the United States in terms of military strength. It was just a question of how long it would take. Certainly it didn't take us long to jump right back at them. I guess it's because Admiral Halsey was such a pissed off kind of man: he wanted us to get right back in their face, show them our moxie. The strike on the Marshalls was important because it displayed to the Japanese that they were screwing with the wrong people. Now in the early days, January through June, that was shaky because Enterprise seemed to carry the brunt of the fighting on herself. We didn't have that many carriers to the Japanese: Saratoga was laid up, Ranger was too old, Yorktown was damaged and Lexington was sunk. By Midway, we were really holding by a string. After Midway though, our industry was cranking and we were shoving more into the fight than the Japanese could."
Mason recalled his own wounding during Midway and the action against the Japanese fleet. "We'd been flying for hours. I remember Mr. Anderson cussing up front, 'God damn it, where are those f___ers?' He was frustrated as we all were. Then Commander McClusky radioed that he'd spotted this Japanese destroyer and decided to lead the whole bombing formation. Mr. Best followed him and there they were. Now Scouting Six dove first - that was McClusky - and we dove on the Akagi. After us, the Yorktown's boys went in and got the third. We lost a lot of bombers in that strike. Bombing Six had 16 when it went out and only four came back. Most just ran out of gas because this strike was so long ranged. I really do believe that Admiral Spruance made the proper call on that, to go early with such a long range risk. Mr. Anderson and I were the last ones to get back to Big E. Now as we closed in to land, we got shot by one of our own torpedo planes and the back of the Dauntless was blasted. I got hit with shrapnel. The whole cockpit was covered in blood and blood was sprayed all over the tail. I just bled. We landed with less than a gallon of gas."
What was the back seat of a Dauntless like? "Cramped, not much room since we had tons of radio gear, ammo belts, and a .30-caliber machine gun. The front of it was armored with this imposing boiler plate and it restricted you from moving freely. I think this killed more of our radiomen than enemy fire because if you ditched, it slowed your progress out of the plane. But the Daunt was a good plane, a very rugged thing. I've seen blasted Daunts come home with parts of wings and stabs blown off."
Mason echoed the opinion of other Midway veterans that the Japanese simply became too overconfident. "The plan was just way too complicated: that was their fault. Really, Midway was just one of those live by the string events. We were lucky and I truly think we were more willing to win no matter what than they were." Commander Mason retired in 1970 as a senior maintenance officer in a Sky Warrior squadron at NAS Whidbey Island, Wa.
Retired Captain Tony Schneider enlisted in the Navy in November 1938 and was a graduate of the Pensacola flight school in 1939. "I knew we were going to war, I think most people knew it at the time but they decided to live in a sort of blindness. I graduated from college and I figured I should get off my duff and join up. I was excited when I got the acceptance orders to flight school, planes just held my fancy."
Schneider arrived aboard Bombing Six in November 1941 and well remembers December 7th, and the first U.S. naval aviator killed in action over Oahu. "I was scheduled to go on that flight into Pearl but at the last moment, Ensign Manuel Gonzalez begged permission to replace one of us in the flight. He eventually replaced myself and Anderson. He had good reason: his wife was in Honolulu. At that point, we had no idea Pearl was being attacked. His SBD took off about 45 minutes into the attack and somewhere near Oahu, he got jumped by fighters. The Com Center back on Enterprise received two transmissions from Manuel, 'Cease fire! Friendly Aircraft!' and 'Prepare to deploy lift raft.' That's the last we heard from him."
Schneider described the crew's reaction to the bombing as a mixture of anger and shock, while his own was more of resolve. "Most of us knew the war was coming. The fact that they slammed Pearl first was a stunner since all our preparations were for defending the Far East, not this sudden bold strike in Hawaii."
Ensign John Doherty arrived shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and was assigned to room with Schneider in officers' country. "Johnny was a good man. He never swore much, was always considerate, very kind, he and I became fast friends. You could say he was typical of the kind of people we had as pilots. On duty, John was studious, attentive, dedicated. Off duty, he was a tame party-loving guy. The few times he got drunk with us, he managed to hold himself well. Now there was this one time he decided to go skinny dipping on the beach behind the old Monaloua and then run bare-ass through the lobby. That could have got him in deep trouble had Dick Best not backed him up before Commander Hollingsworth."
On February 1, 1942, Ensign Schneider was flying the second of three strikes against the Marshall Islands atolls of Kwajalein and Maloelap. "We were designated to hit the airfields on Maloelap and I pressed my attack against one of the ships anchored in the inlet to the west of the strip. The Japs got fighters into the air, my guess these were the same guys who got Johnny, and I got one right on my tail. Well, my backseat radio man was hammering away with his .30-cal when he swung it too hard on the tracking ring and busted the mounting. He calls up, 'Sir! The 30 can't traverse!' I scream back, 'Do your best and get it up!' So here we are, a lanky Dauntless against a Jap Zero. Now some think that the Dauntless can't fly so well in such a state, let me tell you this ... when you're pissed off and you have someone behind you that wants you dead, you can suddenly work magic out of your ass. I'm throwing the plane this way and that, I wanted that guy to work for his money and I must have pissed him off. He flies right by my right side and shakes his fist at me before leaving me alone."
"I learned about Johnny when I got back to the ship. I cursed, I cried a little, then I calmed down. There was no time for allowing a period of grief. Johnny, I know, would understand. If you allowed yourself to go numb over the deaths of your friends, you'd join them. After the war, there was time to sit and finally give them proper due. The way he died was true Johnny, right down to his radio call as he stayed behind to tangle those three Zeros. At least he killed one of them. We held a memorial service for him and the guys from Scout Six who were killed on that day, we said our goodbyes, then we got back into the war."
Schneider also remembered the torpedo pilots and crews at Midway. "They didn't have any backup, no fighter cover. And Mr. Best is right, they did give us that victory, bought and paid for with brave blood. When we arrived over the carriers, there was no flak and not a single fighter up over 1,000 feet. I followed Mr. Best into the dive against Akagi and watched that flattop explode like a volcano. Going back to the ship, I don't think I had yet grasped the full impact of the victory till a week later. We had crippled the cream of Japan's naval air arm, 800 of their best airmen were killed."
What was Schneider's take on the battle of Midway? "The Japanese made so many mistakes in tactics, I truly think that Midway ran counter to what Yamamoto preached. We can look back now and count the blunders. I think Dutch Harbor was totally uncalled for. It deprived Yamamoto of two more carriers against our three. The only Japanese ship with air search radar was Yamato and she was 300 miles away, as was Yamamoto himself. They made detailed plans that had zero room for original thinking. All together ... they simply blew their hand. Now I won't discount our own series of mistakes at Midway, we just had less than they did."
Of the Japanese pilots, Schneider remarks on the fatal loss of quality over quantity. "I think the experience of Japanese pilots fell drastically from '42 to '45 because they never rotated their veterans back home like we did. Our best pilots went home to teach new ones coming in and it gave them a quality edge when they reached Pacific duty. The Japanese never did this: their vets remained on the lines and died. In the end, we lost less and less pilots per month while their losses became appalling."
Schneider served on many flattops during the war, the last being USS Yorktown CV-10 off Okinawa in 1945. He called the Kamikaze a terror weapon that inflicted great damage on ships and men, noting that he witnessed the devastating attack against USS Franklin CV-13. "I just watched her explode like an atom bomb. We were so sure she was going to roll over and sink. Now that was an amazing example of courage. The Captain refused to surrender and stayed aboard her to rally the crew. She was a shattered mess by the next morning, but they saved Big Ben from going down."
Lieutenant Tony Schneider ended the war as a full squadron commander and would continue on to his final post as Deputy Commander Fleet Air West Pacific at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines. He retired as a Captain in 1970. He sums his life up as follows: "It was an honor, indeed a humble one, to have been part of such a great event. It is also sobering to look back on it and remember the friends and buddies who didn't come home. I've had many good years since the war but not a day goes by that I don't reflect on that period of history. I am proud and joyed that young people like yourself call me every week to ask questions. Despite any negative news about kids these days, I'm not worried for the safety of the country. I don't think the basic values have changed much in the past 50 years or are threatened to do so. Kids are still generally patriotic, and overall remain just as good minded as we were when we were young. I know that when I finally leave this life, I will take with me not the slightest animosity, anger, or regret. I will be at peace."
As for John Doherty and his memory, a park was dedicated by his mother - my great grandmother Dotty - on February 1, 1943 in Charlestown Massachusetts. The park is on the actual Bunker Hill next to St. Francis Catholic cathedral. At the ceremony, Dotty proclaimed ...
"I have given my son to God, to ensure the safety of our country against evil. I know he shines on us now, that he would want us to continue the fight to the very end, to victory, and to the glorious peace that our heavenly Father has charged us to restore in his name."
The USS John Doherty DE-14, a Buckley-class destroyer escort, would be commissioned in late 1942, with Dotty and her son Sonny sending it down the building ramp of the Mare Island Ship Building Company in California. Dotty offered her own words in the spirit that marked her life: "I christen thee John Doherty, in the name of God, Country, Clan. Go forward, fight well, and do us honor!"
The Doherty would fight well, participating in convoy duty in the Atlantic. In the Pacific she patrolled for downed airmen and fought Kamikaze attacks off Okinawa. DE-14 was later decommissioned and struck from the Navy register in 1946.