WW II Navy dive bombers
When he was 83 years old and living in St, Augustine, I met and became friends with Hal Buell. Hal was a much decorated Naval aviator in the Pacific Theater during WW II. He was awarded the Navy's highest award for valor, the Navy Cross. He was one of the very few pilots .....American or Japanese.....that was involved in all 5 of the major aircraft carrier battles of the war. I spent a number of times at his home, completely absorbed and hanging on every word as he recounted his experiences. After the war, he stayed in the Navy and flew in the Korean War. After 21 years of Navy service, he went to the Florida State University and earned his PH. D. degree in education.
Hal flew two planes during his war. The first was the Douglas SBD Dauntless and the latter was the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver....both dive bombers. Hal's story is related in a book he wrote and that was published first in 1991...I think the last printing was in 2004. It is generally regarded as the pinnacle accounting of WW II U.S. Naval warfare in the Pacific as seen from a dive bomber's perspective.
If you've ever been to either, or both, of the two largest combination air show / fly in's held in this country.....Oshkosh, Wisconsin and the Sun-N-Fun extravaganza held in Lakeland, Fl., you can appreciate that getting a clear shot of intended targets can be problematical, at best. But, here goes.....
BTW....I asked Hal which of the two planes he preferred fighting in. He said that they both had strong points but he really liked the 20 MM. cannons on the Helldiver....he could really chop things up with those guns.
Great story and Great shots.
Thank you. Hal and his beautiful wife, Molly, are two of the finest folks I've ever met. She was an accomplished artist and drew for me a couple of pictures celebrating Hal's career as a warrior pilot. Her gifts are some of my most cherished possessions. Sadly, Molly died a few years after I met them. Hal eventually moved from St. Augustine to live near a daughter in North Carolina. He was 94 years old when he died. I feel very blessed to have become friends with Hal and Molly.
In case you are curious, seen best in shot #3, is a hinged flap on the side of the plane with something yellow sticking out. That's where the life raft was stored if they had to ditch in the ocean.
I once asked Hal what were his most terrifying moments in combat. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with flying. In the Battle of The Coral Sea in 1942, the aircraft carrier Hal was on was sunk by enemy action. A few of the bomber squadrons from his carrier were assigned temporary land-based duty flying from the island of Guadalcanal, in the Solomon chain of islands, which the US had invaded in August of 1942, Hal spent a month flying with the infamous " Cactus Airforce " based on the island. The Japanese fought hard to expel our forces from the island. Nightly, the Japs would send in their naval forces to bombard the airfield that we had captured. By his own confession, these nightly bombardments were the most frightening periods in his whole wartime experiences. He said that when attacking enemy ships he felt somewhat in control of the situation....extremely dangerous as it was. But when the Japs started their nightly shelling of our positions on Guadalcanal, he felt completely helpless and afraid.... there was nothing he could do to affect the outcome, other than hide and pray that no enemy shell found him. He spent about a month on the island and was never so thankful to survive such a conflict.
Must be a nice day you got sweet skies. I like that gun....
Thank you for sharing that story, you were indeed lucky to have meet people like Hal and Molly.
Yeah, Hal loved the 20 mm cannons even though he didn't get to use them very often. When dive bombing on large ships, his only focus was putting his bomb where he wanted it to hit. If major targets were scarce, he would attack lesser craft using the guns. The Japs would employ smaller, wooden craft to move troops around the islands. These were the targets that fell prey to the cannons. As Hal said, he could chop those wooden boats into splinters.
Wonderful shots and excellent back story to accompany them...makes the images even more profound.
Great work my friend!
Thanks, Al. I appreciate your support and value your comments.
Thanks for your comments. Hal was one of the most accomplished men I've ever had the honor of meeting. Yet, he was also one of the most humble individuals you can imagine. He confided to me that he seriously believed that he had a guardian angel that flew with him during the war. On one occasion, he was desperately trying to get back to his ship after sustaining major battle damage to one of his wings. He said that he was openly praying that he and his rear gunner would not die that day. He swore that he heard a calming voice telling him that everything would be OK. After getting back to his ship, crewmen on the ship deck told him that it was almost unbelievable that a plane in the condition of his could stay in the air. Due the extent of damage to the plane, and after removing a few things, they just pushed it over the side of the ship.
Love the photos, and a great story about Hal. I'm glad you had the chance to get to know him as you did.
Thanks, John. Hal was a real pack rat about war-time memorabilia....both written and hard metal. We had a number of conversations about which museums or associations would be the best ones to receive his stuff after he died. I'm not sure where it all ended up going but he gave me a few things that I highly treasure. He was a great guy.
Awesome photo's, I love these old warbirds.
My Smugmug galleryhttps://mikemcneil.smugmug.com/
Yea, you and me both. Thanks for looking in.