WWII (1943-46)

“A Pilot’s Best Friend” — Plane Guard Duty

Memory from: Marshall H. McRoy

Setting the Scene

Marshall H. McRoy, the pilot of a Gruman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, tells of his harrowing experience on December 16, 1943, of ditching into the Pacific west of Hawaii and of the destroyer crew which came to his rescue.

The Recollection

Torpedo Squadron One (VT-1), of which I was a pilot, was directed to proceed from our temporary base in Hilo, Hawaii, to intercept the USS YORKTOWN (CV-10) and her escorts for the purpose of carrier landing re-qualifications. The flight was routine until we were in sight of the ship, at which time I found I was having a problem at staying in formation. Adding more manifold pressure and RPM did not remedy my situation and I began to fall further back from the formation. I made a double-check of my instruments and, all of a sudden, the engine just quit cold. I tried starting the engine again but it would not start and I knew then I had better prepare for a water landing. I disconnected my parachute harness, tightened my shoulder strap and seat belt. During the time I was going down, I was trying to determine the wind direction and as I got closer to the water, I lowered my flaps to 20 degrees and made certain my landing gear was not down. I hit into the top of a wave and immediately I was covered with water. I came up out of my seat only to hit the cross bar above my head. I then jumped out onto the starboard wing only to find my head going back into the cockpit.

In my ditching preparations, I had failed to disconnect my radio cord and, having had no time to worry about details, I got my raft out, inflated it, and shoved off from the aircraft, which sank in about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, an SBD (dive bomber) circled above me and then I saw a destroyer bearing down on me. It was the USS KIDD. Nothing looked better to this 6-month old Ensign and small town boy from DuQuoin, Illinois, than the KIDD bearing down on me at 30 knots. From the time I ditched until I was brought aboard was roughly ten minutes. Once on board the USS KIDD, I was given dry clothes and assigned quarters. Even my paper money was taken to the laundry to be dried out. The KIDD and her crew have always been a significant part of my wartime memories and I am one pilot who has always had the highest regards for the destroyers that performed guard and pilot rescue duty. I went on to fly Gruman Avengers for over 1,500 hours in the combat zone and never had another problem with the aircraft, even with its share of bullet holes. She was a beautiful aircraft and brought me back from escapades more hairy than ditching one.

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