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WWII Remembrance & Naval Aircraft & Training History

Fidget

Active member
#1
This is not a story about families in RC flight, but it is a family story about aviation, so I thought this was the best place to share it.

Last winter, we were talking with my parents and somehow got to my great uncle, who was lost at sea in World War II. He was a younger brother of my grandmother, most of whose family had moved from Kansas to southern California before the war to work in aircraft factories. They didn’t know much of what had happened, and there weren’t detailed family stories about it, so I decided to look. Below I’ll piece together some raw information that I found from Wikipedia, Google searches, and Fold3, which is the military record arm of Ancestry.com. Fold3 has a free trial period that I was able to use. In short, he was part of the US Navy Reserve, trained as a pilot on a PT-17 and AT6-Texan, and flew an SBD Dauntless. He crashed into the ocean only a couple of days after arriving at his base in the Pacific and is memorialized with other missing soldiers and sailors at the national cemetery in Hawaii.

Vernon Reuben McElmurry

MCELMURRY, Vernon R, ENS, O-368344, USNR, from California, location Pacific Ocean, missing, date of loss June 9, 1944 (pm) + MCELMURRY, Vernon R, Ensign, O-368344, USN, from California, Jun-45, Honolulu Memorial (bm) + MCELMURRY, Vernon Reuben, Ensign, USNR. Parents, Mr. and Mrs. George M. McElmurry, 1009 E. Tujunga Ave., Burbank, Calif (na)

From Wikipedia:

1940–1945[edit]
During World War II, the USN pilot training program started to ramp up. It had the same stages as the army aviation program (pre-flight, primary, basic, and advanced), except basic flight added a carrier landing stage for fighter and torpedo- or dive-bomber pilots.

In 1940 it was modified to be more like the navy reserve's V-7 program. Candidates had to attend two 4-month semesters (or 10-week "quarters") of college before attending pre-flight. Pre-flight was divided into flight preparatory school, pre-Midshipman School, and Midshipman School. Flight Preparatory School was a four-week "boot camp" that taught discipline and drill, etiquette and protocol (as an officer was expected to be a gentleman), and ethics (as an officer was expected to be honorable); graduates became Seamen Second Class. Pre-Midshipman School was four months of accelerated academic coursework in science, math and physics for those candidates between the ages of 17 and 20 who did not have the educational requirements to attend Midshipman School; graduates became midshipmen. Midshipman School (nicknamed "Pre-Ensign") was three months of seamanship (swimming and boat-handling), navigation, ordnance, telegraphy, engineering, leadership, and naval military history; graduates became commissioned as Ensigns in the US Naval Reserve. Those that washed out were placed in the general V-6 pool as Seamen Second Class in the Naval Reserve.

In July, 1943 the V-5 and V-7 programs were merged into the new V-12 program. V-5 students were reclassified as V-12A (with the A standing for Aviation). Candidates had to attend four 4-month semesters (or 10-week "quarters") of college before attending Pre-Flight or could opt to transfer to the NROTC.

Primary Flight School was at NAS Pensacola and it taught basic flying and landing. It used the NAF N3N or Stearman N2S Primary trainers, dubbed "Yellow Perils" from their bright yellow paintscheme (and the inexperience of the student pilots). Basic Flight School was broken into two parts: part one taught instrument flying and night flying and part two taught formation flying and gunnery; an additional part three stage for single-engined aircraft pilots taught carrier landing. They used the North American SNJ Basic trainer. Advanced Flight Training qualified the pilot on either a single-engined fighter, dive-bomber or torpedo bomber or a multiple-engined transport, patrol plane or bomber; graduates were classed as Naval Aviators and received gold Naval Aviator wings. Each graduate had around 600 total flight hours, with approximately 200 flight hours on front-line Navy aircraft. Pilots who washed out were assigned as regular ensigns.

Enlisted Naval Aviation cadets were paid $50 / month for the first month of training (as an Apprentice Seaman in "Boot Camp") and $75 / month for the second through eighth months (as a Seamen Second Class or midshipman attending training). Commissioned Naval Aviation students (NavCad Ensigns or commissioned officers attending Flight School) were paid $245 / month (the same pay as an ensign attending training).

In 1942 alone the program graduated 10,869 aviators, almost twice as many as had completed the program in the previous 8 years. In 1943 there were 20,842 graduates; in 1944, 21,067; and in 1945 there were 8,880. Thus in the period 1942 to 1945, the U.S. Navy produced 61,658 pilots - more than 2.5 times the number of pilots as the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Translating that into RC aircraft terms, he trained on a PT-17 and AT6-Texan.

He then traveled on the USS Comet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor April 26 – May 3, 1944. I found the ship manifest describing him as a passenger.

He arrrived at Mullinix Field, Tarawa June 5, 1944, Joining Scouting Squadron VS-66. Their patch was apparently a pilot flying a washing machine.
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He then went missing June 9, 1944 on a “familiarization hop”.
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Number FPO Location
908 SF Mullinix Field, Tarawa, Gilbert Islands
You can still fly to that airfield, although it's very expensive.

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June 6, 1944 inventory shows that VS66 had 8 SBD 4s and 2 SBD 5s at Tarawa, suggesting that they crashed in an SBD Dauntless.
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I was able to visit Hawaii this winter for a work meeting, and we took an Uber up to Punchbowl Cemetery. It’s like the Arlington National Cemetery of the Pacific, located in an old volcano. It’s an incredible place, and like Arlington, if you’re looking for someone specific has a much greater effect on a person.

At one end of the cemetery are columns listing the names of soldiers missing in the Pacific from WW2 onward. (There is another cemetery in the Phillipines that has another group of soldiers and sailors, but I forget how they’re broken down.) Below is a photo of the inscription on the plaque at the entrance, the view looking back over the cemetery from the same area, and the inscription of my great uncle’s name.
1558966899068.png
This is effectively just a few blocks from downtown Honolulu, so I’d encourage you to visit if you’re ever there. Incidentally, the Uber service in and around Honolulu is great; nice people, clean cars, and economical.

Off the subject of my great uncle and on the subject of RC-airplane-people-go-to-Hawaii: As an airplane fan, I’d also recommend the air museum at Pearl Harbor. It’s on Ford Island, near the USS Missouri memorial, with a shuttle from the Pearl Harbor visitors’ center. It’s nice, but not fancy, and their second hanger is huge, full of 20+ aircraft, and it was just us and 6-10 other people at a time and no employees. And the windows of that hanger still have bullet holes from the day of the Japanese attack. You can just stand there, take pictures, and imagine to your heart’s content. Go there after you do the museums (they’re small and really good) and video and boat tour of the Arizona Memorial. Then you’ll know how the whole thing went down and be able to picture it while you stand on the airfield.

One of my new projects is to fly an RC version of the planes that he flew. There are good foamboard versions of a PT-17 and AT6 here on the forum, as well as versions from Horizon Hobby. The SBD Dauntless had split dive flaps and seems harder to model. Freewing had a version that is out of production. VQ Warbirds has a huge one available as an ARF, and they had a smaller one but it’s out of stock. So that may be my next foamboard design.

Thanks for reading. This was a fun chance to link my hobby to family history, and I learned a lot about the history of our country and world in the process.
 

PsyBorg

Wake up! Time to fly!
Mentor
#2
A most excellent story mate. You should forward your findings to Josh Scott.

He is documenting alot of that same history and could possibly connect more dots or maybe your information could help him. In any case you two should talk.