Lt. Col. John "Jack" F. Bolt, USMC (Retired) VMF-214 Black Sheep Squadron
One phrase best characterizes Jack Bolt’s approach to life: "It’s as adventure". He’s never been one to merely accept things as they are. Instead, he has chosen time after time to take action or initiate change. Born poor, he’s a self-made multimillionaire. In addition to earning a college degree, he became a successful attorney. He finished law school at the age of 48, after completing a 20-year career as a Marine Corps fighter pilot.
He learned to scuba dive when the sport was in its infancy. Later, diving from a small boat manned by him and his wife alone, he speared a world-record Jew fish almost three times his own weight. Now in his seventies, he still dives and maintains an athletic physique.
In World War II, he flew Corsairs with the Corps’ famous Black Sheep squadron, scoring six victories. In Korea, he took steps to place himself where he could find the most action: as an exchange pilot with the Air Force. He shot down six MIGs and flew right into the history books as the only United States Naval Aviator to become an ace in two wars.
Collected and edited by Lt. Bruce D. Gamble, USNR (Retired), Naval Aviation Museum Foundation Staff Historian, the following narrative was edited from Lt. Col. John F. "Jack" Bolt's oral history, tape-recorded on 22 November 1991. Used here with written approval from Jack Bolt.
I was born May 19, 1921, in Laurens, South Carolina, into a recession. My family moved to Florida probablyabout I was born May 19, 1921,
in Laurens, South Carolina, into a recession. My family
moved to Florida probably about ’26 ’26 and located in Sanford, Florida where I was raised until college age. I attended high school there. I was the president of my class my junior and senior year, but I was not a very good student. I’d been working because my family didn’t have any money. I provided my own clothes and most of my social expenses since age 10.
I went to the University of Florida for two years. When I first got there, the attitude of the student body was highly pacifistic. President Roosevelt was involved in trying to alert us to the dangers of war in Europe, and his efforts to do so were received with considerable hostility by the student body. The desire t stay out of the European involvement, which had been so heavy in the ‘20s and ‘30s, was then still strong. Of course, when the USS Reuben James (DD-245) was sunk, and American lives were lost, almost overnight the nation began to respond
to Roosevelt’s attempts to alert us to the dangers in Europe. And the student body was just a kind of volatile indicator of the feelings, and perhaps a precursor of the national attitudes that followed literally in a matter of weeks. Things changes so rapidly then. In a matter of maybe 24 months, there was a complete reversal.
My family gave me very little financial support in college. I was carrying a maximum workload, and I was an honor student, a member of the freshman honor society. Fortunately, I had a very inspiring teacher during my last year in high school. Except for my wife and mother, I owe more to that teacher than probably any other woman in my life. I’d been a terrible student in high school, just skimming by. In college, because of her impressing upon me the importance of an education (which my family was unable to do or really attempt, not appreciating it
themselves), I became academically inspired and have remained so the rest of my life.
Anyway, the family could not support me further and at the same time support a younger brother who would be entering college, so the $500.00 a year which the Navy offered to reserve pilots for a four-year hitch looked really good. (I think the salaries when I was commissioned weren’t more than about $225.00 a month with flight pay). I felt I could, with the $500.00 and some savings, come back to school and finish law school, which was an aim that I had at that time. A law degree was only five years of college then. I joined up in about July of ’41;
they didn’t call me until mid November, and of course, within two or three weeks, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.
Flight training began with E-base in Atlanta. I’d never flown before (other than one flight in a seaplane or something), but I enjoyed it and apparently was a little more adventurous than most people. I recall trying some loops on my second or third solo flight, and I didn’t know you were supposed to put power on to go into the loops. One of the guys in my class, an experienced civil pilot named Porter Golden, was talking about watching some dodo trying to get into loops and stalling out, spinning out of these loops. It was me, of course. Then, Porter
briefed me on how to do loops. We were supposed to be doing figure eights and pylon turns, and I was doing aerobatics. I was at least getting over the top on my loops from that point on.
We moved down to Jacksonville where we were put into the white uniform, which made you considerably more appealing to the girls than the E-base uniforms, which were just the dungaree type. In the meantime, I started dating the woman-now my wife-for whom I named my Korean War plane, Darling Dottie. She was from Sanford. I was a bit of a rounder in high school, and she never designed to date me. We had a date or two after the war started- patriotic duty, I think. She was a student at the University of Georgia. We started dating when I was an aviation
cadet-the uniform really turned her on! She was still in college, but she would get down to Jacksonville. She was considerably more mobile than I.
Following Jacksonville, which included mostly training in the SNJ, I went down to Miami--Opa Locka. It was almost all gunnery training down there. I had my first flight in an F3F-1 in June, and the F3Fs were kind of beat up. I had my last flight on August 28 and was commissioned then in ’42. On September 23, I appeared back up at the Lee Field training base where I instructed. I was very disappointed to be made an instructor. The only other Marine in my flight in advanced training went right out to combat, and I was sent up to be an instructor.
Flight instruction seemed to last forever. I arrived there in September 1942 and really wasn’t there very long. By February of ’43, I was over in advanced training in the F4F. I got maybe 30 hours or so in it, did a lot of carrier work, then went up to Chicago, and in April of ’43 carrier qualified in the F4F aboard the USS Wolverine (IX-64)-the Great Lakes excursion ship converted to a carrier. Prior to going to the USS Wolverine, we did a lot of bounce drill up at Sea Island. We flew up for maybe a week or so at a time, for a few days at a time. We
used to flat-hat up and down the coast and through all those marshes around there, just having more fun!
During training at Lee Field, I did something that still curdles my blood when I think about it. I used to do outside loops in the N3N, and since then I’ve thought that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I would get the plane up to 7,000 or 8,000 feet, pull it up into a stall, then let the nose fall through it and push on through. Mechanically, there wasn’t a fuel sump on the top like stunt planes have, and it put heavy negative "gs" on the plane. I never suffered any physical harm from it and used to impress all the students
I was teaching! As far as I know, it never caused any engines to fail--when I was flying the plane. It might have later!
After the USS Wolverine, I arrived down in the Solomons. The trip down, as I recall, was 14 days, and I think the ship’s maximum speed was about 10 knots. It was uneventful and boring. We had small, crowded staterooms. It was just a long, crowded, hot ocean voyage. It was on the Rochambeau (AP-63), named for the commander of the French forces in the American Revolution who accompanied Washington down to Yorktown. It was operating out of San Diego and went back and forth to New Caledonia.
I got into New Caledonia, then went up to Espritu Santo. The little base was called Turtle Bay--a beautiful sight. It had two streams that originated in springs; one went around the southern end of the base and emptied into the bay, and the other went around the northern end of the base, which was probably a total of about 700 acres. The officers lived on one side and the enlisted men on the other. The airstrip was down the middle, a single strip, 3,000 feet long. All the strips were coral at the time. I think they put salt water on it, and it would
harden. It was very nice but probably hard on tires. I know it was hard on shoes. The coral was just small shells, and it would cut.
When we arrived, we were put into a "pool", intended to provide replacements for the squadrons on the first jump forward from Guadalcanal. They had a free jump up to the Russells--about 70 miles-an undefended island, but the next jump was to New Georgia, and the airfield was called Munda. It was heavily defended, and it was a long ground battle that took longer to win than they thought it would. The air battle was about a 120 or 150 miles from Guadalcanal and closer to the Russells. They picked up most all of the downed pilots, didn’t have the
losses, and didn’t need the pool, so the pool stayed there at Turtle Bay for quite a while. I first flew in the pool on June 26, 1943. A lot of it was "junk" hours. We flew up to Guadalcanal on two ferry flights, so that added about 10 hours of flight time.
In this pool, Pappy Boyington arrived. He was a Marine pilot, a major, and he had about 10 years of service. It’s my understanding that he was a graduate of the University of Washington with an aeronautical engineering degree. He had a reputation for being a troublemaker in the Marine Corps, and he had gone over to the AVG (as a Flying Tiger) where he continued that reputation. He had fussed with Chenault and the squadron commanders, and when he came back to the Solomons, he had gone on a tour with a squadron where he had not had much contact. During one
of the lulls between amphibious jumps, he had gotten in a fight, broken his leg, and was in the hospital for a few weeks. When he came to us, he was still limping, using a cane.
But Boyington was a charming fellow really, a good tactician, and he picked up on the advantages of the use of the Corsair right away. He did not articulate them initially, down in the fighter pool. At least, I did not pick up on the importance of using that big engine; just keep it going when there are Zeroes near you, at full bore all the time. (I used to take it easy on the engine, which was a mistake).
Boyington was tremendously popular with all the pilots from the very beginning and provided charismatic leadership even down in the pool--so much so, that we wanted to name ourselves Boyington’s Bastards. Some public information officer said, "No, that won’t do, you gotta have something acceptable to the press." Four-letter words were not acceptable in those days--even "bastard" wasn’t--so we came up with Black Sheep.
We had a very clever Notre Dame graduate named "Moon" Mullins who was quite a poet. He wrote songs and did all sorts of things, and he came up with the picture of the Black Sheep and the "bar sinister," the heraldry black stripe denoting illegitimacy. The Black Sheep emblem has all of these: the black sheep, the bar sinister, and the number 214.
About half of our pilots were experienced from earlier combat tours. Many had lost their C.O., X.O., and Operations Officer, but still had plenty of pilots to take these positions. Boyington was then the new skipper.
I was in the Black Sheep squadron the whole time Boyington was. He did two tours with us and was shot down at the tail end of the second tour. VMF-214 was rotated out, and those of us who only had two tours did a third tour with a subsequent squadron.
I enjoyed the island life there very much. I was just getting into diving, which has remained a life-long passion of mine. The goggles I had in those days were the little Hawaiian-type individual goggles--like competitive swimmers wear today--but they were fashioned out of wood, seldom fitted, and almost always leaked. But they were the introduction, and after World War II, goggles were developed very rapidly. Later, face plates and swim fins came along. I am still an avid scuba diver today.
Turtle Bay was a gorgeous sight. With those springs, there was some type of tuna that would run up at night and feed in the fresh water in the spring. There was a French stone bridge over it, about eight feet wide and not more than four or five feet off the water. I could get a fish fry for the squadron by mining the stream. The stream was sufficiently wide that it would take three to five charges. We would lay down the wires next to a battery, and we would have the charges numbered. We could get up on the bridge and could see the fish leaving their
feeding up in the fresh water, and we would start running down.
I’d say, "Get ready on No. 1!" And my pal, a fellow named Bragdon, was ready with the wires. "Get ready on No. 1--shoot it!"
KABOOM! The school of fish would turn back then try to make another run through. I’d say, "Get ready, get ready! Here they come by No. 3!" And he’d pick up the wires for No. 3. "Shoot it!" KABOOM! And then we would go out and pick up the fish. They were nice white-meat fish; some type of tuna. And I’ll never forget that once I shot a school of mullet, and I had 240 fish! They were not big mullet, but they were good frying-size.
The hunting out there was super. There were pigeons. The young birds were fairly tender, but the old ones were not. The old ones had blue feet, and the young ones had yellow feet. If you shot an old one, you might as well throw it away. They had wild chickens that looked like a little bantam rooster, all of which were hard to find, and the jungle was hot and steamy. There were also wild pigs which were very suspect for trichinosis, but we cooked them and had squadron barbeques.
Walton, in his book, "Once They Were Eagles," talked about me being a big provider for the squadron. There was just one other guy in the squadron who liked to hunt, named Bragdon. He was a charming fellow--a Princeton graduate--and probably about 26 or 27 at the time, a little older than most of us. We were also in the same squadron when we came back and continued to hunt in California; we went to MCAS El Toro.
There was a big pig-hunt which was most memorable. I met a guy in the antiaircraft crew out at the antiaircraft island, and he told me about these pigs that were in their camp garbage pit. Their C.O. wouldn’t let them shoot anywhere around the camp, so they put in fence barricades around the garbage. It was something they used a lot during World War II. There was a reinforcing rod through heavy mesh wire, and you could keep the pigs out. The pigs, he told me, rooted around and tried to get into the garbage. I had the bright idea that we would go out
there, let the pigs into the garbage, and close the gate.
Bragdon and I went out there one night, and we opened the gate which had kept out the pigs. All the pigs in the neighborhood went in there, and we sat around and drank for an hour or two after dark. We heard the pigs in there, so we sneaked out and slapped the gate closed. God, we had pigs!
We had the multitude of pigs all penned up. But old Papa Pig was a formidable character. We were not supposed to shoot because of the C.O.’s edict, but we had these steel stakes, and we were going to club ‘em. But Papa Pig had these long tusks, and they were razor sharp. (The tusks sharpened on the lower tooth, and they were so sharp, I shaved the hair on my arm with one.) Old Papa Pig probably weighed about 400 pounds. He charges at the fence, and it was like the whole fence came down. We must have had about a dozen pigs, so we decided that Papa was
something nobody wanted to deal with. When we opened the gate and let Papa out, three or four of his "wives" and a couple of small ones ran out, but we went in and killed and dressed six pigs. This was much better meat than we were getting, mostly mutton at that time from Australia, so we had a real cookout.
The living was real nice; it never got really cold. We were south of the Equator, and there was a little seasonal variation, but not much. We never lived in tents that weren’t floor-boarded, and a tent with floor boards is just as habitable as a wood structure. We lived in what they called a "Dallas Hut." It was a plywood hut that was probably about 20-by-20 feet, and four guys slept in one. That was convenient because our tactical unit consisted of four pilots. The tents had plywood windows that propped up. We took out the stick, and they
The food was very boring and poor: there was a lot of mutton, and the old eggs were more likely powdered eggs. The little base at Turtle Bay had a mess officer at some point who had been real big on condiments, and he had "Major Gray’s Chutney" on the table; thank God--that livened up the meals!
The swimming was just great. We were near the beach, and we lived in coconut groves. The coconuts pounded on the roofs of the Dallas Huts when they fell. We generally cleared the trees away from our theater area because a coconut would really give you a concussion if it fell on you.
The coconuts were fed on by fruit bats--a large bat that looked like it weighed three or four pounds. Sometimes the bats ate the green coconut, so some of the coconuts that fell had been ravaged by these fruit bats and fell before they were really mature. The natives ate the fruit bats. In fact, I think--aside from pork--it was probably their primary source of protein. The natives threw this fruit bat, whole, into an old bucket and boiled it. It was a horrible-looking mess in these native villages.
A funny thing happened at a nearby camp, where I had a friend from home; it was a Seabee camp. One night, at a movie in this Seabee camp a short way from Turtle Bay, a coconut fell, and there was a fruit bat in it. The fruit bat didn’t get out until it was on the ground. It scared the people in the immediate vicinity of it--15 or 20 people--and they started running in terror running in terror; they didn’t know what it was. And in the 15 or 20, the terror was infectious. Maybe the movie was a horror movie; it very likely was, and had gotten them in the
mood. The whole movie theater panicked, and everybody got up and fled. Some fled to their cabins nearby, and others just fled down the road! Nobody knew why they were running, or what they were running from! They determined later that this fruit bat was flapping around, trying to get airborne, and was running into two or three of them. The friend of mine who was a party to all of this said nobody screamed; nobody yelled; nobody said a thing; they just got out of there--the whole amphitheater and everybody in it! I was close to it and know it’s not a wild story: I got it first-hand from a participant, and I’m sure it’s true.
Because of my affinity for the woodlands there, I picked up on the edible plants in the jungle. I somehow got an Army manual that identified edible plants, and through the local intelligence in the air group there at Turtle Bay, I initiated some jungle trips. These trips were just half a day, two to four hours. I had all these edible plants located; some were nuts. One plant-I happen to recall the name of it: Barringtonia-was a toxic plant that they used to kill fish. We crushed it and put it in a small stream, and it gave a wipeout of the fish downstream,
and the fish were still edible.
Mainly, though, we ate the heart of palms and coconuts. Certain coconuts would give you diarrhea in a minute stage of their development, but not in germination. There was a point at which you could eat a coconut safely; there was the green nut, the mature nut, the sprouting nut, and so forth. This was picked up on and became sort of a standard for all pilots. But I initiated the jungle tours. And you know, if you shot a pig and ate one raw out there, you could have been in serious trouble because the pigs had all sorts of diseases.
The Corsair was a great bird. It was a little stiff longitudinally; it was so long. But it was a tremendous gun platform and could always out-shoot the F6F on gunnery. The F6F was short-coupled--longitudinal stability relates to fuselage length, in part--and would wobble. The length of the Corsair made it very stable for a gun platform of for bombing or whatever you were doing. It was a little stiff vertically or laterally. But the main thing was the engine: it had the R-2800 with water injection and about 2,500 or 2,600 horsepower. We could bang the
throttle full forward and outboard, and we would have about five minutes of 200 to 300 extra horsepower. Of course, it just ran circles around the Zero and the F4F.
The Corsair had a poorer radius of turn, and we realized that we’d never try to turn with a Zero. Essentially, we almost had to surprise the Zeros. They apparently didn’t have 360-degree visibility behind them, and you could surprise them. We could get a deflection shot sometimes if one of them saw us and broke away before we got to him. I would bet that 75 to 90 per cent of the kills that we had were from shooting the guy who never knew we were there. I think I’ve been shot up on five occasions when I never saw the pilot that shot me; I was
concentrating on something else at the time. The rearward visibility was nil in the Corsair as well as the F6F. It was just a horror that we never appreciated the importance of 360-degree visibility, which the Air Force had from the later P-51s on and insisted on it. The P-51s had the bubble canopy. You could sit in the F-86 or the P-51D and look right through your tail cone by 15 or 20 degrees.
The old Thach Weave tactic was great in theory, but the fact is, when we made an attack in the Corsair, we seldom came out with any tactical integrity. Every man was a shooter because the shooter could not protect the wingman, and the wingman wasn’t going to sit out there doing nothing when he saw that nobody was watching him. The Thach Weave sounded good, where everybody watched everybody else, but the fact is, an attack required strong concentration forward, and the wingman just had his rear end sitting out there in the open. We used a four-plane
section. If we were fleeing an attack, it worked for the initial attack. (Sometimes, we had to go into an area, and the Japanese fighters were up above us.) If we were defending bombers, it was effective there, too. (We were not supposed to leave to chase an attacking Zero away from the bombers; we were supposed to stay in our weave.) But if we were taking the offensive, the position of the Thach Weave concept, in this case, didn’t work.
There would be air cover for naval ships operating--destroyers or cruisers might have been shelling some island, then falling back during the day--or we might have been covering a landing on Vella Lavella or Bouganville. The big, most important ones--the ones likely to have enemy contact--were the attacks on enemy airfields, or the attacks on Bouganville, for us. We got up there at a really good time, when they were beginning to use the Corsair to hit Bouganville.
But back to the first tour with Boyington. He got most of his kills by attacking the enemy as they were taking off. Frequently, he was supposed to be weaving, in close cover of the bombers. They would sometimes identify the cover of the bombers as "close cover," "medium cover," or "high cover." Generally, the close cover was supposed to be almost whipping right through the top of the bombers; the medium cover was supposed to be 3,000 or 4,000 feet higher; and the high cover was supposed to be 6,000 or 7,000 feet above them.
There was more freedom with the high cover. Boyington took the high cover himself and wandered off and attacked the Japanese as they took off. It was a good tactic, and he got a lot of kills. But the rest of the "peasants" were supposed to stay where we were put.
The Zeros would tear through us so fast that our only chance to get one was to pursue them, which meant we were then going back into "Indian Territory," because we were in an area that the Zeros controlled. It was their air, and they had aerial superiority over all their bases for 150 miles or so. We had this little nucleus of bombers carrying aerial superiority over just a few cubic yards of airspace. If we chased one of these Zeros back half a mile, we were out of our little cubicle of aerial superiority, and they would be all over us.
The first time I saw a Meatball (a Zero), it was a full deflection, and he just zipped by: a great big Meatball with the sun over my shoulder. I was just in a state of shock. It takes a while to develop real expertise in a combat situation. You’re not very effective on your first few contacts with the enemy. I estimate that I have been in 50 firing contacts with enemy fighters-with either me shooting at them or them shooting at us-in World War II and the Korean War. After you’ve been in 10 to 15 contacts, you’re a different person than you were. The
ones who are most frightened are the ones most at risk. I was certainly a slow learner.
Most kills were made by sneaking up on a guy. He would be preoccupied with what was going on around him, and he would not be watching the very narrow cone through his tail from which he was most vulnerable. If we had a good speed advantage, we would try to get down low as we came in behind him because he could not see there. It was more difficult than when we were higher up. If we got within firing range we pulled up to where we were tailing him at the point we wanted to fire. If we were sneaking up on him with superior speed, being 50 or 100 feet below
him put us more in his blind area. And that was what we were trying to do, because if he knew we were coming, he was really hard to kill-if he knew we were in a firing position. But there was just that narrow little shooting position, in behind him, from which he was going to get killed. It was just a small area back there. But the overall scenario was too much for him, and he was not paying attention, if he was able to. I don’t really know that the Zero could see that position. We couldn’t; we couldn’t see back into our kill position. We were blind as bats for an area that was three or four times bigger than the shooting position for a
person trying to assassinate us.
I’m not even sure I remember my first kill. They were all kind of similar except for one that was up over Rabaul, where we had lost our tactical integrity. I was by myself, and I picked up a Zero that had a phosphorous bomb on it: they used to try to "throw" those bombs at the B-24s. They turned them loose, and the bombs went 1,000 or 2,000 and exploded. They were pretty spectacular when they went off, and I saw two or three more used against the B-24s. None of them had any effect; they didn’t bring down any planes. With this kill, I started
chasing him, and I think he knew I was back there. I’m not sure, but he must have. He jettisoned his bomb, and then I got him; I was by myself.
The other kills were just sort of a mix, "pass-throughs" on fighters that were below me. I don’t remember ever getting one on an escort mission. We were down there weaving and working our hearts out; they were zooming through us. It was when I was able to go on a fighter sweep and catch them climbing out that I would kill them. I think all five of my other kills were just shots where I caught them climbing out, and I just passed right through them. We were headed toward home, and if we missed the shot, we just kept going. It was a hit-and-run,
headed toward home, if possible. It was preferred to duck under them into their blind area where they didn’t see you and didn’t even shoot you as you passed by.
The only one I remember vividly—as vividly as I can 50 years later—is when my wingman, Ed Harper, got a kill just before I got one. He was down 300 or 400 feet below me, but we were going through a gaggle of enemy aircraft, and they were all scattered around. I looked down, and old "Harpo" had blown one up, and then he flew right into the fireball. About that time, I was in a shooting position, so I turned back around, and I was banging away, and I shot down one or maybe even two. I didn’t expect to ever see Harpo again. I didn’t on the
way home; we were separated. When we got home, his plane was just smoked up; we could take our fingers and just drag them down the wing or anywhere on his plane, leaving lines in the soot. Another time, Harpo came in with some enemy aircraft parts stuck in his plane.
He was my wingman for the three tours, and I think he got four Purple Hearts. We called him "The Sleeve," the nickname for the towed gunnery target. He got three kills, I believe. I still see him a couple of times every year.
On the last tour, when we were strafing trucks, Harpo was hit on one of the very last missions. (We were real fanatics at shooting trucks). He was almost killed. The bullet that hit him, they think, was from a .51 caliber antiaircraft gun. It went through his canopy, through his back, and out the other side of the canopy. It broke several ribs, and one of the ribs punctured a lung; he was spitting up blood coming back. It nicked his backbone, and his feet were paralyzed. He just barely got back to base. We were flying all around him; he had almost fainted and had
whipped his helmet off, and he’d jettisoned his canopy. Coming back, we looked all over and didn’t see bullet holes.
My recollection is, we couldn’t see one bullet hole anywhere. All his bleeding was down in the lower part of his back, so we couldn’t see the blood. He was coming back bareheaded, and we weren’t in contact with him. He was about to faint, and was struggling to stay conscious. They had to haul him out of the cockpit; he couldn’t get out when he landed. He had no, or very limited, use of his feet. Today he’s got a hole in his back where you can put your fist, where that back muscle was all shot out. You could not imagine a more serious injury in a single-engine
fighter plane, and he got back alive. He was on a disability list for two or three years, but now he appears all right.
I was reading an absurd claim in the fighter aces publication about the first P-51s. This pilot—one of the few aces in those attack squadrons with the early P-51s—claimed 234 trucks in one day. We never claimed them unless they burned. The particular day that Harpo was shot up, we had caught four of them and they were fairly close together. We emptied our ammo—that was six times 400; we shot 2,400 rounds each. We were out of ammo when Harpo was hit, and I think we maybe burned three of them. So, when they talk about destroying vehicles, you can destroy them all
right—and maybe you don’t have to burn them to destroy them—but they’re not easy to knock out. The claims are bound to be excessive, but some of them are just patently ridiculous when it comes to vehicles. Aircraft, too, of course. Trucks are another matter: a truck on a bypassed island probably has no more than a few quarts of gasoline in it and is hard to burn.
We flew over the coconut groves, which were the primary industry of these islands. If the enemy got the vehicle off the road and in a coconut grove, we probably couldn’t find it. We couldn’t shoot it; we could only see straight down in a coconut grove. But we could see far enough forward, if there was a shell road, to follow the road.
Frequently, we had one guy down low and three guys up and back. The one guy down yelled, "Truck!" Then, the others tried to start making a run. It was too late for the spotter to shoot when he saw a truck. One of the tricks he could use was he could fire his guns—not even pointed at the truck—but the gunfire startled the driver into thinking he was under fire, and he would jump out of his truck, leaving it in the road. But if the driver got his truck off the road into a coconut grove, we couldn’t find it. We would see it too late to line up on it, and
the barges were frequently tucked way back in the underbrush and were hard to find.
Another thing down at Espiritu—I became a little dubious about the effectiveness of the belting we used in the machine guns in the Corsair during the first tour. At the end of that tour, I got back down to Espiritu and went over to the "boneyard," set up some machine guns there, and shot the different types of ammunition into these wrecked planes. We were shooting three types of rounds the incendiary, the tracer, and the armor-piercing. The standard belting was 1-1-1, just repeated, straight on through. I became convinced that this was not the most effective
way to belt them. The armor-piercing would shoot through anything in the Zero. It might have been the preferable round if we were strafing barges with diesel engines in them, but it was overkill for the Zero, just totally unnecessary. (Later, they had a tracer/armor-piercing round, but not at this point). The tracer burned out and was pretty much just an empty shell. But the incendiary got our kills for us; there was no question about it, after shooting into drums filled with gasoline and so forth. The incendiary had enough impact to knock cylinders off of engines (the Zero had no armor plate), and to shoot through anything. Probably nine out
of 10 Zeros shot down—maybe 99 out of 100—burned. It was very easy to burn the Zero.
Early in the Solomons, the old 1-1-1 went out the window as a result of my tests. I got Boyington down there and showed him: I shot into oil drums with gasoline at the bottom, derelict planes, and so forth. It was very, very convincing against the Zero. And that was all we were shooting: Zeros. But it was true for the Vals: they didn’t have self-sealing tanks and armor plate, so we shot through everything.
Later on, we eliminated the armor-piercing entirely. So then, we shot five or six incendiaries to one tracer. We took the lead, or head, of the belt (we carried 400 rounds per ammo box), and had 15 or 20 tracers—just solid tracers—for the lead-in. We flew a different plane each flight, and as soon as we joined up, we tested the boresight. Frequently, they weren’t shooting dead-on. They might have been shooting two or three mils at 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock or maybe high or low. And we had better remember that when we opened up on somebody. We’d just hit the
trigger; then all six guns would shoot. We might have one wild gun, or two or three wild guns, or maybe they were shooting a good, tight, converging pattern, but the gun sight was off three or four mils.
We still had plenty of tracers, but a tracer was not necessarily good when we opened up on a Zero because it alerted him that we were there. If we didn’t hit him right away, in a flash he’d break away from where the tracers were. If our tracers were off to his left or over his head or something, we might miss the kill, so we didn’t miss the tracers. This belting was so popular—and other squadrons picked up on it, too—that within a matter of two or three months there was a shortage of incendiary rounds. But they managed to cure it and continued to get them.
One of my most memorable experiences in the first tour was when we were escorting B-24s. The weather was terrible. We didn’t have forecasts that were any good. When we got up to the target area, it was socked-in, solid. The clouds were way up there, towering over the bombers’ altitude. The bombers went into some clouds, and we lost them; we didn’t know where we were.
Boyington was leading the flight, and probably had 12 planes, maybe 16 that day. So, instead of heading right back, Boyington saw a hole, and he let down through it. And it turned out we were way up behind Kahili and Ballale. (Editor’s note: Kahili, on Bouganville, and Ballale, on a small island just south of Bouganville, were major Japanese airfields and the main threat in the island’s heavily defended southern region). We were up in the vicinity of Empress Augusta Bay, in the area where Yamamoto was shot down and the amphibious landing later occurred. This was my
first tour, and there was nothing but jungle up there. At that point, we headed back toward home, and soon we saw Kahili, the big airfield, up ahead of us. Boyington said, "Stick in close; stick in close."
We inched around Kahili to the east and came out, and there was this tremendous amount of surface activity—barge activity—down there. It was a low overcast; clouds were down to about a thousand feet, a good day to move. Nobody was going to bother them; nobody was up there. And we just chugged along at cruise speed. Boyington said, "Nobody shoot."
We flew down to Choiseul; he did a rather poor job of navigating back. Then, we went from mid-point Choiseul over to Vella Lavella. The Corsairs that had enough fuel went on back down to Munda. My wingman, Harpo, had not been topped off well that day. He ran out of fuel about five miles short of Vella Lavella, and bellied in the water. We landed at Vella Lavella; there were about a half-dozen of us. Harpo was in a life raft. I circled him until a boat got under way toward him. He had dye marker, and the sea state was calm that day, so he was safe even though still in
I would have strafed those barges coming out, despite what Boyington said, but my gunsight was burned out. We had a "pigtail" they called it, on the gunsight: it made a 90-degree turn, then went to the source connection. The things were faulty, and it was a common occurrence that your pigtail burned out. So, we landed at Vella Lavella—six or seven of us—and I said, "Come on, guys: let’s go back up there and shoot up those barges—this is perfect! If we get jumped by Zeros, all we have to do is pull up on instruments, get in the cloud cover, and
I only remember two of the guys: Bruce Matheson and Bill Case, and they were hesitant to confront Boyington’s temper if he found out we went up there. I said, "Well, if we try to get an O.K. to go back, it’s never coming through. The command structure is so ponderous, it will never be able to approve a flight like this."
So, Case gave me his pigtail. I got in the same plane I had before and went back up by myself. It worked just as I thought it would; I got in there, shot up three or four barges. More important still, in making a run inland on one of the barges, I found a barge staging area. It was a little bay about 10 miles east of Kahili; later, I learned the name of it was Tonelei Harbor. I roared up the harbor, did a wingover, came back over Tonelei Harbor, and shot up a few barges and one tugboat. I was just taken under fire from one gun; I only saw one gun shooting at me. It was
on the tugboat, I think, firing 20mm ammo which just floated by. It was a low-velocity 20mm: big orange tracer, recognizable. I got so I saw the tracer and knew what it was. Their 20mm had a big orange ball. If you see it a few times, you recognize it. I had plenty of fuel and went on back down to Munda.
When I had returned, Boyington was mad about it and chewed me out. A day or so later, I got a telegram from Bull Halsey. It said: "Congratulations on your one-man war in Tonelei Harbor." That was the end of the criticism for having done it. All the Marine brass, and Boyington specifically, were put to ease over that.
Following his combat tour in the Solomons, Jack Bolt returned for a leave period in the States, at which time he married Dottie Wiggins. He returned to the Pacific Theater on another combat tour in VMF-472 but said, "It was kind of a nothing tour. We bombed some bypassed islands. We were on a jeep carrier, the USS Block Island (CVE-21). We were in the invasion fleet for the Kanto Plain, Tokyo, and the war ended. When the atomic bombs were dropped and the war ended, we came home."
Following World War II, I was in a Corsair squadron (VMF-452) based theoretically aboard the USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116), but actually at El Toro. Next I had a MAG-13 staff job, then went to an aviation maintenance school at Quantico until assigned to VMF-224, flying the then-new F2H-2 Banshee at Cherry Point.
Those were cut-back years. The Secretary of Defense was Louis Johnson. He was running for the Presidency and trying to make a name for himself. He was not going to cut back the strength of the armed forces, but was going to cut out all the fat. He cut out supply parts, maintenance equipment and specialized tools, so it was really hard to keep the planes flying in those days.
Then the Korean War came. We stumbled into it by some political blunders of the Secretary of State and President Harry S. Truman, who were drawing the line for the Russians. The armed forces were down below minimal levels when it started. I was at Cherry Point, and by that time we were flying the F2H Banshee. It was far superior to the T-33 or the TV-2 in which I had gotten my first jet training. I went from the Banshee squadron to a staff job as Flag Secretary for the Second Wing Group Commander, which enabled me to pick my next tour of duty.
I chose an Air Force exchange tour of duty, because at that point the only thing standing up to the MiGs were the F-86s. I knew that none were coming to the Marine Corps. I was anxious to get back to the air-to-air fight, and the only possibility of doing that was by getting in an F-86 squadron. The MiGs were beating the hell out of anything else, and the F-86s were our sole aerial superiority plane in Korea from very early on. So I got in a year's tour with the Air Force. Toward the tail end of it-maybe the last three months-I wormed my way into an F-86 squadron. It was at Portland, Oregon and was a National Guard squadron.
I would grind out the hours in that thing. We were standing air defense alerts. Those were days when the threat of nuclear war with Russia hung very heavily over our heads, and we really thought we were going to get into it. This was in late '51 or early '52. This squadron was part of the Northwest Air Defense Command. The guys weren't flying at night-they didn't credit the F-86 with any night capabilities-but we would be standing by. We would be down in the ready room in flight gear, not sitting in the planes the way they did later. Our guys would be playing bridge and so forth, but I'd be up flying. I was getting hours in that F-86: night
hours, but they were good hours.
I was working with the Air Defense controllers. The SAC planes were at constant aerial alert, flying missions out and back, and the Air Defense controllers would use me for vectoring. I really thought that when I got out to Korea, if I could get with one of those F-86 outfits, I could do some night intercept work on the MiGs. To me, the F-86 could make some money up there. So, I was working with these Air Defense controllers and became convinced of it. They had a squadron of F-94s up at Tacoma, and I'd work missions with them, too, at night.
I went out to the Korean fracas on the completion of that tour. I got out there about May of '52, flying the F9F-4. I flew 94 missions: air-to-ground, interdictions, close-air support, and so forth. We were down at Po Hang Do in MAG-13, VMF-115; the airfield was called K-3.
One very interesting thing to me personally was that, after being out there and observing for a few months, it was obvious that the hits we were reporting on our planes (we were taking some heavy losses and damage on our aircraft) were usually self-inflicted. They would pull a piece of bomb casing out of an aircraft that was bigger than your shoe, with U.S. markings on it, and credit it to antiaircraft. We were murdering ourselves with our own bombs, by pulling out too low. Frequently we were pulling out at two to three thousand feet. That was recommended. The old dive bombers used to pull out at a thousand feet.
I started thinking about all this, and realized that the distribution of fragments around a bomb case is not even. The bombs are oblong. I got to talking with some ordnance people, and they confirmed that the pattern distribution around a bomb case is very dense perpendicular to the bomb axis, and very slight on the ends.
Well, the old dive bomber-diving vertically at 240 knots-could make a right angle turn and pull out in the thin area of the pattern distribution. We were diving at three times that speed, and even though we're making high-g recoveries, our radius of turn was four or five or six times greater than a dive bomber with dive flaps out. Where he might release at 1,500 feet and be level by 1,000, we were releasing at 3,500 to 4,000 feet and were not level until 2,500 or so. We were in the dense area and not hitting a damn thing; the bombs were going all over the world.
A typical flight would be a two-squadron mission involving 30 planes, and typically the target would be a railroad junction or a bridge. We were diving from maybe 25,000 feet, and of course the winds up there are greater. Frequently through that area of the world they have the jet stream and terrible winds with which to contend. The first bomb would go off, and a huge cloud of dark smoke obscured everything. If the first bomb looked good and was fairly on target, everybody followed and pitched their bomb into the center of the smoke column, which by this time had probably drifted five hundred yards, and all the bomb pattern went downstream
deliberately. It was not just that their intended impact was not where it was supposed to be-the impact was where they intended it to be-but it was the smoke, not the physical target.
And everybody was picking up all these bomb fragments. So it occurred to me that the thing to do, to protect us from the bomb fragments, was get delayed fuses. So we started that, and I started calling it "point blank bombing." Now there were not going to be any fragments to worry with.
But the fusing was not simple. The Navy had a 10-second fuse, and that made your attack interminably drawn out: You could only use that against a non-defended sort of target. Then they had chemical fuses, and I think the shortest was a two-hour fuse. But they were horrors; they were frightening. They had booby-trap protec-tions on them where the enemy couldn't defuse them. If the enemy tried to back a fuse out, it blew up on him. So you could take these two-hour fuses and scatter them all over the landscape, and the enemy couldn't defuse them in that two-hour period unless they had some demolition experts who knew how to do it, and maybe not
They were a horror if you got them back to your own base and the arming wire had slipped out. The thing armed not on impact but by an arming propeller. So we used them with great reticence, but we did use them. And they worked: We got some nice bridge cuts with those things. They had the effect of delaying the return of the construction workers. I called this "point blank bombing" and wrote an article on it. It was published in Naval Aviation News and received quite a bit of recognition. Down at MCAS Quantico, it was written into one of their tactical books.
Another interesting thing was napalm. We were attacking rice-straw thatched roof targets frequently. They were all supposed to contain enemy troops, but I'm sure most of them were probably innocent civilians. We were attacking the villages with napalm. Then of course, the proper military targets used thatching for waterproofing, too; a supply depot for food or material, or fuel or ammo. Against all these targets, we used lots of napalm. The idea occurred to me, "Why not use phosphorous bombs? If you go up there when the weather's dry-or, better still, if it's dry and windy-you can get tremendous coverage from a phosphorous bomb with a VT
fuse." That's the proximity fuse. You could put a VT fuse on these bombs, and they'd go off 50 or 75 feet in the air. Nobody liked the VT fuses, because if they armed in the air, they went off, and we lost planes that way. Just blew them up. In one of them, the guy said, "Hey! The arming clip came off of my fuse..." KABOOM!
But we tried some of those. They would not work, of course, if there was snow on the roofs or if there had been a recent rain. But if the conditions were dry-and, better still, a blowing wind where it would spread from one to the other-they were devastating. We would sometimes get coverage that was just sparse. It might just be as small as a match head, but if it hit that rice straw waterproofing, it BURNED. And, presumably, everything that the roof was over was lost.
So that was another interesting experiment which I was totally involved in. Nobody in the high command was backing me up, but I got good support from Group Colonel Ben Robertshaw on both of these things, and good support from the Squadron Commander, Stod Cortelyou. I was in a position to implement these ideas, and then wrote articles on both of them.
That tour was coming to an end, and I had 94 missions. On taking R&R, I made contact with an Air Force squadron commander named George I. Ruddell. (Ruddell had been at March Field in 1947 or 1948, and I'd gone there trying to promote jets with the Marine Corps. Ruddell was then the Operations Officer of an F-80 squadron, and flew one over to El Toro to give our squadron a lecture on it. He put on a little demonstration, and God, it was obvious: The reciprocators were all through. We were years from getting the Banjo's and the F9F-2s, and were still flying the Corsair at that time. But I had made the acquaintance of Ruddell,
and he had actually stayed at my little apartment in military housing that night. He was a very impressive guy).
So I was on R&R. All my buddies were in Japan, at the joints, whooping it up, and I was there at K-13 where the 51st Fighter Group was. Ruddell was commanding the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. I showed him I had a hundred hours, not only in the F-86, but in the F-86F. His was the only squadron of -Fs on the field (they'd taken these new planes and had put them in that Portland squadron, and he was just getting the -Fs out there in Korea where they really needed them), so I had experience he needed. Ruddell was friendly toward me and let me fly his birds. I just took some fam flights with a few guys.
I did a second R&R trip that Christmas of '52. I was kinda feeling sorry for myself up there at Christmas-time, I remember. At this time, Joe McConnell had been grounded. He had eight or nine victories and was one of the leading aces. Ruddell sent McConnell up to teach me some tactics. So I flew two or three flights with McConnell, and he was good. They were just fam hops; he'd had some flight infraction, and Ruddell was punishing him by grounding him. But McConnell could take test hops and teach me. So Ruddell, very generously, let McConnell give me two or three flights. I made friends with McConnell and he really taught me lots of
things: I could talk for hours about his tactics. He became the leading ace of the Korean War and was very deserving of the fame that he had. He was killed soon after the war on a test flight at Edwards Air Force Base. I think you got three R&Rs-about every six weeks-and. after the second one, my tour was winding down. I put in for an Air Force exchange tour. The Group Personnel Officer-a guy named George Jenkins-said, "Bolt, I know you've been trying to worm your way into this, going up there on R&R. I'll tell you: you've had a year with the Air Force," (we all acknowledged that their planes were superior to ours at that
point), "and you ain't going up there. You think you are. I'm telling you now, it ain't gonna happen."
They felt that I'd had more than my share of the gravy assignments. So, I got in touch with Ruddell, and he got the General up there to send a wire down to the Marine Corps General. They only had two F-86 groups, the 4th and 5lSt, and they had two Marines in each. One of them was leaving, a guy named Roy Reed, and this was the opening: The time was ripe for me. Another guy from our squadron, Tom Sellers, went to the other group; Sellers was killed by a MiG while flying with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Group. So the Air Force General sent a wire to the Marine General saying, "We're willing to have your pilots, but they come up here having
never flown the plane, and they present a training burden on our people. But now we have a rare instance of having a pilot who's shown enough initiative to come up here and get checked out, and he's ready to go. Would you mind appointing John Bolt?" Well, there was nothing the Group could do; it came down from the Wing. They put me in Ruddell's squadron.
McConnell became the top ace, and I was flying on his wing, when I first got up there, for my first half dozen or dozen flights. I was in his flight- Dog Flight-and Ruddell was really nice to me, although he was a very tough guy. He was as nice as he could be. Ruddell had four or five victories, but the MiGs had quit coming south of the Yalu River, and we weren't supposed to go north. If you went north of the river, it was at the risk of your professional career if you got caught. The Chinese were yelling and screaming about the "pirates" that were coming over there, but that's where the action was. When McConnell left, I took over
the command of Dog Flight, a quarter of the squadron with about twelve pilots. We lived in one big Quonset hut.
Ruddell wasn't getting any MiGs because they weren't coming south of the river. He'd been threatening everybody that he'd kill 'em; cut their heads off; decapitate 'em, if they went north of the river. But he weakened one night. He'd had a few drinks, and he called me into this little cubbyhole where he had his quarters. During the discussion, tears came to his eyes-running down his cheeks-as he was saying how he wanted to be a good Air Force officer, and he loved the Air Force, and if they told him to do something he'd do it, and if they told him to not do something he'd not do it. But getting those MiGs meant more to him than his career and
life itself. And since he had been beating up on his own flight about not going across the river, he'd be embarrassed to ask any of them to go across the river with him. He didn't know whether they would want to anyway - two or three members of Dog Flight didn't like to do it. (They would have been in big trouble if they'd been identified as going up there. I don't know if the ones they picked up later on, who were shot down north of the river, were ever disciplined when the war was over. But at this time the threat was believed, and hanging very heavily over you). So Ruddell said, "Would you give me some of your flight? I want to go
across the river; I've gotta have some action."
They'd been day after day after day with no action. I said sure, I'd be delighted. And, as I said, all these tears were running down his cheeks. So we planned one for the next day. I was going to fly his second section. I was going across every flight, anyway, and it was useful to have guys who didn't go across in your flight. On a river-crossing flight, we would take off and go full bore. We'd put those planes at 100 percent power setting until we got out of combat; they drew 100 percent all the time. (Engine life was planned for 800 hours, and we were getting about 550 or so. Turbine blade cracks were developing. Also, we were running them
at max temperature. You could put these little constrictors in the tailpipe-we called them "rats "-and you could "rat 'em up" until they ran at max temperature, so they were really hot rods). You'd run your drop tanks dry just about the time you got up there, and if you didn't have a contact, you weren't supposed to drop your tanks. We skinned 'em every time. By the end of the flight, on at least two to four occasions, I had been to over 50,000 feet in that bird. When it got empty and you still hadn't pulled power back (you were still at 100 percent), you could really get up there. The MiG-15 could get up there, too, to
So, this flight with Ruddell was a typical flight. We got up there and skinned the drops. At least the ones going across the river did. We would have a code: We would say, "Twin." And the call-back was, "City." Then we would go to a training radio frequency (we'd leave the combat frequency). We were so far away, we didn't have all the training chatter going on. We'd come up on it, and the next call might be, "Sioux," and the call-back would be, "Falls." That's all, no other contact, but we were all up on the same frequency. With that channel switch, the leader strangled his IFF-his squawk-and another
guy picked up the squawk and turned down short of the Yalu while we sailed across. We were splitting our flight, and there were just two of us going over. Two stayed back, and the controllers thought they had a radar image on all four. We were beyond range of voice control. We'd "choked our parrot," but they thought they had four planes because one squawk was all they were reading. That was typical of the way we did it with Ruddell, and we briefed him on all of this. We got up there, and went over the river. There were big clouds up. It was early in the morning-eight or nine- and we heard on the radio that there was a fight going
on. There were some MiGs flying this day.
We came from the sunny side of the clouds to the back side of this big cumulous cloud. There was some antiaircraft down there that had been shooting at something-there were black flak puffs-and there were some planes down there. We were half blind from the diminished illumination on the back side, and it was a confusing situation. So we dove down there, and by God, there was a MiG. Old Ruddell got a MiG in sight, and we tore down from probably about 43,000 feet to about 15,000: just dropped straight down. Ruddell got into shooting position behind this MiG but then he didn't shoot, didn't shoot, didn't shoot. I tore past him and blew up the
MiG. I had experience at jumping planes, and one of the things you did when you came down from extreme altitude to the deck (which is frequently where you found them, north of the river), was put your armor glass defrost on full-bore. It would be so hot, it would almost be painful to you, but it kept the front windscreen clear. Another thing you did was test your guns to be sure they were firing. You tested your g-suit, because you were going down low where the g-suit could be very important to you; and you tested a couple of other things.
Ruddell's windscreen had fogged over, so he was sitting there in a kill position and he couldn't shoot. So I went by him and got the MiG. Of course, the squadron was just a-buzz that the Colonel started crossing the river and he'd gotten aced out of his first kill. I was a "MiG killer" by that time; I'd gotten three or four. We got back, and all the guys-everybody in the squadron-knew what was going on. Ruddell had gone across the river, he'd had a chance to kill one and he didn't do it, and I took it. And they were going bananas! When I got back they had all these signs pasted up all over the Dog Flight Quonset hut. One of these
signs said, "Marine wetback steals Colonel's MiG!"
The "kill rules" were, if you got seven hits on one, they would give you a kill. They didn't torch off at high altitude. They simply would not burn because of the air density. So they would count the incendiary hits on them (we had good gun cameras). They figured that if you got seven hits in the fuselage, the odds were it was dead, and they'd give you a kill. They could count the incendiary hits, and they knew that every third one was an incendiary. So, in effect, if you got three incendiary hits in the gun camera, they would say that it was a dead MiG.
My first kill was at about 43,000 to 44,000 feet, and I had missed a couple of kills before that. I missed them by not being determined or aggressive enough, and at this point I was almost desperate for a MiG kill. I was the leader of Dog Flight, and I'd screwed up a couple of bounces. My self-esteem and my esteem in my flight was low. I just determined that the next MiG I saw was a dead man, and I didn't care where he was. I've forgotten who my wingman was that day, but anyway, the next MiG was in a gaggle; just MiGs as far as you could see. I had a good run on one of them and pulled into a firing position, but other MiGs were shooting at me
and my wingman. They were sufficiently close. I got some hits on this one, and he went into a scissor. Now, he was lighter, so he could gain altitude in a scissor, but I think the F-86 might have had a better rate of roll. As he was doing this-which was a good tactic-I was trying to shoot as he passed through my firing angle. Well, each time I shot, I delayed my turn, so he gained on me and was drifting back. He almost got back behind me, and was so close that his plane just blanked out the camera. But I think he realized that I would have crashed into him rather than let him get behind me, and he rolled out of it and dove. Then I got a bunch
more hits in him and he pulled up (he was probably dead at this point). I'll bet I put 500 rounds in that guy. The whole time, the MiGs were shooting at my wingman and me, and we pulled out.
My self-esteem and my esteem in the flight went up, with that. From then on, I didn't botch up many opportunities. This first guy sure knew what he was do-ing. The scissor was the right thing to do; he just shouldn't have broken it off. He was really getting back to a position where he could've taken the initiative.
We got bounced one day. We went across the river and jumped these planes that had just taken off from an airfield called Fenchen, twenty or thirty miles north of the river. They were alerted to our presence-probably by the tower-and they'd dropped their tanks; they were just sucking their gear up. All I got was a "Damaged" that day. He was going about 150 knots and I was doing about 600. I just got a skim shot through him. But they had a CAP up or something, and their CAP came down on us, So from then on, they were taking all the pictures!
We had a hell of a fight trying to shake them. My wingman and I were immediately separated, and it took about five minutes of twisting and turning and high gs. We were doing all sorts of things to keep from getting shot. Finally, coming out, I was just totally exhausted. I was calling my wingman, I believe Fritz Kuhlman was his name, first on this frequency we'd gone to-the private frequency-no answer. Then on all frequencies: no answer. I just knew I'd lost him. And I'd never lost a wingman in World War II. So I was figuring that I'd lost him. But, he was all shot up and his radio was shot out, and I beat him back to the airfield. He came in
about five minutes after I did. He was killed in a dumb thing over in Japan a few weeks later, probably after the war ended; flew up a damn box canyon in a Mustang and couldn't Immelmann or turn out of it.
The salvation of the F-86 was that it had good transonic controls, and the MiG's controls were subsonic. You could cruise at about .84 Mach readily in the F-86. The MiG had to go into its uncontrollable range to attack you, and its stick forces were unmanageable. The kill ratio between the F-86 and the MiG was, to my recollection, eight to one. It was due almost exclusively to the F-86's flying tail, although there were other superior features (the gun package, for example). The MiG's gun package was meant to shoot down B-50 bombers; a 37mm and two 23mm cannons. It was overkill and not very good against fighters. Although the F-86 package
used essentially the same as a World War II machine gun, the rate of fire was doubled, and it was a good gun for shooting down fighters.
Down low, where you were out of that transonic superiority range, we had a g-suit and they didn't. You can fight de-fensively when you're blacked out, but you can't fight offensively. If you had enough speed to pull into a good 6g turn, you'd go black in 20 to 30 degrees of turn, and they couldn't follow you, blacked out themselves. You've lost your vision (you're still conscious, though you have three to five seconds of vision loss). When you thought you'd gone about as far as you could carry that, you could then pop the stick forward and you'd immediately regain your vision. You'd already started your roll, and they were right there in
front of you, every time, because they'd eased off in their turn (they didn't have a g-suit, and your g tolerance was twice theirs). So they were right there: They probably overshot you.
Then we thought we had a better rate of roll, which in a scissor is a good maneuver. And we could simply outrun them, if we could get enough distance to bring the speed advantage into effect.
On my last two MiGs, my wingman that day was Jerry Carlile. It was the only time I've ever felt any sympathy or compassion for an enemy in a dog fight. We were north of the river, and these two MiGs were tearing along, right down at ground level, skimming the treetops. We were down at about 20,000 feet for some reason. By this time I'd killed four-it was near the end of the war-and I knew those guys were dead men. Dead men. It was just the ideal situation.
I started shooting at one. Simultaneously, Jerry started shooting, and almost shot me. I'd drifted over really close, and both of us were shooting. He shouldn't have been shooting, and he quit. I managed to finish off that MiG, and the other one made a right turn. We followed him around, and as soon as he leveled off, I got him, too.
I got good gun camera footage on the second one. With the first one, we were kind of transonic-wobbling, and he was down so low there was a tree background and it was not good film. But if you look close, you can see the first kill. The second one had good film coverage on it. It was fairly early in the flight. I turned the lead over to Jerry and said, "That's enough for me, Jerry, you get some." I started flying his wing. I don't know if Jerry ever got a kill, but he was some guy-a tenacious wingman.
Following Korea I served three years in Fighter Design at the Bureau of Aeronautics, during which I attended night school for a BS degree, granted in 1956 from the University of Maryland. Then I went to the Senior School of Amphibious Warfare at Quantico. Next there were three years in the First Marine Brigade at Kaneohe, during which I commanded VMA-214 (the old Black Sheep squadron) for almost two years. We flew the first single-engine flights to California using buddy tankers, and later a transpac to Japan using Navy and Air Force tankers.
I retired from the Marine Corps in April 1962 after 20 years of service. I joined a large central Florida agricultural company, having been given an attractive stock option. For six years I competed in a race to become the company CEO. I lost the race, and the winner let me know I was not essential to his plans. I then resorted to my original school plans of 1941 and enrolled in law school at the University of Florida with my son, Robert. I graduated in 27 months, served on the faculty for two years, and then opened a general practice in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I worked as a small town lawyer seven days a week for 20 years, and retired in
May 1991 on my seventieth birthday.
I currently manage my personal properties, the assets of a New York charitable foundation, and several real estate partnerships owned with my son and three close friends. The foundation permits me to play a minor philanthropistic role, which is emotionally rewarding in a small town. Aside from these, ranching, hunting, scuba diving and grandchildren occupy my interests and time.
My wife, Dottie, namesake of "Darling Dottie," my Korean war F-86, held a tough job as a state welfare auditor during our slim days and now manages our stock portfolio as we bear down on our 50th wedding anniversary.
C'est la vie.
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