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Admission by Invitation

by Willie Lagarde

I can’t set the time or place of this event but it was probably sometime in February or March of 1944.

I was first loader on Mt. 5 quad forty at the time and we were on our battle station at condition “one easy”. I had both the phones and the binoculars and was looking out but never expecting to see anything the ship lookouts or radar hadn’t already picked up. Out on the starboard beam there was only a destroyer between us and the horizon, a cruiser up ahead on the starboard bow and possibly another cruiser or battleship on the quarter.

Casually sweeping the horizon I thought I saw something low on the water a little forward of the beam. If that’s flying fish they’re flying in formation.
It has to be planes, surely CIC (Combat Information Center) already knows about them, but I have the phones on and nobody has said anything. Just to test my connection to control more than anything else, I called:

“Mt 5 to control”,

“Control aye”,

“Control, I see planes low on the water just forward of the starboard beam.”

“Control to all mounts, we have already seen the planes and we are checking”

The planes keep coming in what looks like a torpedo attack

I alerted the gun crew and just before handing the phones over to Murray the gun captain, I asked again: “What about these planes”

I no sooner got the words out of my mouth I saw gun flashes on the destroyer, they and perhaps the other ships opened fire. As the planes suddenly banked away the white star could be seen on the wings. American B-25's!

Too late, two of them were shot down.

It was a tragic breakdown or lack of communications, but at a higher level than the fire control officers and men on our ships. Certainly the destroyer and other ships in our screen couldn’t let any planes, not properly identified and flying low on the water get passed them uncontested. Regardless of markings they looked menacing.

Before any plane could approach our force it was imperative he have his IFF (identification friend or foe) on and his credentials in order. It was not inconceivable the Japs could have captured some of our planes or disguised their own. It you were not invited don’t crash the gate, so to speak. If we didn’t know the intruders, we would try to kill them. There was no “oops sorry, or I beg you pardon”, during those times. Unfortunately, mistaken identity was almost always a fatal mistake.

We never heard an explanation of what these planes were up to or the fate of the plane crews who were shot down.
More "friendly fire"

Another time around the Marianas one of our F6F fighters failed to clear the area before the shooting started. He knew he was in trouble and was wagging his wings while flying low on the water coming from dead ahead. We could see he was one of ours but other ships further out mistook him for a Jap. When he got behind us we shielded him from a cruiser that was blazing away at him. He turned and headed for the horizon skimming the top of the waves and keeping us between him and the people trying to kill him. We’re all up on our guns hoping he could make it out and he did.

I only saw friendly planes that were not a part of our force one other time.

Three Marine corsairs were far from home and low on fuel when they approached the force asking for permission to land on one of the carriers. They were all properly identified and after considerable deliberation were given permission to attempt landing on Yorktown. None of the pilots had landed on a carrier before although they had bounce drills while in training. Paying no attention to our landing pattern or the LSO (Landing Signal Officer) they came in from dead astern and although they bounced all over the deck they all made safe landings.

I noticed a good bit of red mud splattered on their landing gear and underside of their planes indicating they must be operating out of a recently constructed airfield. The pilots were all smiles when they got out of their planes. Could have been three pilots from the Marine “Black Sheep” squadron for all I know. Of course we had never heard about them back then. After determining their planes were airworthy, fueled and armed they flew off, hopefully finding their way back to the muddy field from whence they came.

If any of those pilots are alive today Yorktown has a special place in their hearts. Also all of their post war progeny almost surely would have never been born were it for not that old ship at Patriots Point.

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Photo Choice:     Corsair