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by Col. R. Bruce Porter
with Eric Hammel
Pacifica Press 2000
Read sample chapter
Marine Night Fighter Pilot in WWII
There are two things Marine Corps Colonel Bruce Porter most cherished possessions are his Navy Wings of Gold and his title of Ace. This book is the story of how he got both - from the moment he saw the Hollywood movie Flight Command, and became obsessed with the notion of flying. Bruce trained and led a carrier-based night-fighter detachment, but he was transferred to a land-based squadron as exec, then to another land-based squadron--VMF(N)-542--already on Okinawa as its CO.
Becoming an aviator was a rigorous process, especially for the Navy or Marine Corps, where only the highest physical fit and mental achieving candidates were selected. Of those, many would be weeded out thorough the lengthy process of flight and technical training. In order to fly in those early days, when instruments were not necessarily reliable, pilots had to be skilled physicist, navigators, have the keenest reaction times in addition to passing Morse code tests. Some died in training accidents, and although Bruce had his share of errors, he completed his training, and became a Marine fighter pilot.
After his training, Porter was stationed in Samoa and Fiji where his unit trained further and anxiously awaited - and feared their deployment closer to the war zone. It is interesting to read how Bruce and his comrades perceived the war around them in those dark days of 1942. Although the US had won victories at Midway, the weight of these was not fully realized at the time. As far as aviators like Bruce knew, it was going to be a long war, and the Japanese drive was far from beaten. Especially when occasional submarine sightings, and even the shelling of a weather station on Pago Pago, where he was then based were reminders that the war was very much on.
In combat, Porter flew the F4U Corsair and scored three kills against enemy fighters in dogfights over the central Solomons. Read about he and his fellow pilots often flew aircraft that under peaceful circumstances would have been grounded. His detailed accounts of his three kills emphasis just how fast things happen in aerial combat, and how quickly the nimble Zeke could turn and maneuver. By this stage in the war, the Japanese were bloodied, but hardly defeated.
After wild leave in Sydney where boxes of cigarettes were bartered for booze, women and transportation, Porter was rotated back to the states. There, he began training in the Marine Corps new experimental night fighter program.
His experiences as a night fighter are interesting because very few Marine pilots fought at night during WWII. The need was to provide around the clock fighter coverage over the invasion fleet bound for Japan. Losses from kamikazes and air raids over Iwo Jima and Okinawa demonstrated the fanatical defense that would be put against any invasion of the home islands.
Porter was appointed the commander of his squadron during training, and flew with the same men until their deployment on Okinawa for his second tour of duty, where he scored a double kill, making him an ace.
Flying a fighter at night was a difficult task that involved a pilot "unlearning" everything they had taught themselves. They had to learn to rely on only their instruments, and a radar coordinator on the ground to guide them to targets. Advances in radar technology allowed the Marines night fighters, specially equipped F6F Hellcats to have radar pods mounted on the one wing which were used to bring the target blip into the sights for the last hundred of feet of the attack. Until the pilot saw the exhaust flames of the target plane and identified the silhouette by flying slightly beneath the plane was it attacked.
With an introduction by "Pappy" Boyington, this book is the story of a true fighter jock, the kind only the United States can produce. Well written and extremely engaging, this autobiography brings the reader into the mind of Bruce Porter, where we learn of his achievements, but also his self doubts and uncertainties. Not to mention, his many exploits while on leave or wild exploits between rigorous months of training.
Review by Justin Taylan
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