|Pilot 2nd Lt. Willis S. Lees, O-009428 VMF-223 (MIA / KIA) MA
MIA October 2, 1942
Built by Grumman Corporation in Bethpage, New York as a model G-36 with manually operated folding wings. Delivered to the United States Navy (USN) as F4F-4 Wildcat bureau number 02098. Shipped overseas to the South Pacific.
During late July or early August 1942 loaded aboard USS Long Island CVE-1 departed August 2, 1942 bound for the South Pacific. On August 20, 1942 took off from USS Long Island CVE-1 roughly 200 miles southeast of Guadalcanal and landed at Henderson Field to join the "Cactus Air Force".
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) to 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW), Marine Aircraft Group 23 (MAG-23) to squadron VMF-223 "Bulldogs". Squadron Number 19. No known nickname or nose art.
On October 2, 1942 after radar detected an formation of roughly twenty to thirty incoming enemy fighters. On the ground, a red alert was sounded and all available aircraft were scrambled. 2nd Willis S. Lees took off from Fighter 1 on Guadalcanal at 12:20pm. In total, thirty-six Wildcats were scrambled including fourteen Wildcats from VF-5, eleven Wildcats from VMF-223, eleven Wildcats from VMF-224 and seven SBD Dauntless dive bombers.
Meanwhile, thirty-six A6M2 Zeros from the 6th Kokutai and Tainan Kokutai led by Lt. Kofukuda escorting nine G4M1 Bettys from Misawa Kokutai acting as decoys took off from Rabaul at 9:10am. By 10:00am. all the Bettys plus eight Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai and one Zero from 6th Kokutai aborted the mission due to engine trouble. By 12:10pm the remaining twenty-seven Zeros were over Guadalcanal at 27,880' to perform a fighter sweep.
After take off, the Wildcats from VMF-224 were led by Major John L. Smith climbed to 25,000' ascending through several layers of clouds before emerging only 2,000' below seventeen Zeros that peeled off to attack. The Wildcats attempted to dive back into the clouds but were intercepted. A6M2 Zero piloted by Lt(jg) Katsutoshi Kawamata targeted Lees. Although he bailed out, he was never seen again.
When this Wildcat failed to return and was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost was F4F 02110 (Kendrick, KIA), F4F 5195 (Morgan, MIA), F4F 03502 (Smith, rescued), F4F 02118 (Galer, rescued) and F4F 02112 (Treptow, MIA).
On October 3, 1942 the crash site was located roughly two and a half miles due east of the end of Fighter 1 near Henderson Field and two and a half miles up the side of a ridge by a USMC patrol led by Captain Cloyd R. Jeans. The crash site was identified by the identification tag and bureau number of the aircraft. Kendrick's body was buried at the crash site and marked with a pile of rocks and his dog tag.
Lees was officially declared dead on October 3, 1943. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on October 1, 1942. Lees earned the Purple Heart and was promoted to Captain, posthumously. Lees is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Fold3 NARA "United States Marine Corps Headquarters, Marine Aircraft Group Twenty-Three, First Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force page 62
"1230 Air Raid.... Radar reported flight of small fast planes approaching Henderson Field. 14 planes of VF-5, 11 of VMF-224, 11 of VMF-223 and 7 SBD's scrambled to attack. At 1300 about 30 Zeros and some bombers were engaged over field... Four Zeros were shot down and 6 of our fighters were shot down of which 2 pilots were recovered uninjured.
2nd Lt. Treptow, flying with this squadron, and 2dLt Lees of VMF-223 failed to return from the engagement."
Fold3 NARA "War Diary Marine Fighting Squadron 224 Marine Aircraft Group 23 First Marine Aircraft Wing, FMF From October 1, 1942 to October 31, 1942 page 3
"October 1, 1942 - At 0630 today, the decorations indicated were presented to the following squadron officers,,, In the same ceremony.. 2nd Lts Lees and Kendrick of VMF-223 were decorated... 2nd Lts Lees and Kendrick receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross."
October 2, 1942 - At 1200, the air raid alarm was sounded and the following pilots of this squadron took off.... 2dLt Kendrick of VMF-223 took off in one of the planes of this squadron [VMF-224]. The enemy's force, which consisted of twenty or thirty Zero fighters, was encountered over the [Henderson] field...
2nd. Lt. W. S. Lees M.I.A."
A History of Marine Attack Squadron 223 page 5 [PDF page 15]
"The action in the skies over Guadalcanal during September and early October  cost the lives of five VMF-223 second lieutenants: Zenith A. Pond, Noyles McLenan, Richard A. Haring, Wilis S. Les IIl, and Charles Kendrick."
AAIR USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List October 1942 F4F Wildcat 02098 piloted by Lees
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Willis S. Lees
Capt Willis Sherman "Bill" Lees, III (photo, tablets of the missing)
First Team and The Guadalcanal Campaign Ambush [October 2, 1942 mission]
Guadalcanal Tome I pages 305-310 (U.S. pilots page 306, Japanese pilots 309)
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April 12, 2017