I suppose the most memorable of all flights, was June 5, 1943. C. T. [Charles Larson] and I got a bad start, our plane wouldn't checkout, so we had to take an SBD-1 [SBD-3 06520]. This was a Marine plane that had been at Guadalcanal a while. It had a single 30 caliber gun at my [rear gunner's] position. My plane was newer and had twin 30's.
By the time were airborne we were at least 10 minutes behind our leader. Our target was the Japanese shipping at Kahili Harbor at Bougainville. C.T. say, even though our plane had lost some power, we should go anyway, so we went two ways, on the flight and in our pants. When we reached Kahili, the squadron had made their bombing runs, and left.
So C.T. went ahead with his target, he scored a direct hit on what I believe was a transport. As we pulled out of the dive there were three Zeros waiting for us. I directed Larson where to go, I was sitting where I could see them. I told him to get down on the water, because they couldn't come from underneath. We did that for a while and C.T. saw some clouds and felt we would be better off in them.
In the meantime I was using the 30 caliber in the rear gun position. We flew into the clouds, one of the Zeros was waiting. C.T. chose to fly to Santa Isabel Island. The terrain was such that it was mountainous on each side and low like in between the two sides. I recall lots of trees. C.T. had full throttle right on the tree tops. The Zero made pass after pass firing at us, putting plenty of holes in the vertical stabilizer, shooting holes in the canopy between C.T. and me, and finally shooting our antenna off. I scored a hit because the Zero began to smoke and he turned, and banked away from us, we really didn't care what happened to him. We knew by now we were in trouble. With all the holes, no radio and running low on fuel, C.T. made the decision to ditch, so that is what we did.
As soon as we touched the water, I was pulling out the raft, I inflated it, Larsen stepped off the wing into it, we destroyed the I.F.F. The idea at this point was to get as out of sight as soon as possible. The plane sank by the time we could get away from it. We went on the beach of Santa Isabel running and pulled the raft out of sight. C.T. checked his navigation chart and placed us about eight miles from the Japanese Seaplane Base at Rekata Bay.
We ditched at 14:00 on the 5th of June. We stayed close to where we went down in case a rescue effort was in progress. We slept in the raft that night. The next morning Larsen decided we should walk through the jungles away from the direction of Rekata Bay.
We walked several hours, stopping only to purify some drinking water. Finally some time around noon we came we came across a native who was cutting wood. After determining he was a friendly native, we approached him with a white flag and reading a pig language flyer that our intelligence folks had provided us. It, when read to the natives identified us as American flyers who were shot down.
After our initial contact he had us wait until he went to the village and back. I was a little concerned because when we got to the village and back. I was a little concerned because when we got to the village there was no one there but men. There was an Australian or New Zealand coastwatcher there, i believe his name was Kennedy [?]. Anyway, suddenly women and children appeared. We learned it was their safety for the women and children to go outside the village in case we were not friendly.
They fed us, held church services for us and bedded us down for the night. C.T. met with the head knocker to make arrangements for us to get back to Henderson Field. Early on the 7th of June we were loaded into a canoe bound for Guadalcanal. There were three natives and a supply of bananas to fool the Japanese into thinking they were just banana haulers.
Sometime around noon that day we heard a PBY and fighter escort. After we were able to identify them the natives uncovered us and we began firing the Very pistol so they would be sure to see us.
The Black Cat circled and landed in the water. The natives brought the canoe along side the PBY and we boarded and waved goodbye to them. The PBY crew had food in the form of fruit cocktail. We were both tired and grubby looking. We went to sleep, the flight was about 2 hours to the docks at Henderson Field. I was really impressed and thankful that the Navy would spend time and energy looking for just two of us after a big raid like that. We were landed at Henderson our squadron personnel were at the docks to greet us. Believe me even after our experience we were fortunate. For there were some who didn't return. After only two days we were listed as missing in action, our folk had already been notified and our personal affects were inventoried and packed for shipment.
We were given a day off and were back on the flight schedule on the 9th. The rest of our time at Henderson we were assigned scouting flights. The time we were not flying I was installing radar and I.F.F. equipment. About the first week in August we received orders to return to the States.