10 Gallons of Ice Cream…

A historical perspective from a WWII aviator who was shot down in combat.

My True Worth – Author unknown.

Being in combat for a while, like many others, I began to develop a false sense of confidence in myself, and in the ability of my plane to bring me home, even when pretty badly shot Even after a rough, miserable day in combat, the next morning always brought back the feeling of well-being. After the comedy of the night before, and a good night’s sleep, I woke up feeling great. I was back with McBrayer and happy. As I got into the plane, one of Stan Kenton’s recordings kept running through my mind. All the way to Okinawa, I kept whistling and humming “Eager Beaver.” The strike team was made up of 16 planes (four Divisions). As we approached Okinawa, we encountered a deck of clouds at 10,000 feet and climbed above. Flying just above the cloud deck was a mistake. It provided the Jap anti-aircraft crews a perfect altitude reference.

Our target was Naha Airfield. After a partial turn to get properly oriented, we started our dive. I was on McBrayer’s right wing, and our other 2-plane element was on his left wing.. As we headed down I fired six rockets into the hangar and gas installations. While diving and strafing, a movement caught my eye. The Division on our starboard was edging into me. They were driving me out of position, and our other element was on Mac’s left wing, leaving me no place to go. I had to move or become involved in a midair collision. I exercised the only option left. I pulled in beneath Mac. That was a dangerous position, because Jap gunners seldom lead their targets by the proper interval, and the shots generally converged beneath the target. So I found myself in that questionable spot hoping none of the badly aimed rounds would greet me.

I had just released my bomb, when I heard an explosion and felt a tremendous concussion that lifted my plane up like a great hand. I realized immediately that I had been hit by a burst of anti-aircraft fire. I looked at the engine gages! The oil, and gasoline pressures both dropped to zero. The engine quit, and although I tried, I couldn’t get the engine started. I must have been hit in the accessory section, causing all engine and hydraulic functions to cease. In the dive I had attained approximately 425 Knots. I had plenty of speed, but I did not have many options. I had to make a quick decision.

We had been briefed that a rescue submarine operating off the East Coast of Okinawa would not attempt to get around the reef into the East China Sea to effect a rescue. Therefore, I could not expect help from that area. I could either bail out, land on the island or land at sea. My mind was quickly made up. We had made the dive on a westerly heading, so I would use my speed to fly west, as far as possible, into the East China Sea. I pulled out of the dive at about 2000 feet and did not try to gain altitude. My speed was sufficient to take me a half-mile off the West Coast of Okinawa. I dropped the belly tank, opened the canopy, unfastened my parachute harness, tightened my seat belt, and lowered the tail hook. The sea was relatively calm, which makes it difficult to estimate height above the surface. Therefore, the lowered tail hook would touch the water first and give me a feeling for when to stall the plane and complete my landing.

The landing, about 40 degrees out of the wind, was a smooth one. As the plane slowed, I unfastened my seat belt and jumped out on the wing. I reached back into the cockpit and separated the one-man raft from the parachute. I turned around, intending to run to the end of the wing and jump into the water, away from any entanglements, or any suction created as the plane sank. As I turned around from the cockpit, with the uninflated raft in my hand, the plane sank. It didn’t stay afloat more than 15 or 20
seconds after coming to a stop. There must have been a terrific hole in the accessory section, on the bottom of my plane, to permit! such rapid foundering. As the plane went under, I was caught on the horizontal stabilizer, and had a few frightening moments disentangling myself.

As I came to the surface, I inflated my “May West” flotation device. With the weight of the raft, the pistol, first aid kits, 12 inch Marine Combat Knife, and my weight, the May West didn’t quite keep! my mouth above water. I had to tread water madly to keep my mouth free of water. Next I opened a  package of dye marker so I could be seen from the air. McBrayer later told me that it really works. He said he was unable to see me in the water, but as soon as I broke out the dye marker, I became immediately visible. As I treaded water, I opened the covering on the raft. The CO2 bottle was broken off, and I was unable to inflate the raft by that means. I searched frantically for the tube which permits inflation by mouth, but couldn’t locate it. By this time, a couple of torpedo bombers from the flight we had escorted, had seen! me go in, and were circling above me. One flew low and threw a raft out. I let go of my one-man raft, and swam over to the one just thrown by the TBM. As soon as I let go of my one-man raft it sank. I opened the cover of the new raft, which would hold three men, and looked for the CO2 inflation device. The CO2 bottle was broken off the raft, so I looked for the pump and hose utilized for hand inflation.

The pump was made of plastic material that had been totally destroyed. I attached the hose to the inflation valve and started mouth inflation. I felt that trying to tread water and inflate the raft simultaneously would exhaust me long before the raft received eno! ugh air to support me. The planes circling above could see I was having trouble, so another one-man raft was thrown. Unfortunately, the raft landed so far away that I could not see it. I was reluctant to the leave the one I had, to swim away in search of a raft I might not find. Finally one of the TBMs threw another thre! e-man raft, which landed about 100 yards away from me. I swam to it and was overjoyed to find the inflation device in good working order. I inflated the raft, climbed aboard and rowed toward the one I had just left. I took it in tow and rowed toward the raft I had been unable to see. It was about a quarter of a mile away. Upon arrival I found its inflation mechanism was intact.  After inflating this one, a one man raft, I huffed and puffed and inflated the first one thrown to me. When this was completed, I tied the rafts together, and checked and secured the rations in each raft. I then applied sulfanilamide and a bandage to a gash over my right eye, received! when my head hit the gun sight as I landed.

By this time, the strike group I had flown with, headed for home, leaving two fighters to orbit above me to prevent loss of my position. As I sat with my three- boat Navy trying to decide what my next move should be, shore batteries lobbed a few shots at me. Soon their ! attention was occupied by another strike of fighters and torpedo bombers. The fighters above me must have passed the word, because two new fighters assumed the orbit above me. This was repeated with each succeeding strike.The submarine would not enter the East China Sea to rescue me, so my only alternative, other than landing on Okinawa, was to attempt to sail across the East China Sea to the mainland, a distance of some 500 miles. That wasn’t exactly an ideal choice, either. The other bothersome bit of information was knowing that the Task Group was heading for Alethea the next morning. If I wasn’t rescued, the long boat ride seemed inevitable.

After about two or three hours in the water, my orbiting “friendlies” seemed to have disappeared. I looked up toward the south and saw four planes approaching. Two looked like fighters, and two were float planes. My first thought was – the Japs have me now. As they drew closer I could see the fighters were F6F’s and! the float planes were OS2U Observation-Scout planes. At the same time another strike hit Naha, so the rescue planes had no trouble from shore. One of the OS2U’s landed and taxied up to within about 20 feet of me. He shut his engine down, exited the cockpit and walked out on the wing with a donut life ring, which he threw to me. I grabbed the ring and he pulled me to the plane. We both climbed into the cockpits, and he began his attempts to start the engine. The OS2U had the old cartridge starter, just like the ones in the F6Fs at Melbourne. However, the breech into which the cartridge was inserted was in the cockpit. He fired the cartridge, and the engine turned over a couple of times and died. I looked forward into the front cockpit and saw he had three cartridges left. The pilot fired another cartridge, with the same results. At this point I was beginning to worry. Two more misfires and we could both head for the China coast. As he fired the third cartridge, I crossed my fingers. This firing resulted in a successful start.

The next event was even more interesting. We turned into the wind and began a take off run. The surface of the sea was smooth at this time. A smooth surface creates additional friction on the hull and requires more power than a take off on a slightly disturbed surface. In addition, the OSU was pitifully underpowered. As we built up speed, the pilot got the plane up on the step and continued his run. The friction was so great that as he pulled the plane off the surface, he lost flying speed and settled back on the water. We continued the run, and the second attempt resulted in the plane settling back on the water. I looked at the back of the pilot’s head and neck, and I could see he was tensing up. He was not alone. Finally after what seemed like miles, on the third try, we remained airborne.

Over the intercom the pilot informed me that he and his companion would like to sink the rafts with gunfire, so the Japs couldn’t get them and glean any information from the navigational packets stored in the pockets. After a couple of runs each, they had managed to sink one of the rafts. In response to the warning from our fighters about the danger of hanging around we headed for the Fleet. The fighters took one run and blew the other rafts to tiny shreds. On the way back to the Fleet, the pilot told me he was from the Battle Ship South Dakota. This pleased me because I had always wanted to visit a BB and see how it operated. As we approached the Fleet and prepared for recovery by the South Dakota, I was in for another thrilling surprise. The battle ship made a tight turn to port, to create a slick or area of smooth water upon which the plane could land.

As we approached the ship the pilot retarded his throttle and began a let down. While in his final turn, I glanced at the airspeed indicator and noted we were at 58 Knots. This gave me a turn, until I realized ! the OSU had a lower stalling speed than a fighter did. A fighter at 58 Knots, in a turn, would stall out and spin in. The next thrill came when he headed directly into the flank of the ship. Before the expected crash, we landed, and he gave the engine full throttle, still heading for the ship. At that point I became aware of what he was trying to do. Hanging from the port side of the ship, near the aft end, was a huge cargo net that extended some distance on the water’s surface. After taxiing at full throttle he grounded us on the cargo net, and cut the engine. As we waited, a crane lowered a cable with a hook. The pilot attached the hook to a ring o! n the upper wing. We were then lifted out of the water and positioned on the catapult. I exited the plane and climbed down the ladder to the deck. My feet had no more than touched the deck, when I was grabbed by a Commander who took me to the wardroom and handed me a welcome cup of coffee. I was a little disturbed, because I hadn’t had a chance to thank the pilot or learn his name. The Commander offered to bring the pilot into the wardroom. As I sat drinking my coffee, another officer appeared, and announced that a destroyer alongside was just about to cast off. If I would follow, I could be transferred to the destroyer, and would arrive back at my Carrier much earlier.

I followed to the edge of the deck, where they were fastening a large canvas bag to the line between the ships. The destroyer had just finished refueling and was disconnecting the fuel lines. I was stuffed into the canvas bag, together with some dispatches. The bag was drawn up over my head and closed with a draw string. The sea was a little choppy, and as I began the journey, the two ships drew towards each other and I was dumped into the sea for the second time that day, arriving aboard the destroyer, damp, but in one piece. I had anticipated transfer in a Breeches Buoy, but wound up like a sack of potatoes.

After disembarking from the canvas bag, I was greeted like a long lost brother. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that they weren’t seeing me, but what I was worth to them–l0 gallons of ice cream. Destroyer crews loved to rescue pilots. A pilot returned to his carrier was exchanged for 10 gallons of ice cream.I learned I was aboard the USS Yarnall, one of the new Fletcher Class destroyers. They were graceful and sleek, and could muster the 30 Knot speed the Fast Carriers demanded from the members of their Task Group. The crew hadn’t been out of the States very long, and were “ganged ho.” They were eager to get in some sort of action and test their spurs.

By the time I was assigned a bunk in the Navigator’s room, I had developed a nasty headache, and my ankle was so swollen that I couldn’t lace my shoe. The Medical Officer took me to Sick Bay, where he sewed up and re-bandaged the gash on my forehead. An X-ray of the ankle revealed nothing broken. I just had a nasty sprain. The sprained ankle resulted from my foot being jammed against the rudder pedal with great force. Aspirin didn’t help much, and the night was long and miserable. After SickBay, I returned to my bunk hoping to get some rest. As I opened the door, I found I had company. Several of the crew wanted to hear all about my adventure of the day.

As I was recounting the day’s events, one young Ensign became enthralled with my back pack, so I gave it to him. The back pack, which we always wore in flight, contained the following articles: A waterproof poncho designed to fit over the pilot and down over the one-man raft; two pints of canned water; a first aid kit; some fishing hooks and line; a flash light; waterproofed matches; a machete; sewing needles and thread; a signal mirror; and a container with malted milk tablets and Charm candies, which were supposed to keep a pilot from starving for two weeks. As I talked to the group, the youngEnsign! managed to eat all of the two week supply of nutrition. Shortly after he finished eating, the mess call sounded and we retired to the wardroom for dinner, where the young Ensign managed to eat a ful! l meal, including dessert. That really boosted my faith in the nutritional value of the malted milk tablets and Charm candies in our back packs. The next day, underway, The Yarnall came alongside the Wasp, shot a line which was made fast,and I was transferred back to my Carrier. This was a dry trip. The 10 gallons of ice cream was passed to the Yarnall, and as they pulled away, I saw grins, from ear to ear. At least I had finally ascertained my true value–l0 gallons of ice cream.

That night as I sat in the Wardroom, the pilots of the two torpedo bombers which had orbited over me while I was trying to get a raft inflated, came over and sat with me. They proceeded to tell me that, as they orbited above me they saw the fin of a huge shark swimming around 1,500-2,000 feet fr! om me. They were undecided, whether to kill the shark with their machine guns, or leave it alone as long as it did not approach me. They were afraid, if they killed it, that the blood would attract other sharks that might be in the area. Luckily they had chosen the latter course, and I managed to get aboard my raft before the shark noticed me. It was a good thing I hadn’t seen the shark. I had enough things to worry about without sharks.

I know during Vietnam this was STILL the payoff for returning an aviator…

h/t- Craig, in memory of his Dad.


10 Gallons of Ice Cream… — 19 Comments

  1. The late RADM. Dan Gallery mentions the ice cream ransom for aviators several times in his fine books.

    Ice cream is a rare treat for enlisted sailors at sea. Officers usually have a working machine in the wardroom, or so I’ve been told. Never went into a wardroom, myself.

  2. Small glimpses into such a big war – kinda brings it all back down to earth. Gotta wonder . . . what was the flavor?? 🙂

  3. I sent this father in law. He ended up in the ocean when his SBD took some hits.


  4. Excellent story, As one that was in the Army but liked carrier aviation it was a good read;)

  5. We got the ice-cream reward for picking up a couple of guy from an ASW S2F (I think – memory fading, ya know)off the USS Hornet. No war damage, just a FU. We got ice-cream, they got an ass chewing I bet. Navy traditions…forever.

  6. Oh yeah, the Scout plane? The Kingfisher. One is hanging on the catapult on the USS North Carolina (BB-55, not SSN-777) as it should be!

  7. Apparently, our allies don’t know that tradition. Whilst in the North Sea for Bold Guard/Northern Wedding, a good buddy of mine (he was my instructor Crewchief) resued the pilot of a Luftwaffe Alphajet who bailed out after an engine failure. Nada, zip, zilch. The exercise commander didn’t even mention it.

  8. Bob- now pretty much everyone has access to the ‘autodog’… 🙂

    Jess/Keads- You’re welcome!

    eia- Vanilla…

    Gerry- He could probably ADD to the tale!

    WSF- Probably even before…

    MrG- Glad you liked it!

    CP- SOME things don’t change…LOL

    PH- Yep, a different world…

    Keads- if is WAS on Triple 7 THAT would be interesting… 🙂

    Free- You’re welcome

    Don- Not surprised, the Germans are a ‘bit’ weird…

    Ed- You’re welcome

  9. Was reading a tale in the Submarine Review about a boat out of Bangor, WA that was lingering on the surface due to a glitch in a message (encrypted incorrectly). They were in the right spot to recover a P-3 crew (I think it was P3) when their bird had to ditch.

    An extra drive into Sequim bay, and there was a whole pallet of ice cream waiting on the dock for the submarine crew!

    Wish I could remember what issue that was in…

  10. Great story, Old NFO. Thanks.
    One of my take-aways from this is the degree of detail that uniformed warriors had better know, to survive. Little things. That aren’t little.

  11. Scott- I don’t think it was a P-3, but I’m sure it happened…

    MJM- Yep, THAT is why attention to detail IS beaten into you from day one!!!

  12. Johnny- Sorry, no I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting it was an F6F, based on the time period…