Even though I was not participating in this battle, I know the damage that we suffered. I was out at sea completing drills when the attack came. We came back to find that most of our fleet was out of action. We lost friends and crew members who went down with the 16 ships that were damaged or sunk.
Even though I did not participate directly, the men who completed this mission are still known as legends. We had never thought that it was possible to launch a B-25 land based aircraft off of a carrier and strike the Japanese homeland.
Today is a day that will change the world forever. Today was the first day that any two fleets fought against each other without actually being able to see one another. Our fleet fought the Japanese fleet in the Coral Sea, and although they won the battle, we managed to sink 5 warships, damage another 4 and shoot down 92 enemy aircraft compared to our losses of 3 sunk, one damaged and only 63 aircraft lost.
I will not forget this day for more than one reason. This was the first time I was actually shot down. It was a long day having to wait for rescue, but it was well worth it. We managed to practically knock their entire feet out of existence. We sunk all 4 of their carriers, 1 Heavy cruiser, and 248 aircraft. We lost only one carrier and less than 150 aircraft. I personally believe that this was when we started to knock Japan back.
This was a long few months. I was lucky to be on a ship or in the air. The stories that we heard of the men on the ground with malaria, or the booby traps lay by the Japanese that would rip a man apart. Every day we were called in to support the ground troops or to provide reconnaissance for the fleet. I was shot down twice and was lucky enough to be able to make it back to my ship safely. By the time that the battle was over we had lost 7,100 dead, 7,789+ wounded, 4 captured, 29 ships lost, and 615 aircraft downed.
This was a tough battle. Even though I was in the air, I was always doing somethingto support the Marines, which was never a good thing. It meant that the ground forces were facing something even stronger than they were. And that's what it was. The Japanese had themselves dug in so well that even the ground forces had trouble finding where they were being fired on from. With 4500 troops on the island, the Japanese were able to kill 1700 of our troops, and wound another 2100. But it was a magnificant show of force. The American invasion force to the Gilberts was the largest yet assembled for a single operation in the Pacific, consisting of 17 aircraft carriers (6 CVs, 5 CVLs, and 6 CVEs), 12 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 66 destroyers, and 36 transport ships. On board the transports was the 2nd Marine Division and a part of the Army's 27th Infantry Division, for a total of about 35,000 troops.
This was the last Japanese show of force against the United States, which wasn't even very much. It was to be the largest naval battle in history with us having around 300 ships, including 34 carriers, 12 battleships, 166 destroyers, and 1500 planes, and the Japanese having around 70 ships including 4 carriers, 8 battleships, 35 destroyers and 300 planes. The battle was a sight. At the end of the battle, from the air we could see enemy planes smashing into our carriers, seemingly on purpose taking out one of our CVE's. They lost all four of their carriers, 3 battleships including the massive Yamato, and 300 aircraft. it was a confusing battle. My ship in the 7th Fleet came under attack and was only able to use it's single 5in cannon as defense until were were able to launch with "whatever munitions we had" even if it were depth charges or cannons. My ship was the only one so be sunk by enemy planes before the others could escape.
This was a bloody battle. The initial invasion was a disaster. After 3 days of our battleships and cruisers shelling the beaches the invasion started. With our air cover the Marines stormed the beach, and in the air we could tell that they weren't able to get off the beach. We later learned that there was a 15 foot wall of soft ash that the marines couldn't climb because they couldn't get a foothold. After another few hours of air cover, the Japanese defense seemed to slow. There was less return fire or combat. Because the marines were unable to clear the beach, more and more men started to pile onto the island. At around 10:00, all hell broke loose. Machine guns and artillery started to rain down on the crowded beach. In the air, we tried to locate and take out the artillery and bunkers, but there were too many. It was described as a bloodbath on the beaches. Over the next month we would lose 6,821 killed and 20,000 wounded. The carrier I was stationed on, the CV-3 Saratoga was hit by a Kamikaze aircraft and severely damaged in battle.
We could tell we were near the end of the war. This was one of the closest Islands to japan in the Pacific. When we heard about the Island we knew that it was going to be a bloody battle. It was going to be the Japanese's last defense and they had months to prepare for it. It was our job in the air to make it as easy as possible for the ground forces to take the island. When the assault started, it was the largest amphibious assault in the pacific. 791,000 allied troops invaded the island and took about 2 months to take the it. We lost 21,000 men and 55,000 wounded but managed to wipe out their remaining Pacific force of 100,000 men. We were no longer needed for air support after the Army Air Force built an airfield to support the ground troops.
Even though I was involved in this event, it still is a day that I will never forget. It finally seemed like the day that the war would end. The Air Force dropped two bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed a total of 200,000 soldiers and civilians. The effect was catastrophic. Two cities almost completely destroyed from just two bombs.