Captain Francis Peter McCarthy



Insignia of VMF-221, The Fighting Falcons

Service Number: O-006235

Birth and Early Life:
Francis McCarthy was was born on October 13, 1916. the son of William and Marie McCarthy of Milton, Massachusetts. He was the youngest of the McCarthy children when Marie died in 1922; Francis gained two younger half-brothers when his father remarried. The McCarthy’s life was comfortable – they even employed a maid and a cook – and Francis attended college before deciding on a career in aviation.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
McCarthy joined the Marine Corps on June 15, 1939. He was appointed as a Naval Aviation Cadet and sent to Pensacola in September; a few days after arriving he might have watched the graduating class that included John Alvord and Robert Curtin. McCarthy would receive his own wings and commission to Second Lieutenant in July 1940, and was assigned to VMS-2 in San Diego as a pilot.

Wartime Service:
Lieutenant McCarthy joined Fighter Squadron Two in December, 1940, and participated in training exercises through 1941. He transferred to VMF-221 in July, and was on duty at San Diego when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

The “Fighting Falcons” were one of the few Marine squadrons in any state of readiness in December, 1941, and they were quickly redeployed to Ewa Field in Hawaii. From there, the squadron flew their obsolete  F2A-3 Brewster Buffalo fighters to Midway – with news of the fall of Wake Island still making headlines, the pilots knew the importance and the danger of their assignment.

On March 10, 1942, Midway’s air raid siren began to wail. A radar operator had picked up a target, and the entire squadron scrambled to intercept. A Japanese flying boat, codenamed “Emily,” was approaching on a photographic reconnaissance flight (1). Four fighters – Lieutenant McCarthy among them – were ordered to intercept the flying boat. The Japanese dived to escape and tried to lose the Americans in some cloud cover, but it was no use – each of the Buffalos scored hits, and knocked the mottled gray and khaki aircraft from the sky. It was the first victory for the squadron, and each of the four pilots received a hearty congratulations and a bottle of bourbon from the base commander, Colonel William Wallace, and decorations from Admiral Chester Nimitz. McCarthy received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the attack. (2)

McCarthy was also promoted to First Lieutenant; he traded in his Buffalo for one of the newer F4F-3 Wildcat fighters and became the section leader of the squadron’s Fifth Division. By the end of the month, he was a captain.

Date Of Loss:
On June 4, 1942, McCarthy and his wingman, Lieutenant Roy Corry, fired up their Wildcats at 0400 and headed out to their assigned patrol sector. They missed the air raid warning, the order for the squadron to scramble, and the order for all patrols to return, refuel, and join the main attack. With their fuel tanks approaching empty, the two pilots returned to base as normal – only to hear reports of incoming enemy aircraft on their radios. McCarthy radioed in for instructions and was told to land, refuel, and get back into the air as quickly as possible.

McCarthy and Corry never made it to the main dogfight. They were jumped at 8,000 feet by eight Zeros that immediately separated the Marines. McCarthy shot down one attacker right away; Corry shot another off McCarthy’s tail before losing sight of his flight leader. That was the last anyone ever saw of Captain McCarthy; his Wildcat was shot down shortly after, and he was killed in action.

Francis McCarthy was awarded a Navy Cross for his part in the battle.

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Francis P. McCarthy (0-6235), Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as Section Leader and a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE (VMF-221), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Leading his section in a dauntless and aggressive attack against a vastly superior number of Japanese bomber and fighter planes, Captain McCarthy aided in disrupting the plans of the enemy and lessening the effectiveness of their attack, thereby contributing materially to the success of our forces. As a result of his courageous and daring tactics and because of circumstances attendant upon this engagement, there can be little doubt that Captain McCarthy gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country. He displayed the characteristics of a fine leader and excellent airman, in keeping with the highest standards of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. W. J. McCarthy

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
New Calvary Cemetery, Mattapan, Massachusetts
(1) Horn, Steve. The Second Attack on Pearl Harbor. The pilot of the Emily was Lieutenant Hisao Hashizume, regarded as Japan’s preeminent expert in flying boats. The Emily was still a new design at the time, but would prove to be one of the best aircraft of its type during the war.
(2) The other pilots were: Captain James L. Neefus (Navy Cross), Lieutenant Charles W. Somers (DFC) and Gunner Robert Dickey (DFC and Purple Heart)

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