Service Number: 315481
Birth and Early Life:
George Toms was born to Kezia and Frederick Toms of Newton, Pennsylvania, around the year 1923. George graduated from Marple-Newton high school and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1941.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
After completing boot camp, Toms was selected for aviation duty. He trained as a radio operator and gunner, and shipped out to the Pacific, where he became a member of VMSB-241 on Midway.
PFC Toms flew as a gunner in an old Vought SB2U Vindicator; on May 26, he was introduced to the newly arrived Second Lieutenant George Lumpkin. The Georges flew Vindicator #2; though they treated it delicately and the mechanics did their best, most of the Vindicators were much the worse for wear by the beginning of June.
In the early morning of June 4, 1942, all the bombers of VMSB-241 took to the sky. Lumpkin and Toms formed up in the #2 position, slightly behind their squadron’s executive officer, Major Benjamin Norris.
The voyage out to the enemy fleet was uneventful. Norris’ men in the slow Vindicators were soon outstripped by Major Lofton Henderson’s flight in newer SBD-2 Dauntless bombers. Looking back, some of the gunners could see smoke and flame rising from Midway as the Japanese bombed and strafed. By the time they caught sight of the Japanese ships, Henderson’s attack on the carriers was already being shot to pieces. Norris, deciding that flying over the alerted fleet to hit the carriers amounted to suicide, elected instead to dive on the battleship Haruna. As defending Japanese fighters streaked over to challenge the Americans, George Toms began firing his single .30 caliber machine gun, dutifully calling out the bearings of enemy fighters as Lumpkin tried to keep their aircraft on target and take evasive action simultaneously. (1)
Lumpkin managed to evade the antiaircraft fire while Toms kept the Zeros at bay. They cleared the enemy fleet and formed up with Second Lieutenant Kenneth Campion for the flight back. They spotted a ship-based Japanese seaplane and, still smarting from the drubbing they’d taken from the battleship, turned to attack it. The sharp-eyed Toms, watching the rear, spotted more Zero fighters coming up fast; Lumpkin broke off and pulled into a nearby cloud. Campion and his gunner, Private Anthony Maday, were never seen again; Toms’ vigilance had doubtlessly saved his aircraft.
As the few survivors landed at Midway and tried to collect themselves, mechanics swarmed over their aircraft. Many had not returned, and of those that had, some had over 200 holes punched through their skins. As recon reports of a burning Japanese carrier came in and were processed, the squadron’s navigation officer, Captain Richard Fleming, approached Toms and Lumpkin. Another sortie was being planned, and Fleming’s Dauntless was inoperable, his gunner wounded. He would be flying Vindicator #2 on the night’s mission, with Toms as gunner.
George Toms took off for his second mission of the day at 1900 hours. The flight, led once again by Major Norris, searched through the dark night for signs of the Japanese carrier, but found nothing. On their return, Norris’ plane disappeared without a trace. Toms went to sleep that night, knowing that on his next flight he and Fleming would be flight leaders.
Date Of Loss:
The recon planes were out before dawn on June 5; they spotted a long oil slick and soon radioed a report of two Japanese battleships, both damaged, withdrawing from Midway. The aviators, having had less than four hours of sleep, dragged themselves to their aircraft and took off. This time, the recon report was correct; the bombers found the oil slick and soon had eyes on the heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma. Both were damaged, but still able to raise a furious antiaircraft defense.
As Fleming sighted in on the Mikuma, his wingman saw smoke pouring from the engine cowling of Vindicator #2. Moments later, Fleming and Toms were engulfed in flames. They hurtled towards the sea, managing to release their bomb before their aircraft crashed. Although Private Gene Webb, a gunner in another Vindicator, swore to seeing two parachutes drifting seaward, neither Fleming nor Toms were ever seen again.
George Toms was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during the battle of Midway.
Next Of Kin:
Parents, Frederick & Kezia Toms
Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
(1) Marine Air Group 21: Report of enemy action, MIDWAY ISLAND. Statement of George T. Lumpkin, Second Lieutenant, USMCR. June 7, 1942.