Service Number: O-007540
Birth and Early Life:
Roy Corry was born in California on October 3, 1920. He grew up on the family ranch with his parents, Rosabell and Roy Senior, older sister June and younger sister Bettie Jean. While in his late teens, Corry picked up the rather unusual occupation of “weather observer,” but gave it up in order to enter the Marine Corps as an aviation cadet.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Corry joined up on April 13, 1941, and was accepted for training at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida. Among the other cadets in his class were Bruce Ek, David Pinkerton, William Sandoval, and Walter Swansberger – four young men whom Corry would get to know very well. (1) After receiving his commission on October 14, Corry was posted briefly to the Miami air station before receiving orders to proceed to San Diego. Accompanying him were his four cadet friends, as well as other new squadron mates – John Butler, Ellwood Lindsay, Eugene Madole, and Albert Tweedy.
Second Lieutenant Corry was in San Diego with the Second Marine Aircraft Wing when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was soon on his way to Eastern Island – part of the Midway atoll – where he became part of a newly formed squadron, VMF-222. In addition to flying an old F2A-3 Brewster Buffalo, Corry served as the squadron’s assistant communications and engineering officer.
Duty with “The Flying Deuces” proved to be short-lived; all but two of its pilots were folded into VMF-221, and the two remaining officers and ground crew sailed back to Hawaii in April, 1942. 221 was to be the main defense of the atoll should the Japanese arrive. Of all the new second lieutenants, Corry made the best impression on the fliers of VMF-221. “I took an immediate liking to Roy Corry, from Santa Ana, California,” recalled lieutenant Marion Carl. (2) This may have had something to do with a stroke of luck that befell Corry in late May; a small shipment of F4F Wildcat fighters arrived, and one of them was given to the 22-year-old second lieutenant.
Corry was assigned to fly a morning patrol on June 4, 1942; he and Captain Francis McCarthy climbed into their Wildcats and took off before dawn. They patrolled their sector dutifully, on what seemed to be an ordinary, quiet morning. As their tanks neared empty, McCarthy signalled to Corry and they began turning for home. When McCarthy radioed Midway, however, he was shocked to learn that the island was under attack and that the rest of the fighters were already engaging enemy aircraft.
The two Marines opened their throttles and raced for Midway. Without enough fuel to fight, they would have to land during the attack, refuel, and then hope to catch up to the action. They were on the ground by 0605; neither had time to take on a full tank before enemy bombers hove into view, heading for the island. McCarthy and Corry were airborne again as soon as they could manage.
The two Wildcats hurried towards the main body of attackers, but never made it. Eight Zeros suddenly appeared, darting around the Americans and blasting away. One latched onto McCarthy’s tail almost immediately; the Japanese pilot failed to watch his own tail, and fell to Roy Corry’s machine guns. The Americans were separated; McCarthy was never seen again. Corry had three Zeros “shooting my plane up very effectively” within moments, but still managed to line up a killing shot on an enemy dive bomber retiring towards its carrier.
Forced to dive to avoid his attackers, Corry was fortunate to make it back to Midway. While “counting noses” after the battle, he learned that he had lost eight of the men he had trained with, and six of his other squadron mates.
“Our squadron fell apart,” wrote Carl; only he and one other pilot could function enough to respond to a second alert an hour after landing. “The senior surviving officer went to the first sergeant and asked if the NCO could run the outfit for the next few days. The career marine replied, “Yes, sir,” as expected. With that, the senior captain walked out of the command post, went to a bomb shelter, and proceeded to get drunk. He had plenty of company.” (3)
Drunk or not, the war would continue for the survivors.
Roy Corry was given two rewards for surviving the battle. The first, and most important, was a transfer away from the island where so many of his friends had died. The second, given by the nation, was the Navy Cross.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Second Lieutenant Roy A. Corry (MCSN: 0-7540), United States Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as Squadron Commander 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. Delivering a dauntless and aggressive assault against a vastly superior number of Japanese bomber and fighter planes, Second Lieutenant Corry shot down one Navy Aichi Type dive bomber and one OO Isento KI Navy Fighter, thereby aiding in the disruption of enemy plans and lessening the effectiveness of their attack. His courageous determination, maintained at great personal risk against tremendous odds, contributed materially to the success of our forces and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Corry and a handful of other Midway survivors joined another new squadron – VMF-223, the Bulldogs – effective July 1, 1942. As some of the only American pilots with actual combat experience, no matter how brief, their leadership was sorely needed. Corry became the new squadron’s ordinance and gunnery officer.
There was little time to acclimatize to the new unit; fighters were badly needed for the advance into the Solomons. Aboard the carrier USS Long Island, Corry busied himself with his duties as gunnery officer.
The guns of each plane, which are life or death to a fighter pilot, were tested to make sure that they were accurately sighted and would not foul in combat. Corry would have the planes wheeled over to the carrier’s side and fidget with the gun switches, sending lines of tracers into the blue sea. “Quit wasting the lead, Roy,” the boys used to tell him. “Save some for the Japs.” But Roy kept at it until he was sure the guns would be ready; of all the squadron, he best understood the importance of an aircraft properly prepared for fighting. (4)
In his off time, Corry seemed preoccupied and spent hours brooding. He was fixated on the idea that he would die in aerial combat. The less experienced pilots tried to joke him out of it, but Corry had already lost too many friends. The other Midway veteran, Marion Carl, had his own thoughts, but spent most of his time asleep in his rack. (5)
On August 20 the squadron took off from the Long Island and, after a seventy-five minute flight, touched down at Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field. Though the Marines of the First Division were overjoyed to see friendly planes at last, the pilots were less than impressed at their situation – “just a canvas fly and Japanese blankets – even Japanese food” recounted Carl. To make the welcome complete, the pilots were kept awake by the battle of the Tenaru fought just over a mile away. (6) However, they flew the next day, and thanks to Corry’s perfectly calibrated guns, squadron commander John Smith claimed the first American aerial victory over Guadalcanal.
For the next five days, the squadron flew daily patrols, tangled with Zeros, and experience their first losses when Elwood Bailey and Lawrence Taylor were shot down on August 24. Through it all, Corry kept meticulous care of the squadron’s armament – with the result that the Americans gave better than they got in each dogfight.
Date Of Loss: (7)
August 26 dawned as any day on Guadalcanal – nervous, hungry, tired pilots standing by their aircraft, or rotating on and off patrol. As noon approached, anticipation grew – this was “Tojo Hour” when raids were most common. Sure enough, the call to scramble came at 1130, and twelve Wildcats were soon on their way to intercept more than thirty Japanese aircraft.
From the time they took off until the last plane landed, the Americans accounted for a reported tally of eight bombers and five Zero fighters. Marion Carl bagged two, solidifying his lead as the first ace in Marine Corps history. However, when the time came to count noses, they came up one short.
Roy Corry’s death premonition had been fulfilled. He was alternately reported to have taken on a swarm of Zeros, or caught been caught in the crossfire of two bombers. His Wildcat fell from the sky, and no trace of his remains was ever found.
Next Of Kin:
Parents, Roy & Rosabell Corry
Status Of Remains:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California.
(1) This class suffered heavily in the first year of the war. In addition to those lost at Midway, Jack Lyon and Bill Deuterman were both lost and unrecovered after training mishaps.
(2) Carl, Marion E. and Barrett Tillman. Pushing the Envelope: The Career of Fighter Ace and Test Pilot Marion Carl pg. 22. Following the battle of Midway, Carl would be pleased to have Corry with him in his new squadron: “I considered [Corry] the best of the second lieutenants. I liked him, and his two victories from Midway inspired confidence.”
(3) Ibid, pg 26
(4) Wilcox, Richard. “Captain Smith And His Fighting 223″ Life Magazine December 7, 1942. Page 121. A gun jam had almost cost the life of Marion Carl at Midway; Corry was evidently determined that a similar fault wouldn’t mean the loss of anyone else.
(5) Ibid. In his biography, Carl said “A few pilots began brooding about what lay ahead, and it seemed that those who worried the most were inevitably the ones killed. After Midway I figured I had been through the worst and frankly didn’t give much thought to what might happen. I was more concerned with doing a good job, shooting down as many Japanese planes as posible, and watching out for the newer pilots. I had either a sense of fatalism or a certain lack of imagination – I’m not sure which.” (Carl & Tillman, pg 29)
(6) Carl & Tillman, pg. 30
(7) Several accounts, including Marion Carl’s, claim that Roy Corry was shot down the same day as Bailey and Taylor. However, his record of death and the squadron’s operational log indicate that he was lost on August 26, 1942.