Second Lieutenant Oliver Mitchell


Insignia of VMSB-232, the Red Devils.

Service Number: O-009963

Birth and Early Life:
Oliver Mitchell was born in Los Angeles on March 14, 1917 to Nick and Margaret Mitchell.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Mitchell joined the Marine Corps Reserve on May 23, 1941. He was accepted for training as a naval aviator that September, and was learning to fly when Pear Harbor was attacked. Although anxious to get his shot at the Japanese, Mitchell did not qualify until March 14, 1942; he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with a specialty in piloting dive bombers.

Wartime Service:
In July, 1942, Mitchell was posted to VMSB-232 at Ewa Field, Hawaii. His squadron contained several heroes of Midway, like Bruce Prosser, Daniel Iverson, and Thomas Moore – these men, even with their limited combat experience, had faced the enemy in a legendary battle, and the new pilots listened to their stories and their tips as they perfected control over their Douglass Dauntless dive bombers. Mitchell was paired with Private Frank Oliver Schackman, a former wholesale food salesman from Oregon turned radioman/gunner.

In early August, VMSB-232 boarded the USS Long Island for parts unknown. It was soon evident that this was more than a training exercise, and the veterans of 232 and accompanying fighter squadron 223 were quickly engaged in getting their affairs – and their planes – in order. More often than not, this involved stowing as much baggage and equipment onto the planes, plus a 500lb bomb. (1) Sure enough, both squadrons lifted off from the Long Island on August 20 and were touching down on Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field hours later, much to the joy of the assembled grunts who were beginning to believe that support would never come.

Almost immediately after arriving, the Red Devils were put to work flying morning and evening combat patrols. Enduring bad food by day, Japanese shelling by night, and constant apprehension in the air, the pilots were quickly ready to lash out at anything that moved.

Their opportunity came in the form of a Japanese supply convoy called the Tokyo Express.

Date Of Loss:
At 1700 hours on August 28, 1942, word came to scramble all available bombers for an attack on a Japanese convoy. Thirty minutes later, eleven SBDs were diving on the enemy destroyers, sinking one and badly damaging two others.

The destroyer Amagiri was still undamaged by the American attack, and continued to twist and roll through the sea, spitting antiaircraft fire. As the bombers turned to fly back to Guadalcanal, one broke off for a final strafing run at the defiant destroyer. The Amagiri – which had been constructed to enable her main batteries to fire at aircraft – turned her full attention on the lone bomber, and one of the gunners scored a hit. Lieutenant Mitchell and PFC Schackman were shot from the sky and crashed into the sea off Ramos Island. They would be the squadron’s only combat losses for the entire Guadalcanal campaign.

Mitchell was awarded a posthumous Silver Star for “Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a pilot while pressing home his attack in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire. His aggressive fighting spirit and heroic devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Margaret R. Mitchell

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
USS Oliver Mitchell (DE-417) launched February 8, 1944
(1) The Long Island had not been built as a carrier but as a merchant ship; its deck was about half the length of a fleet carrier, its speed was of similar proportions, and it had only one catapult. Lifting off under normal circumstances would have been difficult, let alone with an overloaded aircraft.

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