Second Lieutenant Zenneth Arthur Pond

Zenneth Pond, around 1941
Zenneth Pond, around 1941

photo source: Ella Sharp Museum of Art & History via MLive.com

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Insignia of VMF-223, "Bulldogs"
Insignia of VMF-223, “Bulldogs”

Service Number: O-009433

Birth and Early Life:
Zenneth Pond was born on December 7, 1919 in Jackson, Michigan. He was part of Albert and Zella Pond’s large family, growing up with siblings Lacern, Sereno, Esterline, Pauline, Kenneth, and Delbert. A typical American kid who shared a paper route with his brother Kenneth, Zenneth (whose name also appeared as “Zenith”) graduated from Jackson High School in 1938, moved out of his parents home, and attended Jackson Junior College, where his yearbook noted “He likes his fellow men.”

Pond’s other great love was flying. He studied aviation through the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and became the first in his class to earn a private pilot’s license in 1940.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
In June of 1941, Pond enlisted in the Marine Corps and immediately began flight training. His civilian experience enabled him to skip to the top of his class at NAS Corpus Christi almost immediately. He was preparing to celebrate his 22nd birthday when news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached the base.

On February 19, 1942, Second Lieutenant Pond received his official appointment as a Marine Corps aviator, with orders to report to the Second Marine Aircraft Wing in San Diego.

Wartime Service:
Once in California, the class from Corpus Christi was broken up. Pond said a last goodbye to Martin Mahannah, Thomas Benson, and John Lucas (bound for VMF-221 at Midway), and to William Kirby (to the USS Vincennes). The creation of a new squadron on May 1, 1942, gave Pond a permanent home as a “Bulldog” of VMF-223. (1)

The Bulldogs became the first fighter squadron to base out of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal; their Wildcats, plus the dive-bombers of VMSB-232 and scattered USAAF aircraft were dubbed the “Cactus Air Force” and represented the only reliable American air power on the island.

On August 24, just four days after his arrival on Guadalcanal, Zenneth Pond had his first serious encounter with the Japanese. At 1420, the air raid alert sounded, and the Marines ran for their aircraft as approximately 27 enemy fighters and bombers approached Henderson Field. Lieutenant Pond’s group caught up with the Japanese as they retreated from their bomb run, and fell upon the enemy like wolves. Pond not only survived his first fight, but brought down two bombers and one Zero fighter, a score that matched the famous Captain Marion Carl. Although Lawrence Taylor and Elwood Bailey were missing, the fight had been a lopsided success for the Americans, who landed “hilariously elated” in the words of historian John Lundstrom, and claimed seventeen enemy aircraft destroyed. (2)

Pond flew again on August 26 and did not score, but an interception on August 29 netted him a Zero, though a bullet through the engine forced him into an emergency landing. A flight on August 30 (after sitting ready in his fighter for nearly 12 hours) brought down another enemy fighter, bringing his total number of kills to five and elevating him to the status of fighter ace. He was laconic about his score. “I just squeezed the trigger and just let him have it as he came up in front of me. I blew him to bits,” he told a Marine Corps correspondent. (3)

The young lieutenant had a close call on September 5 when a Japanese gunner almost got the best of him. Though he brought down a bomber (his 6th kill), Pond’s aircraft was badly shot up, and the engine quit while he was returning to base. His flying skill saved his life as he made a “dead stick” landing back at Henderson; the Wildcat was not so lucky and was deemed damaged beyond repair. (4) In addition to another notch on his scorecard, Pond showed off a mark on his arm where a bullet had grazed him, nearly breaking the skin. (5)

Date Of Loss:
Zenneth Pond took off in F4F-4 #02071 to repel yet another Japanese air raid on the morning of September 10, 1942. (6) He and three other pilots opposed 46 enemy planes, and facing those odds, Pond’s luck ran out. His aircraft disappeared during the dogfight, and Lieutenant Pond was never seen again.

Pond was awarded a posthumous promotion to Captain and a Navy Cross:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant Zenneth Arthur Pond (MCSN: 0-9433), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-THREE (VMF-223), Marine Air Group TWENTY-THREE (MAG-23), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, in aerial combat with enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands from 20 August 1942 to 13 September 1942. Alone, and with utter disregard for his own personal safety, Second Lieutenant Pond courageously attacked and shot down six enemy planes. His outstanding valor and skillful airmanship were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Zella Pond

Status Of Remains:
Unknown

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
Woodland Cemetery, Jackson, Michigan.
_____
NOTES:
(1) Other Bulldogs from Pond’s class at Corpus Christi included future aces Kenneth Frazier, Hyde Phillips, Orvin Ramlo, and Eugene Trowbridge.
(2) Lundstrom, John. First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign, page 119. While Japanese reports claim that far fewer aircraft were destroyed, the loss of several aircraft from the carrier Ryujo helped lower her defenses and contributed to her sinking later that day.
(3) Weible, Suzanne. Pilot was areas 1st to down a ZeroJackson Citizen-Patriot, August 11, 2008.
(4) MAG-23 War Diary, September 5, 1942
(5) VMF-223 War Diary, September 5, 1942
(6) Online sources claim Pond was piloting F4F-4 #03491. However, the squadron’s War Diary claims #02071; plane #03491 was not received until September 13, three days after Pond’s disappearance.

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