PFC George Albert Toms

George Toms’ enlistment photo, 1941. From “A Glorious Page in Our History” by Robert Cressman et. al.

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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.

Wartime Service:
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.

This still image from US Navy film shows Vindicator #2 – with Lumpkin at the controls and Toms at the gun – taking off on the morning of June 4, 1942.

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 HarunaAs 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.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
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NOTES:
(1) Marine Air Group 21: Report of enemy action, MIDWAY ISLAND. Statement of George T. Lumpkin, Second Lieutenant, USMCR. June 7, 1942.

Captain Richard Eugene Fleming

Richard Fleming after receiving his commission. 


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Service Number: O-006395

Birth and Early Life:
Richard Fleming was born on November 2, 1917, a cold day in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father, Michael Fleming, was the English-born vice president of a wholesale collier, and did well enough to send his sons to college. Richard attended Saint Thomas Military Academy, a Roman Cathlolic military prep school in St. Paul, before being accepted to the University of Minnesota.

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He became president of the school’s Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter before graduating with a BA in 1939.

University of Minnesota yearbook, 1939.
University of Minnesota yearbook, 1939.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
On December 15, 1939, the 22-year-old Fleming enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. He wanted to be a flier, and on January 25, 1940, was accepted as an aviation cadet and sent to Pensacola for flight training. He passed the intensive training and received his wings and commission on December 6, 1940. Lieutenant Fleming’s classmates included Bruce Prosser, who would fly with Fleming at Midway, and Pierre Carnagey, future executive officer of VMF-214 – the famous Black Sheep Squadron.

Wartime Service:
Lieutenant Fleming was posted to VMSB-231, a Marine dive-bombing squadron, where he piloted a Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator out of San Diego, and then out of Ewa Field in Hawaii. His father died in February of 1941, leaving Octavia Fleming as the matriarch of the clan. Richard directed his letters home to his mother, including one dated December 3, 1941, which contained the cryptic passage “This is the last time I’ll be able to write for probably sometime. I’m sorry I can’t give you any details; it’s that secret.” (1)

 That secret saved the lives of many of the men of VMSB-231. On December 5, eighteen of their Vindicators took off from Ewa and, after a flight of nearly two hours, touched down on the deck of the USS Lexington. Two days later, Pearl Harbor was attacked, the field at Ewa bombed, and most of the American Pacific Fleet sent to the bottom of the harbor. By virtue of being at sea on exercises, the carriers and the planes aboard were spared.

The pilots would not have long to wait for operations orders. They returned to Ewa shortly after the attack, and on December 17 were ordered to proceed to Midway. Their 1,137 mile flight set a record for distance covered by a group of single-engined aircraft. Although antiquated, the Vindicators were welcomed by the garrison at Midway who had precious little in the way of air power.

As the bombers and Brewster Buffalo fighters of VMF-211 were organized into Marine Air Group 22 (MAG-22), the bomber force was split in two. Approximately half of VMSB-231 departed Midway to form the nucleus of a reorganized squadron; the remainder joined VMSB-241 – the “Sons of Satan” – under Major Lofton Henderson.

The officers of VMSB-241 on Midway, May 1942. First Lieutenant Fleming is fourth from right in the standing row.

On May 25, Fleming and five other lieutenants (including his former classmate, Bruce Prosser) received promotions to captain.  Every man in the squadron knew what was coming – they would likely be called on to fight a vastly superior Japanese force like the one that had attacked their comrades on Wake Island – and, as on Wake, they would give their all with little hope to survive. Understandably, this put many of the men in a pensive mood. “Suffice it to say that I’ve been prepared for this rendezvous for some time,” he wrote to a friend named Peggy Crooks on May 30, 1942. “This is something that comes once for all of us; we can only bow before it.” (2) Outwardly, Fleming was more confident, often speaking of his intention to “finish one Japanese carrier” (3) and napping quite coolly during some of the most stressful on-and-off periods leading up to the attack they knew was coming. (4) The captain counted his blessings that he had received one of the newer SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers the day after his promotion; half of his squadron was relegated to the Vindicators that had been flown over the previous December. When in flight, Fleming and his gunner, Corporal Eugene Card, flew in Major Henderson’s command section; Fleming was also the squadron’s navigation officer.

Early in the morning of June 4, 1942, the aviators on Midway got the word to stand by and warm up their aircraft. As the fighters of VMF-211 roared off to intercept waves of incoming Japanese aircraft, the bombers climbed into the air and headed towards the spot where the Japanese fleet was believed to be lurking. They had barely cleared the island when puffs of antiaircraft fire and roiling smoke could be seen from Midway. Corporal Card noticed the smoke, and called Fleming on the intercom. “Well,” Fleming said after a pause, “this is it, all right.” (5)

As Major Henderson peeled off from the formation – he flew alongside, to reassure and shepherd some of his greener pilots – Fleming was left in charge of leading the first wave of the American attack. This required considerable navigational skill, and Fleming turned over control of the aircraft to Card while he worked on his map board. (6) Their flight was level and uneventful, until Card noticed Second Lieutenant Daniel Iverson closing on their aircraft. Fleming looked up to see Iverson frantically gesturing down and to the right. He soon saw what they were after. “We’ve made contact,” he called to Card. “There’s a ship at 10 o’clock. Do you see it?” A few minutes later, he shouted “Here they come!” Card swung his seat around and ran out his guns as the first Japanese fighters came tearing through the formation. (7)

Henderson had barely started his attack run when his Dauntless, flowering smoke and flame, dropped out of control into the ocean – leaving Fleming in command of the attack. He sighted in on the carrier Hiryu and, though enemy gunfire dropped several more of his comrades, managed to release his bomb and pull out of his dive barely 400 feet above sea level.

After the war, Gene Card would relate his experience in the attack on the Hiryu to historian Walter Lord:

Corporal Card heard something go “Wuf!” (It sounded, he later stressed, just the way a person would say “Wuf” in a normal voice. Then he heard it again, and again. Big, black, soft-looking balls of smoke, began to appear. It meant that they were now within antiaircraft range as well.

A moment’s relief when they hit the cloud bank 0 then worse than ever when they broke out the other side. At 2,000 feet they nosed down and began their final run. Now there was nothing between them and the enemy, twisting and turning below….

Captain Fleming cut loose with a burst of his own, saw a whole gun crew topple over. Facing aft from his rear-seat position, Corporal Card could see very little, but he could hear more than enough. To the “wufs” of the antiaircraft fire there was now added the steady crackle of small-arms fire. The SBD lurched – “Somebody threw a bucket of bolts in the prop.” Small holes appeared all over the cockpit and a thousand needles pricked his right ankle.

Captain Fleming was running into still more trouble. Pulling out from his drop, another “bucket of nails” hit the prop. Something hard kicked Corporal Card’s left leg to one side, and more holes appeared all over the cockpit. Then as the plane leveled off, Card caught his only good look at the carrier – a “writhing monster” bristling with fast-firing guns, all pointing straight up, a steady jet of flame pouring from each…. The plane was hit; he was hit; he couldn’t see how they’d ever get out of this alive; the only hope was they’d take a few Japanese with them. (8)

 Fleming threw his plane into a series of twists and turns, hugging the waterline until finally they were out of range and the Zeros gave up their chase. Despite the holes in their aircraft and a shot-out tire, the captain managed to execute a perfect three-point landing on the smoking Midway runway. “Boys, there is one ride I am glad is over,” he called out to the Marines who rushed to his aircraft. Richard Fleming reached over to shake Gene Card’s hand as the wounded gunner was carried off on a stretcher; it was the last time the two would meet.

Though all the airmen were glad to be back on the ground, they were not given much time to rest or recover from the shock of their first combat. A burning carrier had been reported by scout units, and the few survivors of the first attack were reorganized into a smaller force of six Dauntlesses and five Vindicators – everything that could still fly. Mechanics declared that Fleming’s Dauntless was out of commission, so he was assigned a Vindicator with PFC George Toms, who had flown with 2nd Lieutenant George Lumpkin in an earlier strike on the battleship Haruna.

The strike force, led by Lofton Henderson’s successor Major Benjamin Norris, took to the skies at 1900 hours – the lateness of the hour was at Norris’ insistence; he had seen the effects of Japanese fighter power on the bombers earlier in the day – and searched high and low for signs of the Japanese fleet. They found nothing, and were compelled to fly back through “heavy squalls and a low ceiling” on “a dark night with no moon.” (9) The plane flown by Major Norris was lost in the bad weather – neither he nor PFC Arthur Whittington were ever seen again. With Norris gone, Captain Fleming assumed command of the remaning Vindicator pilots, while Captain Marshall Tyler took charge of the Dauntlesses. That night, the air crews fell into an exhausted sleep.

Date Of Loss:
June 5 brought no respite to the beleaguered pilots and gunners – Fleming, like the others, managed only four hours of rack time before being awakened by a new report. Recon planes reported two Japanese battleships withdrawing from Midway; one was badly damaged and trailing oil. The Marines manned their planes, probably grumbling about the previous night’s report of damaged ships which had resulted in frustration and the loss of Norris and Whittington. However, they were airborne by 0700, with Richard Fleming leading five other struggling Vindicators which, under any other circumstances, would have been deemed unfit to fly. Fleming was at the controls of a familiar aircraft – Squadron #2, one he had flown many times since his arrival at Midway. (10)

After 45 minutes in the air, a sharp-eyed pilot spotted an oil slick – and it was heading in the direction reported by the scout planes. The Americans followed the slick until spotting the enemy at 0805. The two ships were not battleships, but heavy cruisers –  Mogami and Mikuma. The two cruisers had been badly damaged the day before; not by American action, but by colliding with each other. Both made tempting, slow-moving targets to the diving Americans, but both were still able to put up a serious anti-aircraft defense – especially against slow, beaten aircraft flown by tired and strained men.

Captain Leon Williamson, a member of Richard Fleming’s flight, followed his leader into a shallow glide attack, and was alarmed to see smoke issuing from Fleming’s engine. As the attack continued, Fleming’s aircraft burst into flames. Incredibly, the captain managed to keep his burning aircraft on course until he could release his bomb at an altitude of 500 feet.

The fate of Fleming and Toms is still the matter of debate. Popular legend states that Fleming deliberately crashed his bomber into the Mikuma, becoming something of an American kamikaze; the commander of Mogami, Akira Soji, later recalled “I saw a dive-bomber dive into the last turret and start fires. He was very brave.” (11) However, none of Fleming’s surviving squadron mates mentioned a deliberate dive into the enemy ship; Private Gene Webb, a squadron gunner, swore he saw two parachutes open after Fleming’s plane was hit. (12) It is possible that the blast of Fleming’s bomb, which barely missed the Mikuma, was believed to be the impact of his aircraft; whatever happened, neither Richard Fleming nor George Toms were ever seen again. (13)

The Mikuma shortly before sinking on June 6, 1942. The wreckage atop her aft turret is often believed to be part of Richard Fleming’s Vindicator.

Regardless of how he died, Richard Fleming’s sacrifice was rewarded with the first Medal of Honor to be awarded to a Marine pilot in the Second World War.

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as Flight Officer, Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO FORTY-ONE during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway on June 4 and 5, 1942. When his squadron Commander was shot down during the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Captain Fleming led the remainder of the division with such fearless determination that he dived his own plane to the perilously low altitude of four hundred feet before releasing his bomb. Although his craft was riddled by 179 hits in the blistering hail of fire that burst upon him from Japanese fighter guns and antiaircraft batteries, he pulled out with only two minor wounds inflicted upon himself. On the night of June 4, when the Squadron Commander lost his way and became separated from the others, Captain Fleming brought his own plane in for a safe landing at its base despite hazardous weather conditions and total darkness. The following day, after less than four hours’ sleep, he led the second division of his squadron in a coordinated glide-bombing and dive- bombing assault upon a Japanese battleship. Undeterred by a fateful approach glide, during which his ship was struck and set afire, he grimly pressed home his attack to an altitude of five hundred feet, released his bomb to score a near-miss on the stern of his target, then crashed to the sea in flames. His dauntless perseverance and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. E. L. Fleming

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
USS Fleming (DE-32) was named in his honor.
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NOTES:
(1) http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-C-Pearl.html
(2) Letter quoted in Robert Cressman’s “A Glorious Page in Our History,” page 47.
(3)  Cressman, 74.
(4) Walter Lord, “Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway.”
(5)Cressman, 65.
(6) The Dauntless had dual controls; if the gunner swiveled his seat to face forward, he could assume limited control over the airplane. While some pilots were reluctant to let their gunners take charge, Fleming insisted on it, letting Card fly during training flights in preparation for just this scenario. The impact was not lost on Card, who later remarked “Imagine me flying point out Jap hunting!” Cressman, 74.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Lord, “Incredible Victory”
(9) VMSB-241 War Diary, page 7.
(10) Cressman, 144
(11) Gerald Astor, “Semper Fi in the Sky,” pg. 53.
(12) Cressman, 144
(13) For a more detailed analysis of the differing accounts of Fleming’s crash, please see Russ Padden, Richard E. Fleming Kamikaze Myth.

PFC Arthur B. Whittington

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Service Number: 308292

Birth and Early Life:
Arthur was the son of rancher Montie Whittington and his wife, Zola, of Pomona California. He was born around the year 1921.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Whittington enlisted in the Marine Corps on February 7, 1941. After completing boot camp, he was selected for aviation duty, either as a gunner or as a mechanic.

Wartime Service:
Private Whittington was assigned to VMSB-242 after his training, and joined VMSB-241 on Midway on April 11. He flew as a gunner in an old Vought SB2U Vindicator with Captain Leo R. Smith, the former squadron executive officer who took command the same date. (1) The two flew together until May 29, 1942, when Smith was promoted to major and reassigned to the headquarters of MAG-21. His aircraft was inherited by the squadron’s new executive officer, Major Benjamin Norris. Whittington and Norris had time to lead a group of green pilots and gunners through a few practice flights before going into action on June 4, 1942.

Date Of Loss:
Whittington was already in his compartment when Norris climbed aboard Vindicator #2067 on June 4; after exchanging a few remarks and wishes of luck, they taxied out onto the runway and climbed into the air.

PFC Whittington’s first taste of action came when his flight arrived over the Japanese fleet. The Japanese combat air patrol, having ripped through the Dauntless dive bombers in Major Lofton Henderson’s earlier flight, turned on the Vindicators and began shooting holes in their canvas skins. Most of Norris’ men survived their dive on the battleship Haruna,  but three of Whittington’s fellow gunners – Henry Starks, Edby Colvin, and Anthony Maday – were killed.

The aviators received a double shock at 1700 hours – recon planes reported burning Japanese carriers, which caused much satisfaction, but the news was accompanied by orders to rearm and attack again. Norris, knowing that his men and aircraft were not ready, insisted on a delay until dark to keep the impact of enemy fighters to a minimum.

At 1915, eleven battered bombers and twenty-two tired Marines took off from Midway and began searching for the enemy. They saw no sign of the Japanese fleet and, reaching the end of their endurance, began to turn back.

Suddenly, Norris’ plane went into a steep dive. The other Vindicator pilots dutifully followed until they were only 500 feet above the water, then pulled up. Norris and Whittington vanished into the blackness and the lights of their plane were seen to vanish. If either man managed to bail out, none of their comrades noticed.

PFC Whittington was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the battle.

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. Montie Whittington

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
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NOTES:
(1) Smith replaced Captain Lewis H. Delano, Jr, when the latter was transferred to VMSB-242 on April 11, 1942. When Major Lofton Henderson arrived on Midway on April 17, Leo Smith became executive officer until the arrival of Major Benjamin Norris.

Major Benjamin White Norris

Benjamin Norris, seen here as a captain, probably in early 1942. Photo from “A Glorious Page In Our History” by Robert Cressman.

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Service Number: O-004382

Birth and Early Life:
Benjamin Norris was born in Lima, Peru, on May 15, 1907. His father, Alexander Norris, was himself born in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and met Fredericka Henshaw while working as a civil servant in Frederick, Maryland. They had two children before heading down to South America, where Ben entered the world.

In April, 1917, Fredericka and Benjamin sailed from Panama to New York. Ben would not see his father again; Alexander died in Peru in 1918. The rest of the Norris clan settled down in Frederick with their Henshaw relatives shortly before Fredericka passed away in 1920. Benjamin attended the prestigious Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and, after graduating, was accepted to the freshman class at Princeton University.

Norris’ entry in the 1924 PEAN yearbook.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Norris entered the Marine Corps Reserve on July 11, 1928. He reported to the Aviation Base at Rockaway Beach, Long Island and passed his initial flight training before being transferred to Pensacola on September 10, 1928.

Service Prior to 1941:
On November 21, Norris was sent to Observation Squadron 6M in Philadelphia where he accepted an appointment as a Second Lieutenant in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve in June, 1929. That November, he received his wings as a Marine aviator. Norris gradually advanced in rank over the following decade; he stayed as a reservist with scouting squadrons based in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, where in 1933 he was commended for his work in the rescue efforts following the loss of the airship Akron. (1) and Quantico. By December, 1940, Captain Norris was serving as the executive officer of VMS-2R based out of Floyd Bennett Field; he accepted a commission in the regular Marine Corps in February, 1941.

Not long after his promotion to captain, Norris married Ruth Lord. They had a daughter, Sara, born in 1941.

The Norris family photos are courtesy of Fiona and Matt Green.

Wartime Service:
Ben Norris’ experience running a squadron as an exec came to the notice of his superiors in early 1942. He was transferred to the West Coast in April, 1942 – on May 16 he was promoted to Major and ten days later was stepping off the USS Kitty Hawk to join his first combat unit, VMSB-241, on Midway.

Norris had no sooner reported to his commanding officer, Major Lofton Henderson, when he was informed that he would have to shoulder more responsibility than the exec of a peacetime squadron. The newly arrived major would be in charge of a group of second lieutenants – whom Henderson called “the ‘greenest’ group ever assembled for combat” and who had arrived on the Kitty Hawk with Norris – and would lead them into battle flying the clapped-out Vought SB2U Vindicators that were obsolete when the squadron first received them. The “Wind Indicators” were fabric-skinned relics whose nickname derived from the adhesive tape that held them together – the loose ends would flap in the wind like an airfield’s windsock. With green pilots, greener gunners (some had been recruited from among the squadron’s mechanics and truck drivers) and limited fuel and ammunition with which to train, Norris faced a daunting task – and he would have just a week to prepare his men for the fight of their lives.

“The new pilots are assigned to the SB2U-3 unit and are in need of much training, but are making excellent progress” said the squadron’s war diary, “despite two groundloops today that cost us two airplanes.” The Vindicators could not reliably bear the stress of diving, so Norris contented himself with following Henderson’s training plan of a fast glide, dropping bombs as late as possible, and getting our as fast as possible. Even so, some of his men had time for only three or four practice flights before the dawn of June 4, 1942.

Date Of Loss:
Norris and Henderson would have spent a great deal of time – almost all the time they could spare – anticipating the latest intelligence reports from Army, Navy, and Marine reconnaissance teams. Norris in particular was concerned – a green major, expected to lead green pilots into combat against an enemy force that was popularly acknowledged as being “overdue.” (2) The bomber crews were told to stand by their aircraft before dawn on June 4, then to warm up their engines, then to power down and wait. At 0530, American reconnaissance planes spotted the Japanese carrier fleet; word was soon passed to the Marine pilots on Midway. Henderson’s men piled into their Dauntless bombers and took off first; Norris (with PFC Arthur Whittington as his gunner) and his Vindicators followed. Just minutes after the last of his flight left the ground, the tail gunner of the last plane reported seeing smoke and flame from Japanese planes attacking their base. The Marines hoped to return the blow with interest upon the enemy’s carriers.

Once in the air, the disadvantages of the Vindicators became apparent. In the hands of experienced pilot, the top airspeed of a Vindicator in peak condition was significantly less than that of a Dauntless; the worn machines in flown by Norris’ green pilots fared even worse. As Henderson’s men disappeared into the distance, Norris found himself operating independently. He had his orders – head for the carriers.

The slowness of the Vindicators would, in the end, save the lives of some of the pilots. They arrived over the enemy fleet about fifteen minutes after Henderson’s attack had begun; the Japanese were fully alerted and on the defensive, with their air patrols aloft. However, their fighters had expended much of their ammunition on the unlucky Dauntlesses, and some turned back to rearm. Enough remained to make several acrobatic passes through the American flight; the first man Norris lost was Private Henry Starks, the gunner for the last plane in formation.

Norris, seeing the amount of fire put up by the carriers, correctly judged that trying to make his way to the primary target would be suicidal. They dodged into a cloud and, when they emerged, saw the battleship Haruna below them. Norris radioed the bearing home to his flight and immediately sent his aircraft into a dive, eschewing the glide for a steep attack. His young pilots followed – none scored better than a near miss – and scattered in all directions, flying their battered bombers for their very lives as their gunners shot at anything that moved. They would later claim six Zeros shot down, and three more damaged.

Major Norris landed back at Midway sometime before 1100 hours, took a headcount of his shaken pilots, and found that two lieutenants – James Marmande and Kenneth Campion – were missing in action, along with their gunners. Starks was dead, several other men were wounded, and the planes were much the worse for wear. He received a nastier surprise when informed that Lofton Henderson had been shot down over the enemy fleet – placing Norris in the unenviable position of squadron leader of a depleted, exhausted, and nearly ineffective force.

For the rest of the afternoon, there was not much the pilots could do but calm their nerves, watch as the ground crews worked feverishly to repair the bombers, and hope that the Japanese would not return. However, the ever-present recon planes were still out, and late that afternoon reported a burning carrier some miles away (3). Norris was ordered to take as many aircraft as were still flyable into the air for another strike at 1700, but insisted for the sake of his remaining pilots that the attack be delayed until dark so as to cut down the effectiveness of enemy fighters. (4) Six Dauntlesses (under the new executive officer, Captain Marshall Tyler) and five Vindicators (led by Norris) were all that could still fly, and were airborne by 1915.

The Marines searched and searched but could find no sign of enemy ships, burning or otherwise. They began to head home at around 2200. The Dauntlesses returned without incident, but only four Vindicators landed.

The SB2U-3 Unit stayed together on the return leg until approximately forty miles from Midway, at which time Norris, the leader, attempted a let down through the overcast from approximately 10,000 feet. He went into a steep right turn and lost altitude to 500 feet, at which time all wingmen pulled away and became separated from the formation. Norris is believed to have flown into the water an instant later as the light of his plane was no longer observed. (5)

No trace of Norris or Whittington was ever found, and the cause of their crash was never determined.

Ben Norris was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions in the battle:

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Benjamin White Norris (0-4382), Major, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as Division Commander and a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), 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 a determined attack against an enemy battleship, Major Norris, in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire and fierce fighter opposition, contributed to the infliction of severe damage upon the vessel. During the evening of the same day, despite exhaustive fatigue and unfavorable flying conditions, he led eleven planes from his squadron in a search-attack mission against a Japanese aircraft carrier reported burning about two hundred miles off Midway Islands. Since he failed to return with his squadron and is reported as missing in action, there can be no doubt, under conditions attendant to the Battle of Midway, that he gave up his life in the service of his country. His cool courage and inspiring devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Ruth Norris

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
USS Norris (DD-859) was named in his honor.
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NOTES:
(1) http://ussnorris.homestead.com/MajorNorris.html
(2) Every man on Midway knew that the Japanese would strike at their island eventually. The fall of Wake Island – where some of the pilots and planes had been bound when the island capitulated – and the disaster in the Philippines left little room for illusion about the enemy’s plans for Midway. It was never a question of “whether” the Japanese would come but “when,” and some Marines expressed surprise that they were not attacked sooner.
(3) Though Marine pilots claimed several hits on carriers and the Haruna, none actually scored.
(4) CINCPAC, Report on the Battle of Midway, page 439. An Army Air Force B-17 group ended up taking priority in re-servicing over the Marine aircraft, and none of Norris’ aircraft were ready for flight until 1900 hours.
(5) Ibid.

PFC Edby Marshall Colvin

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Service Number: 311250

Birth and Early Life:
Edby Colvin (also known by his middle name, Marshall) was born around 1919; he was the son of Ellie and Mattie Colvin of Plateau, Alabama.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Colvin enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 9, 1941. After completing boot camp, he was selected for aviation duty, either as a gunner or as a mechanic.

Wartime Service:
Private Colvin was assigned to VMSB-241, part of which had already deployed to the island of Midway. On April 17, 1942, he debarked from the USS William Ward Burrows and reported for duty. His original job within the squadron is unknown; when Second Lieutenant James Marmande arrived on May 26, 1942, Colvin was assigned to act as his gunner in an old Vought SB2U Vindicator. Colvin and Marmande had a little over a week to learn to operate the Vindicator before they would be called into combat.

Marmande and Colvin take off on a training flight in Vindicator #2045 in late May, 1942.

Date Of Loss:
Colvin and Marmande were airborne soon after dawn on June 4, 1942. They were instructed to locate the Japanese fleet whose aircraft were even now dropping bombs and bullets on Midway. When they spotted the enemy carriers and saw how the squadron’s Dauntlesses, under Major Lofton Henderson, were being shot to pieces, section leader Major Benjamin Norris decided that they stood no chance of reaching the carriers and instead led an attack on the battleship Haruna.

Marmande and Colvin survived their dive on the battleship, dodged through antiaircraft and fighters, and emerged from the fray battered but airborne. They flew back towards Midway but, only ten miles from safety, their aircraft disappeared. No trace of either Marine was ever found.

PFC Colvin was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the battle.

Next Of Kin:
Parents, Ellie & Mattie Colvin

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Second Lieutenant James H. Marmande

James Marmande in his Navy uniform before accepting a Marine commission.

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Service Number: O-009307

Birth and Early Life:
James Marmande was born in Therot, Louisiana, in August 1917. He was the youngest child of Emile Marmande, a plantation superintendent, and his wife Felicia. Marmande graduated from Terrebonne High School in nearby Houma, and was accepted to Louisiana State University, but dropped out to join the Navy. (1)

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
After enlisting, Marmande was sent to Pensacola, Florida for flight training. The base was within range of his family home in Houma; a favorite trick of Marmande’s was to fly over and “buzz” his parents. (2) After receiving his wings and a Marine commission as a second lieutenant, Marmande went to Jacksonville to learn to fly a dive bomber. From there, he and a number of his classmates were sent directly to a front line assignment – VMSB-241 at Midway.

Wartime Service:
Lieutenant Campion left the United States aboard the USS J. Franklin Bell; after a brief stop in Hawaii, he boarded the USS Kitty Hawk and sailed for Midway. He and his group of lieutenants arrived on May 26, 1942, and were assigned to fly obsolete Vought SB2U Vindicator bombers. Marmande was joined in the Vindicator’s cockpit by another Southerner, PFC Edby Colvin. The two had only days to train; Marmande made less than ten training flights in the Vindicator, and dropped practice bombs on three occasions – hardly thorough training for the task ahead.

Marmande and Colvin take off on a training flight in Vindicator #2045 in late May, 1942. The wheels of another Vindicator are visible in the background.

Date Of Loss:
The squadron’s commanders, Majors Lofton Henderson and Benjamin Norris, decided to split their men into two sections. Henderson would lead the more experienced men in the Dauntlesses, while Norris would take the rest – called “the greenest group ever assembled for combat” – in the Vindicators.

On the morning of June 4, Norris led his group of fresh pilots into the air. Within minutes of their departure, Japanese bombers were hammering their base on Midway and the Americans hoped to return the favor on the carriers of the enemy fleet. When they arrived over the fleet, though, they could see Henderson’s bombers in dire trouble over the carriers. Norris, spotting the battleship Haruna below, decided to take his men after that target. The Marines dove in, released their bombs (scoring near misses but no hits) and then scattered as antiaircraft and enemy fighters shot holes in their cloth-bodied aircraft.

Marmande located Second Lieutenant Orvin Ramlo, and followed him back towards Midway. Ramlo had a disturbing number of holes punched in his plane; his gunner, Private Teman Wilhite, was wounded in four places and struggling to stay conscious. They had little time to pay attention to Vindicator #6; it wasn’t until they landed roughly back at Midway that Ramlo noticed Marmande wasn’t following. He and Edby Colvin had disappeared without a trace on the return flight.

James Marmande was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions in the battle:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant James E. Marmande (MCSN: 0-9307), United States Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), 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. During the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Second Lieutenant Marmande, in the face of withering fire from Japanese fighter guns and anti-aircraft batteries, dived his plane to a perilously low altitude before releasing his bomb. Since he failed to return to his base and is missing in action, there can be no doubt, under conditions attendant to the Battle of Midway, that he gave up his life in the defense of his country. His cool courage and conscientious devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Marmande’s Vindicator is a popular modeling kit for hobbyists.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. E. B. Marmande

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
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NOTES:
(1) Christ, C. J.  “Local man served a hero’s role during war.” Houma Today, November 2, 2008.
(2) Ibid.

Private Anthony Joseph Maday


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Service Number: 363417

Birth and Early Life:
Anthony Maday was a native of Chicago, Illinois

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Maday enlisted on January 29 1942. He probably went through boot camp at MCRD San Diego.

Wartime Service:
Shortly after completing boot camp, Private Maday was assigned to Marine Air Group 21; from there, he went to squadron VMSB-241 on Midway. (1) His original duties with the squadron are unknown; when Second Lieutenant Kenneth Campion arrived on the island on May 26, 1942, Maday was designated as his gunner on Vought SB2U Vindicator  #2067. With limited time to train, the inexperienced pair would be flying into the battle of Midway with little more than luck and guts on their side.

Date Of Loss:
Maday and Campion flew their Vindicator into an attack on a Japanese battleship on the morning of June 4, 1942. They survived the dive and managed to drop their bomb; although they missed the Haruna, they hoped to make it back to base to fight another day.

Campion formed up on Second Lieutenant George Lumpkin for the return flight; as they set their course, a Japanese float plane was seen approaching. Both pilots turned towards the enemy and fired a burst at him; Campion decided to give chase as the float plane raced back towards the covering fire of the fleet. Enemy Zero fighters spotted the two Vindicators and dove down on them; Lumpkin escaped into a cloud and lost sight of the other plane.

Maday’s single .30 caliber gun would have been no match for a pair of Zeros even under the best circumstances. Neither he nor Campion were ever seen again. (2)

Private Maday was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the battle.

Next Of Kin:
Sister, Mrs. Frank Podolski

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
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NOTES:
(1) Maday’s higher enlistment number suggests that he was probably fresh out of boot camp when assigned; he first appears on a roster at Midway on April 18, 1942.
(2) Lumpkin reported that after his gunner spotted the enemy planes he climbed into cloud cover, where he remained for five minutes flying on instruments. He was the last American to see Maday or Campion in the air.

Second Lieutenant Kenneth Oscar Campion

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Service Number: O-009312

Birth and Early Life:
Kenneth was born September 9, 1917, the oldest son of farmer Oscar Campion and his wife, Albena. He was raised in Grant County, Minnesota; though he did attend some college, he was employed before the war as a janitor’s assistant. When he joined up, he gave his home of record as Fountain City, Wisconsin.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Campion enlisted in 1941 and, after completing aptitude tests, elimination training and months of flight school, was awarded a second lieutenant’s commission and his wings as a Marine dive bomber pilot.

Wartime Service:
Lt. Campion sailed from San Diego aboard the USS J. Franklin Bell; one of his shipmates, bound for a different station was Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson. The ship departed on May 9 and arrived in Hawaii a few days later; Campion reported to the headquarters of Marine Air Group 22 and was soon on his way to join dive bomber squadron VMSB-241 at Midway.

Campion arrived at Midway on May 26, 1942, and was assigned to a Vought SB2U Vindicator with bureau number 2067. He and his gunner, Private Anthony Maday, had only a few days to get acquainted and learn to work the Vindicator – many of the pilots who joined along with Campion had never flown a Vindicator, and some of their gunners had been recruited from the squadron’s maintenance section. (1)

Date Of Loss:
The squadron’s commanders, Majors Lofton Henderson and Benjamin Norris, decided to split their men into two sections. Henderson would lead the more experienced men in the Dauntlesses, while Norris would take the rest – called “the greenest group ever assembled for combat” – in the Vindicators.

On the morning of June 4, Norris’ section pulled out of their revetments, kicking up a shower of coral dust and roaring down the runway into the air. They formed up and followed the Dauntlesses on a heading towards the Japanese fleet. Ninety minutes later, they were within sight of the enemy ships. Norris, seeing Henderson’s flight shot to pieces over the carriers, dodged his men back into a cloud; when they emerged, the battleship Haruna was below them. Norris banked over into a steep dive; Ken Campion was second in line.

The green pilots dodged through antiaircraft bursts and tried to keep on target while the gunners fired wildly at the enemy fighters. They scored no hits and came out of their dives at extremely low altitudes, scattering as they tried to evade the furious Japanese. Fortunately, Norris had radioed the course home to his pilots, and they made their way back singly and in pairs.

Second Lieutenant George Lumpkin, whose place in the squadron was right behind Campion, described the flight back.

While still on a south-westerly course, Lieutenant Campion joined up on me and I started to turn back for Midway. Just before I turned I sighted a Type 95 Japanese Scout seaplane, possibly from the Battleship, coming at us from our starboard side. We both turned into him and fired a burst into him as he turned back toward the battleship and fleet disposition. Lieutenant Campion turned and followed him. My gunner [PFC George Toms] called me and reported more Jap 00 fighters diving on us. I immediately pulled into the overcast and flew on instruments for approximately 5 minutes…. I did not see Lieutenant Campion again after going into the overcast. (2)

Campion and Maday presumably fell victim to the Zeroes spotted by Toms; neither was ever seen again. Campion was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions in the battle:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant Kenneth O. Campion (MCSN: 0-9312), United States Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), 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. During the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Second Lieutenant Campion, in the face of withering fire from Japanese fighter guns and anti-aircraft batteries, dived his plane to a perilously low altitude before releasing his bomb. Since he failed to return to his base and is missing in action, there can be no doubt, under conditions attendant to the Battle of Midway, that he gave up his life in the defense of his country. His cool courage and conscientious devotion to duty is in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Kenneth Campion

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
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NOTES:
(1) Most notably Private Henry Starks, whose aerial training before the battle of Midway consisted of three flights in a Vindicator and the most basic familiarization with a machine gun on the ground instead of in the air.
(2) Marine Air Group 21: Report of enemy action, MIDWAY ISLAND. Statement of George T. Lumpkin, Second Lieutenant, USMCR. June 7, 1942.

Private Henry Irvin Starks

STARKS_HI

Photograph courtesy of Steve Cox.

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NAME:
Henry Irvin Starks
NICKNAME:
Irvin
SERVICE NUMBER:
324422
HOME OF RECORD:
Springfield, IL
NEXT OF KIN:
Grandmother, Mrs. Hattie Starks
DATE OF BIRTH:
September 9, 1923
ENLISTED:
September 30, 1941
DATE OF DEATH:
June 4, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Midway VMSB-241 Radioman
(Volunteer aerial gunner)
Private KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Killed in aerial combat over Japanese fleet
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Observed to go down with plane off Midway
MEMORIAL:
Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield IL
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, HI

Full Biography

PFC Edward Oliver Smith

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Service Number: 296050

Birth and Early Life:
Edward Smith was born in Illinois around the year 1916. He was raised in Jackson County, Missouri by Oliver and Viola Smith.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Smith enlisted in Kansas City on September 19, 1940. He was sent to MCRD San Diego for boot camp, and after completing his training in November was sent to Scouting Squadron Two, where he trained as an aerial gunner.

Wartime Service:
Edward Smith was with his squadron – renamed VMSB-241 – when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Marines were soon on their way to Hawaii, stopping over briefly before continuing on to the island of Midway, where they would become part of the island’s aerial strike force. Smith, by now a qualified gunner, was paired with Second Lieutenant Harold Gilbert “Gil” Schlendering in a decrepit Vought SB2U Vindicator. The two received a newer Douglas Dauntless SBD-2 dive bomber and trained with the second section of the squadron’s Second Division.

Date Of Loss:
Smith awoke before dawn on June 4, 1942, and set about preparing his weapons for another day of flying – one which most of the Marines knew would end in desperate fighting. He was already in the gunner’s seat of his Dauntless when Scheldering climbed into the cockpit and fired up the engine. They were soon airborne, following their flight leader on a course to intercept a Japanese strike force which had in turn launched its aircraft against the airfield at Midway. As they saw the carriers and began their attack, enemy fighters and antiaircraft fire shot one bomber after the other out of the sky. Somehow, Lieutenant Schlendering managed to guide the bomber through its attack run, and released his bomb at an altitude of only 500 feet.

Schlendering pulled the Dauntless out of its dive at a perilously low altitude, weaving back and forth to try and throw the Japanese off his tail. The bomber managed to escape into some cloud cover; when they emerged, they were alone. Smith had been hit; how badly, Schlendering could not tell.

With the Dauntless shot full of holes and its elevator controls destroyed, it seemed impossible that Schlendering would be able to coax it back to a friendly base. He managed to get within ten miles of Sand Island before the engine coughed and finally died. Schlendering tried a final time to raise a response from Smith, but the gunner was too far gone to hear if not already dead. The lieutenant bailed out and swam to a nearby reef, where he would be picked up by a PT boat. (1) The bomber crashed into the sea, taking Edward Smith to his grave. (2)

PFC Smith was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the battle.

Next Of Kin:
Parents, Oliver & Viola Smith

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
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NOTES:
(1) “Second Lieutenant Schlendering was forced to jump when his plane went out of control about eight (8) miles west of Sand Island. His rear gunner, Private First Class Edward O. Smith, failed to jump and was believed to have been killed by enemy fighter fire.” June 28 1942, CINCPAC report, Battle of Midway,  page 451.
(2) Schlendering, who received the Navy Cross for his part in the battle, would fly again with VMSB-233. Although wounded in a later action, he survived both the World War and Korea, retired as a lieutenant colonel, and passed away in 2005 at the age of eighty five.