A Damn Fine Pilot

EGA 1868Here is the story of an exceptional Marine who enlisted when he was still very young —17-years of age.  I find it interesting that no matter what part of the country these young men and women come from, they all have similar reasons for “joining up.” If you asked these young people why they decided to enlist, I believe their answers would be remarkably consistent. The number one response, I believe, would be “opportunity.”  Most enlistees come from modest environments.  They probably did well enough in school but are not ready to continue with higher education.  Perhaps they can’t afford to attend college; military service will help with that. Maybe they have a sense of adventure; military service will help with that, too.  Possibly, they sense a need for some discipline in their lives; the military will definitely help with that.  Other reasons might include dismal job prospects after high school, to obtain top-notch training, gain a sense of accomplishment, a desire to travel or more simply, to get out of the house.

No matter what their reasons, they come to us by the thousands.  I do not intend to in any way degrade any of the other services, but the fact is that very few applicants have what it takes to become a United States Marine. Getting into the Marines is difficult —getting through basic training is even more difficult— and intentionally so.

Here we have a young man by the name of Kenneth Walsh. He was born on 24 November 1916. He came from Brooklyn, New York graduating from Dickinson High School, Jersey City, New Jersey in 1933.  He was probably a smart kid, graduating at the age of 17 years —about a year ahead of his peers.  Within a few months of his graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He attended recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina.  Afterwards, he trained to become an aircraft mechanic and a radioman.  He served at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.  Then, in 1936, he entered naval flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida.  His rank upon entering flight school was private.  Upon obtaining his gold wings as a naval aviator, he was promoted to corporal.

He was assigned to fly scout-observation aircraft and over the next four years, he served on three aircraft carriers.  He was subsequently assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 121 in North Carolina.  At the time of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Walsh was serving as a master technical sergeant.  He was appointed as a Warrant Officer (designated a Marine Gunner) on 11 May 1942. A year later he was commissioned a First Lieutenant.

What made Walsh unique at this point was that he was among only a handful of Marine Corps officers who were qualified to serve as landing signal officer aboard U. S. Navy aircraft carriers.  He was also one of the most experienced Marine Corps pilots at the time.  Remaining assigned to VMF-124, Walsh flew the Vought F4U Corsair.  This aircraft was distributed to VMF-124 beginning in October 1942.  Marines found that these aircraft needed a few important refinements.  It was also a difficult aircraft to fly, but the refinement/learning curve was short.  The F4U aircraft had the range that the Pacific theater Grumman F4F Wildcats didn’t have.  Only the P-38s and F4U’s had the required combat range.  The fact was that these men and their flying machines were needed in the Pacific theater yesterday.

VMF-124’s Corsairs were sent to Espiritu Santo in the jeep carrier USS Kitty Hawkin January 1943. Upon arrival, VMF-124 was sent immediately to Guadalcanal, arriving on 12 February 1943.  The aircraft landed and while they were being refueled, their pilots were getting their first combat brief.  The mission: to escort a PBY Catalina which was assigned a search and air rescue mission for downed Wildcat pilots in hiding on Vella Lavella. On their first day in combat, the pilots logged 9 flight hours.

What Ken Walsh and his squadron mates wanted most was to familiarize themselves with the air combat area: islands, enemy locations, weather patterns.  They wouldn’t get the time for this.  The next day, Lieutenant Walsh led a four-plane element escorting B-24s to Bougainville —300 miles up the slot.

Another day, another mission.  Walsh had his first exposure to actual combat on 14 February. Again, his section was assigned to escort B-24’s to Bougainville … but this time, Japanese Zeros were waiting for them.  The Japanese had their own coast watchers.  The Americans lost eight aircraft that day; the Japanese lost three.  The incident was dubbed “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

As one of the first Corsair squadrons, VMF-124 was anxious to establish a tactical doctrine that later arriving squadrons could build upon. This is how things are done in Marine aviation.  VMF-124 pilots turned to an experienced Wildcat pilot for his advice.  “What is the best way to approach combat with the Japanese?”  His answer was simple:  “You gotta go after them.”  The Corsair had an advantage over the Zero; it was something Walsh learned early on: altitude.  He also learned to avoid slow speed engagements because the Zero had superior maneuverability at speeds below 260 knots.

On 1 April 1943, Walsh was on patrol over the Russell Islands.  The Corsairs circled their assigned area quietly for two hours and then were relieved by a section of P-38 Lightening’s.  No sooner had the Corsairs departed the pattern, Zeros jumped the P-38’s. Walsh alerted his flight to return to assist the P-38s.  A wild melee was taking place and at first, the Zeros didn’t notice the Corsairs. Walsh lined up one Zero for a deflection shot but missed.  His wingman scored the kill.  They approached a second Zero; Walsh splashed him.

Walsh scored three more kills on 13 May 1943.

On 10 August, Walsh’s aircraft had been badly shot up. The plane was on fire, and Walsh had limited ability to control flight.  A Zero lined up to finish him off, but Walsh’s wingman splashed him, saving Walsh’s life.  Walsh managed to reach an emergency strip at New Georgia, but his landing was shoddy. He crashed into another Corsair on the line, but he survived.

By mid-August, VMF-124 had been moved to Munda, a recently captured Japanese airstrip.  Walsh was flying CAP over the invasion beaches at Vella Lavella when the flight director warned him of inbound bogeys.  Some Zeros and Vals (Aichi D3A Type 99 Carrier Bombers) soon arrived. Walsh shot down two before a Zero clobbered him, hitting his starboard wing tank.  The plane could still fly, and Walsh headed for home and ended up landing safely.  Battered, yes, but the Corsairs had prevented the Vals from reaching their airfield. By this time, Walsh had increased the number of his victories to 10.

WALSH - FDR 001On 30 August, Walsh fought an incredible battled against fifty Japanese aircraft, destroying four enemy fighters before he had to ditch his damaged Corsair.  Next, assigned to escort bombers headed toward Bougainville, Walsh’s plane developed engine problems.  He made an emergency landing at Munda and secured a replacement Corsair and soon went off to rejoin his section —flying alone.  From his vantage point, he saw Zeros attacking the B-24s.  Walsh shot down two of these.  On his return to base, he picked up a message from other B-24’s in trouble over Gizo.  He flew off to help, again downing two Zeros—but not before he was hit himself. He was forced to ditch off Vella Lavella.  It was his third water landing in six months.

Ultimately, Ken Walsh score 21 kills, 17 of which were Zeros —second only to Colonel Greg Boyington in air combat victories.  He lost five aircraft.  He was shot down on three occasions.  He ended his first combat tour in September 1943.  On 8 February 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Captain Walsh with the Medal of Honor.

Citation:

USN MOH 001For extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron 124 in aerial combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area.  Determined to thwart the enemy’s attempt to bomb Allied ground forces and shipping at Vella Lavella on 15 August 1943, First Lieutenant Walsh repeatedly dived his plane into an enemy formation outnumbering his own division 6 to 1 and, although his plane was hit numerous times, shot down 2 Japanese dive bombers and 1 fighter.  After developing engine trouble on 30 August during a vital escort mission, First Lieutenant Walsh landed his mechanically disabled plane at Munda, quickly replaced it with another, and proceeded to rejoin his flight over Kahili.  Separated from his escort group when he encountered approximately 50 Japanese Zeros, he unhesitatingly attacked, striking with relentless fury in his lone battle against a powerful force.  He destroyed 4 hostile fighters before cannon shellfire forced him to make a dead-stick landing off Vella Lavella where he was later picked up.  His valiant leadership and his daring skill as a flier served as a source of confidence and inspiration to his fellow pilots and reflect the highest credit upon him and the United States Naval Service.

Walsh K A 001Walsh returned for a second combat tour with VMF-222 flying the advanced F4U.  Between 28 April and 12 May 1945, Walsh was awarded seven (7) Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism during service in the Philippine Islands.  He scored his last victory on 22 June 1945 downing a Kamikaze over northern Okinawa.  Following the US victory over Imperial Japanese forces, Walsh was assigned to duty as the MAG-14 Assistant Operations Officer on Okinawa.  He returned to the United States in March 1946.

During the Korean War, Walsh served as a C-54 (transport) pilot with VMR-152 (15 July 1950 to November 1951).  He was promoted to Major in 1955, and to Lieutenant Colonel in 1958.  Having completed thirty years of honorable and faithful service, Colonel Walsh retired from the United States Marine Corps on 1 February 1962.

Colonel Walsh passed away on 30 July 1998, aged 81 years.  He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

The Samoan Crisis of 1899

Samoa consists of two main islands and four smaller islands.  Human beings have inhabited these islands for around 3,500 years. The Samoan people have their own unique language and their own cultural identity.  Owing to the seafaring skills of the Samoan people, early European explorers began to refer to these islands as the “Navigator Islands.”

Contact with Europeans began in the early 18thCentury.  Dutch captain Jacob Roggeveen first sighted the islands in 1722.  He was followed by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1768.  European contact was limited before 1830, but in that year British missionaries and traders began to arrive, led by John Williams (London Missionary Society) who traveled there from the Cook Islands.  Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Samoa from 1889 to 1894.

Of all the European explorers, Germany alone demonstrated a keen interest in the commercial development of the Samoan Islands, particularly in the processing of copra and cocoa beans on the island of Upolu.  The United States also had an interest in Samoa, particularly in the establishment of a coaling station at Pago Pago Bay.  To this end, the Americans forced alliances on the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a, which later became American Samoa.  Not to be undone, the British sent troops to protect their business interests, harbor rights, and consulate offices.  During an eight-year civil war, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States provided arms, training, and in some instances, combat troops to the warring Samoan natives.  The Samoan Crisis came to a head in 1889 when all three colonial competitors sent warships into Apia harbor; a larger war seemed imminent until a massive typhoon destroyed the warships in the harbor.

A second civil war came in March 1898 when Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were locked in dispute over which of these should control the Samoan Islands.  The first battle involved British and American forces seeking to prevent a rebel takeover of the city of Apia.  When rebel forces (urged-on by the Germans) launched their attack, Anglo-American forces responded by directing naval gunfire against rebel positions surrounding Apia, which ultimately forced the rebels to retreat to the stronghold of the Vailele plantation.

American and British naval forces included cruisers USS Philadelphia, HMS Tauranga, HMS Porpoise and the corvette HMS Royalist.  On 1 April, Philadelphia, Tauranga, Porpoise and Royalist landed an expedition totaling 26 Royal and American Marines, 88 Royal and US sailors, and 136 Samoans for an attack on the landward side of Vailele.  Royalist was sent ahead to bombard the two fortifications guarding the Vailele plantation.  As the landing force moved inland, it no longer enjoyed the protection of naval gunfire. Upon their approach to Vailele, British and American troops were overwhelmed by rebel forces.  It was a defeat for the British and Americans, but three of America’s combatants are of particular interest.

Monaghan J 001U. S. Navy Ensign John R. Monaghan was born in Chewelah, Washington on 26 March 1873.  He was in the first graduating class of Gonzaga University and later graduated from the United States Naval Academy in June 1895. After graduation, he served as a midshipman aboard USS Olympia (flagship of the US Asiatic Station) where he was commissioned an ensign in 1897.  Monaghan was later transferred for duty aboard the monitor Monadnock and the gunboat USS Alert.  During the Spanish-American War, Ensign Monaghan was transferred to USS Philadelphia, flagship of the Pacific Station [1].

Lansdale PVH 001Lieutenant Philip Van Horne Lansdale was born in Washington, D. C., on 15 February 1858. He was commissioned an ensign on 1 June 1881 and subsequently served on Asiatic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific Stations.  Promoted to lieutenant in 1893, he became the executive officer (second in command) of Philadelphia on 9 July 1898.  After participating in the ceremonies which transferred sovereignty of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States, Philadelphia was dispatched to Samoa, arriving off Apia on 6 March 1899.  Lansdale was the officer commanding the landing force on 1 April 1899.

Hulbert JL 001Private Henry Lewis Hulbert was born in Kingston Upon Hull, East Yorkshire, England on 12 January 1867.  He was raised in a cultured home environment, he was well-educated, and he was adventurous. He entered the British Colonial Civil Service and was posted to Malaya.  While there, he married Anne Rose Hewitt, but it was a nasty marriage and one that ended in a publicly visible, very embarrassing scandal.  Hulbert left Malaya and traveled directly to the United States.  At the age of 31-years, Hulbert joined the U. S. Marine Corps on 28 March 1898.  After completing his initial training at Mare Island, California, he was assigned to the Marine contingent aboard Philadelphia.  Private Hulbert was one of the 200-man landing force on 1 April 1899.

Philadelphia arrived at Apia, which was the main port on the island of Upolu (largest of a group of six islands) on 8 March 1899, and the center of the Samoan disturbance.  A conference was held at once between British and American naval commanders, their respective consuls, and local government officials.  They were looking for ways to preserve the peace.  German interests were not represented at this meeting owing to the fact that the Germans were behind the rebellion.  On 11 March, Rear Admiral Kautz, having assumed responsibility for joint operations, issued a proclamation addressed to the Samoan high chiefs and residents of the island, both native and foreign.  In general, he called for all concerned to return to their homes and obey the laws of Samoa.  Every effort was made to influential citizens to prevail upon warring factions to obey the proclamation and to recognize the authority of the Chief Justice of Samoa.

It was on 13 March 1899 at about ten o’clock p.m. that the rebel leader answered the proclamation by attacking Apia and concentrating their fire upon British and American consulates and at Mulinu’u Point, where women and children had taken refuge.  Within moments, US Marines and blue jackets went over the side and headed for Mulinu’u Point to protect the defenseless women. A series of well-aimed volleys dispersed the rebels at that location, but the Americans received sniper fire throughout the night.

Over the next several days, US and British forces constructed trenches and breastworks extending along the outskirts of Apia; nights were occupied fighting off rebel forays attempting to discover weak areas along the defensive perimeter.

On 31 March, Lieutenant C. M. Perkins, Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, USS Philadelphia, led a reconnaissance force consisting of sixteen riflemen and a machinegun crew into the jungle outside Apia.  Perkins encountered a vastly superior force of rebels, forcing him to withdraw back to the edge of town, to the American Consulate.

Rear Admiral Kautz ordered that a larger landing force be organized for the next day.  Commanding the landing force was Lieutenant Freeman, Royal Navy. The Americans would serve under Lieutenant Philip Lansdale, who was assisted by Lieutenant C. M. Perkins and Ensign John Monaghan.  Accompanying the combined force were an additional 136 natives, indifferently armed, poorly disciplined, with some of these men suspected rebel sympathizers.  British and American forces did not trust them and established a “color line” across which no Samoan could be allowed to cross.

On 1 April, the expedition had only just crossed the point at which the previous day’s battle had taken place when they were engaged by an estimated 1,200 rebels who had concealed themselves in the thick forest.  Lieutenant Freeman was almost immediately killed; shortly afterwards, Lieutenant Lansdale was shot in the leg, rendering him unable to walk.  In spite of his painful wound, Lansdale continued to fire at the rebels who were rapidly approaching him with rifles and beheading knives.

Realizing Lansdale’s dangerous predicament, Ensign Monaghan organized a number of blue jackets to form a defensive perimeter around their fallen leader.  Monaghan struggled to remove his superior from the battle area; the sailors fought off the savages for as long as they could, but they were being overwhelmed. Finally realizing the hopelessness of his situation, Lansdale ordered a general retreat.

As the force began its extraction, Private Hulbert stepped up calmly delivering deadly fire upon the approaching Samoan forces.  The Lansdale party slowly worked their way to the rear in withdrawal, but Lieutenant Lansdale received a gunshot wound to the chest.  It was a mortal wound from which would not recover.  Seaman N. E. Edsall joined Hulbert in laying down accurate fire as Monaghan continued in his attempt to remove Lieutenant Lansdale’s body from the field. Moments later, both Monaghan and Edsall were killed.  Private Hulbert executed a fighting withdrawal.

Private Hulbert survived the battle and received a commendation from the Secretary of the Navy on 22 May 1899, which stated in part, “The gallantry of Private Henry L. Hulbert, who remained behind at the fence till the last and who was with Lansdale and Monaghan when they were killed, I desire especially to mention.”

Private Hulbert was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for this engagement; he was later killed at the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in France on 4 October 1918.  He was, at the time of his death, a 51-year old First Lieutenant, already slated for promotion to Captain.  His personal decorations include the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and French Croix de Guerre.

Notes:

[1] Rear Admiral Albert Kautz, U. S. Navy, Commander, Pacific Station.