by Lynn Forshee
We were short a lot of SBDs that day as they had run into the Jap fighters while returning to the ship. We could take some spare planes out of the overhead but those friends could not be replaced.
The Yorktown and Lex had been in a battle for their lives that day and the “Y” had suffered much damage to her water tight integrity, sprung plates below the water line were leaking fuel oil but she was still capable of 24 knots when Capt. Buckmaster called the engine room for a status report.
The one bomb that had pierced the flight deck, hangar deck and went down 4 decks below had gone through our ready room and glanced off the squadron safe. The ship had been tightly closed to maintain water tight integrity from about 5 am except for a brief period of time when Capt. Buckmaster allowed some ventilation just before the ship was attacked and the air was bad. Now as the ship tried to make 25 knots the vibration caused some body parts to fall from the overhead to the hangar deck and I was glad for any opportunity to get in the air. Now I discovered that Harold Braun was killed in the repair party below decks where the bomb went off. Baird had been on the flight deck just forward of the number 3 1.1 mount and a near miss had blown him over the side into the sea. He had been with Johnny and me since boot camp. There were others killed at the gun mounts, one point ones, 20MM and the 5 inch 38s. I stayed pretty much topside watching the Lexington as she continued to pour up thick columns of heavy black smoke. I was given the afternoon flight to patrol over the Lex most of the afternoon. Toward dusk the decision was made to eliminate the possibility of this serving as a beacon to the enemy and the DD Phelps was ordered to sink her with torpedoes. Buckmaster had once served as Exec on the Lex and it must have been hard to hear Fletcher’s order to sink her. Three of the 5 torpedoes fired by the Phelps made hits just after dusk and she went down almost on an even keel. I went below rather than stay and watch her go down. I turned in without an evening meal, it was a very long night.
Work went on into the night with the gruesome task of removing the remains from C301L compartment and preparing others for burial at sea. At 0200 the Chaplain and a working party bid farewell as the bodies and remains were slid over the fantail, sewn into canvas bags and into the Coral Sea to join their aviator shipmates who had gone down the previous day.
After a cup of coffee the next morning I went up to the ready room and met four of the Lex rear seat men sitting in the passageway outside. I sat down to join them and we were on the deck, the passageway being narrow enough so that our backs were against one bulkhead and our feet against the opposite side, our knees slightly bent up. Now on the Yorktown we had two expansion joints to allow the flight deck to flex a bit in rough seas. As we hit some good rollers of course the joint which ran right under the middle of the passage way began to give. As they saw their knees raise and lower they took one look at each other and left for topside. You see the Lex did not have expansion joints and I’m sure they must have thought the Yorktown was getting ready to go down.
One of the scouts had gone out on early patrol to the north and reported the Jap task force. We were certainly in no condition to take them on now and one of the pilots who had received a foot wound took an SBD and a rear seat man and flew to Australia to attempt to contact McArthur for his assistance with B17s, B25s and B26s. The pilot landing at Townsville was unable to contact MacArthur’s headquarters and contacted Adm. Leary who got things moving. They sent the 17s, 25s and 26s off to the reported location and found the task force to be a coral reef strung out so that it appeared to be ships trailing a wake behind them.
We found later that the Japanese had reported a great victory at sea and the SARATOGA and YORKTOWN both sunk along with a battleship and cruisers. At least the Japs were known to be in retreat northward. Australia had just received another reprieve.
We put into the harbor at Tongatabu on the 15th on fumes as we were practically out of fuel oil. The only source of a fuel supply was a British ship and it proved to be very high in sulfur content. But having no choice we filled from her. One of our battleships which I believe was the Missouri was aground having refused the offer of a harbor pilot to bring her in. She was removed at first high tide. There were no liberties granted and on the 18th, (we gained a day as Tonga was across the international date line) we put into Pearl. Just prior to leaving Tonga we had a movie on the hangar deck and just as it was about to begin the order “ATTENTION” was given and Capt. Elliott Buckmaster strode in. What took place then was totally unexpected and instead of the silence that would have normally greeted his presence there was wild cheering for the Capt. that had brought them through one of the toughest battles they would ever see. It was later said that there probably was not one man present who would not have gone into battle with Buckmaster in a rowboat.
As we put into Pearl there was one thing missing, no anchor pool which was a navy custom. You buy an estimate on the time the ship’s log shows the anchor dropped, or the ship secured to the pier. Too many thoughts of lost shipmates this time to think of frivolous things.
There would be no liberty granted here as it was feared that word of the loss of the Lex would leak out and apparently it had in some fashion as men on the pier would ask what had taken place as they could see visible damage to the ship and some even inquired as to the Lex as she was missing from TF17.
It was hoped that Yorktown could be made ready to sail by the 28th if not completely battle ready and if this deadline could not be met, she then would have to sail to her home port of Bremerton Washington for major repairs. We had lost watertight integrity due to some sprung hatches and buckled plates below the water line and of course the old problem of the fresh water evaporators needing repair. Admiral Fitch had estimated that we needed at least 90 days for complete repair. After being pushed into number 1 dry dock the caissons were closed behind her, she was placed on keel blocks and the water pumped out and Adm. Nimitz made a personal inspection of the plating. He said, “I want her back in three days”.
The Yorktown had been at sea for 101 days, needless to say she was quite tired.
Our planes were on the beach having been flown in prior to the ship entering Pearl. Replacement planes were brought in and we hastily “cobbled up” new squadrons consisting of men from the Lexington, some pilots fresh from state side and our VB5 was the only squadron to retain their identity or so we thought. The orders came down that VB5 would be VS5, for what reason no one could tell. We had 5 of our own, 6 from VS5, 5 from the Lex’s orphaned VS2, and 2 from the pool at Pear Harbor. We were all refitted at a most feverish pace with twin 30 cal brownings in the rear seat doubling our fire power and also doubling our ammunition requirements. The fighting squadron had received the new F4F-4s to replace the 3s, 2 more guns but less overall ammo and a heavier plane giving up some maneuverability which already was below that of the zero. The one gain was to the advantage of the plane handlers as the wings folded for storage aboard ship.
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