Kwakalein Island Strike (By Walter J Drew)
The following is a story about World War II, written by my grandfather before his Alzheimer’s had advanced.
KWAJALEIN ISLAND STRIKE
December 4, 1943
By Walter J. (Deptula) Drew
The date was 4 December 1943. We were to attack Kwajalein Harbor and had ten 100-pound bombs in the bomb bay. We were prematurely called to flight quarters. Pilot LTJG Richard B. Zentmeyer; Radioman Herbert C. (Andy) Anderson; and myself, Turret Gunner Walter J. Deptula met on the flight deck while the U.S.S. Essex was going downwind ‘blowing it’s tubes”, whatever that means, creating a strong smell of sulfur. Zentmeyer had a metal flask filled with whiskey in the pocket of his flight suit. He asked Andy and I if we would like a drink. We both said yes, especially since we were advised that Kwajalein had been reinforced with extra fighter aircraft. After take-off during daylight hours, we formed into a squadron and headed toward the island.
Above us were the fighter planes flying protective cover — LTJG Bill Bonneau of Oakland, California flying aircraft number twenty-three and LTJG Gene Valencia of Alameda, California flying aircraft number twenty-four. These two, both now deceased, were the best of friends. Bill Bonneau was credited with shooting down eight planes and Gene Valencia credited with twenty-three planes. On the way to the island, a Japanese zero was performing aerobatics. This was done as a way to entice U.S. fighters to leave their formations while enemy planes at a higher altitude would swoop down and attack the dive-bombers and torpedo planes. Although both fighter pilots were itching to become involved, they wouldn’t leave formation.
The Japanese fighter kept performing aerobatics until he made a mistake and got into the sights of Gene Valencia. Almost without leaving formation, Gene opened fire and the Japanese plane exploded in a ball of flames.
When we finally reached the island, Zentmeyer called back to us to see if we were prepared for the dive. I could tell by the way he sounded that he had been nipping on the flask of whisky he had in his pocket. After we dove, Andy checked the bomb bay and reported that the bombs did not drop. Apparently, Zentmeyer did not throw the proper switches. Zentmeyer said “O.K. fellows, we’ll do it again”. So we made another dive and did drop all the bombs the second time.
During the dive, a piece of shrapnel from anti-aircraft fire pierced the turret and I thought it had hit me. I felt around for blood but could see little. I did however suffer a cheek wound.