So, There I was….* Retired from the Air Force, settled into my second career in IT for a school district in the Hill Country in Texas (AKA God’s country). One of the main attractions in my little Burg is the National Museum of the Pacific War which is more popularly known as the Nimitz Museum. The Museum is Smithsonian in quality for its exhibits and its recording of stories of visiting WWII veterans and presenting them as vignettes in the relevant exhibit. They also had an outstanding series of symposiums.
These symposiums would focus on some aspect of the Pacific War and then bring in speakers who had either studied that aspect extensively, and usually had a book or three under their belt, or were participants in the battle/campaign. Participants came from both sides with many Japanese in attendance.
Obviously as time continues to wreak its toll, finding participants has become more difficult. Which is a pity as these symposiums were very, very good but they've been scheduled less frequently of late. I had gone to a few of them, and because they were held at the local High School, I’d been asked to help out on one.
The subject of this symposium was the Guadalcanal Campaign and was moderated by Cliff Robertson. I’d read a lot about this campaign as a kid so was very interested in attending. By happenstance, Microsoft chose the same weekend this was being held to release their new game “CombatFlight Simulator 2: Pacific Theater”. To further the release, they gave the Museum 5 pre-release copies to use during the symposium.
The Museum asked me to set up the computers in the foyer of the auditorium, install the game and help attendees fly in between speakers. I asked my teenage son if he’d be interested in helping out. “Play a new game before it’s released? Ok, Dad if you insist.” It’s hard to be that cool, but he pulls it off.
It’s early Saturday Morning, I've got the computers up and running and am conducting some heavy testing of the software to make sure that it will stand up to anything our guests have to offer. (I’m flying a Wildcat in the program and getting my butt handed to me.)
One of the things I’d read about Guadalcanal was the tale of a young (21 years old) Marine with very little time in the Wildcat taking off on a mission, shooting down 5 Japanese airplanes and receiving the Medal of Honor. So I’m trying to replicate this mission. I’m fairly deeply involved in the game when I sense someone standing behind me. Without turning around, (I was closing on a bad guy), I asked him if he’d like to take over. He said “No thanks.” I continued on and shortly thereafter shot down my target. At which point, he says, “That’s not quite how it was.” I pause the game and turn around.
Standing there is an older gentleman, not very big, maybe 5’5” or so. Dressed nicely in a suit and around his neck is a sky blue ribbon from which is hung a five pointed star. He’s the guy I’d read about as a kid and was currently simulating one of his missions. Here he is in the flesh.
We chat for a couple of minutes about flying fighters. I wanted to talk about Wildcats, he wanted to talk about Eagles. Way too soon, one of the handlers came up and grabbed him as the symposium was about to start. He was a panelist.
I go in to the auditorium and unfortunately he doesn't have a very big speaking part. I don’t get an opportunity to talk to him again. But, a post a few weeks ago where I quoted Pappy Boyington, brought him back to mind, so with the wonders of the Internet and Google, I researched his story.
Col Jefferson J. DeBlanc USMC (ret) (February 15, 1921-November 22, 2007)
He enlisted in the Naval Reserve in July 1941 and received flight training in New Orleans. Commissioned in May of 1942 and completed training in August. With a whopping 10 hours of flight time in the Wildcat he joined VMF-112 and arrived on Guadalcanal on November 2nd. Ten days later, he shot down 3 Bettys, a Japanese Bomber.
Mitsubishi G4M Betty
On 29 January 1943, he’s forced to ditch a Wildcat and is picked up by a US destroyer.
|Grumman F-4F Wildcat|
2 days later, he’s flying in support of a flight of Dauntless Dive Bombers, who will be attacking shipping near Kolombangara Island.
Enroute to the target, he realizes his aircraft is leaking fuel, and if he continues, he will not have enough gas to return to Guadalcanal. Two other aircraft have already turned back for the same reason. He knows that if he turns back , there will not be enough friendly fighters to protect the SBDs. So he elects to continue.
|DeBlanc's Mission went from Bottom Right to Top Left a distance of about 225 Miles. Kolombangara is the roundish island at the top of the line.|
Source: Google Earth
As they approach the target area, the SBDs are attacked by two float planes. DeBlanc attacks them and shoots both down, making him an Ace.
Mitsubishi F1MSource: Wikipedia
As the SBDs start to leave the target area, DeBlanc sees a flight of Nakajima KI-43 “Oscar” fighters making for them.
He attacks them, damaging one and shooting down another. As he’s attempting to disengage, he’s attacked by two more Oscars. He shoots down one in a head on attack, but the other gets behind him. Pulling a stunt straight out of the Tom Cruise playbook, he throttles back, spits the other fighter out front and gets his fifth kill of the day. But…
There’s always ONE more.
Deblanc takes hits in the cockpit and engine area. With the Wildcat on fire, DeBlanc bails out a very low altitude. Chute opens successfully, and he lands safely in the water.
Wounded in the back, arms and legs, he manages to swim for 6 hours and reach shore. He survives for 3 days ashore with untreated wounds before he’s spotted by natives on the island. Eventually, he is traded to a missionary for a bag of rice and makes his way into the hands of Coastwatchers who arrange a PBY pickup for him.
Now, my take on that. First, 5 kills in one mission. Juvat take: Most Excellent. Getting shot down and losing two airplanes in 3 days. Juvat take: Needs work. Swimming for 6 hours (while bleeding and in shark infested waters). Juvat take: The Force is strong in this one! Survive for 3 days while wounded. Juvat take: Yes, Very strong indeed!
In all seriousness, that takes a lot of guts and willpower. I’m glad I met him and would have loved to hear him tell his story. And thanks to the wonder of YouTube.
He went on to a follow on assignment in 1944 with VMF-422 in the Marshall Islands then was transferred to VMF-212 for the Okinawa campaign. He ended the war with a final tally of 9 confirmed kills.
Rest in Peace, Colonel, you earned it.
So, what is a fighter pilot worth? In Colonel Deblanc's words ""I got traded for a sack of rice! I know exactly how much I'm worth."
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Leader of a Section of Six Fighter Planes in Marine Fighting Squadron ONE HUNDRED TWELVE, during aerial operations against enemy Japanese forces off Kolombangara Island in the Solomons Group, 31 January 1943. Taking off with his section as escort for a strike force of dive bombers and torpedo planes ordered to attack Japanese surface vessels, First Lieutenant DeBlanc led his flight directly to the target area where, at 14,000 feet, our strike force encountered a large number Japanese Zeros protecting the enemy's surface craft. In company with the other fighters, First Lieutenant DeBlanc instantly engaged the hostile planes and aggressively countered their repeated attempts to drive off our bombers, persevering in his efforts to protect the diving planes and waging fierce combat until, picking up a call for assistance from the dive bombers under attack by enemy float planes at 1,000 feet, he broke off his engagement with the Zeros, plunged into the formation of float planes and disrupted the savage attack, enabling our dive bombers and torpedo planes to complete their runs on the Japanese surface disposition and to withdraw without further incident. Although his escort mission was fulfilled upon the safe retirement of the bombers, First Lieutenant DeBlanc courageously remained on the scene despite a rapidly diminishing fuel supply and, boldly challenging the enemy's superior number of float planes, fought a valiant battle against terrific odds, seizing the tactical advantage and striking repeatedly to destroy three of the hostile aircraft and to disperse the remainder. Prepared to maneuver his damaged plane back to base, he had climbed aloft and set his course when he discovered two Zeros closing in behind. Undaunted, he opened fire and blasted both Zeros from the sky in short, bitterly fought action which resulted in such hopeless damage to his plane that he was forced to bail out at a perilously low altitude atop the trees on enemy-held Kolombangara. A gallant officer, a superb airman and an indomitable fighter, First Lieutenant DeBlanc had rendered decisive assistance during a critical stage of operations, and his unwavering fortitude in the face of overwhelming opposition reflects the highest credit upon himself and adds new luster to the traditions of the United States Naval Service.