• U.S.

World: Smitty & Friends

3 minute read
TIME

The first Zero was easy. Smitty sent a burst into the Jap’s rear and the plane fell into the sea off Guadalcanal. Then Smitty spotted another, attacking the wingman of his Marine squadron. He banked sharply, caught the Zero full in his sights and that was two down in almost as many minutes. Telling about the exploit, Smitty was carefully casual:

“My third Zero came right up under the belly of my plane, sowing bullets up & down the fuselage. I dropped the nose of my plane and came at him headon. One of his bullets hit my windshield right in front of my nose, but it missed me. My own bullets were tearing him apart. We tore past each other less than 15 feet apart. When I looked over my shoulder, he had lost control and was spinning down.”

With only a few rounds of ammunition left, Smitty headed home. As he skimmed over coconut palms he ran onto a hedgehopping Jap. “It wasn’t even a fight.”

He had knocked down four Zeros in 15 minutes.

Squadron Leader John Lucian Smith’s eight leatherneck pilots got 14 Zeros that day, with no U.S. losses. This was a fast and dangerous life for the accountant-trained son of an Oklahoma rural-mail carrier. But it was highly satisfactory to blast the fears of former commanding officers who, on fitness reports, had often left open to question Smitty’s “presence of mind.” Nineteen planes shot down in half as many months by the 27-year-old flyer was a fitting answer, and probably made John Smith of Oklahoma the No. i U.S. war ace.

Just behind Smitty as a Zero killer are Major Robert E. Galer, a former University of Washington basketball hero, and Oregon-born Captain Marion Carl. Captain Carl lost five days’ flying to Smith when he was shot down in his fighter No. 13. He bailed out at about 15,000 feet, hit the water four miles from shore. He struggled four hours before a native picked him up in a canoe. The native hid Carl until he was strong enough to start back to camp on foot. But the Japs had landed between the Marines and the native village. “I fixed up an old motorboat the native had and went back by sea,” Carl said, without explaining that he had had to putt-putt past Japanese-held beaches, where he was subject to fire.

“What’s Major Smith’s score?” was his first question at camp. Told that Smith was further ahead than ever, Carl begged: “I was away five days. Ground him for five, General.” Smitty was not grounded, but Carl got another fighter, christened it No. 13 and went at it again.

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