Lt. Stanley W. Vejtasa, VF-10, USS Enterprise, April 1943
Unusual surname and blond hair were equally responsible for the nickname “Swede” for Stanley Winifield Vejtasa, a man with strong Czech roots as a grandson of immigrants from then part of the Austria-Hungary Empire. He made himself famous when he managed to shoot down three Zeros while leading a formation of eight SBD-3s tasked with the air cover of the US ships during the Battle of the Coral Sea. This achievement gave him opportunity to join VF-10 fighting squadron as its Operations Officer. There he scored seven more kills during the Guadalcanal campaign on board of the USS Enterprise. After the war he enjoyed a great career, making him the Captain of USS Constellation and CO of the Miramar base. He retired in 1970 and died on January 23, 2012, at the age of 98. The Wildcat No. 79 took over the starboard side panel with eight kill marks from the No. 19 (BuNo. 03417) Vejtasa used before. Ninth kill mark was added on November 13, when he shot down one huge Kawanishi Type 97 Mavis flying boat. Some of the Wildcats sported the kill marks on both sides, but only starboard of this Wildcat is known. This hangs question mark on their port side presence. Also, the white vertical rudder strip is not sure for the period of the early 1943.
BuNo. 5192, Ens. Mortimer Kleinmann jr., VF-5, USS Saratoga, August 1942
This is a reconstruction of the aircraft, assigned to and usually flown by Ens. Mortimer “Junior” Kleinmann. But on August 7, 1942, during the rush to take off against Japanese bombers as soon as possible, Lt. James Julien “Pug” Southerland jumped the plane and took it off against the enemy. He managed to shoot down two bombers but during the consecutive dogfight with Zero he learned his guns would not fire, probably due to the damage from fire by the tail gunner of the bomber. To make the things even worse, two more Zeros joined the fight. Pug was able to outmaneuver them, but the melee was spotted by Saburo Sakai. The Wildcat was hit by numerous shells from machine guns and cannons, but kept flying, until a Zero gave him a burst into the left-wing root setting it afire. “Pug” bailed out over the enemy territory of western part of Guadalcanal. Wounded and weaponless he managed to escape the Japanese soldiers thanks to the help of natives and was evacuated from Henderson Field on August 20, 1942. Later he added three more victories with F6F-5 and died in flying accident on October 12, 1949. Mortimer Kleinmann achieved two kills during the time USS Saratoga was taking part in Guadalcanal campaign.
Capt. Joseph J. Foss, VMF-121, Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, October–November 1942
This is one of the Wildcats of VMF-121 the highest-scoring ace of the Guadalcanal campaign, Capt. Joseph Jacobs Foss, used during the combat missions. The Bureau Number is unknown, but we know Foss scored with nine different Wildcats. This speaks of itself as the Marine pilots on Guadalcanal did not have the luxury of assigned aircraft. Not even the best ones. The fierce combats, harsh environment and other factors made the Wildcats rather consumable goods, and the pilots simply jumped the closest airworthy aircraft. Joe Foss, former flying instructor, joined VMF-121 on August 11, 1942 and was promoted to Captain on the same day. He arrived at Guadalcanal on October 9 and four days later scored his first victory, shooting down a Zero. His score was rising, as he shot down 16 enemies during October and prior to his farewell to the island his score raised to 23. He had to bail out himself on November 7 after shooting down one Rufe and two float biplanes and made it back to the base in three days. The VMF-121 left Guadalcanal on November 19, but Joe returned to Guadalcanal for his final tour there from January 1 to January 26, 1943. Adding three more kills, he became the highest scoring USMC ace of WWII. After the war, he served in the South Dakota Air National Guard, which he helped to organize. Later he turned to politics and was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives but returned to the duty during Korean war. In 1954, Foss was elected Governor of South Dakota. He passed away on January 1, 2003.
BuNo.02062, Mach. Donald E. Runyon, VF-6, USS Enterprise, September 1942
Donald Eugene Runyon was a petty officer Aviation Machinists Mate 1/c and he was so skilled he had officers for wingmen. He scored six times with Wildcat. This one served him well to get two of his victories at the very start of the Guadalcanal campaign on August 8, when he shot down Zero and Betty. A day before, he also shot down two enemies with aircraft BuNo. 02125. He joined VF-3 in December 1942 and stayed with the unit until April 1943. He did not achieve any aerial victories with the unit, but the things changed when he joined VF-18 based on the USS Bunker Hill in September 1943. There, already flying Hellcats, he added three more kills to finish the war with 11 victories. He was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade) rank in May 1943 and to Lieutenant on July 1, 1944. He was a test pilot at Moffett Field from July 1945 to July 1946 and served with several units until July 1964, when he retired in the rank of Commander. The Wildcat BuNo. 02062 sported the unusual painting of the tombstone with 41 Japanese roundels symbolizing total score of the VF-6 during their fighting of Guadalcanal Campaign. Such a painting sported only nine Wildcats of the unit, the ones which stayed on the deck of the USS Enterprise on her route from the Solomons to Hawai. Other Wildcats were flown to USS Saratoga or to Guadalcanal.
1/Lt. Jefferson J. DeBlanc, VMF-112/121, Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, January 1943
During his two tours of duty, Jefferson Joseph DeBlanc scored nine kills in the combats during the Guadalcanal and Okinawa campaigns. That made him 11th highest scoring Marines ace. During his mission on January 31, 1943, when escorting SBSs to attack Japanese ships, he detected a serious fuel leak, which made his return to base unlikely. He requested that rescue forces be altered and continued the mission, which resulted in a fierce combat with Japanese Ki-43 Oscars. DeBlanc managed to shoot down five of them but was wounded and had to bail out himself from his crippled and smoking Wildcat. After many mishaps he finally managed to get back to the base and to the hospital on February 12. This Wildcat also received an enemy burst. It happened on November 12, 1942, with 1/Lt. Sam Folsom at the controls. He managed to get it home and the Wildcat was repaired. Mechanics used white aircraft-fabric patches to cover the bullet holes, but the patches lost their white color soon in harsh, dusty environment … DeBlanc was one of the pilots to use it, although it was assigned to VMF-121, while he was a member of VMF-112.
Guadalcanal, Henderson Field, early 1943
Although good photos of this Wildcat are available, there are many questions regarding its identity. Usually, the aircraft is referred to 1/Lt. Marion Carl of VMF-223 or the CO of this unit, Maj. John L. Smith. Both were bright stars of the early stage of the Guadalcanal campaign amongst USMC pilots. The VMF-223 was the first one to land on Henderson Field together with VMSB-232. From August 20 they were frantically fighting Japanese aircraft until late October. Carl got 16,5 of them, Smith 19. That’s one of the reasons this Wildcat is sometimes referred to latter, as it sports 19 kill marks. But the photos are dated to February 1943 when the VMF-223 was gone from Guadalcanal. According to some sources, Carl himself stated this aircraft was a non-airworthy aircraft he used for photo session with media at Espiritu Santo, following the end of the tour on Guadalcanal (i.e., in second half of October). Together with a mechanic, they reportedly put 19 kill mark stickers on. But there are no photos of Carl with this aircraft or in the cockpit ... More to it, other photos show visibly stained kill marks, one of them dated to March 22, 1943. Conclusion? It might be operational aircraft changing units and sporting the kills of all the pilots flying it. Or it might be really used for some photo session on Espiritu Santo in late October, but repaired and sent to Guadalcanal, keeping these kill marks applied. There were repairs on the right wing and on the fuselage, while roundel on the upper side of the left half of the wing showed some damage.
BuNo. 12034, VMF-221, Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, February 1943
This aircraft is usually attributed to 1/Lt. James E. Swett, a member of VMF-221. The squadron was based at Marine Corps Base Ewa on Oahu, Hawai in early 1943, from where they moved to the island of Espiritu Santo aboard the USS Nassau. Most probably during their stay at Espiritu Santo, various arts were painted on the vertical fins of some of the squadron’s Wildcats. In the case of No. 77, the painting was probably inspired by “Hairless Joe” from Al Capp’s strips made for L’il Abner satiric strips (it was painted on the port side only). The squadron was moving to Guadalcanal in stages from February 1943 and there the “tail arts” became a thorn in the side of the commanding officers. So, probably not long after arrival, an order was issued to remove all the paintings. Lt. Swett was a leader of one of flights of VMF-221. He took off for his first combat flight on April 7 when the Japanese made a massive raid, sending approximately 70 bombers against Guadalcanal, covered by more than hundred Zeros. More than a hundred of American naval and Army fighters took off to defend the island, and the most successful among them was Swett, who managed to shoot down seven Val bombers before having to bail out himself. This was his only encounter with enemy aircraft in the cockpit of a Wildcat, as he subsequently switched to the Corsair and achieved 15.5 kills during his 103 total combat missions in WW II.
1/Lt Samuel B. Folsom, VMF-121, Samoa, spring 1943
Nose arts were rare on the Navy and Marines aircraft, especially during the Guadalcanal campaign, where was no time or resources to “play” with drawings. The Wildcat with the painting of Popeye on the port side of the engine cowling is one of rare exceptions, but it was not painted on Guadalcanal. In fact, the aircraft was part of the VMF-111 inventory, the unit which was operating on Samoa. Sam Folsom had the Popeye painted on the engine cowl when he was assigned to the unit as an instructor after his combat tour at Guadalcanal. The aircraft is sometimes portrayed with “winged” roundels, which is not correct. At the time the photographs of the Popeye Wildcat were shot, is still sported the original roundels. Folsom was rather inexperienced pilot when he was thrown with others of VFM-122 into the battle of the Solomon Islands, but he was progressing rapidly. He stayed there for three months and was wounded twice. He scored his first kill on November 11, when he shot down a Zero. Just a day later, he shot down a Mitsubishi Betty bomber and added another one to finish the war with three victories.
BuNo. 11985, Lt. (jg) William N. Leonard, VF-11, Guadalcanal, June 1943
Bill Leonard took part in the battles at Coral Sea and Midway, where he made himself an ace during his service with VF-42 and VF-3. In August 1942 he joined new VF-11 squadron and became its Operations Officer. He served at Guadalcanal in 1943 and added two more kills to his tally. It happened on June 12, 1943, when he shot down two Zeros flying this aircraft and this achievement made him the ace. After his three-month tour in Guadalcanal, he was transferred to Samoa, ending his time with VMF-121. Leonard’s Wildcat sported the Sun Downers symbol painted on both sides as well as four kill marks (six after June 12). The panels with the VF-11 symbol and port side under the cockpit were repainted, probably by fresh camouflage color. The same pays to the area of the fuselage code.
Lt. (jg) Francis R. Register, VF-11, VC-21, USS Nassau, May 1943
Francis Ronald Register enlisted to Navy on February 17, 1941, and joined the VF-3 squadron on January 4, 1942. While still on USS Saratoga, he changed the unit for VF-6 and saw combat in the Eastern Solomons. He managed to shoot down two aircraft on August 24, one of them identified as Zero and the other strangely as “Me 109”. After the Saratoga was torpedoed on August 31, he joined VF-5, based at the Guadalcanal, and added two more victories on September 12 and 13. Two weeks later he entered the prominent club of fighter aces by shooting down two Zeros and prior to leaving the “Death Island”, he added two more victories and one probable. On March 23 “Cash”, as was his nickname joined his old VF-3 unit but was detached to Composite Squadron 21 (VC-21) just four days later. On board of USS Nassau, he was set to participate in the Aleutian Campaign, but perished there in the flying accident. The aircraft he boarded the USS Nassau sported seven kill marks from the Gauadalcanal, and the white stripes on the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, distinguishing the aircraft of the fights for Attu Island. Register’s diary describing in the raw manner the harsh living on Guadalcanal is available on Internet.
VF-11, Guadalcanal, May 1943
As there were not too many possibilities and opportunities to adorn the aircraft with any personal paintings, the Wildcats on Guadalcanal were uniform regardless the unit. But there were some attempts to make the aircraft at least a little bit specific by easier means. This F4F-4 is an example as the page from the 1943 Esquire calendar with the January girl painted by the famous Alberto Vargas was glued to the port side of the engine cowling. More to it, on starboard side the inscription “Nylorac” was painted (a slang word meaning somebody who gets close personally, then betrays and hurts you). The short movie shows Lt. Gordon Cady standing by this Wildcat, but it is the only indication about any link between this Wildcat and him. The VF-11 was divided into flights of four aircraft and Cady was leading the second one, which assigned his aircraft number 5, while No. 17 was the aircraft of the leader of the 5th flight, Lt. Raymond “Sully” Vogel. But Vogel damaged his Wildcat in the collision with the aircraft of Lt. (jg) Maxwell on May 2, 1943 and “the new No. 17” might be the Nylorac … Cady shot down two Zeros and Vogel added another one kill in the same combat on June 7.
Lt. (jg), Charles R. Stimpson, VF-11, Guadalcanal, June 1943
Charles Russell Stimpson was 16-victory ace, ranking him eighth in the Navy list of aces, sharing this position with Ira Kepford. Stimpson enlisted in the Navy on June 17, 1941, the pilot training followed. He joined newly formed VF-11 in the summer of 1942 and served with the unit until February 1945. He served at Guadalcanal from May to July 1943, achieving six victories there. His maiden fighter success came on June 16, when he shot down four Vals flying this aircraft. According to some sources, he was flying Wildcat BuNo. 12163 at the time. Four kill marks were applied under the cockpit of the aircraft named “Missie” of the unknown BuNo. It might be the 12163 but it is not certain. Stimpson shot down two Zeros in July 1943 in the cockpit of the same aircraft and added ten more kills in 1944, while still with VF-11 but flying Hellcats. After serving as a flight instructor from April to September 1945, he was released from active duty on October 11, 1945.