Just Published

Butch’s Wingman

by David Sears

Originally published in Naval History Magazine – August 2015, Volume 29, Number 4

imagesWith a strong naval aviation pedigree that featured legendary fighter pilots Jimmie Thach and Butch O’Hare, Alex Vraciu jumped to the top of the Navy-ace leaderboard with an epic performance at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

The 31 August 1943 raid against Marcus Island was a big success—catching the Japanese with their pants down in the cold gray dawn. 1 But while aviators from big fleet carriers such as the Yorktown (CV-10) and Essex (CV-9) had a field day, those from the smaller light carriers (CVLs) made do with combat air patrol (CAP). It was perhaps only his reputation as a Medal of Honor recipient that earned Fighting Squadron (VF) Six commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, flying from the Independence (CVL-22), the opportunity to join the Essex’s final strike missions.


Still, O’Hare’s four Hellcats got little to show for it. Their only legitimate target was No. 15 Jitai Maru , a small Japanese supply ship. 2 Butch led his fighters in two withering passes, but the Jitai Maru survived. Then O’Hare’s wingman, 24-year-old Lieutenant (junior grade) Alex Vraciu (pronounced “vrashew”), impulsively peeled off for a solo run. Rounds from his wing guns peppered the Jitai Maru until the craft suddenly exploded. Convinced he’d “sunk the unsinkable” (learning only later bombs from a Yorktown TBF Avenger actually triggered the explosion), the lieutenant returned to formation expecting praise but instead “caught hell” from his commander for breaching flight discipline

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4 thoughts on “Just Published

  1. James Moore

    Mr Sears,
    The purpose of this comment is to inform you that my father, Gerald Moore, who served on the destroyer USS Hank during WWII and mentioned in the Roll Call of your book “At War with the Wind”, died on January 1, 2015. Your book (signed by you in Sept, 2008) was a Christmas present from me that year and read by him twice. My stepmother said he kept it by his bed ever since.
    On page 339 where the Hank is mentioned during an attack, he was firing a 20 mm at the kamikaze that killed three men. He never told anyone except his wife (my stepmother) that he ducked as it passed over him and when he raised his head, his loader next to him had no head.
    I had asked him to write down his experiences before your book was published and I’d send to you but he was so like the many men of his generation (the ‘Greatest’) and didn’t want to talk about it.
    I wanted you to know the pleasure you gave him by writing about the men who served our country at that time.
    Thank you,
    James Moore
    Wauwatosa, WI

  2. Mark L Gundert

    Mr. Sears,
    I read your book, Such Men as These, with great interest. My father was KIA in Korea when I was 9 months old. He was a highly decorated WW-II (VF-49) & Korean (VF-874) fighter pilot. My father was mentioned in the appendix of your book but with the wrong fighter group (VF-783). Some Navy records were wrong, as you might have guessed. Lt. LA Gundert was with the Bon Homme Richard in the summer and fall of 1951. He earned the Navy Cross, (3) Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Purple Heart and (2) Presidential Unit Citations before he was shot down on a bombing run in North Korea.

    God bless you for your book!


    Mark L Gundert
    Captain-National City FD (retired)
    1989 Pleasant Valley Loop
    Naples, Idaho 83847
    619 454-6858

  3. Dan Minter

    just finished with “White-knuckle countdown to peace” in the September/October issue of World war II. It got me thinking, has anyone questioned why the Navy was still running offensive operations knowing that the Japanese were about to surrender? As the article covers, men lost their lives in those last days, doing missions that could not affect the outcome of the war. What were the Admirals thinking?

  4. Dennis A. Ambruso

    While reading your article “Water Warriors” in the December issue of Vietnam, about the PBR boat sailors, I noticed a Picture on page 51 that shows a MK-2 PBR underway with about 9 men on board ! One of those men is my cousin, SK-3, Patrick Doyle , he’s the one standing on the foredeck looking like George Washington crossing the Delaware River !
    I have never seen this picture in color, and have been trying to locate it’s source for years! Can you advise me as to how I can get a couple of 8″X 10″s glossy’s for our man caves ?

    Dennis A. Ambruso
    PBR 721
    Vietnam 1966


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