I Join the Navy

in World War II Blog

My name is Gerald W. Thomas. I am the author of Torpedo Squadron Four – A Cockpit View of World War II, an account of my service in WWII as a VT-4 Torpedo Bomber Pilot on the USS Ranger, the USS Bunkerhill, and the USS Essex.

I learned about Pearl Harbor two days after it happened when I went into town for groceries. I had been working in Yellowstone National Park and living in a tent.

I recall the first newsreel I saw about the bombing of Pearl Harbor — although it may not have been the one linked below. The audience and I sat stunned in silence at first, then people began speaking and responding to the moving images, which were so much more intense than photos in the newspapers.

Bombing of Pearl Harbor — World War II — Newsreel

I hitchhiked to California and tried to enlist as a Navy Aviation Cadet. I met the first criteria, a college degree, but I ran into trouble with the Navy doctor. He said he would not consider me unless I had my tonsils pulled and a tooth filled at my own expense.

I did and was accepted on February 5, 1942. The same day I was sworn in by Wayne Morris, the movie star, who never stood during the ceremony and was on the phone the whole time with someone in Hollywood.

Morris was in the Naval Reserves and later became a member of “McCampbell’s Heroes” in Air Group 15. He was credited with shooting down 7 Japanese planes and contributing to the sinking of five ships.

Wayne Morris, VF-15, Aboard USS Essex

Wayne Morris, VF-15 Hellcat Pilot, USS Essex.

For my first Active Duty I was assigned to the “Elimination Base” at Los Alamitos, California. The concept of the E-Base was to prescreen prior to regular aviation cadet training. Elimination was the key word and the instructors set about this task with a vengeance. Everyone feared the “downchecks” which would lead to a “wash-out.”

On July 2, 1942 I passed my “B-check” in a “Yellow Peril” (N3N) and received orders to report to Aviation Cadet training at Corpus Christi, Texas.

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