Capt. Hugh E. Irvin




* By Hugh E. Irvin, Capt. USMCR Retired Reserve


The F4U Vought Corsair was not only the fastest plane of its time (winner of post-World War 11 Cleveland Air Races for piston driven aircraft) but it was noted for its ruggedness as well; however, one could hardly be expected to survive the punishment encountered at the end of what was undoubtedly the most memorable of some one hundred missions I flew with MAG (Marine Air Group) 14 in the upper Solomon, Philippine Island and Okinawa campaigns.

On Sunday, April 8, 1945 while leading a two-plane section doing close support for the Army (Americal Division) in the retaking of Cebu City in the Philippines, I was unable to release one of the two 500-1b general purpose bombs carried under the wings of my Corsair. After completing our strafing runs as directed by the Forward Air Control overlooking the city, my wingman and I headed for our home strip on Samar. Enroute, violent maneuvers to try to shake lose my 500—1b extra cargo met with no success. After radioing for a straight-in approach — to avoid an accidental drop in bivuac areas — I proceeded with what I expected to be an otherwise normal landing. I had no qualms about such a procedure since several months earlier when landing at Green Island after a strike on Rabaul a 1000-pounder dropped from my plane and rolled harmlessly onto the runway, but that was hardly the case this time when, on contact with the ground the 500-pounder jettisoned and in rolling along under the plane, its nose fuse was chewed off leaving it fully armed and with one more skip detonated. The result was half an airplane with only bits and pieces of tail section remaining aft of the cockpit and shredded wings and cowling forward. I recognized immediately what had happened and after realizing that I was still in this world, scrambled from what was left of my Corsair fearing that fire might follow the explosion. It did not, but I was left alone with my wreckage while the strip ambulance crews, thinking I could never have survived such a blast, drove instead to three ground personnel who had been struck by some of my bomb shrapnel and transported them to the base's Navy hospital. Stumbling around in my tattered parachute and flight suit (which as I remember consisted of mostly the zipper down the front) and doing considerable yelling, I finally aroused some attention from the tower area, hit when an operations jeep finally arrived, the driver got out and in awe, walked all around what was left of old number 22 before taking me back to where our own flight squadron surgeon was on duty. After the usual shots following such an incident and temporary patching of major bleeding areas he assured me I was intact and sent on to the hospital, the ambulances now having returned from their regular run. I was to learn later that an Army Air Corps doctor also on duty at the time, remarked that although I had walked away from the crash site it was doubtful I would survive the proximity to such explosion. Praise God he was wrong. Although I had several cuts to my arms and legs where small bits of shrapnel had passed through and lodged superficially, I suffered only one major laceration to my left shou1der and was released from the hospital after several days of observation on April 11th, 12th on the other side of the date line was the day President Roosevelt dies in Warm Springs, Georgia.

Given the choice of returning to the U.S. or staying with my squadron, I chose the latter and enjoyed some "hammock duty" while my buddies continued to help clean up the Philippine liberation. Because my shoulder wound proved slow to heal and was right where parachute straps made contact, it was two months before I resumed flying, by which time MAG 14 had moved to Okinawa.

A final note: The teen age Pilipino girls who came daily to pick up our laundry were quite religious and quick to blame the incident on the fact that I was flying and waging war on a Sunday. I feel instead that the Lord or guardian angel He sent was riding in the cockpit with me during the roughest landing I ever made.

Capt. Hugh E. Irwin

VMF 220/VMF 251/VMF 212

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