Ensign George Gay
By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
Sole Survivor of VT8, Midway, George Gay, 18×24″
Limited Edition Prints are signed and numbered by the Artist and signed by George Gay. $125.00.
All signatures by both the Aviator and the Artist is done in soft graphic pencil.
Shipping $6.00 anywhere in the world.
George only signed 400 of these prints. George was hospitalized and passed away before we finished signing the series. These were the last prints that George Gay signed. This was also the first in my series of “Famous American Aviators.”
ARTIST PROOF There are only a few of the Artist Proofs left.
George Gay is on the right with one of his rear gunners. This is a rare color photo for its time.
George Gay and Artist Ernie Boyette at the Warner Robbins Aviation Museum.
Ensign George Gay’s Story
By: Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
George Henry Gay Jr. was born on March 8, 1917 in Waco, Texas. His father’s family came from England while his mother’s family came from Germany. Both families came to Texas via the covered wagons and both families settled in Corpus Christi at different times. After George’s parents met and married they moved to Waco, Texas.
After several years George’s family moved to Dallas where he attended a private grammar school. His mother taught him how to swim at an early age. His father was in the oil business where he would negotiate the lease of land for exploration and drilling. George was always impressed with his father’s integrity both in business and with his family and home.
His first introduction to aviation was one day when the family was visiting a local Fair. George was around ten years old at the time. At the Fair they had a runway with a Ford tri-motor that was offering rides to the public. His grandmother took young George on a ride in the Ford tri-motor. Both his father and mother refused to take him on the ride but his grandmother said to young George, “I came here in a covered wagon, and I’m not afraid of that thing!” (Referring to the tri-motor aircraft.) Both George and his grandmother enjoyed the ride as the lumbering and rattling tri-motor flew over the Texascountryside. George told me that he was amazed how well you could see stuff on the ground. This was definitely an experience that would stay with George for the rest of his life.
As George grew older he worked many different jobs during his youth including working at the local A&P food store. The 1929 stock market crash hurt everyone nationwide. George was lucky to earn ten cents an hour working part time at the local drug store. He said that during this time a hamburger cost five cents. His family was living in Huston, Texas in 1935 when George graduated from San Jacinto High School. His father was able to assist in getting George into A&M collage. He studied Mechanical Engineering and learned Coast Artillery in the ROTC. Unfortunately George only attended two years of collage before his monies ran out.
The political situation in Europe was getting serious. The year was 1938 and Hitler was getting aggressive towards his neighbors. Germany had become the dominate country in Europe. Under Hitler, Germany rose from the ashes of World War I and grew into an industrial giant in just a few years. However the industrial giant was producing Messerschmitts, submarines and tanks. It was apparent that war in Europe was in the near future. This worried many world leaders.
George did a lot of thinking about what he would do if war broke out. He did not want to serve on the ground in the infantry. He had read of the great battles in Europe during WWI in the mud and the trenches. He knew that the type of war they fought was completely futile. The only accomplishment of the First World War was its open slaughter of millions of men. Yet George was drawn to the stories of the dashing young men who flew through the skies battling each other in what seemed to be glorious air battles. This is what was on Georges mind.
Advances in aviation were obvious with many air bases in Texas being built. The sight of an airplane always lifted the heart of every young man at this time. George decided that if he had to go to war then he wanted to be a pilot. George approached the idea with his father. They both discussed the matter with his mother. His mother was surprised but did not openly object. She thanked George for asking for a discussion with the family on such an important decision. But they let the eventual decision be his.
George Becomes a Pilot
George applied to the Army Air Corp at Randolph Field. After filling out all the proper papers and reporting for his physical George was turned down! He was stunned. They told him to go home and forget about it! He was greatly disappointed and went to work at several different jobs in the area. Meanwhile the war in Europe had started. George was about to go to Canada to join the RAF when he realized that the U.S. Navy would need pilots as well. George immediately went to the local Navy recruiting office and signed up. George went through all physicals and was accepted on the spot.
George became a Seaman Second Class and was designated a V-5 as an aspiring aviator. He was ordered to an air base named Opalocka, which was located just north of Miami, Florida. On February 15, 1941. His first flying was in an aircraft he loved, a N2S Stearman, bi-plane. When he soloed he knew that he owned the key to the sky. Flying came easily for George. On April 3, 1941 he was officially an Aviation Cadet, Class 4-A-41-J at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Florida.
His training continued with both solo and formation flying on what is described as “hops.” A “hop” is a flight around the surrounding countryside which gave the pilot or cadet the opportunity to get use to flying predestined flights around a predetermined course using only their maps and compass. It all sounds so simple now but if we were to lose all of the fancy electronic equipment we have today all pilots would have to go back to the map and compass. Then there was advanced training where every pilot was trained in dive-bombing and other aerial maneuvers. This included firing the aircraft machine guns. On September 6, 1941 George Gay was commissioned as an officer in the United States Naval Reserve.
In the services, Army Air Force, Navy, or the Marines the pilots never got to choose what type of aircraft they would eventually fly after their training. Yes, they did post their request, however not every pilot could be a fighter pilot. Some aviators would be torpedo bomber pilots, some would fly supply and cargo aircraft, and some would fly observation aircraft.
He was detached from Opalocka with orders to report to Advance Carrier Training at NAS, Norfolk, Virginia. It was here that he learned to fly the Douglas TBD known as the Devastator. One of the stories he brought up was a funny one. He told me about his first flight in the TBD. He showed up to fly the airplane and found that he was alone. For some reason the ground crew had been sent away for other chores. So George decided that he would start the airplane and take off all by himself. He did need the ground crew to help him in the process but nothing was going to stop George from trying. He knew what to do so he started the process. First he turned the prop by hand to get the oil circulated in the engine. While standing next to the engine he turned a crank that stuck out of the side of the engine cowling. After turning the crank the proper amount of times to get the engine primed he jumped in the airplane to start the ignition. The engine came to life with a growl puffing exhaust turning the propeller at a steady rate. Once the engine mellowed and settled to a fine tuned idle George was going over all final details. After strapping himself in George reviewed all the gauges and pulled his goggles over his eyes. He gunned the engine but the TBD would not move. He became frustrated. He checked the brakes and everything. It only took a moment for him to realize his problem. He did not remove the wooden blocks from under the wheels!
George jumped out of the cockpit and grabbed the rope that was attached to the wooden blocks that were holding the airplane back. Throwing them to the side he quickly mounted the wing and jumped into the cockpit, strapped himself in and gunned the engine. George barreled down the runway and pulled back on the stick. The TBD lifted and he flew off into the morning breeze. That my friend is pure determination. Many others would have waited for the ground crew or left and went back to the squadron office to complain. Not George, he was going to fly. That was the start of his training in the Devastator. On November 3, he was classified as ACTG and ordered to VT-8, Torpedo Squadron 8.
To read more about George Gay please consider one of our prints or one of our upcoming books. Thank you.
This was the way that Waldron’s TBD was painted when it originally left on the Hornet. Before the Battle of Midway the airplane crews painted the red and white stripes blue-gray and painted out the red spot in the center of the star. Still this was the bomber that Waldron lost his life in.
This is my painting of Gay’s Devastator. This painting has been autographed by the pilot and is available for sale. $5,000.00.
The rumors of the Japanese Fleet and its size were overwhelming with 187 ships led by eight aircraft carriers and 713 aircraft. This fleet dwarfed American Task Force 16, which had the Hornet and the Enterprise. Task Force 17 had the Yorktown. The total number of American aircraft on the three carriers was 255 with another 110 mixed aircraft on Midway. As the Admirals planned the up coming battle the pilots were getting ready. VT-8 was in Ready Room Four when Waldron gave all of his men a mimeographed letter. As the men in the squadron were reading their copy Waldron stood up and read it out loud. This is what it said.
“Just a word to let you know I feel we are all ready. We have had a very short time to train. And we have worked under the most severe difficulties. But we have truly done the best humanly possible. I actually believe that under these conditions, we are the best in the world. My greatest hope is that we encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don’t and worst comes to worst, I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make the final run-in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with us all. Good luck, happy landings, and give ‘em hell!”
George told me that he knew Waldron’s statement was worth remembering. Yet it was to be so real too soon. This was it, they were sailing towards war. Waldron told his men after he handed out this memo, “The approaching battle will be the biggest of the war, and may well be the turning point. It is to be known as the Battle for Midway. It will be historical and, I hope, a glorious event.” All I the author can add here is that this commander was a great man. Hollywood could not write such a script or make up such a solid man. His aircrews would follow him into hell itself if he told them to “Follow me men, Attack!”
Midway was a strategically located island in the Pacific. The wide expanse of ocean made this island important and was used by both military and commercial aircraft for refueling stops between the islands. The Hornet sailed west-north/west towards Midway. The aircrews studied charts and went over their duties. They also spent many hours looking out at the never-ending Pacific Ocean. Each man with his own personal thoughts. Thinking about how they would handle combat when they saw it. Would they be brave, would they ever get to see their families, girlfriends, or wives and children again?
The intelligence reports proved to be accurate. The Japanese were closing in for their attack on Midway from the northwest. The American carrier group was carefully cursing into place on the northeastern side of Midway. Soon the Japanese would be in range of the Island and start their attack. The date was June 3rd.
On the morning of June 4, 1942 George and “Abbie” Abercrombie (a fellow squadron mate) were eating breakfast early when the alarm bell sounded “General Quarters”. Over the ships intercom “All pilots report to your Ready Rooms!” As George and the others filled the room they read the message on the Teletype screen: “MIDWAY BEING ATTACKED BY JAPANESE AIRCRAFT!” Everyone pulled out their plotting boards and took notes on the intelligence the fleet recently received. They got the approximate location of the Japanese fleet and its size. They wrote down the Japanese location and distance from the Island . They got the wind conditions. The direction they were heading now and the direction they would be launching from since they would have to change course to head into the wind.
The United States was desperate for a victory. The fall of Midway to the Japanese would leave the Hawaiian Islands and California open to Japanese attacks. The fighters were launched first. The scouts launched next and finally the bombers. Last to launch was the torpedo bombers with Navigation Officer Gay and his rear gunner Robert Huntington being first in line.
Waldron was on the bridge as the fighters started to launch. He pleaded desperately for fighter escort. The answer was no. He even asked for just one Wildcat to fly along. The answer was no. He then asked for one fighter that could be flown by one of his pilots. The answer was no! The Group Commander was under the impression that the torpedo bombers were safe if they keep low to the water and stayed together to combine the effect of their rear gunners. The Commander directing the launch felt that the SBD dive-bombers needed protection because they would be at high altitude and more venerable with a heavy bomb load.
In the previous Battle of the Coral Sea the TBD’s had been lucky. The Devastators had gotten some hits on the Japanese fleet and were not molested as bad as they expected by the Zero. This time the Japanese fighters would be on the look out for the torpedo bombers.
Waldron tried to convince the fleet commanders that the Japanese will not attack the island if they know the American fleet is near by. The Japanese will send their fleet and planes north towards the Hornet and the American fleet. Waldron left the bridge frustrated and meet George on the way to man their bombers. Waldron told George that the Group Commander was going to send the entire group to an estimated location they thought the Japanese fleet would be at after their attack on the island.
Waldron was convinced that the Imperial Fleet would be further to the north than the naval planners thought they would be. This would help The Japanese to avoid attacks from American aircraft stationed on the island. Waldron told this info to George because he was the squadron navigator. George would lead the squadron a little to the north with Waldron’s urging. The torpedo squadron would be taking off last since they were slow. Waldron figured that by the time the others realized their mistake they would head north and meet up together.
I will add here that Waldron was right about some things but not others. He did know where to look for the enemy after their attack on the island and while retrieving their aircraft they drifted. A slight move to the north did take the Imperial fleet away from the island just enough to throw off several of the American squadrons.
All crews reported to their aircraft and were strapped in. The aircrafts engines were already running and the propeller blades were cutting the early morning air. As George sat in his cockpit the steady breeze form the prop came back on his face. The Hornet was speeding into the wind to increase the flow of air over the flight deck.
There was no regular way that a squadron was launched. Today George would be first off. As with all operations there was a ten-minute delay. George and the rest of VT-8 sat as the fighters and bombers flew off. One of the pilots behind George took this time to climb out of his TDB. He walked up and jumped up onto George’s wing. The pilot was concerned that the extra weight of the torpedo was going to really hamper their take off. After all they had not practiced with a torpedo so all of this would be new. They would take off with an extra 2,000 pounds, fly with this extra weight and try their best to drop their missile as best as they can towards the target all under fire from the enemy.
Mind you, these torpedo bomber pilots had not received torpedo-bombing practice. They had never flown with a torpedo at all and the entire experience would be new to them. The weapon weighed about 2000 pounds and would radically affect the flying characteristics of the aircraft. George was to take off first so he told his fellow pilots that if he went into the sea, try to get the carrier to go faster.
George Gay had never dropped a torpedo! They had attended classes and learned what altitude they needed to be flying at to drop the torpedo properly. The pilots were taught what air speed they needed to be flying at, and they were taught how to lead the enemy ship in order to have their torpedo make contact. But they had never flown with or dropped a torpedo.
Worst of all was that the torpedoes that the Navy was using were made for use in World War One for submarines! The torpedoes the Naval Aviators were using were never developed to be dropped by aircraft. Even worse is that the torpedoes almost never worked correctly at all! The failure of the United States torpedo was as much as 40% in the beginning of the war and it only got a little better as the war progressed. Navy pilots and American Submarine Captains risked their lives along with the lives of their crews to get close enough to the enemy to strike them with a torpedo. Only for the torpedo to fail! The Japanese went through an elaborate process to perfect their torpedoes and the delivery of the ordnance.
George rolled his Devastator forward and is lined up for his launch. George opened the throttle to full and stood on his breaks to hold back the Devastator. A flag is waved and George releases the brakes. Slowly rolling at first the speed quickly accelerated. George was able to take off from the Hornet with little difficulty even though his aircraft dropped a few more feet downward than normal as the airplane left the deck.
Once VT-8 had all launched and formed up the squadron was spread out in flights of four two plane groups led by Waldron and the second formation led by Jimmie Owens with two groups of two planes and one of three planes. Navigation Officer George Gay was bringing up the rear of the three-plane formation. Waldron had a feeling where the Japanese fleet would be. It was his Sioux Indian instincts that led him. His men knew him and did not blindly follow him, they trusted him!
After an hour of flying, Torpedo Squadron 8 was spotted by a Japanese reconnaissance plane. Waldron broke radio silence when he spotted the Japanese scout. The crews of VT-8 looked up and saw the Japanese aircraft. It flew right over then and straight in the direction that they were heading. Then appearing before them on the horizon was the Japanese navy and its carriers. Waldron looked around and saw that his flight was properly set up.
The Japanese fleet was large and there was no battle action in process. Waldron had expected that the other aircraft, which were faster, would be attacking the fleet at this moment so his squadron could slip in and attack. Waldron knew that they were alone and in his gut he knew that the odds were against his brave men. Waldron broke radio silence with his last order to his men. “We will go in, we won’t turn back. Former strategy cannot be used. We will attack. Good luck.”
Waldron was now under the impression that they were the first to find the Japanese fleet. This was not true in that twice the aircraft from Midway had already attacked the Japanese fleet. The reason for the grim message from Waldron to his squadron was that he saw the size of the enemy fleet and he saw the swarms of Japanese fighters. The Zero’s looked like bees protecting their hive. For him and his men, getting to the enemy fleet to attack would prove ripe with danger. Their gas gages said that they barely had enough fuel to return to their carrier. No one questioned Waldron because they had as much confidence in him as he had in them.
As I said above, Waldron’s squadron was not the first to find and attack the Japanese fleet. Several flights of Navy and Marines pilots from Midway had already attacked the Japanese Fleet with their attempts shattered by the Japanese defense. The attacking Midway aircraft achieved no successful results.
VT-8, (the other part of Waldron’s squadron with the new Avengers) was part of the attack which was decimated. The Imperial Fleet was also assaulted by SB2U Vindicator dive bombers flown by Marines. There were also four B-26 Martin medium bombers that were equipped with torpedoes that joined the fight. Of the B-26’s two were shot down and the other two bombers were severely damaged. All efforts were crushed with most all aircraft shot down or sent back to base damaged with wounded or dead aboard. Not one aircraft was able to get close enough to the Japanese fleet to strike them.
The fighter aircraft on Midway were occupied with defending the island. Many of these fighters were obsolete Brewster F2 Buffaloes fighters along some of the new F4F Wildcats. Many of these fighters were destroyed or damaged in the first raids on the island by Japanese fighters.
Let’s get back to Waldron and his men who were now lining up for their attack. Miles before VT-8 was close enough to the fleet for their offence they were attacked by Japanese fighters. Waldron and his fellow aviators were flying low on the water to protect themselves from the enemy fighters. Flying low kept the Japanese from flying under the low flying bombers. The Zero’s weaved from left to right, back and forth over the Navy planes strafing the aircraft one by one. Some of the Zero’s would fly head on at the bombers and some Japanese would come in from behind.
The Japanese mostly avoided attacking from the rear to avoid the bombers rear gunners. They chose to attack from left to right and right to left. Weaving back and forth. The Japanese pilots knew that the rear gunners in the American bombers could not bring their guns to bear on them if they kept moving. The Japanese actually targeted the rear gunner and they were effective in killing these poor men. All fighter pilots know that you must silence the rear gunner. George was at the end of the squadron and was able to watch the Japanese and their methods of attacking on his fellow aviators.
The Japanese first attacked Waldron in an attempt to take out the squadron leader. His Devastator was hit right away. Smoke and flames streamed out of the engine cowling. George watched Waldron’s aircraft catch on fire. He painfully watched his leader try to fly on. Flames and smoke erupted in the cockpit with flesh pealing heat shooting up his Commanders legs. Waldron was forced to unbuckled himself and leave the cockpit as the fire from the engine flared into the cabin driving him from his seat.
George saw Waldron grab the top of the windshield pulling him self up from his seat and throw one leg out and a foot on the wing of his TBD in an attempt to escape. It appeared that Waldron’s rear gunner Horace Dobbs was at his station with his guns firing apparently unaware of what was going on with his commander. Maybe the electronics in Waldron’s plane were damaged and he couldn’t talk to Dobbs.
George knew that Waldron would never survive jumping from the aircraft from only twenty feet or so above the water going 120 mph. The aircraft’s control stick was unattended and the smoking and burning bomber started to wobble. George watched the wingtip of Waldron’s plane hit the water sending his commander and the aircraft into a cartwheel with the sea swallowing up his leader. George and the rest of the squadron flew over his aircraft as it settled into the water.
George being at the rear had a front row seat to the death of his squadron mates before him. One plane went down on his left and then George watched another blow up. Some cart wheeled and some did a half roll and hit the water on their back.
Bullets rained on the advancing brave bomber crews. George and the other pilots were trained to fly straight and level to give the rear gunner a steady platform to defend the aircraft from. The gunner could not be effective if the bomber was weaving back and forth. This would prove to be a fatal tactic in the over whelming odds they found themselves in. George soon felt the hammer strikes of enemy bullets hitting his aircraft. The aircraft shook when it was hit.
Gay’s rear gunner had been trying his best to fend off the pursuant Japanese. George heard Bob on the intercom say that he had been hit. The rear gun fell silent. George was concerned with his gunner and repeatedly called back to him. George looked around to see Harrington and saw that he was slumped over. When George looked back the aircraft that had been in front of him was gone. Completely gone.
Then as if some terrible dream were happening there were no other Devastators. There was silence for a moment as George flew on alone. One by one George watched each of his squadron mates that he had trained with for the last six months die as their aircraft exploded or cart wheeled into the sea. George wiggled and weaved his aircraft to avoid the oncoming enemy fighters. The TBD had a forward firing .30 caliber machine gun and George was able to hit two of the Japanese fighters as they flew by ahead of his bomber.
George realized that he was now the only one left of his squadron. With all his efforts to avoid the enemy gunfire he repeatedly felt his aircraft shudder from incoming slugs. George could actually feel bullets slam into the rear of his new armored seat followed by bullets going past his head shattering the front canopy and instrument panel. George still was able to concentrate on the approaching Japanese carrier that was filling his field of vision.
While lining up his target, a bullet struck George. The bullet lodged in his arm and he grabbed the wound and squeezed as hard as he could. George told me the pain was intense and then num. George was squeezing his arm to tightly that the bullet backed out of his arm into his hand. Having nowhere to put the bullet he shoved the blood-covered bullet into his mouth because he wanted to save it for a souvenir.
George was not only able to fly, evade, and track his target, but he could also think things through like saving the bullet and what he was going to do after he released his torpedo. All this was happening so quickly yet George was able to focus. This separates the pro from the amateur. Even though George was trained he was still an amateur at being a warrior, but George was smart and even though not a natural warrior, he was going get himself out of this situation if he could.
To fight and think, that combination is hard to come by. Some of his fellow pilots that he watched die had panicked. They died because they were completely out numbered, but George commented to me that he saw some of them make mistakes. Many of the TBD’s had been damaged by enemy fire to a point that skill could not have saved them. Parts of their control surfaces had been shot away.
George was now close enough to the carrier that the Zero’s had broken away from the fight to avoid the anti-aircraft fire form the carrier. George had no choice but to concentrate on lining up the carrier, which meant that he had to fly straight, level, watch his speed and altitude. George felt he had everything lined up for hitting the carrier as he pulled the lever to release his torpedo.
George personally told me as I sat across from him at his home in Marietta Georgia that he doesn’t know if his torpedo dropped or not. Strange as this may sound but George could not rightly remember the torpedo falling free because there was so much excitement going on.
No matter what George ever told anyone else he confided in me he could not tell when or if his torpedo fell free. After George thought he released his torpedo he started jockeying his aircraft around to avoid being hit by enemy fire plus his bomber was being thrown around by near-miss explosions. A typical defensive tactic of a ship was to fire into the water ahead of a torpedo bomber to deflect it or damage it. George had now seen, avoided, and dodged these geysers for a mile as he approached the carrier.
As George approached the enemy carrier all the guns on the side of the ship he was approaching were firing at him. George was now very close to the carrier. Too close. George was not taking the fire works and geysers as a welcome. He kept his bomber close to the water because the closer he got to the carrier the harder it was for the defensive gunners to hit him. He knew that the guns from the ship could only be directed down at him just so far. The last hundred plus yards George flew to the carrier the enemy gunners were unable to fire at him at all. However that was a slight reprieve.
This was another brief moment that George was able to think. He knew that he was going to have to pull up and fly over the carrier, which would then give the guns on the other side of the ship a shot at him. George knew that if one of the gunners on this side of the ship didn’t hit him he would only be giving the guns on the other side a shot at him. George knew that his odds of being hit would escalate tremendously.
George was heading straight about half way between the water line and the carrier deck high off the water and just 30 yards back from the tip of the bow. At the last minute George pulled up and kicked his rudder hard left and changed directions. As George pulled up at the last minute the right wing of his Devastator went up as the torpedo-bomber leaned to the left side considerably. At the peak of the climb George kicked the rudder hard left as he flew over the top of the carrier deck.
The sluggish Devastator preformed well and the right wing came down and the aircraft leveled out. George found himself flying down the carrier deck from the front towards the rear of the carrier. George had calculated that this was his best chance of escape since the guns on the stern were far fewer than along the other side of the carrier.
George looked down on the deck of the Japanese carrier. He was just barely high enough off the deck to keep from hitting the tails of the Japanese aircraft that were on the deck being armed and fueled for combat. He watched the Japanese deck crews run, duck, and leap for safety as George flew over them.
George told me that a little voice in his head told him that if he would “just push his control stick forward and crash his Devastator into the carrier deck he would take out this carrier all by himself.” He said he listened but ignored the idea.
As George flew off the end of the carrier he turned his head to look back and said out loud, “I’ll be back!” His arm was killing him with pain where the enemy bullet had hit him. His whole body was raked with pain from flying under such extreme circumstances.
George had pulled up, and pushed down, turned left and turned right using every mussel in his body. George had forced this heavy aircraft through the air using his legs and his right arm. Now George was using both hands on the control stick trying to keep the aircraft stable and steady. The Devastator had been raked over and over by enemy machine gun bullets. Plus a hole or two from 20mm cannon. Harrington had been hit and was slumped over. Harrington had been completely disabled since the first five minutes of the aerial assault.
Being free to dodge and weave helped save George’s life. Once he knew his rear gunner was out of action he could use what ever means available to avoid being hit by enemy gun fire. The weight of the Devastator at sea level was a lot and George had to keep the aircraft flying. He had been lucky in that his engine had not been hit by the enemy gun fire.
As George cleared the end of the Japanese carrier he dropped back down to about 20 feet above the water. No gun fire came his way right away so he was able to concentrate on flying. He was quickly among other enemy ships of all sizes. George was flying among enemy cruisers and destroyers, all the ships guns were firing at George if they could get a shot at him because George was flying as low as he dared. During that time a Zero had been following George. The Zero did not want to enter the fire zone from his own ships that were firing at George. The Zero pilot was a veteran as he led his target and gave a healthy burst of both machine gun fire as well as a volley of 20mm cannon shells.
The Zero pilot watched his tracers as they flew out in front of George at first however for every second that passed the paths of the aircraft and bullets would merge to one exact point. The tracers found their target and the satisfied Zero pilot pulled up for his own safety. The bullets were fired from above and behind down onto Georges aircraft. An incoming 20mm shell came past George’s head, over his right shoulder, between his knees into the bottom of the cockpit and blew out the floor destroying the rudder pedals. The cannon shell missed blowing off George’s feet.
George was low over the water trying to avoid the fire from the enemy ships around him. The TBD was giving up. A fire had started in the engine and was entering the cabin. The heat was unbearable and George though of Waldron. George cut power and pulled the nose up so the plane panned into the water tail first. The Devastator was full of holes and quickly started to sink as George unbuckled himself getting ready to jump out.
George had hit the water hard and the canopy that was opened had slammed shut. As the water started to rise George beat on the canopy to open it. Once the water got up to his chin George panicked and stood up so hard and so fast that he broke through the canopy. He immediately tried to save his gunner Huntington but found him quite dead. With his bomber sinking and the Japanese Navy firing on him he scrambled off the wing of the bomber and swam out away from the plane which was now a target for ship gunners. In the action of the moment George lost the bullet he was holding in his mouth.
George found himself floating in the middle of the Japanese Navy! He had grabbed a black seat cushion that floated free of the sinking airplane. With this cushion he held it to cover his head. He kept his bright yellow life jacket and his inflatable raft under him and dared not deploy them. His head and eyes were just out of the water with the cushion over his head. It was a perfect ploy that saved his life.
This was about the time that the torpedo squadron from the Enterprise VT-6 was lining up for an attack on the Japanese fleet. The squadron was flying the TBD like the one’s George’s VT-8 flew. Unfortunately VT-6 received the same reception that VT-8 had encountered. The attack was repelled. VT-6 was all shot down except two bombers returned to the Enterprise. Both aircraft were totally shot up arriving at the carrier with only three of the four air crewman alive. One Devastator landed on the deck and the other landed in the sea where the survivors were picked up by smaller ships.
The Japanese were victorious. They had repelled every attack from American aircraft on Midway and now had wiped out two entire torpedo squadrons from two different American carriers. This was the warning that the Japanese needed. Evidence that the American Carrier Fleet was in the area. The Japanese were now in the middle of loading bombs for another attack on Midway Island, when suddenly they get the order to load torpedoes and armor piercing bombes to attack the American fleet.
The Japanese Admiral on the Carrier Flagship watched each attack on the fleet. He watched as each American aircraft was shot down until all were destroyed with only a few smoldering aircraft fleeing. The Japanese Admiral commented on how brave the American pilots had been. In his heart he felt the loss of the Americans and their disciplined drive to attack. Truly a great complement from a fellow warrior.
The Japanese had aircraft out sporting for enemy ships. The only problem was that the Japanese airplane that spotted the America fleet had a radio that was faulty! The reconnaissance crew could not report the location of the American fleet until they landed back at their ships. This was truly a huge lapse of time frame for planning an attack on a moving enemy fleet.
The Japanese planners were going over the maps of the area north-east of Midway. They were formulating their exact route to the American Fleet.
As George was trying to cover his head and sneak a peek once in a while to watch what was going on. He watched as the Zero fighters that had protected the fleet started to land. As soon as the aircraft landed they were refueled and rearmed. George said that he watched the Japanese for what seemed many minutes. For once the noise of the battle had subsided and there was quit. George could hear the voices of Japanese crew members from across the water but he could not make out what they were saying.
George heard the noise of high flying aircraft so he looked up. George then witnessed what no other American would ever get to see. From above he watched as American SBD dive-bombers dropped out of the sky onto the unsuspecting Japanese carriers. The Japanese fighters were caught off guard because all of their fighters were flying low after the battles with one wave after another of low flying American attacks. The Imperial Fleet at that moment had no top cover. A sincere mistake.
The Japanese were unaware of the approach of the American bombers. With aircraft on the flight decks with bombs, torpedoes, and fuel lines everywhere they were vulnerable. There was no defense action from the Zero’s because the appearance of the American SBD’s wee too sudden. Almost no anti-aircraft fire was available until it was too late. George watched as three of the carriers were turned into infernos. He saw aircraft blown off the decks along with men and machines. The Japanese fleet was consumed with terror. The American bombers flew off.
The Japanese Navy was in confusion and sailed past George several times as he watched the carrier’s burn. He watched other ships trying to rescue crewmembers off the burning ships and from the water. George kept his seat cushion over his head. He definitely did not want to be picked up by the Japanese. Every once in a while explosions would erupt in the burning carriers. George felt the concussions in the water. Pressure on his stomach told George that he too was at risk. After the sun started to set the last of the Japanese fleet had drifted away out of his eyesight. He was left him alone in the Pacific Sea. George told me that he felt relieved yet very alone.
George was alone. Alone, floating in the middle of the vast Pacific. It had been a beautiful day and ended with a beautiful South Pacific sunset. George was injured but his spirit to live was still strong. Salt water stung his wounds but George was sure that an American aircraft would fly over to review the area. George deployed the life-raft and settled in awaiting rescue. One day passed with no prospects of rescue. Another day passed with the sound of an aircraft in the distance only. Several days later by complete chance George was spotted and picked up by a PBY. This was a lucky event because the PBY was outside of its search area.
The pilots and crewmen of Torpedo Squadron 8 sacrificed their lives for this victory. If the dive bombers, torpedo bombers and fighters had shown up at the same time it would have been a different battle. The American dive bombers would have had hell to pay with the Zero’s and the anti-aircraft fire. The ships would have been able to defend themselves from the torpedo bombers. The Americans may have hit one or two of the Japanese carriers, but the defenders would have drawn their blood. The Wildcats would have equaled the battle but the SBD’s would have been the targets of the Zero’s.
George was the sole survivor of Torpedo Squadron 8 from the carrier Hornet. After a brief recovery the Navy department offered George any cozy job he wanted. George insisted on going back into combat. George flew many missions in the TBF Avenger up and down the “Slot” dropping tons of bombs on enemy targets until his tour was over and he was sent back to the States.
George Gay was my hero as a boy. I knew his story from Junior High School onward. He was the first in my series of “Famous American Aviators” and the first aviator I officially interviewed for this series. When I called George Gay a hero he quickly but politely corrected me. He said that he was not a hero; he was just “doing his job.” He continued to say that the real heroes were the ones that fell to the enemy on June 4, 1942. George told me that he was not a Hero, but he said that he was a Survivor.
I had planed my series of “Famous American Aviators” for a year and I wanted George to be my first. It took me six months of making phone calls to locate him. He lived in Marietta, Georgia just north of Atlanta. In my trips back and forth to visit him I had to drive through Atlanta morning rush hour traffic and back through the afternoon rush hour traffic. There are not enough four-letter words to describe the drivers in the Atlanta area.
I met with George on several occasions and he agreed to work with me on this project. His health was bad. After I got the print finished, I drove up to meet with him. He signed prints for about two hours that afternoon and then he needed to rest. I left and drove back to Jacksonville, Florida. The trip was eight hours one way but we had plenty of time or so I thought.
I came back the next week and George met me at the door. He did not look very well at all. He said he was not feeling well and could I come back tomorrow. I did not want to go all the way back to Florida so I spent the night in the local town.
The next morning George signed prints for two hours. We talked and I enjoyed interviewing him. I could not ask him enough questions. As I left I told George that I will see him again next week. Unknown to me but George was checked into the hospital several days later and he passed away soon thereafter. I was completely blown away when I read in the Jacksonville, Times Union newspaper, one morning while I was eating breakfast that George Gay had passed away!
George had his last wish granted when his wife was able to pour his ashes into the sea where his fellow aviators gave their lives many years ago. Those many years ago when they turned the tide of the war. And George was a witness and a survivor.