Read Time:4 Minute, 18 Second
A very pleasant surprise about the new Midway movie is that the Enterprise's Bombing 6 skipper Dick Best is the lead. I met Mr. Best at a Nimitz (now Pacific War) Museum symposium in 1992, and for reasons that now escape me, I had packed up a framed R.S. Smith print of his run on the Akagi that my parents had given me for graduation in a pillow case and brought it with me, along with a few books for signatures.
At the time I honestly didn't realize his significance in the battle – I just recognized he was one of the Enterprise dive bomber pilots Walter Lord had written about.
C.O. Bombing Six
Midway, 4 June 42
As the seminar was about three months after I finished law school, I was still in the habit of taking copious notes, and in light of the movie, I thought a few might be worth putting here:
On Dive Bombing
He said he's often asked what it's like to be a dive bomber pilot. "It's like a rollercoaster," he said. "You come in at 20,000 feet, go 'over the top' and stand on your rudder pedals. At 3,500 adjust and drop at 2,500 – pull out at 1,000." He said the bump going over the top was the 'old hat' part of the dive. "The excitement is what you can do at the bottom."
Left (I think he was referring to) on April 12 on Enterprise with a fast fleet oiler and were on heading of 335 degrees – a direct course to Tokyo, and they worried for two days. Launched at dawn (probably referring to a patrol he flew) and saw Hornet. But he said he couldn't make out her deck load – there were a lot of engines and jumble and deck tractors. He said he was envious of Doolittle that he got the "first shot at Japan."
Left for Midway on May 28 with Task Force 16. The next day Spruance met with them and laid out the plan. He said the details were incredible – they had divisions by numbers, and names of the carriers and battleships. he said he asked what if they were wrong and the Japanese did something different – was told "well, we just hope they won't." He wasn't told how they knew. (Alvin Kernan said the code breaking was common knowledge on Enterprise during the battle – if it was, Best didn't mention it during the panel).
On June 3 heard about the attack on the Aleutians – I wrote two quotes here which may be something he said or something he recounted someone else saying – "We're going to show them a surprise this time," and "behind the garden gate with a bat."
He remembers VB was back in the landing wires because were heavier, and was airborne by the time he reached the island. VS launched first – he noted the torpedo bombers apparently went first (as well). (This is garbled account and incomplete of who launched when, but I won't take time right now to complete the launch sequence using other sources – this is just what he recounted. And it's possible I wrote VS when I should have written VF).
His account of the attack is just about exactly as the movie relates except he said something about "never a gun on him." That might mean he was never hit, but I think it was that he was never fired on. He remembered seeing a Zero go through his gunsight as he dove – there were planes launching from the stern, and his bomb hit "in planes warming up." He described the flight deck as red-orange with a bright red ball, and later described the attack on the Hiryu as well – said his dive was steeper and his rear seat man said they got a hit. Said he's often asked how he recalls the details of the missions so well, and said it's easy because it was the last day he flew a plane, due to the caustic soda incident.
I can't help but think he'd have been a bit indignant at being portrayed as a cowboy who got promoted by Halsey, because he'd been a squadron leader for a while. But he'd have liked the way they redid the final bomb drop on Hiryu. Actually he probably would have just smiled and refrained from actually grumbling about how that wasn't the way it happened, and how several got hits.