Segment 7

Annotation

Alex Vraciu and the other members of his squadron were in their ready room. It was known that this was going to be biggest fleet battle of all time. The Japanese had 300 to 400 planes. The American fleet had 15 carriers to the enemy’s nine. Vraciu’s skipper had nine kills. His friend Mark Bright [Annotators Note: US Navy Lieutenant (junior grade) Mark Kenneth Bright] also had nine kills. Vraciu had 11. Bright was killed by anti aircraft fire a few days before the Marianas Turkey Shoot. Vraciu had strong feelings about Bright. They were close friends. Vraciu was leading a flight in an attack on Guam. On the way in, Vraciu heard another pilot call out that Bright's plane had gone down. During this same raid Vraciu dove down so low on a gun emplacement that he blacked out. The tail on his aircraft had to be replaced when he got it back to the carrier. When Vraciu went into VF16 he was made the leader of a division of four aircraft. On the day of the Turkey Shoot his division took off and was ordered to orbit one of the outer screens and await further instruction. He suddenly got a vector and took off. Vraciu’s aircraft had a high blower problem so he was not able to go higher than 20,000 feet. Vraciu flew to the given vector and saw numerous enemy aircraft and tally ho'ed them [Annotators Note: slang for letting friendly pilots know of a visual on enemy planes]. Vraciu was 2,000 feet above the enemy planes. When he saw that there was no top cover he started his attack. Vraciu aborted his attack on the first enemy plane because he almost collided with another plane. He climbed up and made another pass shooting down one enemy plane. On his next pass he got two more. He then started heading for a group of enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes. On the way he shot down his fourth enemy plane. When he caught up with the group of enemy planes he got his fifth. His sixth victory blew up with such force that Vraciu believes that he hit that enemy’s bomb. Vraciu then started chasing what he was hoping to make his seventh but the anti-aircraft fire coming up from the friendly warships got it. Then the anti-aircraft fire started focusing on him. He got on his radio and let out a string of words that succeeded in getting the friendly gunners to stop shooting. Vraciu landed and taxied up the deck and held up six fingers. When he got out of his plane there were people all over the place. While he was standing by the tail of his plane signing the yellow sheet a photographer took the famous photograph of him smiling and holding up six fingers. When the Lexington was turned over to the city of Corpus Christi Vraciu was asked to give a speech. When he did so he was approached by a guy who identified himself as being present when the image of Vraciu holding up six fingers. At the same event he was approached by a retired chief who was there from Seattle who told him that he had packed the parachute Vraciu used when he had to bail out over the Philippines. The following day they flew out over the Japanese fleet. One estimate states that 216 planes were sent out after the Japanese fleet the day after the Turkey Shoot and about 100 of them were lost. Many of those had been ditched due to lack of fuel. Many of the pilots and air crews were rescued. Vraciu gives Barrett credit for the research he did on for his book [Annotators Note: Vraciu is referring to author Barrett Tillman].

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