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Henry Bourgeois was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He first flew when he was about seven years old. After that he was very interested in flying. While he was attending classes at LSU [Annotators Note: Louisiana States University] he spoke with Marine Corps recruiters. He was very impressed with their uniforms and decided to sign up. The Marine Corps would not take him until he was 19 years old so he went into the Civilian Pilot Training Program. He learned a lot there. On his birthday, 1 September [Annotator's Note: 1 September 1941] he was sworn in as a naval aviation cadet. He took preliminary training in New Orleans. His instructor in New Orleans was a Marine captain who really taught Bourgeois how to fly. After his preliminary training was complete he was sent to the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas for his regular training. When the war began in December the program was accelerated. Bourgeois was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps in June 1942. Bourgeois had a scout master who had been a Marine in World War 1 and that was one of the reasons that he chose the Marine Corps. Only four out of 30 were accepted into the Marine Corps. Promotions went faster in the Marine Corps than in the navy. Bourgeois was sent to San Diego to North Island Naval Air Station in late 1942 where he flew F4F Wildcats. In December [Annotators Note: 1942] he and 13 other pilots got orders to go overseas as replacement pilots. The senior replacement officer was Major Gregg Boyington [Annotators Note: Gregory Boyington, commonly referred to as Pappy Boyington]. The trip overseas was an interesting one and took about 18 days. There was no fresh water for bathing or shaving. They arrived in New Caledonia then flew up to Espiritu Santos to the Marine Air Base at Turtle Bay. There they were assigned to various squadrons as replacements. Bourgeois had met Boyington at a party. He and his friend John Beggert went to the party where they met the former Flying Tiger. He and Boyington liked to play bridge and would pair up to beat everyone else. Bourgeois' first squadron was VMF-122. Boyington was the executive officer. The squadron was flying F4F Wildcats off of Guadalcanal. The planes were few in number and there were pilots like Joe Foss and Walsh who got priority on planes so Bourgeois and Boyington did not get to fly much. There were many air battles right over the airfield. After four or five weeks Bourgeois went to Sydney for a week of r &r. When he returned he trained with the same squadron. There were new pilots in the squadron and they had received Corsairs [Annotators Note: Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft]. Most of Bourgeois' combat missions were escorting B-24s [Annotators Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] and Marine SBD dive bombers [Annotators Note: Douglas SBD Dauntless]. The SBDs would go to Munda and the B-24s would go up to Bougainville. The B-24s were tough to escort because they flew at high altitude and the Corsairs had no heater. They were long missions.

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Henry Bourgeois' first air to air combat was over Bougainville. When the dive bombers went into their dive, the entire group was jumped by Japanese fighters. He had gotten separated from his division leader so he pulled up into a cloud. When he came out there was a Zero [Annotators Note: Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 fighter aircraft, referred to as the Zero or Zeke] in front of him. He shot it down. Soon after that he did it again and got a second Zero. There were three Corsairs lost and 11 Zeros shot down. The dive bombers claimed two Zeros at a cost of two dive bombers. After this mission most of Bourgeois' missions were just routine patrols until he joined VMF-214 [Annotators Note: Marine Fighting Squadron 214, also known as the Black Sheep Squadron]. He was credited with both of his kills. Bourgeois flew a mission to cover the Marine landing at Munda. There were Japanese bombers attacking the shipping and he shot down a Sally bomber. That was his third kill. On another mission Bourgeois and Bill Case shot down a plane. Both men claimed it so they each got credit for a half a kill. VMF-214 shot down about 96 planes and destroyed many more on the ground. Combat tours lasted about six or seven weeks. During that time 11 pilots were lost. During the squadron's second combat tour Boyington [Annotators Note: Major Gregory Boyington, affectionately referred to as Pappy] was shot down and captured while trying to break the record for the number of kills. After that VMF-214 was disbanded. Later on, Stan Bailey got the squadron back together and flew from the Franklin [Annotators Note: USS Franklin (CV-13)]. The squadron was in the air when the Franklin was hit by a kamikaze. In December of 1943 Bourgeois finished his three combat tours and returned to the United States. He was assigned as an instructor to the naval air station at Green Cove Springs, Florida training pilots to fly Corsairs [Annotators Note: Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft]. After his tour as an instructor was up he was sent to a Marine Corps officer's school to learn how to fight on the ground. It was interesting but not what he wanted to do. Bourgeois was then sent to a Marine Air Group at El Toro where he stayed for a couple of years. President Truman cut the budget and the pilots no longer had fuel to fly their four hours a month [Annotators Note: in order to receive flight pay pilots had to fly a minimum of four hours per month]. The pilots got around this by all piling into a DC-3 and flying up to San Francisco. They all got credit even though they were in the back. After El Toro, Bourgeois went to Electronic Officers School at the Memphis Naval Air Station for a year. He thinks that this was the best thing to happen to him as the remainder of his career centered on electronics. In Korea, Bourgeois was an operations officer for VMC-1 for three years trying to destroy North Korean radar sites. After Korea, Bourgeois was sent to another school at Quantico. After this he was assigned to the Marine Corps Development Center. He liked this job. His job there was to test new weapons systems and theories. They would borrow army airplanes to see if they would be good for the Marine Corps. When jets came into being the relief tube was eliminated. A new gadget was created for pilots to relieve themselves. At the twilight of his career Bourgeois, now a Lieutenant Colonel was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps as the director of electronics and in charge of research and development. While serving here his eyes started to go bad. He was grounded and lost his flight pay so he took early retirement. He misses the Marines.

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Henry Bourgeois went to work in the aerospace industry for Singer as a sales engineer. He was then made a planner and finally became director of business planning and development. He enjoyed his job because the company owned many planes and he was allowed to fly them. Bourgeois and his wife bought a farm in the Chesapeake Bay area. After his wife became ill he retired from Singer and became a farmer. He was paid by the Farm Bureau to not grow some things. He did grow grapes that he sold to the wineries. After his wife died he moved back to New Orleans. During the big dogfight while he was with 214 [Annotators Note: Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214), also known as the Black Sheep Squadron], they were escorting a mixture of SBDs [Annotators Note: Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber] and TBFs [Annotators Note: Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber]. They had about 16 or 18 Corsairs [Annotators Note: Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft] and there were a lot of planes from a Marine squadron on Munda. There were also Air Force P-38s [Annotators Note: Lockheed P-38 Lightening fighter aircraft] as high cover. They were jumped by 40 or 50 Zeros [Annotators Note: Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 fighter aircraft, referred to as the Zero or Zeke]. During the fight Boyington [Annotators Note: Major Gregory Boyington, affectionately referred to as Pappy] shot down four or five planes. Bourgeois shot at a lot but did not get any kills. They lost two pilots. The SBDs went after the airbase and the torpedo planes went after the shipping in the harbor. The fight lasted about ten minutes. Bourgeois believes that 14 or 15 enemy planes were shot down for a loss of two pilots. Most of the dive bombers that were shot down had been hit by ground fire. Bourgeois liked Boyington and would fly with him anytime. They took turn flying each other’s wing. In the squadron Boyington decided what everyone would do for missions. On the ground Boyington was not a good administrator. He drank too much. He could find booze when no one else could. After a big dogfight Admiral Halsey sent a case of rye whiskey. Boyington poured it all in a barrel and mixed it with canned juice and invited everyone to drink all they wanted. The next morning Bourgeois was very hung over and had to fly a mission. He spent some time breathing pure oxygen to sober himself up. The mission was a fighter sweep which was successful at first. When things slowed down, Boyington would ask Australian P-40 [Annotators Note: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft] pilots fly in formation and the Corsairs would act like an escort and this would sometimes get the Japanese to come up. There are legends surrounding Boyington. On one occasion Boyington got back to the ferry after it had closed so he dove into the bay and swam to North Island [Annotators Note: Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California].

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[Annotators Note: Henry Bourgeois served in the US Marine Corps as a pilot flying F4U Corsairs with Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214), also referred to as the Black Sheep Squadron.] There were a number of colorful guys in the Black Sheep squadron. One of them was Chris Magee. Magee would wear knee high rubber boots when he flew because he thought he would have to walk through swamps if he was shot down. Magee also carried a rifle when he flew. On one mission the squadron was attacking landing craft. Magee was throwing hand grenades at the enemy. After the war Magee flew with the Israeli Air Force during the Six Day War. Later on Magee robbed a bank and spent about five years in prison. When he got out of prison he wrote poetry that his son ended up publishing in a book titled Son of a Black Sheep. Bill Case was a short guy and had trouble seeing out of the Corsairs. He had to jack the seat up and sometimes he put cushions on the seat. One night Case had a premonition that his seat was up too high. He lowered the seat and on the next mission a Japanese pilot put a round through his cockpit right where his head would have been. Case became an Ace and stayed in the Marine Corps and rose to the rank of colonel. One Marine was a great singer and would organize the guys for singing sessions after dinner. Frank Walton planned to publish the songs. He ended up donating them to the museum in Pensacola [Annotators Note: National Naval Aviation Museum]. Boyington [Annotators Note: Major Gregory Boyington, affectionately referred to as Pappy] was a good pilot and could handle a Corsair. One of Boyington's wingmen, Bob McClurg, who also became an Ace, wrote a book in which he claims he saw oil come out of Boyington's plane and go all over his windshield. McClurg said that he saw Boyington open his canopy, get out of his parachute, stand up and wipe the oil off of his windshield so he could see. Bourgeois does not think it really happened. The squadron was scrambled to intercept some Japanese bombers coming to attack a Marine landing at Munda. The weather was terrible. Bourgeois had an enlisted pilot flying on his wing. The enlisted man had engine trouble and wanted to return to Guadalcanal. Bourgeois tried to follow him but the man was never seen again. Bourgeois then joined up with some Marine dive bombers and followed them to Rennell Island. He had no radio and Rennell was not on his map. He had plenty of fuel but had no idea where he was. When the SBDs [Annotators Note: Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber] all ran out of fuel and ditched in the lagoon he did the same. Bourgeois' Corsair should have floated for a while but it went up on its nose and sank. Bourgeois panicked and when he got out of the cockpit he stepped on his life raft and broke the lanyard that secured it to his waist. He went into the water and tried to inflate his Mae West but it did not inflate. His shoes, pistol, and first aid kit were weighing him down. Some friendly natives came out and brought him to a small lean-to. The next day he was brought to a village where the chief could speak English. The chief asked if he was number one. When Bourgeois replied that he was the chief let him sleep in his hut right next to his daughter. The next morning he was brought to a small island where a pregnant woman was laying on a pad under a tree. Bourgeois pretended to know what to do for the lady. The dive bomber pilots then arrived with a big fish they had caught. That night they were fed a soup and the fish. The soup was made from caterpillars. When the navy showed up a corpsman went to help the woman. They discovered that the navy paid the natives well for every airman they rescued. Bourgeois and the other downed airmen were flown back to Guadalcanal. The following day navy doctors went to the island and delivered the baby. The baby was a boy. When the doctors returned they brought Bourgeois some hand carved wooden devices and was told that the chief had named the baby Boo Ja Wa. Bourgeois still has the items the chief gave him.

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[Annotators Note: Henry Bourgeois served in the US Marine Corps as a pilot flying F4U Corsairs with Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214), also referred to as the Black Sheep Squadron.] Once pilots got used to the Corsair [Annotator's Note: Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft] they were easy to fly. They were maneuverable in the air and were fast but in the initial stages there were a lot of problems. The humidity would moisten the magnetos and when they got up to altitude they would not work. The original plugs would not last more than four hours. The oil used in the guns would congeal and they would not charge so they could not be fired. Another problem was with the peacock tube that controlled the airspeed indicator. If the heater on it was not turned on while on the ground there would be no instruments at altitude. Eventually all of these things were solved and it turned out to be a good airplane. The best thing that happened to the Marines was when the navy decided that they did not want them [Annotators Note: the Corsairs] so they gave them to the Marines. The Marines did super with them. The Corsairs became dive bombers. They would put racks on them. Lindbergh came out as a tech rep for Chance Vought to experiment and see how much weight they could put on a Corsair and it still fly. They thought that 2000 pounds was the limit but Lindbergh got up to 4000 pounds. Before Bourgeois went to Korea he took a Corsair training course where they had to drop the heaviest bomb they could during training to give close air support to the troops on the ground. Bourgeois dropped a 2000 bomb. He could not imagine the plane carrying a 4000 pound bomb but they eventually did. They also put rockets on them. Every time they did this they added more horse power to the engine. During its lifetime they built 17,000 Corsairs [Annotator's Note: in all 12,751 Corsairs were manufactured]. Today there are only about 13 left flying in the world. About two or three years prior to this interview Bourgeois got a call from a man whose hobby is scuba diving on wrecks. The man had gone out to Rennell and found Bourgeois' Corsair on the bottom of the lagoon on its wheels and two SBDs [Annotator's Note: Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers] that went down. The local chief remembered the episode and the guides had no trouble finding the wreck site. There is a Corsair in Lake Michigan. It is one of the first models. Some of the Black Sheep [Annotators Note: members of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214)] started to raise some money for a museum to raise the plane from the lake. They raised about 20,000 to 30,000 dollars. It was figured that it would cost about 100,000 dollars to get it up. The navy would not let them do it. The navy museum in Pensacola is planning to raise a Dauntless, an Avenger [Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bomber], that Corsair, and a Wildcat [Annotator's Note: Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft] from Lake Michigan. Most of the planes at the bottom of Lake Michigan are in good shape since they are in very cold fresh water. The only problems with the planes are the wheels and the seals on the planes.

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