Early Life and Joining the Navy

Aviation Training

Being Torpedoed and the Doolittle Raid

Beginning of the Battle of Midway

First Attack of the Battle of Midway

Sinking the Hiryu

End of the Battle of Midway

From Midway to Guadalcanal

Going Home After Guadalcanal

Reflections

Being in a Newsreel

Attack on the Hiryu

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Fred Bergeron was born in Abbeville, Louisiana in January 1923. Custom dictated that the mother would be taken care of by her parents. It was an eight hour drive to Abbeville from the Bergeron's house in Freeport, Texas. Bergeron spent six weeks in Abbeville before going home to Freeport for the first time. He stayed there until the third grade. When his father's sulfur mine shut down they moved to Louisiana to a site between Happy Jack and Buras. The site was an hour or so from New Orleans, towards the mouth of the river. They lived in an old house near the banks of the Mississippi River for a year and a half while the town of Port Sulphur was being built. Bergeron went to school in Buras. The sulfur company built the town. After the town was built, Bergeron moved into the town and went to school there until the seventh grade. Then, another sulfur mine was discovered near Freeport and the family moved back. Bergeron went to high school in Freeport. Bergeron had four siblings. He was the second of the five. His older brother also served in the Navy. Bergeron is the last of his family still living. His older brother, who was two years older than he was, and two friends, decided not to wait for the draft and enlisted in the Navy. Bergeron was working in a grocery store and also wanted to join. His parents initially opposed it but he eventually convinced them. The two brothers joined the Navy together on 10 December 1940. At the time there were only 11 grades in school, which explains why Bergeron was only 17 years old when he graduated. Bergeron was put on a train to San Diego and went through boot camp. The brothers took an exam and both were picked to be radiomen. One friend became an airplane mechanic. Bergeron was later assigned to VB-3 [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3]. The other friend became a yeoman. Bergeron was happy to be a radio man and was also happy that he and his brother would not be separated.

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After graduating from radio school, Fred Bergeron, his older brother and their two friends, were all assigned to Task Force 3. Bergeron went over to North Island around the time that the old biplane dive bombers were being replaced with newer models, the Douglass SBD Dauntless. That is where Bergeron joined the air group [Annotator's Note: Air Group 3]. The Navy put him in the air group after he graduated from radio school. He was assigned to VB-3 [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3]. While there, they trained with the radio and Bergeron got his first plane ride. He rode in an SBD. It was practice for Bergeron as well as for the pilot as they were new planes. After a month, the Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga (CV-3)] went out to sea and the planes had to practice landing on the carrier. Bergeron was quite nervous during these first carrier landings. Then they went on maneuvers west of Honolulu around June 1941 and stayed there until October. When a ship pulled into harbor it was customary for its planes to fly to the airbase ashore then when it left they flew back to the ships. In October they returned to San Diego. Then the Saratoga was sent to the Bremerton Navy Yard for repairs. The had just returned to San Diego when, on 7 December 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Everyone was hurriedly loading the ship. They did not know if they were preparing to leave. As a rear seat gunner, Bergeron was not let in on briefings. Bergeron was practicing while waiting for the Saratoga to return. Liberty was little more than a weekend in town. Bergeron remembers hearing rumors from the other guys that war was imminent. Bergeron remembers flying over the USS Arizona (BB-39) and Battleship Row and seeing the line of ships like sitting ducks. Bergeron returned to Pearl Harbor on 15 December 1941 and was taken aback by the scale of the destruction. While they were still in San Diego the ship was loaded quickly when they heard the news that war was declared. Upon hearing that news, the men returned to the and the ship departed immediately for Pearl Harbor.

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[Annotator's Note: Fred Bergeron served in the Navy as a rear seat gunner in a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber in Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3) aboard the USS Saratoga (CV-3).] As the ship approached Pearl Harbor the planes flew out and landed at Hickam Field, which was an Army airfield. Bergeron saw a line of Army planes all in neat line. Eventually they put revetments in to prevent any easy firing line for enemy planes. When Bergeron heard about the attack, he thought Pearl Harbor had been hit bad but did not realize how bad it really was until he actually saw it. After spending one night at Hickam, Bergeron was moved to Kaneohe Bay which became the squadron's land base when the ship was in harbor. When the ship left harbor, they began cruising around the islands looking for targets. Each of the aircrews flew about four hours a day. Just before dark on 11 January [Annotator's Note: 11 January 1942], Bergeron, his brother and their friends were sitting on the deck when a torpedo fired from a submarine struck the port side of the ship. The ship returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs and the air group flew to Kaneohe Bay. The ship then went back to Bremerton, Washington. The squadron remained at Kaneohe Bay flying around the islands looking for enemy activity. The squadron was told to pack their sea bags as they were going aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6). They were not told that the trip they were taking also included the USS Hornet (CV-8) with Jimmy Doolittle's B-25s [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber] aboard. They pulled out with the rest of Task Force 16. Bergeron could not figure how the B-25s got on the deck. Then they were told that their job was to escort the Hornet on a mission to attack Tokyo. It was really good news. On 18 April 1942, bad weather was hammering the ships while Bergeron watched each of the B-25s take off. Bergeron had taken part in flying scouting missions in a 360 degree circle around the group and had seen fishing boats out in the ocean. He was worried that they might have radios. After seeing the planes off the ship, the task force headed for the Aleutians and then returned to Pearl Harbor to avoid any Japanese counterattack. Bergeron remembers being very happy after hearing the news of the successful attack. The planes did not attack the fishing boats but the ships did. No one was allowed to mention their involvement in the Doolittle Raid.

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In June 1942, Fred Bergeron was told to pack his sea bags. He and the squadron [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3)] were going to join the USS Yorktown (CV-5). Bergeron was aware of the efforts to keep the Yorktown afloat after the damage she had taken during the Battle of the Coral Sea. They left Kaneohe Bay and landed on the Yorktown. They were told that the Japanese were likely to attack Midway. Bergeron does not recall seeing a lot of damage onboard the Yorktown. She seemed to operating normally. On 4 June 1942, Bergeron's squadron took off and headed for the main force that had been located heading toward Midway. Bergeron had been told that the Japanese had bombed Midway and that they were heading back to their ships to refuel and reload. Bergeron's squadron was sent to bomb the ships. Bergeron doesn't remember getting any information about how much damage the Japanese were doing. He just knew they were there. No one was told directly that a battle would take place the next day. There was plenty of excitement on the night of the third. Battles are always scary but Bergeron was more concerned with getting even. Someone had to pay for the damage that had been done [Annotator's Note: Bergeron is referring to the damage done during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941]. At the time he painted all Japanese with the same brush. Later on he realized that the majority of the Japanese were just like him. They were simply serving their country as he was. He always shot back but he was never particularly concerned with killing them. He abandoned his vendetta early on and was simply concerned with doing his job. As a rear seat gunner, Bergeron knew the back cockpit very well. He could tell which direction they were flying in but he had little idea of when they would intercept the ships.

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Fred Bergeron saw three carriers as well as battle ships, cruisers and destroyers spread out over a very wide area. The planes all converged and the decision was made as to which planes would attack which ships. The torpedo planes had taken off first and were at a very low altitude. The torpedo planes were given the order to attack first. Bergeron's squadron [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3)] was assigned to attack an aircraft carrier which turned out to be the Soryu. While getting ready to attack, Bergeron could see the torpedo planes getting knocked out of the sky by Japanese fighter planes. The torpedo planes could not do much damage but they did keep the fighters busy. Bergeron’s plane was the sixth to dive on the Soryu. When his plane began to dive, Bergeron felt a blow to the back of the head. The pilot was spinning the aircraft to avoid flak and to get a better angle for the bomb run. When he was struck, Bergeron thought that he had been hit. He reached behind his head searching for blood but found his pilot's helmet and goggles instead. There was a metal plate separating the two cockpits with only a few inches of open space and Bergeron could not see the pilot. Bergeron feared that the pilot had been hit and that he would have to get the plane out of its dive. As Bergeron readied himself to begin flying the plane he saw that his pilot was unharmed and was lining up for his attack on the Japanese ship. After he dropped his bomb the pilot started fish tailing the airplane in order to avoid the antiaircraft fire coming up from the ship. Once they escaped the firefight, Bergeron received some messages. He took off his helmet and passed it to the pilot so he could hear them. From there they returned to the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-5)] and got into the landing pattern. When Bergeron's plane was second in line, he spotted a torpedo heading towards the ship. The LSO [Annotator's Note: landing signal officer] waved them off and Bergeron's plane diverted instead to the USS Enterprise (CV-6), some 50 miles away while torpedo planes and dive bombers attacked the Yorktown. Bergeron never saw the Yorktown again. It was sunk on 7 June. Bergeron remembers seeing three carriers on fire when his pilot pulled the plane out of its dive. All three carriers had been hit hard and later sank. As they were flying away from the burning Japanese ships they formed up with several other aircraft to return to their ships. Bergeron's plane was not attacked by fighter planes. He did not see his brother at all during the mission but when he landed he was greeted by his brother. They didn't lose any planes in the first attack but they did during the second. That was when the fighters hit them. Bergeron does not recall if he or his brother landed first. The two Bergeron brothers lost everything they had because it was all on the Yorktown, but they were still alive.

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[Annotator's Note: Fred Bergeron served in the Navy as a rear seat gunner on Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers in Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3).] Shortly after they landed on the Enterprise [Annotator's Note: USS Enterprise (CV-6)], after the first attack, they were told that the aircraft carrier Hiryu had not been touched and it was the one that had attacked the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-5)]. Bergeron's plane was ninth in the attack line. The flak was very heavy. By the time Bergeron’s two plane element was to drop their bombs on the Hiryu the carrier was already so heavily damaged that they pulled off and went after another target. Instead they chose to attack a Mogami class battleship. They got one hit and one near miss on the battleship but it did not go down. The Hiryu sank from its damage. After landing, Bergeron went looking for his brother but did not see him aboard the Enterprise. He hoped that they had landed in the water and got picked up by a destroyer. As they were moving to rejoin the rest of the fleet, a plane came within range flashing a signal that it was a friendly. It was his brother's plane, which was flown by Austin Merrill [Annotator's Note: Milford Austin "Bud" Merrill's oral history also available on this website]. The ship turned back into the wind to help the plane land. The plane had been damaged considerably but Merrill managed to land the plane safely. Bergeron remembers that moment very clearly. He remembers the exact spot where the plane stopped. It had almost gone over the side. The plane landed so forcefully that the cable almost didn't stop it. Bergeron's brother had been wounded in the left leg and the right foot but was in great spirits. Bergeron helped him out of the plane and he was sent to the dispensary. Another rear gunner from the squadron was also wounded during the attack and sent to the dispensary. Bergeron bought some supplies for them and went down to visit them. He was surprised to find them both in high spirits and relieved despite being wounded but he chocks it up to just a sense of relief at still being alive.

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The next morning, 5 June [Annotator's Note: 5 June 1942], Fred Bergeron had breakfast then went to his plane. When they were getting ready to take off they took their place on the runway. The pilot was told to rev the plane up but it would not respond. Bergeron had to climb into the cockpit and trip a relay. He had to take off his parachute and walk over to the wing and loosen the butterfly nuts that held the pilot's door shut. After getting into the cockpit he tripped the relay and then climbed back to his position. After going through this exercise the plane still would not rev up high enough for takeoff so the plane was pushed to the side and Bergeron was not able to fly that day. Not much happened on the fifth as the ships were scattering. The next day Bergeron went off on a four hour flight. As his plane was landing he saw another pilot on the flight deck waving a ham sandwich. The pilot's radioman was sick and he offered the sandwich to Bergeron if he agreed to be his radioman for the day. Bergeron agreed and the planes were refueled and they took off. They came across some ships, including the battlecruiser Mikuma. The Mikuma was hit multiple times and was destroyed. As they were flying back to the ship, Bergeron was looking into the sky and saw a Japanese plane flying high above them. The Japanese plane dove to attack and some of the rear seat gunners in the dive bombers opened fire on it until they realized that the Japanese fighter had an American fighter on its tail. Once the Japanese pilot realized he had an enemy fighter on his tail he broke off the attack. The American fighter shot the Japanese plane down. When they returned, they were each debriefed individually. They went to the dispensary for the debriefing and met a young officer there who had a bottle of Old Grand Dad bourbon whiskey and a shot glass. He offered the whiskey to the men and asked all of the rear seat gunners about what they had seen. This was the last day of the Battle of Midway, 6 June 1942. They stayed in the Midway area for about a month before returning to Pearl Harbor aboard the Enterprise [Annotator's Note: USS Enterprise (CV-6)]. The Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga (CV-3)] had been loaded up with plane replacements for Midway and it arrived at Pearl Harbor after delivering the planes. In late July or early August it left harbor with the Bergeron’s aboard it. During the second attack of the first day, Bergeron's plane was not attacked but his brother's was. The pilot of his brother's plane, Austin Merrill [Annotator's Note: Milford Austin "Bud" Merrill's oral history also available on this website], helped Bergeron get his brother out of the cockpit. Merrill was a fine human being and a great pilot. Pilots and rear seat gunners are often very close. Two other planes were shot down that day.

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Fred Bergeron was 19 years old when he took part in the Battle of Midway. He did not really have any idea just how important the battle was but it had a profound impact on him. In some ways Bergeron thinks that it is a good thing that Pearl Harbor was so devastating. It tied the country together in a way that might not have happened if it was not so terrible a disaster. Everyone was doing the best that they could do. Bergeron thinks that it is important that the military has the backing of the country. After Midway they returned to Kaneohe, Hawaii. Another pilot in Bergeron's unit [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3)], Max Leslie [Annotator's Note: later Rear Admiral Maxwell Franklin Leslie], lost his plane during the battle. Bergeron thought that Leslie was one of the rare officers who did not mind befriending the sailors below him. Officers and enlisted men did not usually mix but pilots were generally close with their rear seat gunners. After some time in Pearl Harbor, Bergeron's unit was put aboard the USS Saratoga (CV-3) and shipped out to Guadalcanal. Bergeron and the others were aware of where they were going. They arrived in the harbor off Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942. Bergeron watched the ships bombarding the beach where the Marines would go ashore and saw the Marines loading into their landing crafts. After the shelling stopped, the planes dove down and bombed the few buildings on the island. After they had dropped their bombs they went back to the ship to reload. After the Marines captured Henderson Field, the dive bombers started flying ground strike missions. In September they returned to Pearl Harbor for a decoration ceremony. After the ceremony they returned to the Solomon Islands. In October the Saratoga was hit by a torpedo again. Bergeron was dozing off in the rear cockpit of his plane when the torpedo struck the ship a few feet from Bergeron's location. The ships with the Saratoga started dropping depth charges all around. The ship could still move. They closed off compartments to keep the ship from filling up with water. As the ship was headed to Tonga for some repairs, the planes took off to provide air support until the Saratoga could meet up with the tug that was coming to tow it into port. Bergeron and his pilot were the first to see the tug and Bergeron tried to get a note to the tug by dropping a sandbag onto the deck. His first two attempts landed in the water. After the second failed attempt, Bergeron was told to use a light to signal in Morse code. The message was where the ship had been at a certain time.

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When they were heading to Tonga, Fred Bergeron and the rest of his air group were dropped off in Fiji. They flew some patrols around Fiji for a while then they moved to New Caledonia where they continued to fly patrols for some time. There was a fear that the Japanese would try to open a path to Australia. When the Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga (CV-3)] went to New Caledonia, the pilots flew back aboard and the ship sailed back to the Solomon Islands. Some of the planes from Bergeron’s squadron [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3)], including Bergeron, operated off of Henderson Field. From there, they conducted ground attacks on the adjacent islands. While staying at Henderson Field, Bergeron stayed in a tent. At night the Japanese would get in the trees and fire at the camp to keep the Marines awake. One night, the alarm went off because Washing Machine Charlie [Annotator's Note: Washing Machine Charlie was a name given to Japanese aircraft that performed solitary bombing raids on Henderson Field] was in the area. Bergeron's brother returned to the United States around November 1942 and went on shore patrol there. Later, Bergeron flew back to the Saratoga and they continued operating in the Solomons area. One day when Bergeron was flying a patrol, he returned to the ship to learn that other pilots from his squadron had attacked a Japanese carrier at the same time in another direction. Bergeron returned to the states around March 1943. He attended advanced radio school at Anacostia, Washington DC. While there, Bergeron began suffering nightmares. All the young guys started asking Bergeron questions and he started reliving everything. Bergeron asked to be sent back overseas but he was turned down. His enlistment expired in January 1944. In November 1943, he was given a choice whether to take a position in the United States or be discharged when his enlistment was up. Bergeron was discharged on 31 January and, after working for a short time, entered college on the GI Bill. Bergeron still thinks that it was important that he joined the military as it fundamentally changed his life for the better. It gave him the opportunity to go to college and taught him a lot about people in his four years in the service. He is very grateful for that.

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Fred Bergeron was waiting for a battle like Midway. He was very upset at what had been happening to them. He saw the damage done to Honolulu and knew that if it could happen there it could happen anywhere if they were not stopped. In an outfit like the one Bergeron served in [Annotator's Note: Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3)], the guys got to know each other. Prior to the actions in the Solomon Islands, the Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga (CV-3)] was a hard luck outfit except for the air group. The torpedo planes was a hard luck group but only because of the planes. The people were great. The members of Bergeron's Bombing Squadron 3 were a happy and close knit group. Bergeron believes that the dive bombers aboard the Enterprise [Annotator's Note: USS Enterprise (CV-6)] were much more willing to get publicity while the pilots on the Saratoga would never go out of their way for publicity. Bergeron did not talk about his experiences for a very long time as he felt it was easier just to bury it all. His grandchildren eventually wore down his resistance with constant questions. They would write papers for their high school classes. They started off asking about the depression [Annotator's Note: the Great Depression] and eventually started probing him about the war. After the war, Bergeron remained in contact with a couple of the gunners but has since lost track of them. [Annotator's Note: Bergeron spends some time here going through an address book trying to remember the names of the guys that he had stayed in contact with.]

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There is newsreel footage of an awards ceremony Fred Bergeron was part of that was shown in his home town while he was still overseas. The decorations were awarded by Admiral Halsey [Annotator's Note: Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.] but not much recognition was given to the enlisted men. During the ceremony, a photographer took some photographs of Bergeron and his brother which his parents saw. Bergeron has not seen the full movie but he saw some of it. The photographer pulled Bergeron and his brother aside and took a picture of the two of them. Bergeron's parents did not know where they were and Bergeron felt that they needed to know that their son had been wounded but was in good shape. On his first day in Honolulu he sent a wire to his parents informing them about his brother's injuries. The wire was censored but he managed to convey the gist to them. The video showing the ceremony helped to increase enlistment in Bergeron's small town. Bergeron returned to Hawaii on vacation with his wife after the war. While there, he visited the resting place of the USS Arizona (BB-39). Bergeron never went back to North Island in San Diego after he trained there.

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