Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Segment 6

Segment 7

Segment 8

Escorting the Doolittle Raid

Spotting the Japanese Fleet


Hopkins grew up on a small farm in Georgia. It was a tenant farm. Hopkins father was farming a piece of property that his mother owned on a tenant basis. They were very poor. Hopkins did not know it at the time because everyone else was poor. Hopkins finished high school and was able to go to Berry College in Rome, Georgia. Hopkins was able to pay for college by participating in what amounted to be a work-study program. Hopkins estimates that for his 4 years at Berry College, he may have only spent 200 dollars on his college education. Hopkins graduated with a Bachelor's in Science in Chemistry. Hopkins ended up doing nothing with his Chemistry degree. His sophomore year he had an Organic Chemistry professor who stimulated his' interest in Chemistry. After Hopkins got out of school he went to Atlanta and did not get into the Chemical business; Hopkins got a job with Sears Roebuck [Annotator's Note: Sears, Roebuck, &Cmopany] for the catalog and distribution business. Hopkins' job was to write letters to people who were not paying their bills. Most letters were similar but they were tough. After Hopkins had been with them for a while, Hopkins got a job with Royal Typewriter as a junior salesman. The junior salesman were the gophers for the senior salesman. Hopkins recalls hearing about the New York World's Fair which was in the spring of 1940. Hopkins wanted to go but he did not have enough money. Hopkins read in the Atlanta Constitution that a Reserve Naval Guard unit was going to be taking a 2 week cruise to New York. The lightbulb went off in Hopkins' head. He joined the Naval Reserve in order to see the World's Fair in New York. When they got ready to make the roster of people who were going to go on the 2 week cruise, they did not have enough money to pay the train fare from Atlanta to Charleston for everyone. Hopkins effort was shot down. He was told he could pay his own way on the train. Hopkins got on the train and he was able to dodge the conductor all the way up. They got on the USS Edward which was an old 4-stack destroyer. Since Hopkins was junior his job on the ship was peeling potatoes. Hopkins sat on the fantail of the destroyer and peeled potatoes the entire way. Hopkins peeled enough potatoes to help feed 200 men at breakfast, 200 men at lunch, and 200 men at dinner. They got to New York and Hopkins was able to go to the World's Fair. 1 of the neat things he got to do at the fair was see the world's 1st demonstration of television. Hopkins did not have to go to boot camp before his cruise. After the fair, they got on a ship to head back to Charleston. The ship went through numerous maneuvers on its way back. Hopkins was assigned the job of scraping paint off of the side of the ship. Hopkins got back to Atlanta and was living in a boarding house. Hopkins got back his 1st night and got about 4 hours of sleep. He went down in the morning and there was a copy of the Atlanta Constitution on the table. The headline read, "Naval Reserve unit called to active duty." That same afternoon, Hopkins went to the Navy office and asked them what could the Navy offer him besides peeling potatoes and scraping paint. Hopkins had his college education, so they suggested he go to flight training. Hopkins went to flight training in December 1940. Flight training never occured to Hopkins, it was just an alternative to peeling potatoes. Hopkins enjoyed it and was designated a Naval Aviator in September 1941. Hopkins went to Jacksonville, Florida with 1 of the earliest classes. They had 3 training stations: 1 in Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Corpus Christi. Hopkins was at Jacksonville. In September 1941 Hopkins was commissioned in the Naval Reserve. They trained in the N3N [Annotator's Note: Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Canary] and the N2S [Annotator's Note: Boeing-Stearman Model 75], which were training planes. Some are still flying today. Hopkins then flew an SNJ [Annotator's Note: North American T-56 Texan] which was a metal monoplane. The 3rd phase had them flying some of the obsolete fleet planes. Hopkins finished his instrument training at Jacksonville and then he was transferred to Miami, where he trained on the obsolete planes.


Hopkins finished that phase in September 1941. Hopkins was assigned to Bombing Squadron 4 which operated off of the USS Ranger [Annotator's Note: USS Ranger, CV-4] . It was the 1st aircraft built that was not a conversion. Hopkins went to train with the Advanced Carrier Training Group in Norfolk, Virginia. Hopkins was there when news broke about Pearl Harbor. Hopkins and a bunch of guys were then sent to the West Coast. Hopkins was assigned to Bombing Squadron 6, which was based off of the USS Enterprise [annotator's Note: CV-4] . The whole group was not assigned to the West Coast. Hopkins remembers hearing the news about Pearl Harbor being broadcast over the radio. Hopkins got married as soon as he got out of flight training. She lived in Pembroke, North Carolina. Hopkins was with her when they found out about Pearl Harbor. Hopkins got on a merchant ship and headed out to Hawaii. Hopkins' wife stayed in Pembroke. They were college sweethearts. Hopkins arrived at Pearl Harbor in February 1942. The Enterprise at that time was out to sea. Hopkins was temporarily assigned to a training squadron in Hawaii. Hopkins stayed there until April 1942 when the Enterprise came back. Hopkins then went with Bombing Group 6 aboard the Enterprise. Hopkins went through quite a bit of training to include field carrier landings. Hopkins was carrier qualified by the time the Enterprise came back to Pearl Harbor. They had to have 8 carrier landings to be considered carrier qualified. Hopkins joined the Enterprise in early April 1942. The field carrier landings were easy because they did not have to account for motion and other factors involved with landing an aircraft on a moving platform at sea. It was nevertheless good practice. Their skipper in Bombing Squadron 6 was Dick Best. He was 1 of the best leaders that Hopkins ever knew because he spent a lot of time with the men giving them valuable instruction. In early April they left Pearl Harbor on the USS Enterprise. Hopkins will never forget that he headed out of Pearl Harbor on a northwest heading. Hopkins was getting excited because the only place he knew northwest of Pearl Harbor was Japan. Hopkins got very excited because he thought that is where they were going. On the 6th morning, Hopkins went topside to check his plane and he noticed another carrier next to theirs. Hopkins saw the carrier loaded with B-25's. They were Doolittle's 16 B-25's [Annotator's Note: For the Doolittle Raid, the raid on Honshu on 18 April 1942 led by Jimmy Doolittle]. They were then told that they would be escorting the Hornet until it launched the B-25's. The day they launched, Hopkins was on the deck sitting in the cockpit of his SBD [Annotator's Note: Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber]. Hopkins looked out over the port bow and Hopkins saw every 1 of the B-25's launch. After they launched, they launched their planes on scouting flights. Once they launched the ship turned around and went back to Pearl Harbor at full speed. They got back to Pearl Harbor in late April or early May. They were then put back on the ship and sent to the southwest Pacific to join with the Lexington and Yorktown. The Battle of the Coral Sea [Annotator's Note: 4–8 May 1942]took place while they were on their way down. Hopkins was not in the air when the Doolittle Raid was spotted. The picket ship that spotted the Americans was sunk by a cruiser.


They missed the Battle of the Coral Sea. They were told that the Lexington was sunk and the Yorktown was damaged. Hopkins was an Ensign so he was not privy to a lot of the information. They ended up turning back north towards Pearl Harbor and they had their radios taken out of their planes. They knew something was up. They did not want any radio transmissions that would tip off the Japanese. Unbeknownst to them at the time their code had been broken. They got to Midway in late May. At Midway they resupplied and left on the 30th of May and took up position 100 miles north of Midway. Hopkins did fly his planes ashore when they came into port at Pearl Harbor. When the carrier leaves, the planes fly and land on the carrier. They were not told anything, but there was a sense that something was different. Everything was hurried. Guys scrambled to make sure the planes were squared away and that all of the systems aboard the plane were good to go. They were not told until after they left Pearl Harbor that they would be going out to ambush the Japanese Fleet. Before they left Pearl Harbor they knew something was going on. They arrived north of Midway on June 3rd. The Hornet and the Enterprise were out there as well; the Yorktown had to be repaired 1st. The Yorktown was repaired in a very short time. They also reformed some squadrons. The normal Yorktown squadrons were not up to strength, so they were distributed accordingly. The night of June 3rd, there were all types of reconnaisance missions being flown off of Midway. The first specific indication they had the Japanese carriers were in the vicinity came from reports from the scout planes on the Enterprise. That was the very 1st concrete information they had aboard the Enterprise. Hopkins was in the ready room on the morning of June 4th. Hopkins did not have much fear, but he knew he was going to be in the middle of significant operation. Hopkins sat in a chair in the ready room with a plotting board keeping track of all of the information. They were in the ready room from about 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Around 7 o'clock in the morning they felt that they had enough information to put planes in the sky and direct them to the Japanese Fleet. They were told to remain in the ready room until the moment called. When they said, "Man the planes," they left the room and manned the planes. The ready room is usually quiet and everyone is calm. When they said, "Man the planes," everyone sprung into action. Ordnance people checked the planes. Hopkins was flying Baker 12, which was his position in Bombing Squadron 6. Scouting Squadron 6 was the 1st group to take off that morning. Scouting Squadron 6 launched with 500-pound bombs. Bombing Squadron 6 launched with 1,000-pound bombs because they had more runway to take off.


Hopkins was the 33rd plane to take off. It was the 1st time that Hopkins took off carrying a live bomb. After he took off he joined up with the rest of his flight. The concept at the time was that it was going to be a coordinated attack all at 1 time. That means that the whole air group has to be together before they start off. They climbed to 22,000 feet and headed in the direction they thought was right. There were some differences in opinion as to what the direction was. Torpedo Squadron 8 ended up flying exactly the right direction. Bombing Squadron 6 and Scouting Squadron 6 were in 1 formation. They arrived at the point where they expected the Japanese fleet to be at 9:20 in the morning. McClusky was the Lieutenant Commander and he decided to go further without any approval from the ship. At that point Hopkins was keeping a close eye on his fuel gauge. They were almost at the point of no return. McClusky went another 15 minutes and everyone was getting worried about fuel. McClusky turned northeast after the 15 minutes and he saw the Japanese destroyer. They followed the destroyer and approached the Japanese fleet. Hopkins has the image of the Japanese fleet impressed on his mind even to this day. About 15 miles from the fleet they noticed what looked like water bugs. Those were the carriers. In the meantime, 1 of their squadron pilots was having problems with his oxygen tanks. Dick Best dropped down to the man who was struggling. The dive bombers ended up damaging Japanese ships but they did not sink. It takes about 22 seconds for a dive bomber to go from 22,000 feet to 1,500 feet. In that period of time you can see 4 or 5 planes ahead of you in the dive. The training took over and Hopkins was able to roll into the dive. At 2,500 feet the rear gunner called out, "A Zero" [Annotator's Note: Mitsubishi A6M Zero]. Hopkins continued down to 1,500 feet and dropped his bomb. He was in the middle of the Japanese Fleet at that point and then he had to worry about the Zero. Hopkins' squadron got 3 hits. It is not easy hitting a target while dive bombing. The dive bomber's effectiveness was based on pilot skill. The SBD was stable in a dive. Hopkins is convinced that they flew down on the Akagi {Annotator's Note: Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi]. They headed back for the carrier and few guys joined Hopkins as they flew back. About 40 miles out 1 of the guys named Green ran out of gas. Ramsey ran out of gas as they approached the flight. Hopkins was 1 of 5 planes out of Bombing 6 that made it back. Everyone in the ready room wanted to know what happened. All they could say was that they say 3 Japanese carriers burning. The Japanese marvelled at the coordination of the Americans. It all turned out to be luck as well.


The most significant thing to occur during the Battle of Midway that allowed for American victory is up for debate. Hopkins notes that he was at a Midway roundtable and they debated these things. There was a lot of luck involved. It could have very easily turned out the other way. If they had not been successful in finding the carriers, the Japanese would have had the upper hand. Hopkins' rear seat gunner name was Anderson. Anderson spotted that Zero mid-dive. The torpedo planes drew all of the fighter cover down below. When they arrived over the fleet there was no fighter opposition. They only encountered fighters once they got down to the deck. Hopkins could see bomb hits as he was diving. Hopkins saw several bombs that missed. Hopkins could see the decks of the Japanese carriers loaded with planes. The Japanese made 1 crucial mistake; they left their ordnance on the deck of the carriers. Hopkins got back to the carrier, he did not bother to find out how much gas he had left. The needle looked empty. Hopkins plane was essentially undamaged; it flew again in the afternoon. Hopkins did not fly in the afternoon because the Skipper wanted to give the guys who missed out on the action in the morning a chance to prove themselves. For an 18 plane squadron, there would be 25 pilots. Dick Best came back from the afternoon flight coughing up blood. The diagnosis was Tuberculosis and he was immediately discharged. Best had a brilliant career ahead of him. Over the last 15 years prior to Best's death, he was Mr. Midway. Hopkins did not mind flying the 2nd attack that afternoon. He figured it was in the normal realm of things. The other pilots needed opportunities. The afternoon wave came back exuberant because they got the other Japanese carrier. They reached the Japanese carriers at 10:20 a.m. and by 10:26 a.m., 3 of the Japanese carriers were out of commission. At that point in time the Battle of Midway was essentially over. The Japanese could have taken the island of Midway if they wanted to. They had the resources to do so. Hopkins saw the Yorktown as he was coming back to land aboard the Enterprise. Just as he landed on the Enterprise the word came out that the Yorktown was under attack. Hopkins got a good night's sleep on June 4, 1942. They were trained to do it, so it was not a big deal. Hopkins did not know that he was going to be going out the next day. On June 5th there was a lot of indecision as to what had happened and where the Japanese Fleet was. Hopkins did not know anything about it at the time, but there was a lot of discussion regarding the possibility of retreat from around the area. The morning of the 5th was a waiting game. Around mid- afternoon, someone thought that there might be a Japanese carrier out to the northwest. The idea was to launch a search and destroy mission. They had roughly 58 dive bombers at their disposal. They decided to launch everyone on a search and destroy mission.


As they went out, they saw a lone destroyer or possibly a light cruiser. They went to find the carrier but they did not see it. On their way back, 58 dive bombers attempted to sink the lone light destroyer, but all 58 missed. The Japanese did shoot down 1 of those 58 planes. They were coming back to land on the carrier and it was night time. The task force commander decided to turn on the deck lights so the planes could land. Hopkins had never attempted a night landing before. Hopkins made it. It was not that different from a day landing. On the morning of June 6th, Hopkins did not fly that flight. That flight was sent out to intercept 2 Japanese cruisers. 1 of the cruisers was sunk and they decided to call it a day. The Enterprise headed back to Pearl Harbor. The Air Force guys on Pearl Harbor claimed that they won Midway, so it caused a lot of angst among the men. Hopkins was immediately assigned to the carrier, Hornet. He was to report to Scouting Squadron 8 on the Hornet. Even though in relation to other guys he did not have a lot of experience, he had more then the guys on the Hornet. The character and composure between Bombing 6 and Scouting 8 was different. Scouting 8 had a flamboyant commander. After the war, Hopkins went to Harvard Business School, courtesy of the Navy. One morning at their Harvard Business School meeting he met a man named John Wilham. It turned out he was the son of the commander of Scouting 8. Scouting 8 on the Hornet sailed for the southwest Pacific and helped out with operations around the Solomons. The entire task force mulled around in that area; the Japanese submarines figured it out and hit the Saratoga and sunk the Wasp. When there are 2 carriers in a strike force, 1 carrier is designated as the duty carrier. Their job is to launch recon missions and ensure that the air is covered from any attack. The other carrier's planes would be on standby. When the Wasp was torpedoed her planes were in the air. When the planes came back they needed a place to land. They figured that they would launch their planes from the Hornet and land them at Espiritu Santo, allowing the Wasp's planes to land on the Hornet. There were 5 of them in 1 flight going to Espiritu Santo; it was raining and it was night time. They could not land on Espiritu Santo because they were lost. 3 guys decided they would land their plane in the water alongside the beach, while the other 2 guys decided to bail out over the island they were flying over. The 3 that landed on the water deployed their rafts and shot flares into the sky. They rowed up to the beach and there were 10 guys standing there with their hands up. They were French plantation owners. They were happy to know that they were Americans. It was about 10 o'clock at night and they prepared a meal for the American flyers. The French served them a 10-course meal. They figured that PBY's [Annotator's Note: Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat] were going to be looking for them and 3 days later they were rescued by 1. The PBY took them back to Espiritu Santo. They went back aboard ship in a TBM. After a few days back on the ship, Hopkins began to feel bad, not every day but every 2nd or 3rd day he would have chills and fever. The doctor told Hopkins he had contracted malaria and as a result Hopkins was not allowed to fly for the Battle of Santa Cruz [Annotator's Note: The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942]..


Hopkins was aboard the Hornet when they were under attack. It was quite an attack. The first few bombs knocked out the power and the lights. Hopkins was in the ready room at the time. The guys in the ready room decided to go up to the flight deck. There were fires up on the deck. Hopkins was a part of a bucket brigade trying to put out the fire. Ensigns, cooks, non-flight personnel, and everyone else who was available was fighting the fire. Another attack came in and everyone scurried. Hopkins bumped into a guy and he was one of Hopkins' compatriots from his former job with Royal Typewriters. Hopkins got on a destroyer after they ordered abandon ship. The destroyer was loading non-essential personnel. Hopkins was immediately assigned to be a look-out on the destroyer. That night the decision was made to scuttle the Hornet [Annotator's Note: deliberately sink the ship]. The Enterprise decided that they were going to leave the area. The destroyer that Hopkins was on was assigned the responsibility of firing the torpedoes at the Hornet. They fired 5 torpedos, they all missed and 2 of them actually came back around towards them. They were then sent to New Caledonia to be put in a holding pattern. Hopkins then went aboard the Rochambeau, which was a French diesel-powered freighter. The diesel engine was very loud. They landed in San Francisco and went through an evaluation board to find out where they were going to be assigned next. Hopkins was assigned to Cecil Field in Jacksonville training dive bomber pilots. From there, Hopkins was then assigned to a squadron on the West Coast that flew Corsairs. They were now encountering kamikazes. They figured that the Corsair could serve 2 purposes, 1 as a fighter, and the other as a bomber. Hopkins was busy there trying to develop the procedures for the Corsair to be effective as a dive bomber. Hopkins was then reassigned to the Naval Post Graduate School for Aeronautical Engineering. Hopkins got a Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering and flew a desk [Annotator's Note: was given a desk assignment] for the rest of the war and the rest of his career in the Navy. Hopkins retired as a Rear Admiral in 1974. Hopkins had 34 years in the Navy. The Hornet had a different personality than the Enterprise. Hopkins did not know much about the Hornet in terms of the personnel that was on it. From the air group and squadron stand point there were a lot of differences. The air group from the Hornet did not fare well during the Battle of Midway. The Hornet was not a seasoned ship like the Enterprise. Hopkins gives speeches to this day about the Battle of Midway. There were 59 Ensigns who were involved in the operations at Midway. Hopkins does not say that the Ensigns won the battle, but he does say the battle could not have been won without them.


Bombing 6 and Scouting 8 had different ready rooms and different skippers, but the guys interacted with each other. Squadron commanders are not in love with one another. They are competitors trying to attain promotions and notoriety. During WWII, most of those squadrons were being operated and flown by 18-25 year old kids. Hopkins likes to think about what people were doing before the war. The Armed Forces were made up of an eclectic group of people under 25 years old. Hopkins was 22 years old at the Battle of Midway. George H. Bush was 18 or 19 when he was shot down. When Hopkins got out of school and started working he began to wonder what he wanted to do. Hopkins wanted to be a lawyer before the war and had actually started taking night classes. Dick Best, the morning of the battle of Midway, did not give a football-type pep talk. They all had the feeling however that this was a significant and important event [Annotator's Note: Hopkins picks up a book called Shattered Sword, which was the Battle of Midway from the Japanese perspective]. It was a significant event not only as a naval conflict, but in terms of how it shaped world events. It really turned the tide of the Pacific War. It changed the outlook on everything. It ranks highly on the list of important world military conflicts. Hopkins has not thought about the historical importance of the battle until much later in life.

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.