Untitled Event

Growing up and joining the navy

Flying combat missions and being shot down

Attack on the Musashi

47 days with geurillas then going home

Early life and meeting his brother on Saipan

Flying an Avenger in combat

Battle of Leyte Gulf

The last months of the war

Postwar life

It was my duty to serve


Robert Freligh was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1921. He moved to Adrian, Michigan where he went to live in an orphanage in 1927. He graduated from high school in 1939 and started college. Between 1940 and 1942 he got two years of college. In February of 1942 he went to Grosse Isle and enlisted in the Naval Air Service. He was sent back to college to finish his second year and was called up. Freligh entered the service in June 1942. Freligh took his preflight training in Iowa City, Iowa then primary flight at Glenview Naval Air Station in Chicago. From there he went down to Corpus Christi, Texas for intermediate and advanced flight training. Freligh graduated and got his wings in Corpus Christi in July of 1943. George Bush had gone through training at the same time and got his wings two weeks before Freligh. Freligh had lost two or three weeks with sinus trouble. From there he was sent to the Miami Naval Air Station for operational training in torpedo bombers where they flew TBDs, SBCs, OS2Us, and anything they could get their hands on. After three months there he went up to Great Lakes where he got carrier qualified by making several landings aboard the USS Wolverine. After a week or two of leave he was sent to Norfolk Naval Air Station where he joined Air Group 13 which was newly forming to go aboard the new carrier USS Franklin, CV13. They did quite a bit of squadron training before going to Norfolk where they met up with their fighter squadron and dive bomber squadron and began operating as an air group. They went on a shakedown cruise to the Gulf of Paria off Trinidad. When the shakedown cruise was completed they got leave for about a week then reported back to Norfolk and took the ship around to San Diego.


[Annotators Note: Robert Freligh served as a TBF and TBM Avenger torpedo bomber pilot in Torpedo Squadron 13, VT13, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Franklin, CV13.]They got out into the Pacific Theater in June and their first combat was on 4 July 1944 hitting targets on Iwo Jima to soften it up for an invasion. In August they covered the Guam invasion then went down to Peleliu to cover that invasion. They eventually ended up in the Philippines in October 1944. Before they went to the Philippines they hit Formosa and Okinawa. The big day in Freligh’s life was 24 October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Two submarines had found the Japanese fleet and they went in as part of the Third Fleet under Halsey. They went in on a torpedo run on the battleship Musashi. They had never seen so much gunfire. They went in with 11 torpedo planes from their squadron and joined in with planes from other squadrons. They were attacking the Musashi all day. Freligh went in on his run. He was flying right wing in a flight of three planes. As they were going in the plane next to him was hit and went down. After Freligh dropped his torpedo he started making evasive maneuvers to try to get away from the gunfire coming from the enemy ships. He had taken a hit and had oil all over the windshield. He knew he could not make it back to the ship so he ditched his plane in the water near an island. When they touched down his crewmen had trouble getting their raft out. His radio operator had also been wounded when the window in the bomb bay door was blown out. Freligh put the wounded man in his raft and he and his gunner then pulled the raft to shore. They did not know if there was a troop of Japanese waiting for them just inland from the beach.


[Annotators Note: Robert Freligh served as a TBF and TBM Avenger torpedo bomber pilot in Torpedo Squadron 13 (VT-13), flying from the aircraft carrier USS Franklin, CV-13. On 24 October 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, he and his crew were shot after attacking the Japanese battleship Musashi and ditched near an island in the Philippines.] They were approached by a native outrigger canoe with two males and a female in it. The natives took them in. Freligh did not know if they were friendly or not. They were taken into their village where they were informed that a Japanese patrol had been through that area shortly before they arrived. They were lucky. One of the natives had worked on a plantation and spoke English so they were able to communicate. Freligh and his two crewmen were soon joined by the crew of a torpedo bomber from the USS Intrepid [Annotators Note: USS Intrepid (CV-11)] that had also been shot down. The six Americans spent the next 47 days with the Filipinos. The villagers got the airmen in touch with the guerilla forces the day after they were shot down. The guerillas were in contact with an American army headquarters unit. The captain of the guerillas had been part of the Filipino constabulary. He was taken into the US Army Signal Corps and sent to Australia where they received training with firearms, other weapons, and radios. They went up in the mountains to monitor all of the Japanese aircraft and shipping that passed through the area and would notify the Americans. When they joined the guerillas they gave them their names and serial numbers which the guerillas sent back to the general headquarters. That information was then passed along to the Franklin. Freligh’s gunner’s name was Sanchez and his radio operator’s name was Plonski [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. Their skipper got the news that they were safe but he was unable to send someone to pick them up because it was too dangerous. There were too many Japanese in the area. In early December [Annotators Note: December 1944] a Marine unit was informed that there were downed American airmen on Leyte. They scheduled a pickup for 9 December but the weather was too bad to fly. The pickup was moved to the next day. Freligh and the others had to walk all the way across Luzon. With the help of the Filipinos they were able to make the rendezvous. After waiting for a while a PBY came in with four Marine F4U Corsairs escorting it. The natives took Freligh and the others out to the PBY which in turn unloaded a lot of supplies into their canoes. They did not have enough boats to carry all of the supplies that the PBY brought them. Freligh and the others were flown back to a seaplane tender and eventually ended up back in California in the middle of December. Freligh went home to Michigan and got there on Christmas Eve. Torpedo Squadron 13 was regrouping in California and Freligh rejoined it. He trained with them from January to August. In August they were in the Hawaiian Islands waiting for a carrier to take them out for more combat but the war ended before that happened. When the war ended they were asked who wanted to get out. Freligh wanted to go back to college so he volunteered to get out.


Robert Freligh’s father died when he was two and a half years old. His mother worked full time as a pharmacist but was not able to take care of all of her children. Since his father had been a mason his mother was able to arrange for Freligh and his brother to move into a mason home which was an orphanage run by the masons. Freligh was attending Adrian College when he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He walked downtown and everyone was talking about it. Before the attack Freligh had a long time buddy who was going to school in the east. Another of their friends had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force was home on leave in October of 1941. Freligh and his friend both wanted to fly so they went to Windsor so they could enlist in the RCAF. They took and passed their physicals then were sent home and told that they would be called up when they were needed. Freligh went back to Adrian College and after the attack on Pearl Harbor he got a letter from the Canadian government thanking them for volunteering but they were no longer able to take enlistments by American citizens. The friend he had gone to Canada with had already begun taking his exams to get into the Army Air Force and asked if Freligh wanted to go with him. Freligh decided that he wanted to get into naval aviation so in February he went to the Naval Air Station in Grosse Ile and signed up. Freligh volunteered because he wanted to learn to fly. He knew that they would all have to go at some point. His brother had enlisted in the Army Air Force but did not make it through flight training so he went into the army and became an intelligence officer. His brother was a captain on Saipan when a pilot from Freligh’s air group was shot down. The pilot saw his name tag and realized that the army officer was Freligh’s brother. When the pilot got back to the ship he told Freligh that his brother was on Saipan. That news made its way all the way up to the admiral. There were two other guys in the air group who had brothers on Saipan. The admiral and the captain set it up to where Freligh flew one plane and the admiral’s aide, a commander, flew another. There were also two correspondents aboard, one from the Daily Mail and the other from the Christian Science Monitor. Freligh flew the two correspondents to Saipan. When they arrived at Aslito Airfield he learned that his brother’s unit was at East Field. Freligh told the commander that his brother was at East Field and the commander told him that he could go pick his brother up and bring him back aboard ship and that he would take care of getting him back to his unit. Freligh flew to East Field. When he walked into the tent where his brother was giving a lecture to fighter pilots his brother almost dropped. Freligh told his brother what was up and his brother got permission to go. They flew back to the ship. His brother stayed for the rest of that day, that night, and into the next day. An aircraft carrier is like a floating city. They could get anything they wanted aboard ship. They had a great time. At about noon the next day Freligh’s brother was summoned to the quarter deck where the admirals gig [Annotators Note a gig is a small boat which ship captains and admirals use as a personal water taxi] was waiting to take him ashore.


Robert Freligh probably decided to join the navy because his brother was in the army and there was most likely some sibling rivalry there. Freligh had always wanted to fly. He was assigned to fly torpedo bombers because that is what the navy needed at the time. The TBF and TBM Avenger had a crew of three. There was a pilot, a gunner, and a radioman. At the time it was the biggest carrier aircraft in use. The flight deck was not that long and some guys ended up going right into the water. Fortunately there were destroyers that shadowed the carriers and would pick up any airmen that went into the water. The Avenger had been specifically designed to be a torpedo plane but it had two .50 caliber machine guns in the wings and they ended up dropping more bombs than torpedoes. Freligh only recalls carrying torpedoes once or twice. They had been trained to drop bombs. The navy has a very good training program. Freligh ran into Japanese aircraft all the time. Where ever they went in they encountered gunfire. They were real bad on Okinawa and Formosa. He does not recall any on Guam and Peleliu. He does not recall much naval air opposition at all. He is glad they went out in mid 1944. When they went in on Guam they had a grid map of the island and knew where everything was. The navy did a great job. There was a guy coordinating the events on the ground with the planes coming in from the sea who had the handle Torchy. Torchy would call them in on targets when necessary. They were stacked up in layers and really plastered the place. One pilot called down to Torchy to let him know that he had a 500 pound bomb stuck in his bomb bay. When he did not get a response he called in again. This time another pilot replied and told him where to put that bomb. They did not hear about the 500 pound bomb again.


Robert Freligh’s crewman Sam Plonski was from the Boston area, and Peter Sanchez from the Chicago area. He always flew with the same crew. They all kept in touch after the war until Plonski and Sanchez passed away. They got together at two or three of the squadron reunions. One of the squadron enlisted men from the Boston area is really good about keeping in contact with everybody. Freligh hears from him at least once a year. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf Freligh did not know he was attacking the Musashi. He thought it was the Yamato because it was a Yamato class battleship. The Musashi had been built in secret and nobody knew the Japanese had it. When Freligh made his attack on the Musashi he was too busy to notice the size of the ship. His torpedo ran straight and true and scored a hit on the ship which was verified by his gunner [Annotators Note: the Avenger Freligh was flying was also hit during the run and he later crash landed near Leyte.] Freligh was awarded the Navy Cross for his attack on the Musashi. During the 47 days Freligh spent with the Filipino guerillas he did not have much to do. They were in the jungle and there was no light after the sun went down. One day they spotted a Japanese ship that had been hit and was grounded. The Japanese had just gotten their troops off when a US Army B-24 made a bombing run on it and scored a beautiful hit on the enemy vessel. Years later they learned that the plane had been a B-24 that had been modified for navy use [Annotators Note: a PB4Y]. All three of the pilots eventually got in touch with each other. After being hit Freligh did not think about bailing out. He thought he stood a better chance if he made a water landing instead. On the Avenger the radio operator is all the way down in the bottom of the plane and there is a hatch for him to go in and out of. The Franklin [Annotators Note: USS Franklin (CV-13)] was hit on 30 October and was forced to return to the Washington area. There his air group got off. Freligh and his group were not aboard for the bad hit the Franklin later took. Air Group 5 was aboard the Franklin in March of 1945 when she went back to the fleet.


[Annotators Note: Robert Freligh served in the navy as a TBM Avenger pilot in Torpedo Squadron 13, VT-13, flying from the USS Franklin (CV-13). During the Battle of Leyte Gulf Freligh carried out a torpedo attack on the Japanese super battleship Musashi. During his run he was hit by antiaircraft fire and was forced to make a water landing off Leyte. He was picked up by Filipino guerillas and spent 47 days with them before returning to his squadron.] Within days of being picked up Robert Freligh was sent back to the United States. The other pilot shot down at the same time he was had also been shot down at Peleliu so they knew what to do and what to expect. The other pilot treated Freligh’s radioman, who had a badly wounded hand, with sulfa powder he had taken out of his raft. A few days later a doctor from one of the villages came and treated the man. That treatment saved the man’s hand. After returning to the United States Freligh returned to VT-13 and began preparing for the next tour. Freligh did not know that the next big event would be the invasion of Japan. He was sure they would have to take Formosa and Okinawa first and work their way there. Freligh recalls a landing he made, possibly on Saipan, where he saw a number of B-24s lining the runway. When he taxied off the flight line instead of going all the way down to the end of the runway he folded his wings and parked his plane between two of the bombers which astonished some of the ground crew standing by the planes. Freligh enjoyed flying the Avenger. During training he flew the TBD Devastator which was a horrible airplane. The Devastator was one of the planes used during the Battle of Midway in June [Annotators Note: June 1942]. They had a ship newspaper that came out every day and that is how he got the news of President Roosevelt’s death. At the time of the German surrender in May of 1945 Freligh was in the United States waiting to return to this outfit. He joined VT-13 in California and deployed with the squadron to Hawaii. Hawaii was the staging area where squadrons waited for their carriers. Freligh was still in Hawaii when the atomic bombs were dropped and when the war ended. They were pleased to hear that news.


When Robert Freligh got out of the navy he went back to school at Albion College in Albion, Michigan. They had to go to chapel three days a week. This was in 1946 and there were quite a few GIs there. One day the minister started talking about how bad it was that the atomic bombs were dropped and five of the GIs went to see the dean about it. The next speaker at chapel made a little joke about it. Freligh left the navy in September of 1945. By that time he was a JG [Annotators Note: lieutenant, junior grade]. After leaving the service Freligh used his GI Bill benefits to return to college. He had also married his fiancé by that time and paid for her to go to school for a year. After leaving the service Freligh planned to return to Adrian College. He had been home for a very short time and had not even had a chance to buy civilian clothes when he was visiting his fiancé and ran into the dean. When he told the dean what field he wanted to go into the dean suggested that he transfer to Albion College. The dean arranged for the transfer and in September 1945 Freligh was back in school. Freligh did not have trouble transitioning back to civilian life but he did have a few nightmares. He endured the nightmares and eventually they went away. He spoke to his wife about his experiences. There were also five pilots from Torpedo Squadron 13 who lived in the Great Lakes area and they would get together with their wives. They would play golf on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday then would have brunch on Sunday and go home on Sunday afternoon. They started doing this in 1959. All of the wives heard the same tales. Freligh’s most memorable experience of World War 2 was being shot down. He had been hit shortly after dropping his torpedo. He released the torpedo then flew right around the ship. There was a lot of fire coming at him. He does not know how far he flew before putting his plane down. They had been briefed by the group intelligence officer on which islands held friendly natives and if they were picked up by natives what they should or should not do. Before going out on that mission they were aware that there were Japanese planes all over the area. When they went into the attack there were several air groups involved. The skipper of Freligh’s squadron selected the Musashi as the target. After going into their attack runs Freligh did not see another plane except those he was with.


Robert Freligh served during the war because he felt it was his duty. He was also 20 years old at the time and thought nothing could stop him. He feels that the same is true for enlistments today. The young men and women who join just want to serve their country. The war changed his life by introducing him to people he could look up to and that there was more than just Adrian, Michigan. It made him grow up a little. The guys serving aboard the aircraft carrier worked very hard. Sometimes they would put in 16 hour days. It was also very dangerous work. When Freligh was not flying he would play acey deucey. They also had lectures about their next invasion or combat. Freligh subscribed to his local paper so when they got mail guys would line up to get it after he read it. The papers got to him a couple weeks or a month after they were printed but it still gave him a way to keep up with what was going on back home. Sometimes the mail would get backed up and he may get 16 papers at one time. President Roosevelt did not like industry but realized that the private sector would have to be involved in order to win the war. The progress made in the United States between 1941 and 1945 is almost unbelievable. The whole country came together. To future generations Freligh says that there is not past or future. It is all about what is happening right now and what they are doing right now to attain their goals. Much of World War I was lost during Freligh's time. He hopes that World War II does not suffer the same fate. Freligh has really enjoyed his life since the war. He likes being on a level with human beings whether they have a lot of gold or not. [Annotators Note: the last minute or two of this segment contains images of the medals and decorations awarded to Robert Freligh during his service including the Navy Cross.]

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 digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org 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.