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Swede Vejtasa's view of the TBD Devastator

Vejtasa's arrival at Pearl Harbor

Swede Vejtasa - 3, Imperial Japanese Navy - 0

The water was red with blood

Vejtasa downs 7 enemy planes during the Battle of Santa Cruz


Vejtasa and the interviewer are getting acquainted and set out how the interview will be conducted. The interviewer tells Vejtasa why he wants to talk to him. Many of Vejtasa's former shipmates have passed away. Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa was born in Montana. The closest town was about 25 miles away. His father had homesteaded the property. He had had a good job but decided to move out west anyway. Vejtasa's mother and older sister came out after his father had built a home for them. Farming was hard and had to be done with horses. Winters were very bitter. All of Vejtasa's neighbors who had also homesteaded land out there had all disappeared after a few years. Vejtasa didn't blame them. The family moved to another location a few miles away where they remained until 1925. At that time the county was having problems with 1 of their commissioners. Vejtasa's father was the only 1 in the county with a college education and became the county treasurer. The family moved to the county seat in Circle, MT. Vejtasa grew up and went to school there. The only opportunity Vejtasa had to get away was an Army program called the Citizens Military Training Corps or Camp. The CMTC program didn't pay, but room and board and some mileage were provided. The program was run by regular army soldiers. Vejtasa thought the program was great. After the first year Vejtasa was asked to join Company D which was the machine gun company and he did and spent the rest of the program in that company. The training he received was wonderful. After he finished the CMTC, Vejtasa went to the Montana State College for a couple of years. He had an issue with his scholarship so he left and went to the University of Montana. The Dean gave Vejtasa a job. At the University, Vejtasa was impressed with a Marine recruiter and signed up for Navy training. Vejtasa had to take certain courses to qualify. After college he went to Pensacola.Vejtasa would take flights with local companies contracting for the Forest Service. He loved to fly. Flying was a big interest to many people. When the barnstormers would come to town, Vejtasa would go see them and take rides when he could.


All of the barnstormers had on the boots, leather jackets and goggles and all had a bottle of spirits in the back seat. Most of the pilots were WWI veterans and very good pilots.Vejtasa took his basic training in Pensacola in 1938. Of all of his experiences his one year class at Pensacola was invaluable. He still gets up every day and thanks heaven that he was there.There were 5 squadrons in basic training flying "yellow perils" [Annotator's Note: yellow biplane trainers] N3Ns [Annotator's Note: Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Canary ] and N2Ss [Annotator's Note: Boeing N2S Stearman].In Squadron 3, a more advanced course, they were flying planes that had been in the fleet. They learned formation flying, gunnery, and qualified as rear seat gunners.He also flew in Squadron 4 where he learned to fly seaplanes. The class flew long range search missions and did some bombing practice using the Norden bombsight. The training was great.Squadron 5 was fleet type training. They flew the F4B [Annotator's Note: Boeing F4B] and TBD [Annotator's Note: Douglas TBD Devastator]. Vejtasa thought the Devastator was terrible for combat flying because of its poor performance.The F4B was a marvelous machine and performed very well. Vejtasa had an instructor named Gus Whidhelm [Annotator’s Note: US Navy Captain William J. “Gus” Whidhelm]. Vejtasa thought Gus was the best pilot and dogfighter in the whole Navy.One day Vejtasa saw an officer drive up, jump out of the car while it was still moving, jump right into his parachute harness, jump into the cockpit of an F4B, and take off all in 1 fluid motion. It was the 1st time he saw Gus.Vejtasa thought the guy was crazy. He then learned that the pilot was Gus Whidhelm. Whidhelm ended up being Vejtasa's instructor and introduced him to combat dogfighting in the F4B and other aircraft.Vejtasa would ask to be taught extras during training and Whidhelm would take the time to teach him.


Whidhelm ended up as the CO of Scouting 8 aboard the USS Hornet. One day while sitting in the ready room Vejtasa overheard 2 instructors talking about another cadet. The cadet was not shaping up and the instructors were considering dropping the cadet. When the instructors asked Whidhelm's opinion Whidhelm told them to send the cadet to him. They did so and before the end of the next week the cadet was the "Ace of the Base." Whidhelm really trained the young man.Whidhelm was a good instructor. The problem cadet was eventually sent to the fleet and spent over 20 years in the Navy. Vejtasa doesn't recall the man’s name.When Whidhelm was assigned to Scouting 8 the SBD [Annotator's Note: Douglas SBD Dauntless] was brand new and Vejtasa was checking out in them. Whidhelm had never flown an SBD and asked Vejtasa to help him get a couple hours in 1. They got the flight cleared for an hour. Whidhelm told the officer who came to tell him that the plane was ready, that he and Vejtasa would take 2 SBDs on a familiarization and bombing run flight. During the bombing run Whidhelm put 4 bombs in the 20 foot circle and 1 on the bull’s eye.Vejtasa would fly any aircraft he had a chance to. He really enjoyed his time at Pensacola.Vejtasa got orders to Scouting Squadron 5 based aboard the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-10)]. The Yorktown was a new carrier. When Vejtasa went aboard in San Diego they were flying SBC3s [Annotator's Note: Curtiss SBC Helldiver]. Vejtasa qualified on carriers. He flew off of the Yorktown, the Lexington [Annotator's Note: USS Lexington (CV-160)], and the Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga (CV-3)].


Vejtasa thought that the training he received was great. They would train as individuals as well as a group. In Scouting 5 there were some great aviators, one of whom was Bill Birch. Vejtasa had joined the fleet as an Ensign in the US Naval Reserve. The people who had joined the fleet before Vejtasa were just Aviation Cadets. Bill Birch was very experienced and had flown off of the Langley [Annotator's Note: USS Langley (CV-1)] . The fleet was based in San Diego and then moved to Hawaii. In Hawaii they continued to train, but there was a lack of funding for munitions for training. It was known in the squadrons that the US would be going to war with Japan. The squadrons held drills and went over intelligence sheets. The intelligence was terrible and showed that the Japanese had only biplanes. 1 of the pilots in the fighter squadrons' family was in the import/export business and he had been to Japan. The fighter pilot told the group that the intelligence they had been given was a bunch of bull. He had been to Atsugi and tried unsuccessfully to get on the base. He had seen the Japanese planes and they were all monoplanes. Admiral Kimmel had the fleet doing loading drills and alerts. Security was tight to a point that it interfered with training. Vejtasa thinks that Kimmel [Annotator’s Note: US Navy Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel] was doing the best he could. Some of the bombs didn't fit the bomb racks on the SBCs and metal straps had to be made to adapt them. Kimmel kept the carriers out at sea, but there was never enough money for fuel or ammunition to train with. There wasn't even enough money to fully fuel the ships so that they could be run up to full speed. Vejtasa's group went out on maneuvers in November. When they were done they didn't head back to port like they were supposed to. The men were finally notified that they were heading for Panama. There was no fuel available to train en route.None of the families had been informed that the ship was not coming back to Pearl Harbor. The ship docked in Bermuda and the men were allowed 1 message to update their families.


The ship went into the Atlantic. Vejtasa's ship met up with the Ranger, CV-4 [Annotator's Note: USS Ranger (CV-4)]. Orders came to transfer Fighting 5 and Scouting 5 to the Ranger. Vejtasa's group operated from the Ranger until late November [Annotator's Note: November 1941] then went into Norfolk where they turned in their SBCs and drew SBDs. The pilots and gunners were checked out in the SBD. One morning the squadron got a call informing them that the Pearl Harbor attack had taken place. The SBC-3 was a clunker. The SBD was 1 of the finest airplanes for its purpose ever built. It wasn't a powerful machine, but it handled very well. One weakness was that it only had 2 50- calibers firing forward through the prop. The SBD was long range and was a very rugged plane. The split flaps on the SBD allowed you to handle the plane while in a dive. Vejtasa believes that the SBD saved them. On 7 December Vejtasa was notified of the Pearl Harbor attack and ordered to get to his squadron. The squadron was ordered to disperse their planes, but the planes sank in the mud when they got off of the runway. They then made preparations to get underway. At the time the Wasp, CV7 [Annotator's Note: USS Wasp (CV-7)], had just come out. Vejtasa went aboard the Wasp to test the landing gear on the carrier. Vejtasa left his family in the US and went back aboard the Yorktown. When they reported aboard, they discovered boxes on deck that contained parts for a radar. 1 of the warrant officers installed the radar. The Yorktown went through the Panama Canal with a sign on the back reading USS Wasp.


The ship spent a few days in San Diego. When the Yorktown had passed through the Panama Canal, Vejtasa had been standing deck watches. Lieutenant Jock Wilson could handle the ship through any tight spot and was Officer of the Deck during the trip through the Panama Canal. Some sponsons had to be cut off of the ship so it could pass through the canal. They made repairs in San Diego. Yorktown met up with Enterprise and headed for Pearl Harbor. When they got close they group flew into Ewa Field. This was about a month after the attack and everything was a mess. Before Vejtasa's group could take off from Ewa Field they had to sweep the flight line because it was covered with shell casings and bullets. Vejtasa's 1st combat was Makin Island [Annotator's Note: 31 January 1942]. Vejtasa was not nervous at all. Bill Birch was so steady that the pilots in the group gained confidence from him. Vejtasa was Birch's wingman during the first strike on Makin. There was very little anti-aircraft fire and no enemy fighters at Makin. The air group had taken off at night so they could hit Makin in the daylight. Vejtasa's group made their rendezvous with no problems. After this 1st strike Vejtasa knew that combat was going to get much more difficult. He knew that in the future there would be more AA [Annotator’s Note: anti- aircraft fire] and enemy fighters. Birch taught the pilots how to handle the AA. He also taught them to separate a little during their dives down to their targets.Vejtasa's ship [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-5)] had been out for 105 days. They had taken aboard fuel and oil, but no food. At the end of those 105 days they had no food left. They did continue to fly during this time. At the end of the cruise the 1st ship to pull up next to the Yorktown was a New Zealand ship and the only food they had was mutton. Vejtasa was flying an SBD-3. During the cruise they had no replacements for parts or pilots. The SBD was a serviceable and easily repaired at sea.


Vejtasa made several raids prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea [Annotator's Note: 4-8 May 1942]. After Tulagi, they made a number of landings on Guadalcanal. During the 1st raid on Tulagi they came in at 22,000 feet. They could see the targets some of the time; sometimes the targets were clouded over. When they went into their dive they discovered that their windshield and gunsight fogged up. They all had to pull out and come back around. When Vejtasa pulled out and started to come around. His rear seat gunner was French and was yelling, yelling at Vejtasa in French. He was firing at a Japanese seaplane that had targeted them. He heard a clanking from the rear of the plane and figured out what the French gunner meant. The Japanese seaplane got a few hits on Vejtasa's plane with its 7.7s [Annotator's Note: Type 92 7.7 mm machine gun rounds]. Vejtasa went back to his training with Bill Birch. He also gives credit to the SBD. The Japanese seaplane was very maneuverable. Vejtasa and the Japanese pilot fired several "head on" shots at each other. He managed to get behind him and fired a burst. The enemy plane caught fire and began to go down. Vejtasa decided to follow it down but as soon as he went into a dive his windshield and canopy were covered with oil. Vejtasa pulled out of his dive and opened his canopy. He throttled back and saw a number of other planes that had already dropped their bombs and were heading back to the carrier. He tried to clean the oil from his canopy so he could see enough to follow the planes back to the carrier. Vejtasa didn't know how badly his plane was damaged and considered making a water landing or trying to land on Guadalcanal to the right of him. A plane came up under Vejtasa and signaled a heading. The pilot was Bill Birch. Birch had turned over control of the flight to another pilot and stayed with Vejtasa all the way back to the carrier. Vejtasa was able to clean enough oil from his canopy to see the LSO [Annotator's Note: Landing Signal Officer] and land his plane. When he hit the fight deck and taxied forward, his engine froze. He could not have made another pass. He credits the SBD's toughness with getting him back to the ship.Vejtasa was not credited with a confirmed kill for the seaplane and was later told that another pilot got in behind it and finished the enemy plane off. It was Vejtasa's first dog fight and he made it in an SBD. The group made numerous strikes in the area of Tulagi, Florida Island, and San Cristobal on Japanese shipping, bases and aircraft. Vejtasa's group attacked some Japanese transports and sunk them.


Before the Battle of the Coral Sea , Vejtasa's group got some information on the Japanese base at Rabaul and the Japanese task forces heading for Guadalcanal and New Guinea. They also got word on the huge Japanese task force heading for Port Moresby. The torpedo planes in Vejtasa's group couldn't fly above the Owen Stanley Mountains when they attacked Salamaua and Lae [Annotator's Note: New Guinea]. Bill Birch had the TBD torpedo planes fly below him and he took them through a pass in the mountains. Vejtasa believes that men like Bill Birch and Bob Dixon, the Skipper of Scouting 2 on the Lex [Annotator's Note: USS Lexington, CV-2] carried the war for 6 months out in the Pacific. They just knew what to do and how to do it. Both men were great aviators. When the Japanese troop ships headed toward Port Moresby, Vejtasa’s group had been flying all over that morning looking for them. After they returned they received a sighting report from an Army B-25 [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell] stating that they had seen troop ships and a carrier. They took off after the carrier. The ships were out in the open sea. The group consisted of about 90 planes. The dive bombers were at about 22,000 feet and the torpedo planes were below them. They sighted the enemy ships while they were far away. Bill Birch was leading the Yorktown strike group and Bob Dixon was leading the group from the Lexington. Birch was taking everything into consideration before the attack. He had the group go into a dive to pick up speed. There were some enemy fighters up there.The group was deployed at just the right time. Vejtasa followed the leader in. He could see the carrier [Annotator's Note: Imperial Japanese Navy carrier, Shoho] below. He watched the bomb from Bill Birch's plane drop down and hit the Japanese carrier in the middle of the flight deck. Vejtasa followed him down and dropped his bomb. Vejtasa had the staff gunnery officer in his back seat. The officer had wanted to make a combat flight. Bill Birch wasn't happy about it, but let him go. He had Vejtasa take the man. Vejtasa thinks that the man was a brave guy. When he pulled out of his dive there were several enemy fighters. Bill Birch led the group away from them. Vejtasa only saw 1 fighter come in at them. The fighter was out of range but he fired at him anyway. The fighter left the area. Vejtasa looked back at the carrier they had just attacked and there was only smoke. The staff gunnery officer in his back seat claimed that the ship had gone down in 7 minutes. Vejtasa had seen some bombs hit the ship and believes he saw some torpedoes heading for it. The torpedoes they used were notoriously bad.


Vejtasa doesn't know of anyone being lost during the attack. The farther away they got from the scene, the worse the weather got. The entire carrier group was engulfed in the storm front during the return. Vejtasa had done some navigating and knew that the Skipper was a homing pigeon. Everyone tucked in close. Vejtasa looked over at the Skipper and saw him point down. Right below was the carrier. In training they had been taught to find a ship and make timed turns. After Vejtasa landed he tried to get into the ready room but it was locked up. He heard a plane coming in that he thought was in trouble. It turned out to be a Japanese plane trying to land that was followed by another 1. The first thing that came to Vejtasa's mind was that he hoped they didn't strafe the deck. After the Japanese dive bombers passed, a Zero came in. At the last minute before the plane touched down, the enemy pilot gunned his engine and took off. About that time the gunners aboard the ship opened fire. They also fired on friendly planes. Vejtasa believes that the Japanese carriers must have had a homing signal. The radar that the warrant officer had installed picked up the Japanese planes and could see them orbiting 22 miles away, so they believed that was where the Japanese carriers were. Vejtasa's group sunk the Shoho in 7 minutes.When Vejtasa's group took off [Annotator's Note: from USS Yorktown (CV-5)] to attack the Shoho, they took off in bad weather; this prevented the Japanese out searching for them from finding them. On the 5th of the month [Annotator's Note: 5 May 1942] Vejtasa had orders to report to Fighting 10 in San Diego. He was to go aboard the Neosho [Annotator's Note: USS Neosho (AO-23)] and ride her back to Pearl. He and another pilot named Fritz Faulkner weren't happy about that. They shook hands with the other men in the group. Vejtasa's gear was already gone. He was about to get into the boatswain's chair to go over to the Neosho when the Skipper asked him to stay. The Neosho sent his gear back. The Neosho and destroyer Simms [Annotator's Note: USS Simms (DD-409)] were attacked by the same Japanese planes that had come across the carrier that afternoon. The Simms was sunk and the Neosho was badly damaged. The attack is detailed in the book Blue Skies and Blood by Hoyt [Annotator’s Note: Edwin P. Hoyt]. Had Vejtasa gone aboard the Neosho he would have been aboard when it was attacked. He heard about the attack the following day. Vejtasa thinks tha the Japanese carriers must have had a homing beacon or the planes would have never made it back in that bad weather. The Skipper of 1 of the destroyers equipped with radar begged the Admiral asking if he could go after the carriers to attack them, but was told no.


Years later Vejtasa asked Japanese veterans if they had thought about strafing the deck and they said no. Vejtasa would have strafed if he got that close to an enemy carrier. On the day of the Coral Sea battle Vejtasa was assigned to the anti-torpedo plane patrol. He was flying in an SBD. Sam Underhill was one of the pilots with Vejtasa. The Underhills were a prominent family in New York. Sam was a great guy who had graduated from Harvard and was in law school at Yale when he joined the Navy. This was Sam's first combat flight. There was a group of 8 from the Yorktown and 8 from Lexington. After being hit by the enemy fighter before, Vejtasa was on the lookout this day. Vejtasa saw a group of about 9 Zeros come in firing their 20 millimeters and saw them shoot down 4 planes on their 1st pass.Vejtasa turned into 1 then turned back quickly. The enemy pilot turned back into Vejtasa and opened fire. Vejtasa had learned from Bill Birch and Gus Whidhelm not to fly in a straight line. His plane was hit a few times. Vejtasa saw another Zero coming at him. They were doing a scissors move. The Japanese pilots were trying to trap him. Then a 3rd plane came at Vejtasa. It was easier for Vejtasa to counter, but he was having a hard time keeping track of the other 2. Vejtasa opened fire on 1 and saw a burst of smoke and saw the plane go down. When the 2nd plane came at him, Vejtasa got a good shot into it then turned into the 3rd plane. When the 2nd plane passed him, Vejtasa could see fire coming out from under his cowling. It too went down. He started scissoring with the 3rd plane. He was trying to avoid the Japanese plane's 20 millimeter. They were heading right at each other. Vejtasa though they would collide. There was a bit of a collision as the 3rd plane passed his plane sideways then the 3rd plane went down trailing smoke. That was the end of Vejtasa's fight that day.


Vejtasa could see the Lexington on fire but still recovering planes. The Yorktown was also burning but recovering planes. Vejtasa saw the Lexington explode. Vejtasa had shot down 3 Zeros during the battle with an SBD. After the battle he wrote a letter through official channels suggesting that some of the fuel tank space be removed from the SBD and some additional guns added and it would make a good fighter. The Lexington was dead in the water and Vejtasa could see people going over the side. He saw destroyers picking people up, but doesn't think any came aboard his ship. Vejtasa's group launched again on a search mission. Bob Dixon from the Lexington was aboard the Yorktown and went out with them. The search was for the third Japanese carrier.The Lexington was sunk by friendly forces that night. They left the area and headed for Pearl Harbor. They stopped at Tongatabu. Vejtasa went ashore where he talked to the king and queen. The king weighed about 460 pounds and the queen was about 300 and something. The people were very friendly and held a luau for the group who had gone ashore. The island was a British colony and the men had gone ashore to talk to the British. Vejtasa's group was told that the girls were all up on the hill, but were never told where the hill was. The ship [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-5)] finally got back to Pearl. Everyone was ordered off the ship. There were planes to take aboard. Excess gear was thrown overboard. Vejtasa had gone to Fighting 10 and did not take part in the Battle of Midway


Vejtasa had hit the carrier he had made a run on. Fighting 42 was aboard the Yorktown and was commanded by Jimmy Flately [Annotator’s Note: US Navy Vice Admiral James H. Flatley]. He was to gain some experience, then take over Fighting 10.Vejtasa was transferred to Fighting 10. He was sent aboard a transport to San Diego with Jimmy Flately and Fritz Faulkner. Jimmy Flately was the CO of Fighting 10. Flately was a very experienced pilot and skilled tactician. About 6 of the pilots were experienced and the rest were new pilots including guys like Flash Gordon [Annotator's Note: Ace Donald "Flash" Gordon] and Russ Reiserer. Vejtasa was en route to the US when the Battle of Midway took place. Vejtasa does not believe that the SBD pilots got the credit they deserved for their actions during the battle. The Japanese carriers were only hit by a few bombs, but they did enough damage. There were a lot of pilots lost during the battle including some of Vejtasa's former Scouting 5 squadron mates. Some of the pilots ran out of fuel and were lost due to a faulty homing signal. Vejtasa was anxious to fly fighters. He was not afraid of the Japanese Zeros or any of their other planes. Following his training Vejtasa's fighter group went aboard the Enterprise and returned to the war zone. Vejtasa got in some fights in the Solomons, but nothing serious at the time.During the Battle of the Eastern Solomons while the Japanese were trying to reinforce their men on Guadalcanal, Vejtasa's air group hit the transports. Most of the transports were sunk and Vejtasa says that the water was red with blood from the fighting and the sharks that showed up afterwards.


One of the new pilots from Vejtasa's group got lost during the battle. He tried to make it to Guadalcanal but couldn't, so he ditched in the water near an island. He and his back seater tried to swim to the island but kept getting swept farther away from it. The 2 men were in the water for a couple of days when the rear seat gunner disappeared. The pilot passed out and when he woke up he had been rescued by friendly natives. He returned to the squadron but was never able to speak again. Vejtasa's group made a lot of trips to Guadalcanal during the fighting in that area both when he was flying SBDs and when he was with Fighting 10. Colonel Carlson [Annotator's Note: Brigadier General Evans Fordyce Carlson, Marine Corps leader of Carlson's Raiders] and Jimmy Flately were very good friends.Vejtasa met Carlson while the Raiders were training in California. The Raiders landed on Guadalcanal. Every time Vejtasa landed on Guadalcanal, Carlson had a tent for him. Vejtasa felt safe with the Marines around. Even though the Marines on Guadalcanal didn't have much, Vejtasa always had a plate of chow, a bunk with mosquito netting, and men caring for his plane whenever he landed.1 night on Guadalcanal while Vejtasa was still with the SBD squadron, the Japanese were shelling the island. Vejtasa stayed in his bunk because he didn't want to get into the foxhole because of the creatures in it. One of the pilots in his group got mad at the Japanese for the shelling and decided to attack them. He went to Vejtasa and asked him to go along. Vejtasa went to the airstrip with him although the weather was terrible and tried, unsuccessfully, to talk the man out of it. The Marines loaded bombs onto the plane. Vejtasa believes that they were 250 pound bombs. The man took off and he could hear the plane and the gunfire and an explosion. When the man came back he told Vejtasa how he made it; he rolled out and got lucky. In Fighting 10 Vejtasa didn't see much action from Guadalcanal, except for when they wiped us out at Santa Cruz [Annotator's Note: 25-27 October 1942]. On the morning of the 25th, Vejtasa was flying CAP [Annotator's Note: Combat Air Patrol]. The weather was dark and dense. When his flight was up he returned to the ship. The pilot leading Vejtasa's 2nd section crash landed on the carrier and destroyed his plane and 4 others.


Admiral Kinkaid [Annotato's Note: Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid] who had no experince with carriers or aviators, ordered a strike on the Japanese fleet which was far to the north. The strike group all came from the Enterprise and was made up of 8 fighters which Vejtasa was to lead, 14 SBDs and 9 or 10 brand new TBFs. When he went over the map he realized that they would not find the enemy fleet and would not make it back to the carrier. Vejtasa protested, but agreed to go when the Skipper stated that they would do an out-and-in.Vejtasa's group took off. He was flying an old F4F [Annotator's Note: Grumman F4F Wildcat] and it was difficult to balance his map board and read it using a small 1-cell flashlight. When it came time to turn back for the carrier, the flight leader didn't turn. Vejtasa fell back and fired a burst from his guns. The lead pilot turned, but not back toward the carrier. Vejtasa fired another burst and the man turned in the right direction. During the return flight, 1 of Vejtasa's fighters rolled over and headed down. When he got back to where the carrier should be, it wasn't there. Some of the pilots panicked and jettisoned their bombs. Vejtasa's wingman told him that some planes crashed into the water. During Vejtasa's morning flight he noticed that the Enterprise was trailing oil. He thought that was dangerous because a Japanese submarine could follow it and find the fleet. Vejtasa had his fighters pulled in tight and he headed down to water level to look for the oil slick. All of the other planes in the air group followed him as well. Vejtasa found the oil slick and followed it for about 49 miles and found the fleet. Robin Lindsey [Annotator's Note: LSO on the Enterprise, Robin Lindsey], who Vejtasa thinks was a genius, guided him right in. When Vejtasa landed, lights came on and men came rushing out to his plane. When he looked out he saw that one of the other fighters had landed with him! It was the only time that had ever happened. When Vejtasa got to the ready room he saw Ensign Eddie Colson [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. Colson was the pilot who landed next to Vejtasa. Vejtasa hadn't seen Colson, but the 2 came in simultaneously. This was the night before the Battle of Santa Cruz.


On the morning of the battle, Vejtasa was flying CAP. Jimmy Flately and Johnny Leppla were flying escort for the bombers.The mission was a complete mess. The fleet picked up the Japanese planes on radar while they were still a far way out. The group was launched late and Vejtasa's group was taking off while the enemy planes were in view.Vejtasa took off and gained altitude. He led his group, which included Gordon, right in behind the main group of enemy bombers. Vejtasa shot down 2 of them. The 6 50-caliber guns on Vejtasa's fighter just tore the Japanese planes to shreds. The bombers went into their dive. Vejtasa knew it was useless to try to follow them down, especially in the F4 with no maneuverability. Gordon called out another group of planes below them headed for the carrier. Vejtasa dropped down right behind them. Vejtasa has thought about this moment over the years. They had practiced all sorts of runs during training. If the planes are all bunched out, you don't have time to pull off these runs, like in practice.There were 4 planes that Vejtasa could see. He cut back to 4 guns and shot down the plane on the left. He moved over and shot the leader next, followed by the remaining 2 planes.As Vejtasa pulled away, 1 of his fighters flew past at tremendous speed and got 1 of the Japanese planes.Vejtasa saw an enemy torpedo bomber heading right toward the Enterprise. He caught up with the plane and shot it down. He pulled out and saw another torpedo plane heading for the task force. It looked to him like it was heading for some destroyers and cruisers.Vejtasa rolled in behind the enemy plane. He was on his back when he got behind the plane. He fired his remaining rounds into the enemy plane. The plane was on fire and started smoking. Vejtasa considered flying into the tail of the enemy plane and cutting its tail off with his propeller, but by now the fleet was putting up a lot of anti-aircraft fire, so Vejtasa pulled away. He then saw the Japanese plane push over and fly right into the bridge of the destroyer Smith [Annotator’s Note: US Navy destroyer USS Smith, DD-378]. That was the end of the Battle of Santa Cruz.Vejtasa was awarded the 3 Navy Crosses. He got 1 for the Battle of Coral Sea, 1 for the fighting at Salamaua and Lae, and 1 for the sinking of the Shoho and for the Battle of Santa Cruz.Right after the Battle of Santa Cruz, Vejtasa returned to the United States. He was transferred to another squadron. He wanted to be assigned to an activ squadron going into combat, but he was turned down.Admiral Radford [Annotator's Note: Arthur William Radford] and the planners did a great job of assigning pilots. Vejtasa was eventually given an air group and would have returned to combat had the war not ended when it did.

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