WWII Buff’s Guide to NNAM
Thought it lasted only six years, World War II was sweeping in scope, and nearly 75 years after it ended, it remains a subject of great interest. Here are the Top 5 things every World War II buff should see at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
1. Keeping Score – If you want to appreciate the intense combat that occurred in the Pacific, take a look at the USS Hornet (CV 12) scoreboard, with its rows of Japanese battle flags, each representing an enemy aircraft shot down, and silhouettes of warships of all shapes and sizes sent to the bottom by the carrier’s planes. This one was located on the ship’s hangar deck, which in July 1969, welcomed President Richard Nixon (a World War II Navy veteran) as he greeted the Apollo 11 astronauts upon their return from their historic mission to the Moon.
2. Battle Weary – Surprising to many people is the fact that while thousands of aircraft were produced during World War II, very few that participated in actual combat survived. A rare exception is the Museum’s SBD-2 Dauntless, which survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, launched from the deck of the carrier Lexington (CV 2) to attack enemy shipping in New Guinea on March 10, 1942, and participated in the landmark Battle of Midway in June 1942, during which enemy bullets holed it in over 200 places. Each irregularly shaped piece of metal still visible on its fuselage today represents a patch covering one of those bullet holes.
3. Rarefied Air – The largest airplane displayed inside the Museum carried its share of stars. With a plush interior, at least by World War II standards, the PB2Y-5R Coronado served as a flag transport flying admirals and generals around the Pacific. Its most famous flight occurred when it transported Rear Admiral Forrest P. Sherman and the staff of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz from Guam to Japan, the towering hull of the flying boat splashing into Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, for the signing of surrender documents that ended World War II.
4. Survival at Sea – The weathered life raft looks awfully small to hold three grow men, but it helped keep the crew of a TBD-1 Devastator torpedo-bomber alive after they had to make a forced landing in the Pacific Ocean while on patrol from the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CV 6) in January 1942. When the raft washed ashore in the Danger Islands about 450 miles from where the plane ditched, Robert Dixon, Gene Aldrich, and Tony Pastula had been at sea for 34 days, each one tallied in pencil on the raft’s hull, marks which are still visible today.
5. History’s Mystery – The L-8 control car was once suspended beneath the envelope of an airship that contributed to one of the most daring missions of World War II. It delivered vital aircraft parts to the aircraft carrier Hornet (CV 8) shortly after she departed California carrying the Doolittle Raiders for the first American air attack on Japan after Pearl Harbor. Yet, it was for an infamous flight that the L-8 is most remembered. On August 16, 1942, hours after launching on a patrol, it crashed in Daly City, California, where startled civilians on the ground found no trace of the crew on board. What happened to them remains a mystery.