75 years ago…

Philip McCutchen, December, 1941, Age 18
Philip McCutchen, 1941, Age 17.

December 7, 1941.

The young man who turned 17 in April of 1941 had joined the Navy while still a Junior in High School. He was now gathered with his shipmates aboard the brand-new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, to hear some kind of special announcement.

The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor!

There was a whirlwind of emotions in the young man. Anger, curiosity, fear. What did all of this mean? Europe was already engulfed in war, and every day there were news reports of Japanese hostile actions in the Pacific. Within days, as news of the death and devastation in Pearl Harbor grew in detail and depth, and formal war was declared, he found out.

The Hornet was done with its training now, and had its first mission. One that would make a statement of U.S. resolve against an enemy far, far away.

By the time the Hornet arrived in California in March of 1942, the young man was well-settled in to the routine of sea duty. He had been trained to work on the warplanes the ship carried, and had also proven adept at managing parts and supplies. During the near-constant battle station drills, he manned one of the ships’ five-inch guns as a pointer.

Imagine his surprise, as well as that of the rest of the crew, as they watched 16 B-25 bombers loaded aboard the flight deck on the first of April. No one would say why. Only that secrecy was tantamount. But the Doolittle Raid of Tokyo by those bombers on April 18th was a morale-boosting success. But it was not without its consequences, as the Japanese took out their anger and frustration over the attack on the Chinese, some of whom helped the men of the raiding bombers when they landed, crashed, or bailed-out.

More critical and desperate battles came in the months that followed. The young man had to grow up fast. The battles of Midway and the Solomon islands led to the battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942. There the Hornet was attacked ferociously and was eventually sunk. The young man, like the rest of the crew, abandoned the ship to the sea. The last US fleet carrier lost to enemy action during the war, the Hornet had only been commissioned one year and seven days.

The young man, now just 18 years old and without a ship, spent months on the muddy hell-holes of New Caledonia and Guadalcanal, servicing the warplanes flying and fighting from the airfields on those islands. Eventually, as the war turned and victory became assured, he was shipped back to the states for recuperation and training, to Pensacola, Florida. That’s where he would meet the woman who would be my mother, herself a Navy Wave.

The young man grew up. Made the Navy his career. Married and raised a family. Retired. He passed away in 2008.

Thanks for all you did, Dad.