A Terror of the Pacific, Hellcat Pilot Lt. Bill Gorden

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Lt. Bill Gorden in his Navy dress whites. Photo Credit: MAAM

Many of us remember where we were when we heard that the World Trade Center Towers fell in Manhattan. The Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was a similar event for the Americans who came to be known as the Greatest Generation. Bill Gorden was 18 years old when he heard President Roosevelt announce to the nation, that the United States had been attacked for the first time since the War of 1812. Mr. Gorden knew that, being of military age, he had two options; to wait for the draft; or, to enlist in the service. He chose the Navy Air Corps, and was taken into training by the Navy in February of 1942. He was sent to a school in Worcester, Ohio, where he spent six weeks learning basic navy skills such as communicating with ships. He did not receive a uniform until almost three weeks into his training, due to a shortage at the time.

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USS Hancock Photo Credit: MAAM

After Basics school, Mr. Gorden was accepted into training as a Naval aviator and began his flying in the Navy at the controls of Piper Cubs and Aeroncas while he was stationed in Kalamazoo for about four weeks. Following his first taste of flying he was transferred to Iowa where he went through preflight and primary flight school flying Navy Stearmans. Upon completion of this training, he was stationed at NAS Corpus Christi where he flew the North American SNJ, the Navy version of the famous T-6 Texan. While at Corpus Christi, the main focuses were formation flying, communications with flags from the cockpit, and bombing and shooting practice. Mr. Gorden received his instrument training in the SNJ in Beeville, Texas. After completing his training, he received his wings at Corpus Christi, and was ready to take the controls of a frontline fighter. He picked up his F6F Hellcat in Daytona Beach, Florida. Mr. Gorden flew his Hellcat for about three weeks, and practiced the skills necessary to land on an aircraft carrier on land. Shortly after he successfully made his first trap on an aircraft carrier in his Hellcat. With some time off to briefly visit his family in Detroit, he received orders to report to San Diego and was assigned to squadron VF-7.

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An F6F Hellcat on final approach to the USS Hancock CV-19 in 1944 Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Upon shipping out aboard the U.S.S. Hancock, CV-19, and Essex Class Aircraft Carrier, Mr. Gorden spent the last 6 months of the war flying strafing, escort, and bombing missions in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan. The tactic that they used was to pursue Japanese planes and do their best to get home themselves. Mr. Gorden had countless close calls and had hits on his aircraft, but was never shot down during his time in the Pacific Theater. At the conclusion of the war, Mr. Gorden left the Navy, and rejoined and was a part of the Navy Reserves as a “Weekend Warrior” shortly after. In the reserves he flew Hellcats on the weekend for four years where he and his squadron worked on bombing, strafing and formation flying. When Mr. Gorden moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, he was forced to resign from his squadron at the rank of Lieutenant. Shortly after his retirement, The United States became embroiled in Korea. He had a family to raise but he seriously considered signing up again before his squadron, VF-7 shipped out to Korea. Mr. Gorden has not taken the controls of an aircraft since.

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A Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat from VF-7 making and emergency landing after takeoff from the USS Hancock on July 6, 1944 Photo Credit: crash-aerien.news

Mr. Gorden is one of the finest examples of the Greatest Generation, who answered his country’s call in one of its greatest times of need. He fought against the Japanese during their most vicious point in the War as they were being pushed back to mainland Japan. Mr. Gorden is a true American hero. Upon questioning him about whether or not he and his squadron mates knew that they were a part of history , he stated, “you just wanted to keep someone from killing you (and just) think about what you needed to do”. The heroes response…

 

 

Interview and Article By: Thomas Reilly

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