Veterans

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

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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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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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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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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

Bill Fili- B-24 Engineer/ Top Turret Gunner, Ploesti Raid, POW

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Crew of the B-24 Liberator “Destiny Deb”, Mr. Fili is second from the right, ront row.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Bill Fili at the Reading Airshow in Reading, Pennsylvania. Mr. Fili was a Sergeant in the Army Air Corp in the Second World War. Like many other young men of his time before political correctness, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in late 1941, he wanted to go and “Slap a yellow Jap!” Mr. Fili was trained by the Army Air Corp to be a top turret gunner and an engineer of the new and mighty B-24 Liberator. His training took him to from places such as Florida and Brazil. After his training was completed he shipped out for Tunisia. In southern Italy an airfield was captured by Allied powers for B-24’s to fly out of. Mr. Fili and his fellow crew members flew in a B-24D Liberator which they affectionately named “Destiny Deb”. Mr. Fili was a member of the 15 AF, 450th Bomb Group. In all he flew 34 missions over Germany and other parts of Europe, which as he said “were all close calls”. As Mr. Fili stated, “1/3 of all casualties in Europe were in the Army Air Corps.” Mr. Fili’s B-24 “Destiny Deb” went out on its last mission on April 24, 1944 on a mission over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. Forced to bail out over Romania he was captured by the Germans who were waiting for him on the ground and was put in to a POW camp.
wbwbillfiliwwiiMr. Fili during WWII.

At the POW camp in Romania where Mr. Fili was being held there were many unsuccessful escape attempts. Prisoners tried to move from building to building. Some of Mr. Fili’s friends escaped, but said that the attempts were unsuccessful because those that did escape were recaptured because “they did everything we told them not to do”. Also, the Romanian people could tell Americans apart from the crowd by “the walk” that they had. A tunnel which had been dug by the prisoners was discovered by the Germans and was sealed off. Not long after all German soldiers were ordered to pull out of Romania. Mr. Fili felt “euphoria” at this news. The Germans refused to leave, because they were not properly prepared. They attempted to kill all of the POW’s, this lasted for 3 days. At the end of the 3 days none of the POW’s were killed. When it ended, all of the captured American POW’s were to be rescued.
Mr. Fili and his fellow POW’s received word from the 15 AF HQ that they were free and were to be rescued. Mr. Fili and the other former POW’s were located 400 miles behind the German lines. In order to rescue them, the bomb bays of B-17 Flying Fortresses were boarded up and used as transport planes. The B-17’s landed in a grass field near the airmen’s location. The B-17’s never shut their engines down. They carried 20 men per bomber. They evacuated 1120 British and American POWs over a two day period with zero causalities.
Once Mr. Fili was evacuated he and the other men he was with were sent back to bases in Italy then shipped back to the United States as fast as possible. Once back in the United States, because of his combat experience Mr. Fili became an instructor, until the end of the war. Like many who serve in the military Mr. Fili struggled while he was trying to rejoin civilian life, but eventually learned to cope.
Mr. Fili is a great guy, with amazing stories to tell. He is set on the education of the younger generations about what he and men like him did when the when duty and their country called to them. If you ever have the opportunity to meet and talk to Mr. Fili do not pass it up, it is a once in a life time experience to hear from one of America’s heroes.

wbwbillfili(current)Mr. Fili in present day, wearing his flight jacket and telling his story.

 

Image Credits: Mid Atlantic Air Musuem

http://www.maam.org/wwii/ww2_guests.htm

Comments

  1. I have known Bill for some 15+yrs now as well as had the opportunity to fly with Bill in a rented cessna 182 one particular Sunday a few yrs back. What an experience! To see him fly, and know he was in that liberator “Destiney Deb” , being shot down, p.o.w survivor, What can I say. He is history!
    I would definitly advise you to purchase his book and read it. You will feel that your right there! If you ever get the opportunity to speak with him, ask him anything and just listen. Bill lived History! He gave his life for this country, and he’s still fighting. Something we are missing today in America.

  2. Thanks Bill, for all you have done for the rest of us. God Bless…

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