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Wild Turkeys from the U.S.S. San Jacinto

by Press Release
May 28, 2015

Holliston resident Charlie Collie, left, hands off the painting of President George H.W. Bush flying his war plane to the United States Navy to Robert Doane, Curator of the Naval War College Museum in Newport, R.I.

Holliston resident Charles Collie has donated to the United States Navy a painting of President George H.W. Bush as a World War II pilot. The painting by noted South Carolina artist James Moody depicts the President flying his Avenger over the Pacific with his wingman during World War II. The hand off was done at the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Charlie who as a field director organized five western Massachusetts counties for the very first winning primary Bush for President campaign in 1980.

President Bush, at age 19, and from Massachusetts. was the youngest pilot in the Navy. He flew 58 missions in his Avenger and was shot down while attacking a radio tower on the island of Chichijima. Bush’s plane was a torpedo bomber. These planes were slower than the Corsairs and Hell Cats and were called “Turkeys” by the air crews and sailors. Mystery at the Museum: Nowhere on the painting does the name Bush appear. The tail number on the future President’s plane was X2. The painting’s plaque reads: Wild Turkey (Avengers) from the U.S.S. San Jacinto, 1944.

What is known about this mission: Chichijima (above present day) is an island 700 miles south of Tokyo, Japan. The island, about 9.5 miles in land area, was one of the most heavily guarded during the war and had a radio tower which the Japanese were using to intercept U.S. military radio transmissions warning Japan and other islands of impending American air strikes. The tower on the island had to be destroyed.

Two years earlier, Lt. Col. James Doolittle has done the impossible by flying 16 B-25’s off the deck of a carrier at sea. The bombers reached Japan bombing Tokyo, it was the first time American planes had attacked mainland Japan. They met little resistance during their bombing run. That mission cast doubts on Japan’s ability to defend their home islands. Still, the war raged on.

 On September 2nd, 1944, a group of four Avengers, including Bush conducted their daytime raid. Chichijima was a tough place to fly into. It had gun emplacements hidden in the mountain areas. Getting past them was risky at best. The day before, Bush and two crewmen had flown into the island and destroyed one of the enemy gun emplacements.


                                            (Bush with two crewmen on Deck)

During the war, the young pilots and airmen on the ships were eager to get into the fight and before a mission, they would argue like a bunch of young kids about whose turn it was to go on the next strike. There was a great feeling of camaraderie about the men, but also twinges of fear. Lt. Bush usually flew missions with a guy named Leo W. Nadeau, who was an ordnance man and Bush’s gunner. It was close quarters in the back of the Avenger, so close that the gunner couldn’t wear his parachute and had to hang it on the bulkhead of the plane. If trouble developed during a mission, they had to quickly buckle it on. It was a procedure they constantly practiced. During this particular mission, Nadeau was replaced by Lieutenant William White, an intelligence officer who wanted to see the island. Also on the mission was Radioman John Delaney.

 As soon as the Avengers were over the island, they met heavy anti-aircraft resistance from the Japanese batteries. When they reached the target, Bush felt the plane lift up after it was hit by heavy puffs of black flack. Bush continued his dive at the radio tower as he was trained to do and dropped four 500 pound bombs onto the tower causing heavy damage. Lieutenant Bush then began the egress away and out to the sea. By then, the cockpit was filling with thick black smoke. He banked the Avenger trying to give his crew more time to exit the plane. Bush and one other crewman wiggled from the plane and parachuted from 1,500 feet. The other crewman’s parachute failed to open properly and he fell helplessly to his death. No one knew if it was White or Delaney who made it out of the plane. Bush landed in the water dangerously close to the shore. At this point, the Japanese soldiers on the island had seen Bush crash and sent a small boat out to capture him. The pilot of another Avenger spotted this, flew by, and put a stop to it.

Also in the area at the time was an American submarine, the U.S.S. Finback. This late in the war, there were few targets left so the Finback’s main task was to act as a life guard and pick up aviators. A few hours after Bush sent his distress call, the sub’s captain, Robert Williams Jr. spotted Bush about seven miles off of Chichijima. With several bombers still circling over the sub, they worried little about a day time rescue of Bush. Bush who was in a small life raft spotted the sub surfacing and hoped it was an American ship. After the rescue, Bush spent several weeks on board the Finback helping to rescue other downed pilots. He was also put on 4 hour watches as the sub patrolled a 300 square mile area around the Bonin Islands. The future President said he never forgot the beauty of the Pacific during his 4 hour lookouts. Right, U.S.S. Finback being christened.

 During his time on the Finback, Bush witnessed the sub sinking two enemy freighters which were bringing supplies into Iwo Jima. The U.S.S. Finback which ironically enough was built in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire shipyard has received 13 battle stars and sank 59,383 tons of enemy shipping. One of the men on the sub, Tom Keene, who went on to become an architect said he knew that Bush would be successful at whatever he tried. Bush was considered a good wingman and had a lot of friends among the enlisted men. After the sub discharged their five passengers at Midway, Bush made it back to his ship deeply concerned about what had happened to his crew. When he got back to the U.S.S. San Jacinto there were few people as happy to see Bush as his gunner, Ordnance man Second Class Leo Nadeau. Nadeau who is now a building contractor in Ramona, California said he felt badly about Delaney and White. He felt that had he been there, Delaney and he would have made it out alive.

 During the war, the island of Chichijima was never taken by American forces. After the American victory on September 2nd, 1945, 25,000 Japanese soldiers on the island surrendered. The painting of President Bush and his war plane will be housed in the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, the home of the Navy’s Blue Angels.


                                        (Blue Angels flying in formation)

Charles Collie is a former reporter for a CBS television station in Ohio. Charlie and his family moved to Holliston in 1995. He is semi-retired and still enjoys writing about politics and current events.

 

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Comments (5)

Nice job, Charlie. Always enjoy your articles.

- Richard T. | 5/31/15 4:10 PM

Charlie Collie is my uncle and I enjoy his stories - not only reading them online, but when I see him in person. Maybe if Jeb Bush wins the White House, he can make up for Bush 41 not giving Charlie a job! Looking forward to the next article.

- Jay Collie | 5/29/15 12:04 PM

Charlie. Well done. As usual.

- George Cronin | 5/28/15 1:36 PM

Nicely written, Charlie. Thanks for the history lesson.

- Steve Bradford | 5/28/15 8:12 AM

Charlie, your article was like looking at a movie, very exciting read and very informative. How wonderful that you would share your beautiful painting for all to enjoy. Thanks once again.

- mary pach | 5/28/15 7:13 AM

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