by Tom Watts
We were hit in the engine during a rocket run on the Jap airfield on Chichi Jima. Our engine was losing oil so we had to make a water landing. We landed down wind so as to drift away from the island. I released my safety belt when we hit the first wave. This was a mistake as the plane skipped through the air and crashed into another wave. Being loose, I fell forward into some equipment and was in a dazed condition. Lt. Hadley in the turret above me pulled me up through his position, inflated my life jacket and dropped me in the water where I came to. Later on Lt. Hadley received the Navy and Marine Corp Medal for saving my life. Our pilot Jim Moore had the raft out and they both helped me get in. A couple of our planes circled above for awhile but then had to return to the USS Enterprise for fuel. The planes returned later and helped the USS Gregory find us.
The USS Gregory lowered a cargo net for us to climb aboard. I had to be helped aboard due to the severe pain in my back when I raised my arms upward. The Gregory returned to the Iwo Jima area where we were put aboard the USS Hamlin. On the Hamlin they placed a full cast around my torso. My pain was still severe. A few days later another destroyer returned us to the Enterprise. After resting up, I was flying again in March. Years later after the war in Spokane, Washington, x-rays showed the lower vertebra bones in my spinal column had been crushed to much less than normal size. I was lucky not to have been paralyzed.
As you know, the war heated up as we operated closer to Japan. Lots of suicide "Kamikazes". The Enterprise suffered damage from the Japanese planes. The worst damage was from near misses of Japanese suicide planes on April 11, 1945. The damage was repaired at Ulithi and we returned to action. During this period, the carriers USS Franklin and the USS Bunker Hill were severely damaged and had to leave.
On the 14th of May, during a Japanese "Kamikaze" attack, a single Jap plane sneaked in and crashed his plane through the flight deck and under the #1 elevator. The force of his bomb blew the elevator several hundred feet into the and into the ocean. This happened about 7:00am. After a night flight, we were sleeping in a bunkroom alongside the #1 elevator. Our guns woke us up and we were lying flat on the deck with helmets on, but I still go a back full of shrapnel.
The Japanese pilot, Lt. Tomi Zai, put the Enterprise out of action and the ship headed for Pearl Harbor. After a short stay in Pearl Harbor, the Enterprise headed for the U.S. arriving in Bremerton on June 6, 1945. Our squadron went to NAS Sandpoint, Seattle, Washington. I went on leave to my home in Oregon City, Oregon. After leave, I reported to NAS Sandpoint. Here I decided to stay in the Navy for awhile so re-enlisted. The War ended about this time.