Guardian Angel -- A True Story
Around 1300, we completed our cross-leg and turned inward toward Pearl. Fisler had left the flight deck to stretch his legs and chat with some of the crew. As he passed through the Nav/Radio compartment, he checked with Gimber about our position, then turned and patted me on the back and grinned widely as he said, "Great Tar Heel meal, Warlick." He was a real classy guy!
Just about the time Fisler reached the after-station, Snuffy reported, via the intercom, a "bogey" at 10 o'clock, low on the horizon. Snuffy promptly banked the aircraft in the direction of the target and described the contact as a smoke flare. Fisler quickly made his way back to the cockpit and, within seconds, all seven sets of "Mark Is" were straining ahead to locate the origin of the smoke.
A smoke flare could mean many things. It was standard procedure for a surfaced friendly submarine to send off a flare for identification, thereby preventing attack. Shipwrecked survivors or vessels in distress also used this form of signaling. Whatever the source, we were ready for anything, including the possibility that the flare came from the enemy.
After scrutinizing the area for an indeterminable interval, several crew members simultaneously spotted what appeared to be a crew-size yellow life raft bobbing around in the heavy sea. After marking the spot with tactical smoke Signals, the pilots were able to maneuver close enough to confirm that it was indeed not one but two life rafts, tied together somehow, with an estimated eight to ten unidentified occupants on board. Our initial reaction was that these men were Japanese survivors from the attack on Pearl Harbor, except that after several close passes over the rafts and observing their frantic, yet amicable and receptive-appearing behavior, we began to speculate that they might be friendly forces.
Enemy or friendly forces? If "friendly" is rescue possible? If "enemy" do we want to rescue? The attack on Pearl Harbor had made us all passionate for revenge.
(Come back next Saturday for the continuing drama of Guardian Angel - A True Story.)