Seymour “Si” Marshall – Pensacola, Florida
Navy Grumman TBF Pilot
Si Marshall had just finished his first year at Wright College in Chicago when he signed up for the Navy’s V-5 program in June 1942. His first flight training was with the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPT) at the University of Chicago’s Hammond, Indiana facility before the Navy called him to active duty in the fall.
The Navy sent him to primary flight training at NAS Olathe, Kansas where he flew N3N’s and N2S Stearmans. His next stop was NAS Corpus Christi, Texas where he received his wings on 16 August 1943. After carrier qualification in the Grumman TBF “Avenger” at NAS Glenview, Illinois, he was sent to San Diego, California for assignment to an operational squadron.
His first squadron was VC-85, which began training at NAS Sand Point, Washington. This was across the river from what Si later learned was the plant that manufactured the atomic bombs that ultimately forced the Japanese to surrender.
After VC-85 completed training, the squadron was assigned to the “Jeep” carrier U.S.S. Lunga Point (CVE-94). Together with three other jeep carriers, the Lunga Point performed search and protection missions for Task Force 33. The jeep carriers were later detached from TF-33 and sent to the Sulu Sea, which is between the main and southern Philippine islands. The narrow Sulu Sea limited the carriers’ ability to maneuver, which made them vulnerable to kamikaze attacks.
In late December 1944, the Lunga Point sailed to Lingayen Gulf to support the 6th Army’s landing on Luzon. She survived 14 enemy attacks during the voyage and her gunners shot down a Japanese plane. On 6 January 1945 she began 11 days of providing close air support, during which the Lunga Point’s planes averaged 41 sorties per day. On 17 January the Jeep carriers were withdrawn and they returned to Ulithi atoll to prepare for the invasion of Iwo Jima.
Late January and early February were devoted to preparing for the invasion of Iwo Jima. On 16 February the Lunga Point was off the beach at Iwo Jima to support the advanced Marine amphibious force. By 21 February, Japanese planes were attacking in strength, sinking the aircraft carrier Bismark Sea and damaging the Saratoga.
Si remembers flying his TBF back to the Lunga Point after a patrol and seeing smoke from the Saratoga as the damaged carrier steamed backward trying to avoid attacking kamikazes. He stayed clear of the area to avoid being mistaken for a Japanese plane, finally landing on the Lunga Point shortly before dark with less than five gallons of fuel.
Shortly after Si went below to the ready room, he felt the ship shudder. A kamikaze had hit the Lunga Point’s bridge before crashing onto the flight deck and exploding. Gasoline from the kamikaze fed a fire on the flight deck, but it was quickly extinguished by the damage control party.
During the attacks the Lunga Point shot down three Nakajima B6N “Jills” while suffering only minor damage. The Lunga Point returned to Ulithi on 8 March after sufficient land-based planes were positioned on Iwo Jima.
After being re-provisioned at Ulithi, the Lunga Point began operations in support of the invasion of Okinawa. This was followed in early July by operations west of Okinawa and an anti-shipping sweep along the coast of China. These assignments ended in early August, and the Lunga Point had returned to Buckner Bay, Okinawa by the time of the Japanese surrender
Si remained in the Navy after the war. He went to LSO (Landing Signal Officer) training and all-weather school at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. After the Korean War began, his next fleet assignment was aboard the U.S.S. Antietam (CV-36) flying the Douglas AD Skyraider with VA-728. He was the squadron’s operations officer and by 22 December 1951 had flown more than twenty missions since the Antietam arrived off the coast of Korea.
On 22 December 1951, the squadron’s mission was destruction of the intersection of an east-west and a north-south railroad line. He led the flight into the area at an altitude of 8,000 feet. As the flight approached the target, Si dove to 4,000 feet and released a 1,000 pound bomb. Immediately after he released the bomb a 37mm anti-aircraft round hit the engine’s oil cooler and the engine compartment erupted in flames and smoke. The smoke was so thick he couldn’t see or breathe, so he quickly joined Switlik Parachute Company’s exclusive Caterpillar Club by bailing out of the burning Skyraider over North Korea.
Recognizing that it’s generally not a good idea to bail out near an area you’ve just bombed, he quickly hid his parachute and took cover. Four of the Skyraiders from his flight were joined by two Corsairs, and the six airplanes protected him from enemy troops for the longest hour of his life while he waited for arrival of a rescue helicopter. He lit a flare as the helicopter came into view and was picked up without further injury.
Following a short hospital stay, he flew several more combat missions before the Antietam returned to the United States. Back in the U.S., he was sent to NAS Pensacola for training as an instrument instructor. Following a tour in the training command he was sent to helicopter training, followed by assignment to HU-1 at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Si retired from the Navy after his tour in New Jersey, and he and his wife returned to Pensacola. He joined S.S. Steele Homebuilders, eventually becoming District Manager and Senior Vice-President before retiring in 1988. Active in the community, Si served as a board member and president of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, as well as president and King of the Crewe of Lafitte.