Published In Advance-Monticellonian
Reprinted with Permission
This is a story about Jack Anderson Gibson, a Southeast Arkansas World War II veteran who served his country superbly, came home and "got on with the rest of his life." However, years later, Gibson had an unusual experience that brought back vividly his experiences in the last days of the war with Japan. Here is his story.
Jack Anderson Gibson was a 21-year-old student at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., when word came of the bombing of Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into WWII.
Gibson had recently completed a Civilian Pilot Training course and passed tests to obtain a private pilot license. That December day he had gone aloft and was told of the morning's events in Hawaii when he landed. Shocked, he spent the next few days by the radio listening to news of the unfolding events.
Outraged, Gibson - like American youths everywhere - decided to enter the military. In his fraternity at that time there were four other young men, friends of Gibson, who were in various stages of preparation toward becoming pilots too.
These five young men decided that the Naval Air Service was the place for them to serve their country. They traveled together to New Orleans in December, 1941, and applied to become naval aviators.
After passing their physicals, the young men were told to expect orders after January 1, 1942, for their first assignment. Orders arrived near the end of January telling the five young airmen to report to the Naval Air Station in New Orleans on February 12, 1942.
Soon Gibson found himself in the Naval Air Service and en route to the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Fla., as a member of Class 4C of 1942 for basic training.
He received his wings on December 15, 1942, and aspired to become a fighter pilot. Gibson's next orders were to report to an air group in Norfolk, Va.
However, while he was on leave, these orders were canceled. Because of his civilian flight training, Gibson was assigned as an instructor in advanced fighter training at Bronson Field near Pensacola.
Gibson's four friends from Mississippi State joined him there, and they spent the next year and a half at Bronson Field training young pilots.
The young men became close friends finally ending up in V.F. 49 together. (Incidentally, the V.F. refers to a fighting squadron, or air group, of planes.)
Finally, in September, 1944, Gibson and his friends received orders to report to the Naval Air Station at Daytona Beach, Fla., to receive additional advanced fighter training themselves in preparation for deployment overseas.
That December, they were transferred to the Naval Air Station near Chicago, Ill., to train in carrier deck landings. Leaving Chicago in early January, 1945, the young pilots reported to the Naval Air Station in San Diego, Calif., and then were assigned to Air Group 49 in Holtville, Calif.
There, all five young men were inducted into the squadron at once. After several flights, Gibson’s friends were assigned to one four-man air group of fighter pilots, and he was assigned to another air group. Soon the squadron was moved to Brown Field near San Diego for a short time before being loaded on a British carrier for transport to Oahu, Hawaii, for further training.
Gibson recalls many pleasant experiences, military and social, during his stay in Hawaii. He enjoyed the islands and their people. However, some of his most memorable experiences were the famous football games that probably caused their early departure from the islands.
Next, the squadron was sent to Guam to join the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto in the Pacific Ocean.
Gibson was involved in several missions on the Pacific Front. The war experiences of Lt. (J. G..) Gibson and V.F. 49 are all a part of the recorded data of the war on the Pacific Front.
Gibson especially recalls the bombing of Japanese carriers and other surface vessels in the Inland Sea near Japan.
One particular battle that stands out in memory is the duel over the Bungo Straits on July 24, 1945. The Bungo Straits are a narrow passageway of water between the two more southerly Japanese islands of Kyushu and Shikoku.
Guam and Okinawa had been taken by American and British forces and the path toward Tokyo lay nearly open before them. The tide of the war had turned and the Allied forces were readying their own "Divine Wind" to attack the Japanese mainland. On that day, July 24, 1945, the Allied bombers had been targeting the seaport harbor city of Kure just south of Hiroshima on the big island of Japan. The planes were going back and forth between Kure, their carriers practically unhindered by Japanese aircraft.
The Japanese air forces were led by a Captain Minoru Genda, mastermind of the raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He was also the commander of a group of Japanese ace pilots known as Genda's Blade because of their previous successes in the war.
The war had been turning toward the Allied forces, however, and the famed squadron of Japanese bombers now consisted of only 21 surviving planes and 21 pilots who were determined to continue fighting regardless of the inevitable conclusion.
With the Americans already bombing Kure that day, the Japanese aircraft took off from their airfield under the leadership of Lt. Takashi Oshibuchi, one of Genda's ace pilots, to attack the Allied fighters. They came up behind the Americans and began firing. The battle began and soon Oshibuchi's plane was hit and he turned to try to leave the fight to return to his base.
Meanwhile eight Hellcat planes and nine Avenger planes had left the USS San Jacinto that morning, meeting up to head down the Bungo Straits and begin another assault on the port of Kure. This was Lt. Gibson's air group. Over their radios, they heard that the fighters ahead had been jumped by Oshibuchi's group and started to their aid.
Gibson noticed two planes coming toward him. and he and his wingman went to investigate. Gibson took out after one plane and his wingman followed the other.
As he neared the enemy plane, Lt. Gibson outmaneuvered it and downed the plane with short bursts of gunfire until it began to smoke, and then rolled and went straight into the water. Gibson then rejoined the other fighter planes to finish the air battle.
On that day, Lt. Gibson had no idea who he had shot down. That knowledge surfaced years down the road.
Lt. Gibson later received a Gold Star for "distinguishing himself by his meritorious acts" while participating in a mission against the Japanese naval base of Kure that July day. As a pilot of a carrier-based fighter plane and acting as section leader in a group of four divisions, Gibson shot down an enemy plane from a group of eight that were attacking the Allied strike group.
As stated earlier, Lt. Gibson participated in a number of other battles and aerial skirmishes. On August 13, 1945, while flying combat air patrol, Gibson shot down another enemy plane that was making an attack on our naval surface forces in the vicinity of Japan. For this, he was awarded another Gold Star.
Lieutenant Gibson remembers vividly another day and another battle above all others. This battle was the one to end WWII.
On August 15, 1945, Gibson and his strike group of eight planes were on a mission to patrol over the Japanese airfields in the North Tokyo Plains area. The Japanese "surrendered" on August 15, but peace was still unsettled at that point in the day.
Suddenly a group of 25 to 30 enemy planes, called Zeroes, from the Japanese 252 Air Group around Tokyo Bay, took to the air and attacked the American fighters.
In the battle that followed, Lt. Gibson shot down two enemy aircraft and damaged two others. Those planes shot down were the last Japanese planes shot down before peace was officially declared. The Navy officially recognized Gibson's feat as downing the last planes on the last day of World War II. Lt. Gibson was awarded another Gold Star, in lieu of a second Distinguished Flying Cross, and a citation denoting this feat.
After the end of the war, Lt. Jack Gibson returned home to his beloved Boydell in Southeast Arkansas to rejoin his family and pursue farming. In 1966, Gibson ran for a senate seat in the Arkansas state legislature. He won and held that seat representing the people of his district and Arkansas as a state senator from 1967 to 1981. Gibson then decided to return to his farm and his quieter life in Southeast Arkansas to spend his golden years.
In early July, 2000, nearly 55 years after the end of WWII, Gibson received a letter that caused his naval career to resurface and provide additional closure to an event from those long-ago war years.
The letter was from a historian, Henry Sakaida of Temple City, Calif. Sakaida introduced himself as the manager of a family wholesale nursery business whose hobby is aviation writing.
Sakaida related that he was writing about the events of July 24 in Bungo Straits for an upcoming novel and wanted clarification from Gibson on some points in his flight report on the incident. Sakaida was hoping that he had found the "right" Jack Gibson.
First, Sakaida wanted to know if Gibson was the one who identified the planes shot down as Japanese "Franks." Secondly, he wanted to know Gibson's impressions as to the experience level of the downed pilot. Sakaida told Gibson that those enemy planes were actually planes known as "Georges" from the elite 343rd Air Group based at Omura and known as Genda's Blade. He stated that the Japanese lost six planes and pilots that day.
In Gibson's response, he remembered vividly that day's events and that he had indeed written the battle report. Gibson further reported that his impression had been that the pilot was experienced and that he had been trying to maneuver close to the water to turn on Gibson.
To prevent that, Gibson had to repeatedly fire bursts of ammunition at him to keep the plane from turning. Gibson was successful in finally getting within range of the enemy to disable the plane, and it went down.
Sakaida's reply to Gibson named the downed Japanese pilot as Lt. Takashi Oshibuchi of the 701 squadron of the 343rd Air Group. A graduate of the Japanese naval academy, Oshibuchi had been an experienced and respected leader among the Japanese pilots.
Sakaida's theory of Oshibuchi's problem was that a bad engine and a hit in the hydraulics made him lose power, and he could not turn his plane. Oshibuchi's fate was sealed at that point. Sakaida further stated that Oshibuchi was 25 years old and unmarried when he died.
He also shared some facts with Gibson about that last battle on August 15 that he had learned.
Sakaida further asked many questions about Jack Gibson and his life before, during and after the war to be included in a book he was co-authoring. Gibson replied candidly to all of Sakaida's inquiries in further correspondences since Sakaida had assured him that he was researching a book on Japanese aviation history.
Fifty-five years later, some of Gibson¹s WWII exploits resurfaced in his life and memory. In 2003 Henry Sakaida and his co-author, Koji Takaki, published their book, Genda's Blade, Japan's Squadron of Aces 343 Kokutai.
The authors revealed that they had spent years gathering interviews from Japanese and American pilots to piece together this story and tell it from both perspectives. Jack Gibson's comments and memories are included in the book.
Published in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, the book is a 9x12 hardback account of the exploits and the ending of the elite squadron of the Japanese air forces known as Genda's Blade. It contains 208 pages and over 300 exceptional photographs, including ones of Lt. Jack Gibson and Lt. Oshibuchi.
The book is an incredible piece of research into aviation history in the Pacific Theater during the closing months of WWII which would interest both scholars and survivors of the War in the Pacific.
I¹d like to thank Jack Gibson for sharing his memories, his letters and his book with me for this salute to Veteran¹s Day and the veterans of WWII, often called "The Greatest Generation."