KWAJALEIN ISLAND STRIKE
December 4, 1943
By Walter J. Deptula-Drew, ADC, CAC, USN
The date was 4 December 1943. We were to attack Kwajalein Harbor and
had ten 100-pound bombs in the bomb bay. We were prematurely called to flight
quarters. Pilot LTJG Richard B. Zentmeyer; Radioman Herbert C. (Andy) Anderson;
and myself, Turret Gunner Walter J. Deptula met on the flight deck while
the U.S.S. Essex was going downwind 'blowing it's tubes", whatever that means,
creating a strong smell of sulfur. Zentmeyer had a metal flask filled with
whiskey in the pocket of his flight suit. He asked Andy and I if we would
like a drink. We both said yes, especially since we were advised that Kwajalein
had been reinforced with extra fighter aircraft. After take-off during daylight
hours, we formed into a squadron and headed toward the island.
Above us were the fighter planes flying protective cover -- LTJG Bill
Bonneau of Oakland, California flying aircraft number twenty-three and LTJG
Gene Valencia of Alameda, California flying aircraft number twenty-four.
These two, both now deceased, were the best of friends. Bill Bonneau was
credited with shooting down eight planes and Gene Valencia credited with
twenty-three planes. On the way to the island, a Japanese zero was performing
aerobatics. This was done as a way to entice U.S. fighters to leave their
formations while enemy planes at a higher altitude would swoop down and attack
the dive-bombers and torpedo planes. Although both fighter pilots were itching
to become involved, they wouldn't leave formation.
The Japanese fighter kept performing aerobatics until he made a mistake
and got into the sights of Gene Valencia. Almost without leaving formation,
Gene opened fire and the Japanese plane exploded in a ball of flames.
When we finally reached the island, Zentmeyer called back to us to see
if we were prepared for the dive. I could tell by the way he sounded that
he had been nipping on the flask of whisky he had in his pocket. After we
dove, Andy checked the bomb bay and reported that the bombs did not drop.
Apparently, Zentmeyer did not throw the proper switches. Zentmeyer said "O.K.
fellows, we'll do it again". So we made another dive and did drop all the
bombs the second time.
During the dive, a piece of shrapnel from anti-aircraft fire pierced
the turret and I thought it had hit me. I felt around for blood but could
see little. I did however suffer a cheek wound.