It was the middle of June. We had troops fighting at Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Until now we had not been able to make contact with the Japanese fleet. The high command knew that they had lots of airplanes on the aircraft carriers that could be a real threat to our ground forces. The main body of the Japanese fleet seemed to be running away from us.
One of our scout planes had spotted the Japanese fleet and we were going to make contact with them for a real sea battle. This created real excitement for everyone. They were about one hundred miles away. This was the maximum striking distance for our carrier based aircraft.
We started to pick up the enemy aircraft on our radar. They were on a course to strike our troops who were fighting on the islands. Our task force went at maximum speed so we would be in a position to shoot at enemy planes with our ships. In the meantime, we launched every airplane that could fly to attack the enemy ships. Between the dogfighting and the aircraft that our ships had shot down just about put the Japanese navy out of business. The battle had begun in the afternoon. The weather was perfect to launch aircrafts. The only problem was the distance of their flight to make an attack on the ships and return. This was maximum fuel time for all of the torpedo bombers and fighters. By the time our aircrafts were all airborne we had our hands full shooting at the Japanese aircrafts flying overhead. Someone smarted off on the radio, "This is like shooting turkeys in a pen." This is where the term "turkey shoot" got started. We were all overjoyed to hear the pilot reports of extensive damage to the enemy ships. It was getting late in the evening and they would have to return to the aircraft carriers to land. They were all running low on fuel. It was impossible to land more than one aircraft at time. One question remained unanswered, how were we going to get them all on the deck at one time?
A command order was given to turn on all of our lights. This was unheard of in combat. Even our west coast cities were blacked out during the war years. What a thrill this was. None of us had ever seen anything like it. It seemed like the pacific ocean was lit up all at once. The night that was once dark looked like a huge Christmas tree.
I was as scared as the rest of the mighty eighteen year old warriors. We did not know what to expect now. It was not long until we were so busy that we did not have time to be worry about it.
Our pilots were jamming the radios with panic. All you could hear was, "Mayday! We are out of fuel and ditching." As soon as an airplane would land on the carrier the pilot would get out and the flight deck crew would push his aircraft overboard to clear the carrier for the next airplane. There was no time to save anything but the pilots.
We had our spotlight trained up on the flight deck of the Enterprise. All of a sudden we saw an aircraft with the flag of Japan painted on the side of it. We called it "The Red Meatball" and the aircraft was the infamous Japanese "Zero."
Our first reaction was to shoot him out of the sky. However, the air was also full of our own aircraft and we were given orders not to shoot. If one ship had started shooting, we could have shot down a bunch of our own aircraft. The Japanese Zero tried to land on our ship. He was sending a signal in Morse code by blinking his wing lights, "No-No." I guess that was the only words in English he knew. After being waved off our deck he ditched in the ocean like many of our aircraft were doing.
The final results of this overnight excitement gave us plenty to do for the next few days. The pilots that survived from the water landings were scattered all over the area in life boats and jackets. We picked up dozens of them from the water as soon as it got daylight.
We had scored a real victory. The count of enemy aircrafts shot down was about five hundred. The number of ships sunk and damaged was also a significant number. In other words, this is when we broke the back of most of the Japanese navy sea power.