John D. Bridgers M.D.
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"Dear Shipmates -- Naval Air Group 15:"

October 2000
54th Reunion
St. Louis, MO

  • These are selections from a book of poems, "THEN ... IT"S VERSE," to be published, hopefully soon.

Poetry became an avocation when I retired from the practice of medicine in 1994.

  • These pieces are based on experiences in the Central Pacific phase of the naval air war with Japan in 1944 when our group was based in the U.S.S. ESSEX (CV-9).  During that period I served as a dive-bomber pilot in Bombing Squadron 15, and later as flight surgeon in the Korean War.

Fleet carrier air groups in these days consisted of about a hundred aircraft of which approximately half were fighters.

The caricatures of aircraft on the front cover represent the types of planes in A.G. 15:

The Grumman F6F HELLCAT fighter,
The Curtiss SB2C HELLDIVER scout-bomber and
The Grumman TBF AVENGER torpedo-bomber.

  • In the days of sails and wooden ships the gun-decks were made of teakwood, reparable after battle damage, but at once a very resilient structural material.

The practice was carried over to the flight decks of earlier carriers.

With the advent of Essex-class ships steel replaced teakwood, but those of us who flew from flat-tops before this advent ever thought of ourselves as flying from teakwood.

Thus, license had been exercised for this presentation.

As ever was,
John D. Bridgers, M.D.
(CDR, MC, USNR - Retired)
Woodbridge, CT

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You know you're reading poetry
     if the writer says "it's" verse.

It may be long and epic
    or it  may be taunt and terse.

Its lines may be quite structured
     on blank and close to prose.

A poem may be varied,
     may be one or more of those.

Yet, if the writer says it's poetry
     then it's verse, you may suppose.


The poems often found today
     in books and magazines

Are not the works that some will take
     to be what poetry means.

Sometimes there's very little rhyme
     and meter but with feeble time;

Image one can scarcely ken,
     that often may seem bad or worse,

But if the writer says it's poetry
     then one can know it's verse.


You know you're reading poetry
     if it stands up off the page,

If it's language that is sculpted,
     erect as on a stage --

If the lines run high and low,
     aren't words just set into a row --

But are graven there in bold relief, 
     and a shapely flow rehearse --

There if the writer says it's poetry
     one can know it's verse.


So what is here may seem inane,
     mere doggerel at most;

With more the shades of Ogden Nash
     and less of Whitman's ghost.

If you most like your poetry blank
     then this may seem both rude and rank;

So mutter quietly, if you must,
     and remember ere you swear and curse --

If the writer says it's poetry
     then one can know it's verse.

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What think you when hear a plane --
      hear a propeller's tortured whine?

Like thunder curled upon itself --
      the sound of power, pure and plain.

What think you when you see it there --
     a giant  afloat upon the wind?

Wind it makes beneath its wing
     to hold and move it in the air.

What think you see its grace, 
     sleek and silvered, swimming there?

Like levitation floating in the sea --
     the master of its place in space.

What think you of flight --
     configured height -- wondrous sight?

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"The Ballad of a Known Pegasus"

We were bound on a grim and grievous work
     deemed right in light of war.

Surging up the Philippines
     with a daily raid or more

Most we coursed from south to north,
     at times we filled the sky,

But this day our guest was to the west
     to the Island of Panay.


The archipelago lay below, made grand by tropic hand;

Green island masses -- large and least --
     suspended in the sea, this land.

Borne by powered turbulence
     we had nigh climbed three miles high;

And now we rolled across our goal,
     the Island of Panay.


No mystery that one deed that day
     but would scant history weave,

And the making of a memory
     be the main thing we'd achieve.

So circling there in high thin air
     we dared our foes defy,

And planned our play to have our way
     with the Island of Panay.


Our's was a minor show of force,
     the garrison was small.

Our task was simply to harass
     their only port of call;

To cripple any shipping
     and break lines of supply --

And so to Ilo Ilo,
     the harbor of Panay.


We bombers formed like migrant birds,
     our fighters overhead.

As the fighter wove we bombers dove --
     fanned into deadly spread.

We plummeted like flight or kytes --
     straight down did we fly;

To better loose our missiles
     on the moorings at Panay.


The Ilo Ilo layout was modest in its way,

Where a long and slender warehouse
     crowned a slim and lengthy quay.

Eros and red upon its roof
     a spot close claimed the eye;

So I took the same as point of aim
     on the warehouse at Panay.


As down we barged the spot grew large
     and assumed more shape, of course.

I was aghast that 'midst our blasts
     was "The Sign of the Flying Red Horse."

This well-known image gave me pause --
     I was tempted to pull out high,

For it seemed like dropping bombs at home
     instead of on Panay.


Today when by the road I see
     "The Sign of the Flying Red Horse"

I remember that logo on Ilo Ilo,
     and think of my halting remorse.

That was then and now is now --
     five decades since gone by --

But still I'm bent on the minutes spent
     when once we bombed Panay.

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"An Apse at Sea"

It came to me at war at sea,
     seen from a rolling deck above.

I sat in line awaiting time
     for the wind to get me borne.

It appeared not then a time of hawks,
     but instead a day of doves --

'Twas the hour of worship
     on a salty Sabbath morn.


On launching trek I rose the  deck
     and soared aloft from off the bow;

My mates and I all turned toward Guam
     fast into the path of harm.

We flew 'neath a lowering layer of cloud
     'midst a misty, squally shower --

Came then to light a wondrous sight
     as we passed beneath the storm.


At noon-day nigh the sun was high --
     shone straight down through the clouds,

With silver shafts extending there
     as stained-glass colors line the sky.

While arches joined their tops it seemed,
     by hap mere images of mind,

Yet, a vaulted apse did I descry.


Why exactly came then such a scene
     at high communion time?

A heavenly sight of great delight
     in war's tumultuous clime.

It was simply chance, will many say --
     just mere coincidence,

But in my mind it's still constrained
     a half-a-century since.

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"The Psalm of the Erne"

With hulls of steel now pushed by steam
     instead of ships of wood with sails,

We breast'd the crests of a watery world
     'mid bounding waves and hollowed swales --

New dimensions this entailed.


Long have men far left the shore
     and gone to ships to sea,

But in our day, as not before,
     there above the waves we'd be --

Unbound from decks, wings set us free.


So have we known both sea and sky
     and from wave-top wandered to the air.

We found our place in the added space
     that the heavens offered there.

As we soared aloft from floating lair.


Some day this, too, will be passé,
 but 'twas a way of sailors in our day. 

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"A Clash of Colors"

For days the scuttlebutt had drifted --
     gauzy rumors filled the air --

That in the sector, around the islands,
     the Empire's fleet was massing there.

We had, of course, seen no flotilla --
     just a few small escorts in Manila.

We cruised through and struck The Philippines --
     covered many islands, many scenes,

But beyond the line where sea meets sky,
     there formed the stormy battle's eye.


There on an afternoon in late October
     the whispers grew to sturdy fact.

We scrambled from our decks in numbers,
     prepared to fly to hell and back.

We took off under lowering skies
     and climbed 'mid mounting cumuli;

O'er lower Luzon we crested west
     wondering where our foes could be.

Our fighters reached down to the south
     and found them in the Inland Sea.


Through clouds we worked across these waters,
     saw wave tops but in fractured views;

There across our track an oily streak
     traced a path in iridescent hues
     to a warship beached inside a cove.

Hap prey of planes or submarines
     this cruiser would no longer rove --
     found requiem in The Philippines.


The "Skipper" bade us turn to port
     while his group to starb'd went.

Arising there above the clouds
     were bursts of flak, all spent.

To our surprise each burst was colored bright
     from red as beets to green as mint;

Each ship thus marking where it shot
     so better could their gunners spot.


Intrigued by bursting shells that flowered
     we went the way that we were sent.

Beyond the verge of a towering cloud
     steamed a battleship, most immense.

We hurtled down in darting dives
     as her main guns trained aside and fired --

Left her shrouded in a cloud of smoke
     with flames a-flaring deep inside.

Despite the bombs and "fish" we dropped
     the big ship neither slowed nor stopped.

We were most surprised to later hear
     that other strikes had sunk her there.


Through straits the ships left lurked by night
     and entered into Leyte Gulf.

We thought they'd turned and headed home, 
     but, in truth, they hadn't had enough.

The battle went a full-day more
     and Leyte entered naval lore.


As we fled away from this affray
     the ship fired 'til 'twas out of sight.

Through tides of war we made it back,
     save for the "Skipper" who'd taken flak.

He limped home from this frantic scene
     and "ditched" when back within our screen.


For the airman war's as if one's deaf
     for he cannot hear the moan and groan --

He cannot hear the whirr and crash
     above his engine's constant drone;

So the extra things that he senses
     are just those things in sight -

So went the days at Leyte Gulf
     and the things we saw in flight --

But the extra color was enough.


I still see pied and tinted puff --
     see the cruiser's eely, oily slick --

I see the wagon's shroud of smoke and flame --
     these are snap-shots brought to frame
     when I remember Leyte Gulf.

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"Twilight Rendezvous"

In century now, just starting new,
     comes yet another rendezvous.

Far up-and-down, across the land
     once more we group, a merry band.

Some years before -- nigh three score --
     we gathered on the western sea;

Warriors resting on the main,
     we mounted armored, motored wings --

Flew into grim and grievous things.


With shot and bomb our wings were weighed,
     yet, somehow in the air we stayed.

We ran down narrow, tossing decks
     and struggled into flight.

Such was our plight -- such was our might --

"Twas our aim to set "The Rising Sun,"
     bring an end to strife we'd not begun --

Far from done seemed the fight.


Storming island forts, ships at sea,
     we ranged a-weather, ranged a-lee.

Crossed trackless waters, sailed and flew
     and did the things that warriors do.

In "vee-of-vees" we'd fly as one,
     nose toward the foe in "high-speed run."

'Midst thickly scattered bursts of flak --
     sometimes colored, sometimes black.

Alone we dived, each dropped his bomb
     with bitter blast in fiery scrum.

Then we'd scatter, thrown askew,
     to come again to rendezvous.


With those intact and still a wing
     again we tracked across the sky.

We throttled back, "leaned" our fuel
     to keep our tanks from running dry.

A rewarding sight came by-and-by.
     on the sky-line with their wakes a-plume

Suddenly our ships would loom --
     a much awaited lift of gloom.


Around the fleet we closely flew
     to see our mission fully through.

Low and slow we settle smooth
     into the flat-top's landing groove --

'Took a cut, breathed a sigh,
     came aboard and "caught a wire."

In what was less than half-a-block,
     from full-flight stopped by bridled shock.

We from teakwood back to teakwood soared
     to find our haven back aboard.


May the wind flow smooth across all decks,
     may the sun shine bright on gentle waves;

May God bless the isle and ocean graves
     that claimed our shipmates on such treks.

May, too, He bless the course we take
     'til we our final landing make.

As we gather now, may we anew
     circle soon again in rendezvous.

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John D. Bridgers M.D. by Carl Bridgers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Copyright ©