John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Naval Years
Lullaby Lane, Mindanao, September 1944

Lullaby Lane
September 1944

Scotty and I -- though I feel we have warm regard for one another -- have seen each other but seldom over the half-century since we flew together in Bombing Squadron 15.

It was shortly after the war, when I was in medical school, that I visited the Matthews in their Manhattan apartment -- as I recall Scotty and Ducky lived in the then-new Peter Stuyvestant housing project at that time housing quite a few young veteran families with ample and comfortable quarters. 

Then again, when I was interning in Boston, we saw them when they were visiting Ducky's parents in Beacon Hill, and that brief encounter has stayed in mind because I learned Ducky's mother had harbored an unsavory perception of me for some years.

Later, on my occasional trips to New York City, I tried in vain to locate the Matthews but to no avail.

Finally I saw Scott once again at our squadron reunion in Pensacola about two years back, and I realized how much water had gone under the bridge.

Ironically, Edie and I retired to Connecticut just after that reunion and Scott and I now live only about 40 miles apart along the Merritt Parkway, but we still have trouble getting together.

That's what happens when joints get creakier, waist-lines larger, naps more frequent and rendezvous more difficult.

We were, however, recently on the phone together and that brought to memory some of the junctures of our experiences.

Frederick Scott Matthews, Jr. and I first came together in the swamps of extreme southeastern Virginia when the aircraft of Bombing Squadron 15 joined thousands of water-birds along their Atlantic fly-way.

Our nesting ground was Creed's Field, an auxiliary facility of Norfolk Naval Air Station, and it consisted of a modest-sized hangar surrounded by a cluster of Quonset huts.

This installation was not unlike the primitive aerodromes of the First World War save for the paved runways.

It was two drainage ditches above North Carolina and not far from Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers had first managed powered heavier-than-air flight.

Towards the close of 1943, our squadron was being formed as part of the air group destined for the U.S.S. HORNET, the second aircraft carrier to bear that name, and the latest in a long line of naval vessels so-named dating back to the Revolution.

The HORNET had been recently launched at the nearby Newport News Naval Shipyard, and was being fitted out for its shake-down cruise.

Bombing 15, or VB-15, was being shaped up under the aegis of Lt. Cdr. Ike Dew, an academy graduate and a skipper highly regarded by his charges.

The bulk of the pilots were just out of training, supplemented by a courtier of former primary flight instructors being re-cycled as fleet flyers, a few from other east coast commands, and a handful of us just back from combat tours.

Of the later, most of us had come from Air Group 3 on the U.S.S. SARATOGA and the southwest Pacific.

I not only was with old ship-mates, but an added treat was that Ensign Warren Parrish, a close friend with whom I had grown up in Greenville, North Carolina, was one of the recent trainees.

Our fighter squadron, VF-15, was stationed at a similar outlying facility, Pungo Field, and our torpedo-bomber squadron, VT-15, was stationed up the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake at Chincoteague, Virginia, nigh into Maryland.

Scott was from New England, son of an orthopedic surgeon, a graduate in English from Dartmouth, and, to the likes of drawling Southerner, he seemed erudite, sophisticated and patrician.

He had been flying off-shore, anti-submarine patrol out of Quinset Point, Rhode Island, and found this boring.

At his own behest he managed to transfer to VB-15 and into carrier aviation.

Differences not-with-standing, it seems safe to say we found common ground from the beginning.

However, I date keen awareness of Scott from a party in Virginia Beach, hosted by Summer and Sally Roulon-Miller, which most of the squadron attended.

Roulon was a "ninety-day wonder," one of the group of college graduates from various walks of life who were commissioned in the Naval Reserve after three months of intensive officer training.

Most such officers assigned to non-flying billets in aviation units, were young men just a little too old to qualify for flight training -- Roulon was one such.

Meanwhile, back at the party, the Roulon-Millers had invited another such reservist, Lieut. Bunjie Parker, who was an older businessman who was obviously doing his bit voluntarily.

He brought to the party his wife Sally and their grown daughter, Ducky, a very attractive young lady.

To the best of my knowledge this is when Ducky and Scotty met.

They were married after we returned from overseas the next year, though I knew nothing of this for some time.

They had three children, one now living abroad, one in the southwest and one in Massachusetts -- an apple who didn't fall far from the tree.

There are also five grandchildren, one of whom is graduating from college the very week-end this is being written.

Alas, Ducky died tragically young from a malignancy about ten years ago.

Over the years Scott worked in sales for Proctor and Gamble, and finally was in London heading up a segment of sales in Europe.

There, several years after losing Ducky, he met Dagmar Baeu, whom he describes as "a lovely German girl," and to whom he has been happily wed for the past 18 years.

If we ever manage to see Scott we will meet Dagmar for the first time.

Scott is now retired from Proctor and Gamble, but helps Dagmar with her travel agency.

This is the flow of the river Scott and I talked about in Pensacola.

But back to the aforementioned party in Virginia Beach fifty years ago …

When Edie and I had cocktails with the Matthews and the Parkers in Boston I was most taken back to be greeted somewhat cooly by Sally Parker.

It took awhile for her concern to reveal itself.

At that party, then more than a half-decade before, she thought I had brought a "woman of the street" as my date, and she resented someone having done that at an affair to which she and her daughter had been invited.

The truth is I went "stag."

One of my squadron-mates, a good friend I shall leave un-named, did bring a young woman of somewhat garish attractiveness.

He arrived three sheets to the wind, soon passed out and was put to bed by our host.

When the party broke up I agreed to take my friend's bimbo home, which was the sum of my encounter with her.

However, Sally Parker seeing us leave together had ever after assumed that she was my date.

I was never quite sure whether she believed my version of the experience, or what belief she carried to her grave some years ago.

Meanwhile, back to the squadron…

The HORNET left Norfolk with us aboard in February 1944, but we were relieved in Pearl Harbor.

This was a lucky break I'll tell of elsewhere.

In due time we sallied forth into what became the Central Pacific Campaign for a very active half-plus year as the air group for the U.S.S. ESSEX.

As part of the air group leadership scramble that followed our shake-down cruise on the HORNET and which culminated in our replacement on that ship, we had acquired Cdr. James H. "Jiminy" Mini as our squadron commander.

Though perhaps not as warmly liked as Ike Dew, he was never-the-less greatly respected and made a great skipper.

In our operational flight organization, I led the second six-plane division in the Skipper's twelve-plane formation.

In the Philippines Campaign, during a bombing and strafing attack on a Japanese airfield on the island of Negros, I had lost my second section leader, Gene Golden, a brave and skillful aviator from Richmond who was part of the SARATOGA contingent with whom I had come to VB-15.

Many of our wingmen were by then qualified to lead sections, but Scotty was somewhat senior and he became our new section leader.

Initially most of our Philippine forays had been against installations in the middle island group, but one day there was a decision we would hit a base on Mindanao, south in the archipelago.

About the most any of us know about this largest of the Philippine Islands was that it had a peninsula named Zamboanga, and that according to an old song "… the monkeys have no tails on Zamboanga."

Intelligence had it that the work of our fighters against their planes in the air and on the ground, and the attacks of our bombers, VB and VT, against their airfield facilities had prompted the enemy to remove their aircraft to the south.

By that time our first attack in a new area was a massive fighter sweep with an eye to immediately establishing air supremacy as a prelude to bombing strikes.

We had been led to expect significant fighter defense around Mindanao, and so a rescue submarine had been dispatched to an adjacent area to pick-up any downed airmen.

An area on the edge of the Sulu Sea was designated for water landings for disabled planes with the proviso that the sub would surface when called upon for help -- the call sign was "Lullaby Lane."

Much to our surprise and relief we carried out our strike and sighted no airborne enemy planes, though, as usual, there was a plethora of small caliber anti-aircraft fire.

When we were joining up after our attack we got Scotty's call that his plane had been hit and had a big hole in one wing.

He radioed the Skipper that he was headed for the rescue-sub area.

By that time I had found Scott and was flying loosely on his wing.

I called the Skipper and requested to go along with Scotty.  One of the fighter leaders then called and asked if the Skipper didn't want them to go with us.

That sounded good to me, but the Skipper announced, "Thanks, but he's in good hands."

That was good for my ego, but hard on the morale -- the only good hands either of us was in were those of The Lord.

The strike headed east toward the ships while Scott and I headed west into the Sulu Sea.

We reached the rescue area in about 30 minutes and found a wide and calm but empty sea.

I prayed the skies would also stay empty, still wondering whence the many enemy aircraft.

We repeatedly called "Lullaby Lane" with no answer.

In retrospect we shouldn't have expected any responsible submarine skipper to show himself lest there be a plane in the drink and the skies empty.

We began to have some second thoughts -- any pilot would be loath to ditch his plane while it's still flyable and succor not obviously at hand.

Scott had lightened his plane by jettisoning everything removable and though he had no hydraulics he found the plane had stabilized.

We decided to fly for home.

I thought -- and I'm sure it must have crossed Scott's mind -- that once again we were going to traverse the county where all the planes were supposed to be.

But as the Skipper had said, "We were in good hands."

It was dusk when we got back to the disposition -- the other planes had long since landed and the ESSEX was steaming into the wind awaiting our landing.

Scott landed in the sea in the wake of the plane-guard destroyer and I made a circle over him to make sure he and his gunner, Bob Krueger, got out of the plane and into their raft.

I then landed still thankful that we hadn't seen those missing enemy aircraft.

The Chaplain later told me that all available space on the island was filled with spectators, and that they gave me a great cheer when my plane was arrested.

I missed it all unaware that anything unusual was afoot, but I was soon to learn that not everyone cheered.

I was feeling pretty good about all of this until after dinner that evening.

We had heard that the fellows had been picked up uninjured.

However, as I left the Ward Room, I was intercepted by our Group Commander, Cdr. David McCampbell and was thoroughly dressed down.

It seemed he had been up on the bridge when I landed, and the ship's captain had "chewed him out" because I had made the ship vulnerable by forcing it to steam on a straight course  awaiting me while I circled Scott.

In the best naval tradition CAG extended the "chewing out" on down the line to me, and,  in truth, what I had done was dumb.

Somewhat sheepishly I said, "Well, I'd been with him that long -- I figured I should see that he was safe."

McCampbell replied, "My God, the whole fleet was looking after those fellows.  You couldn't do anything anyway."

In fact, throughout the whole business, there had been precious little I could do, so I had done nothing as well as I could. 

I later was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for sticking with my fellow airmen while they got nothing but wet feet.

I've often mused over this whole scenario.

I've thought of reaping the scorn of Sally Parker for giving a young woman a ride home from a party.

I've thought of getting "chewed out" by a true national hero whom I greatly admired for sticking with friends and ship-mates.

It was sometime after the fact when I heard the adage that I think best covers such situations:

"Your reward will come in heaven.
 In this life no good deed goes unpunished."


June 6, 1996


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