Arthur C. Williams ’39

Williams '39

Arthur C. Williams '39

(1921–    )
Marine Corps, First Lieutenant

I left Yale at the end of my junior year as part of a unit of approximately 42 Yalies from different classes—we were Yale Unit No. 2 in Naval Aviation in World War II. The only other member of the unit whom I can recall was from Andover was Hovey Seymour. Four members of the unit were lost to training or operational accidents, including Hovey.

After one year of training I received my Navy “Wings of Gold” and promptly transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps. At Cherry Point I was assigned to fighters, despite my training as a multi-engine pilot, and specifically the VMF 322 and Corsairs. The pilots of 322 were from all over America, and from many different backgrounds. We flew together for approximately a year and a half and became good friends as a group and especially close to those we flew with regularly.

After six months of garrison duty on Oahu—flying almost every day—we boarded a jeep carrier bound for the Palau operation, but we were called off and instead were catapulted from the carrier for a landing on the Island of Emirau in the Admiralties. The catapult was an unexpected thrill. We then flew 1,000 miles south and east to Espiritu Santos (now part of Vanatu), with a stop over in Guadacanal. At Espiritu Santos eight rockets were added to our arsenal, four under each wing. Armed with six 50-caliber machine guns and equipped to carry two 500-pound or one 1,000-pound bomb, or a tank full of napalm, and auxiliary throwaway tank of gasoline, in addition to the rockets, our mission had become that of a fighter bomber.

I digress here for an Andover moment. My good friend, Peter Strauss ’39, was a Marine Corps Intelligence Officer and was able to find and visit me at our base on Espiritu, but since I was in hospital at the time, I got one of my pilot friends to give Peter a “ride” in an SBD. It was the ride of his life with plenty of acrobatics, which he never failed to mention later in life. Subsequently, he found me again on Okinawa and presented me with a bottle of brandy. I guess he had forgiven me for the “ride.”

In March 1945 we boarded another jeep carrier with our Corsairs, headed for Okinawa. We had a brief stop at Ulithi’s huge anchorage and saw the U.S. invasion fleet and supporting ships as far in every direction as the eye could see. Again we were catapulted from the carrier and landed at Kadena Field on Okinawa, which the Marines had conveniently cleared for us. Our mission there was mainly patrols (hunting for kamikazes), protecting Naval vessels, close support for the front line troops, and looking for targets at will. For about three weeks our bivouac area and revetments were shelled every night by Japanese 155’s—one land 16 feet from my personal foxhole and riddled out tent with holes. I personally never saw a Japanese plane while I was in the air, but many from our squadron and the two other squadrons comprising our group did, in some cases with heroic results. After completing only 17 missions, my name was drawn out of a hat to be rotated back to the U.S. mainland.

Following a wonderful leave, I spent the summer of 1945 in the Navy Ferry Command out of Port Columbus, Ohio, flying new airplanes west and old airplanes east. The day between flights was always spent on the excellent Ohio State golf course. The atomic bomb changed everything. Instead of being rotated back for the invasion of Japan, I was mustered out on points in time to join the fall term at Yale and get on with my life. I firmly believe that President Harry Truman’s decision on the bomb may have saved my life and in all probability it saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and perhaps millions of Japanese had the invasion been necessary.

I am proud to have participated, even though in a very small way, in a great national effort for a good and right cause. I am proud to have been a Marine Corps pilot flying the Corsair. I got to love flying and I loved the Corsair—it was graceful in the air and with its inverted gull wing and large propeller; it was strong and rugged; it was fast and extremely versatile; and it was responsive to a light touch. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I enjoyed it so much when so many casualties resulted from the invasions and land battles of the war. Be that as it may, I consider my service during the war to have been a defining moment in my life, and all things considered, I think I was lucky to have survived it.

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Filed under In Uniform, Pacific Front

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