Wes Hicks: Patrol Squadron Fifty-Four

Wes Hicks piloted PBYs in patrol Squadrons 71 and 24 before completing his Pacific tour with VP54. He continues his story with anecdotes of service during 1943.

"After a short stint in February of ’42 with VP24, I transferred to VP54, a Black Cat squadron forming for night flying out of Guadalcanal. Then, in March of ’43, mine was one of four PBY-5As that landed at Canton Island en route to the ’Canal and were caught in a surprise night bombing attack by Jap ‘Betty’ bombers. All four Catalinas were flamed and destroyed.

"Press Maravich was one of the pilots. He had recruited all of us to buy chewing tobacco for his tour of duty down-under. Well, we lost all of our possessions that night, including Press’s prized stock of chewing tobacco.

"The Japanese had been sneaking in close and shelling Canton but their shells had fallen harmlessly into the lagoon. Now there was suspicion that they were going to invade. So the 5000 Army soldiers based on the island prepared to defend it.

"An Army Captain, his silver bars shining in the moonlight, challenged my lack of assignment and ordered me to the beach to help defend the island. Since my only weapon was a 45-automatic pistol, I decided the order was a foolish one and didn’t go. When the attack failed to materialize, our group was flown back to Kaneohe to regroup and get new aircraft.

"One day in July, ’43, we landed in heavy seas to pick up a fighter pilot who had ditched his aircraft. Then, with the fighter pilot still aboard, we picked up marine Colonel Linscott off the beach from our Bougainville invasion.

"Picking up Colonel Linscott was no easy trick. He had gone in with the initial wave and we were ordered to pick him up from a small boat just offshore two days later. To accomplish this, we had to land under fire from Japanese shore batteries and we were fighting the heavy seas. But, we got the Colonel aboard safely and out of there.

"On November 20, 1943, we flew to Sidney, Australia, for rest and relaxation. We had our parachute bags filled with American cigarettes to trade for booze and favors. Our Cabbie in Sidney accepted cigarettes for his fare, then sent some booze merchants to our room with ‘fine’ branded Scotch. We were so proud of swapping all but a few cartons of cigarettes for bottle upon bottle of top branded Scotch that we didn’t bother to sample it until the deal was made and our ‘benefactors’ were gone. Then we learned the truth. Our premium Scotch had been watered down to where it was practically worthless. We took it back to Guadalcanal and gave it away.

"Liquor was hard to come by for the officers and next to impossible to obtain by enlisted personnel. After a mission, each officer received a bottle of brandy for 'medicinal’ purposes. I didn’t drink mine, preferring instead to give it to my enlisted plane captain, AMM/1st class, Bazelle. My reasons weren’t all out of compassion for the enlisted men. I was so hyped-up about flying already; I might have been out on the line trying to go back up if I had anything to drink.

"Speaking of Bazelle, he was one outstanding plane captain. As First Pilot, I made the decision as to whether we would accept an airplane for flight or reject it. I left the decision entirely up to Brazelle. If he said reject it, we simply didn't fly that aircraft.

"Flying the PBY was one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I learned how to do wing-overs with it and they were the most beautiful, graceful, gratifying maneuvers one could ever imagine. Flying on one engine was a snap. I used to check out Cadets for solo by cutting one engine and then turning the plane over to them. You could do anything within reason with a PBY."



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