Our skipper was Lt. Commander Theodore
Hugh Winters, a combat veteran fighter pilot
and a great leader. He worked our group up with
great skill, and increased our Hellcat numbers as
we learned how to fight and survive against the
Japanese fighters. We also learned one of our primary purposes; stick with the dive-bombers and
torpedo planes while on escort duty. Our sister
torpedo and dive-bomber squadrons depended
on us to shepherd them in and out of harm’s way.
Tempting as it was, breaking away from them to
add a small Japanese flag to the side of a Hellcat
meant that those slow-moving torpedo and dive-bombers were sitting ducks. But once released
from escort duty, the Hellcat showed its deadly
claws when we finally entered the combat zone.
F6F- 5 #22 of VF- 19 is quickly
removed the barricade of
the USS Lexington CV- 16 on
October 25, 1944. The Hellcat
was hit by flak and its pilot, Ens.
Brauer, was wounded during
Air Group 19's attack on the
Japanese fleet during the Battle
of Leyte Gulf. (Photo courtesy of
Baptism of fire
By early July 1944, we were combat ready and
VF- 19 had its orders; report to the USS Lexington.
By late July, we were hitting and plastering places
with our 500-pound bombs like Guam, Palau,
Iwo Jima, and Chi Chi Jima. When the bombs
were gone, we dropped down to strafe enemy airfields and gun emplacements. None of it was easy
work though as the Japanese still had plenty of
anti-aircraft gun emplacements all over the place
and they were masters at concealing them.
In early September, we began to hit various
targets on the Philippines in preparation for the
landings that would take place later on. Many of
my squadron mates began to rack up their scores
by shooting down Japanese fighters, bombers,
and torpedo planes. Unfortunately, I had to wait
my turn until late October. I bagged my first one,
a Kate on October 21, as aerial opposition really
began to heat up. A few days later, our subs in the
area began to notice the remnants of the Japa-
nese fleet sailing south toward the central Philip-
pines, and our intelligence people thought they
were going to try and make a stand against our
landings on Leyte. The battle of Leyte Gulf took
place on October 24 and 25 as our Hellcats, dive-
bombers and torpedo planes tore into them.