Scuba bubbles streamed by my head as I slowly
descended at dusk into the near dark and intimidating hold of
the Fujikawa Maru, a Japanese cargo ship sunk at Truk Lagoon
during a devastating American raid on February 17th
perfectly preserved Japanese Mitsubishi Zero, the dominant
fighter plane in the Pacific early in WWII, slowly materialized
in my piercing dive light. It was as if the plane were to be
hoisted on shore today and spread its wings in combat.
Its olive wings sported the dreaded red roundels;
the four machine gun ports in the wings signaled quick death.
The characteristic shiny long-snouted nacelle housed
yellow-tipped propellers poised for flight, and the cockpit
canopy was pulled back as if waiting for a pilot
The cockpit was too narrow for all but the thinnest pilots and
most Americans would not fit. Though the faces of most of the
instruments were clouded by time, the horizon indicator, the
compass, and the fuel gauge looked as if they were spanking new
and ready for takeoff. The deadly red gun switch on the control
stick was ready for action.
felt I saw the ghosts. My body tingled and my mind fringed
involuntarily into another world. I could hear the chatter of
the ground crew, and the clatter of aircraft being prepared for
flight, the starting engine whining, coughing, catching and then
revving up for takeoff. The spirits were there, in the shadows,
floating unconcerned in the water, swimming in the beam of my
dive light, talking in a harsh language I did not understand.
They were slight, yellow men—officers in olive uniforms trimmed
in red and gold, eager pilots in dark olive flight suits, sheep
skin lined leather helmets and boots, goggles, bulky life vests
and parachutes. Ground crews materialized to arm the plane with
belts of machine gun bullets, readying it for flight. Ready for
Saburo Sakai was a Zero fighter pilot from the village of
Nishiyoka, in the prefecture of Onkyusu on Kyusho Island 850
miles southwest of Tokyo. He came from a poor farming family who
owned one acre of farmland on which was constructed a small
house with thatched walls and roof, wood beamed interior and a
central fireplace for both heat and cooking. They were
surrounded by dozens of other small green farms in the flatlands
below the smoking Aso volcano. He was the eighth of nine
children, a remarkably large family for the Japanese in those
days. The family, along with two grandparents, slept on mats on
the dirt floor. They drew their water from a nearby well and
used chamber pots for sanitation.
Sakai was very bright. He sometimes did well in school when he
applied himself and sometimes did not. He was known for brawling
in school with bullies and those who taunted him. This behavior
got him kicked out of several schools thereby dishonoring and
embarrassing his traditional family. Strong, mentally quick,
determined, and tough, he always won his fights regardless of
the size of his opponents. Yet friends, ironically, found him a
warm, helpful and generous person that they liked to be around.
strong sense of right and wrong, honor and dishonor and the
Samurai tradition and custom controlled his behavior throughout
his life. His extended family had been Samurais for 400 years
and he inherited and imbedded their proud custom of protecting
his clan and fighting to the death in their honor.
Sakai entered the Navy in 1935 at the age of 16 as a petty
officer-- the “private” of the navy-- and specialized in
aircraft carrier-based, anti-aircraft gunnery. He was certain
that he would shortly return to his family after the inevitable
defeat of China, the Pacific Islands and Malaya.
Selected for the Air Force in 1939 at the age of 20, Sake
underwent two years of intensive and rigorous training as an
aviator. Training was reinforced with brutal beatings when rules
were broken which produced tough, disciplined pilots at the
beginning of WWII. Toughness was considered the factor that made
the difference between life and death, and the Japanese Air
Force was considered the best in the world including the
Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.
Sakai was a well-muscled 5’7”. He had the strong
hands of a peasant, the reflexes of a tiger, and the eyesight of
a hawk, all assets for a combat aviator. When relaxed, his
angular face sported a smile; laugh wrinkles around his eyes.
When flying, he was deadly serious, his face stern, rigid,
taught, and uncompromising.
Sakai saw himself as a full-blooded Samurai, not clothed in the
traditional fierce, horned face mask, swords, daggers, and
elaborate body armor but a warrior armed with a deadly machine,
wings with guns, and enemy to be slain. He was to defend his and
his country’s honor. He was spoiling for a fight. He was ready.
the pilots ready room, Sakai and 90 other fighter, torpedo and
bomber pilots on the carrier Akagi were told that their mission
was to destroy the guts of the American Navy stationed at Pearl
Harbor—aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers and airfields.
This was to be the masterstroke that would break America’s
military might in the Pacific and win the war for Japan before
it really started. In all, a total of four hundred fifty-three
aircraft from six aircraft carriers would be thrown at the
Americans in two successive waves.
Sakai and the other pilots downed a ceremonial cup of rice wine,
flipped their white scarves around their necks and ran for their
aircraft. His ground crew helped Sakai into the cockpit and
clipped on his safety harness, started his engine, removed the
wheel chocks, and gave him thumbs up. Sakai maneuvered the plane
to take-off position and opened the throttles wide. The Zero
lumbered off of the carrier and headed for Pearl Harbor to join
the first attack wave.
Sakai flew his Zero on its third strafing pass over a furiously
burning Pearl Harbor. He had already downed one of the few
American planes in the air, his first” kill” of the war, and
destroyed dozens of other planes foolishly lined up on the
ground like sitting ducks. It was his first combat experience
and it felt good, natural, exhilarating and right. He was doing
what two years of training taught him to do. The plane was an
extension of himself-- a beautiful machine that was meant to
fly, to destroy, to kill, to carry him back to safety.
On his last climb-out from Pearl and before
return to the Akagi, Sakai spotted a flight of twelve American
scouting bombers approaching the West coast of Oahu, apparently
unaware of the attack taking place on Pearl. His squadron leader
redirected his group to engage and destroy the slow-moving
virtually defenseless aircraft. Six Zeros dived out of the sun
on the unsuspecting Americans.
Carleton Thayer Fogg was born in 1917 a dry-witted, well-liked
farm lad from Maine. Fogg grew up on a small dairy farm in the
small seaside colonial village of Yarmouth, a fishing town and
where the craft of building wooden sail boats for trade was
still alive. The family lived in traditional one story mid-
1700’s white farmhouse with wood heat and stove and an attached
barn. The house was set close to a rutted dirt road for easy
access for horses and buggies.
Foggs had been farmers, landowners and merchantmen since
immigrating to Maine in the 1640s and were wealthy by
contemporary standards. The extended family owned a fleet of
merchant ships and the fastest clipper ship on the Atlantic. One
relative was a Colonel in the Civil War and fought in the
decisive victory at Gettysburg’s Little Round Top. It seems that
Carleton had navel and military blood in his veins.
Fogg was the youngest of three boys in the family and was a
strikingly handsome, articulate, slender, lanky 6’5” man who had
a perpetual smile, a dry wit, and relaxed expression of whimsy
on his face. He was voted the most likeable person in his
school. Discipline and hard work were well known to the Fogg
boys. Before school, at about 3AM, they would milk the cows,
bottle the milk and, even in bitter cold Maine winters, help
their father deliver it in a Ford model T truck before school.
After school there were the additional chores of feeding the
animals and cleaning out the barn.
Fogg was a natural leader--Captain of Yarmouth Academy’s
baseball team and President of his Junior and Senior Class. He
seemed to be the apple of many a female eye In town. There was
always a circle of friends around him, laughing, chatting, and
asking him for his opinions. His future seemed bright and
fell in love with aviation when his father took him to a county
fare where there was an air show with acrobatic displays, “wing
walking daredevils”, and fifteen minute plane rides for $5.
After one ride, Fogg was hooked and he knew sometime, somewhere,
somehow, his career would be in aviation. In 1939, after
graduating in mechanical engineering from the University of
Maine, he succumbed to his desire to be an aviator and enrolled
in the pre-war Navy Air Force.
Fogg entered the Navy Air force in June of 1939 and reported to
the Naval Air Station, the “Annapolis of the air”, in Pensacola
Florida. Along with 150 other prospective pilots, he took
academic training in physics, math and navigation. Flight
training in an easy-to-handle trainer was followed with combat
training in a fully operational Douglas SBD 2 scouting/bomber,
known by pilots as “slow but deadly”. Training continued with
carrier take- offs and landings, bombing and strafing tactics,
water rescue, radio and instrument navigation and landing.
Physical fitness was a priority for aviators. Of his starting
class, two-thirds washed out and Fogg graduated third in his
surviving class of 50. In 1939, he was assigned to the carrier
USS Enterprise based in San Diego and then Pearl Harbor.
Otis Lee Dennis’s pioneer family migrated in the summer of 1877
from Kentucky, to what was to become Fowler, Colorado. Their
twenty-wagon train, thousand mile, six week trip followed the
well-trafficked Santa Fe Trail-- a difficult, rutted, sometimes
muddy, sometimes dusty, often impassible and invariably hot and
humid route. The town consisted of a few scattered farms, a
general merchandise store, a blacksmith’s shop, a Baptist
church, a saloon, bank, grain mill and a few sundry stores. It
lay on arid scrubby plains in clear sight of the snow-capped
Rockies and at the intersection of the rapidly flowing Lower
Arkansas River and the well-trafficked Santa Fe Trail. The
Dennis’ became farmers and raised cattle as was typical in those
days. Through the generations, their land holdings increased, as
did their wealth.
Otis Dennis was born in 1919,into a family that stood for
discipline, clean living, and hard work. He was the oldest of
four with two younger sisters and a younger brother. He was a
handsome young man by anyone’s measure, almost “ Hollywood
ready”. With his swept back wavy blond hair, inviting smile,
glint of humor in his blue eyes and remarkable charm, he
attracted women like bees to honey. It was not unknown for him
to take a different girl to the movies every Saturday night,
while courting another during the week. He was a risk-taker, and
among other stunts, climbed to the top of a theater water tower
to impress a comely girl. He was, in short, a pistol. Fancy
free. A ladies man.
While smart, Dennis didn’t like school very much and he
graduated from high school in 1937 with average grades and no
desire to go on to college. With the Depression in full swing,
and the nearby dust bowl just receding, there were few jobs
available. Dennis worked odd jobs and in his entrepreneurial
father’s businesses –gravel for roads and construction,
water-hauling to nearby farms and transferring freight from
trains to local businesses. He was unanchored. Restless.
attempt at marriage and settling down lasted one year. After a
daughter was born, he divorced his wife, still looking for
purpose in his life. A perfect storm of circumstances—a failed
marriage, unemployed, and a brewing world war made him
susceptible to a charismatic and spellbinding Navy Recruiter who
came to town. He could get out of Fowler, now a suffocating,
isolated town of 500 people, and find some structure in his
life. Maybe even learn a profession.
Dennis began his training as a dive bomber tail gunner and radio
operator at the Naval station in Hollywood Florida. He had the
top physical condition, superb eyesight, fast reflexes, mental
stability and the intangible asset of “guts” needed by pilots
and tail gunners. His training consisted of extensive “academic”
studies of math, ballistics and gunnery, proceeding through
radio and navigation then ground training on 30 caliber and 50
caliber aerial machine guns. He completed his basic training in
the venerable AT-6 trainers and then SBD2 dive bombers,
attacking towed airborne and sea surface targets with live
After graduation, and with the luck of the draw,
Dennis was assigned to Enterprise Scouting Squadron VS-6 and to
Carleton Fogg’s plane. Given their remarkably similar
backgrounds, Fogg and Dennis quickly became fast friends. From
this point on, they would not only be buddies, but their lives
would depend on each other.
Ensign Fogg, inevitably known as “Foggy” to his shipmates downed
his last cup of bitter coffee and headed for the ready room for
a flight briefing. His carrier, the USS Enterprise, now
stationed in Pearl Harbor Hawaii, was on war alert. Negotiations
in Washington over America’s embargo on oil with Japan had
virtually failed. The US supplied more than forty percent of
Japan’s oil to fuel their war machine and the only source of
replacement oil was in what is now Indonesia, a nation yet-to-
be conquered. The Japanese were fighting successfully in China,
and the Pacific, formerly America’s spheres of influence, and
South East Asia was thought to be their next target. There might
be an attack on American territory, the military brass thought,
and if so, it would be the Philippines or Wake Island, certainly
if turned out, on December 6, 1941, The Enterprise was
fortuitously one day late getting to Pearl Harbor due to
punishing gales and heavy seas. As is standard procedure,
scouting planes would be sent ahead of the ship to survey the
carrier’s path for enemy forces, weather conditions, impediments
to navigation, and to clear the decks prior to docking. They
would land on Pearl Harbor’s Ewa Army Air Force Base. It was
expected to be a routine flight. The twelve planes of Fogg’s
Squadron, Scouting Squadron 6 (VS 6), were assigned the task.
was a sparkling bright day as only the sunny Pacific can be. The
sky, like a polka-dot tie, had cotton puff clouds holding sway
over the deep and endless blue sea. No ill wind blew, and the
squadron approached Pearl relaxed and ready for a long-overdue
shore leave. The radio chatter had more to do with women and
drink than with any matters military.
Twenty miles out at an altitude of 30,000 feet, Lt. Clarence
Dickenson, the squadron leader, noticed smoke rising over Oahu.
He passed it off to farmers burning their sugar cane. After all,
it was the season. Why worry. But odd. Far too much smoke over
Pearl Harbor. And it was black, not grey.
Dickenson and his crew had little time to think further. Six
Zeros, including one piloted by Subaro Sakai, roared out of the
blinding sun, wing guns blinking destruction. Fogg banked to the
left, lost some altitude for more speed and maneuvered his plane
to give his tail gunner, Otis Dennis, a shot at Sakai’s rapidly
closing Zero. To no avail. Dennis’s guns jammed. Sakai lined up
the dive-bomber in his sights, fired, and stitched the side of
the plane and tail with golf ball sized bullet holes. The plane
lost altitude and Sakai, peeled away to take on another target
thinking that he had his second “kill” of the war. Fogg still
had some control of the aircraft and, while slowly losing
altitude, managed to make the coast without further contact with
the enemy. He made a dicey, lucky and careening landing at Ewa
field in Western Hawaii. Ten of VS6’s twelve planes were damaged
or shot down with the loss of eight airmen.
was littered with the flaming skeletons of two dozen B-24
bombers, and several dozen Army and Marine fighters. Hangers
were on fire and their aluminum and steel frames sagging,
melting and collapsing In the heat like discarded melting lead
soldiers. Antiaircraft gun crews were still searching the sky
for targets, not having downed a single Japanese plane. There
were bodies flung over sandbag defenses, the runway, and most of
the open spaces. Others died in collapsing buildings. It was
Fogg and Dennis, spent the next night protected
in a steam shovel at one end of Ewa field. The next day they
returned to the carrier Enterprise, since safely docked for
refueling and provisioning, for further duty and a new plane.
billowing silos of burning oil, the pervasive fires, the
explosions, the sound of torpedoes and bombs wrenching the metal
of boats, the screams of men dying from bombs, torpedoes, fire
and strafing aircraft, split the air over Pearl Harbor on
December 7, 1941. Japan, with vastly superior forces attacked
Pearl Harbor, which was virtually undefended, and paralyzed much
of the Pacific fleet. The Navy was unprepared, having
left battleships in the vulnerable harbor, and the Army Air
force was derelict in its duty in not providing air
reconnaissance that could have detected the attack.
Four-star Admiral Husband Kimmel, from his home in the hills
surrounding Pearl Harbor, witnessed the bee-like swarming of
Japanese fighters, dive and level bombers. They clouded the
horizon like a plague of locusts, bombing and strafing and then
turning back to wreak further destruction. He was paralyzed,
dumbstruck, and helpless to thwart the destruction of his base
and the slaughter of men taking place below him. The Air force
Commander, Lieutenant General Walter Short, as well as Kimmel
would be sacked within two days for their lack of preparedness.
All eight docked battleships were damaged, and four of them sunk
or beyond repair. Dozens of lesser craft were lost or damaged.
Three hundred and forty-seven aircraft were lost on the ground
and 3,800 men died. As good luck would have it, Japan’s prime
target, the American aircraft carriers, were not in port. The
audacious raid was a near fatal blow to the Naval forces in the
There had to be quick retaliation.
Ernest King, Commander in Chief of Navel Forces, Chester Nimitz,
Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and “Bull” Halsey,
commander of the Carrier Enterprise’s battle fleet flew to
Hawaii and met in a small cigar smoke-filled, lightless, glum
and windowless conference room at Pearl Harbor. Their mission
was simple: devise a plan to immediately attack the Japanese
where they were vulnerable to show the flag and inflict
strategic damage. It would be America’s first offensive action
of the war.
The Enterprise was chosen to take on the task. Nimitz, known for
his aggressive stance and pointed statements (“take the fight to
the enemy; use carriers as an offensive weapon; after the war,
Japanese will only be spoken in hell”) Nimitz decided that the
target should be the Island of Roi-Namur at the northern reaches
of one of the largest atolls in the Pacific, the Marshall
Islands. Roi contained a major airfield, ammunition. fuel
storage and submarine base.
A juicy target. Halsey, intent on destroying the Japanese
facilities, took the Enterprise to sea on February 1, 1942. Fogg
and Dennis were aboard.
Fogg relaxed in the officer’s mess drinking
coffee and eating the traditional steak and egg breakfast always
served to pilots and crew before an air battle. After all, a lot
of energy would be needed—four hundred miles of flying to and
from Roi and the terror of battle in-between. Most crews were
excited, scared yet optimistic about their first offensive
engagement of the war. Those who saw action over Pearl Harbor
were less sanguine. They knew that some would not return.
Eight F4F fighters and thirty-six scouting
bombers and bombers from Squadron 6 lifted off the Enterprise at
dawn and flew West unimpeded by enemy fighters. The surprise
appeared to be complete. Based on sketchy and inaccurate
intelligence and thirty year old maps, each pilot or groups of
pilots were assigned targets. Fogg was assigned any ammunition
dumps seen and, after destruction, return to the carrier with
other surviving planes.
Sakai, now assigned to ground-based squadron, was
roused from a shallow sleep in the ready room by sirens and the
yelling of officers of an impending attack. The American force
was only 20 minutes away from their destination when they were
spotted by Japanese patrol boats. The Japanese forces on Roi
were, surprised; unprepared. Pilots scrambled for their planes
and took off in rapid sequence as the Enterprise planes
approached the sandy sun-drenched, palm-lined shore-- soon to be
littered with war debris and the burned stumps of once-elegant
Sakai, rapidly gained altitude to 20,000 feet to
attack the approaching fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes. He
was cool, calm, fierce, highly focused, confidant, and intent on
getting his third and fourth kills, at the very least, from this
flock of sitting ducks. He knew that dive bombers were most
vulnerable during a dive when they must follow a predictable
course to drop their bombs to insure a hit.
He singled out Fogg’s SB2, and followed him down
on his first dive, unaware that his supposed “second kill” at
Pearl Harbor was very much alive.
Fogg picked out his target area at about 10.000
feet and went into an near vertical dive to gain enough momentum
to quickly close on his target. He released his bomb at 500 feet
to insure a hit on an ammunition dump and pulled up sharply to
avoid being hit by the debris from the subsequent explosion. He
thought he was home free.
Sakai followed Fogg down. He armed his guns, put
Fogg’s plane in his sight and fired. No hit. Dennis rapidly
fired back but the Zero eluded his fire. Sakai pulled up from
his dive as Fogg turned to return to the carrier, turned his
sight on the scouting bomber and fired two quick bursts. The
first hit killed Dennis and destroyed a good part of the plane’s
rudder. The second pass riddled one wing. He didn’t need another
The Enterprise heard a final message from Fogg:
“I can’t get out. I’m going In”. Then the crippled plane,
a dead Otis Dennis and a very much alive Carleton Fogg drifted
into the sea.
Suburo Sakai left the war a hero, having
flown 200 missions and with 67 kills on his record. He returned
to his wife and two adored daughters in Nishiyoka and became a
successful businessman who devoted much of his life to charity
and humanitarian causes. Suburo Sakai hated war and is buried in
a cemetery not far from his house.
Carleton Fogg and Otis Dennis rest in a crumpled
aluminum casket 100 feet below the ocean and one-half mile off
a result of their heroism, Fogg and Dennis were awarded the Air
Medal and Purple Heart. The destroyer escorts DE57, the USS Fogg,
and DE405, the USS Dennis were named after them.