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USS Enterprise CV-6
The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War

H. Dale Hilton: VS-6 at Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, planes from Enterprise's Scouting Six and Bombing Six scouted ahead of the carrier as she approached Pearl Harbor, and unwittingly flew into the maelstrom engulfing Pearl and the surrounding airfields that morning. LT(jg) H. Dale Hilton and Radioman 2/c Jack Leaming, in plane 6-S-7, were there.

The Enterprise was returning to Pearl the morning of December 7, 1941 after having secretly taken VMF-211 to Wake Island. That morning, 14 planes of Scouting Six and 3 planes of Bombing Six plus the Air Group Commander were launched about 0615 to scout ahead of the Task Force and land at Ford Island.

I, with Jack Leaming as radio/gunner, and wingman Ed Kroeger of VB-6, had a ten degree sector to search. After completing our approximately 200 mile search by 0900, I steered for the approach to Ford Island. Voice communication in those days left something to be desired, but Jack, I believe, heard Gonzales of VB-6 give a warning: "Don't shoot, this is an American plane!" Joint exercises with the Army Air Corps were not uncommon, but a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was hardly imaginable. Sugarcane burning, as usual, was on the horizon (so we thought).

As we converged on the Barbers Point area, we joined up on our squadron XO, Gallaher, and four other SBD's. What was going on? We needed briefing and bombs if we were to be effective against an attacking force in the area. As we approached the Ewa Marine Corps Air Station on our approach to Ford Island, we saw the damage to aircraft on the field. Over the lochs, we started getting AA from the ground and ships, and could see the BB Nevada grounded as she attempted to get out of the channel. Four of us turned back to Ewa and landed. We then found out that (our military) commanders had no idea where the Japanese attack came from. Carriers, yes, but where? Ewa gassed us, and attempted to arm us but they were in a mess. We were ordered at about 1100 to take off and join Hickam Field B-18s north of Ford Island. One SBD could not get airborne, and I led the other two around to the west of Ford Island shooting recognition signals with my veri-pistol out of the bottom of the fuselage. We were called back by my squadron commander shortly after takeoff, and we returned to Ford Island.

While we saw the disaster from the air, it wasn't until we landed at Ford Island that we had some concept of the devastation. At 1230, nine VS-6 SBD's (of which Jack and I were one) searched northwest to northeast to about 200 miles. We returned to Ford Island at 1520. This was only part of the "Day of Infamy."

Surprise does paralyze, and lack of control of AA devastated six aircraft of VF-6 later that night. We all stayed on the beach, being on call from the Enterprise, and Admiral Halsey's Task Force.

Reprinted from Enterprise CV-6 Association Bulletin, Spring 1992, with kind permission of Arnold W. Olson.

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