A bunch of tired Marines of VMO-251 left Guadalcanal behind on May 17, 1943. They were heading home. They made the trip on the Kitty Hawk, APV 1.
During the early morning hours of 14 October, 1942, Henderson Field underwent an intense bombardment by Japanese Admiral Kurita Takeo's 3rd Battleship Division. For over an hour, 14 inch shells pummeled the air field. Several VMO-251 enlisted men were there while serving on Special Temporary Attached Duty, among them Sgt. Vito L. Murgolo of White Plains, New York. With the Marines also expecting an air raid by Japanese bombers, he realized that several fighters had not been prepared for flight. With hot shrapnel flying in all directions, he left his shelter and raced for the planes. Reaching the fighters unscathed, he started two of the aircraft. He then taxied the planes to the take-off spot in time for pilots to man them and meet the incoming Japanese bombers. Racing back to the planes, he attempted to start two additional fighters, but was unsuccessful. For his actions that day, Murgolo was awarded the Silver Star.
I believe I have tracked down Mr. Murgolo. He's 95 and living in the Los Angeles area. As recently as 2000, he was running for public office. I have sent a letter to him, hoping he can fill in some gaps in the squadron's history -- October and November 1942.
I will keep you posted...
During my visit to the National Archives in March, I discovered two recommendations for awards that the squadron has not received. It is not clear if the recommendations were forwarded for approval. A copy of the two awards has been sent to the Marine Corps History Division. We'll see if the squadron is authorized the awards. It appears their World War II story isn't quite complete.
Here's a chart of the awards the squadron has received, as well as the two recommendations. You can read the recommendations by going to this post: Is 251 due for two more awards?
Most of the casualties were pilots, and some were enlisted men. On February 10, 1943, PFC Ralph Lucero became one of those casualties. It wasn't by the Japanese, but in a tragic accident involving two aircraft.
The VMO-251 war diary for February 1943 has this entry for the 10th: Fourteen enlisted men (14) jdfr HqSq-14. Lucero, Ralph A. PFC killed by plane crashing into truck which he was driving.
His good friend, PFC Dan Abrams, witnessed the accident*: "We had a kid by the name of Lucero. He was on the fire truck on the airport, and they had the night before we’d all sat up and watched, "Washing Machine"** Charlie, because nobody was afraid of him because he’s just keeping you awake. But Lucero was talking and he was from Pueblo, Colorado, and we were talkin’ about when we got home, and he said that night, he said I’m not goin’ home. And oh yeah, you are. And no, no, said I’m not. He said any of you get to be to Pueblo after the war, he said stop and tell my mother. So we all promised we would.
Sure enough, next morning, two planes collided right together. One was taking off one way and the other run head on and one of them hit the fire truck and killed him. Oh, it was 25 years later I stopped in Pueblo, had a job up at Pueblo and I thought I’d see him, I’d promised and thought well I’ll see. I got the phone book open and hell, there must’ve been 50 Lucero’s in it, and I called several of them and none of them had any recollection of him.
The two planes was run head on that morning was the Army was taking off from one end of the strip and the Marines was taking off on the other, and there was just a new officer by the name of Sturret that come out and he was running the light, and he was supposed to give a red light to one and a green light to the other one, and he give a green light to both of ‘em, and so here they come, a B-40*** and an F4F, and hit head on just as they both come up off the ground. Luckily both pilots survived, but Lucero got killed."
*Source: Oral history collection, General Land Office of the state of Texas.
**Original was blank. Filled in by me. Other reports and publications refer to a Washing Machine Charlie harassing Henderson Field on a continual basis.
***Abrams may have misidentified the Army aircraft.
While jotting down notes and going through the documents obtained from the National Archives, I found the attached two files. One is a recommendation for the Army's Distinguished Unit badge, and another is a Navy Unit Commendation recommendation. It is not known if these two recommendations were sent through channels and approved, or denied. I have written the head of the Marine Corps History Division for help in determining the final disposition of these recommendations.