1Lt. Robert T. Whitten served with VMO-251 until early 1944. In September 1942, while performing a high altitude climb to intercept Japanese aircraft approaching Guadalcanal, his oxygen system failed. He blacked out from anoxia. In a newspaper article published in the Wilmington Delaware Journal April 17, 1943, Whitten says he "snapped out of it just in time."
When he returned from that intercept, he and several pilots were immediately sent on sick leave. This incident, coupled with the debilitating effects of malaria that he had contracted, later led to being taken off flight status.
Above: VMO-251 mechanics work on F4F-3 Wildcats on Espiritu Santo sometime in late 1942. Photo: Tailhook Association.
Working on chapter 3 of the book. It covers VMO-251s time at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides and at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands from August 1942 to June 1943. (Pull out your maps if you don't know where these islands are located ). This will be the most difficult chapter. Squadron records from this time period are sparse, and in some cases missing. I have constructed a timeline based on casualties sustained and Japanese planes downed by the squadron. Secondary sources will have to be used to fill in the gaps when it comes to air operations: The First Team and Operation Ke. Background on the Guadalcanal campaign will come from USMC histories and other sources.
While working on chapter two of the squadron's WW2 history, I have come across the names of the four VMO-251 photographers who snapped the pictures of the invasion areas of Guadalcanal and Tulagi on July 23 and August 2, 1942. They flew on B-17s belonging to the 11th Bombardment Group. The mission was led by LCDR Robert S. Quackenbush, Jr., who established and ran the Navy's Photography and Photo Interpretation Unit based out of New Caledonia. Once the pictures were developed and analyzed at New Caledonia, they were flown via PBY Catalina and air dropped to the invasion fleet. Vandegrift finally had current photos since his maps were pretty much worthless. The four 251 photographers were: TSGT Marcus N. Harper Jr., NCOiC of the squadron’s photographic section; SSGT Jay W. Morris, SSGT Wilbur L. Peak, and SGT Homer E. Collier Jr.