Hollywood Marines, Part 3

May 8th, 2014
Hollywood Marines, Part 3

VMO-251 Wildcats fly over the Salton Sea during the filming of Wake Island! Picture courtesy of Paramount Pictures via the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Hollywood Marines, Part 2

May 8th, 2014
Hollywood Marines, Part 2

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures via the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. VMO-251 pilot Capt. Ralph Yeaman visits with Wake Island star Brian Donlevy at the Salton Sea, California where filming was taking place.

Hollywood Marines

April 30th, 2014
Hollywood Marines

I have been able to confirm that VMO-251 did indeed supply the planes for the 1942 WW2 film, Wake Island. The film is considered the first in a long line of WW2 genre films.

I spoke with Kristine Kreuger of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' National Film Information Service. LTC John Hart received credit in the film as Squadron Commander. Hart was part of the Film Team that was led by MG Ross E Rowell. The team also included, LTC Francis Pierce, LTC W.G. Farrell and CPT Nicholas Persecan, all USMC. Ms. Kreuger is going through pre-production notes and photographs for items to send. I am hoping a larger photo of the one below sent to me many years ago.

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At Guadalcanal

April 26th, 2014
At Guadalcanal

One of the things I enjoy about this project is that once in a while you end up acquiring something that sheds new light on a historical event. Such is the case with the unpublished memoirs of 2Lt. Roy Spurlock, (pictured) who flew with the squadron while at Guadalcanal. His manuscript concentrated on one incident -- the invasion of the island and how five 251 pilots had a ringside seat to it. Two of those five pilots would not make it back. Just another detail to be covered in the book!

A Silver Star Recipient

April 23rd, 2014
A Silver Star Recipient

I spoke with Vito Murgolo. He served with VMO-251 from its activation until December 1942 when he was sent back to the states. (See previous entry!)

He did indeed earn the Silver Star as posted earlier. I am paraphrasing our conversation via phone from Tuesday, April 22. I hope to fly out in June to see him to get a more thorough interview.

When VMO-251 was formed, there were only 2 to 3 officers and about 30 enlisted men, Murgolo one of them. They had no barracks assignment at North Island, so they were issued cots and housed in a large, empty hangar. He said it was very cold, and they put newspapers on their cots to keep the cold draft from coming up underneath and through the cots when they tried to sleep.

When the squadron was shipped overseas, they packed enough supplies to be self sufficient for six months of operations. This included spare parts for the planes, lubricants, food, material supplies and a host of other items. He confirmed that the squadron left fully expecting to support the 1st Marine Division and were heading to New Zealand. They knew something was up but did not know what.

After the Guadalcanal invasion, he and 4 other enlisted men, and 251's XO, Major Hayes, were sent to the island to get Henderson Field operational. They had a Navy Construction Battalion to help out -- CUB 1. Major Hayes led his men and the Navy engineers to get the field ready. It was done in a few days. Major Hayes was sent back to Espiritu but Murgolo and the other enlisted men stayed behind. Murgolo stayed at Guadalcanal for four months.

Murgolo also elaborated on his Silver Star award. He said the night of October 13/14 was terrible. The Japanese battleships pounded the field. He and the others had a log-covered foxhole shelter that they quickly occupied and the five of them couldn't stop shaking. He says he doesn't know how he made it through the barrage without getting hit. When he tried to get the planes ready to meet an expected incoming Japanese air raid, he was harassed by a Jap sniper. He wasn't hit and neither were the other enlisted men that were helping out. When he got one of the planes fired up, he taxied it to an officer. Screaming to be heard, he asked the officer if he was a pilot. The officer replied in the affirmative. Murgolo says he then told the pilot to "get in the plane and get that Jap sniper!"

Murgolo received his Silver Star after he returned to the states and was assigned to a new squadron then forming. When the award ceremony was over, he noticed he received the wrong medal. It had someone else's name on it. He approached his new CO, and asked for a new medal with his name on it. His CO said it was too much trouble. "Take it to a jeweler and have them scratch out the name and add yours," said Murgolo.

Murgolo stayed in the Corps and also saw service during the Korean War. He attained the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant.

He said he had pictures and is having them scanned and emailed to me. When I receive them I will post a few!