Rescue At Truk
By Sgt. Larry McManus
IN the meantime Lt. Burns, worried by the delay in the Tang's arrival, had landed his Kingfisher again to continue his private taxi service for stranded airmen. The first man he picked up this time was Lt. (jg) Robert T. Barbor of Rockville Center, N. Y., pilot of an F6F. Then, at 1415, with Barbor on his wing, Burns taxied up to a raft bearing three more men.
The wind, still strong, caught Burns' plane as it had caught Dowdle's and plunged the lee wing into the water for half its length, but radioman Gill somehow scrambled out to the tip of the high wing and brought the plane back to an even keel. As he did so, a wing float punctured the life raft and it shortly disappeared, carrying along the meager supplies its three occupants had salvaged from their TBF. The airmen—L't. Robert S. Nelson of Great Falls, Mont., a section leader; Robert W. Gruebel AMMlc of Memphis, Tenn., his gunner, and J. L. Livingston ARMlc of Lander, Wyo., his radioman—climbed on the Kingfisher's, wings, where Barbor was already perched.
Then Burns taxied the plane toward another raft a half-mile farther out to sea. He found Ens. Carroll L. Farrell of Ada, Okla.; Joseph Hranek ARM2c of Philadelphia, Pa., and Owen _F. Tabrum AMM2c of Portland, Oreg., whose plane had been next to Lt. Nelson's when Nelson's was downed during a formation approach to Dublon.
Ens. Farrell's plane and another from the formation had circled Nelson's life raft until fighter cover was available and then asked for permission to go in and dump their loads on Dublon.
"There was a jar," said radioman Hranek, "just before we dropped our bomb. We pulled out around 3,000. It was too high for good strafing but I couldn't resist all those targets so I gave them a few rounds as we left.
"The engine was windmilling—no power—and we set down about a half-mile seaward of Nelson's crew. It was a beautiful landing. I've landed with more force on carriers now and then. We had plenty of time. Mr. Farrell and Tabrum inflated the raft on the wing and stepped into it, barely getting their feet wet. I had to climb out the bomb-bay hatch into the water."
Burns took the men from Hranek's raft aboard, and spaced his passengers three on each wing and one on the ledge of the cockpit beside him. Everyone on the plane is still awed at the way Burns taxied his overloaded Kingfisher toward the Tang, which was coming to meet them.
The cross wind was severe and the plane took a terrible beating, but Lt. Burns radioed the sub that he had plenty of gas and was doing all right. After taxiing more than two hours with the seven-man overload, the Kingfisher met the Tang at 1730 hours.
The pounding waves had sprung the rivets in the float, and the plane had a severe angle. "If we'd had to remain in the water much longer—" Lt. Burns said later, not finishing the sentence. So Burns and his radioman Gill went aboard the Tang with the men they had rescued. "We sent Burns and Gill below so they couldn't see," said Comdr. O'Kane, "and then we sank their plane with gunfire." In its last 7 1/2 hours of existence, the Kingfisher had saved 10 men.