Corsair fighter pilot recalls World War II

Capt. Wally Weber returns from a mission in his Corsair fighter. When this picture was shot, he was flying from Peleliu Island in the Pacific. Photo provided

Wally Weber of Burnt Store Country Club didn’t have to sweat the draft during World War II. His father was the chairman of the local draft board in the little town in Oklahoma where he grew up.

“I told my dad, ‘You’re not going to draft me. I’m going in the Army Air Corps,” the retired Marine Corps major recalled 60 years later. “Instead I ended up in the Navy and eventually in Marine Corps aviation.”

His military adventure began in January 1942 when he accompanied a buddy to Dallas, Tex. who was going to enlist in the Navy. His friend forgot to bring his birth certificate so he couldn’t sign up. Weber had his and before he knew it the Navy recruiter had signed him up for the duration.

Because he had two years of ROTC in college they made him an aviation cadet officer. Weber was sent to Corpus Christie for preliminary flight school and then to Cherry Point, N.C. for advanced training. He was retrained to be a PBY–flying boat– pilot.

“Because they didn’t have any multi-engine instructors I couldn’t get checked out,” Weber recalled. “I saw a note on the bulletin board that they needed fighter pilots. I signed up and was sent to El Toro Marine Aviation Base in southern California for flight training.”

He learned to fly the Navy’s hot, new gull-winged Corsair. It was a fighter with folding wings for carrier use that could fly at 450 mph, had six 50-caliber wing-mounted machine guns and carried two 1,000 pound bombs under its fuselage.

“The Corsair was the best,” Weber said with a twinkle in his eye six decades after flying the fighter as a 23-year-old Marine Corps aviator. He was a member of Marine Corps Squadron VMF-114 in the South Pacific. He flew 150 sorties over enemy territory.

As Weber paged through his flight log from a lifetime ago the notations in the brown covered book told a story about a young Marine Corps chaplain’s struggle to stay alive during the last half of the Battle for the Pacific.

“Strafed Jap fleet over New Ireland,” the log entry for March 1944 read. New Ireland was an island that was part of the Japanese main base at Rabaul. The enemy had a substantial part of its fleet there. They had an air field on the island and there were four others close by.

“B-25 (bomber) cover over Talili Bay,” his flight log continues. “Capt. Freeman shot down.”

It was Apr. 11, 1944 and Weber was flying a fighter sweep over Rabaul Bay looking for “targets of opportunity.” They had to knock off some Japanese barges transporting enemy soldiers being moved from one point to another in the bay.

“I was flying with Mel Freeman that afternoon when his Corsair was hit by .37-mm anti-aircraft fire. He couldn’t make it back to base so he crash landed his plane in the bay. He didn’t bail out because he didn’t want the Japanese to spot him.

“We could see him floating around in a rubber raft. He spent the rest of the afternoon and all that night floating in the bay,” Weber said. “Early the next morning we came and picked him up with a PBY (flying boat) as six or eight of us flew cover overhead.

The flying boat had no trouble landing near him in the bay and flying out a few minutes later with their soggy but safe Corsair pilot. He wasn’t hurt, but Freeman had had enough of war.

“He was on his second tour when he was shot down. He was a veteran of Guadalcanal and had seen a lot of service,” Weber said. “They sent him home after he escaped capture in Rabaul Bay.”

For Weber and Squadron VMF-114 they still had a ways to go. The unit moved on to Peleliu where the U.S. Marine Corps was catching hell from entrenched Japanese troops. The U.S. “ground pounders” were receiving air support form VMF-114.

“When we landed at the air base at Peleliu the Japs had snipers shooting at us from the hills. It was just something we had to put up with.

“We had to be very careful where we dropped our bombs because we dropped them so close to our guys,” he said.

It was round robin affair for the pilots. They would take off, bomb their targets, fly back to base, get more bombs and do it all over again.

The battle for Peleliu went on for weeks. The enemy was protected in concrete bunkers like may other Japanese-held islands in the Pacific during World War II. They had to be rooted out by Marines who did a lot of dying on the island. Weber remembers it as being a couple of miles wide and maybe five miles long.

It was during this period the Burnt Store Country Club resident came as close to dying as he ever would during the Second World War.

“We were flying a fighter sweep to hit an ammo dump. I had a new wing man who was carrying napalm he was going to bomb the dump with,” Weber said. “After we attacked the ammo dump the new man told me by radio he didn’t believe his bombs ignited.

“So I flew back by myself to strafe the bombs with machine gun bullets to make them explode. The Japs were waiting for me with their .37-mm anti-aircraft guns,” be said.

“A .37-mm shell came up through the bottom of my fuselage. It blew my rudder pedal off and damaged my instrument panel,” Weber said. “I got a bunch of shrapnel in my face and leg.”

He kept his Corsair flying and caught up to his fighter wing as it flew back to base 100 miles away. Weber was flying on a wing and a prayer when he finally touched down on the runway.

“When I started to land I discovered my brakes and rudder controls were gone. As the wheels touched the runway I pulled the bar that retracted them and the Corsair’s fuselage and wings scraped along the runway until my plane skidded to a stop in front of a torpedo bomber getting ready for takeoff,” Weber said.

Pictured in front of a Corsair fighter plane are the pilots of Marine Corps Squadron VMF-113. They are pictured on Espiritu Santos Island in the New Hebrides in the Pacific in July 1944 during World War II. Photo provided

The ground crew sprayed the engine with fire-retardant foam. A couple of men climbed up on the wing of his fighter and helped him climb out of the cockpit. He spent the remainder of the day having the doctor removed iron from his body–the results of the exploding enemy ant-aircraft shell.

“I got drunk that night with my buddies. I was back flying in about a week,” he said.

It wasn’t long afterwards, on May 6, 1945, Weber and the other 40 pilots of Marine Corps Squadron VMF-114 got word they were going home. They had spent more than a year fighting in the Pacific.

They were loaded aboard a C-47 twin-engine transport plane for the long flight home. From Peleliu they flew to Guam and from there to Eniwetok and on to Kwajalein, the Johnson Islands, Pearl and finally Oakland, Calif.

At 82 Weber looks through the pages of his World War II flight log. The old fighter pilot flew 150 missions over enemy territory during the war. Sun photo by Don Moore

Weber would remain in the service for another four years, reach the rank of major, fly fighter jets and retire from the military in 1949. He would become the advertising director of the Muskegon Daily Phoenix, a newspaper in Muskegon, Okla.

He and his wife, Phyllis, moved to this area from there seven years ago.

Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, six battle stars and the World War II Victory Medal

This story was first published in the Englewood Sun newspaper, Englewood, Florida on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2002 and is republished with permission.

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Walter Warren “Wally” Weber, 88, of Punta Gorda, Fla., died Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009 in Bemidji, Minn.

He was born Nov. 2, 1920 in Pierce City, Mo., to Walter William and Fern (nee Loy) Weber.

Soon after Wally was born, the family moved to Muskogee, Okla., where he graduated from Central High School. Wally attended the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma Military Academy before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, to avoid being drafted by his father who was head of the local draft board.

After attending flight school in Texas, he transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps and became a fighter pilot, flying Corsairs in the South Pacific. After the war, Wally returned to Muskogee and in 1947, married Jeanne Lillian Bixby, and went to work for KBIX radio station and later the Muskogee Daily Phoenix where he served as Advertising Manager and later Vice President.

After his wife’s death in 1994, Wally married Phyllis Bjorneby Knutson, and moved to Punta Gorda, where he lived until his death. Wally was an avid golfer. As a child he walked five miles to play a round of golf. Wally was a long time member of the Muskogee Country Club, Grace Episcopal Church and life member of Oriental Masonic Lodge 430 A.F. & A.M. where he also was a Shriner and Jester.

In his later years, Wally attended reunions with his old squadron VMF114, which reunited him with his oldest best friends. Wally also enjoyed his summers in Bemidji, where he spent his last days. Wally became an accomplished artist in his later years, delighting family and friends with prints of his sketches as Christmas cards.

He was always a gentleman, never raising his voice and never letting his golf game make him angry, which is a very rare occurrence.

Wally ‘s grandchildren adored him and he them. He will always be remembered as a man of indelible character, great kindness, and unconditional love. We will miss him greatly, but know he is with God at peace.

Wally is survived by his wife, Phyllis Bjorneby Weber; son, David Mark (Dessa) Weber; step-children, Christie and Bruce Boeder of Minnetonka, Minn., David and Shelly Knutson of Duluth, Minn., and James Andrew Knutson of Bemidji; and grandchildren, David Mark Weber, Jr., Robert Bixby Weber, Grace Loy Weber, Steven and Jamie Knutson, Diana Knutson, Thomas Knutson, Geoffrey Boeder and Kirsten Boeder. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Jeanne Bixby Weber; brother H. Loy Weber; his mother and father; and his son, Peter Michael Weber.

Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14, 2009 at Grace Episcopal Church with The Rev. Joseph Alsay and The Rev. Jenny L. Pratt officiating. Interment will follow in Greenhill Cemetery. Friends may wish to make memorials to the Growing Grace Campaign, at Grace Episcopal Church, 218 N. 6th St., Muskogee, OK 74401.

Arrangements are by Foster-Petering Funeral Home, Oklahoma.

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