Midway was the decisive battle in the Pacific during Wolrd War II. Cpl. Gasper Buffa who serve in the U.S. Marine Corps was in the thick of it.
The 84-year-old Port Charlotte, Fla. man was a plane captain for a SBD-2 Dauntless dive bomber (BuNo 2106) flown by Lt. Daniel Iverson. During the battle, Iverson attacked Hiryu, one of the four enemy carriers sent to the bottom by U.S. air power on June 4, 1942. Buffa’s job was to keep Iverson’s plane in good mechanical condition.
The 15 dive bombers that flew from Midway to intercept the massive Japanese fleet were flown by young Marine aviators with “less than four hours flying time,” Buffa said. Their outdated, two-seater dive bombers were outclassed and outgunned by the swift and highly maneuverable Japanese Zero fighters.
“The Zero was a fantastic plane,” he said. “They could outfly us on every turn.”
Buffa and the other 1,450 Marines on Midway were alerted at 4 a.m. that the Japanese fleet had been spotted 150 miles away. It was sailing for the tiny island 1,200 miles east of Hawaii.
“We had the planes ready to go by sun up,” he said. “They took off and almost immediately after they were gone, we were hit by 120 Japanese planes.”
The enemy attacked in three waves. First came the bombers, then the dive bombers, and finally the fighters.
“Everything above ground was hit. The mess hall and the power house were demolished in the attack,” Buffa recalled. “Shortly after the Japanese attack, our planes started returning one at a time.”
When Iverson and his tail gunner, Pfc. Wallace J. Reid, returned in their dive bomber, it looked like a piece of Swiss cheese. The airplane had 249 bullet holes in its metal skin. Half of the Marine, Navy and Army Air Corps aviators who flew off Midway that morning never returned.
Iverson received the Navy Cross for attacking the Hiryu. Reid was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Iverson was killed in 1944 in a mid-air collision while serving as a flying instructor at Vero Beach, Fla. Reid was killed in action on the Pusan Perimeter in August 1950 during the early dark days of the Korean War.
Buffa was made the lead ground crew chief at Guadalcanal for SDB-2, Squadron 233. He survived the war, became a builder and eventually retired to Charlotte County four years ago.
Iverson’s SDB-2 Dauntless dive bomber as outdated and all shot up. It was repaired after the fabled flight and became a trainer for flying cadets back in the States. In June 1943, 2nd Lt. Donald Douglass attempted to land on the carrier Sable in Lake Michigan. He and his planed ended up in the drink. The lieutenant was plucked from the lake and survived the incident. The ancient dive bomber was not as fortunate.
A half-century later, in 1993, the old dive bomber (2106) was lifted from Lake Michigan by a crane, thanks to a restoration project sponsored by the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla. It has been restored and is now on display in the museum’s World War II airplane exhibit.
Not only did the 2106 survive the Lake Michigan dunking and the attack on the Hiryu — during what some would say was the greatest naval battle in U.S. history — it was also one of the few U.S. planes at Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor that survived the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack. During the critical early days of the war, the 65-year dive bomber also flew from the deck of some of this country’s most historic aircraft carriers.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. in June 2, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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Gasper Buffa, on January 19, 2016, passed away at the age of 96, in Port Charlotte, FL.
Beloved husband to Rose (nee Suozzi). Proud parent to Carol Williams (Silas), Linda Emmi (Thomas), Angela Buffa Tortorici, Gasper Buffa Jr. (Theresa), and Dominick Buffa (Liz). Grandfather to Cynthia Genova, Brian Robert Pascucci (Jennifer),Gasper Buffa III (Jennifer), Matthew Ernest Pas-cucci (Dawn), David Gasper Buffa (Nicole), Lauren Benedict (Chris-topher), and Paul Bradley Buffa.
Great-grandfather to Liam Pascucci, Luke Pascucci, Daniel Buffa, Jay Gasper Buffa and Silas Benedict.
He is also survived by his sister Sarah Pachiarotti and many nieces and nephews.
Memorial Visiting Friday, 2-4 & 7-9 pm at Whitting Funeral Home, 300 Glen Cove Avenue, Glen Head, NY 11545. http://www.whitting.com. Funeral Mass 9:30 am Saturday at Church of St. Rocco, Glen Cove, NY. Interment of ashes to follow at Holy Rood Cemetery, Westbury, NY. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in his memory to the Disabled American Veterans website: https://www.dav.org.
Published in Newsday on Apr. 27, 2016