The Battle of Midway Roundtable
Officer and Enlisted Aircrew Relationships
Sharing life-and-death experiences in close quarters in the air often broke down the wall between naval officers and their enlisted crewmen.
by Ronald W. Graetz
(radioman-gunner, VT-6, USS Enterprise)
edited by Ronald Russell
31 March 2009
I was assigned to Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6) on the USS Enterprise (CV-6) in September of 1941. I was immediately assigned to fly rear seat with Ensign Rombach. Mr. Rombach was the squadron communications officer and was thus at ease in spending a lot of time with the radiomen. It was common for him to join us on the hangar deck and spend several minutes sitting on the deck among us. I'm sure the others all respected him as much as I did.
I flew with him from the beginning until April 1942, when he sent me to NAS Kaneohe for a two-week aerial gunnery school. I protested that decision, after which he admitted to me that the Enterprise had orders to join the USS Lexington (CV-2) in the Coral Sea, and that some of the crew would probably not be returning. He had orders to send two men to the gunnery school, so he included me to assure my safety. Additionally, he asked me for my mother's mailing address. He furnished it to his mother, after which the two of them began writing each other. When the ship headed for the Coral Sea, he took a close friend of mine, Wilburn Glenn, to ride back seat with him. That never switched back, and I watched the two of them launch on the morning of 4 June 1942 for the Battle of Midway. They never returned.
I cannot sing the praises long enough or loud enough for Ensign Rombach.
For the time period between the school and the Battle of Midway, I flew with Warrant Officer Harry A Mueller, an ex-chief petty officer. I got along fine with him, but that assignment was too short to become close with him.
After the Battle of Midway, we went to Kaneohe to reform VT-6 with the new TBF aircraft and with newly assigned pilots. I was assigned to fly as turret gunner with Ensign Eppler, and we got along very well. In October of '42, Torpedo Squadron 8 on Guadalcanal sent out a request for more TBF aircraft. The USS Hornet, on which we were assigned, had two spare planes, and Mr. Eppler volunteered to fly one of them to Guadalcanal. Our bombardier, Chapman, and I were told we did not have to join Mr. Eppler on that mission and could be reassigned to another pilot, but we both respected Mr. Eppler and his ability so much that we chose to go with him rather than fly with another pilot. Due to a terrible Pacific storm, we were unable to reach Henderson Field, made a night water landing beside the island of San
Cristobal, and lived with the natives for four days. We were rescued, by a PBY and returned to the USS Curtis at Espiritu Santo, where we learned that our ship, USS Hornet, had been sunk during our absence in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
Mr. Eppler was a good pilot and a great person. I must add that I never heard any of the radiomen complain or make bad comments about their pilots.
Ron Graetz and the Last TBD Mission
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