In April 1944, American carrier planes were assaulting Truk and NORTH CAROLINA was protecting the carriers. The Battleship’s Kingfishers were assigned rescue duty and took to the air on the morning of April 30, 1944.
“A number of our planes were shot down and the men had taken to rubber boats. They were close off the atoll, under Japanese guns. I was ordered to take my plane, which had pontoon floats, on a rescue mission. I was out with another plane of the same type. We had been given the position of a man who had been in the water about 22 hours. He had landed inside a reef, right under the noses of the Japanese guns. The [Japanese] had been shooting at him all day.
When darkness fell he had worked his way over the reef, and into open water, where we found him. The other [Kingfisher] plane with me landed in the water to pick him up. But a stiff gust of wind turned it upside down. Then I landed, and picked up the man in the boat, and the pilot [LT J.J. Dowdle] and radio man [Aubrey Gill] of the plane which had been with me. Three men got on the wings and I taxied five or six miles out to sea, where we came to a submarine [USS TANG] which took the three men aboard.
I flew back again. I had been told by radio of the position of another man, close in to the reef, and I got him on the wings. I heard of other men in the water. It took me two hours, taxiing around, to find three more men. They told me of seeing another plane crash. Other planes overhead helped direct me to the scene, and in two more hours I had located three more men. Then I had seven men on my wings.
I taxied out to sea again and found the submarine, but my plane had taken such a beating from the wind and water that we had to destroy it so my radio man and I got on the submarine, too.”
LT John Burns
Burns, a true hero, was awarded the Navy Cross. He was tragically killed the following year during a training exercise in Virginia, on February 24, 1945.