Voices of the Veterans

Fighter pilots, crew chiefs, bombardiers, and factory workers: All have stories to tell.

A B-17 crew in England finishes its last mission. (USAF)
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Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa
Navy fighter pilot and double ace, Pacific Theater

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(“Swede” Vejtasa Photo: Courtesy Swede Vejtasa collection)

[Early in the Pacific war] we still had this gunsight in our SBDs [Dauntless dive bombers], and we’d usually go into a strike [from] above 20,000 feet. When we went into a dive, because of the cold air in the cockpit [and] on the gunsight and the glass, as soon as we tipped over and came down, everything fogged over. That was a deficiency that was critical, so for a while we had to roll the [canopy] open. That’s not very comfortable diving in the SBD with the cockpit open, but we had to…

We tried various types of tactics [to fight against Japanese Zeros]. We learned certain things that we couldn’t do, more than anything else. He could out-turn us, but we could meet him head-on with the [Dauntless]. This actually worked pretty well…

[On one bombing run] my gunsight fogged over, so I pulled out and went back up and rolled over for another attack on a ship down below. And when I pulled out of that one, I heard my French gunner in the rear seat who, when he got excited, never said a word in English. He was on the speaker really going at it in French, and I looked back and here was a Zero on my tail…. We ended up making three or four head-on runs [at each other], and I finally got on him and I hit him. I had him on fire leaving a smoke trail. As he dove away, he was burning.

With the [faster] F4F [Wildcat] we had the firepower, 50-calibers, and we could fire at quite a range. The nice thing about the gun on the F4F, with those guns in the wings, they were at a level, and pairs could be aimed to cross at different ranges to achieve a cylinder of fire.

One thing we learned about the Zero, if he got on your tail at altitude, you might as well dive away, because you could probably out-dive him. At high speed he was a little less maneuverable than was the F4F. On straight and level, of course, he was a little faster too. So it was a real contest as far as fighters were concerned. A lot had to do with pilot ability. (Source: NMPW)

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