How I won my Sixth and Last Air Medal

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Members of VB-6 in front of a Helldiver.I was a turret gunner on a TBM(F) operating from USS HANCOCK (CV-19), off the Coast of Japan, the latter part of the War with Japan. This particular instance, we were chasing after the remaining Jap fleet, the ones able to go out and attack our invasion forces.

There was a Jap cruiser, a heavy cruiser, the AOBA, and it was in the Kobe harbor, surrounded by anti-aircraft guns. Our intention was to sink it to get rid of it, so it wouldn't be a hazard to the invasion force.

My pilot Lt. D. Temple was the section leader. So we had the privilege of going down first. We were carrying four 500 Lb. bombs, and my pilot always loved to get a hit. In fact, for the results of his hits, he was awarded the Navy Cross.

In our dive, shortly after releasing the bombs, we were hit by a large caliber anti-aircraft shell, taking a tremendous hit into the starboard wing; a hole you could walk through. It put the plane out of control.

Mark Hardisty
with wife Doris at VT-6 Reunion, Oceanna, VA 1990

Mark Hardisty with wife Doris - VT-6 Reunion in Oceanna, VA 1990
We were too low to bail out, when we leveled off. I had one hell of a pilot. He was able to horse that plane out to the waters edge, where we crashed into the sea.

We were so close to shore that small arms fire was able to fire out at us. Thank God, I was able to get out of the turret and was able to get the raft out and my pilot got into the raft but my radioman, Janskow, was trapped down in the bilge. We had some very trying moments there until he popped to the surface. We all three got in the raft.

As I said, they were firing at us from the shore but it was an offshore wind. If you have ever been in a raft when the wind is blowing, it scoots the raft across the water. Of course we paddled like hell, and this radioman of mine, a big husky fella, when he got on the paddles, you would think we had an outboard motor on the damn thing, because away we went out to sea, getting out of range of anything in the way of firing.

We were Okay, but we sweated it out, and kept paddling to get further out to sea, but the current was taking us down the coast, and as we looked down the coast we could see that the land jutted out which meant that before the next morning, the offshore wind would die down. So we sweated it out, and with the wind dying, and the current carrying us toward the jetty, we knew that we would not be able to evade being carried into the shore.

Our mission was a pre-dawn flight, so we hit 'em very early in the morning; so we spent the day paddling that raft but knowing that the current was going to take us into land that night. None of us said it, but we didn't have to say it to each other; we all knew that we were not going to be taken alive.

Because we knew we weren't going to be taken alive, we were all armed: guns, knives - things like that. But, there was no hoop-rah about taking the damn fight ashore; we were just going to do what we had to do.

But, all day long, we sweated it out, paddling away; but just at dusk over the horizon came a puff of smoke. And I thought well, 'maybe it is a Jap ship,' if it is, we would probably have surrendered to that, knowing the civilians on the beach would eat us alive. But, I fired up the 30 caliber revolver I had with tracer ammunition, and sure enough they saw it.

Well, in they came, and oh God what a wonderful, wonderful thing it was. It was a destroyer, an American destroyer, the U.S.S. BENHAM!

Well, when we went down, Duke my pilot had given a Mayday, but none of our fellow pilots had seen or heard the Mayday, but from another carrier, a fighter pilot had seen us go in, and he had notified the Flag of the Fleet, that we were down. But the Flag did not notify our ship, not knowing who we were or who was down. Of course back at ship, they didn't know our fate.

So, when this destroyer came in, they made a broadside and pulled us aboard.

We didn't know how weak we were from being in the water 12-18 hours, it felt like forever.

Anyhow we went aboard the BENHAM, and the Fleet was leaving out and the BENHAM had to chase the Fleet, and they victimized us, and our radioman did not know what they gave us, but blanko we went.

They stripped us, strapped us down in a bunk in the bow in the Chief's quarters. I did doze a little bit by what ever the Corpsman gave us. I can't remember whether it was a shot or pills.

But the BENHAM went out in the middle of the night. Next morning, I realized why they strapped us in. The destroyer was going into heavy seas. The destroyer was leaping, almost clear out of the water, and almost threw us out of the bunks.

Well that destroyer at flank speed, burned up it's fuel and heated up it's boiler room so that it got so hot, but we were on our way.

The BENHAM finally got back to its sister Tomcat destroyer. Tomcat destroyers range out 100 or more miles from the Fleet, as radar pickets.

It then transferred us by breeches buoy from the BENHAM to the U.S.S. MONSON. And then the MONSON under forced draft, flank speed, caught up to the back of the HANCOCK that next evening. And who was waiting for me at the stern of the HANCOCK was not only the skipper of the squadron, but a very beloved man that I will long remember, my plane captain, Dick Wartinger.

And that's how I won my sixth and last Air Medal.

Fair winds,

Mark A. Hardisty, AOM1/C TBM(F)

Submitted 7/15/2000
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