Stanley W. “Swede” Vejtasa is the only World War II carrier pilot to receive Navy Crosses for both dive bombing and aerial combat. Born in Montana in 1914, Vejtasa attended both Montana State College and the University of Montana. He enlisted in the Navy in 1937 and later attended flight training at Pensacola, Florida, where he earned his wings and was commissioned an ensign. His first fleet assignment was aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-5) flying Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver biplanes while operating in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Vejtasa was drawing and checking out in the new Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber with Scouting Squadron Five when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. The Yorktown and Air Group Five were immediately ordered to the Pacific.
Vejtasa’s combat exploits began in January 1942, when he participated in the first offensive strikes against Japanese targets in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. In March, during raids on enemy shipping near New Guinea, Vejtasa contributed to the destruction of three Japanese ships and was awarded his first Navy Cross. By April, the Yorktown was conducting strikes against Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, and on his second mission, Vejtasa shared in the downing of a Japanese Zero floatplane. On 7 May, during the Battle of the Coral Sea, he scored a direct hit and shared in the sinking of the Japanese carrier Shoho. Just one day later when a swarm of Japanese Zeros ambushed his patrol, Vejtasa downed three enemy planes and earned his second Navy Cross. Soon after, he was sent to fly Grumman F4F Wildcats with “The Grim Reapers” of Fighting Squadron Ten.
Then on 26 October 1942, Vejtasa permanently made his mark on history while leading a combat air patrol from the USS Enterprise during the Battle of Santa Cruz. Finding a formation of enemy dive-bombers just short of their release points, Vejtasa quickly shot down two. Then he spotted 11 enemy torpedo bombers making a run on the Enterprise. In very short order, he shot down five of these planes, and scattered the attackers before they had a chance to finish their torpedo runs. For Swede, it was seven victories in one day, a feat that earned him his third Navy Cross and quite possibly saved the Enterprise from destruction. When his combat cruise with “The Grim Reapers” ended in May 1943, Vejtasa went to Naval Air Station, Atlantic City, New Jersey, to provide flight instruction to new carrier squadrons being formed there.
After the war, he continued to serve in the Navy completing over 30 years of distinguished duty as a pilot, ship’s officer, and ultimately the commanding officer of the USS Constellation. After retiring, he served 25 years as the Secretary of the Ray River Ranch Corporation.
We honor you, Stanley Vejtasa.