CAPT Stanley W. “Swede” Vejtasa

2018-4-27 Vejtasa

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.

(#Repost @goefoundation.org)

VADM H. Denby Starling, II

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Vice Adm. (ret) Starling began his last assignment as commander of Navy Cyber Forces at its establishment on Jan. 26, 2010. There he was responsible for organizing and prioritizing manpower, training, modernization and maintenance requirements for networks and cryptologic, space, intelligence and information operations capabilities. He concurrently served as commander Naval Network Warfare Command, where he oversaw the conduct of Navy network and space operations.

Starling is a native of Virginia Beach, Va., and was commissioned through the University of Virginia NROTC program in 1974. He was designated a naval flight officer in March 1975 and a naval aviator in March 1983, flying the A-6 Intruder with the Black Falcons of Attack Squadron (VA) 85, the Golden Intruders of VA-128 and the Milestones of VA-196.

Outside of the cockpit, Starling served on the staff of Medium Attack Tactical Electronic Warfare Wing, Pacific, as a student at the Naval War College, where he graduated with highest distinction and as the commissioning executive officer of USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). His first flag assignment was to NATO in Northwood, U.K., as the assistant chief of staff, Operations, Intelligence and Exercises, for the Commander in Chief East Atlantic/Commander Allied Naval Forces Northern Europe.

Starling commanded VA-145 aboard USS Ranger (CV 61) during Operation Desert Storm, USS Shreveport (LPD 12), USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), Carrier Group 8/George Washington Carrier Strike Group and Naval Air Force Atlantic.

Starling’s personal awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (5), Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Combat V (3 Individual/ 3 Strike/Flight), Navy Commendation Medal (3/2 with Combat V) and the Navy Achievement Medal.

(#Repost @Navy.mil)

Sgt Henry A “Hank” Bauer

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Henry A “Hank” Bauer was born in East St Louis, Illinois on July 31, 1922. The youngest of nine children, Bauer’s father was an Austrian immigrant who worked as a bartender having earlier lost his leg in an aluminum mill.

After graduating from Central Catholic High School, Bauer went to work repairing furnaces in a beer-bottling plant when his older brother Herman – who was playing in the White Sox farm system – was able to get him a tryout that resulted in a contract with Oshkosh Giants of the Wisconsin State League. Alternating between infield and outfield, he batted .262.

In January 1942, Bauer enlisted in the Marine Corps. He took basic training at Mare Island, California, where he also played for the camp baseball team. 

But the easy life came to an abrupt halt. “One morning,” Bauer told TIME magazine in 1964, “this sergeant came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you volunteer for the Raider battalion?’ I said okay. But the first thing they told me was, ‘You’ve got to swim a mile with a full pack on your back.’ I said, ‘Hell, I can’t even swim,’ and they turned me down. I told the sergeant what happened. He said, ‘You gutless SOB, go back down there.’ So I told them I knew how to swim. They took me.” 

Bauer came down with malaria almost as soon as he hit the South Pacific. “My weight dropped from 190 pounds to 160 pounds,” he said. “I was eating atabrine tablets like candy.” Temporarily recovered (over the next four years, Bauer had 24 malarial attacks), he fought on New Georgia, was hit in the back by shrapnel on Guam. Next came Emirau off New Guinea, then Okinawa. Sixty-four men were in Platoon Sergeant Bauer’s landing group on Okinawa; six got out alive. Hank himself was wounded again on June 4, 1945. “I saw this reflection of sunshine on something coming down. It was an artillery shell, and it hit right behind me.” A piece of shrapnel tore a jagged hole in Bauer’s left thigh. Also wounded that day was Richard C Goss, who was serving with Bauer. “There goes my baseball career,” Bauer told Goss as they were evacuated together. Bauer’s part in the war was over —after 32 months of combat, eleven campaign ribbons, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

His brother, Herman, was not so fortunate. He was killed in action in France with the 3rd Armored Division on July 12, 1944

Bauer felt there was no future for him in baseball so he joined the pipe fitters’ union in East St. Louis, and got a job as a wrecker, dismantling an old factory. But a roving baseball scout named Danny Menendez found him and offered him a tryout with the Quincy Gems, a Yankees’ farm club.  

Bauer hit .323 at Quincy and promptly moved up to the Kansas City Blues, where he hit .313 in 1947 and .305 in 1948. Bauer played 19 games with the Yankees in 1948, he played 100-plus games in Yankees’ pinstripes for the next 11 seasons, plus nine World Series appearances. 

During the 1960s, Bauer managed the Kansas City Athletics and Baltimore Orioles.  In 1966 he led the Orioles to the World Series where they defeated the Dodgers in four games. Bauer then ran a liquor store for many years.

Hank Bauer died of cancer in Shawnee Mission, Kansas on February 9, 2007. 

We honor you, Hank Bauer.

(#Repost @Baseball in Wartime)