LT John D. Bridgers, VB-15
To me, LT John D. “Jiggs” Bridgers is emblematic of the naval aviators of World War II. In 1941, he decided that $125/mo as a Navcad with “meals, clothing and housing provided, plus a $1,000 per year bonus after serving four years” beat $99/month and having to pay for everything as a teacher in North Carolina. “To a child of the Depression, these appeared princely sums.” Graduating from Pensacola the week before Pearl Harbor, he was listening to the football game on the radio when the news of the attack came. “I knew my plans had been put on hold.
Arriving in Pearl Harbor in February 1942, the destruction was still there. “I swore if it was possible, that I would avenge this.” Assigned to VB-3, he went aboard Enterprise in early April and participated in the Doolittle Raid, qualifying with as a naval aviator with a deck landing in an SBD on the return. VB-3 was sent aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5) two weeks after they returned, where Bridgers flew search missions during the Battle of Midway and survived the sinking of Yorktown. Sent to Enterprise VS-6, he participated in the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, and as part of Flight 300 spent six weeks on Guadalcanal at the height of the battle, fighting the Tokyo Express. After six more months in the Solomons, he returned stateside in July 1943 and joined VB-15 where he helped “tame the beast” when they were issued the SB2C Helldiver, and became leader of “The Silent Second.” Aboard USS Essex (CV-9) he participated in the Marianas invasion, the fighting over Iwo Jima, and Halsey’s Central Pacific campaign against the Philippines, Okinawa and Formosa. By this time promoted LCDR and XO of VB-15 (at age 25)m on 24 October 1944 he led the Silent Second in attacks on the battleship Musashi, surviving a dive in which the dive brakes on his right wing failed to open. On 25 October, as acting squadron leader with Jim Mini having had to ditch and be picked up by a destroyer on the 24th, he led the entire TF 38 formation against the Japanese carriers off Cape Engano. “As we headed toward the Japanese, I asked Bob how many were behind us, he replied ‘I lost count at 245.'” Bridgers led the attacks that sank the Zuikaku, the last survivor of the six carriers to attack Pearl Harbor. As he later wrote, “On my way back to the ship I considered that the Navy’s investment in me had been returned.”
Here’s a photo of Jiggs in his SB2C-1C “Lucky 7” over Hawaii in April 1944, and a shot of “The Silent Second” airborne. Picture 3 is the Silent Second – Bridgers is on the left in the front row. To his right is LT Niles R. “Old Sieb” Siebert, who was lost over Guam to AA on Jun 24, 1944. Bridgers wrote, “Old Sieb and I had shared staterooms on the Enterprise and the Saratoga, a tent and foxhole on Guadalcanal, and another stateroom on Essex. Losing Sieb was as close as I’ll ever come to losing a brother.” Last is Chief Aviation Radioman Bob Cribb, Bridgers’ gunner with whom he flew every mission.
3 additional images. Click to enlarge.