Sixty-eight years ago this month an experienced pilot by the name of Ens. Delbert LaRue Martin took off from the Marine airbase on Ulithi island in his F6F-5 Hellcat to attack Yap Island with a support package that included twelve additional Hellcat's, three Helldivers, seven TBM Avenger's and PBY rescue plane. Although Delbert's VF-12 squadron was based on the carrier USS Randolph, the carrier had been severely damaged in the Ulithi harbor a few days prior when a Japanese P1Y Frances kamikaze hit the ship as many of the crew were watching a movie on the flight deck. A group of kamikaze's had staged through Yap Island to attack the large American rest and support anchorage at Ulithi. Only two of the kamikaze's made it to Ulithi with the result of 25 men dead and 106 wounded on the Randolph. We found the wreckage of two Frances on Yap that did not make it to Ulithi. Delbert's mission was one of hundreds of missions against Yap to insure that the Yap airfields could not be used to attack American forces that had bypassed the island for invasion. The fighters and dive bombers with Delbert attacked the pier and buildings near the Palak entrance on Gagil-Tomil with rockets, bombs and staffing runs. On the first attack Delbert's plane went into a dive from 8000 feet and never pulled out. He hit the ground on Gagil-Tomil. It was not known if he was hit by AA fire, blacked out or if he had a structural failure. American reports from the end of the war state that the Japanese took the wreckage from his Hellcat and dumped it off the reef south of Gagil-Tomil. Partial remains were found buried near the crash site, however, the remains were sent to an unidentified grave (no DNA testing the 1940's). Although his parents, sister and brother have all passed away, a cousin told me that his father walked the county roads near his house in grief over the loss of Delbert for years after the war. In 2010 I had a close call diving when I was searching for Delbert's wreckage off the reef. Something went wrong with my tank at 80-90 feet and I ran out of air. An experienced local dive guide, Chomed, allow me to share his tank as we decompressed together to surface (likely saved me). Sadly, Chomed passed away last year in a free diving accident on Yap. Interesting how Delbert's 1945 loss has caused ripples through sixty-eight years of history. More information can be viewed at:
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