History Nebraska Blog

Shot Down Over the South China Sea: Recollections of WWII

Ens. John R. Doyle, USN. Courtesy of the Doyle Family 

Ens. John R. Doyle, USN. Courtesy of the Doyle Family

It took luck, skill, friendly Filipinos, and contracting malaria for U.S. Navy Ensign John “Dugie” Doyle to survive World War II. In the Winter 2014 issue of Nebraska History Magazine, you can read Doyle’s recollections of the war as told to friend and fellow Lincoln attorney, Samuel Van Pelt. When Doyle was a freshman at Yale in 1942, it seemed like classmates were going into the military daily. He and 80 classmates signed up for the navy air cadet program, and Doyle was called for active duty only a few months later.

Although training was intense, Doyle’s most memorable war experiences came in late 1944 as a dive bomber pilot with the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga. On November 25, 1944, Doyle was assigned to an airstrike on a Japanese cruiser. But a miscommunication meant that Doyle was the thirteenth plane in a formation that was supposed to have twelve. This put Doyle as the final plane to dive: the most vulnerable position.

In the strike, Doyle was able to score a hit on the cruiser but was unaware that he had been hit by the anti-aircraft until his gunner, W.W. King, radioed that the plane’s wing was on fire. Hundreds of miles from the Ticonderoga, Doyle was able to successfully land the plane in the water about ten miles west of the Philippine island Luzon

Doyle and King climbed out of the plane and waved to the other fighters that they were OK. Just earlier that day, the pilots had been assured that the air-sea rescue plan was a good one. Doyle and King expected to be picked up by a rescue sub before long. But the sub never came. 

To hear the rest of the story and find out how Doyle survived, check out the full article in the Winter 2014 issue of Nebraska History Magazine. In it, you’ll read how Doyle met other stranded pilots, got help from the natives of Luzon, and how having malaria spared Doyle from being aboard an ill-fated transport plane. Truth is stranger than fiction!

- Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications

A Curtiss Helldiver circles above an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, January 1945. U.S. Navy photo, 80-G-320999

A Curtiss "Helldiver" circles above an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, January 1945. U.S. Navy photo, 80-G-320999

Map of Luzon, the Philippines. Robert Ross Smith, Unites States Army in World War II, the War in the Pacific: Triumph in the Philippines (Washington, D.C.: office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1993)

Luzon, the Philippines. Robert Ross Smith, Unites States Army in World War II, the War in the Pacific: Triumph in the Philippines (Washington, D.C.: office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1993)

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