TWO RESCUED P-51 MUSTANG PILOTS “BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE”

By Henry Sakaida

I was on eBay two weeks ago and came across a seller who offered a home movie showing the 6th and 7th war patrol of the WWII submarine USS ASPRO. I’m writing a book about Capt Edward Mikes, who was shot down and rescued by this submarine, in the greatest air-sea rescue story of WWII in the Pacific. Just on a lark, I typed in “USS ASPRO” on eBay and got a pretty big jolt! It’s one of these “divine intervention” occurrences that happens once in a blue moon to lucky researchers and historians.

USS Aspro

USS ASPRO (SS-309) was launched on 7 April 1943, completed 7 war patrols, and was decommissioned on 30 April 1954.

 

The seller Gary Schreffler had copied a home movie taken on the submarine by a crew member. It’s in both black and white, and color. The seller explained that he had bought it from the skipper’s family and transferred the movie to DVD. He also mentioned that there is a scene where a pilot is being rescued from the sea! From the smile on the guy’s face, he really looked happy! Unfortunately, there is no voice dialogue. The date was unknown to me at the time.

This is where forensic digging comes in. In checking the war history of the Aspro, I found that it rescued a single pilot on 8 July 1945 (Flight Officer John E. Freeman)  and another on 3 August 1945 (Capt Edward Mikes). Both were P-51 pilots from the 506th Fighter Group based on Iwo Jima. There is only one rescue sequence, so the pilot was either Mikes or Freeman.

 

506th fighter group iwo jima rescued pilot

F/O John Freeman, 506th Fighter Group, 462nd Fighter Squadron, Iwo Jima 1945.

 

506th fighter group iwo jima rescued pilot

John Freeman, very happy and grateful to be rescued! Here he is on the deck of the submarine, 8 July 1945.

 

Using my sleuthing skills, I tracked down the daughter of John E. Freeman. She confirmed that it was her dad and wanted a copy of the DVD! (He is deceased).

According to Freeman’s wingman, 1/Lt Edward F. Bahlhorn:

“Flight Officer John Freeman was my wingman and apparently took some damage to his coolant system on our strafing run as he was spewing coolant during our return to the Rally Point. Shortly after reaching the coastline his engine seized and he radioed that he was bailing out. I saw his chute open and followed him down, momentarily losing him when he hit the water until he inflated his dinghy and got dye marker out.”

“I circled him him while calling Playmate 609  for rescue when I realized I was alone. I finally made contact with a Navy Privateer that took over the orbit of Freeman…”

There is a PB4Y Privateer and a B-29 Super Dumbo filmed, flying around the Aspro just before Freeman was rescued. These two bombers worked together with the submarine on life guard duty to rescue stranded pilots. The Super Dumbo was the 1945 version of our modern AWACs. It was a flying gun platform like the Privateer. It was a 7+ hour flight from Iwo Jima to Japan and back, with nothing but ocean out there.

According to the log of the USS ASPRO, written by Cdr James H. Ashley Jr.,

1407: “Heard over APR that a Mustang Pilot was in trouble and preparing to bail out.”

1440: “Dumbo reported he was circling pilot in raft, bearing 033 degrees, distance 22 miles from us. Went ahead flank on 4 main engines.”

1517: “Rescued Flight Officer John E. Freeman, USA. Condition – good. Few burns and slight nausea from shock.”

Now, how about Ed Mikes? There was no sequence showing his rescue at sea. Naturally, I assumed that he wasn’t in the film. His daughter Donna was very disappointed that the pilot in the rubber raft wasn’t her dad. She had not received a copy of the DVD at the time but I did.

I watched the DVD in its entirety, and a very familiar face flashed before me. It was a bare-chested guy by the conning tower, drinking coffee from a mug and chatting with a crewman. It sure looked like Ed Mikes. So I snapped a photo off my computer screen and sent it to her. She was blown away! It WAS her dad! He was 24 years old at the time. She never had a movie film of her dad in WWII.

Edward Mikes had 15 lives on 3 August 1945 and should not have survived! Please wait for my book.

Remarkably, there are two Navy PB4Ys flying together in the distance during the rescue of Mikes. These were the two Privateers of Fleet Air Wing 18, VPB-18 flown by LCdr Ray Plum and Lt Ralph Ettinger! To see these 2 planes in this home movie, after researching their heroics that day, just thrilled me to no end!

ed mikes 506th fighter group iwo jima rescued pilot

Capt Ed Mikes aboard the Aspro. He was a native of Berwyn, Illinois and became a pilot through the Aviation Cadet Training Program. He flew with the 458th Fighter Squadron and was hit by ground fire.

 

ed mikes 506th fighter group iwo jima rescued pilot

Ed Mikes enjoying the sun and the breeze by the conning tower of the submarine Aspro. When his daughter saw this image, she was stunned! He made a career at International Harvester, and passed away on 10 March 2011 at age 89.

 

Gary Schreffler is a historian like myself and preserving old film footages is his passion. While I normally do not endorse commercial ventures, I will make an exception in this case. Just go to eBay and type in “USS ASPRO WWII WAR PATROLS.” I got a thrill bringing these two  previously  unknown pilots “back to life” for their families. There are nice scenes of the sub crew shooting up a huge Sunfish with small arms (M1 Garands and M1 carbines), floating mines, etc. There are shots of Mt. Fuji as the submarine made dash to rescue Mikes, and a dash to get out of Sagami Bay. Cdr James H. Ashley Jr. and his crew of 88 took a huge risk to go rescue Ed Mikes. Sagami Bay was heavily mined for the impending invasion of Japan and the skipper went in there completely “blind.” Coastal artillery could have hit him; 2 Japanese “Pete” floatplanes each made a bombing run against the sub just as Mikes was about to board!

If you are interested in seeing a portrayal of the rescue of Ed Mikes, you can go to Youtube and type in “USS Aspro Story.” Filmed in 1958, the old TV program just doesn’t do justice to the real story. I remember seeing the segment in 1959 when I was a 8 year old kid!!!

 

For Related Articles See:


For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroes of the Soviet Union 1941–45


Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45


I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal


Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai


Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945


B-29 Hunters of the JAAF


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