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Hero of the Day


Col. James Swett, Medal of Honor, United States Marine Corps.

You can get a sense of the man from this account of his first day of combat in the Second World War:

His first mission was as a division leader on a combat air patrol over the Russell Islands early on the morning of April 7 in expectation of a large Japanese air attack. Landing to refuel, the four plane division of F4F Wildcats he was leading was scrambled after other aircraft reported 150 planes approaching Ironbottom Sound, and intercepted a large formation of Japanese Aichi D3A dive bombers attacking Tulagi harbor.

When the fight became a general melee, Swett pursued three Vals diving on the harbor. After shooting down two, and while taken under fire from the rear gunner of the third, the left wing of his F4F was holed by U.S. antiaircraft fire directed at the Japanese. Despite this he shot down the third Val and turned toward a second formation of six Vals leaving the area.

Swett repeatly attacked the line of dive bombers, downing each in turn with short bursts. He brought down four and was attacking a fifth when his ammunition was depleted and he had his cockpit shot up by return fire. Wounded, he decided to ditch his damaged fighter off the coast of Florida Island, after it became clear that his oil cooler had been hit and he would not make it back to base. After a few seconds of further flight, his engine seized, and despite initially being trapped in his cockpit, Swett extricated himself and was subsequently rescued in Tulagi harbor after crash-landing his Wildcat. This feat made the 22-year old Marine aviator an ace on his first combat mission.


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