1st Lt. William “Whiskey Bill” Reynolds flew F4U Corsairs with Marine Squadron VMF 124. VMF 124 along with her sister squadron VMF 213 of Air Group 4 flew from the carrier Essex in late 1944 and early 1945. VMF 124 and 213 Corsairs had previously gained fame in the South Pacific at Guadalcanal as a land based fighter. VMF 124 was the first Marine Squadron to be carrier based.
On February 16th 1945 Lt. Reynolds was a section leader on the first carrier born strike against the Japanese mainland flying high cover for bomb toting TBMs “Avengers”. The strike force hit Mawatari Airfield, destroying 10 twin engine aircraft and setting hangers on fire. While orbiting the airfield, six “TOJOS” (Ki 44s) were seen and one engaged Lt. Reynolds Corsair but no firing took place.
The next day on Feb. 17th Lt. Reynolds flew wing on Sq. Commander Wilber Thomas of VMF 213 for a strike against Japanese aircraft factories in the Tokyo area. Captain Wilber “Gus” Thomas was a veteran of the Guadalcanal battles and an ace with 16 kills. Capt. Thomas led the flight of 7 F4Us escorting 13 TBM3s of Air Group 4 into, over, and back from Nakajima Tama Aircraft Engine Plant on the north western edge of Tokyo city.
A total of 24 enemy fighters of various types intercepted the formation at times from shortly after the time they crossed the coastline south of Tokyo throughout their approach, their final bombing run and to their rendezvous point south and west of the city.
Thomas and Reynolds found themselves attacked by four “OSCARS” (Ki 43s) and in the ensuing melee, Reynolds hit an OSCAR that was trying to get away from Thomas’ guns. Another OSCAR made the mistake of getting in front of Thomas’ guns for a brief instant, and was last seen trailing smoke. A third OSCAR intent on getting into a position to fire at Reynolds, came under Thomas’ guns and fell away with flames and smoke coming from the engine.
After landing, Capt. Thomas walked up to Reynolds and congratulated him. “What for?” asked Bill. “For shooting down that OSCAR. I saw him crash!” replied Thomas. Bill was so busy keeping in position with Thomas that he didn’t even realize he had hit the OSCAR. Credit for the strike: two probables to Thomas, one destroyed for Reynolds.
The scene portrayed in this painting is Bill Reynolds flying a F4U-1D Corsair (#88) on station with Thomas, after hitting a Japanese Army Nakajima Ki-43 “OSCAR”. Other planes in the picture are a couple TBM Avengers and one F6F Hellcat, all from the carrier Essex.
Bill Reynolds is an artist and now lives in Washburn, North Dakota. He has recently published a book called “Diary of a Lucky Leatherneck Throttle Jock” about some of his experiences as a WW II Marine pilot.
SOURCES: Personal interview with William Reynolds, official records for Air Group 4 – USS Essex.