The daughter of one of the pilots who flew in the Battle of Midway attended our June 5 presentation about the battle, which included a flight of our Douglas SBD Dauntless.
Dona Sorenson is a daughter Don D. Adams (U.S, Navy, retired), who was a member of Bombing Squadron 8, or VB-8, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet during the historic battle of June 4-7, 1942. Don Adams passed away on March 27, 2005, at his home in Coronado, California, at the age of 88.
Dona and her husband James live in Colorado Springs.
The Museum’s presentation was “wonderful,” she said later. “Just to see the plane fly was amazing. I felt very proud that my father was part of that. It was quite a treat for us and it made me very proud.”
According to a profile of him on the Wall of Honor at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Don won his wings in 1941. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Don received orders to VB-8 and began training in the Curtiss SBC-4 Helldiver. But upon reporting to San Diego, VB-8 traded its SBC-4s for SBDs, says the profile, written by Carol Elizabeth Adams, a sister of Dona Sorenson.
Carol writes that when the Hornet arrived at Alameda, sixteen U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombers was hoisted onto the flight deck. Planes of the Hornet’s air group, including those of VB-8, were put below in the hangar deck to make room. On April 18, 1942, under the under the command of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the B-25s attacked Japan.
In early June 1942 the Hornet joined two other carriers, Enterprise and Yorktown, and proceeded to an area northeast of Midway Atoll based on intelligence indicating an imminent Japanese attack. Approaching Japanese carriers detected early on June 4, and the Battle of Midway began.
Air groups from Enterprise and Yorktown found the Japanese carriers, sinking three of them within minutes.
Only Torpedo Squadron Eight, VT-8, of the Hornet’s air group found the enemy carriers. All VT-8 planes were shot down.
Some SBD Dauntlesses of Don’s squadron, VB-8, landed at Midway; several ditched at sea, and several others made it back to the Hornet. All of the group’s Wildcat fighters ditched.
The next day, June 5, Hornet and Enterprise launched dive bombers to find and attack the remaining carrier, Hiryu, whose air group had disabled the Yorktown, which later sank. The Smithsonian profile says Don flew with a group of twelve SBDs searching for the Hiryu, but found only an oil slick. It had already been sunk.
“Flying well beyond safe combat radius but still loaded with bombs as he returned to the Hornet, Don tracked a Japanese destroyer, scoring a near miss but taking a lot of flak,” the profile says.
“With dangerously low fuel and pitch-darkness approaching,” it says, “Don decided to ditch the plane into the ocean. Suddenly, a searchlight illuminated the sky, and Don made a straight-in approach to the Hornet, his first-ever night carrier landing. He was indeed grateful to Admiral [Raymond A.] Spruance [commander of the U.S. task force at Midway], who, at considerable danger to the task force from possible Japanese submarines, had turned on the searchlight to save those in the air.
“The next morning,” the profile continues, “Don’s plane wouldn’t start; the spark plugs had been destroyed by overheating. The Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor” after the sinking of the main threat, the four Japanese carriers.
In August 1942, Don was aboard as the Hornet departed Pearl Harbor to help support the U.S. invasion of Guadalcanal, and to search for Japanese carrier forces.
On October 26, 1942, during the October 25-27 Battle of Santa Cruz, planes from the Enterprise bombed the Japanese carrier Zuiho, while planes from the Hornet severely damaged the carrier Shokaku and the heavy cruiser Chikuma. Two other Japanese cruisers were also attacked by planes from the Hornet.
The Hornet itself was struck in a coordinated attack by Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes. In about 15 minutes, it was hit by three bombs from Aichi “Val” dive bombers. One ‘Val,” after being hit by anti-aircraft fire from the Hornet, crashed into the ship’s island, killing eleven men and spreading burning aviation gasoline over the deck.
At the same time, a flight of Nakajima “Kate” torpedo planes attacked Hornet and scored two hits. As the carrier came to a halt, another damaged “Val” crashed into the Hornet’s port side near the bow.
“Don had just moved out of the ready room [of the Hornet] when one of the planes hit,” the profile says. He and other members of the Hornet’s crew was evacuated to the destroyer USS Russell.
While being towed away from the battle, Hornet was struck again, this time by a flight of nine “Kate” torpedo planes. Eight were shot down or failed to score a hit. But the ninth scored a fatal hit on the starboard side. Hornet was ordered sunk.
But nine American torpedoes, many of which didn’t explode, and some 400 five-inch rounds from American destroyers failed to sink the ship, and the destroyers left the area when Japanese surface ships approached.
Two Japanese destroyers finished off the Hornet with four torpedoes. One hundred and forty of 2,200 Hornet sailors were lost.
Meanwhile, Japanese planes attacked the Russell “while the crew was standing on its crowded deck, but the firing ended short of where they were standing,” according to the profile of Don Adams. The Russell steamed to Noumea, where Don and others boarded the transport USS Rochambeau. It arrived in San Francisco 20 days later.
Don Adams was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions at Midway, and a Gold Star instead of a second Distinguished Flying Cross, for “extraordinary achievement” in aerial battle from September 19 to October 16, 1942. This citation said he “completed twenty flights in a combat area where enemy anti-aircraft fire was expected to be effective or where enemy aircraft patrols usually occurred.”
The citation for the Midway DFC notes Don’s participation “in the bombing and strafing of fleeing enemy forces. In the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, he courageously, without regard for his own safety, attacked the enemy and obtained a near miss which damaged an enemy ship.”
That ship, the destroyer Tanikaze, maneuvered rapidly and repeatedly to avoid being hit.
In 1991, thirty years after he retired from the U.S. Navy, Don Adams met the Japanese sailor who directed those maneuvers.
He learned that Masashi Shibata “had climbed to the very top of the ship’s superstructure and signaled the direction of oncoming bomb and torpedo attacks to the ship’s captain on the bridge,” according to the November 2, 1994, edition of the Coronado Eagle newspaper. “Although he exposed himself to almost certain death, both Masashi Shibata and the ship survived the fierce air-sea battle.”
After the war, Shibata built a successful business empire in Japan.