I visited my father-in-law, retired Commander Kurt Schonthaler in Pensacola, Florida this past weekend. Kurt was born in Germany but his family moved to the United States when he was three years old. As a high school sudent, Kurt took flying lessons and had over 200 hours when he enrolled at Brown University. He joined the Navy in 1942 and was assigned to flight school as an Ensign.
His squadron of Avengers was assigned to the Lexington and dispatched to the Pacific Theatre. Kurt is 86 today, but his accounts of his many missions are spellbinding. His main objective was to torpedo Japanese battleships. He said he feared the defensive firepower of the Japanese battleships much more than encounters with Zeros...because he didn't fear the firepower of the Zero due to the armor of the Avenger. But he didn't think his turrent gunner was very effective against the Zero.
On many missions, 2,000 pound bombs were placed in the belly of the Avenger instead of torpedos. He said they sank a number of tankers and destroyers with the bombs. Over half his squadron were killed in action. He flew from many different carriers during the Pacific Campaign...and when returning to his carrier after one mission, he found it had been hit by Kamakaze planes and was badly burning. With little fuel left, he was fortunate to find another carrier in the fleet to land. He also flew Hellcats for combat with the Zeros. He is a real hero and after the war, was assigned to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola as a flight instructor.
Kurt took me to the U.S. Naval Air Museum in Pensacola this past Friday. They have every type aircraft the Navy and Marines flew in WW1, WW11, Korea and Vietnam. They have a Japanese Kate but no Zero. What a wonderful experience to see these magnificant war birds and hear first hand experiences by my hero father-in-law.
If any of you, who may have taken time to read this, ever go to Pensacola...you must go to the Naval Air Museum...you will not want to leave!