“Dang, compass malfunction,” swore pilot Lt. George Hummer.
“What do you mean ‘malfunction’? Compasses are always accurate,” asked Chuck Smith, one of two crewmen aboard the FT-28.
Hummer was flying over the smooth Atlantic on a routine training mission, with Smith yammering in his ear. Hummer and Smith had been inseparable during the war in the Pacific Theater, and continued to fly together after V-J day. They had taken off earlier that afternoon from Fort Lauderdale. Trying to find out where he was, he tuned out Smith and looked for landmarks. Scanning the sea he…wait, was that the Florida Keys? A small group of tropical green islands had appeared beneath him. “No way,” he said, “Are those the Keys? How did we travel that far off course?”
“You think those are the Keys? That’s impossible,” radioed FT-3, another plane.
“Must be the Bahamas. We shouldn’t have been able to drift that far off,” remarked Smith.
“No, no. Those are the Keys. I’m sure of it, and I’m radioing base,” assured Hummer.
“NAS, this is Hummer with Flight 19. Both my compasses are down and I’m flying over the Keys. I don’t know how to get back to Lauderdale. Over,” said Hummer.
As Hummer waited for the response, he thought about his sweetheart Carrie at home in Massachusetts. Seeing her sweet smile had always been the brightest part of his day. Caught up in his daydream, Hummer almost missed the transmission: “FT-28, we hear you. Are you sure you’re not over the Bahamas? If you’re not, fly northeast with the sun on your port wing. Over.”
“Okay then, all aircraft set their course eastbound,” responded Hummer.
“Wait, man, are you sure about this? I’d bet my boots that those are the Bahamas. We should really head west,” cried Smith.
“Smith, stop questioning your superior’s orders for one second. We’re going east because I said so!” ordered Hummer, fed up with his friend.
“Alright, alright! Lay off me man,” said Smith.
The five US Navy Avengers, in formation, made a spectacular sight as they banked to the right and headed into the open ocean. Hummer’s hands held the controls tight as they made the turn, given that Smith had tried to steal them numerous times when his opinion had been overridden. The tips of clouds rolled like waves in the afternoon light over the liquid expanse of the Atlantic. Smith stayed mostly silent for a couple hours, only asking a few basic questions as they flew like five arrows through the sky. This was unlike Smith, who usually jabbered non-stop unless someone ticked him off. Hummer brushed his raven hair out of his ice-blue eyes, waiting tirelessly for Smith’s inevitable backlash. “We should really turn around, Hummer. If you don’t believe me, ask the other planes,” requested Smith quietly.
“Fine...FT-3, should we head west instead?” radioed Hummer.
“FT-28, I think we should turn around. Over,” said FT-3.
Hummer asked the other planes, and they agreed with Smith and FT-3; turning around was the best option. Informing base of their change in direction, Hummer reluctantly turned westward. The rest of the planes followed shortly. He still thought those islands were the Keys, since they were too small to be the Bahamas. Conflicted between his gut instinct and the opinions of his crew, Hummer festered for an hour.
“Come on Hummer, I’m begging to know. Fill me in. I want to know the details,” probed Smith.
This persistent begging to know about Massachusetts was part of each flight. They would get comfortable, then Smith got chatty and asked about Hummer’s home, as if Hummer hadn’t told him everything in the three years they’d been friends. “I already told you everything Smith, so stop nagging me, be a dear, and check the fuel gauge,” retorted Hummer.
“Yes mom,” snapped Smith.
As Flight 19 flew over the endless Atlantic, Hummer desperately wanted to head east toward Florida. All his pilot’s instincts were telling him they were flying towards Mexico, not Fort Lauderdale. “Okay, I’m pulling rank here,” broadcasted Hummer, giving in to his instincts, “Time to bank eastward and head home for real.”
“No way,” radioed FT-3, “We’re heading in the right direction.”
“I’m vetoing that and radioing base we’ve changed direction again,” ordered Hummer.
After performing another banking maneuver, the Avengers left the setting sun behind them in favor of the darkening sky. Around 18:00, Hummer tried to communicate with base about their diminishing fuel supply but received nothing but static. Not wanting to have the crew panic, he told them he had made contact. Hiding the truth was not something Hummer did often nor was he comfortable with it. Something was terribly wrong, but he didn’t know what it was. As if awoken from a bad dream, the serene water beneath them bubbled, and then leaped up in the air. When the water settled, a massive submarine surfaced and remained unassuming. “Oh my god, oh my god! What the heck is that? Is it even ours?” exclaimed Smith.
“All I hope is it’s not our...wait a second, is that a Japanese flag?” shouted Hummer.
The submarine seemed larger than normal, but the cylindrical shape beneath the conning tower troubled Hummer even more than the sub itself.
“Hummer! Radio base now! We need naval assistance ASAP!” shouted Smith.
“Hummer? Are you going deaf? Contact them!”
“Umm...We can’t contact base. Remember when I told them about our fuel problem, all I really got was static,” admitted Hummer.
“So you’re saying we’re lost with barely any fuel, no way to contact base, and a monster of a Jap submarine looming beneath us? Just great Hummer, just fantastic,” said FT-36 sarcastically.
Slowly the cone end of the cylinder underneath the conning tower swung open to reveal the nose of a small green floatplane.
“Holy moley, is that a plane? I thought we were safe, but no. Is that even possible?” radioed FT-3.
“Everyone still have some bombs left? You’d better hope so because we’re going to bomb that submarine into oblivion,” ordered Hummer.
The five planes glided into a line that dove toward the Japanese sub, which had been busy dragging three small floatplanes onto the deck and firing them up. Each floatplane was then launched from a track on the deck. “Pull up, pull up now! FT-3 and FT-36 will draw them away from the rest of us who will bomb them from above,” ordered Hummer.
“This better work or we’re all toast,” grumbled Smith.
The three small floatplanes soon disappeared within the clouds, unable to be spotted by the nervous Avenger pilots. Forming a V-formation, all scanned for the tiny Japanese planes; the submarine lay forgotten. The clouds swallowed them, and soon they couldn’t see each other. Suddenly there was an explosion off to FT-28’s right. “Did they get FT-3? FT-3 come in, I repeat, have you been hit?” cried Hummer.
The fuzz of static greeted FT-28. A silence descended in the cockpit, only broken by the rattle of the engine. A second explosion rocked the air, this time on the left. “That’s FT-36, so there’s only three of us left now. Watch your six and cover each other,” and even as Hummer transmitted these words, another plane went down.
The clouds hid the three Japanese planes and the remaining Avenger from Hummer. A blinking red light appeared on the console, signaling the empty fuel tank and FT-28’s certain doom. This would be a great story to tell someday, assuming I live to tell it, thought Hummer. The dense clouds swept back to reveal the dive-bombing Japanese planes. Dark darts flew from their undersides towards the Avengers, striking both in their midsections. Flames erupted in Hummer’s plane, blowing off the tail and killing Smith and Jones, their silent crewman. Hummer was lucky; strapped to the plane as it tumbled from the sky, his life flashed before his eyes: running with his brother Jimmy, dinner with Mom and Dad, leaving for the Pacific under a fluttering of flags, and Carrie. Her bright smile became Hummer’s sole focus as the plane rolled and rushed up to meet the sea. No one knows what happened to us and all is lost were the last thoughts of Lt. George Hummer before his plane was obliterated by the ocean.