Brown Shoes of Fighting Six

80 years ago: Four aviators of Fighter Squadron Six (VF-6) — two of which are enlisted “silver eagle” NAP pilots– pose beside a Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat (Bureau # 5126) on board the Yorktown-class carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), 10 August 1942. The quartet were credited with shooting down eight Japanese aircraft during the Guadalcanal-Tulagi operation a few days earlier.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-11092

The men are (from left to right): NAP Machinist Donald E. Runyon, credited with four planes at the time; NAP Aviation Pilot First Class Howard S. Packard (one plane); Ensign Joseph Donald “Joe” Shoemaker (one plane); and Ensign Wildon M. Rouse (two planes). Note the shoulder holster rigs for GI .45 pistols worn by the three in khaki while Packard, in dungarees, is armed with a utility/fighting knife on his belt.

Runyon was one of the leading Wildcat Aces, credited with shooting down 8 Japanese aircraft while flying F4Fs.

NAP Machinist Donald E. Runyon, USN of Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6) On board USS Enterprise (CV-6). He is standing by the tail of his F4F-4 (Bureau # 5193, VF-6’s # 13), which is decorated with a tombstone containing 41 meatballs, each representing a Japanese plane claimed by the squadron. During his second combat tour in the Pacific in 1943 as a commissioned officer, he scored three more victories while flying F6F Hellcats with VF-18 off of USS Bunker Hill. 80-G-11103

Ensign Wildon M. Rouse, USNR of Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6) In the cockpit of an F4F-4 Wildcat fighter, on board USS Enterprise (CV-6), 10 August 1942. Ensign Rouse was credited with shooting down two Japanese aircraft during the Guadalcanal-Tulagi operation a few days earlier. These victories are represented by two flags painted below the cockpit. Rouse would survive the war but never make it home, dying in a crash in the Philippines on 4 Dec 1945. LT(JG) Rouse is buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. Catalog #: 80-G-11089

Soon after the above pictures were taken, on 24 August, Enterprise would suffer bomb hits off during the Guadalcanal campaign that would force her back to Pearl Harbor where the famed Enterprise Air Group, with which the carrier had fought her first five WWII deployments, was disestablished on 1 September 1942.

When she emerged again in October, she would be carrying the newly formed Air Group 10, whose fighter squadron was the Grim Reapers of LCDR William R. “Killer” Kane’s VF-10, the first time Enterprise would sail without the cover of “Fighting Six,” although NAP aviator Howard “Pack” Packard, pictured in the first image wearing dungs, would be with them. 

As for Ensign Shoemaker, standing next to Packard in the top image, he would be killed in action on 29 September 1942, aged 22.

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