The date September 2nd, 1945, marks a momentous occasion for veterans and family members of America’s Greatest Generation. On this date, known as VJ Day, the Allied powers celebrated victory over the Japanese Empire and the formal end of World War II. The United States emerged from this epic struggle as the unchallenged leader of the free world and the champion of democratic institutions across the globe. To commemorate this historic event, Lyon Air Museum has completed a new exhibit that recounts the major campaigns and events of the Pacific war, highlighting the contribution of American air power to the ultimate victory. The exhibit employs a combination of maps, photographs, illustrations, scale models, narrative text, and selected statistics and historical artifacts to inform visitors about the people, places and events of the air war in the Pacific. The display provides geographic context for the vast Asia-Pacific Theater of Operations, the sequence and location of major battles, and the deployment of U.S. naval and land-based air forces. Scale models and illustrations describe the large variety of aircraft types employed by both sides and the evolution of aircraft design as the war progressed.
The exhibit features personal profiles of individual American and Japanese aviators who served with particular distinction or performed heroic acts that went beyond the call of duty. The display also includes examples of personal equipment, survival gear and attire worn by combat pilots of the era.The exhibit is presented in two parts. Part I chronicles the contribution of U.S. Navy and Marine aviation to the war effort with emphasis on aircraft carrier operations in the Central Pacific. Part II provides an overview of the U. S. Army Air Forces role in the Pacific war, focusing mainly on the Southwest Pacific Campaign, operations in the China-Burma-India region, and the strategic bombing of Japan. The combined content of the exhibit addresses the following topics.
Overview of the Pacific War. This part of the exhibit provides a “big picture” perspective of the war in the Pacific and the role of air power in the conflict. A map of the Asia-Pacific Theater of Operations provides the geo-political context, the location of major battles, and the general sequence of events. The display identifies some of the senior American and Japanese military leaders, including those who played a central role in the air war. Also included is a comparison of American and Japanese aircraft carrier forces showing the various classes of ships and the disparity in naval production that proved to be a decisive advantage for the United States.
Japanese Offensives. This section covers the Japanese offensives of 1941-42 that brought America into the war. The exhibit highlights the vulnerability and lack of preparedness of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Far East Air Forces. The carefully planned and well executed attacks, led by Japanese naval air power, devastated U.S. naval and air forces in Hawaii and paved the way for invasion and occupation of Guam, Wake Island and the Philippines.
Turning the Tide. This section covers the desperate and high risk actions taken by the crippled U.S. Pacific fleet to counter the Japanese onslaught. These pivotal engagements, fought almost entirely with aircraft, forever altered the nature of naval warfare. Topics addressed include the Doolittle raid on Tokyo and the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. These naval battles resulted in decisive victories for the U.S. that irrevocably altered the course of World War II in the Pacific.
China-Burma-India. This section chronicles the role of air power in Japan’s conquest of China and Southeast Asia. The exhibit highlights the role of the legendary American Volunteer Group (AVG), the famous Flying Tigers, in the defense of China and the protection of supply routes through Burma. Also featured is the formation of the U.S. 23rd Fighter Group and the establishment of the 14th Air Force, both under the command of General Claire Chennault, to counter Japanese aggression in the Far East.
Dutch East Indies. This section outlines the contribution of the U.S. Army’s 5th Air Force in defending New Guinea and undertaking offensive operations against the Japanese bastion at Rabaul. Among the pilot profiles featured in this section are Maj. Richard Bong, America’s top scoring ace of World War II, and Sub-Lt. Saburo Sakai of the Japanese Naval Air Service, Japan’s “Sky Samurai,” with 28 confirmed victories against allied aircraft.
Solomon Islands. This section chronicles the contribution of the U.S. Navy, Marine and Army Air Forces in the pivotal campaign for air supremacy over Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. The Solomons provided a venue for some of America’s greatest fighter aces to practice their trade, including Capt. Joe Foss and Maj. Greg “Pappy” Boyington. Of particular interest is the hastily assembled “Cactus Air Force” and the desperate battles with the formidable Japanese Zeros. Also highlighted is “Operation Vengeance,” the mission to kill Fleet Admiral Yamamoto.
Central/North Pacific Offensives. This section covers the role of air power in the campaigns to take and hold strategic objectives in the Gilbert, Marshall, Mariana and Aleutian island groups. This section also highlights the introduction of advanced U.S. fighter aircraft that eliminated the advantages in air combat performance of the Japanese Zero fighter.
Closing in on Japan. This section covers naval air operations in the final stages of the Pacific war, including the invasions of Pelelieu, The Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, followed by U.S. Navy air strikes against mainland Japan. A profile of LTJG George H. W. Bush, Americas 41st President, describes his harrowing experience as a pilot of a torpedo bomber and was shot down and rescued at sea during one of his 58 combat missions. The exhibit also addresses the desperate and ultimately futile attempt by Japan to stop the American advance through the use of “Kamikaze” suicide attacks against U.S. naval forces.
Bombing of Japan. This section covers the strategic bombing campaign against Japan by U.S. B-29 Bombers based in the Marianas Islands and the strikes by allied fighter-bombers on Japanese military/industrial targets. Also included is the story of the very long range (VLR) fighter escort missions flown by P-51 Mustangs from Iwo Jima and the desperate measures taken by Japanese fighter defenses to counter the devastating bombing campaign. Finally, the exhibit reviews the missions of the 509th Bomb Group that delivered atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki that resulted in the Japanese Surrender.
Air Transport. This section pays tribute to Air Transport Command and its vital role in supplying the Allied war effort across the vast distances of the Asia-Pacific Theater. The display focuses on the airlift of supplies from India over the Himalayas to sustain Chinese allies and enable U.S. 14th and 20th Air Forces’ operations from bases in China. The narrative describes the daunting challenges faced by pilots flying “The Hump.” It includes first-hand accounts of the experience contributed by two living USAAF veteran pilots who flew these harrowing missions.
Unsung Heroes. This section pays tribute to the many thousands of U.S. military personnel who worked tirelessly, often at substantial personal risk, to assure the combat effectiveness, operational safety and survival of the air warriors. This includes the essential combat support roles of aircraft maintenance and repair, ground/deck operations, search and rescue, long-range patrol, and fleet reconnaissance. In a very real sense, these dedicated servicemen enabled success in the Pacific air war by providing capabilities and resources to the warfighters that their adversaries could never hope to match.
A Naval Aviator’s Story. This part of the exhibit presents an overview of the World War II service of a U.S. Navy bomber pilot, LCDR Raymond R. Andreason. He is the father of Lyon Air Museum Senior Docent, Steve Andreason, who provided photos, artifacts, historical research and biographical information for the display. As a young Ensign, Raymond Andreason served in combat during 1945 as pilot of a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Randolph. His squadron flew numerous air strikes against heavily defended targets on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Japanese mainland. The exhibit narrative describes some of his experiences in combat, including a Kamikaze strike on his carrier, a forced landing of his battle-damaged aircraft, and a ditching at sea due to engine failure. This part of the exhibit also features a display of clothing and flight gear worn by U. S. Navy carrier pilots on combat missions during this period.
Written by Jeff Erickson