To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Lyon Air Museum has completed a new historical display that celebrates the contribution of naval aviation to America’s victory in the Pacific during World War II.  This is the first of two historical displays that will chronicle the Air War in the Pacific.  Part II of the exhibit, now in development, will tell the story of the U.S. Army Air Forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Part I provides an overview of the people, places, aircraft and events of the air war against Japan, highlighting the roles of U. S. Navy and Marine aviators and their formidable adversaries of the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The exhibit employs a combination of photographs, artwork, scale models, narrative text, statistics and historical artifacts to convey to visitors the nature, intensity and scale of this monumental struggle.  Featured in the exhibit are profiles of a number of individual American and Japanese naval aviators who served with particular distinction or performed heroic acts that went beyond the call of duty.
The exhibit features an overview of the World War II service of 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 Curtis SB2C Helldiver, flying with Bombing Squadron 12 from the aircraft carrier USS Randolph. His squadron conducted 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 ditching at sea due to engine failure. This part of the exhibit also includes a display of clothing and flight gear worn by U. S. Navy carrier pilots on combat missions during this period.

The remainder of the exhibit provides a historical overview of the air war in the Pacific, presented in seven sections.  The first two sections convey essential background and context information about the war in the Pacific.  This includes a map of the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations and photos of the senior military leaders.  Also included in this section is a pictorial and numerical comparison of American and Japanese aircraft carrier forces, showing the classes of ships and the disparity in naval production that proved to be a decisive advantage for the United States.

The remaining five sections provide highlights of the major battles of the Pacific war in which naval aviation played a central role.  Much of the content focuses on the employment of aircraft carrier task forces in battles for key island objectives.  This includes the Central Pacific offensive under the leadership of Admiral Chester Nimitz and the Southwest Pacific campaign led by General Douglas MacArthur.  Topics addressed in this part of the display include the following:

The Rising Sun. This section covers the Japanese offensives of 1941-42 led by Japanese naval air power, including the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Wake Island and the Philippines.  Also featured are naval aircraft types employed by both sides at the outset of the war. Aviator profiles include key Japanese officers responsible for planning and executing the Pearl Harbor attack, Capt. Minoru Genda and Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida. Capt. Henry Elrod, USMC is also profiled. His actions as a fighter pilot defending Wake Island earned him the Medal of Honor.

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. Topics addressed include the Doolittle raid on Tokyo, the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, which resulted in a decisive victory for U.S. naval air power and irrevocably altered the course of World War II in the Pacific. Aviator profiles include bomber pilots C. Wade McClusky and John C. Waldron along with fighter pilots Jimmy Thach and Butch O’Hare, the U.S. Navy’s first Ace. Also profiled is Lt. Juichi Tomonaga, Air Group Commander of the Japanese carrier Hiryu, who lost his life to Thach in a heroic but futile attack on USS Yorktown.

On the Offensive.  This section covers the role of naval air power in the campaigns to take and hold strategic objectives in New Guinea and the Solomon, Gilbert, Marshall, Mariana and Aleutian island groups. This section also highlights the introduction of new U.S. fighter aircraft that eliminated the advantages in air combat performance of the Japanese Zero fighter.  The air battles for Guadalcanal, the Eastern Solomons and the Marianas provided venues for some of America’s greatest naval fighter pilots to practice their trade.  Among those profiled in the exhibit are Marine aces Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and Joe Foss, along with Bill Henry, the Navy’s leading night fighter ace. Also featured is “Sky Samurai” Sub-Lt. Saburo Sakai of the Japanese naval air service, with 28 confirmed aerial victories against allied aircraft.

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 pilot of a torpedo bomber in which he 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.

Unsung Heroes.  This section pays tribute to the many thousands of U.S. Navy and Marine 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.

On the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Lyon Air Museum is proud to recognize America’s Naval Aviators. Their courage, resilience and flying skill brought America back from one of the darkest days in its history to achieve the “inevitable triumph” promised by President Franklin Roosevelt. Their ability to prevail in an up-hill struggle against a determined and resourceful enemy is a testament to the true greatness of America’s “Greatest Generation”.

Article Written by Lyon Air Museum Volunteer Jeff Erickson.