A fighter strike it was. In the waning days of the Pacific War, though no one knew it at the time.
Born in 1922, Harry W. Norton, Jr. became a fighter pilot in World War II. He was assigned to the 21st Fighter Group’s 72nd Fighter Squadron, based on Iwo Jima, the place that will remain forever in the memory of the US Marine Corps.
Iwo was a stiff purchase, more than 6,000 Americans lost their lives for it, and more than 18,000 Japanese in defending it. But Iwo offered several advantages to US forces. Japanese loss of it meant elimination of a radar site and early warning against B-29 raids on the Home Islands, as well as loss of airfields from which the B-29 bases in the Marianas Islands could be attacked.
For the US, additional advantage accrued, as Iwo offered a refuge for damaged B-29s and wounded aircrews. It also served as a base for rescue aircraft and for fighter aircraft that escorted the B-29’s to Japan on daylight raids. These fighters also used Iwo as, in the case of 1st Lt. Harry W. Norton Jr on 30 July 1945, a place from which to make independent fighter operations over the Home Islands of the ever-shrinking Japanese Empire.
Harry had proven himself in aerial combat just days earlier, when on 22 July 1945 he shot down an enemy aircraft. On 30 July 1945, as he departed Airfield Number Two on Iwo, he probably had hopes of another aerial encounter as his squadron conducted a clockwise sweep around the Osaka Bay area heading for their target.
They flew over the Kii Suido approaching the region, over the Harima Nada before making landfall west of Kobe. They then turned right and went around Kobe, passing it off their right wings. They wheeled around and made a beeline for their primary objective, Itami Airfield, an Imperial Japanese Army Air Force field and home of defending IJAAF fighters. It was at Itami where things began to happen to Lt. Norton.
According to squadron member 1st Lt. H. H. Phipps, “The flight went down together on Itami. As we came off the target Norton called “I’m hit bad. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.” Apparently, enemy anti-aircraft fire had hit him over the airfield as he flew North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, serial number 44-63409.
Phipps said Norton made a climbing turn to the right and headed for the center of Osaka city. Another witness, 2nd Lt. John D. Wray reported that the squadron hit Itami at either 1315 or 1415 hours (depending on source) and that “He released his canopy at approximately 500 feet altitude and was still observed going up at high speed. It is my belief that Lt. Norton was hit and not his plane, because no smoke, oil, or coolant was observed.”
And that is where his squadron-mates last saw Harry Norton, over Osaka, in trouble, looking like he was going to bail out. The flak in the area was awful as pilot maneuvered to avoid being tracked and hit. Lt. Phipps reported “About at 300 feet the flak was bursting all around me. The concussion knocked my left wing down so I just hit the deck.”
What happened to Lt. Norton over Osaka is a mystery to the writer of this web log. Did he ever bail out, or did he come down with his ship? And what after either of those possibilities? Maybe someone, somewhere, knows.
What can be found, however, is the grave of 1st Lt. Norton, at the Oak Lawn Cemetery, in Winter Haven, Polk County, Florida. So on this Memorial Day, 2015, we remember First Lieutenant Harry W Norton, Jr., who paid the ultimate price in service to the nation, on 30 July 1945. Hand Salute!
“Iwo Jima,” Wikipedia article, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Iwo_Jima
USAAF Missing Air Crew Report Number 14813
Joe Baughers USAAF serial numbers, 1944, at http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1944_4.html
Harry W. Norton Jr grave marker at Find A Grave, at: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=68451951
“72nd Fighter Squadron,” Wikipedia page, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/72d_Fighter_Squadron
Itami Airfield info at “Osaka International Airport,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osaka_International_Airport
Itami Ki-61 image, at: http://www.cooksontributeb29.com/junichi-ogata-of-the-56th-sentai-capt-fighter-pilot.html
Camouflage and markings of North American P-51 Mustang, Part 1, at: http://www.ipmsstockholm.se/home/camouflage-and-markings-of-north-american-p-51-mustang-part-1/