Hellcats

FROM "HELLCATS"
Pilgrim One-One, 15 August 1945

Rogers was ready when the call came from the fighter director. "Crystal Base to Pilgrim One-One. Bogey closing on your nose, bearing two-seven-zero, three miles. Bracket, now." Rogers pressed the mike button and spoke into his oxygen mask. "Crystal, Pilgrim. Roger." He pulled his goggles over
his eyes and the world became crisply amber. He waggled his wings as Snyder's section broke away westward. Whatever the bogey did now, it would be trapped in a three-mile-high Hellcat box.
There it was. Rogers pressed the button. "Pilgrim One-One. Tally ho!"


The kamikaze Zeke held its fast descent, offering a predictable target. Rogers rotated the throttle, placing the diamond reticle around the silhouette. he let the gyroscope in the K-14 sight settle for two seconds, establish the tracking rate, and pressed the trigger. Tracers lanced out ahead of the Mitsubishi's nose. Hits sparkled across the dark green airframe as armor-piercing incendiaries struck. Rogers was into boresight range now and fired again. The Browning chorus came to him, the distance
closed, and he saw he was on a collision path. More hits, smoke streaming from the engine, a gout of flame that flared, abated, flared again.


Rogers waited as long as he dared. Then he was too close-- the dirty red suns on the wings and fuselage were all too visible. He brought the stick back, angling nose high, glancing down and behind. Oily brown smoke marked the spot where the Zeke had dropped abruptly away. Wood was calling, "You got him, skipper! Nice shooting!" Rogers could tell from the ensign's voice that the boy did not even get a shot. But it was almost anticlimactic. The enemy pilot had taken no evasive action,
offering an experienced shooter a wide-deflection shot. Rogers regarded the episode as little more than a gunnery exercise-- nothing exceptional.


A number registered in Rogers' consciousness. That's fifteen--and I'll probably never get to do that again. He leveled off, brought throttle, prop and mixture back to cruise, and checked the sky. Snyder and his wingman were rejoining. "Pilgrim, this is Crystal Base, confirming your splash. Clara.
Resume patrol." Rogers pushed his goggles up on his forehead. "Thank you, Crystal." He pressed the button again, "Good job, Hank." A microphone double clicked in his earphones. For Lieutenant Commander Philip Rogers--twenty-seven-year-old aviator, friend, lover, enemy, killer, and leader--that electronic break ended what had become known as the Second World War.


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