TBM gunner Del Vernon with his Avenger, 1944.
Del Vernon with Charlie Cartledge’s restored Avenger, August, 2013.
70 Years ago young men from “America’s Greatest Generation” strapped themselves into aircraft and fought and died for principles they believed in. These men, who were often too young to vote or legally drink, are now in their late 80’s and 90’s. The time to hear their incredible stories and to say thank you is running out.
On Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, the remaining crew members who flew in the Grumman TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers will reunite one last time with each other and the aircraft they flew. The reunion will take place between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
The gathering was inspired by museum member and Warbird owner Charlie Cartledge. Charlie, who grew up on Middle Bass Island and now lives in Orrville, spent the past 14 years restoring a Grumman TBM Avenger Torpedo Bomber, and displays this operational aircraft in the Liberty Aviation Museum. During the course of his project, Charlie had the opportunity to meet and become friends with several veterans who had served in the Avengers. Many of these vets have since passed on. Shortly after the arrival of Cartledge’s TBM, another veteran of these aircraft came forward and reached out. These men used to meet in annual reunions, but as their ranks thinned due to illness and death, they have not met for several years.
“Why not reunite these remaining veterans with the aircraft they flew?” thought Charlie. “As young men of 19 and 20 they made history. One of the pilots crash landed in Tokyo Bay, was fished out of the hostile waters by a US Navy Submarine, was patched up, and crash landed into the deck of his aircraft carrier only three weeks later. Another of the pilots torpedoed one of Japan’s super battleships, thus participating in the historic demise of the battleship as supreme battlewagon and the rise of the aircraft carrier as the ultimate weapon.”
TBM Avenger owner-operators within the region are willing and able to fly their aircraft in to Port Clinton for this reunion with the men who flew them into battle 70 years ago. These passionate aviation and history enthusiasts are not seeking any payment, only reimbursement for their fuel and lodging expenses, which can be as much as $2,000 per aircraft. According to Charlie, “the reality is that if you invite three aircraft owners in, and one gets socked in with bad weather, and the other has a mechanical issue, then you only get one aircraft. That’s just the nature of general aviation, so you plan to have five aircraft, and hope to have three make it in for the event.”
The TBM Avenger Gathering and Reunion will be a unique opportunity to witness and meet these extraordinary men, hear their stories, and experience the sights, sounds and flight of the aircraft they flew.
To underwrite the costs and expenses to host such a moving and dynamic gathering of veterans and aircraft, the Liberty Aviation Museum and Lake Erie Warbirds are leading a mission to seek similar-minded individuals and business sponsors to honor the memory and spirit of these heroes. For more information about becoming a sponsor, or to purchase tickets, contact the Liberty Aviation Museum at 419.732.0234, or visit their website at www.libertyaviationmuseum.org.
About the TBM Avenger
The TBM Avenger was a workhorse torpedo bomber developed for use in World War II for the US Navy and Marine Corps. The first Avengers saw action during the Battle of Midway. It was the first aircraft to feature a compound angle wing-folding mechanism to maximize storage space on an aircraft carrier. There were three crew members: pilot, turret gunner and radioman/bombardier/ventral gunner. It was affectionately called the “turkey” because of its size compared to the smaller, faster, fighter planes.
Because of its ruggedness and stability, it was superior to any previous American torpedo bomber, and was a very effective sub-killer. In the Atlantic, the Avengers contributed to the warding off German U-boats while providing air cover for the convoys.
Future President George H.W. Bush, 20 years old, the youngest naval aviator at the time, was shot down while flying a TBM in the Pacific; he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Another famous Avenger aviator was TBM rear gunner Paul Newman.
Avengers were used by the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Air Force and remained in use into the 1960’s.