The following is a chronology of VPB-118 based mainly on
the book with with additional information
from crew members and what other pertinent sources are
The US Navy utilized squadrons of PBY-5 and PBY-5A's, smaller,
slow-flying boats/amphibious planes with light weaponry and light
payload capacity. Most of these planes were used for
reconnaissance but a few were used for combat. One of these
squadrons was VP-71, commanded by Cmdr. Harry Sears.
March, 1943 - July, 1943
The navy started using B-24 Liberators, known as PB4Y-1's.
These planes could stay airborne up to 12 hours and had guns in
the nose, tail, side bays, top, and underneath. Also, they had
two bomb bays, one of which could hold auxiliary fuel tanks.
VB-104 was created as the third Pacific PB4Y-1 squadron, with
Cmdr. Sears as CO. Cmdr. Kelly Harper, the future CO of VPB-118
took over as CO of VP-71. VP-71 left Hawaii in July 1943, going
to Espiritu Santo and then the Solomon Islands. By then VB-104
was also stationed in the Solomons, close by. VP-71 relieved
VP-24, which included two future crew of VPB-118: A.J. Hopkins
and Vincent Abate, who was in VP-24 during the Battle of Midway.
On July 16 VP-71 flew a bombing mission on Nauru with a force of
six planes. No planes were lost but there was lots of shooting
and the Japanese counter-attacked their seaplane tender. Another
future member of VPB-118, Tom Kelecy, was Cmdr. Harper's radioman
on that mission.
Importance of VP-71 & VPB-104
Cmdr. Sears' PB4Y-1 unit, VB-104, received the Presidential
Unit Citation for its aggressive tactics which helped transform
the image of the naval patrol plane from that of a mostly passive
reconnaissance plane to that of a serious threat that could
search out and attack targets of opportunity at sea. After its
first tour of duty, ten of its pilots became PPC's in VPB-118
when it was formed. From VP-71, five pilots became PPC's in
VPB-118. VPB-118 also gained eight skilled aircrewmen from VP-104
and two from VP-71. As they stated it, "VPB-118 was an extension
of VP-71 and VB-104."
July 1, 1944 - Commissioning
VPB-118 was commissioned at Camp Kearney, near San Diego, on
7/1/1944source, with Lt. Martin Gentry as Acting CO.
On the fourteenth Lt. Harper, former CO of VP-71, arrived and
assumed command. Gentry became Air Combat Intelligence Officer,
Lt. Cmdr. Art Farwell became Executive Officer, Lt. Edward
Binning became Operations Officer, and Lt. Mark Montgomery III
became Engineering Officer.
While in Camp Kearney the 18 original crews of 118 formed up.
As noted earlier, many of the pilots and top enlisted men came
from VP-71 and VB-104. Additional new aircrew came from training
at Hutchinson Naval Air Station in Kansas. (Yes, a naval air base
located in Kansas.)
August 8, 1944 - Transfer to Crow's Landing
The new squadron was transferred to Naval Auxiliary Naval Air
Station, Crow's Landing, which was then a quiet crossroads in San
Joaquin Valley. At this time the squadron adopted the Old Crow
Whiskey crow as their symbol, with a bomb under its wing, and
started calling themselves "Old Crows." The station had two 7,000
foot concrete runways but could only accomodate one squadron at a
time. Flight crews also spent a week at NAS Almeda and trained on
what was then advanced gunnery simulators that trained them in
aircraft recognition using an early form of electronic
The Air Combat Intelligence Officer, Lt. Martin Gentry,
transferred out owing to persistent malaria symptoms, and was
replaced by Lt. Wright James. Leading Chief Woodward also
transferred out and was replaced by squadron member A.J. Hopkins,
who was at Pearl Harbor on 12/7/1941 while in VP-24.
8/20/1944 - First Two Privateers
PPC's Dodson and Finley picked up the first two PB4Y-2's to be
flown by an operating squadron. In Dodson's crew that day were
co-pilot Ens. Richard Carmelich, AMM1c Tom Bay, ARM1c Harold
Peterson, and AMM2c Paul Crowley. The operating manuals were in a
large box and after scanning them the crew took off and flew the
plane to Crow's Landing. On the next two days four more planes
arrived and the squadron started training with them.
Late August to Mid-October - Training
The squadron flew practice flights over San Francisco Bay,
bombing a grounded DD with water bombs. They also had flights
over Monterey Bay, the Channel Islands, Yosemite Valley, Los
Baños, and other points around California. They dropped
hundreds of practice bombs, over 100 TNT depth charges, and over
800 miniature bombs on a target marked on the ground in the shape
of a ship. They also fired almost 18,000 rounds of .50 caliber