Sixty four years ago, the Yorktown (CV-10) was engaged in softening up Okinawa for the Army/Marine invasion on 01 April. On the morning of 26 March, VBF-9 and VT-9 off the “Fighting Lady” were busy bombing, rocketing and strafing Japanese forces at Yontan and Kadena airfields on Okinawa.
After two passes hitting targets at Yontan, two VBF-9 Hellcats miscalulated their positions and roared directly into VT-9 Avengers approaching the field. Pilot Fred Fox was headed towards VT-9’s skipper Lieutenant Commander Bryon Cooke in his TBM. Fox’s F-6F sheered off Cooke’s starboard wing and the turkey (TBF/TBM nickname) spun into the ground killing Cooke and his crewmen, Norm Brown and Matty Matthews. The Hellcat also fell crazily, smoking, but Fox was able to right his plane and make a crash landing on the north side of Yontan. A few seconds after setting down, his plane was seen exploding. No hope was given for the likeable Lieutenant.
Not seen by Air Group 9 aircraft overhead was Lieutenant Fox, after being thrown clear of the aircraft by the explosion, he ran for his life towards cover. He eventually began to make his way to the western beaches of Okinawa. By luck and stealth, Fox made it to the beaches and found a cave to hide in. He also found a boat and secure in his hole, waited for a chance to escape.
One of the targets of interest at Yontan is this Okha, “Cherry Blossom.” It was designed as a tokko (“special”- the Japanese name for suicide missions, as opposed to the American adapted word of kamikaze) weapon.
The Okha would be carried by a Japanese Betty bomber to the vicinity of an American carrier group (an unlikely event) and then be dropped for its one way mission to sink an American ship. This weapon was probably of more danger to the Japanese pilot than an American ship (only 7 ships were damaged or sunk by the Okha) as many Japanese pilots were killed in their one and only training flight.
Three days after his amazing survival after a midair and crash on 29 March, Lieutenant Fox came out of his cave and was seen by American frogmen swimming offshore preparing for the invasion landing. Climbing into his boat he rowed out to the reef and a float plane from the USS San Francisco landed to pick him up (in the photo below his boat is on the reef to the right rear of LT Fox.)
The aircraft’s pontoons had been damaged and with Fox aboard had to taxi on the water to a minesweeper, Heed, which towed the aircraft to the cruiser Birmingham. Shipmates back on Yorktown were overjoyed with the news of Lieutenant Fox’s return from the dead.