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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Vandivier

 

Norman Francis Vandivier—born on 10 March 1916 in Edwards, Miss.—entered the Indiana National Guard in 1935 and was promoted to corporal before he completed his enlistment on 1 July 1938. He enlisted in the Navy on 6 July 1939 at Grosse He, Mich., for aviation training and was enrolled as a seaman second class. On 20 October, Vandivier took the oath of office as an aviation cadet in the Naval Reserve and soon began pilot training at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla. He received his wings on 21 May 1940 when he was designated a naval aviator. At the completion of additional training, he was commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve on 28 June 1940. That same day, he was assigned to Bombing Squadron 6 on board the carrier Enterprise (CV-6) to which he reported on 1 August.

 

Ens. Vandivier served in Enterprise throughout his brief naval career. Between August 1940 and December 1941, he flew training missions from her flight deck and cruised between the islands of the Pacific. However, during those relatively idyllic months, relations between the United States and Japan steadily deteriorated. On the morning of 7 December 1941, events came to a head when the Japanese launched a surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

At that time, Ens. Vandivier was on board Enterprise which was some 200 miles from the battle and on her way back to Hawaii after ferrying Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 211 to Wake Island. Rather than return to port, Enterprise conducted a fruitless search for the attacking enemy force. She finally put into Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of 8 December to refuel and replenish before again getting underway the next morning to resume patrols which continued through the end of the year.

 

On 11 January 1942, the carrier departed Pearl Harbor to assist Yorktown's task force in protecting a reinforcement convoy which safely disembarked its marines at Samoa on the 23d.

 

Two days later, the Enterprise task force was ordered to head for the Marshall Islands and begin America's first offensive action against the Japanese Empire. Bombing Squadron 6 flew off Enterprise just before dawn on 1 February, and its three divisions winged toward Kwajalein. Ens. Vandivier and his comrades reached that atoll just before 0730, divided themselves into two flights, and immediately began their attack. Vandivier flew the second plane in the 2d division, and so his was probably the 7th or 8th plane to dive on the ships and installations located near and on Kwajalein islet at the extreme southeastern end of the atoll. Because of the fires and smoke caused by his predecessors' bombs and the dangerously low altitude to which he dove before dropping his bombs, the results of Ens. Vandivier's drop were not readily discernible. However, the fact that he continued his dive until almost the last possible moment makes it highly probable that his attack was successful. Later, he was credited with a near miss on a cargo ship. Subsequently, he destroyed a barracks and received the Air Medal for ". . . meritorious conduct . . ." during the raid.

 

Ens. Vandivier landed on Enterprise around 0900. Within 45 minutes, his plane was rearmed, refueled, and back in the air making for Maloelap Atoll. At 1030, he followed his division leader into a steep dive on Taroa islet and delivered another successful attack on enemy installations. After that raid, Vandivier returned to his ship which rapidly moved out of the area.

 

The young Navy pilot's next action came on 25 February when Bombing Squadron 6 and Scouting Squadron 6 flew off Enterprise to bomb Wake Island, by then in Japanese possession. A week later, he rose from Enterprise's flight deck to strike Marcus Island. While this attack, like the one on Wake, was of limited strategic value, the entire series of raids offered Ens. Vandivier and his comrades invaluable flying experience.

 

In April, Enterprise provided air cover for Hornet (CV-8) which was carrying 16 Army, twin-engine B-25's under the command of Lt. Col. James Doo-little. Ens. Vandivier made his closest approach to Japan on 18 April when the bombers rose from Hornet to make their daring one-way raid on Tokyo. Immediately after the launch, the two carriers and their escorts reversed course and cleared the area. Vandivier reentered Pearl on 25 April. Five days later, Enterprise took the flyer to sea once more and raced to reinforce carriers Lexington (CV-2) and Yorktown (CV-5) in the South Pacific. However, time and distance conspired to prevent Ens. Vandivier from participating in the Battle of the Coral Sea—which ended before his ship could reach the area—and she was ordered back to Hawaii to ready herself for an even more important mission.

 

Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor on 26 May. Ens. Vandivier and his shipmates began feverish preparations to meet an expected Japanese thrust at Midway Island. Two days later, his ship headed back to sea to take station off Midway. On the 30th, York-town put to sea to join Hornet and Enterprise some 235 miles northeast of Midway. Planes from the three carriers searched diligently for the enemy force during the next three days; but it was a Midway-based PBY Catalina flying boat that made first contact with the Japanese invasion force on the morning of 3 June, about 700 miles from the island.

 

While Midway-based bombers attacked the enemy transport force that afternoon, Ens. Vandivier waited with the other pilots for news of their own special targets—the Japanese carriers. At 0545 the following morning, another Catalina from Midway found the enemy flattops. Enterprise and Hornet raced to close the Japanese while Yorktown recovered search planes.

 

At about 0705, Enterprise planes began rumbling down her flight deck and wobbling into the air. By 0730, the whole attack group was aloft. As they made off to attack the enemy, Ens. Vandivier formed his SBD Dauntless dive bomber up with the other planes of Bombing 6's 3d Division. Led by the carrier's group commander, Lt. Comdr. Clarence "Wade" McClusky, the formation winged its way toward the enemy carrier striking force, composed of four of the six carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor.

 

At 0920 when the planes reached the point where they expected to find the enemy carriers, the airmen gazed down upon empty ocean. At this pont, the air group commander made a hard decision. His planes were low on fuel; and, if they initiated a search, some aircraft might not make it back to the carriers. On the other hand, if the strike returned to Enterprise and missed the enemy carriers, Midway might fall. Worse yet, Japanese bombers might knock out Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown, leaving little or nothing between America and the forces of the Japanese Empire. Therefore, the American pilots ignored their fuel problem and began searching for the enemy. At 1005, they spied, on the horizon to the northwest, the silhouettes of three large carriers and a number of escorts. At first, several pilots thought that their leader had brought them back to their own ships; but closer inspection revealed pagoda masts and yellow flight decks. These ships could only be Japanese.

 

As the attack commenced, the Dauntless dive bombers of Bombing 6 jockeyed for position with those of Scouting 6. Vandivier's division followed the 2d division whose commander saw that many of Scouting 6's bombs were only near missing the "left hand" aircraft carrier —now known to have been Nagumo's flagship Akagi. Rather than follow the 1st division in its attack on Kaga, which seemed well taken care of with critical hits, the 2d and 3d divisions bore down on Akagi. In due course, it was Ens. Vandivier's turn. Over he went and then down, toward the flagship of the Pearl Harbor attack force. He released his bomb—whether or not it was a hit or a near miss will never be known—and pulled out of the dive. He banked his plane and headed home. He later reported by radio that he was making a water landing, but he and his gunner were never seen nor heard of again.

 

In spite of a critical fuel shortage, Vandivier had pressed home his attack against the flagship of Japan's main carrier strength. His bravery is indicative of the spirit and determination which, perhaps above all else, won the crucial Battle of Midway for America and paved the way for ultimate victory. For his selfless contributions to that victory, Ens. Vandivier—promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on 30 June 1942 retroactively to 15 April 1942—was awarded the Navy Cross Medal, posthumously, for ". . . extraordinary heroism and distinguished service. . . ."

 

(DER-540: dp. 1,350; 1. 306'0"; b. 36'7"; dr. 13'4"; s. 24.3 k. (tl.); cpl. 222; a. 2 6", 1 dct., 1 dcp. (hh.); cl. Wagner)

 

Vandivier (DER-540) was laid down at the Boston Navy Yard on 8 November 1943 as a John C. Butlerclass destroyer escort DE-540; launched on 27 December 1943; and was sponsored by Mrs. Mary Hardin Vandivier. Since World War II came to an end before she was completed, work on her gradually tapered off and was finally suspended on 17 February 1947. Seven years later, on 1 July 1954, work was resumed to complete her and to convert her to a destroyer escort radar picket ship. She was redesignated DER-540 on 2 September 1954 and was placed in commission on 11 October 1955, Lt. Comdr. Frank B. Correia in command.

 

During the remainder of 1955, Vandivier completed outfitting at Boston, moved to Newport, R.I., and prepared for her shakedown cruise. On 14 January 1956, she cleared Newport to conduct her shakedown training in the West Indies. Over the next two months, she operated in the vicinity of Roosevelt Roads, P.R., and near Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She also made port visits to Ponce and San Juan in Puerto Rico as well as to Guantanamo Bay and Havana in Cuba.

 

On 15 March, Vandivier departed Havana to return to New England. She arrived at Boston on the 20th and underwent post-shakedown availability there until the second week in April, when she returned to Newport to begin duty as a radar picket ship with the Atlantic Fleet.

 

Throughout her brief Navy career as an active unit of the fleet, Vandivier served along the Atlantic seaboard and operated out of Newport. Her duties consisted solely of patrols off the coast as a sea-going extension of the distant early warning system during the height of the Cold War. She cruised on station for periods of approximately two weeks in duration while her radar equipment scanned the horizon for any airborne intruders—missiles or planes. When not on station, she conducted upkeep in port at Newport and made special event cruises. In 1956, she conducted cruises for the American Society of Planners and for women officer candidates as well as for her crewmen's families.

 

She began 1957 with duty on the picket station between 2 and 16 January and again from 28 January to 7 February. Following upkeep and a three-month overhaul, she headed south to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on 10 June. Arriving there four days later, Vandivier conducted refresher training until mid-July. On the 12th, she departed Cuban waters to return north. After a brief stopover at Norfolk, she continued north to Fall River, Mass. Upon completion of the availability, the ship got underway on 1 August and steamed toward Rockland, Maine, to participate in the Maine Seafood Festival. On 4 August, she put to sea to resume radar picket duty. For the remainder of the year, Vandivier alternated between two-week tours of duty on the picket line with one-week in-port periods at Newport.

 

The year 1958 began much the same way as the previous year ended. Until May, the warship stood 14-day watches on the radar picket station followed by a week of upkeep in Newport. On 8 May, she stood out of Newport for a visit to Bermuda in the British West Indies. After a three-day visit, she resumed her routine on the so-called Atlantic Barrier Patrol until September. On 20 September, she had the honor of escorting President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the America's Cup Races held off Narragansett Bay. On the following day, Vandivier resumed duty guarding the country from the threat of aerial sneak attack.

 

That duty occupied her for the remainder of 1958 and all of 1959. Throughout 1959, only two events varied her routine of radar picket operation out of Newport. In April, she made a two-day visit to Bermuda; and, on 5 September, she made another dependents' cruise for the families of her officers and men. Otherwise, it was business as usual—two weeks on station followed by a week in Newport—with periodic availabilities thrown in for good measure. The year 1960 brought more of the same duty but only for part of the year. On 30 June 1960, after all preparations,

 

Vandivier was decommissioned and placed in reserve with the Philidelphia Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Vandivier remained in reserve until late 1974 when she was sunk as a target. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 November 1974.