H-Gram 006, Attachment 6
Hill Goodspeed, National Naval Aviation Museum Historian
Rolling off the Douglas Aircraft Company assembly line in El Segundo, California, in December 1940, SBD-2 Dauntless (Bureau Number 2106) was delivered to Bombing Squadron (VB) 2 at Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego, California, on the last day of 1940. For the better part of the following year the aircraft flew with that squadron, logging hours flying from the deck of the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-2) and participating in large-scale military maneuvers in Louisiana.
During the first week of December 1941, with Lexington earmarked to deliver aircraft of a Marine scout bombing squadron to Midway Atoll, the aircraft was off-loaded from the carrier to make room for the additional aircraft and left at Pearl Harbor when "Lady Lex" put to sea. Thus, on the morning of 7 December 1941, it was on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. Put back aboard Lexington when she returned to Pearl, the aircraft embarked in the carrier to the South Pacific. On 10 March 1942, flown by Lieutenant (junior grade) Mark T. Whittier with Aviation Radioman Second Class Forest G. Stanley as his gunner, the aircraft joined 103 other planes from Lexington and Yorktown (CV-5) in a raid against Japanese shipping at Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea. Credited with pressing home his attack against a Japanese ship, Whittier received the Navy Cross.
When Lexington returned to Pearl Harbor following the raid, the museum's SBD-2 was again put ashore and earmarked for transfer to Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 241 on Midway Atoll, arriving there with eighteen other SBD-2s on 26 May 1942, on board the aircraft transport Kitty Hawk (APV-1).
On the morning of 4 June 1942, with 1st Lieutenant Daniel Iverson as pilot and Private First Class Wallace Reid manning the .30-caliber machine gun in the aft cockpit, the museum's aircraft was one of sixteen SBD-2s of VMSB-241 launched to attack Japanese aircraft carriers to the west of Midway. Approaching the enemy carrier Hiryu, the Marine planes came under fire from antiaircraft gunners and fighters of the enemy combat air patrol. Iverson, with two Japanese Zero fighters following him down in his dive, released his bomb at an altitude of 800 feet. During his egress from the target area, the Zeroes on Iverson's tail were joined by two others, which pursued the Dauntless for miles. Enemy fire holed Iverson's plane 219 times, knocking out his hydraulic system and wounding Reid. One bullet came so close that it clipped Iverson's throat microphone cord. Nevertheless, the pilot managed to return to Midway, making a one-wheel landing on the atoll. His was one of only eight SBD-2s of VMSB-241 to return from the attack against the Japanese fleet. For their actions, Iverson received the Navy Cross and Reid was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Returned to the United States, the museum's SBD-2 was repaired and eventually assigned to the Carrier Qualification Training Unit (CQTU) at NAS Glenview, Illinois. On the morning of 11 June 1943, with Marine 2nd Lieutenant Donald A. Douglas Jr. at the controls, the aircraft ditched in the waters of Lake Michigan during an errant approach to the training carrier Sable (IX 81). Douglas was retrieved from the water by a Coast Guard rescue boat, but his aircraft sank to the bottom of the lake.
Recovered in 1994, the aircraft underwent extensive restoration at the museum before being placed on public display in 2001. Elements of its original paint scheme when delivered to the fleet are still visible on its wings and tail surfaces. A survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack and two combat actions, including the famous Battle of Midway, it is one of the most historic aircraft in existence anywhere in the world.