USS Hornet Survivor Vet Richard Nowatzki Shares His Incredible Story Part One: Today, we have the special opportunity to interview WWII Vet Richard Nowatzki. He shares with us stories of his incredible military career, including being one of the survivors of the USS Hornet and The Doolittle Raid. Tune in now to learn more!

Air Date: 04/18/2019

Guest: Vet Richard Nowatzki

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And, The Culture

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, always doing that from a Biblical, historical, and Constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton, America’s premier historian and the founder of WallBuilders. Also, Tim Barton, national speaker and President of WallBuilders, and my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state legislator, national speaker, and author.

It’s Foundations of Freedom Thursday, a special day of the week where we get to answer questions from you, the listeners! Always answering your questions from constitutional principles!

But, before we get into today’s topic, just a quick reminder that today, April 18th and this Saturday, the 20th–only two days–you can go see The Pilgrim’s Progress movie in theaters. So, be sure and check that out. In fact, you go to the website Pilgrims.Movie.

Just type in your zip code; it’ll tell you which theaters are close to you. You don’t wanna miss is this cool, animated version. Take your family go see it.

April 18th, 1942, Doolittle’s Raid

Okay. So, today is April 18th; and, speaking of that, David Barton America’s premier historian, what happened on April 18th, 1942? One of the coolest things in military history happened on this day.

DAVID:

It is a cool thing; and, by the way, I’m going to say that a whole lot of listeners may not recognize this because we’ve pointed out that in A.P. history standards, we’re not even covering Patton anymore or Eisenhower or any of those guys. But, today is the raid by Jimmy Doolittle, Doolittle’s Raid.

Okay, backup. World War II, Pearl Harbor gets hit by the Japanese, and that draws us in into World War II. They wiped out so much of our Navy and Air Force. They hit our homeland; and, we thought, “We need to send them a message because they think we can’t get back at them and that we’re stuck over in Europe having to fight the Nazis and having to fight the fascists and Italy.

Aircraft Carriers and B-25s

“They think we can’t touch them. We need to send them a message that they better keep some of their planes at home because we can touch them.” So, what they did was they they took B-25 bombers and loaded them up with bombs to send them to bomb Tokyo.

Now, the problem is the range of B-25s is only a few hundred miles; so, you got to have a place to be able to take these planes off from. And, that means you need an island airstrip, but Japan controls every island in the Pacific, so there’s nowhere to do this. Therefore, what they did decide to do is, “Let’s go take some aircraft carriers and launch off that.”

Now, that’s a good idea, except here’s the problem. For a B-25 to take off, it needs a runway length of 1400 feet.

TIM:

Well, that’s the general length of an aircraft carrier, right?

DAVID:

In World War II, aircraft carriers were 825 feet.

RICK:

That’s a little short.

TIM:

So, just put two of them together.

RICK:

That’s right. Yeah.

TIM:

Put them up end-to-end and just keep going.

DAVID:

That’s right. We’ll put a bungee cord between the two carriers. {laughter}But, that’s your problem is you got half of a runway.

So, what they did with Jimmy Doolittle, they decide, “We’re going to have 16 planes. There’s going to be five crew members on each plane with a total of 80 guys who we’re going to take to California Southern California.”

They put them on a normal runway; but, they put a line across the runway by 825 feet and said, “Guys you’ve got to get that plane off before then.” So, what they would do is they would crank those those four props as high as they would go, hold the brakes on it, and then let the brakes off, and try to get power up while they have all their flaps down, and pull off.

Stripping them Down

But, the weight of the plane is so great that you just couldn’t do that, especially when you loaded it with bombs. So, then they started taking out everything that they could. They took out the guns off the planes and took out so much of the inner carriage.

I mean, they stripped it down to nothing. And, they finally got these planes where they could take them off. So, these pilots were trying to take them off in less than 825 feet.

Then, aircraft carrier takes these 16 planes to within range of Japan. These planes take off. And, by the way, they only have enough gas to make it to Japan, not enough to make it back to the aircraft carrier.

TIM:

Good luck, boys.

RICK:

That’s it.

DAVID:

Yeah. So, the deal is: go to Japan, hit it, fly right across Japan, and try to crash land somewhere in China or the Soviet Union. But, you can’t come back here because you can’t land on these things.

TIM:

And, by the way, China and Soviet Union were both relatively allies. So, if you can make it there, then there’s a chance you might live if you can survive the crash.

Pearl Harbor & Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

RICK:

And, by the way, guys, just for those pop culture people out there, this is depicted somewhat in the movie Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, Jimmy Doolittle is played by Alec Baldwin, but other than that, it’s it’s a pretty cool depiction of how they came to get the planes to not weigh too much, and the whole raid, and having to crash. Anyway, go ahead.

DAVID:

And, by the way, an old school movie about this is Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, which is the Doolittle Raid. So, the planes go; they bomb Tokyo. It shocks the Japanese because they didn’t think any American plane could get there.

It changes the way they have to look at the war: Do we have to keep some planes and ships near the island rather than send them out to fight everyone? And so, 15 of these planes ended up landing over in China.

Now China is the Chinese, who are the American allies at the time; but, China was being ruled in many areas by the Japanese as part of the Japanese Empire. So, they land there. Some of the Americans are captured by the Japanese in China.

One plane {did} make it to the Soviet Union, and it’s a remarkable story.

RICK:

And, by the way, a huge psychological victory for us, because that was the big deal to actually hit them in Japan. Nobody else had done that. And so, it was kind of a real blow psychologically to them and a positive thing for us.

I mean, people back home were super excited, and they’d been waiting for us to strike back after after Pearl Harbor. Go ahead.

The USS Hornet

DAVID:

Yeah. It was a huge strike. And, you’re right; psychologically, what it did for us and to the Japanese was huge. Also, the aircraft carrier that they chose to launch us from, all top secret, was the USS Hornet.

Now, the USS Hornet didn’t last long. It was sunk not long after this; but, it was a remarkable ship. And, we actually have one of the survivors of the USS Hornet to talk about this who was there when the Doolittle Raid happened. I mean just really cool stuff.

Rick:

Well, when one of our great privileges here on WallBuilders Live is to get to interview our veterans and specifically, our World War II veterans, guys like this that such incredible history that they were a part of. And, Richard Nowatzki was on the Hornet. He actually had incredible military career even after this.

And, he’s got a great story to share with us. You don’t want to miss this one. We’re not going to get it all in today; so, we’re going to get as much as we can in today and even more tomorrow.

So, these two days, the 18th and 19th, we’re excited on the anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, to have somebody that was actually there when it happened. Stay with us.

Share a veteran’s story

We Want To Hear Your Vet Story

Rick:

Hey friends! If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live.  Once in awhile, we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people.

One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live, from folks that were in the Band of Brothers, to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived the Indianapolis to so many other great stories you heard on WallBuilders Live.

You have friends and family that also served.  If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please e-mail us at [email protected]  Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live!

Richard Nowatzki

RICK:

We’re back on WallBuilders Live! Thanks for staying with us. This is Richard Nowatzki, World War II veteran who served on the USS Hornet and on other ships. The rest of his story is amazing as well.

Appreciate you being with us, first of all. Appreciate your service, and thanks for taking time to share a little bit of your story with us. I understand the same folks that found the Indianapolis about 15 months ago found your ship, the USS Hornet.

Richard Nowatzki:

Right.

RICK:

And, that’s the ship that actually you were on when it delivered Doolittle and his raiders.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Yeah. I was aboard the ship before it went into commission. I joined the Navy in August of ’41 and went through boot camp. Then, on the 1st of October, I was aboard the Hornet before it went to commission. And, it went into commission of the 20th.

I was aboard it until we got sunk in the Battle of Santa Cruz a little over a year later. I was aboard the Hornet the whole time it was in commission.

RICK:

Wow. And, that was at the very beginning. Obviously, Doolittle’s Raid, most people are aware of. Did you know that was gonna happen on the ship that you were on?

A Military Secret

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Yeah, well, I think it was in February, the 1st or 2nd of February, after the war started. It started with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December ’41. And, we were in Norfolk and put two B-25 bombers on board. With a couple of destroyers, went out into the Atlantic and launched them.

Then, they passed the word that what we had just done was a military secret. “Keep your mouth shut;” so, nobody ever mentioned it. And, later on we wound up going down through the Panama Canal in March and then up into Alameda on the 1st or 2nd of April of 1942.

And, they loaded 16 B-25s onboard. So, we never made the connection as far as I know. Now, the Wasp, another aircraft carrier, had been in the Atlantic and was taking fighter planes from England into the Mediterranean to Malta. There were using it like a ferry boat.

So, we assumed we were going to be ferrying these bombers either to Hawaii or Alaska or something like that. And, when the war started in December, the Japanese were kicking our butt out there in the Pacific. They had a of carriers and a big surface force.

And, they’d been fighting in China since 1937. Those guys were professionals. We were–none of us has been in battle.

18 Years Old and a Message from Captain Mitscher

RICK:

You were how old? What, 18 or 19 at that time?

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Wow.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

We got underway; I think it was April 2. And, we headed out into the Pacific. Just as we went under the Golden Gate Bridge, and out past the Golden Gate there’s Farallon Islands.

And, by the time we got about there, we had a task force with us of about 50 ships, I guess. And, Captain Mitscher, who was the skipper on the Hornet in those days, later became a famous admiral during the war. But anyway, he got on on the squawk box and passed the word on the Hornet, “This is the captain; we’re going to take these 16 Army bombers to the coast of Japan and bomb Tokyo;” And, then he hung up.

RICK:

How did you guys respond?

A Tremendous Cheer Went Up

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

A tremendous cheer went up from the sailors aboard the Hornet because we–after almost six months we were going to strike back and help with the striking. Well, the other ships with us didn’t put this on the radio but used the blinking light to send the message to the other ships what we’re going to do. And, you could hear each of those ships as they got the message, a cheer go up from the other ships. So, it was quite a day. RICK:

That’s amazing.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

So, we knew we were going to do. Captain Mitscher was pretty good that way to always cut the crew in and let us know what was happening.

RICK:

Now were you guys able to get word? Did you hear much about what happened to the bombers after they left? Or, did it take time?

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

On the way out there I was with a friend of mine. We were up on a flight deck looking around at the Army bombers that were so big compared to our planes. See, the whole the whole reason we took those army bombers–this was early in the war. And, we were using carriers, but nobody really knew how to operate them except the Japanese; they’d figured it out.

Anyway, for an aircraft carrier to bomb a shore station in 1942, you had to be within 200 miles of that station for your planes to get over there, bomb the target, and get back to the ship. Otherwise, you didn’t have the range to do it. So, by putting Army bombers on there, we could get out four or five hundred miles and launch; that was the whole idea.

But, they were too big to start with and weren’t built to land on a carrier; so, they idea was to bomb Japan and to continue on into China and land in there. Then, supposedly they were going to be used by the Chinese Air Force later on to help protect China. They were going to leave the bombers out there.

BroomSticks Painted Black

Well anyway, a friend of mine Charlie {Piladadi}, and myself were walking around the flight deck. I came around the rear end of the B-25, looked at the rear turret, and told Charlie, “Do you see those two guns?”

He goes, “Yeah.”

I said “Those those are broomsticks painted black.” We went out to look and, sure enough, there were two broomsticks there where the gun should be.

RICK:

No kidding.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

When France fell in 1940, before we got in a war, about a month. Roosevelt got to pass the one-year draft. So, they drafted all of these guys up.

We only had–if you looked at the armies of the world in 1940, the United States was number seven, right behind Portugal. We only had 200,000 in the army, which included the Air Force; and about 200,000 of the Navy, which included the Marines. So, when he drafted us, we had  quite a few hundred thousand men down in Louisiana on maneuvers.

And you see [inaudible], they had wooden guns; they didn’t have any equipment. So, here I am on the flight deck of a carrier. Bombers are going to go to Japan and they’ve got wooden guns.

So, I asked the pilot, “You mean to tell me you’re going to go to war with wooden guns?” He says, “Oh, we put extra fuel in those planes, and to reduce the weight, we took that rear turret out. But, if a plane comes up behind us, we want them to think there’s a gun there, so we put those broomsticks in and painted them black.”

RICK:

Wow.

Volunteer Photographers

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

And, he said, “This is a historic flight; nobody’s ever bombed Japan before. So, we put a camera back there; we’re going to take movies of this.”

Well, this is like 75 years ago; I’m a young guy. We didn’t have all the remote stuff you got now. So, I ask him, “How do you operate a camera back there”

And, he said, “We’re supposed to get some Navy volunteers.” Me and Charlie weren’t too sure if he was telling the truth or not. But, I ask him, “Who’s going to pick the guys, the volunteers?”

He said, “Colonel Doolittle;” so, we decided that maybe the guy was telling the truth. So, 16 planes, they take 16 volunteers. Now, I joined the Navy for adventure; Charlie did the same thing.

So, this was the biggest adventure we’d ever heard of. So, we found Colonel Doolittle eating a bowl of ice cream {inaudible}. I asked him, “Colonel Doolittle, can I talk to you for a minute?”

He said, “Sure.” Now, I’m five-foot-six. When he stood up, he was about five-foot-two; he was like a little jockey. I couldn’t believe how little he was.

Anyway, we gave him the message, and he cracked up. He was laughing and pounding on the table. I said, “What did I say?”

He said, “The pilot operates that from the cockpit; the pilot was just pulling your leg.” He was still laughing when Charlie and I apologized and walked away.

RICK:

Wow.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

But, I told Charlie, “Don’t you tell anybody in our division what we did because 70 guys were on the deck force. They will never let us hear the end of it.” So, later on I got to thinking that the pilot did me a favor; because, I got to talk to Jimmy Doolittle and volunteered to go with them.”

And, I gave him a big laugh when he was in a pressure situation; so, it turned out pretty good.

RICK:

That’s amazing.

Fishing Boats…200 Miles Early

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

He gave me a great sea story.

RICK:

No doubt, that’s amazing. Now, tell me a little bit about what happened between that raid when you guys you dropped them off. You had roughly a year on the ship before.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Well, what happened was, when we got within 600 miles–we were supposed to get within 400; but, we got within six 600, we ran into some fishing boats that were out there just for that purpose, to warn them if any American ships came near. And, they got a message off; so, they launched a little early, 200 miles early.

And, we watched them all take off. We knew it was a dangerous mission to start with, and the extra 200 miles made it a lot more dangerous. Anyway, we were really proud of those guys.

The Air Force really had a lot of guts to do what they did.

RICK:

Yes, if I remember right, miraculously only–I mean, most of them survived that mission, right?

The Brave Men of the Air Force

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

I think three of them were killed trying to land or crash in Japan or China. Eight of them were captured and given a trial; three of the eight were executed. Then, I think one died in prison; so, four of those eight finally got back.

RICK:

Yes.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

So, altogether there was seven killed, almost 10 percent.

RICK:

Yeah, out of about 80 Yeah. Wow. Now, that is a that is amazing that you got to be a part of that.

Battle of the Coral Sea

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Well, as soon as we launched, we turned around and headed to Pearl Harbor to get out of there because we knew that they had been alerted with a message. We got to back to Pearl; that was a first time we were in Pearl Harbor. Then, they sent us down to the Battle of the Coral Sea where the Yorktown and the Lexington were in a battle down there.

And, we got there just as it ended; the Lexington got sunk, and the Yorktown got hit. But, in the meantime, the code breakers in Hawaii had figured out that Japan was going to attack Midway. So, Nimitz gave us orders to get back up to Hawaii.

Then, they couldn’t read the whole message; but, they had enough information to know it was gonna be Midway. Japan had a huge navy; there were a hundred ships coming down just for the Midway part. And, the Nimitz got the Hornet, the Enterprise and the Yorktown, which had been damaged there at the Coral Sea; but, they got it patched up just enough so it could launch aircraft.

 

The Battle of Midway

And, the Japanese, they thought, were coming in from about 200 miles northwest of Midway. So, Nimitz had us; all together, we had about 30 ships–the three carriers, cruisers, and destroyed–against over a hundred ships. But, anyway we were sitting about 200 miles to the northeast, and we were going to ambush the Japanese.

That’s exactly what happened. And, that was the Battle of Midway.

RICK:

Now, that’s one of the biggest of the entire war. So, not only were you part of–

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Yeah, that battle could have gone either way very easily. It was actually the dive bombers from the Enterprise and the Yorktown that turned the war. The dive bombers from the Hornet never did find the Japanese.

Our Torpedo Squadron 8 did. And, they were all shot down, the whole squadron.

RICK:

Wow.

Dive Bombers

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

But, our bombers never found them. But, the Enterprise at the Yorktown bombers did find them. In five minutes before the Japanese were going to launch because they had already located us, five minutes before they were going to launch is when the dive bombers from the Enterprise and the Yorktown pounced on them and sank three carriers. Then, later that night, we got the fourth one.

RICK:

Wow.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

But, that was how close that thing came; because, they had launched. And, and knew where we were. They probably would have overpowered us because they had so many planes.

 

But, that was a close one. After that, we were back in Hawaii when the Marines landed on Guadalcanal, down in the Solomon Islands just northeast of Australia. They were building an airstrip on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

And, if they had built that airstrip, they would have cut our communication with Australia. Well, that’s the reason the Marines went in there, and that turned out to be a six-month battle, which could have went either way.

Battle of Santa Cruz

And, then the Hornet was down there lending support to the Marines when we got caught up in that Battle of Santa Cruz. And, we were supposedly going to fight two carriers, but it turned out to be four Japanese carriers. Well, in that battle where the Hornet got sunk, we would just {shoot} down a lot of planes, but there were just too many of them; we couldn’t get them all.

And, that was the last big carrier battle of World War II. Even though we lost the battle, we shot down so many of the Japanese pilots, that they had to go back to Japan to train more pilots. They just didn’t have Air Force left.

So, even though we lost the battle technically, strategically we stopped Japan’s attacks from their carriers for the next two years. And, by the time that they were gearing up again, the United States had enough stuff out there where they overpowered Japan from that day on. So, the Hornet did a lot.

It only lived a little over a year; but, we did a lot that year.

A Special Video

RICK:

A lot. You were part of some of the most historic parts of the entire war. And, I guess recently, you got to see video of the Hornet where they found it and even saw the gun that you served.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Yeah. I’ll tell you how that’s happened. They had actually found; CBS News was a down there on that Paul Allen group. They were looking for sunken ships.

RICK:

Yeah.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

They actually found the Hornet in January. And, they decided they would like it if they could get anybody who was still alive that had been over it. So, after we were sunk, the next carrier being built was named the Hornet, and it and is now a museum down in Alameda, California.

And, in 2012, seven years ago, I got a call from that museum. They asked me if I could come down and give a talk, since I was on the original Hornet. They wanted to celebrate Jimmy Doolittle’s Raid.

And, Jimmy Doolittle flew off the Hornet, he was born in Alameda, the same town where the ship’s tied up. So, it was a natural connection there.

RICK:

Huh.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

In 2012, I went down there. And, it turned out every year they asked me to come down and give a talk about Doolittle; so, I do.

Well, when they found the Hornet, the CBS News producer called the Navy in Washington, talked to their history department, and wanted to know if there was anybody who was still alive that had been on the Hornet. So, they called the museum, which gave my name.

A Call From CBS

They gave it to CBS, and CBS called me. So, I said, “Yes, I was on the Hornet.” He said, “Can you talk?” “Yes, I can talk.”

Some guys can’t talk, I guess. Anyway, he asked me where I live; I told him, “Rose Hills,,  right outside Sacramento.” He said, “Okay, well, tomorrow at three o’clock, be in Sacramento at S Street.”

There was a Pacific Satellite building there that they own. He said, “Be there at three o’clock. We will have things set up.”

 

“Can You Keep a Secret?”

So, I went there at three o’clock, and they sat in front of a video screen talking to the guy down in the South Pacific through the satellite. He interviewed me; it was quite a long interview. Then, he asked me if I was able to keep a secret.

I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, we already found the Hornet.” Now, this is late January. He said, “But, we don’t want to tell anyone that we’ve found it until we’re ready to reveal it on our newscast on February 12.”

RICK:

Oh wow.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

I said, “Well, I’ll just keep the mouth shut.” He said, “Okay, we want to show you some photos of what we’ve found.” So then, they started showing me the underwater photos of the Hornet.

They showed me my old gun. They asked me which gun I was on, and I told them. They went right to that gun.

RICK:

Oh wow.

RICHARD NOWATZKI:

Well, then that brought back a lot of memories. So, 75 or 77 years.

RICK:

Folks, I’m sorry to interrupt the interview with Mr. Nowatzki. It’s so good; we’re gonna get the rest tomorrow.

I’m so excited to be able to share this interview with you and these comments from him. But, we’re just out of time for today. David, we’re going to do the rest tomorrow, right?

DAVID:

Yes, we’ll do the rest of tomorrow. And, already what we’ve heard is really cool stuff. Can you imagine being Jimmy Doolittle, with this sailor coming up to you saying “Hey, I volunteer to run camera in one of the planes;” and, he’s going, “What camera; what are you talking?”

I mean, that’s hilarious. I would love to have seen that when it happened. But, what a cool part of the story.

USS Hornet Survivor Vet Richard Nowatzki Shares More

RICK:

Well, we’ll get the rest of the story tomorrow. You don’t want to miss it. We really appreciate you listening today.

By the way, there’s a CD on our website at WallBuilders.com that has about 15 or 20 of these interviews on it from all branches, different wars. Lots of cool stuff is available to you there.

Then, you can also go to our archives at WallBuildersLive.com and scroll back through those archives to catch some more of these interviews with our veterans. And, we also want to ask you to help make more of these interviews possible.

As you visit WallBuildersLive.com today, click on that donate button. Every contribution helps to spread our program and do interviews just like this one. It allows us to really be an inspiration.

This program is inspiration and an equipping tool the citizens all across the country, so they can get engaged and help preserve our Republic for future generations. Thanks so much for listening today; you’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live!