"FIGHTING 17"

BY JIM LAURIER

Autographed by Rear Admiral Roger Hedrick, Robert Jackson, and Jim Streig.

L/E of 900, 200 with co-signatures. Signed and numbered by the artist.

Size:25" x 21"

Price:
$135 w/signatures
$95 w/artist's signature


"Whispering Death" was what the Japanese called the F4U Corsair during World War II. Appropriately so, as the last thing many Japanese pilots saw was a Corsair in their 6 o'clock position.

More appropriatewas the scull and crossbones, or Jolly Roger, painted on the noses of one particular group of Corsairs - those of Navy Squadron VF-17. This symbol flew from the masts of pirate ships who once sailed the seas looking for treasure to plunder. To cross paths with pirates meant death for those who chose to fight with them. From October 1943 to March 1944 many unfortunate Japanese pilots crossed paths with the Jolly Rogers and were dispatched in short order.

The exploits of VF-17 quickly gained the attention of the "Brass", as well as the news media, although the latter didn't always portray them in favorable terms. Squadron VF-17 gained a reputation for drinking, fighting, and a generally unorthodox method of conducting warfare. That was due, in part, to the leadership style of their Skipper, Tom Blackburn. Tom was warm and friendly to his men, but he was also a perfectionist. He wanted fearless, aggressive pilots in his squadron. He didn't always discourage the raucous behavior of his pilots, as some in the Navy thought he should, but he ended up with the type of team he needed. By the time they saw first combat, anyone who couldn't 'cut the mustard' was gone.

What may have seemed rowdy behavior to the press was really what was required for the job. Aggressiveness was an essential in all successful fighter units of the war. It should come as no surprise that some of this energy spilled over into events that took place on the ground.

Tom Blackburn's methods proved correct. Under his command, NavySquadron VF-17 became the highest scoring Navy Corsair squadron of WWII. They destroyed 154 Japanese planes in 76 days, beating the record of 'Pappy' Boyington's notorious Black Sheep squadron. In doing so, they demoralized the once proud Japanese Air Force. So much so that upon seeing the approaching Corsairs, one Japanese pilot wrote in his diary, "here come the wolves again".

The spectacle of aerial warfare in the bright skies over the Solomon Islands will never be witnessed again. Although they were only there for a very short span of time, Navy Squadron VF-17 played an important role in shaping the course of WWII. The acheivements of these men will certainly endure a very long time.

Today the Jolly Roger still flies on the tails of carrier-borne jets of Navy Squadron VF-103.