Marine Division Leader Ken Reusser, callsign Ruby 6, was on patrol with Bob Klingman, Jim Cox and another on of the ' Checkerboarders' from Marine Fighting Squadron 312 (VMF-312).
On a routine patrol, the foursome was climbing to altitude, when they heard:
"Ruby 6 . . this is Handyman. Over."
"This Ruby Six, go ahead Handyman."
"Bogey one eight zero, angels two five. Steer two seven zero. BUSTER! "
"Roger, Handyman. Left two seven zero, climbing to angels two five."
The flight dropped their belly tanks, shoved up the power, and test fired their machine guns.
Klingman recalls : "We could see a vapor trail as the bogey made two complete circles over our harbor."
The Marine pilots had a good idea about the mission of the aircraft. Over the past few days, their squadron and others were taking turns trying to intercept radar targets following a similar track. Intelligence believed it was a Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu ' Nick ' photo recconnaissance aircraft, perhaps assisting in plans for Kamikaze attacks on the Navy ships anchored below.
Ken Reusser recalls : "We were turning inside his turn to try and gain on him, but we were so far below that we had little chance of reaching him. So, I just pulled the nose up and held my trigger down , with no real aim, just trying to 'loop it up there. ' I saw a couple of 'glints' before he rolled wings level and headed back to Japan."
The four Corsairs kept grinding away at maximum climb, staying on the bogey's tail, although it didn't appear possible to overhaul him.
Checkerboarder Jim Cox's Corsair kept dropping back until he was a thousand feet below and behind. He wasn't able to coax one more knot out of his battle-weary plane. Reusser told Cox and the other pilot to return, while he and Klingman continued their pursuit.
At 38,000 feet, they were at their struggling Corsairs' service ceiling. But the Nick was still one mile ahead. In the thin air, they were on the edge of stall, and had to make only small and gentle movements of their controls to avoid the drag of a pre-stall burble that would allow the enemy to extend further out of range.
Reusser recalls, "The gunner pounded with his fist on the action of his machine gun to free it up.
As we got closer, Ken was firing and the bogey's rear gunner started firing back at us. I was taking a few small bullet holes. My plane had no gun heaters and my guns were frozen and inoperative. But I was still pretty eager to get me a Jap plane.
My Corsair was a bit faster than the other one. So I crept ahead. I closed until I was 20 or 30 feet behind him. I couldn't get any closer due to his prop wash. Held me back. I slowly climbed above, then nosed over slightly and sliced into his tail with my prop. I only had enough extra speed to chew off some of his rudder and elevator before being blown away by the Nick's prop wash.
He was still flying, so I climbed above him for a second run. I nosed down toward him again, but pulled out too soon. I only got some of his rudder - and part of the top of the rear canopy as the gunner frantically tried to use his machine gun.
I climbed slightly above for a third run, then chopped off his right elevator. That hit did most of the damage to my plane. And we both spun down out of control. After losing only about 1,000 feet I recovered. But the enemy plane continued its spin until, at about 15,000 feet, both its wings came off.
Klingman didn't have a 'shoot down.' But . . he definitely had a ' knock-down.'
They were hundreds of miles from home with Klingman's control stick shaking so hard it was "leaping around " in his cockpit. Then, as they worked their way home, descending through 10,000 feet, Klingman radioed that his engine had quit.
Others radioed Bob to "Go over the side."
In his own judgment, Klingman thought he had a fair chance to glide as far as the airstrip's closest end, then land it ' dead stick' out of a straight-in approach.
There would be no forgiveness for his slightest misjudgment.
Alerted by radio, all the pilots and crew members near the airstrip were transfixed as Klingman, with propeller silently windmilling, approached the airstrip for a ' no-go-around ' landing.
At the last second, Klingman flared. His plane touched down on the dirt overrun, bounced a handful of yards to the airstrip's hard surface, and rolled to a stop.
As the pilots and crew members ran over to examine the aircraft and applaud the pilot, they were astonished by the plane's damage. All three blades of Klingman's propeller had six inches missing from the tip. The bird's wings were riddled with bullets, and chunks of the Japanese airplane were found inside the cowling.
After surprisingly minor repairs, a new engine and propeller, the Corsair was returned to flight status.
Both Bob Klingman and Ken Reusser earned the Navy Cross.
Klingman went on to fight in the Korean War and retired as a LtCol. He flew west in 2004.
Ken Reusser served his country for 27 years, was shot down five times, flew 213 combat missions, and was awarded a second Navy Cross for heroism in the skies over Korea. He distinguished himself as a pilot and commander in Vietnam, and retired in 1968 when he joined Lockheed Aircraft as a special assistant.