|The C.E. Daniel Collection
|Ensign Horace Edward Spears/
Ensign Gustave August Wilbur
VF-20 "Fighting Twenty"
United States Navy Reserve
- KIA -
|I am honored to care for the above items, a rare instance to have items related to
two aviators who made the ultimate sacrifice during the same wartime incident.
This page is dedicated to the brave service of Ensign Horace Edward Spears,
Ensign Gustave August Wilbur, the men of VF-20, and the aviators of the United
States Navy who served with dedication and distinction during WWII.
If anyone has any additional information relating to Ensign Spears or Ensign
Wilbur, I would enjoy hearing from you.
|flying an F6F-5 Hellcat with VF-20 from the USS Enterprise. Cox is standing to the far right, rear
row of the family photo.
The two photographs above were used with the kind permission of Pat Ranfranz, through
his website: www.missingaircrew.com. Mr. Ranfranz is doing tremendous work on behalf
of our WWII aviators lost in the Pacific Theater. Take the time to see his website and help
support him in his endeavor.
|Above: A letter written by Mrs. Fred Cox to the mother of Horace Spears, dated February 21, 1945. By this time, Mr. and Mrs. Spears had already learned the fate of
their son. Mrs. Cox's son, Ensign Joseph E Cox, was a squadron-mate of Horace Spears in VF-20. At the time of this letter, Mrs. Cox had been informed that her son
Joseph was missing in action. It would be quite a long time before the Cox family would learn that Joseph had been killed in action. Years later, his aircraft would be
located on Yap Island, in the South Pacific. (For additional information concerning Cox and the finding of his aircraft, visit www.missingaircrew.com.)
|A recent addition to my private collection was an extensive grouping related to Ensign Horace "Ed" Edward Spears and Ensign Gustave August Wilbur, United
States Navy Reserve, both assigned to VF-20, the Fighting Twenty. This very extensive grouping includes a literal pile of paperwork relating to Spears Naval career,
his flight log book, photos, medals, insignia, Western Union telegrams and award certificates. Also found among his items were personal letters from his
commanding officer, Navy Cross winner and ace, Cdr. Frederick E. Bakutis, and a letter from the Secretary of the Navy during WWII, James Vincent Forrestal.
Among Wilbur's items are several wartime photographs, his Naval Aviator certificate, and several other items.
What makes this such a special grouping to me is the fact that Ensign Spears and Ensign Wilbur did not survive the war, making the ultimate sacrifice while flying
and fighting in defense of our great nation. These items were kept together and well preserved for nearly 66 years before finding their way into my private
collection. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to not only have possession of these items and ensure their preservation, but to be able to tell at
least part of their story. Like all of our servicemen who failed to return home from the war, Ensign Spears and Ensign Wilbur deserve recognition for their sacrifice.
I hope in some way, this page provides a fraction of the recognition they deserve.
|Judging from his 2nd grade, 1932 report card of nearly straight A's, Horace Edward Spears was a smart and studious young man. A photograph of him near a civilian
aircraft prior to his entrance into the United States Navy shows an interest in aviation at a relatively young age.
Horace Edward Spears was born on February 20, 1924, Altus, Oklahoma. Spears enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve on June 13, 1942. He received his wings
and was commissioned an Ensign on August 14, 1943, at the Naval Air Training Center, Corpus Christi, Texas. Spears attended Carrier Qualification training, and
following its successful completion, was posted for active duty with fighter squadron VF-20 on November 12, 1943, aboard the USS Enterprise.
The USS Enterprise arrived in Pearl Harbor on November 6, 1943, just days before Spears joined the ranks of VF-20. The Enterprise returned to action on November
19, 1943, off of the Gilbert Islands. The USS Enterprise would take the fight to the very shores of Japan, along with 12 other new carriers. The Enterprise would not
return to the United States for 560 days. Ensign Spears would unfortunately never return.
|Above: A letter of recommendation from Spears' grade school principal, Bob Durham, speaking on his
character and his drive as a young man.
|Above: Spears United States Navy Naval Aviator identification wallet, with his Navy issued identification cards. It
shows his Naval aviator number as: C-9065.
|A special thank you to David Jiminez. It is through his efforts that
these items were located and presented into my collection for
continued preservation. Without his help, this grouping would not
have been possible.
|A second letter from Mrs. Cox to Mrs. Spears dated December 19, 1945. At the time
of this second letter, the Cox family still did not know the fate of their son.
|Spears Flight Log:
The flight log of Horace Spears begins with his first flight in February of 1943 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The log book appears to cover most of his training time as a
cadet, and continues on until his final training, where he is introduced to the aircraft he will eventually fly into combat. Unfortunately, Spears' combat flight log was not
among his possessions this many years later.
The flight log covers a time period from February 1, 1943 to April 30, 1944. During this time, Spears accumulated 573.7 hours in flight time. He flew various aircraft
during this period including: the Stearman N2S-3, the Vultee SNV-1, the North American SNJ-4 and finally, the Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, primary fighter aircraft. The
front of his flight log appropriately lists all of the issued flight clothing and accessories given to Spears throughout his training.
Some of the men who are listed as having provided flight instruction to Spears are shown with only their rank and last name. Some of these names include: Lt.
Storey, Ens. Leeper, Ens. Storey, Ens. Helbing, Ens. Mongot, Ens. Paxson, Ens. Landman, Lt. Holt, Ens. Sheldon, Ens. Blair, Ens. DeWitt, Ens. Climmitt, Ens. Linger, Lt.
Maxwell, Lt. Price, Lt. Fry, Lt. Mueller, Lt. Goetter, Lt. Terrill, Lt. Bryant, Ens. Sheppiels, Lt. Schaeffer, Ens. Shannon, Lt. MacInnes, Ens. Porodnan, Lt. Petersen, Ens.
Hendrickson, Ens. Norman, Ens. Thompson, Lt. Brown, Ens. Nordhansen, Ens. Schanbach, Ens. Winters, and Ens. Hawley.
On October 19, 1943, the flight log shows that Spears qualified in carrier landings, flying an SNJ completing his training on the USS Wolverine, a US Navy freshwater
aircraft carrier. The USS Wolverine was used as a training ship to qualify Navy pilots in carrier landings. Spears' carrier qualification was signed off by Lt. R. W.
Fleming, AV(S) USNR.
|A United States Navy photograph showing the USS Wolverine. This photograph
is not part of the grouping, but was an important aspect of Spears' training during
|A letter sent to Spear's parents, dated May 3, 1944, provides the details relating to the last moment of Ens. Spears' life. The letter was written by the Commanding
Officer of VF-20, Lieut.-Commander F.E. Bakutis, provides the Spears family with the details of the incident which claimed their sons life.
The letter states the following:
VF-20/P6 United States Pacific Fleet
Serial: 73 Fighting Squadron Twenty
c/o Fleet Post Office,
San Francisco, California
3 May, 1944.
Mr. Roy Spears
518 N. Hightower,
Dear Mr. Spears,
It is with the deepest regret that I had to inform you concerning your son, Edward. He was sincere, cheerful, hardworking and a thoroughly reliable pilot who had
become a very real part of the squadron. His loss has come as a profound shock to all of us who were looking forward to having him in the squadron as long as we
are together. We shall miss him keenly as a flier and a friend.
Ed is listed as missing as the result of a mid-air collision. He was participating in a gunnery exercise which called for coordinated attacks on a towed target. During
one of the attacks his plane collided with a plane piloted by Ensign G. A. Wilbur, which was making a run from a different direction. The impact was necessarily
severe and both planes were badly broken up.
Attacks of this kind are dangerous in that they require extremely close timing, and although none of the other pilots saw the actual crash, it is believed that Ed and
Ensign Wilbur misjudged each others path of flight until too late to avoid the crash.
Lieutenant Lillard, who was leading the flight, and Ensign Cox, Ed's team leader at the time, both followed the planes down to the water in order to give such help as
they could in case either Ed or Ensign Wilbur bailed out. They reported that one badly ripped parachute was seen to open and later they spotted a rubber life boat
on the water, but there did not appear to be anyone in it. They circled the life boat and continued to search, without success, for signs of the other pilot. A short
time later a seaplane arrived at the scene and picked up the life boat but failed to recover the pilot who was in the water under the life boat and already apparently
dead. The crew of the seaplane reported that they were able to catch only a fleeting glimpse of the body before it sank, and that under the circumstances
identification was impossible.
Surface craft and additional planes continued to search the area throughout the day for signs of the other pilot but failed to find any traces of him.
Since one of the pilots failed to jump from his plane, and the other apparently died before he could climb into the rubber life boat, it seems safe to conclude that
neither of them survived the collision by more than a very few seconds and therefore, any suffering either of them may have experienced must of necessity have
been but momentary.
Yesterday the members of the squadron paid tribute to the memory of Ed and Ensign Wilbur at a small, simple, but very moving Memorial service. We wish you
had been with us.
We will send you Ed's personal effects as soon as possible. That was his wish. If anything further develops, we will let you know immediately.
Again allow me to extend to you the heartfelt sympathy of the entire squadron and the group in your loss. I only wish that I could do something to help you in your
sorrow. Ed was a fine officer and must have been a son of whom you were proud. We all feel his loss tremendously. Please do not hesitate to call on me for any
assistance at any time.
Very sincerely yours,
F.E. Bakutis, Lieut-Comdr., USN
|Among the other items within the Spears grouping were numerous photographs of Spears, friends and family, newspaper clippings relating to other Altus, Oklahoma
soldiers who were serving, or who had been injured or killed during the war. The grouping included a large number of Spears' original United States Navy orders,
cabinet photographs of friends who were serving in various branches of the United States military, correspondence between the Spears family and the Department of
the Navy and the Veterans Administration, and Spears life insurance forms that he had completed. Spears' flight school yearbook, The Slip Stream, was still contained
in its unopened box, as it had been mailed to the Spears family home during the war, and prior to Spears' death. In all, a very large number of paperwork items were
among all of Spears' items. The paperwork provides a detailed view of Spears career as it progressed.
As a result of his life insurance policy, and his untimely passing while serving in the United States Navy, Spears' father would receive a monthly payment of $53.90
until the total of $10,000.00 was paid out. It is sad to realize in reading these documents that the Spears family would be reminded monthly of the passing of their son,
with the arrival of each $53.90 check. Those payments would continue monthly for over 185 months.
|Ironically, the Fighting Twenty photographic roster displays the
identification photographs of Spears and Ensign Wilbur, side by
|The two pilots who were mentioned by Leiut-Comdr. Bakutis in his letter to
the Spears family about the collision between Spears and Wilbur, Ensign
Joseph Cox and Lt. Lillard. See below for additional information concerning
Ensign Cox. All four of these brave men would lose their lives during WWII.
| In the years following the war, the State of Oklahoma would
recognize Spears for his military service, sending the Spears family
a State of Oklahoma certificate of recognition. The Department of
the Navy would posthumously award Spears the World War Two
Victory medal and the American Campaign Medal. Both of these
medals were mailed to the Spears family in Department of the Navy
|A letter dated August 5, 1944, sent to the Spears' family from the Secretary of the
Navy, James Forrestal. The letter was sent using the Secretary of the Navy's own
letterhead and is signed by James Forrestal.
|Official United States Navy Inquiry:
|I was able to obtain the official United States Navy inquiry regarding the mid-air collision involving Ens. Wilbur and Ens. Spears. The report indicates that Ens. Spears
was flying an F6F-3 serial #42676, while Ens. Wilbur was flying an F6F-3, serial #42421 at the time of the accident.
The inquiry indicates that Ens. Spears was flying as a wingman in a section of F6F's participating in the aerial gunnery exercise, while Ens. Wilbur was flying as the
lead aircraft in a separate two plane section of F6F's. The report indicates both pilots took off at approximately 0950 hours to participate in the gunnery exercise. The
mid-air collision occurred at approximately 1048 hours. The first rescue aircraft, a USN J2F arrived on scene for an attempted rescue of any survivors at approximately
1200 hours. Crew of the J2F observed an unknown pilot suspended below an open "uninflated" life raft. When the rescue crew attempted to retrieve the flier, the line
attached to the life raft suspending the pilot broke, and the airman sank into the water, unable to be retrieved. The inquiry identifies the location of the mid-air collision
as being approximately 65 miles from Barbers Point, Hawaii.
At the time of the collision, Ens. Spears was conducting an overhead run on the prescribed target, while Ens. Wilbur was conducting a high side run to the same
target. The inquiry also shows that both Ens. Spears and Ens. Wilbur attained their US Navy pilot ratings on the same day, August 1, 1943. Presumably, they were
classmates together, having achieved their pilot ratings on the same day.
|Both aviators' names are listed on the memorial wall of
the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at
Punchbowl, which sits inside the Pu'owaina Crater in
Honolulu, Hawaii. A special thank you to the two families
for providing me with, and allowing my use of these
|Historical Note: The fate of Ensign Spears and Ensign Wilbur were quite common during WWII. Aviation accident, non-combat related, claimed the lives of more aviators than those
actually lost to combat. During WWII, the United States Navy lost approximately 8,184 men to non-combat, aviation related accidents. At the same time, approximately 3,173 men
would be lost to actual air combat. The same is true for all other branches of service, with non-combat aviation accidents claiming the lives of more men than actual combat.
|Ensign Horace "Ed" Edward Spears
|Ensign Gustave August Wilbur
|Gustave "Gus" August Wilbur was born on August 13, 1919. Gus was the fifth child of seven kids, and one of five brothers. As with many farm families of the time, all
five Wilbur brothers served in the military during WWII. Three of Gus’s brothers served in the Navy (Harold, Walter, and Chester), one brother (Ervan) served in the
Army. Two surviving Navy brothers completed their service and returned to civilian life after the war. One brother, Harold Alvin Wilbur, enlisted in 1934 and remained
in the US Navy retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Commander, having served in both WWII and Korea. Harold is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Wilbur graduated from eighth grade in Perkins County Nebraska and later graduated from Grainton High School, in Grainton, Nebraska in 1937. A farm kid, he was
athletic and played on the high school basketball team. Although much less is known about the history of Wilbur, he most likely enlisted into the United States Naval
Reserve and received his wings and commission as an Ensign at the same time as Ensign Spears. After attending Carrier Qualification training, and following its
successful completion, both men were posted for active duty with fighter squadron VF-20 on November 12, 1943, aboard the USS Enterprise.
Gus enlisted May 20, 1942 when he was 22. Gus was the only one not to come home. He was just 3 ½ months shy of his 25th birthday when he and his shipmate and
fellow aviator Horace Edward Spears met in a fatal mid-air collision during a tactical training flight approximately 65 miles off of Barber Point, Hawaii.
|The Grainton High School basketball team. Wilbur is
seated in the second row, far right. His brother is seated
next to him in the center of the photograph.
|Two wartime photographs of Ensign Gustave Wilbur, his flight school graduation photo on the left
and his official Navy portrait photograph on the right.
|Wilbur's Naval Aviator certificate. The information shown on the certificate show that Wilbur received his Naval Aviator certificate just four days after Spears had received his. The
issuance of the certificate would also have occurred just three days after his 24th birthday. His Naval Aviator number is noted as C-9326.
|A simple yet appropriate funeral pamphlet from
the funeral service for Gustave Wilbur. The
pamphlet indicates that the service for Wilbur was
conducted with full military honors and the local
Legion Chaplain lead the service in prayer. A
solo was sung by Carolyn Sperry and the Legion
Chaplain lead the service in the Pledge to the
Flag. As Spears' family had done, the service
was held in memory of Wilbur, lost in action and
presumed deceased following the mid-air collision.