Colonel R. Bruce Porter
Bruce Porter fought in the Samoa and Solomon Islands, downing three Zeros. After a brief return to the United States, as a night-fighter pilot and squadron C.O. he achieved ace status. This interview was made by Frederic Janik in October - December 1998.
* Colonel Porter, you just enrolled in the US Navy when this Marine officer made you sign up with the Marines. Why did you change your mind, and what is your opinion about this "career move" after all these years?
A Marine Recruiting Poster changed my life. After signing up for the Navy Cadet Program and walking out I saw this colored poster with a Grumman F3F Fighter Plane with "Join Marine Aviation". "Look at that" I told my buddy who had also signed up for the Navy. Not being too knowledgeable on the Marines, we listened intently to the interviewing Marine Captain wearing the Wings of Gold. Becoming a Flying Leatherneck sounded much better than being in the Navy. He filled us in on the Marines being a much smaller organization as he explained like a big family there would be more opportunities for advancement and a closeness that could not happen in the Navy. As it turned out his advice was correct and I have never regretted the decision.
* Marine pilots training was known to be really hard. How did young men cope with so much pressure, and what did you think was the hardest part of this training period?
All Cadets went through the same training in my period of time. The top ten percent became Marines. On pressure the cadets that received their wings coped with the pressure the others washed out. Going from primary to advanced which included instrument,acrobate, formation flying prior to receiving your wings of gold became the hardest.
* After training in the US, you were at first stationned in the "quiet" Samoa. Preparing for combat for months, and not seeing action for a long time... What were your feelings about that?
It was always a very frustrating time, awaiting assignment to combat.
* After arriving in Guadalcanal, as you are a captain, you're a division leader despite the facts that you have not seen action yet and that your division lieutenants are combat veterans (some having already scored kills). How could you manage to exert any influence over those pilots?
No problem, my flying experience overshadowed this. I had been lots more time in the air than them...
* How did you feel when you learned you'd have to trade your Wildcat for the brand new Corsairs, without having had a chance to experience combat in it?
Well whatever I felt at first, after being checked out in the Corsair it felt like going from a Model T Ford to a Cadillac!
* First combat, first victory... Do you think that this is partly due to the amount of flying and experience you gained flying in the Samoas?
Concerning this first victory, but not only, my past flying experience was very instrumental in keeping me alive during all combat.
* We have this image of incredibly undisciplined Marine pilots... Is that completely true? Your encounter with Greg Boyington seems to be a good example of that state of mind...
Over all that Boyington encounter was a special meeting. But generally speaking the Marine Fighter Pilot was very, very disciplined- All Naval Aviators, both Navy and Marines, had to be disciplined to stay alive.
* You were happy to go home after your first tour of duty, but then you wanted to go back to action very soon. Why?
Yes, after 20 some months in the Pacific I was delighted to go home. But returning was something I wanted to do to fulfill my ambition to become an Ace.
* Did landing on a carrier at night changed a lot from doing this during the day? Were there special procedures for that?
Landing at night is the MOST difficult part of carrier landing . The saying "it is like night and day" is a good one. The LSO landing signal officer was illuminated with paddles in front of a white screen so he would be more clearly seen. We had lots and lots of training for night carrier work. Very few pilots wanted night work...
* Then you accomplished a rare feat in scoring a double night kill, well described in your book (see details at the bottom of the page). Did you notice a big difference in Japanese pilots skills towards the end of the war?
There was a tremendous difference in Japanese pilots after 1944 until the end. Midway and Guadacanal are where Japan lost the war as most of their top pilots were shot down. Much the same as in Germany.
* What has been the most amazing or frightening thing you have experienced during the conflict?
Well, it was not only being shot at in combat, but also flying off a Carrier at night and the horrible weather we flew in day and night, many times under instrument conditions with only needle-ball-airspeed to use.
* What type of aircraft did you prefer piloting?
Toss up between the Corsair and Hellcat - I believe the Grumman F6F is the most under-rated airplane in WWII. This plane produced more Aces than any of the other planes like the P-51, P-38 and Corsair.
* What is your opinion on today's warbirds preservation scene? Are you somewhat involved in it?
No, I am not involved in warbirds preservation but I do not like them using for Reno Air Races etc... One of these days there will be NO MORE.
* I'm wondering if you knew any Canadian Pilots in The War because i have looked everywhere and i cannot find anything about my fellow Canadians. (Question from Chris Lennox).
No, I did not know any Canadian Pilots - Try firstname.lastname@example.org.
* When should warbirds be retired to static display? Or more to the point, should these birds be allowed to fly at all? (How rare must they be before the answer is "ground'em? The B-26? the Dauntless, the FW 189 that is in the midst of rebuild having been recovered from the former soviet union.) (question from Gary Lewi).
I am with you, I think these warbirds should be grounded, made in static display.
Thank You, Colonel Porter, for your help and your kindness.
For those of you who want to know more, we definitely recommend Colonel Porter's book "Ace! - A Marine Night-Fighter Pilot in World War II" (Motorbooks International; ISBN: 0935553312), over 60,000 copies of which have been sold.