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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Jul. 3, 2013 5 years ago

Independence Day memories: Aging fighter pilot remembers battle

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Edwin Fischer was a Naval fighter pilot during World War II. He turns 95 years old July 5.

BY PAULA BUCK | CONTRIBUTING WRITER

World War II produced galvanizing leaders that still capture the imagination 68 years later.  But it's the stories of the those who actually fought on land, sea and in the sky that capture the heart.

"I was assigned to a squadron as a senior fighter pilot — and that was the real thing,” said former Naval Cmdr. Edwin A. Fischer, who's been an Ormond Beach resident since 1961 and turns 95 years old July 5. “My plane was a Hellcat F6F. ... That was the important part.”

The Allies relied heavily on strategic bombing, he added, so planes like the Fischer's, which topped out at speeds of 380 mph and notched a climb rate of 3,500 feet per second, played a major role in shifting the war's momentum.

“We were there to provide supplies, especially oil, and tactical support, mainly bombing,” Fischer explained.  “The war was really exciting for a young, single aviator."

Fischer cited the thrill of maneuvering his Hellcat in the air, landing it on the deck of his carrier and then rejoicing with the other survivors of each skirmish. He also married his first wife, Sara, while in the Navy.

"She’s the one who got me through it," he said, noting that they also had one son, Walker. “I couldn’t have made it without them.”

Telling his story amidst scrapbooks, photos and other memorabilia, Fischer recalled “a funny story — really funny” about the Battle of Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands. It was the first American offensive in the Central Pacific.

“The Japanese were dug in real deep,” he said, explaining that, during a dive-bombing, he felt a jolt and realized that the tail of his aircraft had been destroyed. He was going down, so he headed for a small field on which to emergency land. Once on the ground, he met three other soldiers who were able to take a working tail and rudder from another damaged plane and reconstruct it to his.

“When I got back to the carrier,” Fischer grinned, “everyone was surprised to see me.  ‘Hey, Fish!’ they hollered. They thought my plane and I had gone down.”

And that spirit of celebration was common after successful missions, and usually, it accompanied by "really cheap beer."

"Aviators were allowed to drink," Fischer said. "Enlisted men weren’t. I felt sorry about the men who did the routine maintenance on the planes and ships. Aviators were treated very carefully. Others maybe were not offered that same level of respect.”

Then he thought for a moment, scratched his head.

“Then again," he said, "the combat pilots sure were taking risks."

On Aug. 25,1944, The Suwannee, Fischer's aircraft carrier, sustained a direct hit by one of the first kamikaze pilots of the war. Fischer was just seconds away from landing his own plane on the carrier when he saw it happen.

"Close call!" he said, growing queiet, hesitating. "A really close call. I was very lucky."

The longer Fischer spoke, the more serious he became, especially when he got to his part in the Battle of Leyte, a 1944 event which he called "the biggest battle in Naval history."

“What happened there cannot be overestimated,” he said, pulling out a book written by his "wing man," John F. Smith, titled "Hellcats over the Philippine Deep."

Gently, carefully, he flipped pages in his autographed copy, returning often to the list of casualties of Air Group 60.

“I was lucky," he murmured. "So lucky."

Fischer's carrier was joined by a fleet of "jeep boats," smaller boats which provided oil, ferried planes and provided tactical strokes to cover amphibious landings.

"Together, we managed to cut off all-important oil supply to the Japanese and basically sealed the victory," Fischer said.

Fischer earned two medals for his service at that site:  the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal — both awarded for acts of courage and valor.  Downplaying the concept of heroism, he instead expressed gratitude.

“I joined the Navy at 22," he said. "It offered me education beyond compare and a real chance to serve my country."

Upon his return to the United States, Fischer worked as an executive officer at various stations for the Naval Reserves.  Since his retirement, he has been active in Ormond Beach real estate and also served two years as president of the Volusia-Flagler United Way.  He is a member of the Kiwanis Club and the Oceanside Country Club, as well as a charter member of the local Navy League.

Fischer purchased and restored a historic palmetto log cabin built in the 1880s on Orchard Lane, where his son, Walker, now resides. Fischer lives close by with his second wife, Joann.

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