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Vernon Watkins

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


Vernon Watkins

It is my earnest hope - indeed the hope of all mankind - that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world found upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Army

Vernon Watkins, born November 29, 1921, at Ironton, Ohio, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel R. Watkins, Sr. The family later moved to Crane Avenue, in the east end of Huntington, West Virginia. Vernon Watkins,
Vernon Watkins, 1942
Sam and Vernon
Sam and Vernon Watkins
After the Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, Vernon enlisted in the U. S. Navy. Vernon, known by friends and family members as "Jiggs," and his brother, Sam Jr., decided to request Aviation Pilot Training under the V5 Officers Program at Marshall College, in Huntington, with the hope of becoming pilots. Upon application and after completion of the barrage of testing, Vernon met the requirements of the program but Sam did not. While Sam later served in the Army and did fly with the Army Air Corps, Vernon was the one who started the process of pilot training.
After completing all of his aviation training, he accepted a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps on January 28, 1944. Following the successful completion of his training in the Marines Corps, the Marines assigned 2nd Lieutenant Vernon Watkins to several different duties, including two instructing assignments and then sent him to report to Aircraft, Fleet Marine Forces Pacific in mid-February. The assignment caused him to be shipped to Pearl Harbor, where he would then leave for his base in Hawaii. Before leaving for Pearl Harbor, the Marines permitted him a delay, apparently to visit his family that he had not seen in a long time. In Pearl Harbor, he served with the Marine Fighting Squadron 215 (VMF-215), Marine Air Support Group 44, 3rd Marine Air Wing, Fleet Marine Force, stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station, Ewa, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, where he served as a squadron officer. Sam and Vernon
Sam and Vernon Watkins
and Vernon
Corsair aircraft
In 1945, the aircraft and personnel of VMF-215 at Ewa provided training for pilots, who would replace or supplement the pilots of the squadron operating in the forward areas closer to the Japanese Empire. The activity of the squadron remained "routine" until Wednesday morning, May 9, 1945. Vernon had entered the phase of instrument training. That morning he was flying an FG-1A aircraft, the Corsair, BuAer No. 14060. Dark acetate covered the inside of the canopy of this aircraft, which blocked out the vision for the pilot and forced him to rely solely upon his instruments. If the pilot had trouble with the exercise, he could reach up, unlock the canopy and slide it open.
Lt. Herman L. Bushong, Jr., assigned as the safety officer, would fly off Vernon's wing to assist him during the training exercise. The radios had been checked before the flight and Vernon had responded to Lt. Bushong's instructions several times during the exercise. At 10:30 A. M., Lt. Bushong observed the aircraft going into a spiral dive at 10,000 feet. Other pilots in the area could hear Lt. Bushong over the radio as he called instructions to Vernon, hoping that Vernon would regain control of the aircraft. The aircraft collided with the ocean surface at an angle of 45 degrees and disappeared upon impact. Because the ocean at the crash location is 195 fathoms or 1170 feet deep, there was no attempt to recover his body. Corsair
Corsair aircraft
Honolulu Memorial
Vernon's brother, Sam, was at Pearl Harbor at one time when Vernon was at Ewa, but neither of the two knew the other was there. At the time of Vernon's death, Sam was flying with a B-29 bombardment group on bombing missions over Japan and would not learn of his brother's death until months later. Sam would survive the war and retire from the U. S. Air Force Reserve as a major. Vernon's name is engraved on the Tablets of the Missing, at the Honolulu Memorial, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Biography and Pictures provided with the assistance of Larry L. Legge


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