13 July, 2008

Profile 19 - 18 flown by Milton Tootle

Unfortunately, I never got to meet Milton Tootle. This art was commissioned by a buddy who met Milton and decided to take it upon himself to honor the man by hosting a celebratory dinner. The closest I got to being there was knowing that this illustration was given to him as a present. Afterwards, I found out Milton was thrilled with the event and surprised his deeds were respected so many years after the fact - a common feeling among these aerial warriors.

There's something inherently humble about heroism. For the most part, "heroes" seem to have an accidental quality about their circumstances. Instead of recognizing or calculating their moment, they simply "do." Aside from their moments, heroes are surprisingly ordinary, with the exception that when the "moment" comes, they have an automatic reaction of selflessness. Instead of retreating, ignoring, blaming or hiding, they do whatever the moment demands.

To be fair, combat pilots were trained to be instinctive and this "rote behavior" is undoubtedly why so many of them were able to perform so well under pressure. Practice, practice, practice and when the moment comes...

A snippet of the Tootle's Navy Cross citation is below:


The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Milton Tootle, IV, Ensign, U.S. Navy (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron THREE (VF-3), embarked from the U.S.S. YORKTOWN (CV-5), during the "Air Battle of Midway," against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942. While engaged in an assault against Japanese aerial forces about to attack his aircraft carrier, Ensign Tootle pursued a Torpedo Plane so relentlessly that he came under a fierce barrage of antiaircraft fire from his own ship. Although the resultant damage to his plane caused the cockpit to become filled with smoke, he nevertheless pressed home the attack until his gunfire struck down the Torpedo Plane and sent it exploding into the sea. Despite the terrific hazard of flying his battered and smoking craft, he continued to carry on with grim determination and magnificent fortitude until ordered to crash-land in the water. As a last resort he was required to bail out and a short time afterward was picked up by a friendly destroyer. The outstanding courage and determined skill displayed by Ensign Tootle were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 311 (February 1943)