December 7, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy ,” also lives in the memory of JA Browning, who was serving as a Gunner on a SBD Dauntless dive bomber, assigned to the USS Saratoga (3rd Bombing Squadron). His cousin Harry McIntosh was serving on the USS Arizona, and is listed among the causalities.
On that fateful day, the Saratoga was in San Diego loading planes for transport to the Marines on Wake Island. The Saratoga was then routed to Pearl Harbor. On December 13, 1941, Browning and his pilot (LT. JG Arndt) landed at Henderson Field. They flew in ahead of the Saratoga on a scouting mission, and dropped a depth charge on a Jap sub. Two destroyers also fired on it and it was sunk. Many of our ships were still burning. Crews were trying to get the harbor opened so the relief ships could get into port. Several of the planes that landed that day suffered damage due to debris on the airstrip.
JA Browning’s story doesn’t stop there
On January 11, 1942, the Saratoga was hit by a torpedo. At the time, Browning was on deck and saw the torpedoes come in, but he was unhurt. The Saratoga was sent to Bremerton Washington for repairs and the 3rd Bombing Squadron was transferred to the USS Enterprise and the USS Hornet. Browning has always referred to his group as gypsies because they were always on different carriers during the war. In April 1942, the task force, with Browning on the Hornet, started towards Japan with Doolittle’s Raiders on board.
One hour after Doolittle’s Raiders took off; pilot Ensign Comer, and Browning took off the Hornet on a scouting mission. They strafed a Japanese ship and crashed into the fantail of the Hornet when they returned. The incident was the only time Browning ended up in the drink, but not his only crash landing.
Ensign Comer later perished in the Pacific.
August 1942, saw Browning on the Enterprise at Guadalcanal; his log book shows he was pretty busy bombing enemy forces with pilot Ensign Osterhout. The duo flew a total of 19 flights within a short span of time.
In late December of 1942, after another crash landing that damaged his hip, Browning was transferred to the Engineering department where he was promoted to Engineering Chief. In that role, he was responsible to ensure that all the aircraft that took off were fit to fly. He takes great pride in the fact that every plane he that he gave the ok to fly, either returned – or if they had crashed – it was not due to a mechanical malfunction.
Browning gives great credit to the mechanics that served Doolittle’s Raiders aircraft. Every bomber that was on the Hornet, was able to take off when they were called to action. This, despite the fact that the planes were stacked so close on the Hornet that many of the aircraft’s engines were not able to take a test run before they were called to duty.
JA Browning joined the Navy in 1939 and he was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1945.
He had 75 carrier landings in 3 different aircraft:
· SBC Biplane Dive Bomber
· SB2-C – Dive bomber
· SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber
He served as Crew chief and Machine gunner, Navigator and Engineering Chief. It seemed he served in every role, when he was included in the 1941 film “Dive Bomber” starring Errol Flynn, I which he flew with pilot Ensign Peters.
After leaving the Navy, Browning went to work for Carter Oil as a rough neck on a drilling crew. He worked his way up and retired from Exxon Oil as the Drilling Supervisor for the Rocky Mountain region.
He loves Trap shooting and credits his shooting success to being Machine Gunner on the dive bombers. He gets around pretty good for an “Old Salt,” and he still has his Flight Log book, and can tell a story about every flight.
JA Browning is 95 years old. He lives in Tucson during the winter and Colorado during the summer, and is one of our national treasures.