News from California - Wings presentation
In World War II John W. Herbert was a fighter/ground attack pilot – flying various versions of Grumman F4F Wildcats (Martlets) – in 896 and 881 Squadrons – from HMS Victorious (USS Robin) – HMS Pursuer – and for one operation – from HMS Implacable. He served in the Coral Sea – the Pacific – the Atlantic – the Western Approaches – British home waters – The Channel (D-Day Normandy) – Norwegian waters and the Arctic – the Mediterranean (South of France invasion) – and the Aegean. He was mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DSC.
He received superb training as a Naval Aviator with the US Navy at USNRB Gosse Ile Michigan and USNAS Pensacola Florida. He went on to fighter training at USNAS Opa Locka Florida and qualified for US Navy wings in August 1942 – but did not receive them as he was not a member of the US Navy.
In May 1942 he had qualified for his Royal Navy wings – but there was no time for ceremony. The RN was short of pilots at the time – and John was actually posed to a carrier based first line squadron – without ever having done a deck landing. He did his first six landings on Victorious off Pearl Harbor – and his seventh deck landing was after a long patrol against the Japanese in the Coral Sea.
When he was doing his preliminary flight training at Grosse Ile in 1941 – John was invited to a local home – where he met members of the family and friends – including the daughter Louise. John and Louise met again over forty years later and ultimately decided to care for each other for the rest of their lives.
On last July 2nd – they received a phone call from Commander Al Cummings RN at the UK Embassy in Washington – inviting them to lunch on July 20th – at San Diego – with Royal Navy Fleet Admiral Sir George Michael Zambellas KCB DSC RN. John and Louise duly arrived at US Navy Pacific Headquarters and were invited into the Admiral’s suite where they met Vice Admiral Allen G Myers USN – Commander US Naval Air Forces – Commodore Eric Fraser CBE RN – the UK Naval Attaché in Washington and Admiral Zambellas. John and Louise has me the first two officers on previous occasions – but they were a little apprehensive at meeting the august Fleet Admiral for the first time.
They needn’t have worried – he was informal and relaxed – as befitted a Fleet Air Arm pilot!
It turned out that an extraordinary ceremony had been arranged. The Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack were at the end of the room – and on one side was Vice Admiral Myers – and on the other side was Admiral Zambellas - with John in the middle.
Vice Admiral Myers then presented John with US Navy “Wings of Gold” – a certificate entitling him to wear them – and an inscribed book. This was a great honour for the US Navy to bestow on the Royal Navy – and on John personally – and was living proof – not only of the friendship and fraternity between the two navies – but that the “special relationship” between the US and the UK was still very much alive.
Admiral Zambellas then presented John with Royal Navy wings – a certificate – an inscribed book – a 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation commemorative plate – and a Fleet Air Arm tie!
A lot of nice words were said and a US Navy photographer took pictures some of which are attached.
This was a unique happening – with a World War II Fleet Air Arm pilot receiving – on the same day – from a USN and an RN Admiral – pilot’s wings which had been earned seventy years before.
Following the presentation – Admiral Zambellas – Vice Admiral Myers – Commodore Fraser – and John and Louise – sat down to a relaxed lunch – with some jolly banter between the young and the ancient Fleet Air Arm pilots.
Much credit and thanks is due to Vice Admiral Myers for so graciously hosting the event – to Admiral Zambellas – to Commodore Fraser – to Commander Jonathan Barnes-Yallowley RN – the UK Liaison officer at San Diego – and to Captain Richard Dann USN who had first made contact with John and Louise.