Best, Richard Halsey “Dick”.

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Best, Richard Halsey “Dick”, born 24-03-1910 in Bayonne, Hudson, New Jersey, the son of Frank Ellsworth Best and Euretta Love (Halsey) Best, who emigrated to the United States from England in the 1800s, living first in Wisconsin where he mustered into “F” Company of the 13th Wisconsin Infantry during the American Civil War, and later moving to California and then Oregon in his old age. His grandparents  were Richard James Best and Mary Ora Butler of New York, and William H. Halsey and Gusta Love of New Jersey. Richard married Doris Avis Albro (21-11-1914/06-12-1968) on 24-06-1932 in Washington, D.C and they divorced on 24-01-1966. Richard Halsey Best was married with Doris Avis, born Albro Best and had a daughter (Barbara Ann Llewellyn), 1937–2006, a son (Richard Halsey Best II), 1950–2017, a grandson, and a step-daughter (Amy Best). Doris died 06-12-1968 (age 54) in Los Angeles County, California, USA.

Richard was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1928, and he graduated with honors in 1932. Following his graduation he served for two years aboard the light cruiser USS Richmond (CL-9). In 1934 he was transferred to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, as a naval aviation student. He completed his flight training in December 1935 and was assigned to Fighting Squadron Two (VF-2B) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2), flying the Grumman F2F. In June 1938, he was given the choice to either join a patrol squadron at Panama or Hawaii or become a flight instructor at Pensacola. Best chose to go to Pensacola and was assigned to Training Squadron Five, which trained carrier aviation, aerobatics, aerial combat and gunnery, dive-bombing, torpedo dropping, formation flying, and instrument flying. As instrument flying became a mandatory requirement, Best also trained the flight instructors.

On 31-05-1940, Best received orders to join Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6). Upon arrival at Naval Air Station North Island, California, on June 10, Best became Flight Officer (operations officer) of VB-6. Up to early 1942 Best advanced to Executive Officer and finally Commander of VB-6. In 1940 VB-6 was equipped with the Northrop BT-1 dive bomber, and converted in late 1941 to the Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless. In the spring of 1942 the SBD-3 replaced the SBD-2, being equipped with an uprated engine, armor, self-sealing fuel tanks and better armament.

On December 07-12-1941, the was operating 330 km (150 mi) south of Pearl Harbor. At about 06:15 the carrier launched 18 SBDs to search ahead of the carrier, the Commander of the Enterprise Air Group, Lieutenant Commander Howard Leyland “Howy”. Young, 12 planes of Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) and five from VB-6, Best not being among them. Of VB-6, the crew of plane “6-B-3” was lost over Pearl Harbor.[3] On December 10 two pilots of VB-6 would sink the Japanese submarine I-70 at 23°45′N 155°35′W. Howy Young, age 85, of Jacksonville, Florida passed away on 13-11-2017 after a lengthy illness.

VB-6 pilots in January 1942: Best is seated 3rd from the left.

Best himself saw his first action on 01-02-1942. At dusk VB-6 attacked Japanese shipping off Kwajalein under his command; before noon he led eight SBDs from VB-6 and one from VS-6 to attack Taroa Island, Maloelap Atoll.

On 24-02-1942, Best took part in the attack of Wake Island by the Enterprise Air Group, and on March 4 Marcus Island was attacked. After these raids Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor and accompanied the USS Hornet (CV-8) during the “Doolittle Raid” in mid-April.  Both carriers then sped to the south,but were too late to take part in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Both carriers and their sister ship USS Yorktown (CV-5) were then recalled to counter a new Japanese threat at Midway Islands. Enterprise and Hornet left Pearl Harbor on May 28, the hastily repaired Yorktown two days later to take part in what became known as Battle of Midway, from 4 to June 6, 1942.

After contact reports of Midway-based PBY Catalina patrol aircraft on the morning of 04-06-1942, Enterprise started to launch her air group starting on 07:06h. Under the overall command of the air group commander (CEAG) Lieutenant Commander Clarence Wade McClusky   was 14 TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers of Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6), 34 SBDs of VB-6, the CEAG section, and VS-6, and ten F4F-4 Wildcat fighters of Fighting Squadron 6 (VF-6). However, the squadrons became separated and reached the Japanese independently. Only the dive bombers stayed together and reached the enemy by 09:55h. At about 10:22h the Enterprise dive bombers started to attack two Japanese carriers, which proved to be the Kaga, and the Akagi.

At this point, the attack became confused, as all 34 Dauntlesses started to attack the Imperial Japanese Navy  aircraft carriers Kaga, and none the Akagi. Obviously, Best expected to attack according to the U.S. dive bomber doctrine. This was that VB-6 would attack the nearer carrier (in that case Kaga) and VS-6 the one further away (here Akagi). The three-plane CEAG section was expected to attack last, as their planes were equipped with cameras to assess the damage later. However, evidently, McClusky was not aware of this, having been a fighter pilot until becoming CEAG. Therefore, McClusky began his dive on Kaga, being followed by VS-6, and Best’s VB-6 was also attacking Kaga according to doctrine. Lieutenant Best noticed the error and broke off with his two wingmen to attack the Akagi.[7]

The flight deck of USS Enterprise on May 15, 1942: The first SBD is either Best’s (“B-1”) or that of the CO of VS-6 (“S-1”).

At 10:26h Best’s three SBDs attacked the Akagi. The first bomb, dropped by Lieutenant Edwin John Kroeger, missed. The second bomb, aimed by Ens. Frederick Thomas Weber, landed in the water, near the stern. The force wave of that hit jammed the Akagi’s rudder.[8] The last bomb, dropped by Best, punched through the flight deck and exploded in the upper hangar, in the middle of 18 Nakajima B5N2 planes, parked there. That hit doomed the Akagi.[9] Later that day, Lieutenant Best participated in the attack on the last remaining Japanese carrier – the Hiryu, possibly scoring one of the four hits.[10] After the battle, Best was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Frederick Weber died 04-06-1942 (age 26) at sea, body never found.

However, on the morning flight Best had tested an oxygen bottle to be sure that it was not leaking caustic soda. Best’s first inhalation was then filled with gas fumes. He snorted the gas fumes out, not thinking about it anymore. The next day Best began to cough up blood repeatedly. The flight surgeon found out that the gas fumes had activated latent tuberculosis. He entered the hospital at Pearl Harbor on 24-06-1942. After undergoing 32 months of treatment, Richard Best retired from the US Navy in 1944.

Death and burial ground of Best, Richard Halsey “Dick”.

  Lieutenant Commander Best was the only pilot who successfully bombed two Japanese carriers on 04-06-1942. A special wreath was placed next to the Midway Memorial by Rear Admiral Locklear and Commander Best.

After his retirement from the Navy Best moved to Santa Monica, California, where he lived for the rest of his life. After discharge from the hospital, Best worked in a small research division of the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. This division became part of the Rand Corporation in December 1948, where Best headed the security department until his retirement in March 1975. Richard died 28-10-2001 (aged 91), in Santa Monica, California, US. and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 54 Site 3192.

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