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This Month in Intrepid’s History
Posted: 4/28/2014 9:15:53 AM

This Month in Intrepid’s History

USS Intrepid was commissioned seventy years ago this past August 16, joining the U.S. Navy in the middle of World War II. For the next two years this ship and crew trained, fitted out and then fought their way across the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the contributions the ship and crew made to victory were vital and the price they paid heavy. Travel with our Museum tour guides here each month as they follow Intrepid’s journey and its crew’s experience throughout World War II.

April 1944: Departures

Throughout April 1944, Intrepid remained high, dry and under repair in Hunter’s Point California. Yet while the ship remained stationary, the crew was anything but. During World War II, the community of sailors, marines and aviators assigned to USS Intrepid was always evolving. Men were frequently transferred to or from the ship. Others went home on leave or as casualties, sometimes returning and sometimes not. In the early spring of 1944 several of these departures came together to create something of a peak in this continuous cycle of change. In fact, for USS Intrepid, April 1944 is a month best understood in terms of who wasn’t aboard.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

“With kindest personal regards and thanks for my best cruise, to Dick Gaines my executive officer, friend and ship mate. Sprague, Captain, U.S.S. Intrepid 28 March 1944” Signed photo of Capt. Sprague presented to Cdr. Gaines during the change of command ceremony on March 28, 1944. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

The conspicuous absences began at the top. On March 28, newly appointed Rear Admiral Thomas Sprague was relieved of command. In his seven months as captain, Sprague brought Intrepid into commission, through its first two battles and the long journey home. Yet even in peacetime, U.S. Navy officers rarely spend more than a couple of years in a given command position. In an expanding wartime navy, the need for proven captains to assume flag rank only accelerated the reassignment process. During a ceremony on the flight deck, Sprague turned over Intrepid to his executive officer, Commander Richard Gaines. Gaines congratulated the new rear admiral, and on behalf of the crew he told Sprague, “We hope one day your flag, just broken, will again fly from the Intrepid…” As admiral, Sprague never did command from Intrepid, but his experience served him well commanding multi-carrier task groups throughout the remainder of the war and beyond.

A lower ranking but much larger missing piece of Intrepid’s community was Air Group 6. As Intrepid pulled into Hunter’s Point on March 22, the air group was formally detached, flying off for the last time. Air Group 6 had come aboard in January 1944 straight from combat service on USS Enterprise (CV-6). Now that Intrepid was likely to be laid up for a while, the air group could be rotated ashore for rest and rearming. Just as commanding officers were regularly moved to new assignments, the same practice became the norm in World War II for carrier air groups. None of Intrepid’s air groups lasted for more than six months aboard.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Lt. Alexander Vraciu pictured here with his F6F Hellcat. “Gadget” was among the pilots that left with Air Group 6. While aboard Intrepid Vraciu shot down seven enemy planes and became Intrepid’s first ace. By wars end, he had a total of 19 kills and ended up the U.S. Navy’s fourth highest scoring ace. (Courtesy of the National Museum of Naval Aviation)

Though captain and air group were gone for good, the largest missing piece of Intrepid’s crew that April eventually returned. As the ship was out of action for the foreseeable future, crew members were each granted 20 days of leave to be taken in three large groups. Many, like Aviation Machinist Mate Jacob Elefant, took advantage of the opportunity to return home. Despite having to fly “cross country” Elefant later wrote in his journal, “I spent 15 days at home, which were heavenly.” Radarman Raymond Stone on the other hand came close to missing out. Stone had planned to return home by train to Long Island, NY. Instead, he lost all his money in a dice game and had to wire his parents for train fare. For a U.S. serviceman, a recreational trip home from the warzone during World War II was a unique experience. However, the knowledge that they would soon return to combat made the experience at times uncomfortable, if not surreal. Stone remembers attempting, with some difficulty, to play down the seriousness of the torpedo attack at Truk for the benefit of his parents.
This Month in Intrepid’s History

Sailors attending Easter Mass aboard Intrepid on April 8, 1944. The ship was still in dry-dock under repair. (Collection of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

While April 1944 was something of a low point for the total number of men aboard, the flow of men on and off Intrepid remained a constant and far-reaching cycle of change throughout the war. For example, on August 31, 1943 there were 2,032 enlisted men assigned to the ship’s company. By wars end the ship’s company had gained 3,700 more men while losing 3,200. Not all of the newly arrived sailors were new recruits as most came from other assignments. However, all had to adjust to working among unfamiliar faces on a new and different warship. By April 1944 Intrepid may have been a veteran carrier, but by the time the ship saw action again, the men aboard were already very different from those that served in the Marshalls and at Truk. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of the 3,200 enlisted sailors who left the ship were not leaving the U.S. Navy. Though some left as casualties and others were discharged honorably or otherwise, most headed to new ships or stations. Like Captain Sprague and Air Group 6, this diaspora of Intrepid former crew members took their experience with them to other parts of the fleet. Their exploits after Intrepid remain a part of the carrier’s legacy


Read the previous installments of "This Month in Intrepid's History":

October 1943
November 1943
December 1943
January 1944
February 1944
March 1944