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Circa 2006

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: History ThumbnailCameraPhotos by MC1(SW) Bill Larned "...World War II Aviators Visit NAS Jacksonville, Florida - By MC1(SW) Bill Larned - Thursday, October 12, 2006 (Squadrons Mentioned: VP-30 and VP-104..." WebSite: JaxAirNews http://adserver1.harvestadsdepot.com/jaxairnews/ss/jaxairnews/ [14OCT2006]

Photograph Caption: Earl Bittenbender, a former Navy pilot during World War II, enjoys the pilot's seat of a P-3 Orion aircraft during a tour with VP-30 October 5.

Earl Bittenbender remembers co-piloting B-24 bombers during World War II. In close detail, he can describe Japanese bullets penetrating the cabin of his plane or attempting a landing with the runway lights off, navigating on bare instinct.

Bittenbender was one of 50 World War II veterans, all members of Pacific Bomber Squadron VP-104 visiting NAS Jacksonville, Florida for a tour, a peek inside a P-3 Orion aircraft and conversation with base personnel Thursday.

The pilots and crewmen operated in the Pacific theater of operations from Guadalcanal, Leyte and other islands from 1943-1945. The highly decorated group was the only Navy squadron to receive two Presidential Unit citations. Before deploying for war, the men received training at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, NAS Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida and NS Mayport.

Inside VP-30's auditorium, before seated veterans wearing ballcaps emblazoned with their squadron, Lt. Steve Bradfield displayed a brief film on the history of aviation antisubmarine warfare before taking questions. Many of the elder men and their relatives wanted to know where present day Pacific P-3 bases were or tacts about the plane. The video included a glimpse of the P-3's replacement, the Boeing P-8 multi-mission maritime aircraft, whose appearance drew curious reactions from the audience.

Inside the squadron's hangar, Bittenbender climbed a portable stairwell to examine a P-3 Orion aircraft which personnel from VP-30 made available for the veterans to see. Near the communications section, he observed how Navy radio equipment has shrunk dramatically since World War II.

"In my day the radios were huge compared to their size now. They used tubes instead of transistors and occupied a large amount of space inside a B-24," he said.

Another veteran who took notice of the P-3 was Walt Cavinee, who served as a plane captain during the war. One day, while Cavinee stood outside a plane on one of the Pacific islands, a Japanese plane dove low to begin a strafing run. Before opening fire, the plane's body struck Cavinee and three other men.

"When I awakened in the hospital, I had no idea of what had hit me. I had several wounds on my body. No one knew what had happened. I had no witnesses, because the other Sailors standing with me had been killed," said Cavinee.

Still inside the P-3, Bittenbender walked all the way forward to the cockpit and sat in the pilot's seat of the P-3. His face flickered with recognition as a memory flashed across his mind.

"One night we were flying and received gunfire from Japanese fighter planes. Two of my crewmen got hit, one close to his eye. But both still performed their jobs. We felt the adrenaline, but kept focused. Everything became instinctive," Bittenbender said.

Lunch at the NAS Jacksonville, Florida Officers' Club concluded the base visit, followed by a tour at Heritage Park, where the veterans made nostalgic remarks about the evolution of naval aviation.

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