George H. Gay Jr.
George H. Gay Jr.
George H. Gay circa 1936–1938
|Born||March 8, 1917|
Waco, Texas, U.S.
|Died||October 21, 1994 (aged 77)|
Marietta, Georgia, U.S.
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Unit||Torpedo Squadron 8|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Presidential Unit Citation
Ensign (later Lieutenant Commander) George Henry Gay Jr. (March 8, 1917 – October 21, 1994) was a Douglas TBD Devastator pilot in United States Navy Torpedo Squadron 8 operating from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Of the 30 VT-8 aircrew from Hornet that participated in the pivotal Battle of Midway, Ensign Gay was the sole survivor.
George Henry Gay Jr. was born on March 8, 1917 in Waco, Texas. He attended school in both Austin and Houston before enrolling at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University).
World War II
Like millions of Americans at the time, Gay chose to sign up for the coming war, leaving Texas A&M University. He tried to join the Army Air Corps as a pilot but was rejected for medical reasons. He then tried the United States Navy in early 1941. Gay completed flight training and was commissioned as an ensign in September 1941.
He joined the newly formed Torpedo Squadron 8 under Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron. He and his unit were aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in April 1942 when Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle launched his raid on Tokyo. One week later, Hornet arrived at Pearl Harbor to join USS Enterprise as part of Task Force 16 during the Battle of Midway.
During the Battle of Midway Gay was the first of his squadron to take off from Hornet on June 4, 1942. Gay's unit found the Japanese carrier fleet and launched an attack without any fighter plane support. Although he was wounded and his radioman/gunner, Robert K. Huntington, was dying, Gay completed his torpedo attack on the Japanese aircraft carrier Sōryū, but Sōryū evaded his torpedo. Rather than banking away from the ship and presenting a larger target to its anti-aircraft gunners, Gay continued in toward the carrier at low altitude. He then brought his Devastator into a tight turn as he approached the carrier's island, and flew aft along the flight deck's length, thus evading anti-aircraft fire. He later stated he had a "split second" thought of crashing into the Japanese aircraft he saw being serviced on the flight deck.
It's when a fellow is just gone and knows it, it is just crash into the ship or crash into the sea, and you have enough control to do a little bit more damage, why you crash into the ship.— George H. Gay
With his aircraft still in relatively good condition, he decided to make for Hornet after clearing the Japanese carrier. However, five Mitsubishi A6M Zeros brought his aircraft down in a hail of machine gun and cannon fire, killing his rear gunner, ARM3c George Arthur Field.
Exiting his aircraft, and floating in the ocean, he hid under his seat cushion for hours to avoid Japanese strafing attacks and witnessed the subsequent dive bombing attacks and sinking of three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers present.
After dark, Gay felt it was safe to inflate his life raft. He was rescued by a Navy Consolidated PBY Catalina after spending over 30 hours in the water. Gay was later flown to USS Vincennes (arriving June 28, 1942), before being transferred home. Of the squadron's thirty pilots and radiomen, Gay was the only survivor.
After World War II, Gay spent over 30 years as a pilot for Trans World Airlines. He often lectured on his Midway experiences, and authored the book Sole Survivor. In 1975, he served as a consultant on the set for the movie Midway, in which Kevin Dobson played Gay.
AwardsNaval Aviator Badge
- "Recollections of Lieutenant George Gay, USNR". Naval History and Heritage Command. September 21, 2015.
- Symonds, Craig L. (2011). The Battle of Midway. Oxford University Press. p. 271. ISBN 978-0-19-539793-2. OCLC 910522932.
- Joe James Custer (United Press), Watches Jap Carriers Go By in Flames, Waterloo Daily Courier, 1942-06-09 at 1, available at NewspaperArchive.com.
- Log Of The Vincennes, pg. 371 Copyright Jonathan Truman Dorris, 1947, ASIN: B00071WTFG
- "George H. Gay, 77, Was Sole Survivor of Midway Attack". The New York Times. October 24, 1994.
- Gay, George (1983). Sole Survivor. ISBN 0-938300-08-3. OCLC 7738297.
- "George H. Gay Jr". Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 9, 2018.
- Kernan, Alvin (2005). The Unknown Battle of Midway: The Destruction of the American Torpedo Squadrons. Yale University Press. p. 127. ISBN 9780300109894. OCLC 952732442.