Richard Halsey Best
Richard Halsey Best
|Born||March 24, 1910|
Bayonne, New Jersey
|Died||November 1, 2001 (aged 91)|
Santa Monica, California
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1928–1944|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Distinguished Flying Cross
Richard Halsey Best (March 24, 1910 – November 1, 2001) was a dive bomber pilot and squadron commander in the United States Navy during World War II. Stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, Best led his dive bomber squadron at the 1942 Battle of Midway, sinking one Japanese aircraft carrier and potentially damaging another, before being medically retired with tuberculosis that same year.
His grandfather Edward Best 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. Edward's son Burt Best, born in California in 1878 would later be the father of Richard H. Best. Richard H Best was born in New Jersey in 1911.
Early career (1928–1941)
Richard H. Best was appointed to the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in 1928. Having graduated with honors in 1932, he served for two years aboard the light cruiser USS Richmond. In 1934 he was transferred to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, as a naval aviation student. He completed his flight training in December 1934. His first assignment was Fighting Squadron Two (VF-2B) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, flying the Grumman F2F.
In June 1938, Best was given the choice to either join a patrol squadron at Panama or Hawaii, or become a flight instructor at Pensacola: he chose Pensacola, and was assigned to instruct Training Squadron Five. Anticipating what was probably coming, after a year and some months of instructing, Best decided that he could be of most use as a dive bomber pilot. He put in a request for a transfer to the Pacific Fleet in that capacity.
On May 31, 1940, Best received orders to join Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6), which was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Upon arrival at the squadron's base on land, Naval Air Station North Island, California, on June 10, Best was made flight officer (operations officer) of the squadron, who was third-in-command. By early 1942, after the war in the Pacific had begun, he had advanced to executive officer (XO), a standard navy term for second-in-command, under his close friend and USNA classmate, William Hollingsworth, known as "Holly," as commander. Best subsequently became squadron commander in time for the Battle of Midway.
War in the Pacific (1941–1944)
Best saw his first action on February 1, 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 February 24, 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 USS Hornet 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 were then recalled to participate in what was to be the Battle of Midway.
Battle of Midway
After contact reports of Midway-based PBY Catalina patrol aircraft on the morning of June 4, 1942, Enterprise started to launch her air group starting on 07:06. However, the squadrons became separated and reached the Japanese independently. Only the dive bombers stayed together and reached the Japanese by 09:55. At about 10:22 the Enterprise dive bombers started to attack two Japanese carriers, Kaga and Akagi.
Sinking of Akagi
At this point, the attack became confused, as all 31 Dauntlesses started to attack Kaga, and none Akagi. Lieutenant Best noticed the error and broke off with his two wingmen to attack Akagi.
At 10:26 Best's three SBDs attacked Akagi. The first bomb, dropped by Lieutenant Edwin John Kroeger, missed. The second bomb, aimed by Ensign Frederick Thomas Weber, landed in the water, near the stern. The force wave of that hit jammed Akagi's rudder. The last bomb, dropped by Best, punched though the flight deck and exploded in the upper hangar, in the middle of 18 Nakajima B5N2 planes parked there. That hit doomed Akagi.
Sinking of Hiryū
Later that day, Best participated in the attack on the last remaining Japanese carrier, Hiryū, possibly scoring one of the four hits. Another very credible and more recent source states that on June 4, 1942, Best's gunner, James Francis Murray "saw the flash of their bomb through the smoke as it struck [Hiryū] amidships forward of the island. Best is believed to be the first American pilot to successfully bomb two Japanese carriers in one day." After the battle, Best was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Considering this unique accomplishment, Admiral Thomas Moorer and Vice Admiral William D. Houser made a serious but unsuccessful effort to recommend Best for the Medal of Honor after Best's death in 2001.
June 4, 1942, was the last day Best flew for the U.S. Navy. Just after Best landed on Enterprise, he began to cough up blood. Over the next twenty-four hours, his hemoptysis (coughing up blood) continued. He became acutely ill with a temperature of 103 °F (39 °C), and was admitted to Pearl Harbor Hospital.
Back in Pearl Harbor, Best was examined by the flight surgeon. During the morning flight on June 4 flying at 20,000 ft (6,100 m) several VB-6 pilots encountered difficulties with oxygen supply, so Best gave the order to reduce the altitude to 15,000 ft (4,600 m). The oxygen rebreather of Best's SBD had become heated during the unusually long search on the morning mission on June 4. The material used in the rebreather to remove exhaled carbon dioxide was sodium hydroxide. If the device containing this material were abnormally heated, it could release caustic soda fumes through the pilot's oxygen mask; consequently Best had inhaled caustic fumes. Sometime in the past, Best had contracted latent tuberculosis, which remained in his lungs in an inactive state for years. The inhaled caustic fumes caused an aspiration pneumonia and eroded away a tuberculosis granuloma, transforming the inactive form of the organism into an active form, resulting in the progression from latent TB infection to TB disease.
Best was transferred from Pearl Harbor Hospital to Fitzsimons General Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, where he received proper treatment for his tuberculosis. Best was hospitalized in Fitzsimons Hospital until September 1943. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 1944 with a 100% disability.
Civilian life (1944–2001)
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. Best wrote the preface to the manual of Battlehawks 1942 flight simulation video game released in 1988 by LucasFilm Games. He died on October 28, 2001 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Best was married and had a daughter (Barbara Ann Llewellyn), a son (Richard Halsey Best II), a grandson, and a step-daughter (Amy Best).
In popular culture
- Hernandez, Daniel V.; Best, Richard H. (2004). SBD-3 Dauntless and the Battle of Midway. Valencia, Spain: Aeronaval Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 84-932963-0-9.
- "Bombing Six Action Report: 1 February 1942". cv6.org. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
- "Battle of Midway: June 4 - 6, 1942". cv6.org.
- Robert J. Cressman: A Glorious Page in our History. The Battle of Midway 4 – June 6, 1942. Pictoral Histories Publishing Co., Missoula 1990, pp. 101–102. ISBN 0-929521-40-4
- Parshall and Tully, p. 239; Cressman, et al., p. 103
- Jonathan Parshall, Anthony Tully: Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, Washington 2005, p. 257. ISBN 978-1-57488-923-9
- Jonathan/Tully, pp. 241–242
- "Midway 42: IJN Carrier Damage"
- Parshall/Tully say that it is difficult to assess who hit Hiryū (p. 326).
- Moore 2014, p. 289
- "Navy.togetherweserved: Best, Richard H., LCDR"
- Moore 2014, p. 355
- "VB-6 action report, 4-6 June 1942"
- "Ask Historians: Oxygen tanks in WWII"
- James M. D’Angelo: "Victory at Midway: The Battle That Changed the Course of World War II". McFarland&Company 2017, pp. 136–137. ISBN 1476670714; -> page 136
- SBD Pilot's Flight Manual
- Gordon W. Prange: Miracle at Midway. Penguin Books, London/New York 1982, pp. 273–274. ISBN 0-14-006814-7; Best's battle account: http://www.immf-midway.com/midway_itow_best.html
- Hernandez, p. 7.
- "Richard Halsey Best, Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy". www.arlingtoncemetery.net.
- Moore, Stephen L. (2014). Pacific Payback: The Carrier Aviators Who Avenged Pearl Harbor at the Battle of Midway. New York: Penguin Group.
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