Harold "Hal" Buell

Navy dive bomber pilot

Artwork and Research By; Aviation Artist/Historian, Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

Harold Buell, Pilot SB2C, 12x18"

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Harold Buell

By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

Harold "Hal" Buell was born on November 4, 1919 in Keokuk, Iowa. He was the only son of Waldo and Gertrude Buell. Orphaned at age four, he was reared in Iowa by a couple who took him in and became his new parents. He describes these people as very good and kind. Hal told me that he was very fortunate. He became interested in aviation when he was about eight years old.  As with most young males of the time he built flying balsa wood and tissue paper airplanes that were powered by rubber bands. Aviation was new and everyone would run out of the house whenever they heard an airplane fly over.

In 1937, after graduating from high school Harold had no financial backing to go right into collage. He worked to get an athletic scholarship and delayed entering collage by one semester to earn the extra money to attend with the scholarship assistance. He finally earned the funds he needed and attended Parsons Collage located in Fairfield, Iowa.

Hal started flying in the fall of 1939 during his second year at Parsons. The school was one of the many across America at the time that had the government Civilian Pilot Training Program. Harold found himself flying a 65 horse powered Cub. He learned to fly, earned collage credit, and earned a private pilot’s license.

Harold wanted to go further with his flying and the military was the only route. He knew that at the time the government was desperate for new pilots. The war in Europe was raging and adventure was in Hal’s blood. He was no different from any other young American man his age. Hal realized that military flight training was the best way to go. He discussed this with this adopted parents. They all sat at the kitchen table as he calmly explained that the Navy would be the only way he would ever be able to afford further flight training. His mother and father understood and let Hal make the decision himself. He said that his parents respected Hal for including them in the decision. Most young men would just come home one day and tell their parents that they had just joined the Navy.

In the spring of 1940, Hal and a couple of friends hitch hiked down to St Lewis and took the physical exam. Even though there was a demand for pilots, the quality and physical abilities needed to be a pilot was not relaxed. It was tough. Of the thirty-five men in for the exam that day, only four made it with Harold being one of the four.

Hal joined the Naval Aviation Cadet program in January 1941. He was commissioned an Ensign with Wings of Gold a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor . Hal was well aware of the war in Europe and the Japanese in China but he had no idea what was about to happen. Hal actually believed that if he ever saw combat it would be in the Atlantic against Hitler. After the Japanese attack, Hal figured that the American Navy would serve in the Pacific more so than in the Atlantic . He was assigned to VS-5 on the Yorktown arriving only two weeks before the Battle of the Coral Sea . During this engagement he flew scouting missions. He did not actually see combat at the Coral Sea , but the tensions and combat stress was the same. His job was to keep an eye out for the enemy sneaking up on the American Fleet as he looked for submarines and downed American pilots.

Battle of Midway, Harold’s Second War Cruise.

Once back at Pearl Harbor, Hal was reassigned to the Saratoga. The Sara was delayed at Pearl Harbor for some repairs. The Enterprise and the Yorktown busied them self’s repairing damage and re-supplying their foods, medical supplies and bombs. They planned to sail back out as soon as they were ready. Everybody knew that something big was happening and tensions were high. Within days orders where handed down and the carriers Enterprise, Hornet and the Yorktown were ordered to sail for Midway. The Saratoga followed the American carrier Fleet out to Midway a day later. Hal flew scouting missions off the Saratoga as they sailed toward the expected area that the battle would actually take place.

The Japanese were in for a surprise. During the Battle of the Coral Sea the Yorktown was so badly damaged that the Japanese were under the impression that they sunk the carrier. The Yorktown made it back to Pearl Harbor on May 27th where she was placed in dry dock. Amazing as it may seem but forty-eight hours later the Yorktown was setting sail for the Battle of Midway. The damages were not all completed to the satisfaction of the Navy however the carrier was a water based airport that carried many aircraft that would prove to be useful during the next battle.

The Yorktown may have been staggered but her airplanes always proved deadly to the Japanese carriers. All the Yorktown needed right now was a good deck, a good engine and a full complement of aircraft. Civilian contractors sailed on the carrier out to the next battle all the while trying their best to repair everything before the next battle begun. They labored tirelessly getting the carrier back together. Need we remember here the unsung stories of the many dozens if not hundreds of civilian contractors who perished along with the brave sailors and airmen who went down with our warships. During enemy attacks on the American ships the civilian contractors always joined in to fight fires, clear away debris and helped to care for the injured and dead. I thank you all for your heroic and unsung service to our country in such a time of need. You repaired, you fought and then you repaired some more for our country. Thank you.

Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance commanded Task Force 16 with the carrier Enterprise and the Hornet. Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher led Task Force 17 with the Yorktown. Hal’s carrier, the Saratoga was not involved in the epic attack of June 4th but arrived on June 5th.  The day after the battle Hal flew many missions looking for enemy submarines and downed pilots. This was a very important mission because the battle was extensive with damage to the Enterprise and the sinking of the Yorktown . Buell flew missions looking for enemy submarines and downed pilots all day taking off and landing several times from morning to night.

The Battle of Midway was originally fought to keep the Japanese from taking Midway Island which would have given them a valuable asset in the Pacific. The Japanese could have based further attacks on Hawaii from such a location. And now this island was denied them, a loss to their master plan.

Harold’s Third Combat Cruise; Guadalcanal

After Midway, Harold and a newly replenished Scouting Five were assigned to the USS Enterprise after they arrived back to Hawaii where they regrouped. They flew on board for the first time and started right away with carrier take off and landings. This was practice for the aircraft, deck hands, plane handlers and the pilots. One day Hal flew over seven hours. The Enterprise crews were very efficient in getting their plans on and off the decks quicker than the other carriers Hal has been assigned to. He told me that there was something about the crew of the Enterprise which impressed him very much. He told me that of all the carriers he served on it was the Enterprise that he was the proudest to have been part of during this time of the war.

Scouting Five practiced dive bombing on the Enterprise over and over. This gave the dive bomber pilots a birds eye view of attacking an enemy aircraft carrier and what it would be like when the time came. The Enterprise would weave back and forth to throw off the aim of Hal and the others and this was exactly the practice they would soon need. While they were practicing diving on the carrier they would be intercepted by Wildcats to give them chase so the SBD crews learned how to shake off the enemy fighters more efficiently. This training would pay off in the next few months. Something big was brewing and rumors flew around like enemy fighters. On their last day of practice they got to drop live five-hundred bombs on targets at a practice range that was located on one of the Hawaiian Islands . This was also the time in which Hal really started to study dive bombing techniques. Within the next six months Hal was considered an expert on dive bombing. Everybody including Hal scored very well. They were ready for battle.

On July 15, 1942 the Enterprise left Hawaii and sailed southwest. The Big “E” met up with the Saratoga and the Wasp for the trip. Along with the task force were twenty cargo ships filled with Marines and all their gear. Hal knew that this was not going to be a hit and run but an actual invasion. He told me that on July seventh they took off before sunrise with one-thousand pound bombs and headed toward the Japanese held island of Guadalcanal.

Intelligence reported that there could be three Japanese aircraft carriers in the area. The Japanese presently held the island and was in the process of building an airfield. The Marines were to land and stop them. They were to fight and defeat the Japanese on the island, take the island and finish the airfield for Marine pilots to operate from. Hal and VS-5 bombed the Japanese to soften them up for the Marine landings. As they came over the island he saw the American Battleships and Cruisers shelling the island. Hal said that watching the Battleships fire their big guns was amazing. The ends of the cannon exploded into a fireball that caused the whole ship to reverberate in the water. Then he saw the shells hit the island exploding in torment for the defending Japanese.

To read more about Hal Buell please consider one of our prints or one of our upcoming books. Thank you.

This is a profile of the Zuikaku by another artist.

Hal and his Helldiver

Hal would definitely be considered an Ace when it came to hitting and sinking Japanese ships! Hal hit 14 enemy ships helping in the sinking of 12 of them.

Hal Buell today in his Home and office.

Squadron Emblem

Photo of Hal after his first solo.

Model of Hal's F9 Cougar he flew.

If you like building model airplanes then consider these two dive bomber kits. Hal flew both of these dive bombers in combat.

This kit is 1/48 scale and is by Revell. This is a basic kit but it is easy to build. Build both of these famous Navy dive bombers.

This kit is 1/48 scale by Revell. This is a great kit. It is large as well.

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Hal Buell and Ernie Boyette

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All research, writings and artwork are by Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette.

No one is permitted to republish any part of this story with out my personal permission.

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Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

107 Arthur Moore Drive

Green Cove Springs, Florida

E-Mail Address; aviationartstore@peoplepc.com

Posted 2-10-07

Edited and counter added on July 6, 2011

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