Dauntless Marine: Joseph Sailer Jr., Dive Bombing Ace of Guadalcanal, by Alexander S. White, White Knight Press, Fairfax, Va., 1996, $24.95.
“Growing up in Philadelphia, I occasionally heard my mother speak about her brother, my Uncle Joe. Over the years I learned two things about him: he had been a very good person, and he had been killed in World War II, several years before I was born, at a place called Guadalcanal.”
So writes Alexander S. White in the preface to his book, Dauntless Marine: Joseph Sailer Jr., Dive Bombing Ace of Guadalcanal. Indeed, Joe Sailer was a natural when it came to flying the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber. Officially called the SBD, or Scout Bomber Douglas, it was a great improvement over the plane the Marine Corps had been using, the Chance Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator.
Sailer did much more for the war effort than fly Dauntless dive bombers, however. He was also instrumental in teaching the use and installation of bombsights manufactured by the Sperry Company of Brooklyn, New York. Company officials thought so highly of him that they sent Sailer to England in 1941 to teach British Royal Air Force pilots the theory and use of the device.
When the United States entered the war, Sailer, who was still a major in the Marine Corps Reserves, was ordered back to the States to take command of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron VMSB-132. After further training, his squadron shipped out in October 1942 to join other units fighting on Guadalcanal.
During the intense struggle to win control of the strategically important island, Sailer’s squadron was immediately pressed into combat. For nearly a month, the Marines of VMSB-132 flew countless hours of scouting and combat patrols. Again and again, Sailer and his Marines performed magnificently during this crucial period.
On November 13-14, 1942, Sailer personally led four separate attacks against the enemy battleship Hiei. These damaged the ship so badly that she was scuttled during the night, becoming the first Japanese battleship sunk in the Pacific theater.
Sailer was killed in action on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “Then, as Simpson [Lieutenant Archie “Hap” Simpson] watched in horror, one of the Japanese Petes bore down on Sailer’s plane from behind and above,” writes White. “Simpson and the others turned back to help, but they were too far ahead to get back in time. The biplane came up very close to the major’s SBD and strafed it with its machine guns ‘from tail to nose.’ Sailer’s plane immediately rolled over. It ‘plunged head on into the sea and sank immediately.'”
In a matter of seconds, one of the Marine Corps’ greatest pilots was dead. For his heroic actions during the Guadalcanal campaign, Sailer was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Dauntless Marine is a must read for all World War II buffs. The author relies heavily on Sailer’s personal letters and papers, and on interviews with those who served with him.