GENESEO — A special guest and dedication was made at the National Warplane Museum for Living History Weekend.
On Sept. 29 WWII and Korean War Veteran Cpt. Hugh “Yogi” Irwin told his amazing story of survival, and was honored with a dedication.
Irwin flew 105 missions in his military career, and one of those missions was nearly his last. He flew the Corsair fighters in World War II. They have a small replica of one in the National Warplane Museum. This replica now has Cpt. Irwin’s name, ranks, and wars on the back.
Irwin enlisted in the Navy Flight Program when he was 19 years old in 1942. He was out in 1945. However, he was asked to come back for the Korean War in 1952 to 1953.
“I wasn’t anxious to fly, so when they asked if I wanted to be in the Navy or Marine Corp, I chose the Marines. I thought I would get into more action as a Marine,” he said. “I still consider myself a Marine. I left, finished school, got married, and was recalled to serve in the Korean War. I was transferred in October 1953 to the reserves without any benefits, but a Marine is never retired.”
Irwin felt like this was a dream come true to have his name on a Corsair.
“I can’t believe I have had this honor. The Corsairs I flew were miscellaneous, and I didn’t always fly the same ones. I never had my name on a Corsair until now,” he said. “After that wonderful day we had two months ago at the air show I am just honored to be asked back for history day.”
On April 8, 1945 Irwin came face to face with a scary event that almost cost him his life on a mission. A 500-pound-bomb exploded right behind him in the plane, and if wasn’t for the grace of God he would’ve been killed.
“I would like to tell a little story about one particular flight. I flew 105 missions in a Corsair. I was in three different squadrons. It earned me six air medals, and two distinguished flying crosses. After World War II, which was terminated by the bombings on Hiroshima, I finished college and got married. Korea came along and I was recalled.
“I’d like to tell you about one of those 105 missions. The Lord sent his guardian angel into the pilot, or I wouldn’t be here today,” Irwin continued. “Marine fighter pilots sent overseas. I was flying with one of the squadrons in Squadron 251, and the third plane to land on the new strip. I should mention we were trained for fighter pilots.”
Irwin said that his 500 pound bomb would not drop after he tried to send it several times, so he was told to come back to the airstrip.
“I have all 105 of my missions in my log book, and most of them were in bombing. On April, 8, 1945 I was to lead a two plane section to the island. They were attempting to retake the capital city from the Japanese,” he said. “We carried two 500 pound bombs and arrived on station for the target coordinates. We dropped our first bomb, and when I tried to press the red button to release the second bomb it did not drop off. I made another run, because we had a mechanical release like an emergency break release. I yanked it and still nothing happened.”
“There was just enough ammo to get back to home base. The nature of a 500 pound bomb is that the nose fuse had a spinner and it had to drop away from the wires, so the spinner could fully arm the bomb,” Irwin continued. “The home base said I could have a straight in approach. I didn’t want to drop the bomb on our area. I made my way in, and as I hit the ground I felt something release, and the bomb had fell off with the wire intact. The nose got chewed up, and it blew up the airplane. I had an out of body experience, and saw myself looking in the cockpit dead. I thought you darn fool went and got yourself killed and you haven’t even lived yet.”
Irwin had severe injury to his arms and legs from shrapnel from the bomb. His uniform protected much of his body from the hit.
“My biggest fear of flying was being caught in a fire in a cockpit, so I slid down the wing, and started yelling for someone to come and help me. I was bleeding profusely from my left shoulder. I was protected mostly from radio gear behind me,” he said. “I got down out of the plane and my parachute had stopped some of the concussion from the seat impact. I am in a state of shock and yelling out. Finally a jeep comes over from operations and the driver didn’t recognize I was the pilot that survived that plane. I got in the jeep and asked to be taken to the field hospital. My group doctor was on duty and gave me every shot he had in his little bag. I was told at that time I was lucky to be alive.”
Jodi Beyer, National Warplane Museum volunteer, met Irwin at the Geneseo Air Show in July. She offered him a trip on Whiskey-7, which meant the world to him. It sparked the story of his survival, and this touched Beyer’s heart. She worked to make this dedication for him.
“His story was so unbelievable I knew I wanted others to hear it,” she said. “I had to get him out here to share his story. He has created a beautiful family, and was spared that day. He was destined to do better things.”
There were other names from the Korean War mentioned with the replica, but Breyer knew Irwin was deserving of being among them. His story was older, and very special to her.
Persian Gulf War Veteran Damien Martelli has been a reenactor for a few years, and for Living History Weekend he was portraying Vietnam War.
“I am trying to get some of us to reenact the Black Lions, which was a historical unit in the Vietnam War. The troops had such success in World War Two while stationed in Africa. The son of that commander was part of the Black Lions and killed in Vietnam War,” he said. “That is the sad irony of the Vietnam War. The fathers had a successful war in World War Two, and the sons were treated so badly in Vietnam War.”
As someone who fought in a war that is not really recognized, Martelli said he has a lot of passion for the Vietnam War.
“Vietnam War veterans didn’t get a nice homecoming. The height of that war was in 1968 to 1969,” he said. “The Americans opinions on the war were taken out on the soldiers. These men were 18 years old being sent over to a jungle, and by the time they were 19 they had seen a lot, and been through a lot in that jungle. Lots of them took off their uniforms when they came back in the airport.Sadly a lot of these men are not with us anymore.”