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Meet Holly Hills

Among the stuff I lost when I trashed the original feedback page was a letter from Hollis Hills, Commander USN retired, who flew Buffaloes as a young Navy pilot. However, I did locate a followup note from him, in which he wrote:

"I am a member of the AFAA [American Fighter Aces Assocation] for my victories in the European and Pacific theaters in WW II. I flew the [Grumman] F4F, [Brewster] F2A-1 and F2A-2, and the [Grumman] F6F-3 and F6F-5 in the U.S. Navy; the [Curtiss] Tomahawk and the [North American] Mustang Mk 1 in the RCAF. . . . I went regular USN after the war and flew the series of fighters over the years, the last the F8 Crusader. My favorite prop the F8F-2, jet the F11-F1 Tiger."

A while back Holly had a stroke which laid him low, but like the 239 in Finnish service he is gamely soldiering on. His goal is to get back on the golf links.

Ben Schapiro wondered if the novelist and aviation writer Barrett Tillman borrowed some of Holly's history for a character in Hellcats. (Holly Henderson, I think it was.) Ben investigated and sent this report:

"Our friend Holly Hills is much more famous than I imagined. Did you know he was the first pilot to score a kill in the Mustang? Did it while flying for the RAF. He later got three Zeros flying a F6F-3 Hellcat with VF-32 off the Langley over Truk atoll on 29 April. Barrett Tillman has him written up in two of his books Hellcat Aces of WW2 and Mustang Aces of the Ninth and Fifteenth Air Forces and RAF. So Tillman certainly knew about him for inclusion in Hellcats.

Yep. Sounds right to me. The opening sequence in Hellcats is a fight between floatplane Zeros and Hellcats at Truk.

Holly wrote the following about his military service. I edited it slightly and added the stuff in brackets. - Dan

'I brought back everyone I took out'

I joined [the Royal Canadian Air Force] in June 1940 and was called up for enlistment in September of that year. Due to problems in the starting of the Empire Training Scheme, I did guard duty until preflight training and selection for aircrew started for me in mid-December at the Hunt Club in Toronto. I finished that and was accepted for pilot training.

I reported to #7 Elementary Flight Training School mid-January 1941. There I was trained on Fleet Finches, graduating in March. It was then on to Service Flying Training School at Dauphin, Manitoba, on Harvards [North American AT-6, called Texan in the U.S. Army]. We were the second class at the station. I received my wings and was designated a Sergeant Pilot on 22 June 1941, the day Hitler invaded Russia.

I was able to swap orders with an 18-year-old who wasn't too interested in going abroad and obtained his overseas posting. Via rail and ship I arrived in England in August. OTU followed at Old Sarum in Wiltshire on [Westland] Lysanders and [Curtiss P-40] Tomahawks. It was then on to RCAF Squadron 414 at Croydon (Greater London).

We trained and did some OPs in our Tommies, hours and hours of practice fights [against] Spits and Hurricanes from the operational squadrons at Biggin Hill, Kenley, and Redhill. There was no better way to get proficient at airfighting other than the real thing with bullets. We got Mustang Mk Is in June 1942, getting our battle experience with them at Dieppe in August of that year. I got a FW-190--that was the first enemy plane for the Mustang. I also did some train busting and photo missions in the bird.

I transferred to the U.S. Navy November 8, 1942, and returned to the States in December on the Queen Mary. I was send to Jacksonville, Florida, for indoctrination as a naval officer, having been commissioned as a Lieutenant j.g., then on to Miami for air gunnery training. We flew Brewster Buffaloes and Grumman Wildcats. After the first hop as a student, I spent three months there instructing the instructors. [With the war only a year old, probably Holly was the only pilot at Miami with combat experience.]

I did a one-year carrier-based tour in the Pacific Theater in VF-32 (with them I got four Zeroes), then VF-150 and VF-97 till war's end.

I am the only fighter pilot who flew in the two greatest air battles of the war: Dieppe in 1942 and the Great [Marianas] Turkey Shoot in the Pacific in 1944. The thing that I am most proud of is that in my 25 years as a military pilot, I brought back everyone I took out, wartime or peacetime.

-- Commander Hollis H. Hills, USN retired