This narrative history follows the life and career of Navy ace pilot and Purple Heart recipient Lt. Francis R. Register, killed in action during the Second World War.
This story is a true narrative history describing participants and some of the individual movements and actions in aerial battles over the Solomon Islands and Attu Island of the Aleutians during World War II.
Some of the verbal exchanges are documented from the memory of Lieutenant (JG) Francis R. Register’s brother Bill, a mentally sharp 93-year-old gentleman. Other conversations, although not necessarily written as such, are recorded in documents of record such as Lieut. Register’s personal war diary, after action reports and reconstructions of radio chatter during combat. One of the latter was actually broadcast as a radio drama and is used as a foundation for demonstrating what an actual event might sound like to someone listening.
Some descriptions are documented in newspaper accounts of civilian life in the 1940s. Some of the aerial battles, with the words recorded by actual participants, or by Lieut. Register himself in direct interviews, were also radio broadcasts.
Besides numerous campaign ribbons, a number of other decorations of valor and skill were also awarded to Lieut. Register. These included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Two Air Medals (one was a gold cross in lieu of the actual second medal) and a Purple Heart, the latter three awarded posthumously. Eight aerial kills of Japanese planes were documented in Pinky’s record.
Register was not the only aerial combat ace to come out of North Dakota. Leonard Check, another naval aviator from rural Williston, North Dakota, was a double ace, and his two brothers, Raymond and Gilbert, were also heroes from North Dakota in World War II. Both Leonard and Raymond were pilots, and both were killed during the war, but that’s another story.
South Dakota also had its Guadalcanal hero and later governor, Joe Foss, who was the leading ace to come out of Guadalcanal with 26 victories. However, by the time Joe Foss arrived in Guadalcanal and had his first victory on October 9, 1942, Pinky Register was the theater’s fourth leading aerial ace, had already been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and had 8 documented victories plus a couple of probables. He would be evacuated due to exhaustion just six days after Foss arrived.
Only three fighter pilots, Marine Major John L. Smith, squadron leader of VMF 223, Captain Marion E. Carl, also of VMF 223, and Major Robert E. Galor, squadron leader of VMF 224, had more victories at the time of Register’s evacuation. In just 43 days between August 21, and October 3, 1942, Smith scored his 19 victories, 4 them in one day on August 30. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
Major Galor arrived on Guadalcanal on August 30, 1942 and at the time of Pinky’s evacuation had 11 victories. He finished the war as the Marine Corps’ fourth leading ace with a total of 14 victories. He was also a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Capt. Carl had 10 victories at the time of Pinky’s evacuation and had been awarded the Navy Cross. He finished the war with 16.5 victories at Midway and Guadalcanal and two additional victories flying Corsairs on his second tour of combat. Carl also flew in Vietnam and retired as a major general in 1973. He was tragically murdered in his home in 1998 while defending his wife from a home invasion.
Lieut. Register lost his life on May 16, 1943, during a strafing mission on Attu Island in the Aleutians of Alaska. Eyewitness accounts indicate he was most likely killed by anti-aircraft artillery fire, but confusion about the incident was compounded by terrible flying conditions, poor weather, and a lack of visibility. The citations of his Air Medals of valor and his Distinguished Flying Cross are worthy of note because his skill and bravery saved many lives.
This story is not intended to glamorize war. It is intended to honor the memory of those gallant service men and women who placed themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us can enjoy the liberties for which they sacrificed lives and/or limbs.
Perhaps by reading this or similar true histories, at least a few of the next generation can gain the wisdom and perspective necessary to appreciate the sacrifices others have given for this nation.
- author Franklin Hook
Our military heroes are our nation's greatest national treasure. Doctor Hook has discovered the rare diary of one of America's heroes. He then explains the journal of one of our nation's many brave defenders amidst the backdrop of what was happening in America's struggle during the early years of World War II. This is a very important book that can help readers understand just how brave and amazing our military citizens are and always have been. In my 26 years in this business (of editing and proofreading) I have never worked on a book which has so affected me emotionally.
Roxane Brodnick, Cambria, CA