Nearly 8 decades later, LtCDR John C. Waldron's story continues to inspire, infuriate and motivate men and women of all walks of life. We are humbled and proud to play a role in furthering his story...
A: The "Torpedo 8" story is tragic, heartbreaking and inspiring. That he was born in the middle of nowhere and has Lakota blood makes it all-the-more compelling.
Q: Didn't Waldron commit mutiny?
A: Yes. And it needs to be added that any unit that must survive in challenging circumstances must also value leadership, authority and discipline. However, the breadth of his story illustrates the complexities and challenges that warrant the phrase, "Penalty of leadership.
Q: What if Waldron wouldn't have broken away from the fleet and stayed with CDR Stanhope Ring's Air Group?
A: Based on reasonable historical guess-work, VT-8 would have probably run out of gas and forced to ditch as their TBD's had only about half the range of the SBDs and slightly less than the F4Fs. If, however, they did make it back to the Hornet, VT-8 would have likely met the Japanese in combat later in the day or the next day (with predictable results). The only thing that could have dramatically changed the squadron's odds would have been either not being deployed in combat or being wholly equipped with the new TBF Avengers.
Q: Did Waldron know they were doomed?
A: It seems he knew the gravity of his situation—slow, poorly armed and highly vulnerable against an aggressive, highly professional and successful enemy. Remember too that VT-8 had never seen combat and hadn't even launched a live torpedo.
Q: Was Waldron reckless?
A: Absolutely not. It's well documented that Waldron went to extra efforts to keep his pilots and crew in top physical and mental shape. Additionally, he had field modifications done to VT-8's TBDs to improve their defensive capabilities. Before the 4 June launch, Waldron made every attempt to secure fighter escort and a change in flight planning in order to increase the Air Groups chance of succeeding in battle. Waldron was indeed working hard to keep his squadron safe and effective.
Q: So what SHOULD have happened?
A: Easy. Stanhope Ring should have given VT-8 the fighter escort that Waldron requested and followed Waldron's logical guestimation as to the location of the Japanese fleet.
Q: Did you have a real A6M2 Zero in the production?
A: Yes. But during the first day of filming, it suffered an engine malfunction and it was grounded. We are grateful for the "Tora" Zeros that they were able to fill in a moments notice.
Q: Why did you use an SB2c instead of a TBM?
A: Firstly, we WANTED a TBD. But the three that are known to exist are still under many tons of water. We had a TBM to film the aerial sequences against the A6M2 but when the Zero was grounded, the rest of the filming halted, too. However, the SB2c was actually a remarkable replacement for the TBM in that the cockpit configuration and armament is very similar to a TBDs! We consider it a stroke of blessing to have been able to experience the aerial sequences much like it was back in 1942.
Q: How come you filmed from such a high altitude when the Battle of Midway action was at 80-100 foot altitude?
A: Rules, regulations and insurance. And safety. Think of it this way - the glide angle of an SB2c is similar to a bowling ball. If we'd have had an engine malfunction at 80 feet, it'd have been OVER. It puts the service of any WWII torpedo crew into sobering perspective.
Q: What were all the airplanes used?
A: Well first, remember we didn't use all of our footage. In the end, only the "Tora" Zeros and SB2c footage were used. But, we filmed a TBM Avenger, A6M2 Zero, T-6 Texan, two "Tora" Zeros (modified T-6s that were used to film the 1970 CLASSIC film, "Tora! Tora! Tora!") and the world's only flying SB2c "Helldiver."
Q: Where was South Dakota Warrior filmed?
A: Fort Pierre, SD, Mesa, AZ, Minot, ND and over the briny green of Galveston Bay, Texas.
Q: What's the South Dakota Air and Space Museum's role?
A: They were our non-profit fiduciary; "Dakota Warrior" is part of their public-education mission.
Q: Who are the sponsors?
A: Please watch the episode and read the credits. :) It's good to read the credits.
Q: What's with the music?
A: That'd be the genius of Clyde Teel. He writes the music to fit the episode. In this case, he crafted Japanese and Native American "modals" to get the vibe.
Q: How'd you get Francis Whitebird?!
A: Francis is a highly decorated combat veteran from the Vietnam War. His father was a "Code Talker" in WWII and two of his sons are veterans (one being combat-wounded in Iraq)—he is uniquely qualified to represent all-things "Warrior." Francis is also passionately interested in keeping his Lakota culture alive and remembered. Francis's part in this story is as important as John Waldron's.
Q. How'd you get Barrett Tillman?!
A: What Francis is to "Warrior," Barrett is to "History." No one makes history come alive like Barrett! He's a straight-shooter with little patience for flash-in-the-pan revisionism or unreasonable speculation and though he's an old-school author, his savvy with current media made him easily camera-ready. Plus, when it comes to aviation, few have the credibility that comes from stating, "Well, Barrett Tillman says..."
Q: When will the Educator's kit be done?
A: Stand by...
Q: Until the Educator's kit is done, what's the take-away from The South Dakota Warrior?
A: Leadership is neither simple nor easy. And it requires tremendous courage. Pursue it at your own peril (and glory).
Q: Where can someone learn more about the Battle of Midway and/or John Waldron?
A: Start with these three books: "A Dawn Like Thunder" by Robert Mrazek, "Shattered Sword" by Jonathan B. Parshal & Anthony P. Tully and "A Glorious Page in Our History: The Battle of Midway..." by Robert Cressman featuring Barrett Tillman
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