LISBON (NEWS CENTER Maine) — Clyde Vasel is the kind of man you just want to pull up a chair alongside and listen to. He's 94 years old, sharp, witty, and a veteran with stories that define what's been called the greatest generation.
Vasel was a gunner on a Hellboy dive bomber.
"We went into dives facing backward with a canopy open. And twin 30 (caliber machine) guns out. You were out in the weather," Vasel said laughing.
Vasel graduated from Lisbon High School in 1942. After working on the USS Ingersol at Bath Iron he joined the Navy. Vasel's stories are powerful.
“We were landing, we came in too low, caught the left wing tip in the water and cartwheeled.”
Vasel and the pilot were able to get out of the plane quick. "When you're in combat they don't stop for you."
So he and his pilot waited for a "tin can" to pick them up. "Finally a destroyer came and picked us up. It was Thanksgiving '44.”
It was the USS Ingersol — the same ship Vasel had worked on at BIW. "I knew the hull number".
In 1944 a Japanese kamikaze pilot hit the USS Essex. "We were all on deck ready to take off. We were all loaded with 1000 lb. bombs."
Vasel says "he hit the forward part of the Essex. Took out the gun mount, took out two guys on the gun mount and did damage on the deck."
Sixteen servicemen were killed.
"The back of the deck was loaded with planes with 1000lb. bombs. Had he hit there, it probably have sunk the ship. We were lucky".
Luck was also on Vasel's side during the Battle of Manila.
"We lost a couple of planes that day. I saw them go in."
Vasel remembers the thickness of the gunfire. "The flak was so heavy you could walk on it."
So heavy that Vasel and his pilot had to get out of it... fast. "When we pulled out, I was firing up at the ship, that is how low we were."
Vasel says "we got back to the ship, we pulled so many G's it warped the wings on the top, they were wrinkled. So we had to push it overboard."
But before they did… the crew removed the plane's clock and gave it to Vasel that he still has today.
He has a lot of pictures and mementos from his time in the Navy and thanks to a recent trip to Washington D.C on Honor Flight Maine he has some new ones.
Vasel, along with his daughter Kim Mills and other World War II veterans, got a chance to tour our nation's monuments and war memorials.
"That organization is unparalleled to anything, I think, the way they do things," Vasel said.
It was Vasel's wife of 68 years, Libby, who had urged him to go on Honor Flight, but he didn't want to leave her. When Libby passed away in January he decided it was time to go.
"The thing that surprises me is so many people met us at different places they clapped and shook our hands."
Vasel spent 809 hours in the air while he was in the Navy. When asked what it was about flying that he loved so much, Vasel said... the freedom.
Thanks to Clyde Vasel and so many veterans like him, we are grateful for ours.