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The World War II Photo of the Week
for 23 December 2002


Exposed to Get the Exposure ...

   This amazing photo shows the moment of impact as a Japanese bomb scores a direct hit on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) on August 24, 1942. The image was selected as one of the "Best 100 pictures of WW2 taken by Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Photographers." The full story of the origins of the photo is as compelling a war tale as you'll ever hear. On August 24, 1942, a strong Japanese force was sighted some 200 miles north of Guadalcanal and U.S. Navy Task Force 61 sent planes to the attack. An enemy light carrier was sent to the bottom and the Japanese troops intended for Guadalcanal were forced back. Enterprise suffered most heavily of the United States ships: three direct hits and four near-misses killed 74, wounded 95, and inflicted serious damage on the carrier. But well-trained damage control parties, and quick hard work patched her up so that she was able to return to Hawaii under her own power. The gentleman who took this photo, Photographer's Mate Marion L. Riley, is actually still alive today. Robert Read, who has been credited with the photo by sources as trusted as the National Archives, was in fact dead or dying in another part of the ship (actually, on the aft starboard gun platform, in the upper left corner of the deck in the photo) at the time the photo was taken. The ship's action report — which wasn't publicly available for some time after the war — relates what happened fairly clearly. Here's some text from its commendations section: "READ, Robert Frederick, P2c, USNR. (Posthumous) READ took station on the starboard after gun gallery and, during the early phases of the action, coolly and deliberately took excellent action photographs of the exploding bombs and crashing aircraft close aboard the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE. Although he and all personnel in the vicinity were subsequently killed on station by a bomb explosion, his camera was not destroyed. The photographs subsequently developed are mute testimony to his gallant courageous and coll performance of duty under fire. BAKER, Ralph Elmer, P1c, USN. Prior to the attack of the Japanese dive bombers, BAKER took station in an exposed part of the ship which provided the best visibility for photographing the action. With complete disregard for his own safety, he coolly and deliberately took photographs of the entire action, including exploding bombs, strafing by aircraft machine gun fire, and crashing aircraft. The excellent action films taken by him are of great tactical and historical value and his efforts and courage have contributed in a large measure to the successful prosecution of the war effort. RILEY, Marion L., Jr. P2c, USN – Recommended for advancement to photographer, first class. By an outstanding display of determination and courage in exposing himself to possible serious injury from bomb blast and fragments, RILEY succeeded in obtaining extremely valuable motion pictures of all three of the bomb hits from a position on the gallery at the after end of the island structure.

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