The service and sacrifice of WWII veteran Gordon Bentley in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ is a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Bentley, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, was born in Russellville June 22, 1919. When he was young, his family moved to Morrilton. He called that community home for nearly his entire life. He was building aircraft at a defense plant in Memphis before he joined the military.
“I enlisted the weekend before I had to report for the draft,” Bentley laughed. “I had a good friend who was enthused about flying and he thought I should get something connected with flying and I was accepted as a naval cadet. All my training led up to flying for the Navy.”
As an aviation cadet, Bentley went through rigorous flight training. He credits his instructors for his success in the cockpit. “Two of the most impressive guys who taught me about flying, one was a crop duster and one was an acrobatic pilot. I actually used their training all during my flying experience. I was a well-trained pilot. I never had any trouble flying,” Bentley said.
Bentley piloted the FM-2 Wildcat assigned to the USS Natoma Bay. He fondly recalled the excitement aboard the ship and watching the pilots take off and land, but said there were “quite a few accidents.”
He was fortunate that he never experienced an accident, but he came close. “I knew I was in trouble because I was over the enemy target,” Bentley said as he recalled how his plane sustained a broken oil line and began smoking. He considered bailing out over the water, but headed for the ship, slowing the plane down because the engine was overheating.
“When I got back it was dark. I couldn’t see the ship. I thought I would have to make a water landing, or parachute. I was trying to decide which I’d rather do,” he said. It wasn’t until the ship radioed to him to tell him they would signal to him with a light that he knew he was close. “The only light I had was a red light to show me where the ship was. When you got around in a landing position they had the deck lit up with covered lights. It was the only night landing I ever made. I hadn’t been trained for night flight.”
Bentley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, but he humbly says he doesn’t know what he did to earn it. He flew 20 combat missions including providing air cover for the pre-invasion of Okinawa. “It was a beautiful island from up above approaching. I could see ships galore lined up to blast the island,” he recalled.
Following the war, Bentley continued to serve in the Naval Reserve.