As an 18-year-old gunner, Petty Officer First Class Robert Kizer never regretted enlisting in the Navy during World War II. The California teenager said he felt fear every time he climbed into a TBM torpedo bomber, lifting off from an aircraft carrier in search of the enemy.
Known as one of the heaviest single-engine aircraft during World War II, the General Motors-built TBM Avenger flew a crew of three: a pilot, turret gunner and a radioman/bombardier/ventral gunner. In the bomb bay the Avenger carried one large torpedo or a single 2,000-pound bomb. Sometimes, crews would swap out one large bomb for four 500-pounders.
A Los Angeles native, Kizer saw action in the South Pacific during the final two years of the war. His squadron, which was attached to the aircraft carrier USS Admiralty Islands, called Pearl Harbor home. Kizer, who is now 89 years old, served for two years on board the aircraft carrier before he was discharged at the end of the war at Pearl Harbor.
“It was a long time ago,” Kizer said, trying to remember the specific years he served. “It’s something you wipe out of your mind.”
Kizer’s friend and companion at the Fernley Estates Assisted Living Facility, Dorothy “Dot” Davison, also served in the Navy but after the war. She looked at Kizer with loving eyes before he retold his years in the South Pacific.
“We truly get along well. We love each other,” she said.
After the war, the 88-year-old Davison trained in radiology and became an X-ray technician at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland for four years.
“I got out and went to work in a doctor’s office,” Davison said of her career. Born in San Diego, she later moved to Portland, Ore.
Built in 1943, the USS Admiralty Islands sailed from Puget Sound, Wash., and to San Diego for additional training and then headed toward Pearl Harbor for its first assignment. For the next five months, the ship transported aircraft and personnel mostly to and from New Guinea. After arriving at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 24, the ship sailed for Guam the day after Christmas and arrived in the western Pacific two weeks later. The Admiralty Islands became involved in support carrier operations to seize Iwo Jima on Feb. 2, 1945, leaving with Task Force Group 50.8 in mid-February.
“It was a good ship, great relations among the crew,” Kizer said.
The aircraft carrier was a U.S. Navy Casablanca-class escort aircraft carrier, named after the Admiralty Islands group north of New Guinea.
To this day, Kizer also remembers the proficiency of the ship’s officer, Capt. M. E. A. Gouin, and how the crew respected their skipper, whom Kizer called a true Navy man.
Unlike other aircraft carriers directly involved with operations directly fighting the Japanese, Kizer said the squadron saw limited action against the enemy. When the TBM was catapulted off the deck, Kizer sat in the rear of the three-man cockpit facing the opposite direction, responsible for firing a twin .30-caliber machine gun.
“We saw some but not much action,” Kizer recounted. “We tangled up in a couple of skirmishes, but we did some damage to the Japanese fleet.”
Although not too many crews endured injuries, Kizer was accidentally shot with a .30 caliber shell between his left shin and ankle.
More than 70 years after flying in the TBM, Kizer said he remembers how nervous he was when climbing into his seat. He never had any doubt about serving, and said he never had any doubt about enlisting to protect his country.
“Eighteen years old, I was just a punk,” Kizer said with a broad grin and chuckle. “I went into the Navy when I was 16 ... lied about my age.”
In addition to his military career, Kizer worked in Hollywood by following his father’s footsteps as a grip for a movie studio. A grip provides assistance to the camera craw whenever the camera is mounted on a dolly, crane or top of a ladder.
“I guess I was too young to know better,” Kizer said of his discharge and return to southern California.
Kizer assisted the cameraman at 20th Century Fox and was able to meet many of the stars of the day including Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans, John Wayne and Randolph Scott.
“I met John Wayne several times. He was a nice guy and very pleasant. He wasn’t puffed up with self importance,” Kizer said. “Randolph Scott was also very nice, and he let me ride his horse.”