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Lt Colonel Philip M RASMUSSEN USAAF and USAF, born in Boston in 1918, shot down a Jap attacker with his runaway gun, when he was able to fly off in a P-36 HAWK, when his airfield, WHEELER FIELD, was attacked and represents Hawaii’s air defence during the Japanese 7th December, 1941 attack on PEARL HARBOR and neighbouring airfields, which would change history.
Philip was in the 46th PURSUIT SQUADRON on the island of OAHU and one of the few pilots to actually fly in response to the attacks on that “day of infamy”. He received a Silver Star He flew many later combat missions, including a bombing mission over Japan that earned him an oak leaf cluster.
He stayed in the military after the war and eventually retired from the United States Air Force as a colonel in 1965. He died in 2005 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Lt. Rasmussen had awakened in his sleeping quarters when, out of his window, he saw a group of Japanese airplanes dropping bombs on the field. He strapped his .45 pistol to the outside of his pajamas and ran to get an airplane. Most aircraft were destroyed but Lt. Rasmussen found an unscathed P-36 Hawk and taxied it to a revetment where he had it loaded with ammunition. During a lull in the bombing, he took off with three other pilots.
“I had seen our planes burning at Wheeler Field,” Rasmussen said in a 2002 interview “but I also saw several P-36s that were intact. We climbed to 9,000 feet and spotted some Japanese ‘Val’ dive bombers and dived to attack them.”
They received orders by radio to fly to Kaneohe Bay on the north-east side of the island and engaged 11 Japanese aircraft. Despite having a jammed .30 caliber gun and only limited capability with his .50 caliber gun, Lt. Rasmussen managed to shoot down a Mitsubishi A6M ZERO. Several other Japanese pilots instantly then attacked him, including one wirh mechanical trouble who, thinking himself doomed, tried to ram him. Rasmussen’s plane was badly damaged, so he dived into a cloud to escape and was able to return to Wheeler Field, where he landed without hydraulics for his brakes, a badly damaged rudder and with his tailwheel shot away Two cannon shells had buried themselves in a radio behind his pilot’s seat and the bulky radio probably saved his life. He landed his badly damaged aircraft without brakes. Accounts of the number of bullet holes in his plane varied but was thought to be well into the hundreds. 1st Lt. Lewis M. Sanders also got behind one of the raiders and shot it down. Second Lt. Gordon H. Sterling Jr. also shot down a Japanese aircraft but was shot down over water and drowned after getting out of his aircraft.
Phil Ramussen remained in the new USAF, retired in 1965 and died just before his 87th birthday at Fort Myers, being buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.