US NAVY

SBD-3 DAUNTLESS PILOT

BOMBING SQUADRON 8 (VB-8)

 

"It is indeed a great honor to the Bebas family to contribute in blood towards the noble cause of liberty. And though we all express a deep sorrow on the loss of a brave young Greek American, yet the honor bestowed upon the Bebas family will be displayed in the annals of history in honor of young Bebas who fought for the highest ideals of humanity and civilization."

The Greek Star May 21, 1943

 

EARLY YEARS & USNR

Constantine G. “Gus” Bebas was one of six children (four sisters and a brother) growing up in a modest house on the east side of Wilmette, a predominantly wealthy, lakefront suburb of Chicago. His parents, George, and Angeline - who operated a fruit and vegetable business - were Greek immigrants who were fiercely proud of their country of birth and equally proud of their new home. The original surname name was Bimbas, by the way.  Gus's mother, Angeline, was from Vrethena in Laconia, north of Sparta. Gus's father George Peter Bimbas/Bebas was born in Megalopolis, Arkadia, but lived in Kalamata before he immigrated. He and Angeline were married in 1902 in Sparta. Bebas was educated at Wilmette public schools and graduated from New Trier High School in nearby Winnetka, where he was a star outfielder on the baseball team for three years. He enrolled at Northwestern University School of Engineering and later the Commerce School at Evanston, Illinois, in September 1934, and pitched for the varsity team between 1936 and 1938. George Lymper, Captain of the 1938 team recalled:

"Gus was always worried about the condition of his right arm. He always massaged it the night before he was to pitch and slept with two pillows under his arm."

While at Northwestern, Bebas served in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps as a platoon leader. From his file, we know that Gus good read and understood the Greek language well enough.

"Bebas expects to continue his Naval training after graduation and has demonstrated great interest in all phases of naval activity. He is best fitted for Supply duty, in view of the fact that he expects a B. S. degree in Commerce in June. He is good at Greek translation and conversation. He has played on the University Baseball team. Through his own efforts, he has earned all his expenses at the University. Although not a particularly good student he is a hard worker, with very high standards. He is recommended for a commission as Ensign, USNR."

Bebas graduated from Northwestern in June 1939, with a B.S. degree in commerce. He received his commission as an Ensign ROTC in May 1938. For two weeks, starting June 16, Ensign Bebas trained with the Naval Reserve on board the old destroyer USS Herbert and the newly built heavy cruiser USS Wichita.

Upon his return to Illinois, he accepted an offer from the Chicago White Sox to play minor league baseball. He joined the Hickory Rebels of the newly formed Class D Tar Heel League but pitched just a handful of games before abandoning hopes of an athletic career and taking a job with the Hoover Company in Evansville. During the winter, Bebas had given serious thought to becoming a navy aviator, and on January 22, 1940, he resigned his commission in the Naval Reserve, enlisting as a seaman second class the following day. He wrote his previous experience in a letter on October 17, 1939, unfortunately without knowing the recipient. However, judging from the date and the fact that recommendation letters prompt the Navy to train him to be Naval Aviator, his letter is most likely addressed to the Naval Aviation Command. According to his letter.

"Dear Gentlemen, I graduated from North Western University, in June 1939. I studied the basic and advanced Navy courses and successfully completed such in June 1938 and received a commission of Ensign in the R.O.T.C. I have also made two cruises abroad (illegible) war of the United States. The first came in 1937 for four weeks aboard the destroyer, Herbert. In June 1939 I made a two-week cruise aboard the cruiser USS Wichita. My occupation since that time was wholesaling produce for myself."

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Official USN portrait photo of Constantine 'Gus' Bebas after promoted to Ensign USNR (USN)
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A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless of bombing squadron VB-8 on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) during the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation #1996.253.648)
U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless of bombing squadron VB-8 or scouting squadron VS-8 landing on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) during the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. Note the personnel wearing battle gear and the pilot in full flight gear, including leather helmet, Mae West, and flight suit. VB-8 and VS-8 did not locate the Japanese fleet during operations on 4 June 1942, losing six aircraft between them. However, on 6 June the squadrons participated in attacks against the Japanese cruisers Mogami and Mikuma. Note USS Enterprise (CV-6) on the horizon at right in the middle photo. (U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo #1996.253.646, #1996.253.648, and #1996.253.649)
One of the SBD-3s flown by VB-8 operating from the USS Hornet during the Battle of Midway. Unfortunately, we do not know the exact BuNo and side number of the bomber flown by Gus Bebas during the battle but it could have been the B-11 as well. The SBD Dauntless was the Navy’s most effective dive bomber of World War II. It was responsible for more enemy ships sunk in the first half of the war than any other aircraft or ship in the fleet. Although nicknamed “Slow But Deadly” by its pilots, the SBD was a precise dive bomber that used special perforated dive brakes to make slower, controlled dives. The Dauntless is most famous as the aircraft that destroyed four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. Despite being a dive-bomber, it was remarkably nimble once it had dropped its bomb load and proved on several occasions that it could even challenge the A6M Zero in the hands of a competent pilot. The best example of this is certainly “Swede” Vejtasa, who claimed four aerial victories in the SBD. (Copyright Bertrand Brown aka Gaetan Marie, further info by https://www.midway.org/ and http://www.gaetanmarie.com/)

NAVAL AVIATOR & MIDWAY

"Gus took flight training at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Glenview, a suburb of Chicago but after the successful outcome of his preliminary flight training, he resigned for a short period to arrange some personal issues, asking to be re-enlisted later. According to his letter:

"On 15 March 1940, I successfully completed the preliminary flight training course at the Glenview Air Base and was ordered to the U.S. Naval Air Station for further training, on 15 August 1940. Unfortunately, at that time I was operating my own business and it was impossible for me to leave it and depart for Pensacola. Due to the new legislature enacted by Congress and approved by the President, I found it necessary to terminate my business. On 24 February 1941, I will be 27 years of age, which is within the age requirement. At this time, I request that I be considered for reinstatement as an Aviation Cadet for advanced flight instruction to the U.S. Naval Air Station."

Indeed, Gus returned to the Navy, however, he repeated his preliminary training as the US Navy thought correctly that during his absence, he would probably lose his flying abilities, considering that he had no experience. He completed his training and was appointed an aviation cadet on February 19, 1941. The following day, he reported for training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, the hub of the Navy’s air training activities at the time. The summer of 1941 also provided Bebas an opportunity to pitch for the Pensacola Navy baseball team. On August 4, 1941, Bebas was assigned to Naval Air Station Miami for advanced carrier training, and he was appointed a naval aviator on September 5. On September 26, 1941, he was promoted to the rank of ensign and returned home to Wilmette for a brief visit with family and friends. Upon that time the Greek American pilot had logged 246.3 flight hours of which 177.6 were solo. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Ensign Bebas was serving with the Advanced Carrier Training Group, Atlantic Fleet. On December 23, he reported to Bombing Squadron 8 (VB-8) at Norfolk, Virginia, part of the USS Hornet (CV-8) Air Group. At that time VB-8 was equipped with the two-seat Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver, a biplane dive-bomber that had been in service with the Navy since 1938. On March 4, 1942, the Hornet set sail from Norfolk for the West Coast via the Panama Canal with VB-8’s new airplanes—Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers.

The Hornet arrived at Alameda, California, on March 20, and with her own planes on the hangar deck, she loaded 16 Army Air Force North American B-25 Mitchell bombers on the flight deck, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle. On April 2, the Hornet departed Alameda, and, for the first time, the crew was informed of the Army flyers’ mission: a daring bombing raid on Japan. The Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to hit mainland Japan. All 16 bombers were lost, and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. But although the military significance of the raid was minimal, it proved to be a substantial morale booster for the American people. With the B-25 bombers airborne and bound for Japan, the Hornet steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor and remained there until April 30, when she departed to assist the USS Yorktown and USS Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea. The battle ended before the Hornet reached the scene and she returned to Hawaii on May 26 and sailed two days later to stop the anticipated Japanese assault on Midway Atoll. On the morning of June 4, 1942, Bebas engaged in his first combat mission as the Hornet launched all available airplanes to search for Japanese aircraft carriers. Loaded with a 1,000-pound bomb, Bebas and the other dive-bomber pilots of VB-8 searched in vain for the enemy carriers. With fuel running desperately low, not all made it back to the Hornet. One plane ditched in the sea and Bebas was among many who had to land at Midway Island. After refueling, he returned to the Hornet. On June 5, 1942, Bebas was among 20 dive-bombers that were launched from the Hornet to attack a small Japanese force of cruisers and destroyers. Because they would operate at the limit of their combat range the dive-bombers carried the smaller 500-pound bombs. When the fast-moving Japanese destroyer IJN Tanikaze was spotted, Bebas put his plane into a vertical dive, selected his point of aim, and raced for his release point amidst flak bursts from the destroyer’s anti-aircraft guns. Frighteningly close to the huge destroyer, Bebas pressed the electrical bomb release button, pulled out of his dive, and closed the dive brakes. Bebas’s bomb fell just 100 feet from the Tanikaze’s port quarter. The following afternoon, he participated in a strike against the heavy cruisers IJN Mikuma and IJN Mogami, scoring a damaging near miss on the latter ship.


KITA TO ETERNITY

Following the Battle of Midway, the Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor, where VB-8 became shore-based and returned to operational training. While on a routine training flight leading three planes on a dive-bombing practice off Oahu on the morning of July 19, 1942, Bebas put his Dauntless into a dive to attack a target boat maneuvering off Barber’s Point. According to the VB-8 report:

"Bebas was leading a scheduled dive-bombing fight of three (3) planes operating with an armored target boat off Barbers Pte, Oahu, T. H. On the first dive, which started at 8000 feet altitude, Ensign Bebas commenced pullout at approximately 1500 feet and simultaneously entered a right turn. The plane struck the water in a spiral, approximately 500 yards astern of the target boat, and immediately disappeared. Small wreckage, including the life-raft and oxygen mask, came to the wreckage. Due to the extreme depth of water, it was not deemed advisable to further search for the plane and bodies."

Whether he blacked out or was unable to overcome the heavy stick force present in the dive is unknown, but his plane crashed into the ocean, killing himself and the observer/rear gunner, Ensign William M. Stevens. In April 1943, Bebas was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his involvement in the Battle of Midway. The citation accompanying the medal, which was received by his mother, read in part:

"For heroism and extraordinary nary achievement in an aerial flight as pilot of an airplane in Bombing Squadron EIGHT in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway on June 6, 1942. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Ensign Bebas participated in persistent bombing and strafing attacks against fleeing enemy forces, obtaining a damaging near-miss on an enemy vessel in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire. is courageous conduct and stern devotion to the fulfillment of a vastly important mission contributed materially to the victory achieved by our forces and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

The following month, his mother and sister, Anne, traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, at the invitation of the Navy, to christen a destroyer escort vessel named in Gus Bebas’s honor. The 1,400-ton USS Bebas (DE-10) was based in the Pacific until the cease of hostilities, performing patrol and escort duties and receiving three battle stars. Dr. Franklin B. Snyder, president of Northwestern University, at a memorial service in honor of Bebas at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago on June 27, 1943, eulogized:

"He was a student of whom we all felt proud. He was loved and admired by the students and his friends; one we knew would have a distinguished record. We regret his death, but we take a pride in his heroism and his accomplishments. On behalf of the university, I salute him!"

Gus Bebas and Ensign William Stevens are buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.

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Gus Bebas's photo in his enlistment papers for service with the USNR. (Bebas Officer Military Personnel File)
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A VB-8 Douglas SBD Dauntless lands far off-center, flying right over the head of the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) aboard the USS HORNET (CV-12) during the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942. (USN)
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Bebas had two nearly hits or paint scratchers in USN pilots argo on destroyer IJN Tanikaze (up) and heavy cruiser IJN Mogami (down), inflicting serious damage. Although both ships survived the war they were effectively taken out of operations during the Battle of Midway. (USN)
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USS Bebas (BDE-10/DE-10) was an Evarts-class short-hull destroyer escort in the service of the United States Navy. She was named to honor Ensign Gus George Bebas's sacrifice during WW2. (NH 78640)

CONSTANTINE 'GUS' BEBAS ADDITIONAL PHOTOS & PAPERS

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Left: USS Bebas (DE 10) off Hunters Point, San Francisco wearing camouflage measure MS31/22D. Bebas is carrying an HF/DF antenna on top of the mast above the SR radar dome. The HF/DF was not usually deployed on Pacific Fleet destroyer escorts, since, while it was used to detect radio transmissions from enemy submarines, This was not deemed as effective against Japanese submarines as against German U-Boats. Bebas had been in the Atlantic between May and August 1943 but was assigned to the Pacific after completing shakedown and spending the next few weeks in coastal escort and patrol operations out of Casco Bay in Maine, Boston, New York, and Norfolk. Bebas departed Hampton Roads on 24 August 1943 for the Pacific.USS Bebas (U.S. Navy, Bureau of Shipping, Catalog #BS 69838 via http://www.navsource.org/, further info via http://www.navsource.org/)
Right: Low-quality photo of Mrs. Angeline M. Bebas, while christens the USS Bebas at a Boston Shipyard. With her are Captain Ronan O'Grady, the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Boston who blessed the ship, and Miss Anne Bebas, sister of the late Ensign Bebas (AHEPA)
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Letter written by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, informing Gus father, George P. Bebas about his son's loss. (USN)
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Photo of George included inside his Military File. (USN)
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Gus Bebas's appointment as an Ensign of the US Navy, signed by the acting Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal. (USN)
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Gus Bebas application for aviation training in the USNR. (USN)
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A letter signed by the Chief of Naval Personnel addressed to Gus's mother, Angeline Bebas regarding her son's loss. (USN)
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The Greek American hero during his school years. (USN)
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Photo of Gus Bebas which was pinned to his USN identity card. (USN)
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Final report of aviation training from NAS Pensacola, Florida. (USN)
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The Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously awarded to Gus Bebas. (USN)

SOURCES

 

Special thanks to Gary Bedingfield for letting me reproduce and expand his great biography on Gus Bebas, to Mindy Swift for her support every time I need it, and to Donald Mounts and Global Military Research for searching and copying Gus Bebas military records.

 

1. Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service, Gary Bedingfield, McFarland, 2015, ISBN: 9780786458202

2. Constantine Gus Bebas Officer Military Record

3. Constantine Gus Bebas Enlisted Military Record

4. Constantine Gus Bebas IDPF

5. Memorial Day Memories: A Heroic Gus Bebas and the Battle of Midway, George L. Chiagouris, The National Herald, May 28 - June 3, 2011.

6. https://www.baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com/biographies/bebas_gus.html

7. https://www.history.navy.mil/

8. http://www.navsource.org/