US NAVY F6F HELLCAT
FAMILY HISTORY / ENTER USN
Gus Nick Sermos Father, Nick Gus Sermos heritage was from Gardiki, Lamia Greece and he was born on Feb 4, 1888. He immigrated to the United States at age 17 along with his brother or uncle George. His actual name was Nicholas Konstantinos Scarmoutsos and changed while at Ellis Island. He traveled to Price, Utah where he met a Greek friend, or he was his Uncle, named George Pappas who owned a store or restaurant. Nick later ran the General Store which was the candy store for the Mining Company. He married Louise/ Louisa Poole Hatch Sermos and was blessed with two children, Gus Nick Sermos and Helen Sermos who was four years older than Gus. They both went to Carbon High School. Gus was in the Band playing Tuba, in Debate Club and Tennis Club and he was also Boy Scout. According to his daughter Melinda:
"He made straight A's, I was told. He was very much an idealist and perfectionist and very patriotic and brilliant".
He entered service on July 17, 1941, in Salt Lake City, joining the NavCad. The volunteer naval reserve class V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet (NavCad) program purpose was to use civilian and enlisted candidates to train as aviation cadets. Candidates had to be between the ages of 19 and 25, have an associate degree or at least two years of college, and had to complete a bachelor's degree within six years after graduation to keep their commission. He enlisted in the US Navy on July 15, 1941. He has commissioned an Ensign on April 17, 1942
After completing intensive flight training at the big naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida, Sermos prepared to take his place with the navy's crack band of fighting airmen. While at Jacksonville, he learned every phase of naval aviation. Aside from his work in the air, he studied airplane parts and engines, communications, and other courses in ground school. In gunnery practice, he fired at plane-towed targets. Before he was commissioned, Ensign Sermos had to prove to the satisfaction of his instructors that he was a good military pilot as well as a skilled flier. This means, for one thing, that the mechanics of flying must not occupy all his attention while he is in the air.
His skill was the reason for his assignment as an intermediate flight instructor at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, until July 1943 when he transferred to Carrier Qualification School at Norfolk Virginia. In January 1944 as a member of Fighter Squadron 50 (VF-50) he left Norfolk aboard the Aircraft Carrier USS Bataan, and for the following 10 months was a carrier based in the Pacific. During those months he saw action at Hollandia, Truk, Marianas, the First Battle of the Eastern Philippine Sea, and Iwo Jima. Some memorable missions from his service are below.
On April 29, 1944, Lt. (JG) Fox flying a VT-50 TBM Avenger, took off from USS Bataan for an Anti Submarine Patrol, covered by a VF-50 Hellcat, flown by Lt. Gus Sermos. While ending their patrol on their sector over Losap Island, 55 miles southeast Truk, they saw something. Taking a better look, near the shore, they spotted an airplane pulled back among the trees and partially covered by palm fronds. The plane was strafed thoroughly by Fox and Sermos sustaining damages. No further evidence of enemy activity was noted on the island and both planes returned safely back to the carrier. The next day 3 TBM’s and 12 Hellcats, one flown by Sermos, were launched and made rendezvous with planes from the USS Hornet and the USS Cowpens. The flight headed for Truk atoll which was covered by thick overcast. At about 12.000ft over the northwest part of the atoll, the strike broke up and started down through the clouds, picking holes where possible. Lt. Sermos and Ens. Rich came out of the clouds and strafed the seaplane hangars and one plane (possibly a Rufe) which was at the head of the ramp inflicting damage to it.
On 16 June 1944, USS Bataan launched three pairs (TBM's & F6F's) for a routine anti-submarine patrol. One pair found 30 miles from the carrier a small cargo ship ('Sugar Baker') and attack it achieving near misses. Sermos flew cover for Lt (JG) Hart and listening over the radio they came to aid their colleagues. Gus made some strafing passes in order to silence the light anti-aircraft fire from the ship's guns before Hart makes his bombing run. Although the bombs missed again the target by 50ft it slowed it to just 1-2 knots. A sitting duck, it was easy prey for the third pair which hit it with two bombs and sunk it. The ship was later identified as the Tatsukatawa Maru (Maybe it is a misidentification as most sources report that the cargo ship was shelled and sunk in the Pacific Ocean by USS Boyd and USS Charrette.)
At 1555 K/23 June, 8 VF (Lt. G, N, Sermos, Ens. H.C.Ruda, Lt (Jg) J.A. DeBell and Ens. H.D. Roberts, Lt. W.E. Laake, Ens. W.A. McCormick, Lt (JG) D.R. Rehm and Ens. C, E. Rich) were launched on CAP. About an hour later while circling at 10,000 ft., Lt. Sermos team, Lt(JG) Rehm, and Ens. Rich were vectored out to intercept a bogey, 60 miles on 290° at angels 5. Lt. Laake and Ens. McCormick remained on station over the base. In 1710, Lt. Sermos tally-hoed one Betty almost directly below at 9 o'clock. Betty's course was almost at right angles to the VF and he was in gradual diving left turn headed for a large cloud. Sermos and Ruda did a tight left spiral to come down on the enemy plane from about 8 o'clock. Lt( JG) DeBell, who was somewhat too starboard of Sermos, was able to pull over in a left flipper turn and get in a quick full deflection shot as he corkscrewed down on Betty's tail. Both DeBell and Sermos followed Betty into the cloud. In breaks in the cloud, DeBell was able to get in several more short bursts and when Betty finally broke out below the cover he was smoking heavily from both engines. Sermos followed the Jap down in his continuing dive and saw him flame before he hit the water.
Later that day Sermos flew another sortie. 17 Hellcats from VF-50 went for a sweep over Iwo Jima, 10 of them armed with bombs. Over the target, they met a strong force of Japanese fighters and after dropping their bombs they engaged in a fierce dogfight in which VF-50 emerged victorious with 18 kills and 3 damaged having lost to Hellcats and 3 more damaged but repairable back in Bataan. Japanese airplanes to its credit. Sermos didn’t achieve a kill and he was almost shot down before one of his colleagues shot a jap from his tail. According to the after-action report Lt, Sermos and Ens. Rich (second section of t. Barackman's team) saw the third Zeke diving on them as they approached the melee but not in time to prevent him from slipping in on Lt. Sermos' tail. Sermos pushed over and Ens. Rich, sliding undęr and back, was able to get in behind the Jap. A.long burst from 7 o'clock started him burning and in another few seconds, he exploded.
It was for meritorious achievement in flight in the Iwo Jima area that he was awarded the Air Medal. He was also awarded three Battle Stars for his service over the Pacific. After a short leave in the United States, he went back overseas to Fighter Squadron 100 (VF-100) at Pearl Harbor and was later transferred to Guam where he served as a test pilot and ferry pilot until October 1945 when he returned back to the States and posted once more to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. While there, during 1946, he was promoted to Lt. Commander. When his first wife, mother of their three children, Charlotte, was asked by Melinda, their daughter, about her father, Charlotte said:
"I think he was outstanding and very brave. I was very proud of him and loved him a lot. I went to Utah and met his folks after we were married."
Sermos, like many fighter pilots, was also a man of high temperament. One day he flew down the street in Decatur Georgia where Charlotte lived and to show off to her he did a Stall in mid-air! Charlotte Grable Summers was a cousin of pin-up girl/ actress Betty Grable. However, every woman who had an aviator husband, even more, a woman whose husband was a naval aviator operating from the deck of aircraft carriers had to be a strong character. According to Melinda:
"I told Mom, "You were an amazing Navy wife tool".
"Mom said, "It was the heavy part of the war, everyone HAD to be brave or give up."."
Nicholas Konstantinos (Gus) Sermos in a family photo with his wife Louise/ Louisa Poole Hatch Sermos and their two children, Gus Nick Sermos (on his father knees) and Helen Sermos who was four years older than Gus The photo was most probably taken during 1921, the year Gus was born. (Melinda Sermos Archive)
Gus N. Sermos pose happily wearing his flight gear along with something like a scarf on his neck, during his training as a naval aviator. (Melinda Sermos Archive)
Gus N. Sermos (left) in front of Hellcat '22' onboard USS Bataan (CVL-29), during the Operations in the Pacific, circa 1944. Noteworthy is the fact that the LSO in the carrier was another Greek American, Christos E. Mikronis, a veteran naval aviator who distinguished himself and was shot down during Operation Torch in 1942. (Melinda Sermos Archive)
F6F-3 Hellcat '5' of VF-50 after launching from the deck of the carrier USS Bataan CVL-29, off the Chesapeake Bay during January 1944. (USN via https://www.asisbiz.com)
Gus N. Sermos pose in front of Hellcat '286' along with other pilots, most probably while serving as a ferry pilot in Hawai, transferring fighters from CASU's (Carrier Air Support Unit) to frontline carrier squadrons. (Melinda Sermos Archive)
Gus N. Sermos flew this Hellcat while ferrying fighters from Guam to frontline carrier Squadrons and it's the one in the opening photo of this article. Without a doubt, the best carrier-based fighter of World War Two was the Grumman F6F Hellcat. A larger and more powerful development of the earlier F4F Wildcat, the Hellcat was designed to counter Japan's excellent Zero fighter. The Hellcat was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns as well as rockets, and the wings folded flat against the fuselage so more could fit on board aircraft carriers. The Hellcat's design sacrificed speed for a high rate of climb and exceptional maneuverability. It was also a very rugged and well-armored design. The Hellcat first flew in June 1942 and was deployed operationally in the Pacific in August 1943 where it participated in every major engagement of the war. At one point in 1944 Grumman was turning out one Hellcat per hour - 644 in one month - an aircraft production record that has never been equaled. A total of 12,275 were built. (Copyright Bertrand Brown aka Gaetan Marie, further info by https://www.cradleofaviation.org/)
In the mid-50s the family lived in Moultrie, Georgia and Gus was a flight instructor at Spence Airfield in a common training program between USAF and USN. He also coached his two sons, Gus and David, Little League baseball team and gave tennis lessons too. In the mid-1960s he was a member of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and he had duties as an Air Traffic Controller in Cedar City, Utah, and also taught Civil Air Patrol. He was the oldest Test Pilot at what he called OK City/ Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He did some top-secret missions he could not tell anyone about. In the late 60’s he moved to Los Angeles, California, and worked at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport as a Flight Air Controller. He was married then to his second wife Marta and later divorced. A loving father he always returned to see his children. Melinda remembered:
"My Dad once flew from Cedar City Utah to Decatur Georgia in a Cessna, to visit me when I was 10, in 1963. He loved to fly, it was part of him, his soul soared with the clouds. He taught me the names of cloud formations, Nimbus, Cumulo-nimbus, about anvil-shaped clouds and thunderstorms coming. Now when I look up at the clouds I know my Daddy is somewhere up there flying in them, through them, in all the clouds of Heaven, my Daddy flies truly free".
He retired from the FAA in 1982 to Las Vegas, Nevada, and lived there the last 30 years of his life, where he loved to gamble and was a blackjack champion. He also met his 3rd wife, Jenny. Gus passed away at 94 in November of 2015 in Las Vegas.
Gus poses in the center while serving as an instructor in Spence AFB. Flying training at Spence was conducted by Hawthorne School of Aeronautics. Flight Supervisors and Instructor Pilots employed by Hawthorne were ex-military and professional civilian pilots with additional current USAF training. Trainees were USAF Aviation Cadets and Student Officers, occasional students from other US armed force branches, and students from over 30 allied countries. (Melinda Sermos Archive, further info by https://spenceairbase.com/)
GUS N. SERMOS PHOTOS
(Melinda Sermos Archive)
(Melinda Sermos Archive)
1. Dimitrios Vassilopoulos personal correspondence with Gus N. Sermos daughter, Melinda Sermos.
2. USS Bataan CVL-29 After Action Reports 25 April - 5 May 1944 (Rep of Ops, 4/25/44-5/4/44 Strikes on Truk, Satawan & Ponape)
3. USS Bataan CVL-29 After Action Reports 24 April 1944 (Rep of Strike Against Wakde Is, New Guinea, 4/24/44)
4. USS Bataan CVL-29 After Action Reports 6 - 27 June 1944 (Rep of Air Ops During 6/6-27/44 In Support of the Marianas Op & Attack on Jap Fleet)