Age: 86

Unit: Marine Attack Squadron 231 (VMA-231), also known as the Ace of Spades

War fronts: Two tours to the Pacific, the first in 1943. He was a machine gunner/photographer on an SBD dive bomber, taking combat pictures for reconnaissance. He also made maps. His second tour was in 1945.

He participated in the Majuro Atoll, Marshall Island operations.

After War: Married 64 years, five children. As a pressman, he worked for some of the biggest newspapers around the world.

His words: Half of the war he spent packing and unpacking, hopping from island to island as the Allies advanced toward Japan. “You could be on an island and you didn’t know which and you didn’t give a damn.”

In Chicago when Doug Vogel was growing up, everyone wanted to be a tough guy.

Vogel lived in a tough neighborhood. The 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre -- when Al Capone's gang executed seven of Bugs Moran's men -- happened in the street just a couple of blocks from Vogel’s house. If they could find a nickel, he and his sister used it to see movies at the Biograph Theater. That’s where John Dillinger was finally shot down by federal agents in 1934.

Vogel was never a tough guy himself. But he liked the image.

Maybe it’s why he chose the Marine Corps.

The Marines were the elite, in his opinion. Toughest of the tough. In 1942, he and his buddy went to the recruiter's office to join together.

“I got into the Marines, he got into the Navy. He had flat feet,” Vogel said, sitting in his Glendo apartment, laughing at the old story.

“I loved that.”

During training in California, officials noticed he had photography experience. His mother was a widow and, for a while, she dated a photographer. The man had taken Vogel under his wing.

The Marines sent Vogel to photography and flight school. His plane: the Douglas SBD Dauntless-3.

Some believe the two-man Dauntless to be one of the most important planes in the Pacific Theater. In the June 1942 Battle of Midway, the dive bombers sank three Japanese aircraft carriers in six minutes, fatally damaged the fourth and damaged two Japanese cruisers.

While the B-24 bombers blanketed bombs across wide target areas, the Dauntless specialized in pinpoint bombing, Vogel said.

"It was a deadly efficient plane. It was slow. But it was efficient."

As the rear gunner, Vogel manned the twin 30-caliber machine guns on the tail. He sat with his back to the pilot, a box-like aerial camera on his lap, eyes scanning the sky. If he saw something, he shot at it.

The Dauntless’ was a strafing attack, approaching low to the ground and blanketing targets with guns or bombs. When a squad flew in, the Japanese knew they were coming. They’d run to their guns, try to shoot them down. Smoke covered everything.

Then it was time to dive.

Imagine being in a car, barreling down the road at 300 miles per hour. The steepest hill you’ve ever seen appears, and down you go.

“Suddenly, that camera weighs 1,000 pounds," Vogel said. And you’ve got to get the guns out of the way and grab it quick because you’ve only got one shot. You take the picture and the pilot pulls the plane into a wing over -- the nose pointing nearly straight up, climbing 28 feet per second.

After each mission, fliers got a small bottle of brandy to calm their nerves. But Vogel never liked the stuff, so he gave his away. There was always someone who would drink it.

The Dauntless dive bombers were camouflaged. But Vogel remembers one day, as the Americans prepared to attack Truk Atoll, a silver plane landed on base. It was a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the long-range fighter with distinctive twin booms.

Everybody went to look at that plane, chromed up and shining in the sun. It had a crew of one man. His mission was to fly over Truk -- the home base for the Japanese navy -- take photographs and get out of there.

"I always thought there was an individual, all by himself, doing his job. It was memorable," Vogel said.

Vogel came back to California for four months, long enough to fall in love with a local girl, before he went back to the Pacific as part of an occupational force. Then, he felt just like another body, a number.

He remembers islands littered with the dead. Not American, he said: We buried ours or sent them home. But on those rocky islands, natives buried theirs in caves.

On Okinawa, Vogel lay in the mud for an entire day, waiting out a typhoon that destroyed every plane that hadn't been flown to safety. The next day was calm. Then another day in the mud. Tents were no help.

"We thought the natives were nuts," he said. They had gone to the caves and moved the dead outside to make room. Vogel suspects that's how the bodies got to be strewn across the islands.

Vogel says there are two phases to a war like World War II.

"There was the initial landing, that's when they kill all the kids."

Then there's the defending.

In the air, Vogel always scanned for submarines, a sign that the Japanese were coming to rescue their trapped and weary soldiers. Vogel never saw one.

"What we didn't know, what the country didn't know, is they wouldn't spend a dime to save 10,000 soldiers," Vogel said. "The Japs didn't care about rescuing their own people. They weren't like Americans in that way."

They Served With Honor

Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.

"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week through Veterans Day 2011.

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