2nd Lt. Ernie Brace, USMC, VMA-121
K-6 (Pyongtek) Korea, 1952

Ernie Brace, author of the book, A Code to Keep, flew AD-2s and AD-3s during the Korean War. Brace was the first Second Lieutenant to fly 100 combat missions in the Skyraider during the Korean War.

Ernie writes: "I first flew the AD-1 in flight training at the age of 19. Hot stuff for a teenager. I was commissioned the day after my 20th birthday in 1951 and went to an F4U-4 squadron at El Toro. There we were in a squadron being used like what the Navy calls a RAG, Replacement Air Group. All rockets and bombs for several months on targets off San Clemente Island. When I got to Korea I was still only 20 and flew my first 20 missions before my 21st birthday. I don't remember being awed or whatever by flying such a monster. We never did have dual seaters to check out in on going from the SNJ, T-6 to you AF types. We had a ground school on systems. Learned how to start them, then went out and did touch and goes for an hour or so. Then we started right in on combat maneuvers such as the 'Thatch Weave' and dive bombing. After six months flying F4U Corsairs I went to K-6 and was assigned into an AD-2 squadron. Flight leaders on combat missions were selected by experience in the area and time in type. By the end of my tour in early 1953, I was leading large strikes up North as a 2nd Lt. We called them Group Gropes."

Ernie has granted permission to reprint here a section from his book, A Code to Keep, recounting his shootdown and subsequent ditching of an AD-3 Skyraider in Korea. The circumstances by which he recalls this story are quite remarkable also, but you will have to read the book to find them out.


Beyond the barren, snow-mottled North Korean mountains below me, I could see the jaggedcoastline and the cold gray expanse of Tongjoson Bay stretching eastward into the Sea of Japan. A few miles north of Koji Point I could make out the coastal indentation of the seaport of Wonsan. It was November 16, 1952, and I had been orbiting now for more than two hours in an AD-3 Skyraider equipped with an extra fuel tank on its belly and a camera on its wing. As the morning sun climbed, flight after flight of Marine fighter bombers attacked the power station of the Wonsan dam that towered above its reservoir. Though I had turned twenty-one only a few months before, I was already a flight leader. With two escorts I had arrived at today's target early to make a photo pass. That first run had attracted a lot of ground fire, and I could see now that the ADs making their bombing and strafing runs were getting the same reception. My job was to hang around until the strike was over, then run in over the target for some more pictures. When the last bombing run was completed, I headed inland, then came around to make a low pass from the west with my cameras clicking. They had done some damage, all right, lots of fire and smoke, enough so that I wasn't sure I had gotten it all on film. Since I hadn't taken any antiaircraft fire, I decided to try another pass headed inland, this one lower. Again there was no gunfire. By this time I was fairly sure I had all the photos I needed, but I was feeling so exhilarated by the success of the strike that I couldn't resist yet another pass. Foolishly, I rolled up into a big, acrobatic wingover and wheeled the AD onto a final run that would take me over the powerhouse and out over the hills that sloped down toward the ocean about fifteen miles away. Squeezing the camera trigger and strafing the target my self, I saw the dam flash by beneath me and then felt the aircraft shudder from antiaircraft fire. I had taken hits behind the cockpit, in my right wing, and in my engine, which was spewing smoke. By the time I called in my Mayday and reported my position, the prop had stopped turning. I horsed the crippled Skyraider over the last ridge and then saw the ocean in the distance and ships on the horizon, but I was still miles short of the beach.

Another AD pulled alongside me, its pilot radioing that my engine was on fire and advising me to jump immediately. Like all Marine pilots, I was equipped for the eventuality that I would have to bail out over enemy territory. I packed a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, a canteen, and a survival kit that included a cloth map of North Korea and a 'blood chit' identifying me to North Koreans as an American pilot and promising a reward if I was returned to the South. But the power plant was hundreds of miles above the thirty-eighth parallel, where the front lines were then situated. Bailing out here meant that capture was a virtual certainty. "I'm going to try to make it over the water," I told the pilot in the other AD. I cleared the surf by only a few hundred feet, much too low to bail out. I would have to ditch. Having opened the bubble canopy to ensure a quick exit, I put the plane down about two hundred yards offshore in heavy swells that brought green water into the open cockpit before the Skyraider's forward motion was stopped. I climbed out over the windshield and slid down the engine cowling into water so cold that my legs were numb almost immediately. I wasn't wearing a survival suit-just a leather flight jacket over a heavy woolen shirt, Marine Corps-issue, and a pair of woolen flight pants over flimsy dungaree trousers. My Mae West and small life raft inflated without difficulty, but I had scarcely climbed into the rubber boat before I heard popping sounds coming from the beach, and then little blurps as rifle slugs struck the water nearby. Slipping into the sea again, I turned the raft over, blue bottom up, and stayed behind it, listening to the gunfire and watching several ADs from my air group circle overhead and make runs on the beach. Because of the swells, it was hard to see what kind of vessels were nearby, but I had seen both fishing boats and warships before the plane hit the water. Floating helplessly in the sea, I knew I would belong to whomever reached me first, and I hoped friendly ears had heard my Mayday. Then I heard the guns of a warship open up from seaward.

As the swells took me up, I caught a glimpse of an American destroyer shelling the beach. The potshots from the beach stopped, and in a few minutes I climbed back into the raft. I lay in the bottom of the bobbing raft, colder than I had ever been and vomiting from having swallowed too much salt water. I was getting nowhere at ridding the raft of water when I heard the chugging of a small craft and was greeted with the welcome sight of a gray whaleboat manned by American sailors. Two of them were standing in the bow, holding Thompson submachine guns. Then the boat was alongside, and strong arms grabbed me and swung me over the gun wale. After the pair with the Thompsons shot up the raft and sank it, we headed back toward the destroyer. Soon I was in the small dispensary of the USS Kidd, a destroyer. After I was dry and in some warm clothing, I asked to be taken to the bridge to thank the commanding officer. I noted with amusement that the stenciled letters on the back of the skipper's foul-weather jacket identified him, appropriately, as Captain Kidd.