Bath man decorated for flying in Pacific during WWII
Helped sink one of Japan’s largest battleships
By DAN PARSONS, Staff Writer
BATH—For $29 in the summer after his freshman year as an engineering student at North Carolina State University, Warren Parrish took a class at East Carolina University that would teach him to fly. It was there, in 1941, that he learned the skills that would later earn him the Navy Cross for flying against the Japanese navy in the Second World War.
Born Dec. 27, 1921, Parrish moved to Greenville when he was only 2 years old. There, he attended school until he enrolled at N.C. State in 1940. After earning his pilot’s license from a civil pilot training course at what was then East Carolina Teacher’s College, Parrish joined the Navy.
Parrish learned to pilot his SB2C Helldiver divebomber at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla. before joining Air Group 15 at Creeds, Va., home of an outlying landing field near Oceana.
The Helldiver carries two men, a pilot and a rear gunner with twin .30-caliber machine guns. It holds one 2,000-pound armor-piercing bomb in its bomb bay and one 250-pound bomb on each wing.
In February 1944, Air Group 15 steamed from Norfolk, Va. aboard the carrier USS Hornet which was bound for Pearl Harbor by way of the Panama Canal. A hundred pilots embarked with Parrish for the Pacific. Only 44 would return, he said.
In Hawaii, Parrish’s squadron was assigned to the carrier USS Essex, which rushed from Hawaii into harm’s way on May 3, 1944.
As part of the Third Fleet under the direction of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, the USS Essex, with Parrish aboard, struck out in search of the Japanese navy in October 1944. The two would finally meet at Leyte Gulf, what would become the largest naval battle in the history of human conflict.
Parrish’s plane lost all hydraulic functions in the ensuing anti-aircraft barrage and it had to hobble back to his carrier where he made an emergency landing without wheels. When his plane came to rest against one of the deck turrets, a crane simply dumped the plane over the side and the ship kept on after the enemy.
For those sinkings, Parrish was awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest honor the Navy awards for gallantry in combat. He would also win a Distinguished Flying Cross. When the war ended he was the fifth aviator to be discharged on the West Coast.
Parrish moved to Bath after working as a supersonic wind-tunnel engineer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Parrish said that though his co-workers scoffed at the idea of a Southern boy holding public office in the north, he was elected three times mayor of Aberdeen.